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Wyoming Water In Demand In Efforts To Save Lake Powell But 51% Of Wyo In Severe Drought

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19901

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By Leo Wolfson, Cowboy State Daily

Water levels on the Colorado River are at their lowest point in 1,200 years and the water in the Flaming Gorge Reservoir in Southwest Wyoming is being used to help replenish the parched river and Lake Powell downstream.

“It just keeps getting worse,” Chris Brown, legal counsel for the Wyoming Attorney General’s Office told the Legislature’s Water Committee at its May 11 meeting. “We’ve been incredibly active trying to prop up critical elevations at Lake Powell so we don’t lose hydropower … so we don’t risk the infrastructure at Lake Powell.”

Earlier this month, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation announced it is releasing an extra 500,000 acre-feet of water from Flaming Gorge to help maintain hydroelectric operations at Lake Powell. 

A separate, seven-state agreement was also arranged to reduce outflows from Lake Powell to 7 million acre-feet, an “unprecedented” level, Brown said.

“A lot of work is taking place to rescue Lake Powell,” Brown said. 

Releases from Flaming Gorge were boosted to 1,800 cubic feet per second — an increase of 850 cfs — on May 5 and will continue until further notice.

Lake Powell’s water content is currently at 24% of capacity and 35 feet below where it sat one year ago. 

The lake’s decline is triggering a potential energy crisis for millions of people who rely on its Glen Canyon Dam as a power source, and who may see rising energy costs and water shortages if drought conditions persist. 

Wyoming itself is in a period of extremely dry conditions. According to the National Integrated Drought Information System, 100% of Wyoming is abnormally dry right now and 51.3% of the state is facing a severe drought.

Although Flaming Gorge is doing much better than Lake Powell, the amount of water it holds is also well below capacity. As of May 5, the water level in Flaming Gorge Reservoir sat at 6,018.85 feet, approximately 78% of its overall capacity. Unregulated water flows into the reservior in April were 52% of average.

Sen. Larry Hicks, R-Baggs, vice chair of the water committee, said Gov. Mark Gordon’s Colorado River Working Group is discussing development of a pilot water conservation program to store water for the future in Wyoming.

The Colorado River Basin includes the Upper Green and Snake River basins in Wyoming.

The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation is predicting that by 2026 there may be a federal drawback of water on the Colorado. Hicks said the working group has been exploring alternate solutions to reduce water consumption or institute a demand management program to avoid this scenario.

Brandon Gebhart, Wyoming state engineer, said there are other options being examined involving two-year limited use agreements on water from the river system. 

Fated Long Ago

Brown said Wyoming’s obligation to help the Southwest meet its water demands stems back to the 100-year old Colorado River Compact, established in 1922. 

The agreement divides states along the Colorado River System into upper and lower basins. Wyoming is a member of the upper basin.

Under the agreement, each basin is allocated 7.5 million acre-feet of water annually out from the Colorado River. 

An acre-foot of water is the amount of water needed to cover 1 acre of land with 1 foot of water, about 326,000 gallons.

A later agreement developed in 1948 established water allotments among the upper basin states based on the percentage of water available. 

Brown said under a 1944 agreement with Mexico, in the event of a deficiency to that country’s portion of Colorado River water, it is the upper basin’s responsibility to provide it with 750,000 acre-feet of water.

But Brown said if the upper basin runs the risk of violating the 1922 obligation, Wyoming and the rest of the upper basin states may be forced to curtail their use of water. 

This decision, he said, would be enacted by the Upper Colorado River Commission, an interstate agency made up by representatives from Wyoming, Colorado, New Mexico and an agent from the federal government. Brown said a reduction in allowed water use might even be put in place ahead of a shortage so the 1922 agreement is not violated.

“We might have to curtail those uses to make sure that we comply,” he said.

Hicks said the biggest question moving forward is whether Wyoming could develop a system to store its water forward for years, if not decades, into the future. Colorado is a state that has already developed a number of water banking programs to do just that.

