Lower Ark board meeting recap: “We’re trying to see if a lease-fallowing program is viable” — Jay Winner

September 18, 2014

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

The Colorado Water Conservation Board last week approved a pilot project that will provide the town of Fowler water from several farms on the Catlin Canal over the next 10 years. The project is the first to be attempted under 2013 legislation, HB1248, that authorized demonstration projects that determine if lease-fallowing projects are a viable alternative to permanent dry-up of farms. It is also the first test of the viability of the Arkansas Valley Super Ditch.

Participating farms would be dried up no more than three years of the next 10 in order to supply 500 acre-feet (163 million gallons) annually to Fowler. Seven farms with 1,128 acres will be dried up on a rotational basis to provide the water under a plan filed by the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District and the Arkansas Valley Super Ditch.

The CWCB reviewed comments on the project expressing concern from Aurora, the Lower Arkansas Water Management Association, Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association, the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District and Colorado Beef, a Lamar feed lot. The comments were similar to filings made in the past in water court cases that sought to permanently change water rights. Most expressed concern that their water rights would not be injured by the program and sought to assure that measurements in the program are accurate. Some were supportive of the program and all wanted to be notified of progress or changes in the program.

“We’re trying to see if a lease-fallowing program is viable,” said Jay Winner, general manager of the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District. “We’re trying to keep the water in the Arkansas basin. That’s what it’s all about.”

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

How much water is staying down on the farm?

The state will spend $175,000 to study the amount of water returning to the Arkansas River from fields on the Fort Lyon Canal. That will be matched with $50,000 from the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District. The Colorado Water Conservation Board approved the grant last week as a way to address contentions from farmers that the amount of tailwater return to the Arkansas River has been overestimated. The outcome could affect the formulas used by the Colorado Division of Water Resources in administering the Arkansas River Compact and rules that govern wells or surface irrigation. It could also make more water available to farmers to lease under the Super Ditch or other rotational lease-fallow programs.

The grant was approved in July by the Arkansas Basin Roundtable.

The state now recognizes a 10 percent return of water from fields, or tailwater, that are flood irrigated. That water must be replaced under state rules adopted during the 24-year Kansas v. Colorado court case.

The Fort Lyon Canal is 100 miles long and irrigates 94,000 acres, so farmers contend water soaks into the ground and never makes it to the river. It is anticipated that the collection and analysis of data will take about two years to complete, at which time further work could be contemplated.

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Leaky ponds are good news for farmers in the Lower Arkansas Valley. The second year of a pond study in a normal water year is showing similar results as last year, when drought gripped the region.

“We’re not seeing a significant difference,” said Brian Lauritsen, a consultant on the study being funded through the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District and the Colorado Water Conservation Board.

Water leakage on more than 20 ponds averaged about 20 percent this year, compared with 18 percent last year. Most are on the Fort Lyon Canal. It had been thought the numbers would be higher when the ground was drier.

“Usually, you don’t want to see ponds leaking,” said Jack Goble, engineer for the Lower Ark district.

But in this case, there is a chance the state will adjust its formula used to determine how much water irrigators owe for return flows that are reduced through more efficient irrigation techniques such as sprinklers. More leakage means less water owed to the river.

The Lower Ark also has built two ponds on the Catlin Canal designed specifically to leak. Called recharge ponds, they are designed to return water to the Arkansas River over time, the way that water flows through the aquifer in farming operations. One pond fills part of the need for Rule 10 surface irrigation plans, while the other is credited to Rule 14 well plans. One pond contributed 135 acre-feet (44 million gallons) in a month, while the other leaked 120 acre-feet (40 million gallons) in 21 days.

“I hope we’re able to get more of these ponds, especially in the lower part of the basin,” said Jay Winner, general manager of the Lower Ark District.

More HB13-1248 coverage here. More Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District coverage here.

Salida: Council OKs water treatment plant improvements — The Mountain Mail

September 17, 2014
Salida Colorado early 1900s

Salida Colorado early 1900s

From The Mountain Mail (Brian McCabe):

Salida City Council voted 4-1 Tuesday to increase the water treatment plant improvements Phase 2 project from the original project scope of 2 million gallons to 4 million gallons.

Councilman Hal Brown voted no, and Councilman Mike Bowers was absent. The upgrade will cost the city an additional $20,000 from the capital fund reserves, plus $6,000 to replace the windows. Brown said he could not vote for the increase because it will use reserve funds.

