Category: Environment

Colorado partnership garners $50K for successful landscape management

WCLC group photo

Group of volunteers learning about the ecosystem in Western Colorado. (Photo courtesy of the Western Colorado Landscape Collaborative)

Working together, federal and state agencies, local governments, environmental groups, public stakeholders and local utilities are improving wildlife habitats in Western Colorado’s natural spaces while reducing fire danger that threatens the landscapes and power lines.

 Western is one of the partners of the Western Colorado Landscape Collaborative, which garnered the prestigious 2013 Colorado Collaboration Award and a $50,000 prize to further the non-profit’s efforts.

“The ecosystems in Western Colorado are under attack from disease, drought and wildfires, and those are higher-level problems than just one entity can deal with,” said Western’s Rocky Mountain Special Programs Manager Ron Turley. “[The collaborative partnership] is a sign of the times in natural resources management. Natural resource managers realize that issues like these goes beyond their jurisdictions and require partnerships with other government entities and the public. A broader landscape perspective and collaborative effort was the only way to get it done.”

The Colorado Collaboration Award is a prize offered each year by a group of foundations and corporate funders to an outstanding nonprofit collaboration. The award will be officially presented at Colorado Nonprofit Association’s Fall Conference & Exhibition in Denver Oct. 7.

“We’re proud and excited to have been selected as the winner of the Colorado Collaboration Award,” said Pam Motley, Director of Uncompahgre/Com, which manages the Western Colorado Landscape Collaborative. “This prize will help us continue major initiatives such as the Escalante Forest Restoration Project.”

Read more on Western’s website.

Colorado-Big Thompson agreement: Protecting water from fire risk

[COLORADO-A-0033] Big Thompson Dam (Dille Diversion Dam)

Big Thompson Dam (Source: waterarchives.org)

The Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Interior Secretary Sally Jewell announced July 19 a federal, local and private partnership that will reduce the risks of wildfire to America’s water supply in western states.

To support the Western Watershed Enhancement Partnership, the Forest Service and Bureau of Reclamation will kick off the new partnership through a pilot in the Upper Colorado Headwaters and Big Thompson watershed in Northern Colorado. The partnership will include the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District and Colorado State Forest Service and builds off of past agreements between the Forest Service and municipal water suppliers, such as Denver Water’s Forest to Faucets partnership.

Western’s Administrator Mark Gabriel and several other employees attended the event as the Colorado-Big Thompson is a trans-mountain diversion river system from which hydropower is generated and marketed.

Read USDA’s press release on their website.

TransWest Express Project Draft EIS available

Overview map of TransWest Express Project

Overview map of TransWest Express Project

The Bureau of Land Management announced the publication of the TransWest Express Transmission Project Draft Environmental Impact Statement July 3.  The release of the Draft EIS begins a 90-day public comment period that will include thirteen public meetings hosted by Western and the BLM scheduled throughout the project area.  The Draft EIS and schedule of public meetings are available on BLM’s TranWest Express Project website.

Western’s Administrator Mark Gabriel said, “This is a major milestone in the NEPA process, and we hope people read the draft EIS and provide comments. We [Western] are here to help strengthen the energy highway by connecting communities with reliable power and renewable generation. The results of the final NEPA review and other analyses will guide us when we decide whether to continue to participate in the project beyond the development phase.”

The TransWest Express Transmission Project is a proposed 725 mile, 600-kV direct current transmission line that may provide up to 3,000 MW of capacity. The line would extend from south central Wyoming, to the El Dorado Valley south of Las Vegas, Nevada, and would facilitate the delivery of Wyoming wind generation resources to load centers in Nevada, Arizona, and California.

Western is proposing to participate as a joint owner of the TWE Project; a decision on whether to be a joint owner will be made when the development phase is complete. Western is authorized to contribute up to $25 million of its $3.25

billion borrowing authority for the project development phase, which includes the environmental review and other technical feasibility studies.

Cook solar: California employees get sun-cooked snacks

Solar cooker

Administrative Assistant Kelly Rider under the Miracorp contract adjusts a "solar panel" on her homemade solar cooker while cooking beans to share with her coworkers in Folsom, Calif., May 1. Solar cooking is an easy, cheap, environmentally friendly and fun way to cook food and snacks using only the sun for power.

As part of the Sierra Nevada Earth Day celebration in California, Western employees partook in a scrumptious snack prepared entirely by the sun and a few common household supplies.

Miracorp contractor Kelly Rider used only solar energy, recycled paper boxes, clear plastic packing tape, aluminum foil and glue sticks to whip up some nanchos, beans and chocolate chip cookies for employees. 

“Sacramento boasts about 200 days of sun each year, so why not use the sun to cook your food? It doesn’t heat up the house or use any cooking fuel. And the best part is it’s free!” said Rider.

Solar cooking works like a slow cooker set on low, so it doesn’t let food get dry or burned, and there’s no need to constantly stir or watch the food. “Using the sunshine is a great way to prepare and serve meals that are environmentally friendly and reduce your carbon footprint,” Rider added.

In case you’re wondering if solar cooking is only good for small snacks, Rider created a chicken and wild rice dinner the week before Earth Day as a trial run.

Do you have experience with solar cooking? Is it possible where you live? What other types of environmentally friendly cooking have you seen or done? If you want to learn more about solar cooking and its capabilities, visit Solar Cookers International at www.solarcookers.org

EMF: How close is too close?

E.M.F. Three little letters that strike terror into many hearts, but why?

EMF testing

Donna Shay, a Colorado citizen, asked Western to conduct an electric and magnetic field reading at her cabin that sits just outside a 115-kilovolt transmission line’s right-of-way. EMF readings determined about 1 milliGauss of exposure near her front door.

Mostly, it’s because we don’t understand electric and magnetic fields, or EMF.

The truth is people come into contact with these fields every day. EMFs occur naturally, like the magnetic field caused by currents deep inside Earth’s molten core. Manmade fields are also created by common appliances and equipment we depend on every day, like talking on a cell phone or heating up lunch in a microwave.

At Western, our high-voltage transmission lines and substations give off EMF, which sometimes concerns landowners with lines over and near their property. To help allay concerns, Western’s electrical engineers will test landowners’ EMF exposures from our transmission lines on request. Read more »

Southline environmental analysis moves forward

Environmental review and analysis of transmission line projects is an iterative process. A project is proposed; the proposal is reviewed; alternatives are developed; comments are solicited and considered; revisions are made. Then the process repeats.

The Southline Transmission Line Project  provides a great example. The Bureau of Land Management New Mexico  and Western  are co-lead agencies preparing the environmental impact statement for the project. The BLM recently completed meetings with Federal, state and county agencies as part of the process of developing alternatives for the project.

These meetings were an opportunity for the agencies to review the preliminary alternative routes being considered by the BLM and Western for the project and identify concerns and issues with any of the alternative routes. Input from the agencies will be included in the final alternatives development report and keeps the environmental analysis moving forward on schedule.

The BLM and Western expect to complete a draft EIS later this year. That’s when the public will have a chance to review and comment on the draft EIS. Those comments will then be considered as the agencies develop a final EIS.

Have you ever wanted to know more about the National Environmental Policy Act, or NEPA, process and how Federal agencies analyze projects? Here’s a chart that shows the steps in the process. You can also learn more in the NEPA section of the Department of Energy’s website.

High-flow experiment at Glen Canyon Dam to protect Grand Canyon

Not since 2008 has the Glen Canyon had a high-flow release of water, but on Monday Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar along with Assistant Secretary for Water and Science Anne Castle, National Park Service Director Jonathan B. Jarvis and Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Mike Connor were at Glen Canyon to see it happen. Western staff was also present to witness the long-awaited event of the Glen Canyon Dam bypass tubes being opened to initiate the High Flow Experimental release. “The experiment went well thanks to the coordination efforts between DOI and Western,” said Acting Colorado River Storage Project Manger Darren Buck.

On Nov. 19 the Glen Canyon Dam bypass tubes were opened to initiate the High-Flow Experiment.

On Nov. 19 the Glen Canyon Dam bypass tubes were opened to initiate the High-Flow Experiment.

The experiment, scheduled through 2020, allows for more frequent HFE releases to happen when the right conditions exist. This will determine the effectiveness of multiple HFE releases in rebuilding and conserving sandbars, beaches and associated backwater habitats of the Grand Canyon that have been lost or depleted since the dam’s construction and operation.

For more information about the HFE, see the DOI news release or visit Reclamation’s website.

Also, check out our videos and photos of the event on YouTube and Flikr.

Regional utilities gather in Colorado to talk energy efficiency

More than 100 electric utilities and industry representatives attended the sixth annual Rocky Mountain Utility Efficiency Exchange in Aspen, Colo., Oct. 10 to12.

Ron Ebenkamp, Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association, invites Robin O'Day, San Isabel Electric; Ray Pierotti, La Plata Electric; Gary Myers, Poudre Valley; and Craig Tate, Holy Cross Energy, to discuss the major role lighting programs continue to play in utility energy-efficiency portfolios at the sixth annual Rocky Mountain Utility Efficiency Exchange in Aspen, Colo., Oct. 10. The networking event lasted three days and allowed local water and energy utilities to share best practices in efficiency, renewable energy, demand response and key account customer management programs.

Ron Ebenkamp, Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association, invites Robin O'Day, San Isabel Electric; Ray Pierotti, La Plata Electric; Gary Myers, Poudre Valley; and Craig Tate, Holy Cross Energy, to discuss the major role lighting programs continue to play in utility energy-efficiency portfolios at the sixth annual Rocky Mountain Utility Efficiency Exchange in Aspen, Colo., Oct. 10.

Co-sponsored by Western’s Energy Services office, the networking event provided energy and water utilities serving Colorado and neighboring states an open forum to learn and teach how to implement efficiency, renewable energy, demand response and key account customer management programs with their peers.

Read more »

Burrowing owls call Phoenix office home

Western’s customer service territory shares the land with a great diversity of wildlife. Sometimes we even share the borders of our office buildings’ grounds with fascinating and interesting creatures. In the Desert Southwest region’s Phoenix office, employees work while 10 to 15 burrowing owls live just outside their door.

Three burrowing owls watch employees walk by at Desert Southwest’s Phoenix office, just as they do most mornings.

Three burrowing owls watch employees walk by at Desert Southwest’s Phoenix office, just as they do most mornings.

The convenience of being near wildlife brings some happiness to employees. “We all enjoy having [the owls] here at DSW. We have this great opportunity to be close to the wildlife and observe their living habits,” said Supply Technician Mary Bergeron.

As a result of an increasing human population leading to more residential and commercial development on agricultural land and prairies, wildlife species like the burrowing owl lose their natural nesting areas. For safety, health and conservation reasons, displaced owls are often relocated to man-made nesting structures like the one at the DSW yard.

In 2004, the Arizona Game and Fish Department conducted a study to determine the effectiveness of relocation efforts of burrowing owls to artificial burrows. They also wanted to establish relocation guidelines and recommendations for future management plans. As part of this study, AGFD monitored up to 50 relocation clusters throughout Arizona, including the one at DSW. On a regular basis, AGFD biologists would collect data on owl behavior, confirm the new burrow system was working, place bands on young birds to track their movements and make sure the site was still suitable for the owls. DSW’s artificial owl burrows are constructed of a PVC pipe system that is buried underground.

Unfortunately, the funding for this project ended after 2007, and the AGFD has not monitored the DSW birds for several years. Even so, DSW’s feathery neighbors are living happy lives today. If a funding source is secured in the future, the AGFD would like to continue monitoring the birds.

Learn more about burrowing owls.

Estes Park, Loveland citizens share ideas during alternative design workshops for Estes-Flatiron transmission project

 

Neighbors, local government officials and Western representatives gathered around a large map during workshop meetings, Oct. 2 to 4, where they discussed options for an upgrade to combine two transmission lines into one right of way.  Both lines feed the Town of Estes and other nearby communities in Colorado with energy.

Drawing alternative routes with colored markers, neighbors talked about how different paths for the power line could impact the environment, their neighbors and the scenic views of their town and surrounding national forests. For some participants, it was an educational experience in the complexity of differing views and issues that came up regarding their ideas.

The collective thoughts and considerations of these engaged citizens will help Western Area Power Administration determine the alternatives it will review in its draft environmental impact statement for the Estes-Flatiron Transmission Line Rebuild Project.

Western is preparing to analyze how different alternatives for rebuilding or maintaining the transmission system will provide reliable power and impact the environment, landowners and surrounding communities. With high public interest for this project, Western extended the scoping period through Oct. 19 to work with the local communities to:

  1. Identify transmission line route options
  2. Gather input on design/structure features
  3. Understand the many issues and impacts with any alternative route

Get involved
If you would like to provide input on route alternatives or structure design, take the time to examine the scoping and alternative development materials and reply to Western by Oct. 19. The input will help Western and cooperating agencies identify alternatives to be analyzed in the draft environmental impact statement.