“Do we have the regulatory framework to go ahead and establish a water bank?” Hicks said.

Brown said a pilot conservation program run from 2015 to 2018 showed that some Wyoming residents are willing to give up water in exchange for payment. Hicks said a system similar to this could theoretically be deployed in the future.

“There very well could be adequate statutory and regulatory mechanisms to address any of these hypothetical programs that are being discussed,” Hicks said. “This issue is out there. It’s going to loom even greater in the coming years.”

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Colorado Engineer Blasts EPA For Blaming Denver Smog On Wyoming

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19539

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By Clair McFarland, Cowboy State Daily

Saying Colorado hasn’t done enough to protect its own air quality, a chemical engineer is calling foul on the U.S.Environmental Protection Agency for blaming Wyoming for part of Denver’s smog problem.  

“There is no possible way for EPA to justify forcing Wyoming to take action to reduce ozone in Colorado, when EPA has never required Colorado to take any action to reduce ozone within the state,” Barney Strobel, a retired chemical engineer in Centennial, Colorado, wrote in a letter to Wyoming Gov. Mark Gordon.  

EPA Region 8 officials did not respond Thursday morning to voicemails requesting comment.  

The EPA last month announced its intention to launch a federal pollution control plan for Wyoming, due to its estimation that emissions from Wyoming, blown south by its strong winds, contribute about 1% to Denver-area ground ozone.

The EPA’s proposed “Good Neighbor” policy would enable it to further restrict emissions in upwind states like Wyoming due to their projected contribution to smog in states like Colorado.  

Gordon had dispatched a statement of his own in March deriding the policy change and vowing to fight it, although he has not specified how.

Strobel, who worked in air quality for 12 years, said in his letter to Gordon that the EPA has taken an unrealistic leap in blaming Wwyoming for Colorado’s ground ozone.

Colorado’s Air Quality 

The EPA has deemed Colorado’s Denver-Chatfield region a “serious” air quality offender, but is soon to downgrade the area to a “severe” designation, which will bring additional permitting requirements for businesses and higher gas prices to Colorado. 

These gestures, said Strobel, can’t be guaranteed to reduce ozone, because the hundreds of millions of dollars in state revenue generated by the fees are not committed to ozone reduction and can be used for any purpose.

Strobel also noted that ozone readings at three Colorado monitors have not changed significantly over 30 years of tracking, except for fluctuations amid wildfires and other events, according to an EPA chart. Strobel called this a sign of the ineffectiveness of the pollution control attempts touted by Colorado so far.  

For example, he said, a 2011 pollution control plan by Colorado contained “only one federally-enforceable program,” which was to reduce emissions from condensate tanks at oil and gas facilities.  

The move didn’t reduce ozone, Strobel said, referencing the chart.  

Yet the EPA’s satisfaction with Colorado’s ineffective pollution control plans, wrote Strobel, makes the agency’s proposed enforcement against Wyoming appear “malicious.”  

“Since ozone has not dropped, even though the state agencies claim that precursors (contributing chemicals) have dropped by more than 43%,” he continued, “it is clear that the state agencies do not have an accurate emissions inventory.”  

Argument For Governor 

Strobel said he also doubts the accuracy of the models underpinning EPA’s focus on upwind states.  

Aiming to equip Gordon for a debate with the EPA, Strobel wrote in his letter that the inaccuracy window in EPA’s projections is about 10 times larger than the value used to incriminate Wyoming on Colorado’s behalf.  

“EPA states that the average difference between the projected values and the actual values is 7.79 ppb (parts per billion of ozone-contributing chemicals),” reads Strobel’s letter to the governor.  

Wyoming’s likely inclusion in the “Good Neighbor” restrictions is due to its projected 0.81 ppb contribution to Colorado’s total ground ozone, which is projected to be 71.7 ppb in 2023.  

