Area officials tour Rifle watershed | PostIndependent.com
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Area officials tour Rifle watershed

RIFLE – Government officials from Grand Junction and Palisade got a close look Thursday at how Rifle manages oil and gas and other development in its watershed. The officials were there on a fact-finding mission to learn about Rifle’s regulations covering impacts to the areas where it draws its drinking water.Palisade has an ordinance in place and Grand Junction City Council is considering enacting one.”We acknowledge we can’t stop development,” said Grand Junction City Councilman Jim Spehar. “But (an ordinance regulating watershed impacts) can help you have a say. You can have input in cooperating in the decision-making process.”In 1994 Rifle government enacted regulations that cover its Beaver Creek watershed south of the city and its intake from the Colorado River, both of which are sources for drinking water, said city attorney Lee Leavenworth.”The purpose was to regulate activities that posed a threat to water quality,” including logging, oil and gas drilling and gravel mining, he said.Prospective developers must apply to the city for a permit and post a bond to cover performance of the project. Applicants are required to conduct a baseline study to identify current water flow, “so we can determine if it is degraded from the activity,” Leavenworth said.The first watershed permits for oil and gas development were issued to Tom Brown and Barrett Resources, whose operations have since been taken over by EnCana and Williams respectively.In order to obtain a permit, developers must file storm water management and spill prevention plans with the city, said Rifle consulting water engineer Michael Erion.Since the city began issuing watershed permits in 1997, “we have seen no significant changes” in water quality, Erion said.The elected officials, as well as representatives of the Grand Junction Chamber of Commerce, Williams, EnCana and state Rep. Josh Penry, R-Grand Junction, among others, toured the Beaver Creek drainage Thursday.Both Grand Junction and Palisade are facing incursions into their watersheds from oil and gas development.”We wanted to see how Rifle is dealing with this,” said Palisade Mayor Douglas Edwards, “because it looks like we’ll have to deal with this too.”Spehar liked what he saw in Rifle.”This is a good model for how it should work,” he said.However, Penry questioned Grand Junction’s proposed ordinance, which calls for a bond equal to 100 percent of the project’s cost. A bond could go as high as $1 million, Penry said, as opposed to Rifle’s bonds, which average about $50,000.”Those are the technical questions that will have to be figured out,” he said. “If we raise the bond to unacceptable levels, that would (halt) the activity. Rifle has the flexibility to establish a bond that matches the risk.”Contact Donna Gray: 945-8515, ext. 510dgray@postindependent.com


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