Snowpack news: Greeley and Pueblo plan to lease water to farmers this season #COdrought #ColoradoRiver

April 24, 2014
Statewide snow water equivalent as a percent of normal April 23, 2014 via the NRCS

Statewide snow water equivalent as a percent of normal April 23, 2014 via the NRCS

From The Greeley Tribune (Eric Brown):

With the water outlook now drastically better than it was in 2013, many Front Range cities in Colorado, which leased little or no water to ag users last year due to shortages, are now saying they will have extra water to lease out this year.

Harold Evans, chairman of the city of Greeley Water and Sewer Board, said board members officially decided at their recent meeting they would have extra water to lease to agriculture this year, although they would have to examine requests from farmers and take other things into consideration before deciding how much they would lease out.

Officials with the city of Loveland, too, said this week they will have extra water to lease to agriculture.

Snowpack on Tuesday in the South Platte River Basin — which supplies northeast Colorado — was 130 percent of historic average, according to NRCS figures, and reservoir levels in the basin are also above normal, sitting at 108 percent of historic average on April 1.

While the outlook has been good for months in northern Colorado, many city officials in the area were waiting to see how much water would be released this year from the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District’s Colorado-Big Thompson Project, the largest water-supply project in the region, before giving the official yay or nay on leasing to agriculture.

The Northern Water board set its spring quota for the C-BT Project on April 11, and even though the board set it at a below-average 60 percent, it was enough to give most cities the green light to lease to ag.

While the C-BT quota played a large part in determining how much water most northern Front Range cities can lease out this year, the situation is a little different for the city of Longmont. Ken Huson, water resources administrator for Longmont, said that because some of its water-delivery systems are still under repair from September’s flooding, the city likely won’t be renting any water out this year.

Evans noted that while Greeley has plenty of water to lease this year, cities typically get fewer requests in years of good snowpack like this year, because so much snowmelt makes its way down the mountains, filling irrigation ditches and reducing the farmers’ needs of supplemental water from cities.

But even with plenty of snowmelt expected to fill ditches this spring, farmers still like to have water available to lease from cities as a back-up supply, if nothing else. Local farmers say they never know how fast the snow is going to melt and flow by, or how dry it’s going to get later into the summer.

At the beginning of last year, the state was coming off the 2012 drought, during which reservoirs were drained to low levels, and snowpack in the mountains was also historically bad.

As early as January of 2013, a number of cities — like Greeley, Pueblo, Longmont, Fort Collins and Loveland, each of which typically lease thousands of acre-feet of excess water each year to producers across eastern Colorado — were telling local farmers they would have little or no water to lease to ag users.

Back in 2011, which was a historically wet year, the city of Greeley — located in the most ag-productive part of the state — leased 25,427 acre-feet of water (nearly 8.3 billion gallons) to ag users, but last year, could only honor its long-term ag agreements of about 5,000 acre-feet.

Water officials from cities around the state said last year marked the first time in about a decade, longer in some cases, that they’d had such little water to lease to agricultural users.

This year is different.

Even in the southeast part of the state, where cities have less water compared to their neighbors to the north, it’s looking like those municipalities will have enough extra for agriculture.

According to NRCS figures, snowpack in the Arkansas River Basin that supplies southeast Colorado was at about historic average Wednesday and reservoirs were only filled to 60 percent of average on April 1.

Still, Sharon Carleo, water resources coordinator with the Board of Water Works of Pueblo, said they could lease in the range of 6,000 acre feet of water this year to farmers.

From the Fort Collins Coloradoan (Ryan Maye Handy):

On his farm just outside of Mead, [Kent Peppler] relies both on irrigated water and spring runoff. While water from the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation’s Colorado-Big Thompson Project can be an integral part of keeping his crop alive, Peppler only gets that water through cities like Fort Collins, which regularly lease extra water to irrigators and Front Range farmers.

“We’re hoping to rent some Big Thompson water this year, absolutely,” he said on Tuesday.

But this year it’s unlikely that Peppler, who lives well outside the Poudre basin and is on the city’s lowest priority rung, will get water from Fort Collins. When the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District announced two weeks ago how much water customers will get from the reservoir system — 60 percent of their full allotment — city officials were concerned that amount would minimize the water leasing market. While “domestic” customers like homeowner associations will be able to lease water from the city, others like Peppler most likely will not.

Colorado-Big Thompson Project, or C-BT, rentals make up one of three water leasing markets the city runs. Fort Collins Utilities also leases water to the North Poudre Irrigation Co. and the Water Supply and Storage Co. in Fort Collins. C-BT leases have garnered the city the least money of the three since 2009. Last year, the city made $74,585 from the leases, down from $227,920 in 2009.

While not a huge moneymaker for a city with a nearly $500 million annual budget, C-BT leases can be cruicial for farmers like Peppler, who has leased water from Fort Collins sporadically over the past 30 years.

“We do depend on rented irrigation water,” he said. “We don’t have enough water rights to get us through.”

The city normally takes half of its water from the Poudre River and the other half from the Colorado-Big Thompson Project, a network of basins and reservoirs that brings water from the Western Slope to the Front Range. While the bulk of the water serves the daily needs of city residents and businesses, some fills city irrigation ditches, is channeled to homeowners associations, or feeds city parks. Fort Collins leases any leftover water to farmers like Peppler, who put in requests every year for a certain number of acre feet.

Leasing water from Fort Collins Utilities has been tricky after burn-scar debris from the High Park Fire polluted the Poudre River, forcing the city to rely more on reservoir water. The city is also partially reliant on the C-BT water when spring runoff and late-summer monsoons reduce Poudre River water quality.

High snowpack years like this can be mixed a blessing to those hoping for more C-BT water, as a plentiful snowpack doesn’t translate into a higher quota of water.

“It’s just the opposite,” said Susan Smolnik, a water resources engineer for Fort Collins Utilities. “Colorado-Big Thompson is a supplemental system. In the higher snowpack year, we will not get as much CB-T water.”

To manage the water it does receive, Fort Collins Utilities keeps strict priorities, dividing lessees into tiers. The first tier, made up of HOAs, city ditches and parks, had all its water requests fulfilled this year, worth about 80 acre feet, said Smolnik. Poudre basin farmers in the second tier had only about 25 percent of their requests for water fulfilled, although customers have requested leases for all 10,480 acre feet potentially available to the tier.

Peppler is among those in the bottom tier of users living outside the basin, who have no prospects of getting water from the city yet. Thus far, that group has requested 4,664 acre feet of water from the city.

Despite this year’s plentiful snowpack, Utilities has been “conservative,” Smolnik said, when it came to meeting regional water needs, because it will mostly rely on C-BT water until it is satisfied with the quality of Poudre River water.

“We planned that we are not going to treat more Poudre water until we know more about fire effects,” she said.

Ultimately, if city demands for C-BT water is less than expected, Utilities will be able to release more acre feet of water to those who seek leases.

For now, Peppler, who is president of the Rocky Mountain Farmers Union, hopes that a good spring runoff season will help fill the ditches that irrigate his corn, wheat and barley. Like most farmers he has crop insurance, which could help if planting season doesn’t turn out to be as lucrative as expected. But falling back on insurance is hard to justify during a year with a deep snowpack, even if that doesn’t translate into more water for Peppler’s fields.


The Animas River Stakeholders Group, et. al., offer $45,000 prize in search for solutions to pollution

April 24, 2014
Bonita Mine acid mine drainage

Bonita Mine acid mine drainage

From The Durango Herald (Chase Olivarius-Mcallister):

Last week, the regular meeting of the Animas River Stakeholders Group took on the feeling of a jolly, if intellectually fraught, Nobel Prize committee debate.

Scientists, government employees and mining officials huddled around a long table in the cold basement of the Miners Union Hospital grading innovative, sometimes preposterous proposals for addressing metal removal from mine drainage.

The ideas came from InnoCentive, a Boston firm that has hundreds of thousands of individual problem-solvers eager to take on challenges in chemistry, food production, business, engineering, information technology and the life sciences.

As part of the competition, the stakeholders described the environmental calamity in the Upper Animas Basin and offered $45,000 to the top problem-solver. (They raised the prize money from 12 organizations, including the International Network for Acid Prevention, Freeport-McMorRan Copper and Gold, Sunnyside Gold Corp., National Mining Corp., Goldcorp, New Mexico Coal and Trout Unlimited.)

As water quality in the Animas River has deteriorated over the last seven years, there has been insufficient money to build and operate a limestone water-treatment plant, which would cost $12 million to $17 million to build and $1 million to operate annually. Stakeholders are hoping that one brilliant solution could at least bring down the sticker price of river cleanup. (In the absence of an answer, the town is re-evaluating whether it should seek Superfund status.)

InnoCentive’s problem-solvers submitted online more than 50 proposals, with some more far-fetched than others, involving everything from absorption through plants, salting out metals, magnets, artificial river settling, cement, yeast, eggshell lime, plasma, brown coal, algae and Voraxial filtration…

As the stakeholders moved through the ideas, poring over a spreadsheet that had different stakeholders’ assessments of the schemes, expert opinion diverged many times.

While Kirsten Brown of the Colorado Division of Mining and Safety and Steve Fearn, mining specialist and co-coordinator of the stakeholders’ group, liked one proposal that involved removing heavy metals with magnets, Peter Butler thought “scaling and clogging would be an issue.”

Butler, co-coordinator of the stakeholders’ group, was more supportive of another proposal, artificial river settling, writing, “Could be an effective alternative to settling ponds. Separates metals somewhat.”[...]

They hope to choose the winner by May. When the winning idea might be implemented is unknown.

Confluence of Cement Creek and the Animas River via the USGS

Confluence of Cement Creek and the Animas River via the USGS

Meanwhile there was a meeting Wednesday in Silverton to discuss potential Superfund designation to bring in federal dough and expertise. Here’s a prequel from Chase Olivarius-Mcallister writing for The Durango Herald. Here’s an excerpt:

For years, the Environmental Protection Agency has tried to designate parts of Silverton a Superfund site. Yet for years, many locals have considered the word “Superfund” dirtier than Cement Creek…

A series of abandoned mines in the Upper Animas Basin has been spewing toxic metals into the local water system for more than 20 years. Scientists say it’s the largest untreated mine drainage in the state, and problematic concentrations of zinc, copper, cadmium, iron, lead, manganese and aluminum are choking off the Upper Animas River’s ecosystem.

La Plata County Commissioner Gwen Lachelt said Silverton’s environmental calamity is “huge, affecting so many jurisdictions and communities. But it has felt like we were sort of at a stalemate.”

Lachelt said San Juan County commissioners now are leading the issue, not ignoring it.

“The La Plata County commissioners stand by the San Juan County commissioners in seeking out all of this information and seeking a rapid solution to this long-lingering problem,” she said. “I don’t think there’s one single reason it’s taken so long, and we’re certainly not there yet. But I think we’re seeing a lot of folks come together and realize we really don’t want to lose any more species of fish. We can’t afford to, and we have to act.”

‘Objections worn thin’

Since last summer, political pressure to find a solution in Silverton has escalated.

Rob Robinson, who used to represent the Bureau of Land Management within the Animas River Stakeholders Group, sent a letter and petition with 15 signatures in December to the EPA and the Colorado Department of Health and Environment urging a Superfund listing in Silverton. Robinson said for years he had kept faith that the Animas River Stakeholders Group’s collaborative process would work.

“I was a member of (the stakeholders) for many years and believed strongly in what they were doing: community-based, watershed-based cleanup. I guess it’s not gone so well,” he said. “In fact, it’s really disastrous when you compare the situation with what’s happened at other Superfund sites.”

Steve Gunderson, director of Colorado’s Water Quality Control Division, said he was “appalled” by what he saw when he toured the Red and Bonita Mine in 2012.

“This site, even though it’s complicated and remote, is in an incredibly beautiful part of the state. It may take a Superfund designation to bring the resources to bear,” he said.

But Gunderson said he doubts the EPA will “move forward with a Superfund designation unless there’s support with the local government because Superfund can be fairly controversial, and the first reaction is often angst about what the economic ramifications might be.”

Many Silverton residents interviewed by The Durango Herald last summer feared a Superfund designation would stymie tourism and soil the prospect of mining’s return.

“Superfund isn’t the answer,” said Steve Fearn, a co-coordinator of the Animas River Stakeholders Group and a town resident. “I want to see Silverton become a successful, vibrant community again. Right now, it isn’t, and mining is the one thing we have.”

But Robinson said such objections had worn thin.

“God, they’re the same positions they took 25 years ago! I think ‘Gee-whiz, it’s like a broken record, going on and on,’” Robinson said. “People like Steve Fearn argue a Superfund site will discourage mining investment. But the pollution is discouraging people from mining.

“What Steve Fearn says is immaterial. What’s important is that the Clean Water Act promises to clean up the nation’s water, making it all swimmable, fishable. That’s the goal, and the people administering … Superfund aren’t doing their job,” he said. “That’s the problem.”[...]

In the absence of a Superfund designation, for years, the stakeholders group has tried to work collaboratively with the EPA and Sunnyside Gold Corp. to improve water quality in the Animas River.

However, water quality recently has gotten much worse in the river.

Between 2005 and 2010, three out of four of the fish species that lived in the Upper Animas beneath Silverton died. According to studies by the U.S. Geological Survey, the volume of insects and the number of bug species have plummeted. And since 2006, USGS scientists have found that the water flowing under Bakers Bridge – then downstream, into Durango – carries concentrations of zinc that are toxic to animal life.

The technology to clean the dirty water exists: a limestone water treatment plant. But the stakeholders group has no money to pay for it, and the EPA estimates it would cost between $12 million and $17 million to build and $1 million a year to run – in perpetuity.

Sunnyside Gold Corp., the last mining company to operate in Silverton, denies all liability for cleaning up the worsened metal pollution. It has offered $6.5 million in return for being released from all liability. Kinross Gold Corp., an international mining conglomerate, bought Sunnyside in 2003. The company generated nearly $1 billion in revenue in 2013, according to its fourth-quarter report…

On Monday, within hours of commissioners announcing that most of their Wednesday meeting would be dedicated to discussing Superfund with the EPA, Larry Perino, Sunnyside’s representative in the stakeholders group, sent co-coordinators Fearn, Bill Simon and Peter Butler a letter proposing the company’s “game plan” for cleaning up the Animas River.

The plan centers on all parties continuing to work through the stakeholders group, bulkheading the Red and Bonita Mine and using the money Sunnyside already has promised – with compound interest. The plan does not include pursuing Superfund listing…

More Animas River watershed coverage here and here.


Arkansas River Basin Water Forum: “What happens when you overdevelop?” — Jim Pokrandt #COWaterPlan

April 24, 2014
Arkansas River Basin -- Graphic via the Colorado Geological Survey

Arkansas River Basin — Graphic via the Colorado Geological Survey

Chris Woodka was front and center at the Arkansas Basin Water Forum. Below are 3 articles recapping the first day of the event.

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

A team of paragliders won’t cut it out of a glacier with a chainsaw. A ski patrol can’t bring it down from the top of a snowy mountain. Deep-sea divers won’t blow up an iceberg to get at it. In other words, no Silver Bullet for the state water plan. But it will provide options, said James Eklund, executive director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board.

“If you want to do planning, you have to do it before the crisis hits,” Eklund told the Arkansas River Basin Water Forum at Otero Junior College on Wednesday. “We’re not going to luck into what we want for our kids. We have to be intentional.”

The state water plan occupied all of the attention at the first day of the forum, along with the Arkansas Basin Roundtable’s basin implementation plan. The forum continues today with the focus on preserving irrigation for farms. The basin plan will be part of a draft state water plan that will be submitted to the governor in December.