“If the model cannot project values with any more accuracy than 7.79 ppb for Chatfield,” wrote Strobel, “it is absurd for EPA to suggest that they can project that 0.81 ppb will come from Wyoming.”  

If Wyoming’s projected contribution had been below 0.7 ppb, the state would not fall under the “Good Neighbor” restrictions.  

“With such poor accuracy,” continued Strobel, “it is also absurd for EPA to claim that they can distinguish between 0.81 ppb and the 0.7 ppb threshold for requiring action.”  

Wyoming Wind 

Strobel said he further doubts the accuracy of the monitor that measures Wyoming’s contribution to Colorado’s ozone problem because other monitors “lined up” north to south of it registered projected contributions from Wyoming totaling half as much.  

“Whether the ozone from Wyoming is supposed to be moving south from Cheyenne or coming from the west over the mountains, at most,” Strobel said, “the concentration of ozone from Wyoming will be the same as at (another monitor) just 14 miles north.” 

The monitor in question is also farther than Wyoming from the other two monitors projecting safer ozone values, Strobel noted.   

“There is no possible way that the concentration of ozone from Wyoming can be 0.46 ppb at (the other two monitors) and then somehow magically increase by 75% to 0.81 ppb south” of there, he wrote.  

Another inaccuracy, Strobel posited, is found in the model’s failure to consider volatile organic compounds from plants, which interact with nitrogen oxides to create ozone and are, he said, three times more plentiful in Colorado than man-made VOC.  

“Since the model does not even consider the most probable ozone reaction, there is no justification for claiming that the model can project contributions from upwind sources with an accuracy of two decimal places,” Strobel added.  

A spokesman for Gordon’s office confirmed on Thursday that the governor has received Strobel’s letter but said he has not yet had a chance to review it personally. 

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Cheyenne Air Quality Ranked Best In Country

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Photo Credit: Matthew Idler
19186

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

Cheyenne’s ranking atop an annual “report card” on the nation’s air quality is no surprise to the state’s environmental agency.

Keith Guille, a spokesman for the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality, said he was not surprised that the American Lung Association rated Cheyenne as having the nation’s cleanest air.

“Historically, Cheyenne and Casper have been in the top of (the ALA’s report) in recent years,” he told Cowboy State Daily. “In Wyoming, as we all know, we have a lot of clear skies and blue skies and we’re always proud of that.”

Following Cheyenne in the ALA’s annual “State of the Air” report in sixth place was Casper. Both cities won their rankings because of their low year-round pollution created by soot, also called “particle pollution.”

Guille said the state’s sparse population and its restrictions on its own industries has helped keep pollution at a minimum.

“We are big state with a small population and that helps with emissions and whatnot,” he said. “When you look at our oil and gas development, we’ve been really progressive working with the industry and the public to have control over those minor (pollution) sources.”

Cheyenne Mayor Patrick Collins credited Wyoming’s wind for the city’s high ranking.

“Because of our blustery Wyoming wind, Cheyenne residents are more than happy to lay claim our air quality is superb,” he said in a statement to Cowboy State Daily. “Now we have the data to prove it. I can’t think of anything more vital to a community’s health and vitality than clean air.”

The ranking comes despite the fact the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is blaming Wyoming for contributing a little more than 1% to the smog found over Denver.

Guille had no explanation for the apparent disparity.

“You might want to ask the feds on that,” he said.

While the ALA reported much of the rest of the state did well in terms of pollution, it gave Jackson an “F” for its particle pollution.

Jackson Town Administrator Larry Pardee did not respond immediately to a request for comment.

Other grades for particle pollution ranged from A in Converse and Sweetwater counties to C in Albany, Fremont, Natrona and Park counties.

In addition, only 11 counties, fewer than half of the state’s 23, had equipment to detect particle pollution that was monitored by the ALA.

The ALA’s report also examined ozone ground pollution and 12 counties received a grade of C or better.

However, Sublette County again received an F for its 16 days of ground ozone levels above recommended standards — 13 days where ozone levels were considered unhealthy for sensitive populations and three days of generally unhealthy conditions .

