Colorado Water 2012: A look at the basins of Southwestern Colorado

October 31, 2012

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Here’s the latest installment of the Valley Courier’s Colorado Water 2012 series, written by Bruce Whitehead. Here’s an excerpt:

Southwestern Colorado’s rivers are unique in that many of the rivers and tributaries flow from north to south and are administered as independent river systems.

This is due to the fact that many, such as the Navajo, Blanco, Piedra, Pine, Florida, Animas, La Plata, and Mancos Rivers, are tributary to the San Juan River in New Mexico or just upstream of the state line. The Dolores River flows from north to south, but makes a “U-turn” near Cortez and heads back to the northwest and joins the Colorado River in Utah. The San Miguel River originates just above Telluride, and flows to the west where it joins the Dolores River just above the Colorado-Utah state line.

The southwest basin has many areas that are under strict water rights administration on a regular basis, but there is still water available for appropriation and development pursuant to Colorado’s Constitution and the Colorado River Compact. The region is also known for its beautiful scenery and recreation opportunities, which is the basis for the establishment of the Weminuche Wilderness area as well as nearly 150 reaches of streams with in-stream flow water rights. Over 50 natural lake levels are also protected by the state’s In-Stream Flow and Natural Lake Level Program.

Water leaders have been active for many years in the basin and recognized early on that in order to meet agricultural and municipal demands storage would need to be developed. The Southwestern Water Conservation District was formed in 1941, and has been responsible for the planning, development, and water rights acquisition for many of the federal projects in the region. Reservoirs such as McPhee (Dolores Project), Jackson Gulch (Mancos Project), Ridges Basin a.k.a Lake Nighthorse (Animas-La Plata Project), Lemon (Florida Project), and Vallecito (Pine River Project) provide for a supplemental supply of irrigation and municipal water in all but the driest of years. The delivery of these supplemental supplies assists with keeping flows in many critical reaches of river that historically had little or no flow late in the season due to limited supplies and water rights administration.

Southwest Colorado is also home to two Sovereign Nations and Indian Reservations that were established by treaty in 1868. Under federal law the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe and Southern Ute Indian Tribe were entitled to federal reserved water rights, which had the potential to create conflicts with Colorado water law and non-Indian water users in the basin. After nearly a decade of negotiations, a consent decree was entered with the water court that settled the tribal claims. The Tribal Settlement included some early dates of appropriation for the tribes, and a water supply from some of the federal storage projects including the Dolores, Animas-La Plata, Florida, and Pine River Projects. This landmark settlement is evidence that both tribal and non-Indian interests can be provided for with water storage and cooperative water management.

More Colorado Water 2012 coverage here.


The CWCB approves a $500,000 grant for the La Plata Archuleta Water District pipeline project

October 28, 2012

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From The Durango Herald (Dale Rodebaugh):

A Colorado Water Conservation Board grant will cover $475,000, with the remainder coming from the Southwest Basin Roundtable’s share of the Water Supply Reserve Account. Ground breaking is scheduled Nov. 13. Water will be available for the district’s first customers next year, Steve Harris, the district’s engineer, said Friday. Long­range plans envision serving 400 square miles, first in southeast La Plata County and later southwest Archuleta County…

The pipeline will follow Bayfield Parkway from the roundabout on County Road 501 to County Road 509, then south along County Road 509 to County Road 510, where it will turn west…

The district’s water will come from the city of Bayfield treatment plant, the capacity of which is to be expanded from 1.5 million gallons a day to 2.5 mgd. The plant currently treats 900,000 gallons a day…

The first two miles of pipeline will be 14 inches in diameter to accommodate several laterals, Harris said.
“Once we get into the rural area, we’ll use 8­inch pipe,” Harris said.

More infrastructure coverage here.


San Juan Mountains: Acid rock drainage predated mining activity by millennia, mining made it worse

July 6, 2012

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From The Telluride Watch (Peter Shelton):

The report, titled “Natural Acid Rock Drainage Associated with Hydrothermally Altered Terrane in Colorado,” was recently given an award by the Geological Society of America as the best environmental publication of 2011. The report identifies a number of high-country streams in Colorado, including Red Mountain Creek, where surface water is acidic and has high concentrations of metals upstream of historic mining.

“Of course, the mining made it much, much worse,” commented Don Paulson, a former chemistry professor who is now curator of the Ouray County Historical Museum. Paulson has followed efforts to identify sources of stream pollution and the remedial measures undertaken to improve water quality in the Uncompahgre River and its tributaries.