“I can’t tell you what will be in the plan,” Eklund said. “It has to come from the grassroots up.”

The basin roundtables, the Interbasin Compact Committee and the CWCB have been talking about the core issues of a water plan — alternatives to ag dry-up, urban conservation, new supply, storage and environmental needs — for 10 years. New meetings are pushing to include more people in the statewide conversation, with about a dozen more planned in the next three months.

Eklund stressed the need to preserve watershed health to prepare for drought, floods and fires that have plagued the state for the past two years. While there will be measurable outcomes, the state water plan likely will not contain blanket solutions for filling the needs of cities on the Front Range as more people move into the state, he added.

“There may be tough decisions in the future,” Eklund said, speaking about some climate models that show reduced snowpack in coming years. “If climate change occurs, at that point dramatic steps will be taken. We have to be comfortable as a state.”

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

The Arkansas River basin is no stranger to the troubles of overdevelopment of water resources. But its neighbors also have complaints as they develop their part of the state water plan. Experts from four other basins shared some of those Wednesday at the Arkansas River Basin Water Forum at Otero Junior College.

September’s record floods were a mixed blessing for the South Platte basin, said Sean Cronin, executive director of the St. Vrain and Left Hand Water Conservancy District.

“While some reservoirs filled, it wiped out the infrastructure to deliver water to ditches,” Cronin said.

The Rio Grande basin has been in drought since 2002, and will provide little help in meeting the state’s water gap because it’s struggling to fill its own needs, said Mike Gibson, general manager of the San Luis Valley Water Conservancy District.

“We’re an ag-based economy, and we have a gap already,” Gibson said.

He jokingly suggested moving Interstate 70 — the dividing line for the state’s wet and dry weather — 300 miles south to solve state water problems.

The Gunnison River basin is softening its hard line against taking water out of its basin, but would demand tough conservation measures and no Colorado River Compact complications before agreeing to any further diversions out of the basin, said John McClow, attorney for the Upper Gunnison River Water Conservancy District. It’s still not a popular idea.

“We’re an untapped basin and intend to keep it that way,” McClow said. “And, we’re paranoid.”

Colorado transmountain diversions via the State Engineer's office

Colorado transmountain diversions via the State Engineer’s office

The Colorado River basin is also resistant to more transmountain diversions, said Jim Pokrandt, an education and communication specialist for the Colorado River District. The Front Range already takes 450,000-600,000 acre-feet from the Colorado River each year, so there is no excess water. Pokrandt applauded cooperative agreements with the Denver Water Board and proposals by the Northern Water Conservancy District as examples of moving ahead collaboratively. The Colorado River basin is cautious because of the types of problems the Arkansas River and Republican River basins already have faced.

“What happens when you overdevelop?” Pokrandt asked. “The Colorado River Basin Roundtable does not want that kind of future.”

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

An aquatic biologist who worked to establish a high-quality fishery on the Upper Arkansas River was honored Wednesday. Greg Policky, who works for Colorado Parks and Wildlife, received the Bob Appel Friend of the Arkansas River award at the 20th Arkansas River Basin Water Forum. The award is named for the late Bob Appel, who was a farmer and conservationist who helped found the forum 20 years ago. Policky has been the state’s primary biologist for the Upper Arkansas River for more than 20 years and has worked to improved the brown trout fishery.

“His attention to detail and collection of objective fishery data has provided numerous benefits to the river’s fishery,” said Jean Van Pelt, in introducing him at the forum.

In addition to programs and studies, his ability to provide public education about fisheries was cited.

“His goal is to increase the public understanding of aquatic ecology and fishery management,” she said. “He has actively targeted angling organizations and land resource agencies, but he finds his most rewarding beneficiaries in school-age children.”

Policky was humble in accepting the award, thanking members of the Arkansas River basin forum for working together on the voluntary flow program, which modulates reservoir releases for the benefit of fish.

Past winners of the Appel award are Mike Conlin, Denzel Goodwin, Paul Flack, Reed Dils, Carl Genova, Allen Ringle, Bud O’Hara, Alan Hamel and Steve Witte.

More Forum coverage from Bette McFarren writing for the La Junta Tribune-Democrat:

The 20th Arkansas River Basin Water Forum “Planning and Planting for the Future” got under way on Tuesday evening at Otero Junior College. Welcoming the group was La Junta Utility Board Chairman Lorenz Sutherland.

The first session was “Landscaping for Drought Tour of Otero Junior College Campus,” an informative session on selecting drought tolerant plants, xeriscape principles and growing drought tolerant trees, conducted by Genia Short of Otero Junior College, Liz Catt of Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District, and Shelly Simmons of the Colorado State Forest Service. The group urged use of drip irrigation and showed the simple and inexpensive tubing needed to accomplish the job. Also stressed were weed barrier material which is water permeable, gravel for mulch and edging to keep out encroaching grass. Also, look at your neighbors’ yards for good drought-tolerant plants. Anything with a bulb or tuber, such as irises and tulips, are drought-tolerant. Also, the old-fashioned bushes like spirea and rose of Sharon are good. Many other design suggestions and tree selection pointers made the session extremely worthwhile.

In the next session, Kevin Rein of the State Engineer’s Office explained the complications of the Colorado water rights system. It sounds simple, first in, first rights, but industrial, agricultural and municipal needs have complicated matters. Many states, in fact more than half of the United States, depend on water originating in Colorado, known as the Headwater State. “It falls as snow on our mountains,” said Rein, “melts, and runs off out of state. We try to catch a little of it as it goes by.”

La Junta’s Director of Water and Wastewater Joe Kelley led off the session on the Arkansas Valley Conduit, supported by Erin Mink, of Senator Mark Udall’s office. She recalled 20 years ago when she was warned about our drinking water while she was working at Bent’s Old Fort. Also making comments about the conduit were Doris Morgan of Congressman Cory Gardner’s office and Brian McCain, of Congressman Scott Tipton’s office. They emphasized that all of Colorado’s congressional representatives are supporting the Arkansas Valley Conduit.

On Wednesday morning, the really big crowd arrived, filling the adjacent parking lots around the Otero Junior College Student Center. Host Chairman Lorenz Sutherland, Otero County Commissioner Keith Goodwin, and La Junta City Manager Rick Klein welcomed the group. The local color guard presented the colors. The keynote speaker was James Eklund, director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board, who spoke on “Colorado’s Water Plan.”

More Arkansas River Basin coverage here.


Grand County Commissioners announce benefits from pact with Denver Water — Sky-Hi Daily News #ColoradoRiver

April 23, 2014
Denver Water's collection system via the USACE EIS

Denver Water’s collection system via the USACE EIS

Here’s the release from the Grand County Commissioners via the Sky-Hi Daily News:

The Grand County Board of County Commissioners has announced a major economic win for the county. The Colorado River Cooperative Agreement, which went into effect Sept. 26, 2013, is already paying off – literally – in the county. The agreement between Denver Water and Grand County, as well as other West Slope governments, water providers and ski areas, was reached after years of negotiations.

Earlier this year, Denver Water began to meet dozens of obligations outlined in the agreement. In January, Denver Water made a payment of $1.95 million to Grand County for two water supply projects:

• The Jim Creek Bypass and Pipeline, which Winter Park Water and Sanitation District is already designing, will help protect water quality at its water treatment plant in low-flow periods, and provide system flexibility. In addition, the project will be constructed following a competitive bid process, which will be an economic boost for the county. Because Denver Water is funding the Jim Creek Bypass and Pipeline project, Winter Park Water and Sanitation District will not need to raise service fees to pay for it.

• The Fraser River Pump Station, Pipeline and Discovery Park Pond project, which pays for much-needed improvements that will help stabilize the business of Winter Park Resort and other businesses in the upper Fraser Valley. The project will enhance Winter Park ski area’s snowmaking capability, allowing the resort to open more ski areas earlier in the season, which will drive early-season income to local businesses, as well as provide additional jobs for local residents. In addition, water previously provided by Denver Water only in the winter to the ski area, Winter Park Water and Sanitation District, Grand County Water and Sanitation District, and the Towns of Fraser and Granby, will now be available on a year-round basis. The pond also will provide a source of water for wildfire suppression.

“More than five years of negotiations with Denver Water have paid off,” said Grand County Commissioner James Newberry. “It was important to us to make sure Grand County’s future was secure, and we believe the economic value we’re receiving from the Colorado River Cooperative Agreement achieves that.”

The agreement ushers in a new era of cooperation between Denver Water and West Slope entities to create a spirit of cooperation instead of litigation over water resources.

“The relationship forged through this agreement was bearing fruit for Grand County even before the agreement was officially in place,” said Newberry.

Commissioner Newberry pointed to the recent drought as an example of this cooperation. “In 2012, Denver Water implemented a critical component of the agreement in Grand County to provide more water for county streams than would have been available without the agreement. Instead of the historic practice of significantly reducing the bypass flows at its diversion points during droughts, Denver Water gave approximately 1,500 acre-feet of water back to the Fraser River when they legally could have diverted it to Denver.”

Another project, which created a settling pond on the east side of U.S. Highway 40 near the entrance of the Mary Jane ski area, was also completed and has been operated by Denver Water since before the Colorado River Cooperative Agreement was official. The pond improves water quality in Fraser Basin by trapping sand applied to Berthoud Pass by CDOT before it is carried down the river. The project was completed in 2011, and 680 tons of sediment was removed in 2013.

“The removal of sediment not only improves water quality, which assists the wastewater plants, but over time it will help restore the trout fishing habitat that President Eisenhower travelled to the Fraser River to enjoy,” said Newberry. “It’s these types of collaborative projects that will serve Grand County well into the future.”

More Colorado River Basin coverage here.


USGS: Mercury in Fishes from 21 National Parks in the Western United States—Inter- and Intra-Park Variation in Concentrations and Ecological Risk

April 23, 2014

mercuryinnationalparksviausgsapril2014

Click here to read the report. Here’s the abstract from the USGS (Collin A. Eagles-Smith/James J. Willacker Jr./Colleen M. Flanagan Pritz):

Mercury (Hg) is a global contaminant and human activities have increased atmospheric Hg concentrations 3- to 5-fold during the past 150 years. This increased release into the atmosphere has resulted in elevated loadings to aquatic habitats where biogeochemical processes promote the microbial conversion of inorganic Hg to methylmercury, the bioavailable form of Hg. The physicochemical properties of Hg and its complex environmental cycle have resulted in some of the most remote and protected areas of the world becoming contaminated with Hg concentrations that threaten ecosystem and human health. The national park network in the United States is comprised of some of the most pristine and sensitive wilderness in North America. There is concern that via global distribution, Hg contamination could threaten the ecological integrity of aquatic communities in the parks and the wildlife that depends on them. In this study, we examined Hg concentrations in non-migratory freshwater fish in 86 sites across 21 national parks in the Western United States. We report Hg concentrations of more than 1,400 fish collected in waters extending over a 4,000 kilometer distance, from Alaska to the arid Southwest. Across all parks, sites, and species, fish total Hg (THg) concentrations ranged from 9.9 to 1,109 nanograms per gram wet weight (ng/g ww) with a mean of 77.7 ng/g ww. We found substantial variation in fish THg concentrations among and within parks, suggesting that patterns of Hg risk are driven by processes occurring at a combination of scales. Additionally, variation (up to 20-fold) in site-specific fish THg concentrations within individual parks suggests that more intensive sampling in some parks will be required to effectively characterize Hg contamination in western national parks.

Across all fish sampled, only 5 percent had THg concentrations exceeding a benchmark (200 ng/g ww) associated with toxic responses within the fish themselves. However, Hg concentrations in 35 percent of fish sampled were above a benchmark for risk to highly sensitive avian consumers (90 ng/g ww), and THg concentrations in 68 percent of fish sampled were above exposure levels recommended by the Great Lakes Advisory Group (50 ng/g ww) for unlimited consumption by humans. Of the fish assessed for risk to human consumers (that is, species that are large enough to be consumed by recreational or subsistence anglers), only one individual fish from Yosemite National Park had a muscle Hg concentration exceeding the benchmark (950 ng/g ww) at which no human consumption is advised. Zion, Capital Reef, Wrangell-St. Elias, and Lake Clark National Parks all contained sites in which most fish exceeded benchmarks for the protection of human and wildlife health. This finding is particularly concerning in Zion and Capitol Reef National Parks because the fish from these parks were speckled dace, a small, invertebrate-feeding species, yet their Hg concentrations were as high or higher than those in the largest, long-lived predatory species, such as lake trout. Future targeted research and monitoring across park habitats would help identify patterns of Hg distribution across the landscape and facilitate management decisions aimed at reducing the ecological risk posed by Hg contamination in sensitive ecosystems protected by the National Park Service.

More water pollution coverage here.


Aspinall Unit Operation Coordination Meeting, April 24 #ColoradoRiver

April 23, 2014

Apr 2014 Agenda


Walkers win Leopold Award — The Pueblo Chieftain

April 23, 2014

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

For more than two decades, Gary and Georgia Walker have been transforming a “rundown ranch” into a productive cattle ranch that provides wildlife habitat and environmental buffer against Fort Carson for Pueblo West. On Tuesday, they were honored with the Colorado Leopold Conservation Award, recognizing their continued stewardship for the 65,000-acre ranch. The award is named for Aldo Leopold, who called for an ethical relationship between people and the land they own in his 1949 book, “A Sand County Almanac.”

“The Walkers’ passion for caring for the habitat and rare plant species on their land, near a growing urban community, sets a remarkable example of conservation leadership,” said Sand County Foundation President Brent Haglund.

The Walkers most recently made headlines for becoming the first ranchers in the United States to allow a release of an endangered species, the black-footed ferret, on their land under the federal Safe Harbor Act. But the conservation ethic goes back much further.

“Georgia and I started buying small ranches in the late 1970s,” said Walker, 68. “In those early days my only income was the check she brought home for teaching at District 60 in Pueblo. I also had an on and off income for helping dad. But our main plan was to seek out inexpensive ranches that needed a lot of cleaning up, buy and resell them. I was lucky as the banks in those days put a lot of value in the word and knowledge of a man and would make loans based on that and not only on his assets.”

In 1992, they bought the Turkey Creek Ranch from Walker’s father, the late Bob Walker. At the same time, they purchased 20,000 acres of adjacent state land in a tax-free exchange and gave up on fixing up ranches in order to concentrate on expanding their own property. Over the years, they have added more land through 75 purchases that doubled the size of the ranch.

“In my lifetime we have run everything that grew hair,” Walker said.

At one time his father ran 15,000 yearlings on four ranches in two states, but in recent years, the drought has decimated the herd. Since the drought began in 2000, they’ve sold and rebuilt their Black Angus herd three times. It reached its peak in 2012 at 1,100 cows, but dropped to 350 during the drought. After the rains last fall, they expanded to about 500 head.

The Walkers also own Twin Lakes water shares, among the most valuable and reliable water sources in the Arkansas River basin, in order to maintain water levels on ponds used by wildlife on their property.

“The Walkers balance a love of the land and a dedication to preserving wildlife with cattle ranching,” said Gene Manuello, president of the Colorado Cattlemen’s Association. “The 14 years of sustained drought have put unfathomable pressure on producers in Southeastern Colorado; the Walkers’ forethought and planning included the installation of pipelines, water storage tanks and stock ponds which have played an integral part in the long-term viability of the Turkey Creek Ranch as a home to livestock and wildlife.”

The Leopold Award is jointly sponsored by the Sand County Foundation, Colorado Cattlemen’s Association, Peabody Energy, Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association, American AgCredit, the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, Farm Credit, DuPont Pioneer, The Mosaic Company and the Natural Resources Conservation Service.

