NWS Grand Junction photo: New snow in the San Juan Mountains

September 28, 2014

Southwestern basin implementation plan ready for comment #COWaterPlan

September 26, 2014
San Juan River from Wolf Creek Pass

San Juan River from Wolf Creek Pass

From the Pagosa Sun (Ed Fincher):

Laura Spann from the Southwestern Water Conservation District in Durango announced yesterday the release of The Southwest Basin Implementation Plan (BIP), which can be found under the “community” tab on the Colorado Water Plan website http://www.coloradowaterplan.com.

The local portion of the state plan can be accessed by clicking on “San Juan and Dolores River Basin” under the community tab. The resulting page states, “Residents and interested parties are encouraged to participate in the Basin Implementation Plan process. As the process moves forward, documents relating to the plan will be posted here.” There are currently two documents on the page available for download.

While the website allows for electronic comments to be made concerning the broader Colorado Water Plan, Spann asks that interested members of the public direct any comments specifically about the southwest portion of the plan to Carrie Lile via email at carrie@durangowater.com or phone, 259-5322…

The website goes on to explain, “The Southwest Basin is located in the southwest corner of Colorado and covers an area of approximately 10,169 square miles. The largest cities within the basin are Durango (pop. 15,213) and Cortez (pop. 8,328). The region also includes three ski areas: Telluride, Wolf Creek and Durango Mountain Resort.”

The website concludes, “The Southwest Basin is projected to increase in municipal and industrial (M&I) water demand between 17,000 acre feet (AF) and 27,000 AF by 2050 with passive conservation included.”

More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.


Projects planned for upper and lower reaches of the Dolores River

September 26, 2014

From the Cortez Journal (Jim Mimiaga):

Matt Clark, director for the Dolores River Chapter of Trout Unlimited, is organizing a project to install a fish passage and improved diversion dam at the Redburn Ranch north of Dolores.

Currently, landowners have to build a cobble push-up dam across a wide section of river every year to get enough draw into a nearby diversion that irrigates the pastures.

The make-shift dam blocks fish from moving up and down the river and washes out every year at high flows.

“During the nine months out of the year it is up, there is no water flowing over it, preventing fish passage,” said Clark. “Plus it is a pain for the landowner to maintain.”

The solution is to build three, large-rock dams 200 feet apart that step down.

“Each one drops down the river a foot and has a pour-over,” Clark explained. “A side benefit is that it forms pools and ripple-habitat structure in between.”

In addition a new head-gate will be installed for the irrigation diversion.

Clark said there is anecdotal evidence that juvenile fish are getting trapped in that area of the river.

“A health trout fishery requires a connected river system,” he said. “When fish spawn higher up in the system, their larvae drift down and need to spread out without obstructions.”

The project is expected to be installed next fall, with cost estimates between $200,000 and $300,000. The Redburn Ranch fish passage project has been awarded a $50,000 grant from the Southwest Basin Roundtable, and $98,000 from the Colorado Water Conservation board. Trout Unlimited contributed $20,000, and the landowner contributed money as well, Clark said.

“We’re piecing it together,” Clark said. “It is a win-win for ranch management and fish habitat. Plus the pour-overs allow for easier passage for recreational boat passage.”

Meanwhile on the Lower Dolores River below McPhee dam, The Nature Conservancy is committed to improving riparian habitat by eradicating invasive tamarisk and planting native species.

TNC, along with the Southwest Conservation Corp, and the BLM formed the Dolores River Restoration Partnership. So far the effort has created 175 jobs and restored 821 acres.

“The impact of tamarisk is huge — they rob waterways of their health and make recreational access cumbersome,” says Peter Mueller, director of the Conservancy’s North San Juan Mountain Program in Colorado.

But, he adds, “When you get rid of this wicked tree, all of a sudden you can see the light, and you can see the river again.”

Aiding the effort is the spread of the tamarisk beetle, introduced into the West in the 1990s as a biological control agent. The U.S. Department of Agriculture imported tamarisk beetles from Eurasia, where they keep tamarisk in check, and after years of quarantine and testing, released them in Utah, Wyoming and Colorado.