While other cities around the country had worse rankings for ozone pollution, Sublette County’s is unusual because it appears in a rural area during the winter, Guille said.

He added most of the areas with high ground ozone levels are urban and the biggest problems appear in the summer.

However, he added the state and the area’s oil and gas industry have made progress in recent years in reducing annual ozone levels.

“We’ve been working with the public and industry since 2004 and 2005 to tackle this,” Guille said. “In the last couple of years these numbers have been under the standards, which is good. This year we did not see those high ozone levels.”

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EPA Blames Wyoming For Denver Pollution Despite Contributing 1% Of Smog Emissions

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By Clair McFarland, Cowboy State Daily

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is proposing to swap Wyoming’s emission standards for its own more stringent rules because of Wyoming’s contribution to Denver pollution.

The EPA, in an April 6 report, said Wyoming contributes up to 0.8 parts per billion to the Denver-Chatfield area “smog” — just more than 1%.

As a result, the agency wants to enact its “Good Neighbor” mandates that would allow it to place tougher greenhouse gas restrictions on Wyoming and several other states which contribute 1% or more to ozone pollution in “downwind” states.

The EPA early this month deemed the Denver-Chatfield area a “severe” violator of federal ozone, or smog, standards – a downgrade from its prior status of “serious” violation.  

Ground ozone, a bonding of three oxygen molecules, is considered a pollutant and, according to the EPA, can harm humans and the environment.   

Some of Colorado’s heavy smog, the EPA declared this month, wafted in on Wyoming winds.  

‘Good Neighbor’ Mandates 

The Denver-Chatfield area’s poor grade came just weeks after the EPA in March announced its revival of stringent air quality limitations from 2015.  

The stricter standards also brought back the “Good Neighbor” mandates – an EPA bid to place tougher greenhouse-gas restrictions on Wyoming and several other states. 

Pending a comment period that ends June 6, Wyoming may be required to limit emissions from its power plants and industrial manufacturing sites.  

Coal-fired power plants, trona operations, and natural gas pipelines all were identified by Gov. Mark Gordon as “targets” of the EPA policy.  

California Sends More Smog 

According to 2020 data from an EPA monitoring device located in the Denver-Chatfield area, Wyoming’s wind is projected next year to contribute about 0.81 parts per billion – just over the “Good Neighbor” threshold of 0.7 ppb.  

Colorado’s other two receptors registered about 0.4 parts per billion, or 0.6% of its total smog as Wyoming-made.  

Wyoming’s projected contributions to other states – Texas, Wisconsin, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Utah and Connecticut – were negligible in comparison to its influence on Colorado.   

In the same projection, California was expected nearly to double Wyoming’s chemical share of Colorado’s smog by contributing about 3 parts per billion to Colorado.  

California also is expected to export about 40 times Wyoming’s ozone-chemical output nationwide, with 34 ppb total ozone-chemicals export.   

Predictions for 2023 show Colorado making most of its own ozone pollutants, getting just 7% of them from upwind sources.  

Federal, Not State Implementation 

Gov. Mark Gordon in a March statement called the “Good Neighbor” mandate an “attack on state-led approaches” moving “more authority away from the people to Washington, DC.”  

Gordon also said the plan targets Wyoming and other Western energy-producing states, and seeks to penalize their energy industries.  

“It will harm states like Wyoming who meet ozone standards and benefit more populous states that use our energy but do not meet their own standards,” Gordon continued. “EPA’s proposal does not ‘follow the science’ or the law and will unjustly discriminate against Wyoming industries.” 

Gordon said he would work “aggressively” to combat the plan.  

When EPA announced the mandate, it claimed that the restrictions on both problem states and their upwind neighbors could prevent about 1,000 premature deaths and avoid more than 2,000 hospital and emergency room visits, 1.3 million cases of asthma symptoms, and 470,000 school absence days. 

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