The Walkers will receive the award and a $10,000 check at the Protein Producer Summit June 16 in Colorado Springs.

Here’s the release from the Sand Country Foundation via The Cherry Creek News:

The Turkey Creek Ranch owned and operated by Gary and Georgia Walker has been selected as the recipient of the 2014 Colorado Leopold Conservation Award. The Pueblo-based ranch consists of approximately 65,000 deeded acres and is managed for both wildlife and livestock.

The acts of cattle ranching and wildlife management go hand in hand, and the life’s work of the Walkers proves it. Under an agreement with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, they re-introduced Black Footed Ferrets, which were once thought to be extinct, in eastern Colorado.

“The Walkers’ passion for caring for the habitat and rare plant species on their land, near a growing urban community, sets a remarkable example of conservation leadership,” said Sand County Foundation President Brent Haglund.

Given in honor of renowned conservationist Aldo Leopold, the Leopold Conservation Award recognizes private landowner achievement in voluntary conservation. The Walkers will receive a crystal depicting Aldo Leopold, and $10,000 at the Colorado Cattlemen’s Association’s Protein Producer Summit on June 16 in Colorado Springs.

The award recognizes private landowner achievement in voluntary conservation. It is presented annually by Sand County Foundation, the Colorado Cattlemen’s Association, the Colorado Cattlemen’s Agricultural Land Trust, Peabody Energy, Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association, and American AgCredit.

“The Walkers balance a love of the land and a dedication to preserving wildlife with cattle ranching,” said Gene Manuello, President of the Colorado Cattlemen’s Association. “The fourteen years of sustained drought have put unfathomable pressure on producers in southeastern Colorado; the Walkers’ forethought and planning included the installation of pipelines, water storage tanks and stock ponds which have played an integral part in the long-term viability of the Turkey Creek Ranch as a home to livestock and wildlife.”

The Leopold Conservation Award recognizes extraordinary achievement in voluntary conservation. It inspires landowners through these examples and provides a visible forum where farmers, ranchers and other private landowners are recognized as conservation leaders. In his influential 1949 book, “A Sand County Almanac,” Leopold called for an ethical relationship between people and the land they own and manage, which he called “an evolutionary possibility and an ecological necessity.”

Award applicants are judged based on their demonstration of improved resource conditions, innovation, long-term commitment to stewardship, sustained economic viability, community and civic leadership, and multiple use benefits.

The Leopold Conservation Award is possible thanks to generous contributions from many organizations, including Peabody Energy, Tri-State Generation and Transmission Assoc., American AgCredit, The Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, Farm Credit, DuPont Pioneer, The Mosaic Company, and the Natural Resources Conservation Service.

More conservation coverage here.


What does a potential El Niño mean for cities around the world? #ColoradoRiver

April 23, 2014

midmarchplumeofensopredictionsviacpc

Here’s a look at the potential effects of an El Niño on cities around the world from Eric Holthaus writing for Slate. Here’s an excerpt:

To be declared an official El Niño, surface water temperatures in the equatorial Pacific Ocean must warm by half a degree Celsius averaged over three months and maintain that level for five consecutive three-month periods. That’s an arbitrary definition, sure, but it gives us the ability to crunch the numbers on weather patterns that tend to associate with El Niños on a global scale.

Statistically, this time of year has the least predictability at any time all year. But peering below the ocean’s surface, water temperatures are already off-the-charts-hot. If that warm water makes it to the surface, the planet could be in line for one of the most intense El Niños ever recorded. That would be enough to shift weather patterns worldwide and make the next couple of years among the hottest we’ve ever known. Earlier this month I wrote that taking into account current forecasts, El Niño could be the biggest global weather story of 2014. The new data shows that forecast is still on track. And that means El Niño could officially begin in a matter of weeks…

…there are some parts of the world that have a relatively predictable weather signal when El Niño rolls around.

There have been only a handful of El Niño events in the last few decades, and in many cases it’s difficult to generalize based on such a small sample size. Only once in the last 30 years—1998 (see above animation)—were subsurface water temperatures as warm as they are now. Which makes forecasting even more difficult.

But by averaging all the recent El Niño events together, we can take a guess at the general trends for what the next few months might bring. (Since all the websites offering El Niño impacts seem to be based on a Microsoft Encarta CD-ROM from the late 1990s, I figured we needed an update.) Let this be your warning: Not all of these predictions will come to pass. Some surely won’t. Frankly, I’m overgeneralizing a lot of nuance here. The below should be read as a tilt of the odds, not a black-and-white forecast. But it’s grounded in the past, and given the current state of the ocean and atmosphere, it offers a good idea of how planet Earth might deal in 2014–15…

Denver: Colorado Front Range snowstorms are significantly heavier during El Niño autumns and springs, though precipitation as a whole is roughly the same. A National Center for Atmospheric Research analysis shows a 20-inch snowstorm is roughly seven times more likely in an El Niño year than in a La Niña year. Neutral years—neither El Niño nor La Niña—are somewhere in between.

The Colorado River basin: Some good news! El Niño could help fill dwindling reservoirs and boost water supplies by bringing unseasonably heavy rains across the Southwest…

The Corn Belt: In sharp contrast to other major agricultural regions (India, Southeast Asia, Australia, Central America, Brazil), the U.S. Corn Belt could be in for a relatively mild summer. Near-average temperatures and slightly above-average rainfall could provide ideal growing conditions this summer, with farmers taking advantage of price spikes caused by shortages in other parts of the world. Midwest farmers could pay for it during summer 2015, though, if global temperature spikes as predicted. Poor corn harvests have been documented in Iowa in the year following El Niño…

The Antarctic: El Niño brings warmer winds to the frozen south during the summer months of December through February, and has been linked to greater loss of ice from the Antarctic Peninsula and the West Antarctic Ice Sheet. These are two of the regions on Earth that contribute most to sea level rise.

The Arctic: El Niño winters tend to be cooler than average across the Arctic Ocean, but only by a degree Celsius or so. That’s not enough to offset the rapid warming the region has seen over the last few decades—twice the rate of the planet as a whole. The impact of this year’s El Niño on the long-term trend toward ice-free summers in the Arctic should be minimal.

Greenland: There isn’t a whole lot of evidence pointing to impacts in Greenland one way or the other during El Niño years. Southern Greenland may be slightly warmer than normal, but El Niño’s impacts peak in midwinter, which this isn’t melt season here, so the effects on ice should be minimal.


El Paso County: “I think folks up here [Ute Pass] have really learned a lesson” — John Chavez #COflood

April 23, 2014

From KRDO (Emily Allen):

Almost every chair was filled at the meeting hosted at Ute Pass Elementary on Tuesday evening. The Coalition of the Upper South Platte, El Paso County and Colorado Department of Transportation answered residents’ questions about flood season.

Last summer, people living along Ute Pass watched cars float down Highway 24 and debris take out homes during flash floods.

El Paso County has spent $3.3 million on flood mitigations along Ute Pass. The county’s storm water quality coordinator John Chavez said despite the work, he is still apprehensive about flood season. Based on questions raised during the meeting, he is not alone in his concerns.

“I think folks up here have really learned a lesson. Immediately after the fire, I think there was some denial relative to flooding but once the rains really started, they realized this was serious and they needed to take action,” said Chavez.

The city of Colorado Springs is also moving ahead on flood mitigation work in preparation for flood season. Workers are clearing sediment, vegetation and loose concrete along Camp Creek between Fontanero and Bijou Streets on 31st Street.

Camp Creek channel via City of Colorado Springs

Camp Creek channel via City of Colorado Springs

If debris blocks culverts along Camp Creek, it will push water onto the road and homes along 31st Street. Resident Claudia Roldan said there were a lot of close calls last flood season.

An engineer with the City of Colorado Springs overseeing the project said it will improve conditions in Camp Creek this summer, but there is more work that needs to be done to keep homes safe in the area…

Temporary work on Camp Creek will wrap up at the end of May. City engineers have long-term plans to overhaul Camp Creek so it can withstand heavy rain in the future.


The April newsletter from Protect the Flows is hot off the presses #ColoradoRiver

April 22, 2014

Pulse flow tongue upstream of San Luis Rio Colorado

Pulse flow tongue upstream of San Luis Rio Colorado


Click here to read the newsletter. Here’s an excerpt:

In late March an agreement between the US and Mexico to release water to the parched delta region was realized with water from the Morales Dam released in a “pulse flow”. This release provided water to the region that has been dried up and experienced desertification over years of a lack of Colorado River water reaching the sea. The event received a great deal of media attention including amazing coverage by National Geographic. This was a perfect example of a variety of interests working together to achieve a solution that benefits the environment, the economy and the interests of 2 nations.

More Colorado River Basin coverage here and here.


Happy Earth Day: How did Earth Day come to exist?

April 22, 2014

cuyahogariverfire1131952

From NOAA:

On June 22, 1969, the Cuyahoga River on the southern shores of Lake Erie caught on fire as chemicals, oil, and other industrial materials that had oozed into the river somehow ignited. Just a few months before, on January 28, 1969, an oil rig leaked millions of gallons of oil off the coast of Santa Barbara. That same year, reports surfaced that our national symbol, the bald eagle, was rapidly declining as a species due to the chemical DDT, while around the world, whales were being hunted nearly to extinction. These and other incidents caught the attention of the national media and galvanized public awareness of the many environmental insults being hurled at the nation and the planet.

In response to the public outcry, Earth Day Founder Gaylord Nelson, who served as the Governor of Wisconsin (1958-1962) and in the U.S. Senate (1963-1981), organized a nationwide “teach-in” about environmental issues to take place on April 22, 1970. More than 2,000 colleges and universities, 10,000 public schools, and 20 million citizens participated—nearly 10 percent of the U.S. population at that time.

This outpouring of grassroots environmental activism marked the first Earth Day—a recognition of the importance of caring for the environment and accepting stewardship responsibility for the nation’s resources. It also helped establish a political climate conducive to forming both the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on October 3, 1970.

We like to say that “Every day is Earth Day at NOAA.” But ever since April 22, 1970, people the world over take time to recognize the importance of protecting the Earth’s natural resources—be they oceanic, atmospheric, terrestrial, or biological—for future generations.


National Climatic Data Center Global Analysis March 2014

April 22, 2014

significantclimateanomaliesandeventsmarch2014noaa

Click here National Climatic Data Center Global Analysis website hosted by NOAA. Click on the thumbnail graphic above for selected events. Here’s an excerpt:

Global Highlights

  • The combined average temperature over global land and ocean surfaces was the fourth highest for March on record, at 0.71°C (1.28°F) above the 20th century average of 12.3°C (54.1°F).
  • The global land surface temperature was 1.33°C (2.39°F) above the 20th century average of 5.0°C (40.8°F), the fifth highest for March on record. For the ocean, the March global sea surface temperature was 0.48°C (0.86°F) above the 20th century average of 15.9°C (60.7°F), tying with 2004 as the fifth highest for March on record.
  • The combined global land and ocean average surface temperature for the January–March period (year-to-date) was 0.60°C (1.08°F) above the 20th century average of 12.3°C (54.1°F), the seventh warmest such period on record.

  • Snowpack/runoff news: “At this point we [Denver Water] do expect that our reservoirs will fill” — Stacy Chesney #COdrought #ColoradoRiver

    April 22, 2014
    Statewide snow water equivalent as a percent of normal April 21, 2014 via the NRCS

    Statewide snow water equivalent as a percent of normal April 21, 2014 via the NRCS

    From CBSDenver4.com:

    The mountain snow is melting and it looks like Colorado’s white winter in the high country will bring good news for residents along the Front Range. Denver Water thinks Dillon Reservoir will fill to capacity for the first time in years.

    It was the end of March last year when Denver Water put in Stage 1 water restrictions as Lake Dillon was only 65 percent full. As on Monday it’s at about 85 percent full and it’s actually being drained to get ready for more melting snow, which will mean even more water.

    “It’s always a balancing act with our reservoirs across the state — Dillon in particular. We want to ultimately keep it full so people can enjoy recreation on the reservoir, but we have to be really conscious too as to what happens below the reservoir,” Stacy Chesney with Denver Water said.

    With the snowpack well above average surrounding the largest reservoir that sends water to Denver, officials have been planning all winter to let some go.

    “We’ve been proactively releasing water into the river below to create that room to help reduce any risk of flooding that could happen later in the season,” Chesney said.

    But officials from Denver Water are keeping an eye on the snowpack with the hope of having full reservoirs for the first time since July of 2011.

    “At this point we do expect that our reservoirs will fill and we hope that customers will continue that wise water use and not overuse water and follow our watering rules which will start on May 1,” Chesney said.

    What many people in the high country are going to be watching is a layer of dust on the Western Slope that has sat on the snow for nearly a month. That, along with rain and warm temperatures over the last week, helped rush the melt over the past few days.

    From Steamboat Today (Scott Franz):

    This week, the persistent snow in the mountains just outside Steamboat Springs is reminiscent of the impressive snowpack of 2011, when the Yampa River overran Bald Eagle Lake and caused the youth minister at the Steamboat Christian Center and his family to evacuate their parsonage.

    Is spring 2014 another 2011 in the making? It’s unlikely, according to a hydrologist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration who keeps close tabs on the Yampa River Basin.

    Ashley Nielson confirmed that the total volume of water that flowed down the Yampa in 2011 beginning on April 1 and continuing through July 31 was the highest on record. And this year’s snowpack doesn’t measure up.

    “We do see a 10 percent chance the peak flow on the Yampa will go over flood stage, but it’s totally dependent on what kind of spring we have and how that snow comes off,” Nielson said Monday. “There’s a lot less snow than what we had in 2011.”

    The Natural Resources Conservation Service is reporting that the snow at the top of Buffalo Pass is currently 134 inches deep, which is down from 149 inches April 14, and the snow water equivalent is 112 percent of median. That compares to a record 180 inches of snow depth that stood at 130 percent of average in 2011. At the west summit of Rabbit Ears Pass on Monday, the snow water equivalent was 150 percent of median compared to 157 percent April 23, 2011…

    Still, the hydrograph for this week closely mirrors 2011, Nielson agreed, when low elevation runoff peaked on April 23. Nielson’s office is forecasting that the Yampa will shoot up Wednesday at about 1,900 cfs, then slip back to the range of 1,000 to 1,200 cfs through the end of the month when a cold front is expected to apply the brakes. It’s very typical, she said, for the Yampa to rise steeply in late April as snow melts suddenly from the valley floor and lower slopes.


    Has Durango sold its river, and its soul, to recreation? — High Country News

    April 22, 2014
    Design for the whitewater park at Smelter Rapids via the City of Durango

    Design for the whitewater park at Smelter Rapids via the City of Durango

    From the High Country News (Jonathan Thompson):

    The City is building a park. On the river. With a boat ramp…

    As upsetting to opponents as the development itself is what it will bring: More of the inner-tubing, paddle-boarding, river-rafting, beach-partying masses that have already colonized large swaths of the river during the warmer months of the year. But it’s also what the development represents. In its quest to be an amenity-rich, recreation-based town rather than the extraction based one it once was, critics say, Durango has finally gone too far.

    The problem park — its name is Oxbow Preserve — consists of 44 acres of land just north of this town of 15,000 people. The City acquired the land from private owners back in 2012 with the help of $400,000 in statewide lottery funds that are doled out for such things. Generally speaking, the land acquisition itself wasn’t controversial: It would preserve a nice stretch of the river as open space with public access, benefit wildlife and allow the City to stretch the riverside bike path further afield.