More infrastructure coverage here.

Work begins on Arkansas Valley Conduit route

September 15, 2014

Preferred route for the Arkansas Valley Conduit via Reclamation

Preferred route for the Arkansas Valley Conduit via Reclamation

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

A $939,000 contract for utility location and land rights acquisition support for the Arkansas Valley Conduit has been awarded to MWH Americas by the Bureau of Reclamation. The contract is another step toward the eventual construction of the conduit, which will bring clean drinking water to 50,000 people in 40 communities east of Pueblo.

Work begins this month and is expected to take one year to complete.

The 130-mile-long pipeline will be built from Pueblo Dam to Lamar, with spurs to communities along the way, including St. Charles Mesa, Avondale, Crowley County, Otero County, Bent County, Lamar and Eads in Kiowa County.

“The objective of this contract is to provide Reclamation with utility locations, current ownership information, legal descriptions and encumbrances affecting the parcels along the route,” said Jacklynn Gould, Eastern Colorado Area Manager for Reclamation.

The contractor also will prepare a preliminary land acquisition plan and update GIS data.

The Arkansas Valley Conduit is part of the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project, authorized in 1962. It was never built because of the expense, now estimated at $400 million. A 2009 federal law authorized revenues from Reclamation contracts as a repayment source for the conduit, however.

The Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District is the local sponsor of the project.

More Arkansas Valley Conduit coverage here and here.

September 12, 2013: Rebuilding property and lives after the #COflood

September 12, 2014
Plume of subtropical moisture streaming into Colorado September 2013 via Weather5280

Plume of subtropical moisture streaming into Colorado September 2013 via Weather5280

I made the mistake of checking my Twitter feed during the early morning last September 12. All sorts of trouble was brewing in the streams flowing out of the Front Range canyons. Aurora took a pounding too as did locations in the Arkansas Basin. I couldn’t get back to sleep.

Please take the time to read the stuff below (Click through to read the full articles that I’ve excerpted). We have some great writers covering water in Colorado.

From Physics Today (Samantha Tushaus):

Atmospheric scientists, their eyes on recent catastrophic weather events, are newly motivated to study orographic precipitation. Orographic precipitation—rain and snow caused or influenced by topography—is a key component of the hydrologic cycle, and scientists have long understood that the amount and distribution of precipitation depends upon topography and atmospheric characteristics.

However, orographic precipitation also contributes to natural disasters, including flash floods. In September 2013, Boulder, Colorado, and surrounding communities in the Rocky Mountain foothills experienced rainfall so torrential as to trigger flash floods, with water levels rising dramatically over only a few hours. The floods were accompanied by heavy debris and mud, which swept away vehicles, roads, and buildings.

Here’s a photo gallery of before and after photos from the Fort Collins Coloradoan.

Evans Colorado September 2013 via TheDenverChannel.com

Evans Colorado September 2013 via TheDenverChannel.com

From The Denver Post (Colleen O’Connor and Yesenia Robles):

Araceli and Rito Romero lost everything in the flood that swamped their mobile home in Evans, then were cheated out of $10,000 they paid to buy another trailer home.

Manuel Hernandez, an immigrant with a work permit, struggled to find housing for his family after their trailer home was destroyed, and now is paying twice as much to rent a space in a mobile home park.

John Vega managed to rebuild his mobile home in Milliken, complete with new floors and walls, but now lives in limbo, uncertain whether or not the mobile home park will be closed down.

“I told FEMA, if we have to move out of here, you’re going to have to move me out because I ain’t got money to move out,” he said on a recent afternoon, as his wife stood in their cheerful new kitchen making tamales for their granddaughter’s Quinceañera celebration.

Araceli and Rito Romero lost everything in the flood that swamped their mobile home in Evans, then were cheated out of $10,000 they paid to buy another trailer home.

Manuel Hernandez, an immigrant with a work permit, struggled to find housing for his family after their trailer home was destroyed, and now is paying twice as much to rent a space in a mobile home park.

John Vega managed to rebuild his mobile home in Milliken, complete with new floors and walls, but now lives in limbo, uncertain whether or not the mobile home park will be closed down.

“I told FEMA, if we have to move out of here, you’re going to have to move me out because I ain’t got money to move out,” he said on a recent afternoon, as his wife stood in their cheerful new kitchen making tamales for their granddaughter’s Quinceañera celebration.

