Valley Floor sewer lagoons to get makeover — The Telluride Daily Planet

October 13, 2014
Photo via TellurideValleyFloor.org

Photo via TellurideValleyFloor.org

From The Telluride Daily Planet (Mary Slosson):

Town Council approved a restoration project Tuesday that will transform two man-made sewage lagoons on the Valley Floor into new wetlands.

The two artificial ponds, located in the open Valley Floor space adjacent to the southwest corner of the Pearl Property, are believed to have been excavated in the 1960s with the intent to use as sewage treatment lagoons. They were never used and almost immediately filled with water, officials said. As a result, they were eventually left alone to grow as wild as they could.

“We look at this as a naturalizing of what was obviously a mechanical, man-made and never used excavation, the spoils of which isolated it from the wetland ecosystem,” said Angela Dye, chair of the Open Space Commission. “This project will integrate it into the wetland system we have up there now.”

The restoration project is expected to take two to three weeks and is budgeted at $116,500. Town officials hope to complete the project this fall, when they say the construction would least impact wildlife that calls the ponds home.

In fact, that wildlife is one of the reasons that planners decided to incorporate some of the ponds’ already existing standing water into the final wetland restoration design, instead of reverting the plots back to their native state and removing the standing water altogether.

“There was a desire to keep the pond, and it wasn’t purely for aesthetic reasons,” said Town of Telluride Program Director Lance McDonald, summarizing planning discussions leading up to the restoration proposal.

“There is a lot of wildlife that use the standing water. There is not a lot of standing water on the floor,” McDonald said. “The diversity of animals is quite high here: raccoons, muskrats, fox, geese, ducks. This was an opportunity to have a place for those species on the Valley Floor even though it’s not a natural feature.”

Dye said that the restored sewer ponds would become an environmental education opportunity, with student groups able to observe the waterfowl, mammals and wildlife that flock to the area.

The restoration project will remove the land beam between the lagoons that was created during the original pond excavation to create one uniform body of water, and then use that soil to create wetland benches in the water. The project will also reintroduce native vegetation to the area using samples and seeds from the immediate wetland areas.

A total of 34,800 square feet of new wetlands will be rehabilitated, creating a seamless natural environment from the Pearl Property to the rest of the Valley Floor.

More restoration/reclamation coverage here.


McPhee Reservoir update: “…inflow from the Dolores River is helping us tremendously” — Vern Harrell

October 3, 2014


From the Cortez Journal (Jim Mimiaga):

Recent rains are filling McPhee Reservoir, improving its outlook for next season.The reservoir’s elevation is 4½ feet higher than this time last year, reports Vern Harrell, a Bureau of Reclamation engineer.

“This latest storm produced 1,676 acre-feet of storage,” he said. “Irrigation outflow is pretty much done, and the inflow from the Dolores River is helping us tremendously.”

Carryover storage as of Oct. 1, 2014, is at 34,185 acre-feet, compared with 21,943 acre-feet for the same day last year, an increase of 12,242 acre-feet.

Last year, farmers suffered shortages, receiving just 25 percent of their normal water allocation because of poor snowpack and early hot weather.

This year, farmers from Dove Creek to Towaoc received 90-100 percent of their allocation, and monsoon rains reduced overall irrigation demand.

“It turned out to be a good water year,” Harrell said.

On Sept. 29, the Dolores River hit a record peak of 1,060 cubic feet per second — up from 100 cfs the day before — because of a massive rainfall event in the San Juan Mountains over the weekend. The previous record on that day was 626 cfs in 1927. On Oct. 1, the river at Dolores was flowing at 456 cfs, a boatable level.

Also this fall, significant upgrades to McPhee’s irrigation infrastructure will begin. The Bureau and the Dolores Water Conservancy District secured $4.5 million in funding for the improvements.

Automated pumping stations at Fairview, Pleasant View, Ruin Canyon, Cahone, and Dove Creek are all slated for upgrades, said DWCD engineer Ken Curtis.

The majority of the funding ($4 million) for the upgrades comes from revenues generated at the Glen Canyon hydro-electric power plant. DWCD pitched in $465,000.

“The Colorado Basin Power funds were used to pay for new reservoir projects, but there are no more of those, so now it distributes the money for upgrades and maintenance of existing facilities,” Curtis said.

The Fairview Pumping plant, which feeds off the Dove Creek canal, will receive the first overhaul at a cost of $1.6 million.

“The $500,000 needed for installation came in and construction is slated to begin in November,” Harrell said.

Now that the farming season is over, three variable-speed pumps and their 500-horsepower motors will be replaced, along with electronics and transformers.

The Fairview station delivers irrigation water through underground pipelines to 8,000 acres of farmland southwest of Yellow Jacket…

A wet fall and some carryover storage is a good sign for boaters as well. Officials say the reservoir needs an above-average winter snowpack to fill.

More Dolores River watershed coverage here.


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.


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