    After acquiring the land, the City announced that it would keep its hands off 38 acres, leaving it as open space and wildlife habitat. No worries there. Yet the remaining six acres would be developed as a park, with not only the bike path going through, but also a driveway, parking lot, restrooms and a boat ramp, accessible to commercial outfitters. This development — the ramp in particular — is what’s fueling the fight.

    The Animas River has always been critical to this southwest Colorado town. Its cold waters come crashing violently out of the narrow, v-shaped gorge that slices through the San Juan Mountains. When it hits the flat-as-glass bottom of the glacially-carved Animas Valley, it slows suddenly, and its path becomes a lazy meander, almost twisting around and meeting itself at times. The sandy banks here are so soft that ranchers used to line them with crushed, old cars to prevent erosion…

    Commercial river rafting got going here in the early 1980s, and has since grown into a decent-sized chunk of the local tourism trade. Back in 1990, commercial outfitters ferried some 10,000 folks down the town run. By 2005, the peak year so far, that had jumped to 52,000. In 2012 — a low water year — 38,000 paid to raft the river, making a $12 million economic impact on the community, according to a Colorado Rivers Outfitters Association Report…

    At least as many people float the river without guides, including private rafters, kayakers, paddle boarders and inner-tubers. Drought actually draws more of these users, since the river is safer at low levels.

    Around the river access points, cars crowd the streets on summer days and inner-tube- and Pabst Blue Ribbon-hefting, scantily-clad youngsters wander around lackadaisically among the exhaust-belching rafting company buses, crammed to the gills with tourists getting the safety talk while wearing oversized, bright-orange life jackets. Downriver, a nice slow-moving section morphs into a party zone, replete with blaring sound systems.

    A large chunk of opposition to the Oxbow park plans — particularly the commercial boat ramp and developed parking lot — comes from nearby property owners, worried that the in-town riverside zoo will simply migrate upstream to their backyards. But the resistance is not all rooted in NIMBYism. Also of concern are the impacts the floating and beach-going masses will have on wildlife — the park is near a pair of great blue heron rookeries, elk habitat and bald eagle fishing areas. Still others see the inclusion of a commercial boat ramp as a subsidy for private enterprise, and as a violation of the terms of the state funds that paid for the parcel of land. The developed park has its supporters, too: Commercial river rafters would be able to stretch out their town run, as well as the rafting season (the sandy upper reaches of the river are navigable even in very low water). And they contribute to the economy — many of my friends paid their way through college and beyond as river guides.

    More Animas River watershed coverage here.


    Jamestown recovery from #COflood

    April 22, 2014

    From the Mountain Town News (Allen Best):

    Mayor Tara Schoedinger says 80 percent of the [Jamestown’s] 300 residents remain displaced. They’ve rented houses in Boulder, Longmont, or elsewhere. This winter, Schoedinger feared few would return if water service and roads were not restored by August.

    Now, it looks like they will. Bids will soon go out for design and construction of restored infrastructure of water treatment, mains and service lines. If all goes as planned, construction will begin in late May or early June. Completion is expected by August.

    For repairs above ground, the town’s insurance will pay for replacements. But for the more costly below-ground work, the Federal Emergency Management Agency will pay 75 percent of costs and the state of Colorado 22.5 percent.

    That leaves the town paying just 2.5 percent. This is expected to cost just under $2 million.

    In an interview at the Boulder County Courthouse, where the town board has met since last September, Schoedinger recently explained that temporary roads associated with the water works will be completed by early August, with one significant bridge repair likely to be done by November.

    As before, sewage treatment is handled through individual septic tanks, and $50,000 has been donated to that cause.

    Roots of the settlement are traced to 1863, when evidence of gold nearby drew prospectors. It’s the most northerly extent of the belt of gold and other precious metals that sweeps across Colorado to the Durango area. The gold never amounted to that much, but the town stayed.

    This isn’t the first challenge. Schoedinger describes floods in the late 1800s, then again in 1913 and 1969—and with at least comparable ferocity to that which occurred in September.

    Jamestown was probably drenched worse than any other town in the four days of storms that dropped up to 18 inches in some locations. The flooding waters destroyed 20 percent of the houses and 50 percent of roads, plus the water treatment plant and the fire station. A mudslide also killed Schoedinger’s next-door neighbor, Joey Howlett, who was regarded as the town’s patriarch.


    Combined impacts of current and future dust deposition and regional warming on #ColoradoRiver Basin snow dynamics and hydrology

    April 21, 2014
    Dust streaming across Four Corners April 29, 2009 via MODIS

    Dust streaming across Four Corners April 29, 2009 via MODIS

    Click here to read the abstract (J. S. Deems, T. H. Painter, J. J. Barsugli, J. Belnap, and B. Udall):

    The Colorado River provides water to 40 million people in seven western states and two countries and to 5.5 million irrigated acres. The river has long been overallocated. Climate models project runoff losses of 5–20% from the basin by mid-21st century due to human-induced climate change. Recent work has shown that decreased snow albedo from anthropogenic dust loading to the CO mountains shortens the duration of snow cover by several weeks relative to conditions prior to western expansion of the US in the mid-1800s, and advances peak runoff at Lees Ferry, Arizona, by an average of 3 weeks. Increases in evapotranspiration from earlier exposure of soils and germination of plants have been estimated to decrease annual runoff by more than 1.0 billion cubic meters, or ~5% of the annual average. This prior work was based on observed dust loadings during 2005–2008; however, 2009 and 2010 saw unprecedented levels of dust loading on snowpacks in the Upper Colorado River Basin (UCRB), being on the order of 5 times the 2005–2008 loading. Building on our prior work, we developed a new snow albedo decay parameterization based on observations in 2009/10 to mimic the radiative forcing of extreme dust deposition. We convolve low, moderate, and extreme dust/snow albedos with both historic climate forcing and two future climate scenarios via a delta method perturbation of historic records. Compared to moderate dust, extreme dust absorbs 2× to 4× the solar radiation, and shifts peak snowmelt an additional 3 weeks earlier to a total of 6 weeks earlier than pre-disturbance. The extreme dust scenario reduces annual flow volume an additional 1% (6% compared to pre-disturbance), a smaller difference than from low to moderate dust scenarios due to melt season shifting into a season of lower evaporative demand. The sensitivity of flow timing to dust radiative forcing of snow albedo is maintained under future climate scenarios, but the sensitivity of flow volume reductions decreases with increased climate forcing. These results have implications for water management and suggest that dust abatement efforts could be an important component of any climate adaptation strategies in the UCRB.

    More Colorado River Basin coverage here.


    Black Hills Exploration & Production is bankrolling $7 million cost to develop #ColoradoRiver diversion near De Beque

    April 21, 2014

    Colorado River near De Beque

    Colorado River near De Beque


    From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Gary Harmon):

    Ranchers and De Beque residents will gain irrigation water and the energy industry will have access to water for drilling under a project that will pump water out of the bottom of the Colorado River. Energy companies will pay most of the cost of the project that will use an existing intake at the bottom of the river to draw water out and pipe it into existing ditches and a small impoundment that energy companies can draw on for their drilling activities.

    “It’s definitely an asset to the community,” said De Beque-
area rancher Tom Latham. “The town will benefit, irrigation and agricultural people will benefit and the oil and gas business will benefit.”

    Latham and rancher Dale Albertson represent the Bluestone Water Conservancy District along with members of the board of the Colorado River Water Conservation District in pushing the project, for which work could begin this year.

    Called the Kobe Project, the water it draws from the Colorado will be devoted mostly — 75 percent — to agricultural use and 25 percent for industrial use.

    Black Hills Exploration & Production is bankrolling almost all the estimated $7 million development cost, some of which it will recoup through lower water costs and from other energy companies that use water from the project, officials said.

    The Kobe project will draw 25 cubic feet per second from the Colorado, with 5 cfs set aside for industry and the rest for De Beque and agriculture, said Ray Tenney, an engineer with the River District.

    The water won’t necessarily expand agriculture in the area, but it will be a welcome layer of security against continued drought, Latham said.

    “The last two years, if it had been in place, it would have been a benefit,” Latham said.

    Water availability also will make it easier to develop natural gas in areas that otherwise might have been impossible because of the difficulty of trucking it in, said Mesa County Commissioner Steve Acquafresca, who until recently served as the county’s representative on the project.

    “This really is a great local project converting local conditional rights to absolute rights for diverse purposes,” Acquafresca said.

    The project also illustrates the need for water to remain in the Colorado as opposed to being diverted east to the Front Range.

    “If we want to be more than a donor basin, we need to have a robust economy,” Acquafresca said.

    “Kobe is a good example of what we need to be doing here with our water resources.”

    More Colorado River Basin coverage here.


    It’s Wastewater Worker Recognition Week

    April 21, 2014

    AWRA – Colorado Section EARLY BIRD PRICES EXTENDED : MAY 2 Annual Symposium – Water Hazards: From Risk to Recovery

    April 21, 2014

    Northern Water’s 2013 Annual Report is hot off the presses

    April 21, 2014
    Map of the Northern Integrated Supply Project via Northern Water

    Map of the Northern Integrated Supply Project via Northern Water

    Click here to read the report. Here’s an excerpt:

    In April when the Board considered the quota, forecasts indicated below average runoff. Because the C-BT Project delivered more than 300,000 acre feet in 2012, storage reserves were significantly below normal in early 2013, and inadequate to provide the higher quota many would have preferred.

    As this roller coaster year progressed, mountain snowpack and resulting runoff increased. The Board felt it prudent to not increase the declared 60 percent quota, hoping to build C-BT reserves and be better positioned for future years.

    The September record-breaking rains and devastating floods will be forever remembered. Our hearts go out to all who were impacted. In addition to the personal and public property devastation, water supply infrastructure suffered severe damage. In many areas streamflows exceeded maximum levels recorded since the advent of South Platte Basin irrigation in 1859.

    Rebuilding has been the region’s focus since the floods. Some efforts have succeeded, some will require more time. The Colorado Water Conservation Board stepped up and provided

    As this roller coaster year progressed, mountain snowpack and resulting runoff increased. The Board felt it prudent to not increase the declared 60 percent quota, hoping to build C-BT reserves and be better positioned for future years.

    The September record-breaking rains and devastating floods will be forever remembered. Our hearts go out to all who were impacted. In addition to the personal and public property devastation, water supply infrastructure suffered severe damage. In many areas streamflows exceeded maximum levels recorded since the advent of South Platte Basin irrigation in 1859.

    Rebuilding has been the region’s focus since the floods. Some efforts have succeeded, some will require more time. The Colorado Water Conservation Board stepped up and provided $2.55 million in grants to help those in need. Northern Water was honored to act as CWCB’s agent, administering over 100 grants in accordance with CWCB criteria and direction.

    Northern Water suffered relatively light flood damage compared to many. We are blessed with a very dedicated and talented workforce that aggressively took on the challenge of flood recovery. As a result, Northern Water completed flood repairs by early January.

    Reclamation repaired additional C-BT Project facilities damaged by the floods. The exception is the Dille Tunnel Diversion on the Big Thompson River, which will likely not be fully operational until the beginning of the 2015 irrigation season.

    In 2013 Northern Water successfully finished refurbishing the original Carter Lake outlet. This past year also marked the culmination of a 13-year effort to meet the annual water delivery requirements of the Colorado River Endangered Species Recovery Program. Through a unique solution that does not diminish C-BT Project yield, water was released from Lake Granby for beneficial uses in the Grand Valley while also meeting endangered species needs. This effort, implemented by Northern Water, was funded by East Slope entities that divert water from the Colorado River.

    More Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District coverage here.


    USGS: Geologic Sources and Concentrations of Selenium in the West-Central Denver Basin, Including the Toll Gate Creek Watershed, Aurora, Colorado, 2003–2007

    April 21, 2014

    selenium

    Here’s the abstract from the USGS (Suzanne S. Paschke/Katherine Walton-Day/Jennifer A. Beck/Ank Webber/Jean A. Dupree)

    Toll Gate Creek, in the west-central part of the Denver Basin, is a perennial stream in which concentrations of dissolved selenium have consistently exceeded the Colorado aquatic-life standard of 4.6 micrograms per liter. Recent studies of selenium in Toll Gate Creek identified the Denver lignite zone of the non-marine Cretaceous to Tertiary-aged (Paleocene) Denver Formation underlying the watershed as the geologic source of dissolved selenium to shallow ground-water and surface water. Previous work led to this study by the U.S. Geological Survey, in cooperation with the City of Aurora Utilities Department, which investigated geologic sources of selenium and selenium concentrations in the watershed. This report documents the occurrence of selenium-bearing rocks and groundwater within the Cretaceous- to Tertiary-aged Denver Formation in the west-central part of the Denver Basin, including the Toll Gate Creek watershed. The report presents background information on geochemical processes controlling selenium concentrations in the aquatic environment and possible geologic sources of selenium; the hydrogeologic setting of the watershed; selenium results from groundwater-sampling programs; and chemical analyses of solids samples as evidence that weathering of the Denver Formation is a geologic source of selenium to groundwater and surface water in the west-central part of the Denver Basin, including Toll Gate Creek.

    Analyses of water samples collected from 61 water-table wells in 2003 and from 19 water-table wells in 2007 indicate dissolved selenium concentrations in groundwater in the west-central Denver Basin frequently exceeded the Colorado aquatic-life standard and in some locations exceeded the primary drinking-water standard of 50 micrograms per liter. The greatest selenium concentrations were associated with oxidized groundwater samples from wells completed in bedrock materials. Selenium analysis of geologic core samples indicates that total selenium concentrations were greatest in samples containing indications of reducing conditions and organic matter (dark gray to black claystones and lignite horizons).

    The Toll Gate Creek watershed is situated in a unique hydrogeologic setting in the west-central part of the Denver Basin such that weathering of Cretaceous- to Tertiary-aged, non-marine, selenium-bearing rocks releases selenium to groundwater and surface water under present-day semi-arid environmental conditions. The Denver Formation contains several known and suspected geologic sources of selenium including: (1) lignite deposits; (2) tonstein partings; (3) organic-rich bentonite claystones; (4) salts formed as secondary weathering products; and possibly (5) the Cretaceous-Tertiary boundary. Organically complexed selenium and/or selenium-bearing pyrite in the enclosing claystones are likely the primary mineral sources of selenium in the Denver Formation, and correlations between concentration of dissolved selenium and dissolved organic carbon in groundwater indicate weathering and dissolution of organically complexed selenium from organic-rich claystone is a primary process mobilizing selenium. Secondary salts accumulated along fractures and bedding planes in the weathered zone are another potential geologic source of selenium, although their composition was not specifically addressed by the solids analyses. Results from this and previous work indicate that shallow groundwater and streams similarly positioned over Denver Formation claystone units at other locations in the Denver Basin also may contain concentrations of dissolved selenium greater than the Colorado aquatic-life standard or the drinking- water standard.

    More South Platte River Basin coverage here.


    USGS: Remediation Scenarios for Attenuating Peak Flows and Reducing Sediment Transport in Fountain Creek, Colorado, 2013

    April 21, 2014
    Fountain Creek Watershed

    Fountain Creek Watershed

    Here’s the abstract from the USGS (Michael S. Kohn/John W. Fulton/Cory A. Williams/Robert W. Stogner, Sr.)

    The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) in cooperation with the Fountain Creek Watershed, Flood Control and Greenway District assessed remediation scenarios to attenuate peak flows and reduce sediment loads in the Fountain Creek watershed. To evaluate these strategies, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Hydrologic Engineering Center (HEC) hydrologic and hydraulic models were employed.