There was a big push to clean up the water affected by mine waste (and the role it plays in the inability of high country waterways to support aquatic life) in the 1980s. At that time the Colorado Department of Health (now Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment) first sued under the Superfund Act, then negotiated with Idarado Mining and its parent company, Newmont Mining, substantial cleanups on both the Telluride and Ouray sides of the mountain. The Telluride side saw improvements to the water quality of the Upper San Miguel River. But the acid pH and the levels of zinc and other minerals in Red Mountain Creek has not changed significantly despite Idarado’s remediation in the area of the Treasury Tunnel.

More water pollution coverage here.


The CWCB was in Telluride last week to gather input on the effects of drought on tourism and recreation

November 7, 2011

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From The Telluride Daily Planet (Benjamin Preston):

The Colorado Water Conservation Board hosted an informational meeting Wednesday about its Drought Assessment for Recreation and Tourism, or DART. CWCB designed the program to fill gaps in the state’s drought impact data — which had been focused more on agriculture — and provide county-specific assessments.

“This is the first time anyone has done an assessment like this in the U.S.,” said Taryn Hutchins-Cabibi, a CWCB official who traveled to Telluride to reach out to potential survey coordinators and participants. She called the I-70 corridor a threshold region and said the area south of it needs more detailed drought impact analysis. “Anything below I-70 seems to be more susceptible to drought.”

Hutchins-Cabibi sought more survey participants affected by drought, finding representatives from the Telluride Foundation, Mountain Studies Institute and other organizations around town at Wednesday’s meeting. But Hutchins-Cabibi said she needed as many participants as possible to make the survey more accurate. Honed in on the San Juan, San Miguel and Dolores River watersheds, DART’s Southwest Colorado component will evaluate a region of the state where tourism is particularly prone to the effects of drought.

A preliminary list of industries DART will evaluate includes skiing, wildlife viewing, hunting, fishing, camping, golf, boating and rafting. Meeting attendees offered a number of other suggested industries from which to seek input; everything from dog sledding and horseback riding to dude ranch operation. Cooperation with the Colorado Department of Corrections — which maintains fisheries in Cañon City — was also suggested.

While DART’s main collaborators are CWCB, the Colorado Department of Agriculture and Colorado State University, the study incorporates a long list of other participants: Colorado State Parks; the Colorado Division of Wildlife; the Colorado Tourism Office; the National Park Service; the U.S. Bureau of Land Management; the U.S. Forest Service; Ft. Lewis College; the University of Colorado; area tribal communities; Telluride, Silverton and Durango Mountain Resorts ski areas; and the River Rafting Association.

More CWCB coverage here.


The long-range forecast for the San Juans is for slightly below average precipitation — blame La Niña

November 3, 2011

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From The Telluride Daily Planet (Benjamin Preston):

According to the National Weather Service, La Niña, a condition where colder-than-average sea surface temperatures off the coast of Peru push the jet stream further north, usually dumps precipitation farther north. First hitting the Pacific Northwest, these systems tend to travel through the Northern Rockies before expiring over the Ohio River Valley.

“Colorado is the transition zone where the northern mountains get more snow than the southern mountains,” said Dennis Phillips, a meteorologist at the NWS station in Grand Junction. Droughts and fires across the Front Range and Southern Plains suggest that conditions this season will most likely resemble last year’s, although cold air masses in the Arctic could cause conditions in Colorado to change quickly. But although Arctic weather conditions can impact weather in the Rockies more rapidly than South American sea surface temperatures, forecasters are unable to predict its impact further than two weeks in advance…

Joe Ramey, another of NWS Grand Junction’s team of meteorologists, said that precipitation during the weeks leading up to the April ski area closure approached average levels. He compared this year to the 2000-2001 winter season, which produced La Niña weather patterns after a La Niña had occurred the year before.

“The 2000-2001 season gives us the best idea of what will happen this year,” he said, adding that he expected below average precipitation in the Southern San Juan Mountains. From Telluride north, he expects near average snowfall, especially toward the end of the season.


Energy policy — coalbed methane: Water Court Division Seven judge dismisses BP America and others applications

June 20, 2011

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From the Associated Press via The Denver Post:

The Durango Herald reports BP America Production Co. and others had sought claims to nontributary groundwater, which isn’t considered connected to surface streams. Water Judge Gregory Lyman said last month that state law gives landowners the right to such water under their property, so companies need landowners’ consent first.

More coalbed methane coverage here and here.


Bayfield: The town approves more comprehensive grease trap standards in March

April 24, 2011

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From the Pine River Times (Carole McWilliams):

The town board approved updates to the town’s grease trap ordinance in March, to require more business accountability for grease trap and interceptor maintenance. It lists penalties but states intention to seek voluntary compliance first…

Saba told the Times that the grease issue is not just restaurants. It’s residential customers too. “We have a pretty good idea of a resident dumping motor oil” into the system, he said. He urges residential customers not to put grease down the drain.

More wastewater coverage here and here.


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