US 36 West of Lyons September 2013 via the Longmont Times-Call

US 36 West of Lyons September 2013 via the Longmont Times-Call

From 9News.com (Maya Rodriguez):

September brings painful memories for thousands impacted by last year’s floods. For one business in Lyons, the flood did virtually no physical damage, but still took a major toll. Now, though, it’s a different story at The Stone Cup, a café and restaurant on High Street.

“We’re right back on top of things again,” said Sam Tallent, one of the co-owners.

Nearly one year ago, things were different here.

“It was a challenge having no business for a couple of months,” The Stone Cup co-owner Mindy Tallent said.

The Tallents said it has been a long year for the town and its businesses.

“We don’t really have any other options, so we just have to persevere,” Mindy Tallent said.

The Stone Cup looks to be in great shape because the flood waters never touched it. Water swept past it onto other, lower-lying areas. Rebuilding isn’t just about the progress you can see, though. There are scars in Lyons, even for those who didn’t suffer any physical damage to their home or business.

The café and restaurant remained closed for months because there were so few customers in town. They didn’t reopen full-time until December. What got them through it, the Tallents said, was a $55,000 federal loan from the Small Business Administration.

“You think about the importance of businesses to our communities, it’s employment, it’s economic activity and, in the case of the Stone Cup, it’s a gathering place,” said SBA Regional Administrator Matt Varilek.

The SBA said that in Boulder County, it received more than 2,678 loan applications after the floods and approved 68 percent of them– at a total of more than $65 million. More than $14 million of that, went to businesses in Lyons. As for the 32 percent of applications that were denied, the agency said those applicants couldn’t prove they would have the ability to repay the loan.

The Stone Cup is one of the fortunate ones, though. The Tallents just hope other businesses in town can also bounce back enough to bring Lyons back, too.

“I want to very seriously believe that,” said Sam Tallent, “because I think the vast majority of us want it back like that.”

The SBA said it has provided more than $109 million in low interest loans in Colorado since the flooding. Those who get a loan have up to 30-years to pay it back.

From MarketPlace.org (Grace Hood):

One of the hardest-hit centers following the 2013 Colorado flood was the 2,000-person town of Lyons. Key pieces of the town’s infrastructure, like sewer, water and gas lines, were severely damaged. Fast-forward a year, the town is still working on a list of 87 projects ranging from park and riverbank repair to bridge rebuilding.

You wouldn’t be able to tell by taking a walk down Main Street. In the town’s busiest corridor, you can barely see signs of the flood. But almost everyone in town has a story — including Connie Sullivan, owner of the St. Vrain Market.

From KUNC (Grace Hood):

After waters washed over Boulder, Larimer and Weld counties during the September flood, many started to rebuild. Others haven’t been able to go back.

The easiest way for Ed and Sarah Egloff to describe their lost home in the Big Thompson Canyon is to tell you what remained on the property afterward.

“The only thing that was in the place where I thought it should have been was the ground rod for the electrical service,” said Ed.

From the Fort Collins Coloradoan:

It’s been a rough year for Rough’n It Wright. The floor of the small, brown cabin named for the families that owned it for decades has sagged down and been left exposed since the Big Thompson River tore away the ground supporting it last September. Some of the cabin’s contents slid out through the gap and were swept away. Other furnishings are still there: A washer and dryer hang on by power cords and a hot air ventilation pipe; mattresses cling to beds tilted toward the river. The cabin looks like a shoebox, with the bottom peeled back from one corner. A beige carpet covers much of the slatted wooden floor, the edge of which rests on jagged white and gray boulders.

Perched under a towering canyon wall halfway between Drake and Estes Park along U.S. Highway 34, the cabin has become an icon of the 2013 flood and the challenges residents and government officials face a year later.

While progress has been made toward recovering from the devastating deluge, years of planning and construction work remain. Natural and bureaucratic barriers must be hurdled by agencies attempting to rebuild roads and bridges and families trying to rebuild lives.

The owner of Rough’n It Wright, Lynda Wright of Cypress, California, has not been to the cabin since the flood. Members of her extended family were in the cabin and the cottage next door — Linger Longer — during the flood and were rescued by the local volunteer fire department. Wright has only seen pictures of the devastation. But what she’s seen has made her determined to rebuild Linger Longer.

“When I look at the pictures, I don’t see what remains,” she said. “I see what it was before.

“I can visualize every single person I have known and loved who has been at that cabin over the years. And I am not going to give up on it.”

Production fluids leak into surface water September 2013 -- Photo/The Denver Post

Production fluids leak into surface water September 2013 — Photo/The Denver Post

From KUNC (Nathan Heffel):

One of the more striking images during the September flood was of inundated oil and gas pads, washed out earthen berms and overturned storage tanks. In all, over 48,000 gallons of oil and condensate spilled. While changes have been made in the industry to prepare for another flood, so far, they’re strictly voluntary.

Matt Lepore, director of the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, said that while there were some visible spills, the situation could have been much worse.

“Frankly [it was] a relatively small number of spills, a relatively small volume of oil and gas that was released,” he said.

From his standpoint, the industry performed well during the flooding, closing off wells — a process known as shutting in the well — that were at risk of flood damage before waters rose. The agency is looking at possible rule changes for sites near rivers and streams including anchoring storage tanks, installing impenetrable liners, and erecting fences. But for now, they’re strictly recommendations and no new rules have yet been approved.

Even so, some companies are making changes on their own accord. For example, in areas prone to flooding, earthen berms have been replaced with metal ones, which perform better in flooding.

“Earthen berms tended to wash away and potentially lead to greater impacts,” Lepore said.

The agency has considered making that a rule change, and has talked with the industry about doing so. Lepore said the change would most likely be accepted without much resistance.

“Honestly I don’t think the rule making would be too controversial,” he said. “I think most operators see the wisdom of the practices that we’ve recommended.”

Doug Hock, a spokesman with Encana Corporation, which has wells throughout Weld County, including some in low-lying areas, said he agreed with the recommendations laid out in the COGCC post-flood report. Although none of them are binding yet.

“These are recommendations that align with our best practices and you know, again we look at this, it really goes along with the measures we took,” Hock said.

The flood, and the subsequent damage to their wells, cost the company several hundred thousand dollars Hock said. Overall the procedures in place at the affected well sites worked. This included the automatic shut-in of at-risk wells.

However, Sam Schabacker, director of the Colorado branch of Food and Water Watch, a group that believes hydraulic fracturing should be banned, said more needs to be done than leaving the industry to self regulate.

“There are no rule changes, there was no legislation,” Schabacker said. “So Coloradans haven’t been protected from future flooding activities in any meaningful way.”

“There are no new rules and regulations saying, for example, that you shouldn’t build in a flood zone, you should not be drilling in a place that typically floods and has historically done so in the state. So I think that it’s really astonishing to me, and us at Food and Water Watch, that after this unprecedented flood that nothing has resulted, no changes.”

Encana’s Hock said the company anchored tanks to concrete and installed impervious liners for spill mitigation – something he calls “best practices,” before the flood.

To Schabacker, the potential for future spills caused by flooding is still too large.

“[We risk] tens of thousands of gallons of potentially toxic liquid washing down rivers where we grow a large percentage of our food crops, where we have people who live downstream from these areas, and there are over 6,000 almost 6,000 wells that are built in these floodplain areas, there are more being permitted every day, and there have been no changes,” Shabacker said.

Discussions over regulations and rule changes as a result of the flood could come up at the next scheduled Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission hearing – including requiring metal berms to be installed around flood prone wells. However, COGCC’s Lepore said that’s not officially on the agenda.

From the Loveland Reporter-Herald (Jessica Benes):

One year after the 2013 Front Range flood, which hit Northern Colorado on Sept. 11-12, 2013, work is still in progress to repair local natural resources.

The Poudre Wilderness Volunteers are hosting a work day Saturday and Sunday to continue rebuilding efforts of the North Fork Trail by Glen Haven and mark the one-year anniversary of the flood.

The initial assessment of damage on forest infrastructure and facilities in Roosevelt and Arapaho National Forests — which include Larimer and Boulder counties — was estimated at $17.8 million, according to Reghan Cloudman, spokeswoman for the Canyon Lakes Ranger District of the U.S. Forest Service.

And about $950,000 was done in damage to Larimer County parks and open spaces, according to Travis Rollins, open space operations manager for Larimer County Natural Resources.

Approximately half of the work has been completed on Larimer County open spaces. FEMA paid for 75 percent of the total, the state paid 12.5 percent and Larimer County paid 12.5 percent.

Larimer County residents have contributed hundreds of hours helping the natural resources department with flood cleanup and repairs.

The U.S. Forest Service is not eligible for FEMA grants. The agency allocated $5.2 million of its budget in 2014 to recovery and will spend all but $600,000 of that this fiscal year.

Dan Hull before and after photos

Dan Hull before and after photos

Here’s a photo gallery of before and after photos from The Denver Post.

From The Denver Post (Electa Draper):

While area landfills still are receiving flood debris a year after the storms, some water experts believe too much might have been cleaned up and could in time hurt the rivers.

The piles of muck-coated possessions of residents hit hardest by the September 2013 floodwaters mostly are gone from view, but every big rain that scours a river channel pries loose more debris.

Shards of metal, splintered wood, fractured drywall, ripped carpet, fence pickets and tattered plastic still can be loosed after a year of being encased in riverbeds somewhere upstream.

More than 1,800 homes were destroyed and more than 28,000 others damaged, according to the Colorado Recovery Office.

“We’re about 99 percent done with household debris, but it’s still an ongoing cleanup effort,” said Dan Gudgel, division manager for Waste Connections, which runs the Erie landfills. “You can still see debris in rivers and streams.”

“It’s hard to put a good number on the amount of flood debris,” Gudgel said, “but I would estimate we’ve seen 50,000 tons” at the Erie landfills, the epicenter of flood-debris disposal.

For Coloradans in love with their state’s beauty, the September 2013 floods revealed an uglier side of nature. Trees snapped and stripped clean like toothpicks, broken branches, gnarled roots and heaps of sand, gravel and rock look nasty lodged around a favorite walking trail, swimming hole or backyard.

Yet there is trash, and then there is debris that is a critical piece of river restoration.

“I’m very concerned that we have hauled too much away,” said Chris Sturm, the Colorado Water Conservation Board’s river-channel expert. He’s the coordinator of the interagency Stream Team that’s guiding watershed restoration.

“The river is a puzzle that the flood took apart,” Sturm said. “If you want to put it back together, the last thing you should do is throw out pieces of the puzzle.”

He believes some area landowners and officials might have overreacted and removed too much sediment, wood and rock.

Large woody debris can be removed from the channel but stockpiled nearby, he recommends.

“Let’s use that wood and sediment to reshape and restabilize the channels,” Sturm said.

In some places, they already have.

Along the St. Vrain Greenway in Longmont, unsightly piles of wood, sand and rock remain at random intervals along the creek banks. It’s part of the plan.

“You should keep what you can and reuse it,” said Longmont Public Works director Dale Rademacher. “It saves on transportation costs.”

It also saves on importing new materials to shore up banks.

Julie McKay, who heads Boulder County’s comprehensive creek planning, said some materials — colored rocks that are not native or natural components of local basins — have been brought in by some landowners.

Yet, McKay said, she understands the urgency that private residents and officials felt immediately after the flood to shore up banks and to clear the channels ahead of the spring runoff.

“A lot of county time and resources were spent on hazardous woody debris removal,” McKay said. “We were very oriented to what would happen in the spring if we didn’t. We’ve exhaled now. … Now it’s a planning phase.”

As to whether it’s safe yet to go back in the rivers for recreation, it’s a personal choice stream by stream.

Chrystal DeCoster lives in Lyons and has observed how new storm events deliver small reminders of the past devastation. She’s also seen disappointed people dragging their punctured inner tubes out of the St. Vrain.

DeCoster’s advice: “I wouldn’t stick a toe in the water yet.”

From the Longmont Times-Call (Whitney Bryen):

Nearly a year after the flood that ravaged the small town [Lyons], French still flashes back every time his phone rings to the 1:30 a.m. phone call on Sept. 12, 2013, telling him to evacuate his home.

A nearly empty medicine bottle still causes anxiety as French remembers the fear that he faced, afraid he wouldn’t have access to his medication. Thinking about the neighbors and friends who helped him get the medication he needed while he was displaced from his home is his only relief.

Even small things, like a dripping faucet or static on the television that sounds like rushing water can lead to sleepless nights and bouts of depression, French said.

“The flood affected me in my head, triggering all of these new things that are making me paranoid and terrified all the time,” French said. “But it also affected me in my spirit.”

Since the flood, French has been visiting free and low-cost, drop-in counseling sessions being offered to flood survivors searching for relief. He continues to see local psychotherapist Linda Weber, who moved her practice to Lyons part-time to reach more flood survivors.

French said that overall his fears seem to be subsiding, but as the anniversary approaches, he is concerned that the memories will set him back again.

Here’s a photo gallery of then and now photos from Colorado Public Radio.

From The Denver Post (William Porter):

On a sunny, late-summer day, Eric Skokan strolled among the rows of his farm northeast of Boulder, proudly pointing out some of the vegetables he grows for his two restaurants and various farmers markets: spinach, fennel, six types of basil, cabbage, broccoli, celery, and an experimental stab at sesame plants.

Forty yards away, two sows sprawled on their sides in a fallow patch, their piglets nursing away. Beyond them, corn stood higher than the proverbial elephant’s eye. In all, a scene of bucolic ease and nature’s largesse.

“It’s been a great season,” said Skokan, chef-owner of Black Cat Bistro and Bramble & Hare, his farm-to-table restaurants in downtown Boulder. “Everything is looking gorgeous. Vivid green, the kind of fields that make you feel like a farmer.

“Good, steady rains. Warm days that weren’t too hot. Prime weather.”

Skokan, who started farming in 2007, knows something about weather, both the prime kind and wrath-of-nature punishing.

From The Denver Post (John Aquilar):

Karen Little finds herself in the same bind as thousands of other Coloradans hit by historic flooding a year ago — no flood insurance and a dire need to manage the aftermath of the state’s most costly and widespread natural disaster.

“It leaves me with nothing,” said the 62-year-old bookkeeper, whose home near La Salle was decimated by an overflowing South Platte River last September. “I can’t fix my house because I don’t have the money and I don’t qualify for anything.”

While Little got $16,000 from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to help with rental assistance and house repairs, it wasn’t enough to make her house habitable again. She doesn’t make enough money to qualify for a U.S. Small Business Administration loan.

“I didn’t know I needed flood insurance,” Little said.

That’s not unusual given the fact that drastic flooding events are not common in Colorado, said Rocky Mountain Insurance Information Association executive director Carole Walker. Homeowners either don’t know about flood coverage, which is underwritten by the National Flood Insurance Program and administered by FEMA, or they choose to forgo it.

“Many people probably said, ‘I’m not in a high flood risk area’ and didn’t have it,” she said. “Colorado has not had this type of widespread, catastrophic loss from flooding.”

Only 24,000 individuals and businesses in the state have flood insurance policies — totaling $5.6 billion in coverage.

From The Greeley Tribune (Kayla Young):

A new, more secure irrigation system in Platteville has become the silver lining for 14 agricultural areas in northern Colorado that had a diversion dam wiped out by last September’s floods.

Although few designs could have withstood such a large-scale weather event, developers of the new Beeman/Meadow Island structure say the modern system would have prevented some of the damage from the 2013 flood.

For starters, ditch operators will no longer need to enter the South Platte to manually install stop logs that manage water flow. Lowering the floodgates will now be as easy as pulling up a phone app, said Robert Eckman, vice president of Obermeyer Hydro Inc.

This equates to quicker response times and less risk for workers.

“The ditch operator can now lower or raise the gate remotely using an application on his cell phone,” explained Eckman at a visit to the reconstructed irrigation facility yesterday.

Obermeyer Hydro Inc. designed the gate and control system for the reconstruction of the Beeman/Meadow Island No. 2 River Diversion. The Wellington-based company has installed 40 similar structures across Colorado, and currently has dozens of irrigation system projects underway across Asia, Europe and South America.

“The No. 1 thing about this system is that it is really controllable. It will maintain a constant water elevation, which is very important to pull a constant flow rate into the canal,” Eckman said. “The second thing it does is that it’s fully collapsible. In a flood, it flattens out completely and there is nothing up top that would catch the debris and worsen the flood.”

The demand for well-engineered river diversion systems has arisen from a need for safer and more manageable facilities. In Platteville’s case, the decision to implement a more advanced structure came down to practicality, said Amy Willhite, who managed the project’s funding for Beeman Irrigating Ditch & Milling Co.

“We asked if we wanted a Band-Aid approach or if we wanted to fix this thing for good. We decided we wanted to put the money into it to fix it right so that this wouldn’t happen again. We realized that this would cost a lot of money. Luckily, the Colorado Water Conservation Board came to the rescue with the emergency loan program,” Willhite said.

In total, the Colorado Water Conservation Board provided $28 million in low-interest loans and grants to rebuild across the flood area. The Beeman/Meadow Island project received $2 million, approximately $1.5 million of which has been used to date. This low-interest loan will be repaid over a 30-year period.

To contribute to engineering costs, the facility also received $50,000 in grant money through Northern Water, said Amy L. Johnson, a Northern Water project manager.

“Northern Water is the fiscal agent for a $2.55 million grant from the Colorado Water Conservation Board. Northern Water and CWCB worked through an application process and developed this grant program and awarded 107 different grants through two cycles,” Johnson said. “In the case of this project, the Beeman Irrigating Company received two grants, both in cycle one and cycle two.”

Johnson said many of the grant requests received by Northern Water were similar to that of Beeman Irrigating Company. Ditch operators needed help repairing diversion structures and clearing out debris in time for the new irrigation season in August.

In a sense, the timing of September’s flood was fortunate for farmers. Although flooding caused extensive crop losses, ditch operators were given enough time to regroup before the 2014 season, said John R. Stulp, a water policy adviser to Gov. John Hickenlooper.

“If we were ever to have a disaster, September was the best time to have it because immediately a lot of companies had financing lined up, and grants from the state to start the assessment and engineering. Then they were able to work through the fall, winter and early spring,” Stulp said.

He added, “By the time late winter and early spring came and the water started flowing, many were back in operation. Over 90 percent have been reconstructed so they are operational. By next spring, nearly 100 percent of those that choose to be reconstructed will be back in business.”

Mike King, executive director of the Colorado Department of Natural Resources, said the remaining repairs will require more careful planning.

“Those are areas where we had the river change channels and the community is undergoing a discussion about where the river should go,” King said.

Through collaborative efforts, King said Colorado has been able to respond quickly to natural disasters and develop action plans.

“It’s awfully hard to have the human resources infrastructure in place and trained because this may not happen again for 100 plus years. What I think we did have in place was a dedicated staff that was willing to learn. I think we’ve all come out of this with a better understanding,” King said.

He added, “We looked to other states that had been through natural disasters and we mobilized very quickly. We looked at all of the hurricane damage along the East Coast to get debriefings on how to go to the feds for resources.”

For a state that has suffered an onslaught of natural disasters in recent years, King emphasized the importance of utilizing human resources to implement rapid response measures.

“Unfortunately, it’s something we’ve gotten far too good at in Colorado. In three and half years of Governor Hickenlooper’s administration, we’ve had 13 natural disaster declarations, which is unprecedented nationwide,” King said.

He added, “Whether it’s droughts or fires or floods — and we’ve had all three — we have become very proficient at making sure resources that are available on the federal level are mobilized and put on the ground for Coloradans. That is absolutely something we’ve become more proficient at than we would like.”

From KRDO (Jay Polk):

It was nearly one year ago that parts of Southwestern Colorado were hit hard by flooding rains. Water invaded homes along Cheyenne Creek and the neighborhood around it was declared a disaster area.

9News series about #COwater and the #COWaterPlan — Mary Rodriguez

September 10, 2014

9News.com reporter Mary Rodriguez has embarked on a series about the Colorado Water Plan and water issues in Colorado. The first installment deals with Cheesman Dam and Reservoir. Here’s an excerpt:

It is something most of us take for granted: running water. Colorado is now beginning to grapple with how to keep the tap flowing, both now and in the future. As the state develops a water plan, set to be released in December, we are beginning a series of stories revolving around that precious resource…

Cheesman Reservoir and Dam

Nearly 7,000 feet above sea level, it’s a place of stillness and a quiet refuge. Yet, it’s also a place capable of wielding immense power.

Cheesman Reservoir is a major source of water for communities up and down the Front Range. It holds 25 billion gallons of water. That’s enough water to cover Sports Authority Field with a foot of water more than 79,000 times. All of it is held in place by the Cheesman Dam, which was built nearly 110 years ago.

“It was tremendous foresight that this reservoir has been pretty much unchanged in all that time,” documentary filmmaker Jim Havey of Havey Productions said.

The reservoir is just one of the places Havey is beginning to capture as part of an upcoming documentary called “The Great Divide.” The subject? Water.

“We looked at water, initially, as a great way to tell the story of Colorado,” he said.

Colorado’s water system is a complex combination of reservoirs, rivers and dams. As the state’s population has grown, though, there has been a greater need to come up with a water plan that can evolve with time.

“Really, it is all connected,” said Travis Thompson, spokesperson for Denver Water, which bought the Cheesman Reservoir nearly 100 years ago.

Denver Water– along with water municipalities and agencies across Colorado– is now working on a long-term plan for Colorado’s water. It includes, among other things, figuring out the best way to manage the state’s water as it flows between different river basins and whether or not to create more reservoirs.

“We’re not planning just for today, we’re planning for tomorrow– 25 years, 50 years down the road,” Thompson said. “And we have many challenges that we’re looking into, just like our forefathers had.”

Those challenges include how to provide enough water for people and industries in Colorado, as well as people in 18 other states– and even two states in Mexico– which also get their water from rivers that begin in Colorado.

“What the water plan is going to mean, I don’t think anybody knows yet,” Havey said.

Yet, it’s a plan that has a lot riding on it below the surface. The first draft of the state’s water plan is due in December and is expected to be presented to the state legislature next year. For more information about the water documentary, “The Great Divide,” go to http://bit.ly/1qDftUO.

More Denver Water coverage here. More South Platte River Basin coverage here. More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.

Fountain Creek “Creek Week” September 27 thru October 5

September 8, 2014

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Plans are being made to clean up litter throughout the Fountain Creek watershed during Creek Week, Sept. 27-Oct. 5 in Pueblo and El Paso counties.

The event is sponsored by the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District, which was formed five years ago to improve the drainage.

At its last meeting, the Fountain Creek board learned more than 20 groups already have committed time, materials or money to the effort.

Trash that makes its way into Fountain Creek can degrade water quality, harm wildlife, create safety hazards and clog irrigation or drainage structures.

Businesses, churches, schools, nonprofits, neighborhood associations, youth groups, service clubs and individuals are encouraged to form work groups, pick a work date within the time frame, pick a location and pick it up.

Information about Creek Week and how to register a crew is available at http://fountain-crk.org.

More Fountain Creek coverage here.

Colorado Springs: Reduced water rates for Parks?

September 8, 2014
Pikes Peak with Garden of the Gods in the foreground

Pikes Peak with Garden of the Gods in the foreground

From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Monica Mendoza):

Mayor Steve Bach said he needs to slash about $6 million from the 2015 budget, and hinted that the nearly $4 million parks watering bill from Colorado Springs Utilities is among the reasons.

Bach said he is not ready to release all of the 2015 budget details, but he did say that part of the budget problem is the high cost of water. There is no discount for the city’s parks, something he said is typical in many cities. Bach did not say if the parks budget would be cut or if he would trim from other areas.

Last year’s general fund budget was $245 million, with $14 million spent on parks, recreation and cultural services. Bach will present his proposed budget to the City Council in October. City Council will host a series of budget hearings in November and is expected to vote on the budget in December.

The price of the city’s parks watering bill has been an issue for more than a decade – long before the current council and mayor began their water wars. For years, the city administration has asked for a discounted water rate from Utilities. For years, Utilities had said no.

Chuck Fowler, a member of the City Committee, which has offered input to the mayor on the budget, said there should be a benefit to having a city-owned utility, and it should be a discount on water for city parks.

“If you owned your own carwash, you would think you could bypass the meter to get your car washed,” he said…

Water bills have doubled for Utilities customers in the past five years, said councilman Merv Bennett. The money has been used to pay for the Southern Delivery System project, a 53-mile pipeline that will pump water from Pueblo Reservoir to Colorado Springs. That project is scheduled to be completed in 2016.

Bennett said the Utilities board could consider reducing water rates for the city’s parks after the SDS project is completed, but not likely before then.

“It comes down to is (park watering) the responsibility of the taxpayer or the ratepayer,” Bennett said. “This council is of the mindset that it is the cost of running the city.”

Bennett and other council members wanted to strike a compromise between Utilities and the city during the last budget session. But once the budget was approved in December, talks broke down…

“I’m disappointed that we couldn’t come up with a solution,” Bennett said…

Council president Keith King said Utilities cannot afford to offer a discounted rate to the city because of the major capital projects in the works. “If you make one group a better deal, who picks up the price of that better deal?” he asked. “We base the (water rates) on the true cost of service. Those are legitimate numbers.”

More Colorado Springs Utilities coverage here.


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