    The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers modeling system HEC-HMS (Hydrologic Modeling System) version 3.5 was used to simulate runoff in the Fountain Creek watershed, Colorado, associated with storms of varying magnitude and duration. Rain-gage precipitation data and radar-based precipitation data from the April 28–30, 1999, and September 14–15, 2011, storm events were used in the calibration process for the HEC-HMS model. The curve number and lag time for each subwatershed and Manning’s roughness coefficients for each channel reach were adjusted within an acceptable range so that the simulated and measured streamflow hydrographs for each of the 12 USGS streamgages approximated each other.

    The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers modeling system HEC-RAS (River Analysis System) versions 4.1 and 4.2 were used to simulate streamflow and sediment transport, respectively, for the Fountain Creek watershed generated by a particular storm event. Data from 15 USGS streamgages were used for model calibration and 7 of those USGS streamgages were used for model validation. The calibration process consisted of comparing the simulated water-surface elevations and the cross-section-averaged velocities from the model with those surveyed in the field at the cross section at the corresponding 15 and 7 streamgages, respectively. The final Manning’s roughness coefficients were adjusted between –30 and 30 percent at the 15 calibration streamgages from the original left, right, and channel-averaged Manning’s roughness coefficients upon completion of calibration.

    The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers modeling system HEC-RAS version 4.2 was used to simulate streamflow and sediment transport for the Fountain Creek watershed generated by a design-storm event. The Laursen-Copeland sediment-transport function was used in conjunction with the Exner 5 sorting method and the Ruby fall-velocity method to predict sediment transport. Six USGS streamgages equipped with suspended-sediment samplers were used to develop sediment-flow rating curves for the sediment-transport-model calibration. The critical Shields number in the Laursen-Copeland sediment-transport function and the volume of sediment available at a given cross section were adjusted during the HEC-RAS sediment-model calibration process.

    HEC-RAS model simulations used to evaluate the 14 remediation scenarios were based on unsteady-state streamflows associated with a 24-hour, 1-percent annual exceedance probability (100-year) National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Type II precipitation event. Scenario 0 represents the baseline or current conditions in the watershed and was used to compare the remaining 13 scenarios. Scenarios 1–8 and 12 rely on side-detention facilities to reduce peak flows and sediment transport. Scenario 9 has a diversion channel, and scenario 10 has a reservoir. Scenarios 11 and 13 incorporate channel armoring and channel widening, respectively. Scenarios 8 and 10, the scenario with the most side-detention facilities, and the scenario with the reservoir, respectively, were the most effective at reducing sediment transport and peak flow at the Pueblo, Colorado, streamgage. Scenarios 8 and 10 altered the peak flow by –58.9 and –56.4 percent, respectively. In turn, scenarios 8 and 10 altered the sediment transport by –17.7 and –62.1 percent, respectively.

    More Fountain Creek coverage here.


    The Lower Ark and Otero County enter into IGA to form the Arkansas Valley Rural Water Authority

    April 21, 2014
    The water treatment process

    The water treatment process

    From the La Junta Tribune Democrat (Bette McFarren):

    On Wednesday, the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District entered into an intergovernmental agreement with Otero County for the purpose of creating the Arkansas Valley Rural Water Authority. As Bill Hancock of the LAVWCD explained, this organization has been a long time coming about and is much needed in the valley so that small water companies may deal with new regulations on drinking water.
    The organization will help the companies in many ways. First, it will enable them to apply for grants and loans to maintain or replace outdated equipment. More important, they can now speak as a group. They can get together a portfolio that will enable them to connect with the conduit (to receive higher quality water from Pueblo Reservoir). Perhaps the most important point of all, said Hancock, is that they will be able to hire a full-time person to deal with the extremely complex problems involved with water distribution and getting funds for improvement.

    After passing the intergovernmental agreement which makes the organization possible, the LAVWCD appointed its two members of the AVRWA board, Wayne Snyder and Jolean Rose. Snyder has been working with the three founding members of the AVRWA for months to find a way to create the organization. Rose’s husband was one of the originators of the idea of the independent water companies joining forces. These companies are Valley Water, represented by Sam Fosdick; Vroman Water, represented by Kenny Wilson; Fayette Water, represented by Alan Franz. Other companies may join the association. The Otero County Commissioners entered into the IGA on Monday at their regular meeting. They will be taking applications for their two spots on the board. The other board member will be selected by the members of the AVRWA.

    Terry Dawson, standing in for Roy Vaughan for the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, gave the group the good news that we may actually be having a wet year. The Pueblo Reservoir is up to average for the first time in many years. As of April 14, 195,543 acre-feet are stored in Pueblo; 129,145 a/f of project water, 35,266 a/f of excess capacity water, 127,804 a/f of Project space in Pueblo, 70,161 a/f of Project space in Twin and Turquoise.

    The melting of the snowpack will start early this year, predicts the Bureau. The problem with pumping the water from Turquoise to Twin Lakes has been solved with fixing the troublesome pump. In other words, the water situation looks good for agriculture. Dawson said the wet weather will continue through the spring to early summer, followed by a dry period, then another wet period in the fall, according to best predictions. A cautionary note: weather may be predicted with any degree of accuracy for only a week at a time.

    More Arkansas River Basin coverage <a href="


    NSF — Earth Week: Bark beetles change Rocky Mountain stream flows, affect water quality

    April 21, 2014

    mountainpinebeetles

    From the National Science Foundation (Cheryl Dybas):

    On Earth Week–and in fact, every week now–trees in mountains across the western United States are dying, thanks to an infestation of bark beetles that reproduce in the trees’ inner bark.

    Some species of the beetles, such as the mountain pine beetle, attack and kill live trees. Others live in dead, weakened or dying hosts.

    In Colorado alone, the mountain pine beetle has caused the deaths of more than 3.4 million acres of pine trees.

    What effect do all these dead trees have on stream flow and water quality? Plenty, according to new research findings reported this week.

    Dead trees don’t drink water

    “The unprecedented tree deaths caused by these beetles provided a new approach to estimating the interaction of trees with the water cycle in mountain headwaters like those of the Colorado and Platte Rivers,” says hydrologist Reed Maxwell of the Colorado School of Mines.

    Maxwell and colleagues have published results of their study of beetle effects on stream flows in this week’s issue of the journal Nature Climate Change.

    As the trees die, they stop taking up water from the soil, known as transpiration. Transpiration is the process of water movement through a plant and its evaporation from leaves, stems and flowers.

    The “unused” water then becomes part of the local groundwater and leads to increased water flows in nearby streams.

    The research is funded by the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) Water, Sustainability and Climate (WSC) Program. WSC is part of NSF’s Science, Engineering and Education for Sustainability initiative.

    “Large-scale tree death due to pine beetles has many negative effects,” says Tom Torgersen of NSF’s Directorate for Geosciences and lead WSC program director.

    “This loss of trees increases groundwater flow and water availability, seemingly a positive,” Torgersen says.

    “The total effect, however, of the extensive tree death and increased water flow has to be evaluated for how much of an increase, when does such an increase occur, and what’s the water quality of the resulting flow?”

    The answers aren’t always good ones.

    Green means go, red means stop, even for trees

    Under normal circumstances, green trees use shallow groundwater in late summer for transpiration.

    Red- and gray-phase trees–those affected by beetle infestations–stop transpiring, leading to higher water tables and greater water availability for groundwater flow to streams.

    The new results show that the fraction of late-summer groundwater flows from affected watersheds is about 30 percent higher after beetles have infested an area, compared with watersheds with less severe beetle attacks.

    “Water budget analysis confirms that transpiration loss resulting from beetle kill can account for the increase in groundwater contributions to streams,” write Maxwell and scientists Lindsay Bearup and John McCray of the Colorado School of Mines, and David Clow of the U.S. Geological Survey, in their paper.

    Dead trees create changes in water quality

    “Using ‘fingerprints’ of different water sources, defined by the sources’ water chemistry, we found that a higher fraction of late-summer streamflow in affected watersheds comes from groundwater rather than surface flows,” says Bearup.

    “Increases in stream flow and groundwater levels are very hard to detect because of fluctuations from changes in climate and in topography. Our approach using water chemistry allows us to ‘dissect’ the water in streams and better understand its source.”

    With millions of dead trees, adds Maxwell, “we asked: What’s the potential effect if the trees stop using water? Our findings not only identify this change, but quantify how much water trees use.”

    An important implication of the research, Bearup says, is that the change can alter water quality.

    The new results, she says, help explain earlier work by Colorado School of Mines scientists. “That research found an unexpected spike in carcinogenic disinfection by-products in late summer in water treatment plants.”

    Where were those water treatment plants located? In bark beetle-infested watersheds.


    Snowpack/runoff news: “Broomfield is well positioned” — David Allen

    April 20, 2014

    From the Broomfield Enterprise (Megan Quinn):

    Snowpack in the watersheds from which [Colorado-Big Thompson Project] draws water are “significantly above average” for the year. One, in the Upper Colorado River Basin, is at 134 percent of typical levels, while the South Platte River tributaries are at 147 percent of typical levels, according to a news release.

    The C-BT project supplies water to Broomfield and 32 other municipalities, according to the release.

    David Allen, director of Broomfield Public Works, said C-BT is one three suppliers from which the city gets water, and the increased allotment allows Broomfield a cushion in case it is a hot, dry summer.

    “Broomfield is well positioned” for water in 2014, Allen said.

    The C-BT project will offer Broomfield 7,709 acre-feet of water this year instead of 6,424 acre-feet originally allocated, Allen said.

    Broomfield’s other water sources include Denver Water, which will offer 4,700 acre-feet of water this year. Denver Water also allows Broomfield to “roll over” water allocations it did not use the prior year.

    Broomfield also uses water from the Windy Gap project, which could offer up to 5,600 acre-feet, Allen said…

    At its highest, Broomfield’s water demand is about 12,745 acre-feet a year. Last year, peak demand was closer to 11,000 acre-feet.


    The latest Water Center at CMU newsletter is hot off the presses

    April 20, 2014
    Snowpack Upper Colorado River Basin via snowpack.Water-data.com

    Snowpack Upper Colorado River Basin via snowpack.Water-data.com

    Click here to read the newsletter. Here’s an excerpt:

    The latest SNOTEL reports indicate that the snowpack has peaked and begun to run off in the Colorado River headwaters. The Yampa, Upper Green, and Upper Colorado snowpacks all peaked well above average, while the Duchesne and San Juan Basins peaked below average, and the Gunnison Basin overall peaked at about average (wetter to the north, drier to the south). The related drought outlook shows Colorado mostly in the clear, but persistence or intensifying drought tendency to the South and West.


    SB14-147 hits a wall in the Senate Ag Committee — indefinite postponement

    April 20, 2014
    Map of the South Platte River alluvial aquifer subregions -- Colorado Water Conservation Board via the Colorado Water Institute

    Map of the South Platte River alluvial aquifer subregions — Colorado Water Conservation Board via the Colorado Water Institute

    From the Sterling Journal-Advocate:

    Senate Bill 14-147, “A Study to Determine the Impact of Increased Well Alluvial Well Pumping In District 2 of Water Division 1,” would have allowed wells to pump 20 percent more than their decrees permitted under the auspices of a study.

    Testimony was given during the hearing that the additional 20 percent of pumping proposed in connection with the study would injure other water rights and should not be used to solve high ground water issues. Additionally, Jim Yahn of the North Sterling Irrigation District told lawmakers that, based on court documents, there have been localized areas of high ground water in the South Platte since the early 1900s.

    “The bill would have conflicted with existing water court decrees and undo stipulations between parties in hundreds of water court cases, making it unconstitutional,” the press release from WRASP said. “It could also interfere with Colorado’s obligations under the South Platte River Compact.”

    Following the hearing, WRASP member Joe Frank expressed ongoing concern with the idea behind this legislation: “Water rights in Colorado are property rights. WRASP will always oppose proposals that undermine these property rights to the detriment of Colorado farmers. Taking our water should never be an option to solving water shortages in other areas. WRASP remains committed to working with all parties for reasonable solutions.”

    More 2014 Colorado legislation coverage here.


    Durango’s new whitewater park opened Friday for the season

    April 20, 2014
    Design for the whitewater park at Smelter Rapids via the City of Durango

    Design for the whitewater park at Smelter Rapids via the City of Durango

    From The Durango Herald:

    Boaters and kayakers take their first runs through Durango’s new Whitewater Park on Friday. The $1 million project created a number of in-river features next to Santa Rita Park. The contractor is continuing to do work along the shoreline, which is not accessible adjacent to the wastewater-treatment plant.

    More Animas River watershed coverage here.


    “Front Range wants dibs on the” #ColoradoRiver — The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel #COWaterPlan

    April 20, 2014
    Colorado transmountain diversions via the State Engineer's office

    Colorado transmountain diversions via the State Engineer’s office

    From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):

    A coalition of Front Range water utilities is calling in a letter for assurance that a new transmountain diversion project will be a part of a state plan aimed at filling the anticipated future gap between demand and supply.

    That desire by the Front Range Water Council is unsettling others who question whether the Western Slope has any more water left to give.

    [...]

    The letter to the Colorado Water Conservation Board was written by James Lochhead, chief executive officer and manager of Denver Water. Other utilities also on the council are Aurora Water, Colorado Springs Utilities, the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District, the Pueblo Board of Water Works, the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District and the Twin Lakes Reservoir and Canal Co.

    It says that the planning process “should begin with an assurance, and not simply a hope,” that a new project involving Colorado River water will be a fundamental part of the package for meeting the state’s future water needs.

    Roundtable groups around Colorado, including in the Colorado River Basin, are preparing proposals that the conservation board will consider in trying to come up with a statewide plan.

    The Front Range Water Council’s concerns center on meeting notes from a March 17 conference call involving chairmen of the roundtable groups. The notes include a reference to a goal of giving water providers “an indication that there is hope for new supply” if the providers do their part. They went on to refer to various conservation and other milestones that would have to be met prior to an agreement for new supply being reached.

    Jim Pokrandt of the Colorado River Water Conservation District is chairman of the Colorado River Basin roundtable and sits on the Interbasin Compact Committee. He described the conference call conversation as a “schematic on how to talk about diversion, illustrating how the discussion might go” in the state planning process.

    “It was purely contemplative but it had stuff in there that could be taken out of context and that’s what the Front Range Water Council got excited about … but they’re reacting to something that doesn’t exist,” he said.

    That said, Pokrandt questioned how the utilities can expect a new diversion to be a sure thing.

    “They’re looking for more than hope and I don’t know how there can be hope when you don’t know if there’s enough water, you don’t know if all the other conditions can be answered, if the public will go for it and finance it, if you can get permits,” he said.

    Western Slope water officials long have worried that a statewide plan would simply be a means of paving the way for further diversions of water to the Front Range.

    However, the Interbasin Compact Committee now envisions that the plan won’t identify a specific diversion project, but will lay out conditions under which one could be pursued.

    In an interview, Lochhead said no one can currently say what a new diversion project would look like, where it would be located, or how much water will be involved.

    “But we need to all agree that that is an option that needs to be secured and preserved and not just kind of put out in the future for some future discussion,” he said.

    Pokrandt said he thinks the Colorado River Roundtable’s position will be that it doesn’t think any more water is available to support more Front Range diversions.

    He said the group is willing to study the idea, but there’s no guarantee enough water exists for a diversion and the outcome can’t be preordained to meet the Front Range utilities’ desire for an assured project.

    “I don’t know how you get more than hope with all the questions out there,” he said.

    For years, the focus in terms of filling Colorado’s water gap has involved what officials call a four-legged stool involving conservation/reuse, completion of projects already in the planning process, transfers of agricultural water, and new diversions.

    “That’s been the most difficult thing to talk about,” Pokrandt said of the diversion concept.

    Said Lochhead, “The option of the development of that leg needs to be preserved.”