“These beetles are one of the most tested biological agents we have and there’s little risk of them harming other plants,” says Mueller.

Over the last three years, the beetles have defoliated a majority of the tamarisk on a 60-mile reach of the Colorado River. From the release site in Utah, the insects have now moved into Colorado and the Dolores River watershed.

The lower Dolores is a more difficult river to tame because damming has altered its flow and flood timing, a condition that favors tamarisk and other exotic species.

“Restoring the health of the Dolores will require not only tamarisk removal, but improved water management and planting of native species,” Mueller said.

Native willow, sumac, and cottonwoods are planted, and native grass seeds are spread around where tamarisk once dominated.


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.


Denver District Court Throws Out License to Build Piñon Ridge Uranium Mill—Again — @sheepmtn

September 4, 2014

Here’s the release from the Sheep Mountain Alliance (Hillary Cooper):

A Denver district judge has ruled against the license issued by the state of Colorado to Energy Fuels to construct and operate a uranium mill in Paradox Valley in western Montrose County for the second time.

In a court ruling issued Wednesday, September 3, 2014, District Judge Robert McGahey found that the hearing process for the mill, ordered by a previous judge who invalidated the license in June of 2012, did not comply with the 2012 order. In today’s order, Judge McGahey ruled that a hearing officer must review the record established at the November 2012 hearing and make an “initial decision as to whether Energy Fuels application has met all criteria under state law.” Sheep Mountain Alliance and Rocky Mountain Wild retained technical experts who presented solid evidence at the hearing to prove that Energy Fuels’ application was based on false information and that the environmental review was incomplete.

“This process has been mishandled by the state agency from the start and the district court has agreed again,” stated Hilary Cooper, executive eirector of Sheep Mountain Alliance. “If the state chooses to continue this process, it will be taking action on a 2009 application for a project that will most likely never be built.”

Sheep Mountain Alliance, a grassroots conservation group based in Telluride, Colorado, has led the effort with Rocky Mountain Wild to stop the Piñon Ridge uranium mill based on significant environmental impacts to the surrounding region. SMA filed a lawsuit against the state of Colorado in February 2011 after the first radioactive materials license was issued to Energy Fuels. The Piñon Ridge mill would have been the first conventional uranium processing mill approved in the U.S. since 1980. The judge agreed with SMA’s challenge and ordered an independent hearing officer to conduct a hearing in November 2012. The hearing officer did not take action on issues raised during the hearing. Instead, the hearing officer sent the file to the state with simple direction to proceed with the license consideration. The state then issued a second license to Energy Fuels in April 2013. SMA and RMW again challenged the decision, and today’s ruling found that the hearing officer “failed to make a conclusion as to whether Energy Fuels application met all criteria for issuance of a license pursuant”.

In the meantime, Energy Fuels acquired the existing White Mesa uranium mill in Blanding, Utah, and admitted that they did not intend to build the Piñon Ridge mill because of unfavorable economic conditions and the redundancy of two mills in close proximity. In addition, Energy Fuels has entered into a contract to sell the Piñon Ridge mill property and other assets to George Glasier, the original founder of Energy Fuels, who is backed by Baobab Asset Management, Inc.

“The application lacks sufficient analysis of impacts to wildlife and the environment,” states Matt Sandler, staff attorney with Rocky Mountain Wild. “This decision is a win for the wildlife and the natural resources of this region. Our hope is that this remand will finally highlight the deficient environmental analysis included in the application.”

“The state has a clear choice to deny the Energy Fuels application and require a future developer to reapply with an updated application, which must address the conditions on the ground at that time,” states Cooper. “It’s time to release the communities of southwest Colorado from the false hope embellished by this industry for too long.”

More nuclear coverage here.


Telluride: Pandora raw water and treated water project is moving along nicely

July 27, 2014
Bridal Veil Falls

Bridal Veil Falls

From The Telluride Daily Planet (Collin McRann):

The Pandora water treatment project at the east end of the valley is on schedule and should be complete by this fall, ending more than three years of construction.

