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Know the West

The Latest Bounce


In Wyoming, the Bureau of Land Management is reconsidering its approval of 5,100 coalbed methane leases in the Powder River Basin (HCN, 5/13/02:Land board says, 'Look before you lease'). The second look follows a federal review board's ruling earlier this year that the BLM failed to adequately consider the environmental impacts of three other methane leases in the area. Meanwhile, the agency is moving forward with revisions to a management plan that will permit 51,000 new wells elsewhere in the Powder River Basin.

In Montana, a federal judge ruled that super-salty groundwater pumped from coalbed methane wells is not a pollutant covered by the federal Clean Water Act (HCN, 9/2/02:Backlash). Because a loophole in the state's laws might allow salty groundwater to be discharged into rivers, the Northern Plains Resource Council had sued, seeking to require a gas company to obtain a federal permit. The group will appeal the ruling, but for now, it's unclear whether such discharges in Montana will be subject to any regulations at all.

The Department of Interior has cleared the way for an underground water-storage project that will allow Los Angeles to bank Colorado River water for use in dry years. Conservation groups say the Cadiz project could lower the water table beneath the Mojave Desert (HCN, 5/21/01:Quenching the big thirst). The project isn't a done deal, however: L.A.'s Metropolitan Water District must decide later this year whether to continue with the $150 million project in the middle of one of the driest years on record. "If there's no water to store," says the Sierra Club's Elden Hughes, "You don't have much reason to spend $150 million on a pipe."

After the Forest Service kicked 275 New Mexico ranchers off their grazing allotments in June due to worsening drought conditions, the board of directors of the Valles Caldera National Preserve decided to allow limited cattle grazing (HCN, 8/19/02:New Mexico ranchers push to graze preserve). Board chairman William deBuys says that because monsoonal rains helped improve range conditions there, seven hundred cows will run on the preserve until the end of September.