    He said he thinks it’s premature for the Western Slope to say there’s no water available. New supply needs to be part of the strategy and there needs to be a discussion of how and when it should occur, and what the Western Slope benefits can be, he said.

    Mesa County Commissioner Steve Acquafresca has been keeping an eye on what the Colorado River roundtable group has been preparing and thinks it is doing a good job of articulating the region’s best water interests.

    That includes the possible conclusion about the lack of more water for diversions in part because of Colorado’s water obligations to downstream states under an interstate compact.

    “I think the Colorado River roundtable really makes a good case,” he said.

    He expects the water conservation board to receive conflicting plans from western and eastern roundtables.

    “It’s going to be really interesting to see how the CWCB manages these diverging views as they integrate them together into some statewide water plan,” he said.

    Lochhead noted that the letter he signed is from a group of utilities, and when it comes to Denver Water alone, it has a new agreement with Western Slope entities that would require their buy-in for any future diversions by that utility. He said it remains committed to that agreement.

    But speaking for Front Range utilities more generally, “If the (Western Slope) position is there’s no water to be developed, what that says is there’s no room for discussion. We need to move beyond platitudes and politics and parochialism and move toward actual discussion,” he said.

    At the same time, Lochhead conceded the potential for discussions to start to fall apart when parties start engaging in letter-writing.

    “I’ll plead guilty to that here,” he said.

    More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.


    “…the waterways of Grand County have become the poster child for aquatic death by a thousand cuts” — Allen Best #ColoradoRiver

    April 20, 2014
    Denver Water's collection system via the USACE EIS

    Denver Water’s collection system via the USACE EIS

    Another independent journalist covering water issues is Allen Best purveyor of The Mountain Town News. Here’s an analysis of the recent agreement between Denver Water, Trout Unlimited, and Grand County for operating the Colorado River Cooperative agreement. Here’s an excerpt:

    Located at the headwaters of the Colorado River, the waterways of Grand County have become the poster child for aquatic death by a thousand cuts…

    Called the Mitigation and Enhancement Coordination Plan, the agreement between Denver Water, Grand County, and Trout Unlimited proposes to govern Denver’s incremental diversions through the Continental Divide known as the Moffat firming project. However, according to the architects of the deal, it should also serve as a model in the ongoing dialogue as Colorado’s growing metropolitan areas look to squeeze out the final drops of the state’s entitlements to the Colorado River, as defined by the Colorado River compact of 1922 and other compacts.

    “It is a demonstration of a new way of doing business that should be a model as Colorado talks about meeting its water gaps (between demands and supplies),” says Jim Lochhead, chief executive of Denver Water.

    “Instead of platitudes or politics or parochialism, you need to do it by sitting down and working together and dealing with the issues,” he adds…

    There are skeptics, unable to explain this strange alchemy in which a river can in any way benefit from having less water, as the agreement insists can be the case.

    Among those withholding enthusiasm is Matt Rice, the Colorado coordinator for American Rivers. He points out that the agreement covers just 4 of the 32 creeks and streams trapped by Denver Water in the Fraser Valley and the adjoining Williams Fork. Too, like too many other similar programs, the data collection begins after permits are awarded, not before, which he thinks is backward.

    In short, while Denver is careful to talk about “enhancements,” he thinks it falls short of addressing full, cumulative impacts.

    Cumulative impacts are likely to be a focal point of federal permitting. While the Environmental Protection Agency is likely to have a voice, the vital 404 permit must come from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The parties to the new agreement have asked that their agreement be incorporated into the permit…

    A far greater financial cost to Denver specified by the agreement is the agency’s commitment to forfeit up to 2,500 acre-feet annually of the city’s added 18,700 acre-foot take.

    Based on the firm yield of the water and Denver’s rate for outside-city raw water to customers, this commitment is valued at $55 million.

    Denver will make this water available for release into the creeks and rivers, to keep water temperatures colder and hence more hospitable to insects and fish. The water can also be used for flushing, to mimic what happens naturally during spring runoff, scouring river bottoms, to clear out the silt that clogs the spaces between rocks where mayflies and other insects live – and upon which fish feed…

    A final environmental impact statement from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is expected in late April. The federal agency can also impose conditions of its own making. They would be included in a record-of-decision, which is expected to be issued in late 2015.

    A permit from the Colorado Department of Health and Environment is also needed. Boulder County insists it also has say-so over enlargement of Gross Reservoir, an assertion contested by Denver Water.

    In addition, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission must award a permit for revised hydroelectric generation at Gross.

    At earliest, expansion of Gross could start in 2018 and be ready to capture spring runoff in 2022…

    The agreement represents a new wave of thinking about impacts of water diversions. The older way of thinking was demonstrated in the Colorado Big-Thompson project. Financed by the federal government, it gave the Western Slope a one-time package, Green Mountain Reservoir, between Kremmling and Silverthorne, to serve Western Slope needs, particularly the farmers near Grand Junction who need water for late-summer fruits and produce. The agreement did not cover a more recent problem seemingly caused by the diversion, algae that obscure the clarity of Grand Lake.

    The most recent of of the new agreements since the 1990s provides more living, breathing elasticity. The foundation for the new agreement was announced in 2011 but not finalized until recently. Called the Colorado River Cooperative Agreement, it sharply restricts Denver’s ability to develop new water sources on the Western Slope and also calls for Denver to provide both water and money to address problems in the Vail, Breckenridge and Winter Park areas.

    Then, in 2012, came agreements addressing the ambitions by five cities along the northern Front Range to increase the take of spring flows at Windy Gap, similar to what Denver wants to do at the Moffat Tunnel.

    The Windy Gap settlement introduced adaptive management, an idea gaining favor in management of rivers of the West for several decades. The essential idea of Learning by Doing, the program embraced for both Windy Gap and the Moffat projects, is that it’s impossible to know exactly what to do in advance…

    “In the past, you’d build a project, do the required mitigation and move on. That’s no longer the case. Denver Water is committed to a new way of doing business – one that approaches water management in a way that is collaborative and as beneficial to West Slope interests as possible. The partnership we’ve created through Learning by Doing is permanent. Our commitment is t o work with Grand County, Trout Unlimited and all the partners in Learning by Doing in an ongoing manner permanently into the future.”

    More Denver Water coverage here.


    The Colorado Basin Roundtable trims the list of potential projects for the basin implementation plan #COWaterPlan #ColoradoRiver

    April 20, 2014

    maroonlakewikipedia

    Aspen Journalism is collaborating with the Aspen Daily News covering water issues in Colorado. I met one of their reporters, Nelson Harvey, last Wednesday at the Water Availability Task Force meeting. Aspen Journalism now has boots on the ground in Denver and on the Front Range.

    Here’s an article about the Colorado Basin Roundtable basin implementation plan from Brent Gardner-Smith writing for the Aspen Daily News:

    Consultants for the Colorado River Basin Roundtable earlier this week passed out a much shorter list of water projects to be potentially included in a draft water-supply plan for the area.

    New reservoirs on upper Castle and Maroon creeks were not included on the working draft list, but enlarging three existing reservoirs in the Roaring Fork River watershed are.

    The potentially expanded reservoirs include Spring Park Reservoir on Missouri Heights; Ziegler Reservoir just outside of Snowmass Village; and Martin Reservoir just above the Sunlight ski area.

    Instead of over 500 potential projects and updated policy suggestions, the draft list passed out at a roundtable meeting on Monday by consulting engineer Louis Meyer of SGM included 95 potential projects and policies.

    SGM has divided the broader Colorado River Basin in Colorado into seven sub-regions: the Roaring Fork, Grand Valley, Middle Colorado, State Bridge, Eagle, Summit and Grand County regions.

    Meyer expected to ultimately see about seven to 10 of the projects identified per region under the category of “needs and vulnerabilities.”

    In discussing the earlier list of 500-plus potential projects and policy changes identified for the Colorado River Basin, Meyer noted that many projects on the longer list would likely remain conceptual.

    “Now mind you, a lot of these reservoirs will never be built,” Meyer said. “There are reservoirs, say, up Maroon Creek or Castle Creek — the chances are they will never be built.”

    “Let’s just say, ‘won’t be built for quite a while,’” interjected Mike McDill, the deputy director of utilities for the city of Aspen.

    The city holds conditional water rights for reservoirs on both upper Castle and Maroon creeks and wants to see the reservoirs mentioned in the statewide water plan…

    Many of the projects on the shorter draft list are designed to leave more water in the rivers to the benefit of aquatic environments.

    However, Meyer said there is still a non-consumptive, or environmental, gap in the Colorado basin’s draft plan.

    Meyer said the plan did not yet have solutions to leave more water in all of the 64 critical stream segments in the basin identified by the state.

    “This plan will recommend that more work be done on identifying a systemic approach to projects and polices to restore and maintain healthy rivers,” Meyer said.

    As an example, Meyer cited three reaches of river in the Roaring Fork watershed that had at times run well below the minimum in-stream flows defined by the state as necessary to protect the environment “to a reasonable degree.”

    The critical reaches are on the lower Crystal River below the Sweet Jessup Ditch, on the Roaring Fork just above its confluence with the Fryingpan River in Basalt, and on the Roaring Fork in central Aspen below the Salvation Ditch.

    Many of the projects identified on the short list for the Roaring Fork region are being recommended for their ability to “protect, maintain and restore healthy rivers.”

    Projects that have been identified toward that goal include: restoring sections of the Roaring Fork as it winds through the Northstar nature preserve east of Aspen; the ongoing river restoration work in Basalt; and a restoration project on Cattle Creek, which flows into the Fork between Carbondale and Glenwood Springs.

    Other environmental projects listed were whitewater parks in Basalt and Carbondale, which can help ensure a certain amount of water will flow down the Fork; the city of Aspen’s project to re-use wastewater for irrigation and snowmaking; Pitkin County’s effort to leave more water from its open space properties in the Fork; and efficiency efforts by local water utilities.

    Also mentioned were ongoing discussions with irrigators on the Crystal River to find a way to leave more water in the river below the Sweet Jessup Ditch, where the river often runs nearly dry…

    In 2010, a state study identified a gap of 110,000 acre-feet between supply and demand in the Colorado River Basin by 2050.

    And the state found that projects already in the planning stage could produce 63,000 acre-feet of water, leaving an expected gap of 48,000 acre-feet.

    Lurline Curran, the Grand County manager and roundtable member, said it would be wrong to leave the impression that there was still plenty of water to be taken out of the Colorado River Basin.

    “We can build every reservoir we’ve got here, but we’re not going to have healthy rivers and streams if we do that,” Curran said. “It worries me when we say ‘We’ve got 10 times more than we need to meet our gap.’ No, we don’t, not if we’re going to protect and maintain healthy rivers and streams and protect our drinking water.”

    More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.


    “Efficiency and conservation need to be permanent programs” — Matt Rice/Bart Miller #COWaterPlan

    April 20, 2014
    Colorado River Basin including out of basin demands -- Graphic/USBR

    Colorado River Basin including out of basin demands — Graphic/USBR

    Here’s a guest column from the Denver Business Journal suggesting that prioritizing wet water in the streams, in the Colorado Water Plan, will have the best economic benefit. Click through and read the whole article. Here’s an excerpt:

    Healthy rivers are essential to Colorado’s multibillion-dollar agriculture, recreational, tourism and business economies, not to mention the Colorado River’s impact on the 36 million people who rely on it for drinking water. Yet, for more than a decade Colorado and surrounding states have experienced unrelenting drought. One good snowpack – even on the heels of a historic flood – can’t erase that.

    It’s no surprise that in its fourth annual poll of voters across six Western states on issues ranging from public lands to oil and gas development, Colorado College found water issues to be among the top priority issues. In fact, “low levels of water in rivers,” ranked as the No. 2 concern for Western voters, second only to unemployment.

    Further emphasizing this sentiment, 78 percent of voters in Colorado agree that using the currently developed water supply more wisely is the best solution to low river levels. In addition, these same voters agree conservation, reducing use and increasing water recycling make more sense than costly, controversial water diversion projects.

    An issue that concerns 82 percent of voters should get immediate and sustainable action…

    The first common-sense measure that must be included in the state water plan is to keep our rivers flowing at healthy levels…

    In addition, it’s critical that we modernize our agricultural policies so voluntary, water-sharing agreements can flourish to benefit agriculture, cities, and the environment. We can also provide better incentives for efficient agricultural water use, storage and infrastructure upgrades.

    We need to avoid any new major water diversion projects. Expensive and controversial projects that drain water from the Western Slope to the Front Range are highly controversial, and fail to address the fact that there’s a finite amount of water available amid a rapidly growing population. Buying up agricultural water rights to support urban growth isn’t a sustainable solution, either.

    The bottom line? The most cost-effective uses of dollars from water customers and the state, and the most practical and successful ways of ensuring that Colorado has enough water to go around, are conservation and efficiency. Our state water plan must incorporate these measures.

    More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.


    Southern Delivery System: Colorado Springs Utilities has spent $26.6 M on land-related expenses

    April 19, 2014
    Southern Delivery System route map -- Graphic / Reclamation

    Southern Delivery System route map — Graphic / Reclamation

    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

    Colorado Springs has spent $26.6 million to acquire land for its $984 million Southern Delivery System. Most of the money was spent in El Paso County, although properties in Pueblo West and on Walker Ranches were purchased either permanently or for temporary easements.

    Pipeline easements totaled $961,681 for 388 acres in Pueblo County, compared with $2.5 million for 486 acres in El Paso County.

    Another $1 million was paid to buy homes in Pueblo West.

    The big money was paid for other features of the project in El Paso County, a total of about $22 million.

    “It would be misleading to simply do the math on the values above and conclude that more was paid for land in El Paso County than Pueblo County,” said Janet Rummel, spokesman for Colorado Springs Utilities, in an e-mail responding to a request from The Pueblo Chieftain.

    Permanent easement prices ranged from 50-90 percent of fee value, while temporary easements are valued at 10 percent per year, varying from one to four years.

    “The fee value of land depends primarily on location, but also is subject to size, shape, development entitlement and improvements, if any,” Rummel explained.

    “Within the raw water pipeline alignments for SDS, fee values for easements and facilities ranged from $1,389 per acre to almost $20,000 per acre,” Rummel said. “Pueblo West properties were generally valued in the range between $10,900 to $13,000 per acre.”

    At the high end of that scale were 6 homes on about 10 acres in Pueblo West purchased for $1.044 million.

    But even below that scale were 103 acres, two-thirds in permanent easements, on Walker Ranches, which could be purchased for $82,900, or about $804 per acre. Utilities also paid Walker $600,000 to relocate cattle during construction, as required by Pueblo County’s 1041 permit.

    Gary Walker will contest the amount of the easement payment in court this November, one of four cases still in dispute.

    Walker also has raised complaints, most recently during a county public hearing, about erosion along the pipeline route. The bulk of the money, however, has gone for the treatment plant, pump station and reservoir sites in El Paso County.

    Utilities paid $259,519 for 43 acres for the Bradley Pump Station; $2.4 million for 124 acres at the treatment plant and $19.3 million for a future reservoir site on Upper Williams Creek.

    At the reservoir site, T-Cross Ranches, owned by the Norris family, received $9,500 per acre for 791 acres ($7.5 million), while the state land board received $10,500 per acre for 1,128 acres ($11.8 million).

    SDS is a pipeline project that will deliver up to 96 million gallons of water daily from Lake Pueblo to Colorado Springs, Fountain, Security and Pueblo West.

    The figures do not include money Utilities paid to purchase homes in Jimmy Camp Creek at a reservoir site that later was abandoned.