The project, which fired up in 2011, has been in the works for more than 20 years, and it will pipe water from Upper Bridal Veil Basin to a new treatment facility at the east end of the box canyon. And while there have been many hurdles, including engineering challenges and budgetary issues, the project should be complete by October and stay within the town’s 2014 budget, according to Telluride Public Works Director Paul Ruud.

“We keep making progress on the building and the water plant itself,” Rudd said. “The building is almost completed. We’re just outfitting the internals. There are aspects of the project that are done. We’ve tied in both the raw waterline coming in from Bridal Veil [Falls] and the treated line that’s going towards town, into the plant.”

Ruud said crews are also working on a physical water diversion out of Bridal Veil Creek as well as a number of other components involved with the diversion. If things go as planned, the plant will go online in early October.

“We haven’t really had any issues,” Ruud said. “We did have fairly substantial soil stabilization right at the treatment plant. That ended up being quite a substantial undertaking. But as of right now we are within the approved budget for this year and we expect the project will be completed with our existing budget.”

The facility will also contain a micro-hydro component that is expected to be operational when the plant goes live, which will boost the town’s generation of renewable energy. But the main purpose of the plant is to boost the town’s water capacity. Telluride’s current system, which relies primarily on the Mill Creek Water Plant, has been strained by high demand and other issues in recent years.

Rudd said construction has been making good progress this summer. With the good weather there have been a lot of people in the area going up to Bridal Veil Falls. But disturbances from construction are nearing an end.

More San Miguel River watershed coverage here.


Lower Dolores study details native fish needs — The Dolores Star

July 24, 2014

From The Dolores Star (Jim Mimiaga):

A conceptual plan for aiding native fish on the Lower Dolores River was approved by the Dolores Water Conservancy District in June. The District has been negotiating with Colorado Parks and Wildlife, the BLM, Forest Service, and conservation groups on ways to improve native fish habitat below McPhee Dam. The result is the Lower Dolores River Implementation, Monitoring, and Evaluation Plan, focusing on three native fish: the flannelmouth sucker, bluehead sucker, and roundtail chub.

“The plan provides a more coordinated approach for improving native fish habitat, with a focus on additional monitoring,” said Amber Clark, with the San Juan Citizen’s Alliance.

After McPhee Dam was built, small spills, as well as non-spill years from 2001-2004, began reducing the quality and amount of habitat required to meet the needs of native fish. Spring releases from the dam are later in the season, which has reduced the chance for spawning and survival of native fish.

“Protecting the native fish species locally is important because the healthier they are, the less likely they will be seen by the (U.S. Fish and Wildlife) agency as requiring protective status under the Endangered Species Act,” said Ken Curtis, an engineer with the Dolores Water Conservancy District. “Working to help these species keeps control of our river at a local level.”

The implementation plan presents known and preferred habitat conditions and lifecycles of native fish within six separate stretches of the river below McPhee dam, four of which are a focus of conservation: Dove Creek Pump Station to Pyramid (Reach 3), Pyramid to Big Gypsum Valley (Reach 4), Slickrock Canyon (Reach 5), and Bedrock to San Miguel confluence (Reach 6) Reach 3 (nine miles)

Roundtail Chub are most abundant in Reach 3 and have a relatively stable population there. Mature roundtail are smaller than in other Western Slope rivers, indicating they are adapting to low flows. Fish counts at the Dove Creek area counted 140 roundtail chub, the highest in 13 years.

Bluehead and flannelmouth suckers are present, but in low abundance. In 2013, eight bluehead and one flannelmouth were counted. Habitat is good for bluehead, a more cold tolerant fish.

Reach 4 (38 miles)

Disappointment enters the Dolores in this stretch, flushing sediment into the main channel.

All three native species are found in this stretch as well as problematic non-natives including the black bullhead and smallmouth bass, a voracious predator.

Studies show that populations shift toward non-native species during prolonged low-flow periods. In 2004, native species made up less than 50 percent of the fish caught. After a prolonged spill in 2005, 84 percent of the fish sampled were flannelmouth sucker or roundtail chubs. Because of silt buildup from Disappointment Creek, improving flows here would especially help native fish beat out non-natives.

In August 2013, flooding showed that Reach 4 below Disappointment caused unnatural silting, causing a significant fish kill.

