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Ag Committee holds forum in Walsenburg

by Susan Simons

WALSENBURG- A large crowd from Las Animas and Huerfano Counties came to the Huerfano Community Center last Wednesday for a chance to meet and talk with members of the Colorado House Agriculture, Livestock and Natural Resources Committee.  The chairperson, Kathleen Curry, announced that the purpose of the meeting was to hear from local citizens about this issue:   What are the short and long term effects of coalbed methane production on local water and what can be done with the water produced during CBM operations.

    There were several invited speakers.  Among them were Petroglyph Energy, which has CBM operations in Huerfano County, and Pioneer, which operates in Las Animas County.   Representing the landowners’ point of view were Al Tucker of Majors Ranch and Richard Goodwin of River Ridge Ranch.  Jim Conley of CSU Extension and Tony Arnold of Upper Huerfano Conservation District presented the results of a monitoring program they carried out in 2006-2007 on the Cucharas River.  The study demonstrated that in years of low flow, the river has high salt and calcium concentrations downstream from water released from CBM operations.  If used for irrigation, it has damaging effects on soil and crops which cannot be reversed.  Loretta Kennedy, the Southeast District Representative for John Salazar’s office, spoke to say that Salazar has called for a comprehensive groundwater study of the Raton Basin in cooperation with USGS, the oil and gas industry, and other state agencies.

    Curry spoke briefly about House Bill 1303, sponsored by this committee, which will “integrate wells which draw groundwater in conjunction with the mining of minerals into the prior appropriation system.”  In other words, if this bill becomes law,  some CBM operators will be required to get a well permit from the State Engineer’s Office, Division of Water Resources, in order to pump out groundwater, and they will be required to comply with existing rules for augmenting water for downstream  users.  She acknowledged that this bill does not address water quality and the issue of who owns the produced water. 

    House Bill 1303, as posted on the General Assembly website, creates a presumption that certain water wells connected with CBM operations, particularly in the San Juan and Piceance Basins, are nontributary and, thus, do not need a well permit or any augmentation plan.  Water wells in connection with CBM operations in our area, the Raton Basin, are not presumed to be nontributary. Therefore, local CBM operators may be required to obtain well permits and augment depletions.