    HB14-1026: “In theory, it sounds good [flexible markets], but there are still not enough sideboards on it” — Jay Winner #COleg

    April 19, 2014
    Straight line diagram of the Lower Arkansas Valley ditches via Headwaters

    Straight line diagram of the Lower Arkansas Valley ditches via Headwaters

    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

    Local officials still are skeptical of pending legislation that would establish a flex marketing water right. The bill, HB1026, as introduced would have allowed agricultural water to be used anywhere, any time and for any purpose, apparently in contradiction of the state’s anti-speculation doctrine.

    [...]

    It breezed through the state House, but has been snagged for weeks in the Senate agriculture committee.

    “In theory, it sounds good, but there are still not enough sideboards on it,” said Jay Winner, general manager of the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District.

    Winner has been trying to get a provision added to the bill that would limit fallowing of farmland to three years in 10 — a staple of current law regarding temporary transfers. Backers of the bill have pushed for allowing transfers to occur five years in 10, with nearly unlimited dry-up of farm ground during that time.

    The bill was supposed to be heard in the Senate ag committee Thursday, but was again delayed. Winner thinks it should be referred to the interim water resources committee to work out differences.

    Meanwhile, the Pueblo Board of Water Works also is backing off from supporting the bill. Even though provisions were added that prevent moving water from the water district where it originally was used, farms might be permanently dried up, said Terry Book, executive director of the water board.

    “Our question is does it do what it’s intended to do?” Book said. “We would support something that allows farmers to market water, but not this bill.”

    More 2014 Colorado legislation coverage here.


    Arkansas River Basin: St. Charles Mesa Water District board election May 6

    April 19, 2014

    Green Mountain Reservoir operations update: Scaling back to 550 cfs by Monday #ColoradoRiver

    April 18, 2014

    greenmountainreservoir

    From email from Reclamation (Kara Lamb):

    We’ll be scaling back releases from Green Mountain over the weekend and then plan to maintain the lower release rate through next week. By Monday, April 21, we should be releasing about 550 cfs to the Lower Blue. The reduction in releases is due to some regularly scheduled maintenance. Property owners downstream of the dam have planned some channel work to correspond with the maintenance.

    Releases will begin stepping back tomorrow, Saturday. We will go from 750 to 700 cfs around 8 p.m tomorrow evening. On Sunday, we will do two changes: the first at 4 p.m. from 700 to 650 cfs. The second around 10 p.m. from 650 to 600 cfs. On Monday, we will drop down one more time around 6 a.m. from 600 to 550 cfs.

    Releases will go back up the following weekend of April 26.

    More Green Mountain Reservoir coverage here.


    South Platte Basin: High snowpack feeds speculation on runoff pattern #COflood #COdrought

    April 18, 2014

    St. Vrain River floodplain November 2013 via the Longmont Times-Call

    St. Vrain River floodplain November 2013 via the Longmont Times-Call


    From Rocky Mountain PBS (Jim Trotter):

    During the weekly climate webinar Tuesday hosted by the Colorado Climate Center, snowpack in the South Platte basin was reported at 138 percent of normal for this time of year.

    What’s more, the South Platte’s tributary rivers – including the Big Thompson, the St. Vrain and the Cache la Poudre – have been reporting base flows of as much as 300 percent above normal. Base flows this time of year are measured before snowmelt. Those high flows are still attributable to the September floods.

    “The groundwater contribution from the flooding is still working its way to the river,” assistant State Climatologist Wendy Ryan told I-News at Rocky Mountain PBS. “It’s a rule of thumb that there’s quite a lag time before all the water makes its way to the stream.”

    Many irrigation districts along the South Platte sustained heavy damage in September to headgates and other infrastructure. In some places, the river changed course sufficiently for intake structures to be left high and dry.

    “There are places where headgates were scoured away,” Ryan said. “Longmont is still trying to figure out what they need to do on the St. Vrain – leave it where it is or restore it to where it was.”

    Many irrigation companies have made essential repairs with FEMA money and other resources, Ryan said, and they can play a valuable role in removing water from the river if flooding occurs. Some of the smaller ditch companies have not made repairs.

    Meanwhile, she said, everyone is hoping that the spring warmup in the Rockies will be mellow enough to produce “a nice, well-behaved runoff.”

    There are parts of the state, of course, that would like to have those kinds of worries. As of now, drought conditions are persisting into the fourth year in the southeast quadrant of the state, with the driest areas for March centered over the already drought devastated areas in Lincoln, Cheyenne and Kiowa counties, according to the climate center.

    Las Animas and Baca counties are reporting less than 50 percent of average precipitation for the water year, which began last October.


    Reclamation now expects Lake Powell to fill to 3,620 feet this season #ColoradoRiver

    April 18, 2014
    Glen Canyon Dam -- Photo / Brad Udall

    Glen Canyon Dam — Photo / Brad Udall

    From KSL (Ray Grass):

    The current level of Lake Powell is 3,574 feet above sea level. When full the level is 3,700 feet. Because of an above normal snowpack in Colorado this winter, which feeds the lake, the level is expected to reach 3,620 this summer. Which is, forecasters admitted, much better than was expected earlier in the winter.

    The current level is not the lowest on record. Back in 2005 the lake’s level dropped to 3,555 feet. In 2011, the lake rose to within 40 feet of “full pool’’ and likely would have hit the full mark had not water releases not been increased into the Colorado River from the Glen Canyon Dam…

    As far as the invasive quagga mussel, adult mussels have been found in Lake Powell. Officials knew that once the mussels established a foothold in Lake Mead, 300 miles downstream fron Lake Powell, it would be only a matter of time before they made their way into Lake Powell.

    A report in February said “thousands’’ of the tiny bivalves were located in Lake Powell. The mussels cause damage, are a nuisance to lake visitors and are a serious danger to fishing. Each mussel can produce millions of offspring and biologists have been unable to find a way to control the mussels, which fall in the same family as clams, oysters and scallops.

    The first quagga mussel was found in Lake Powell in 2007. They were not discovered again until this year.

    From the Casa Grande Dispatch (Kayla S. Samoy):

    he overall snowpack stands at 115 percent of average for this time of the year in the Rockies. But, is it time to break out the red cups and toast an imminent reprieve in the drought and the dire predictions of cutbacks in regional allotments for water supplies from the 1,450-mile-long Colorado? Not so fast.

    “It may be a better-than-average snowpack, but depending on what the weather does it could not snow any more or get hot very quickly and evaporate the water instead of having it flow into the Colorado River basin,” said Mitch Basefsky, a spokesman for the Central Arizona Project, the agency that manages Colorado River flow into Pinal, Maricopa and Pima counties.

    There are other factors that will contribute to this winter’s snowpack impact on the Colorado River, said Bob Barrett, another CAP spokesman.

    “The concern is that it’s been pretty mild the last month. We’ve had pretty good precipitation, but it was warm,” said Greg Smith, the senior hydrologist at the Colorado River Basin forecast center.
    Smith said much of the debate about snowpack is rooted in the differences in the snowpack at different heights. According to Smith, lower elevations have seen very little snow this year…

    The Green River Basin area in Wyoming, Utah and Colorado has a significant snowpack, the third-highest on record for this time of the year, said Smith. While that may be advantageous for some places, Arizona is a different story.

    “Arizona is kind of a disaster,” Smith said.

    Many winter storms skirted northern Arizona and the snow sites in the Verde and Salt River basins are nearly bereft of snow. The snow that did fall in that area disappeared quickly. Since the area doesn’t see many storms after mid-March, there isn’t much chance for a rebound, Smith said.

    Since 2000, the Colorado River Basin has been experiencing the worst drought of the century. So far, Colorado River water users have not faced decreases in the amount of water they receiving because of reservoirs like Lake Mead and Lake Powell, which were full when the drought began. Today they are about half full.

    The Bureau of Reclamation, which manages water projects in the 17 western states, makes predictions about the state of water every two years. It currently projects that less water will be released from Lake Powell and Lake Mead this year and perhaps next year if the levels in the lake are still low.

    “Right now they’re looking at the potential for shortage in either 2015 or 2016,” said Basefsky. “A shortage is pretty significant for CAP because we have the junior priority for the Colorado River Basin. We would forego importing about 20 percent of our water supply.”

    More Colorado River Basin coverage here and here.


    Snowpack news: Statewide graph shows some melting over the past two weeks #COdrought

    April 18, 2014

    Snowpack/runoff news: “Things are going to start happening fast” — Terry Dawson #COdrought

    April 18, 2014
    Statewide snowpack map April 17, 2014 via the NRCS

    Statewide snowpack map April 17, 2014 via the NRCS

    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

    Levels at Lake Pueblo have returned to average levels as the Bureau of Reclamation continues to move water from reservoirs near to headwaters to make room for spring imports. The content of the reservoir is approaching 200,000 acre-feet, or about 80 percent of its limit during flood season.

    Meanwhile, Turquoise and Twin Lakes near Leadville are 80-85 percent full, as Reclamation prepares for a banner runoff this year.

    “This is the fourth highest snowpack level since 1991,” said Terry Dawson of the Bureau of Reclamation.

    Snowpack is 123-143 percent of average in the Upper Arkansas River basin, and 130-150 percent of average in the Upper Colorado River basin.

    The Fryingpan-Arkansas Project, Twin Lakes, Homestake Project and Pueblo Board of Water Works diversions all bring water from the Upper Colorado River basin into the Arkansas basin. The Fry-Ark Project was projected to bring in 73,900 acre-feet as of April 1, but snowpack has continued to build and the May 1 projection should increase, Dawson said.

    Weather forecasts are calling for a warmer, wetter spring, meaning that runoff may begin sooner than usual and will be heavy.

    “Things are going to start happening fast,” Dawson said.

    Early summer is expected to be drier than usual, with heavier rains predicted toward the end of summer.

    From the Boulder Weekly (Bob Berwyn):

    The San Juan Mountains often feel the brunt of the dust events, but a recent surge of desert air brought a thick layer as far north as Summit County at the end of March. If you’ve been skiing in the high country lately and noticed the pinkish snow, no need to check your goggles. It’s red-rock dust from your favorite mountain bike trail in Moab, and the strongest storms can drop up to 419 pounds of dust per acre atop the mountain snow…

    Last year brought record amounts of dust to Colorado. A single 16-hour dust storm on April 8, 2013 dropped more dust on the San Juans than the annual total from any previous winter since the start of detailed measurements, says Chris Landry, director of the Center for Snow and Avalanche Studies in Silverton, which tracks the dust-on-snow events via a statewide network of observation sites.

    The April 8 storm deposited about 419 pounds of dust per acre, or about 47 grams per square meter, Landry says, explaining that the melt-out equation also has to include year-to-year weather variations…

    Real-time observations of dust-on-snow events just started recently, but scientists have other ways to track dust deposition back through the ages. Long sediment cores from alpine lakes with distinct annual layers show that dust in the mountains didn’t increase during known historic megadroughts in the Southwest.

    But dust did increase starting in the mid-1800s, when settlement and grazing started in the Southwest. The findings suggest that human disturbance to desert soils are driving the increase. The depositions decreased in the late 1800s then leveled off at about five times the natural background levels due to continued disturbance.

    The most recent spike starting in the late 1990s appears to be due to increasing aridity in the Four Corners source area and increasing human disturbance of the soils.

    Physical and biogenic soil crusts make the deserts naturally resistant to wind erosion — but only if they are left in place. The crusts are easily disturbed by grazing, oil and gas exploration and drilling, agriculture, and off road vehicle use. Once disturbed, soil particles can be picked up by strong winds and transported hundreds of miles from the source.

    From Steamboat Today (Larry Sandoval):

    While it still is too early to tell what will come from the current above-average snowpack in the Yampa River Basin, it could mean many things for the Routt National Forest’s resources and visitors in the coming months. “Record-breaking” is how the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service described the 175 percent of average snowpack in the Yampa River Basin on May 1, 2011. Such heavy late-season snowpack resulted in delayed openings of forest roads and campgrounds as well as an essentially absent fire season.

    Conditions were a stark contrast just one year later, with only 17 percent of average snowpack on May 1, 2012. This, of course, was the year that Colorado and Wyoming experienced significant fire seasons, including four large fires in the Medicine Bow National Forest.

    Although above-average spring snowpack is favorable for the Routt National Forest’s 2014 fire season, it still is early and conditions can change rapidly between now and the start of the season, which typically begins in late June.

    As of April 2, the NRCS was reporting snowpack in the Yampa and White River Basins at 127 percent of average.

    By comparison, these basins were at 78 percent of average on April 1, 2013, before recovering with above average April snowfall to about 99 percent of average by May 1.

    Last year turned out to be a below-average fire season in the Routt National Forest…

    Fire managers and meteorologists at this point are saying that snowpack has minimized any concern for an early start to the fire season and that a repeat of a season like we experienced in 2012 is unlikely. Based on early indicators, projections are for 2014 to be an average to slightly below average fire season across the Rocky Mountain Area. Visit http://gacc.nifc.gov/rmcc/predictive/outlooks.html for more predictive information about the coming fire season.

    From the Estes Park Trail Gazette (Kara Lamb):

    Spring runoff in the Estes Valley and surrounding area is slowly beginning to take off, according to officials who are monitoring it closely.

    The Bureau of Reclamation sent out an email notification on Wednesday which was picked up and posted on the Town of Estes Park’s Facebook page.

    The notification essentially said it had noticed an increase in water flow in the Big Thompson River coming into Lake Estes in the past couple days.

    “It isn’t much water, just a few more cubic-feet-per second, depending on which guage you check, but late last night (Tuesday), we saw flows in the Big Thompson coming into Lake Estes inch up a bit,” said Kara Lamb, the public information officer for the Bureau of Reclamation’s Eastern Colorado Area Office in Loveland. “We usually see runoff start to come on in mid-April; and, the slight flow increase has been happening the past few nights as the warmer weather during the day has melted snow in the high country.

    “This morning (Wednesday), around 7 a.m., water through Olympus Dam out of Lake Estes bumped up from 26 to around 35 cfs.

    “The full reason for this slight increase is two-fold: higher rising inflows and a required change via the state to meet a seasonal minimum flow below Olympus Dam. The state required minimum out of Olympus corresponds with typical seasonal changes in river flow. In spring, we see three such changes: one in mid-April, one on May 1 and another in mid-May.

    “This spring, Big Thompson River ebb and flow above Lake Estes will correspond with warmer or cooler weather and snow melt as usual. However, below Lake Estes and Olympus Dam this spring, we will continue coordinating with the state and CDOT (Colorado Department of Transportation) contractors currently working on U.S. Highway 34 to follow the minimum flows as closely as possible while they finish work in the Narrows section of the canyon.”


    The latest newsletter from the Colorado Water Congress is hot off the presses #COleg #ColoradoRiver #COWaterPlan

    April 18, 2014
    Colorado River near De Beque

    Colorado River near De Beque

    Click here to read the newsletter. Here’s an excerpt:

    A record 180 people registered for the Wednesday, April 16 webinar, “Adapting the Law of the Colorado River.” John McClow, Colorado’s Commissioner on the Upper Colorado River Commission and CWC Board President, provided a brief summary of the Law of the Colorado River: the Colorado River Compact, the Upper Colorado River Basin Compact, and the Mexican Treaty of 1944. This was followed by a description of collaborative efforts among the seven Colorado River Basin states, the Department of the Interior, and Mexico to adapt the law to changing conditions on the river.

    Read an overview of the presentation on the CWC blog and view the presentation on the CWC website.

    More 2014 Colorado legislation coverage here.


    Gov. Hickenlooper expects federal money to start moving soon to help with with recovery from the September #COflood

    April 18, 2014
    Plume of subtropical moisture streaming into Colorado September 2013 via Weather5280

    Plume of subtropical moisture streaming into Colorado September 2013 via Weather5280

    From the Fort Collins Coloradoan (Nick Coltrain):

    He was coy about specifics except to say he’s built up solid relationships with federal officials during Colorado’s series of disasters, including having cooked dinner at his house for U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan.

    “They aren’t going to bend any rules for you, but they’ll do everything they can possibly do to help us,” Hickenlooper told the editorial board of the Coloradoan on Thursday.

    He predicted accelerated approval of recovery plans, which allows $62 million from HUD recovery money to start flowing. The plan dictates how it will be spent.

    “I think we’re going to get some very encouraging news in the next week,” he said.

    Hickenlooper added the federal government has pledged tens of millions more for disaster recovery above original predictions. HUD pledged almost $200 million in March, on top of the original grant.

    The Colorado Department of Transportation’s plans call for rebuilding roads to better withstand the floods that devastated Northern Colorado in September, he said. It could even include a 6-foot-wide bike path up the Big Thompson Canyon, though it doesn’t have set money yet.

    “We’re not just going to build it back to what you had before, we’re going to build it back better than before,” he said.


    California sets limits for hexavalent chromium

    April 17, 2014
    Hexavalent Chromium via Wikipedia

    Hexavalent Chromium via Wikipedia

    From The San Bernardino County Sun (Jim Steinberg):

    The Department of Public Health on Tuesday submitted its final regulation package putting a cap on chromium-6 to the state Office of Administrative Law, for review under the Administrative Procedures Act.

    “The drinking-water standard for hexavalent chromium (chromium-6) of 10 parts per billion will protect public health while taking into consideration economic and technical feasibility as required by law,” said Dr. Ron Chapman, CDPH director and state health officer.

    That legally enforceable standard replaces one that was already the strictest in the nation, but for total chromium.

    The current California sets 50 parts per billion total chromium as the maximum allowable in drinking water. This amount includes both chromium-3, which is not a carcinogen and necessary, in small amounts, to human life, and chromium-6, an atomic relative that has been shown to cause several types of cancers.

    The federal standard, set by the Environmental Protection Agency, is 100 parts per billion for total chromium, which is chromium-3 and chromium-6.

    More water treatment coverage here.


    Drought news: Not much relief for SE Colorado, dryness creeping into Four Corners

    April 17, 2014

    Click an a thumbnail graphic to view a gallery of drought map data.

    Click here to go to the US Drought Monitor website. Here’s an excerpt:

    The Plains

    As with the Midwest and south, the temperatures this week were quite variable as very warm temperatures were followed by very cold temperatures at the end of the week. Most of the region was 2-4 degrees Fahrenheit above normal for the week outside of the northern High Plains. Portions of Nebraska and eastern Kansas saw a mix of thunderstorms, rain, and wet snow, but this was not enough to show improvements. The drought intensity increased to D3 over central Kansas while D2 was expanded into more of eastern Kansas…

    The West

    Another dry week over much of the western United States. Areas of the Pacific Northwest did record up to an inch of precipitation while the central Rocky Mountains continued receiving precipitation as rain and snow was recorded in Wyoming and Colorado. The warm temperatures continued over the west with almost all areas above normal for the week, and in California, temperatures were 9-12 degrees above normal. This was detrimental to the low snowpack as some areas of California lost half of the snow water equivalence (SWE) in a single week and there was little response to inflows into reservoirs. Drought conditions worsened as D2 was expanded in eastern New Mexico and southwestern Colorado. In southwestern Colorado, D1 was also expanded. A reanalysis of conditions was done in southwest Wyoming and northeast Oregon this week, which allowed for the improvement to D0 conditions there…

    Looking Ahead

    Over the next 5-7 days, there is a good chance of precipitation from the plains to the upper Midwest, with more than an inch anticipated from northern Wisconsin into eastern Nebraska and south into Oklahoma and Arkansas. A storm system will move into the Pacific Northwest, potentially bringing up to 4 inches of rain into portions of Washington. In the southeast from Florida up the Carolinas coast, there is a good opportunity for heavy rain as well. A warming pattern looks to bring above-normal temperatures over much of the United States from the Great Basin into the northeast, and high temperatures will be up to 10-12 degrees Fahrenheit above normal in the central plains.

    The 6-10 day outlook continues to show higher-than-normal chances for above-normal precipitation over most of the southern plains, Midwest, and Pacific Northwest. The best chances for above-normal temperatures are in the middle and eastern sections of the United States, from the Rocky Mountains and to the east. Chances for cooler-than-normal temperatures are greatest along the west coast.


    Minute 319 enables water to flow in the #ColoradoRiver delta

    April 17, 2014
    Pulse flow tongue upstream of San Luis Rio Colorado

    Pulse flow tongue upstream of San Luis Rio Colorado

    From the Glenwood Springs Post Independent (Hannah Holm):

    Right now, for the first time in many years, the Colorado River is flowing through its historic delta to the sea as a result of an intentional release by water managers. Scenes of jubilation have spread across the Internet as children play in a river they’ve never seen before, and scientists report that bird counts in the corridor are already up.

    Meanwhile, combined water storage upstream from the delta in Lakes Mead and Powell have dropped to the lowest they’ve been since Powell filled in the 1960s, as water withdrawals from the river and its tributaries have exceeded new inflows for more than 10 years.

    How can this be, that in an era of increasing competition for water, water was found to re-water the Colorado River Delta, and there aren’t riots in the streets? The answer provides a window into the complexities of water management on the river, and the determination of multiple parties to work together to solve its challenges.

    The plan to release water to benefit the Colorado River Delta ecosystem was part of a complex “Minute 319” agreement between the United States, Mexico and the seven states that share the Colorado River, as well as several nongovernmental organizations on both sides of the international border. Some of the provisions include allowing Mexico to store water in Lake Mead and infrastructure improvements to Mexican irrigation systems. After a “pulse flow” of several weeks that simulates a moderate flood, minimum base flows will be maintained.

    This agreement did not take shape overnight. It took years of study and negotiation by people who came to understand in detail the way the river is managed and the interests of all the parties that rely on this single source of water that brings life to so much otherwise dry land.

    Many questions remain about how the natural environment will respond to this release of water, and whether the political environment will allow the experiment to be repeated. But the fact that it is happening at all is a major accomplishment.

    If it is possible to find water for the Colorado Delta and simultaneously benefit other water users after a decade of extreme drought, then surely it must be possible to overcome other seemingly irreconcilable differences over water in the West.

    More Colorado River Basin coverage here.


    Vail: ‘Restore the Gore’ campaign to kick off April 25

    April 17, 2014

    gorecreekwinter

    From the Vail Daily:

    An awareness campaign to help improve the health of Gore Creek is being introduced this spring with a focus on best practices for landscapers and gardeners. The “Restore the Gore” kick off takes place April 25 with a free Moe’s BBQ lunch and learn session from 11:45 a.m. to 12:45 p.m. at Donovan Pavilion. Landscape contractors, gardeners, commercial applicators and lodging managers, in particular, are encouraged to attend. Lunch service will begin at 11:45 a.m. with presentations taking place from noon to 12:45 p.m.

    Sponsored by the Town of Vail and the Eagle River Water and Sanitation District, the program will include short presentations on the causes of Gore Creek’s decline and the everyday actions that can be implemented to help make a difference when it comes to water use, special irrigation permits, invasive plants and pesticides.

    In 2012 Gore Creek was added to the State of Colorado’s 303(d) List of Impaired Waters due to the decline in aquatic life. Scientists have determined the impact is due to degradation and loss of riparian buffer areas, impacts of urban runoff and pollutants associated with land use activities. A Water Quality Improvement Plan has since been adopted that includes an emphasis on community awareness as well as strategies for regulatory measures, site specific projects, best management practices and an ongoing monitoring program.

    In addition to the lunch and learn kick off, the town is distributing a handout on recommended pesticide practices for commercial landscapers and property owners. Additional information is available on the town’s website at http://www.vailgov.com/gorecreek.

    If you plan to attend the April 25 lunch and learn program, please RSVP to Kristen Bertuglia, town of Vail environmental sustainability coordinator, at 970-477-3455 or email kbertuglia@vailgov.com no later than 5 p.m. April 23.

    More Gore Creek watershed coverage here.


    Adams County water and sanitation districts elections preview

    April 17, 2014
    South Platte River Basin

    South Platte River Basin

    From The Denver Post (Megan Mitchell):

    One of the largest combined water and sanitation districts in the state is having an election May 6 for three open board seats. The South Adams County Water and Sanitation District provides water and wastewater services to about 50,000 consumers over 65 square miles in Commerce City. The office is at 6595 E. 70th Ave.

    There are five candidates running in the board election, and none of them are incumbents. Residents Vicki Ennis, John Kuchar, Mizraim Cordero, Brett Steinbar and Aaron Phillips have applied to serve four-year stints on the five-member board. All members serve at-large.

    The board helps facilitate partnerships that expand the district’s water supply and resources. As north suburban communities like Reunion grow in Commerce City, one of the district’s top priorities is the development of a separate irrigation system in those new development sites for non-potable use.

    Voters served by the water and sanitation district may drop off their ballots from 7 a.m.-7 p.m. May 6 at the Stevenson Administration Building at 6595 E. 70th Ave.

    There is no election for the Strasberg Sanitation and Water District, at 56829 Colorado Ave., because there were only two open seats and two applicants. Teresa Roy will start her first four-year term after stepping in as an appointee in 2012, and Eric Hart will begin his second, full term with her in May.

    At the Hiland Acres Water and Sanitation District at 9902 E. 157th Ave. in Brighton, only four people applied for the five available seats. The fifth seat will be appointed by the board after the May 6 election. Incumbents Jim Roos and Chris Fetter will continue to serve on the board, and Rob Heim and Fred Brinkerhoff will begin their first terms.

    The Hyland Hills Parks and Recreation District at 8801 Pecos St. in Federal Heights also canceled its election after only two candidates applied for the two open seats. Newcomer Lori Mirelez and previous board member Bob Landgraf Jr. will be appointed.

    More South Platte River Basin coverage here.


    La Plata County: “[In the SW corner of the county] Old-timers used to say it was nine months of winter and three months of drought” — Trent Taylor

    April 17, 2014

    organicdairycows

    From The Durango Herald (Ann Butler):

    Agriculture is a difficult profession in the best of times, but it’s an even bigger challenge during a drought.

    That’s one of the many takeaways from Wednesday evening’s panel discussing current and future issues for local agriculture sponsored by the League of Women Voters of La Plata County. About 85 people filled the Program Rooms at the Durango Public Library, including representatives from agricultural areas around the county and numerous local residents, as well.

    “Everyone in this room is in agriculture because we’re all consumers,” said Patti Buck, president of American National Cattlewomen, who ranches with her husband, Wayne, in the Ignacio area. “We need to be heard. Cattle ranchers are a small number of people, but we feed the world.”

    Other members of the panel included Trent Taylor of Blue Horizon Farms, who farms on the Dryside; Maria Baker, a member of a Southern Ute ranching family; Steve Harris of Harris Water Engineering; and Darrin Parmenter, the Colorado State University Extension agent for La Plata County. Marsha Porter-Norton, who grew up in a ranching family north of Cortez, served as moderator…

    The idea for the panel came out of a national study the League did, said Marilyn Brown, the local chapter’s secretary and a member of the committee that’s been studying the local agricultural sector with an eye on public policy…

    Harris gave a lesson about how water works in La Plata County, from the natural average runoff of about 950,000 acre-feet a year (an acre-foot is enough water to cover an acre in 1 foot of water, or 325,851 gallons). Almost two-thirds, 600,000 acre-feet, comes down the Animas River, with the Pine River drainage accounting for another 230,000 acre-feet…

    All domestic use, including wells, is “insignificant,” he said, about 10,000 acre-feet.

    Ranchers and farmers actually have been fighting drought conditions for more than a decade. Baker talked about how the tribe, which grants grazing units to the four or five full-time ranchers in the tribe, declared a complete moratorium on grazing units for five years starting in 2000 and still limits time or location on the ones it grants.

    After taking everyone through a short history of farming and ranching in the southwest corner of the county, Taylor summed up the situation: “It’s a harsh area. Old-timers used to say it was nine months of winter and three months of drought.

    More Animas River watershed coverage here. More La Plata River watershed coverage here.


    “If we commit too much water, we lose our flexibility for operating during times of drought” — Alan Ward

    April 17, 2014

    cripplecreekrvtravel.com

    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

    A gold mining company will lease some of Pueblo’s raw water for the next decade at a record price. The Pueblo Board of Water Works Tuesday approved a 10-year lease of 400 acre-feet of water to the Cripple Creek & Victor Gold Mining Co. in Teller County. The water will lease for $630.63 per acre-foot (an acre-foot is 325,851 gallons) initially, and will be adjusted annually by the same percentage as Pueblo water rates. That will mean more than $250,000 in revenue for the water board this year.

    “The 400 acre-feet is a relatively small amount,” said Alan Ward, water resources manager. “If we commit too much water, we lose our flexibility for operating during times of drought.”

    That amount also should not interfere with the water board’s other multiyear leases.

    The price represents 1.5 times the price of the Comanche power plant lease, reflecting the water board’s policy of charging a 50 percent premium to customers outside city limits, Ward said.

    Cripple Creek & Victor plans to use the water to augment its supplies and replace depletions to local waterways.

    The water will be delivered to either the mouth of Fourmile Creek or Beaver Creek, or to the town of Victor’s account in Lake Pueblo. From there, it will be the gold mining company’s responsibility to exchange it upstream to operations located about 25 miles from the Arkansas River.

    Revenue from the lease will be used to offset Pueblo water rates in the water board’s $34 million budget.

    Metered water sales are expected to generate $23.3 million this year, while leases of water will contribute more than $8.2 million.

    More Pueblo Board of Water Works coverage here.


    The Lower Ark, Otero County, et.al., start the process to create a rural water authority for the county

    April 17, 2014
    Arkansas River Basin -- Graphic via the Colorado Geological Survey

    Arkansas River Basin — Graphic via the Colorado Geological Survey

    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

    The groundwork for a rural water authority in Otero County was put in place Wednesday. The Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District agreed to partner with Otero County commissioners to sign on three water providers to participate in the authority. The authority will give the water providers, which are small private companies, the ability to apply for government grants in order to bring their water systems into compliance with public health standards. It also will allow them to share operating expenses, deal with issues relating to the upcoming Arkansas Valley Conduit and to speak with one voice. Eventually, it could allow participants to hire staff members to deal with water issues.

    “We have a lot of issues with compliance, because 14 out of 28 private water providers in the valley are out of compliance,” said Bill Hancock, conservation manager for the Lower Ark district.

    Right now, only three of the districts have signed on, the Fayette, Vroman and Valley districts, all in Otero County. Combined, they serve fewer than 500 people. Other water companies are expected to sign on as the authority develops.

    “We have the ability to expand in Otero County, as well as other counties in the valley. This is a good place to start,” said Otero County Commissioner Keith Goodwin.

    One of the first projects of the authority will be to apply for a state loan to fund adding membrane filters to the systems, Hancock said. The filters are made by Innovative Water Technologies, a Rocky Ford company.

    Otero County commissioners voted Monday to approve the authority, but appointed no board members. The Lower Ark appointed Wayne Snider and Jolean Rose, both of Fowler, to the authority.

    “We’re at the point now where we have the vehicle, but we still need to add the engine, steering and wheels,” Snider said.

    The Lower Ark board praised the agreement.

    “Anyone who has been involved with rural water knows how important this is,” said Lynden Gill, chairman of the board.

    “Not only is compliance important, but some of these systems are 40-50 years old and this provides a way to maintain them.”

    More Arkansas River Basin coverage here.


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