A lack of water limits critical dilution effects, and there is an unnatural buildup of silt because of infrequent flushing flows. “During a flash flood event on Disappointment, the surge of debris-filled water flows into the Dolores River, but there is no water to help dilute the surge of silt-laden water,” said Jim White, a CPW fish biologist.

Monitoring native species at Big Gypsum will remain a priority as it appears that the population may be sensitive to low flow.

Flows are a big factor. In 2005, when there was a managed spill, biologists found 150 flannelmouth per hectare at the Big Gypsum site. While in 2004 when there was no spill, flannelmouth were counted at five fish per hectare.

In April 2013, a PIT-tag array was installed across the river just above the Disappointment Creek confluence. Fish are implanted with grain-size microchips and can be detected when they move. Only a few fish have been tagged in the lower Dolores, but more implants are planned. Data shows native fish move up and down the river. The cost of the PIT-tag array is about $75,000.

Slickrock Canyon (32 miles)

All three native fish species are found,but in low abundance. This canyon is difficult to survey, and can usually be floated if there is a spill from McPhee reservoir. The last survey was in 2007, but more are needed to determine if the stretch has rearing habitats for native fish. A relatively large number of small native fish was found near the mouth of Coyote Wash, suggesting tributaries play an important role for young fish.

Bedrock to the San Miguel River confluence (12 miles)

There are a lot of unknowns. It is highly affected by natural salt loading through the Paradox Valley. The salinity is a barrier for fish between the Dolores River below the San Miguel and Slickrock Canyon. A salinity injection well is operated by the Bureau of Reclamation here to mitigate the problem. Researchers want to ascertain the levels of salinity. A second PIT-tag array is considered near Bedrock to help figure out how fish move .

Spill management

Mimicking a natural hydrograph for native fish is one goal of the implementation plan.

McPhee stores most of the Dolores River spring runoff, and exports much of the storage to the Montezuma Valley of the San Juan River Basin. The result is a lack of spring flushing flows in the Lower Dolores to move sediment and create natural habitat.

When inflow into the reservoir exceeds capacity, the spill benefits boaters and the downstream fishery. However, a prolonged drought has limited spill years. The reservoir holds a fishery pool of 29,824 acre-feet allocated downstream throughout the year by CPW. Spill water doesn’t count against the fishery pool, but it is subject to shortages in dry years.

The report suggests ways to optimize the fish pool and spills for the benefit of native fish.

Thermal regime management sends water downstream earlier, in March and April rather than in May, to keep water cooler and delay the fish spawn until after the whitewater season.

Biologists have documented that when spill water is released in May, the low flows on the lower Dolores have heated up, cueing fish to spawn early.

“The fry and eggs are washed away in the whitewater, a hit on survival,” White said.

A model indicates that flow volumes of 125-200 cfs on May 1 may be necessary to keep water below 15C at the Dove Creek Pumps. More water downstream may keep water cool enough to delay spawning. A gauge at James Ranch will monitor conditions.

Flushing flows range from 400-800 cfs are important to prepare spawning areas and improve oxygenated flow around eggs.

Habitat flows ranging from 2,000 cfs to 3,400 cfs are necessary for resetting channel geometry, scouring pools, creating channels for fish nurseries. The Bureau of Reclamation urges increasing the fish pool to 36,500 acre-feet a year. A fund of $400,000 is earmarked for buying additional water, but none has been acquired using these funds.

“There has always been a desire for more water for the downstream fishery,” says Curtis, of DWCD. “Before there is a blanket grab for additional water, there needs to be a specific focus on how it will help, and those questions are being pursued.”

The goal of the Implementation Plan is to maintain, protect, and enhance the native fish populations in the Dolores River.

The area is susceptible to being overrun by small mouth bass and affords opportunity for their suppression by removing caught fish.

Managed spills scour the river bottom, and move sediment in ways that benefit native fish and their young.

Blueheads are rarely detected in this stretch.

Biologists see the problem as two-fold:

The Snaggletooth Rapid is in this stretch, making fish sampling a challenge, but regular fish monitoring is encouraged in the report.

More Dolores River watershed coverage here and here.


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,024 other followers

%d bloggers like this: