Big Thompson Canyon: 1976 flood remembrance service set July 31 #BigThompson

July 23, 2014

bigthompsonflood073176
From the Loveland Reporter-Herald:

The 38th remembrance service for the flood of 1976 will take place at 7 p.m. Thursday, July 31 at the memorial site at the Volunteer Fire Department, 1461 W. U.S. 34, one mile below from Drake.

The service will feature music, three scholarship awards and a speaker who worked for search and rescue in the flood, who had to rescue himself and survive the most recent flood.

There will be a dedication of the bronze memorial, sculpted by George Walbye, which will be placed at the site in memory of Evelyn Starner and Patty Goodwine, who were killed in the September 2013 flood.

For details, call Barb at 667-6465.

Here’s an Allen Best column from The Denver Post that ran last fall after the flooding in the Front Range canyons:

The recent rainfall along the Front Range was phenomenal, by some estimates a 1,000-year event in terms of duration, volume and area. But the flooding?

Not so much, at least as measured by an obelisk along Boulder Creek in downtown Boulder.

Human memories about weather are unreliable. During many years living in Vail, how often did I hear that the latest powder storm was absolutely the best ever? Plenty. Flooding is like that, too, but maybe in reverse.

The turquoise obelisk in Boulder provides a better measure against long-term memory loss. Located near the Broadway bridge, it provides benchmarks for flood levels. The water this year lapped against the 50-year marker. Above it are others: 100 years, 500 years and, much higher yet, Big Thompson, a reference to the giant flood in that canyon between Loveland and Estes Park in 1976.

I was at the Big Thompson disaster. I was living in Fort Collins then and was among scores of young men (sorry, women, those were different times) with strong backs who could be summoned in case of forest fires. My only fire was at an old sawmill site in the foothills. The joke was that one of us had set the fire because we were so desperate for minimum-wage work.

Then came July 31. It was hot that night in Fort Collins. It hadn’t rained a drop.

I was living above Gene’s Tavern, just two blocks from the Larimer County Courthouse. When the call came, I was at the sheriff’s office almost immediately. It was 9 p.m.

Being among the first at the command center at the Dam Store west of Loveland, near the mouth of Big Thompson Canyon, I was assigned to a pickup dispatched to look for people in the water near the turnoff to Masonville. Already, the river was out of its banks. From the darkness emerged a figure, dripping and confused. “I went fishing at Horsetooth (Reservoir) and was driving home and then there was all this water,” he sputtered. He was befuddled. So were we.

Our leader decided we’d best get out of there. From what I saw the next morning, that was an excellent decision. Water later covered the road there, too. I spent the night at the Dam Store as the water rose. Helicopters were dispatched, but there was little that could be done. Our lights revealed picnic baskets, beach balls and propane bottles bobbing in the dark, roiling water that raced past us, but never any hands summoning help.

In the morning, we found those hands. The bodies were stripped of clothing and covered with mud. The first I saw was of a woman who we guessed was 18, not much younger than I was then. This thin margin between life and death was startling in my young eyes.

Eventually, 144 people were declared victims of the flooding that night (although one turned up alive in 2008 in Oklahoma).

Estes Park got some rain, but not all that much. The larger story was partway down the canyon, in the Glen Haven and Glen Comfort areas, where the thunderstorm hovered. In just a few hours, it dropped 10 to 14 inches of water.

Downstream in the canyon, just above the Narrows, some people were unaware that anything was amiss until they went outside their houses and saw the water rising in their yards. It hadn’t even rained there. One cabin I saw a few days later was stripped of doors and windows but stood on its foundations, a mound of mud 5 or 6 feet high in the interior. I seem to recall a dog barking as we approached, protecting that small part of the familiar in a world gone mad.

At the old hydroelectric plant where my family had once enjoyed Sunday picnics, the brick building had vanished. Only the turbines and concrete foundation remained. In a nearby tree, amid the branches maybe 10 or 15 feet off the ground, hung a lifeless body.

The river that night carried 32,000 cubic feet per second of water at the mouth of the canyon, near where I was stationed. It happened almost instantaneously — and then it was gone. It was a flash flood.

This year, the flows peaked at 10,000 cfs, but were more sustained and, according to reports, the damage inexplicably greater in portions of the canyon. There were horrors, too, but this year there was time for warnings.

After the 1976 flood, rain gauges were sprinkled in the foothills of the Front Range, up to 7,500 feet in elevation, where most heavy summer rains occur. That telemetrically transmitted information alerts police chiefs and sheriffs to flooding potential. That warning system may have saved lives this year.

Where does volume of this flood fit into the context of flooding in the last 150 years? That answer will have to wait. Many rain gauges were swept away, so peak flows will have to be calculated during field visits by U.S. Geological Survey personnel. That will take several weeks.

One more banner of comparison was 1965, when rivers and creeks from Castle Rock to Lamar to Fort Morgan flooded.

The flood that swept through Littleton and Denver created a mess, but led to the rethinking of the South Platte River as an asset rather than industrial afterthought.

East of Denver and Colorado Springs, the same storms transformed Bijou Creek from a lifeless expanse of sand into an angry, snarling mass of water. At Fort Morgan, after entering the South Platte River, it nearly submerged the arches of the Rainbow Bridge. This year’s flooding, according to several eyewitness accounts, didn’t even come close.

We’ve had other floods, too. Even in the midst of the Dust Bowl, there were giant floods in eastern Colorado, both on the South Platte and in the Republican River.

My guess is that this flood will be the most damaging ever in Colorado history. Part of this is due to how broad the inundation was, from Colorado Springs to Wyoming. Population growth is also part of the story. Colorado now has 5.2 million people, almost double that of 1970, most of us crowded between Castle Rock and Wellington, a good many in the foothills, those areas so vulnerable to fires but also flooding.

This flood once again points to the importance of land-use planning. Where you put sewer plants does matter. You can’t anticipate every natural disaster, but floods have an element of predictability.

Boulder has had big floods before, most notably in 1894. It also had the direct lesson of Big Thompson and the local influence of Gilbert White, who died in 2006. “Floods are ‘acts of God,’ but flood losses are largely acts of man,” he had said. Boulder has muddy feet, but the consequences would have been much worse had the city not taken his advice and removed structures from along the creek to the west and resized bridges to accommodate more water. The obelisk is in his honor.

John Pitlick, a hydrologist at the University of Colorado, says the flood this year peaked at about the 50-year marker on the obelisk.

In one of his classes, he also noted that rainfall and flooding aren’t one and the same. “It is possible from a statistical analysis to be a 1,000-year rain, but you don’t necessarily have a 1,000-year flood.”

In other words, context matters entirely. Had the water fallen in a shorter time, such as it did in the Big Thompson in 1976, Boulder’s story almost assuredly would have been different. “We might have seen a catastrophe,” he says.

That leaves us in something of a no-man’s land, as Pitlick puts it.

This year’s floods were a big deal but, aside from individual losses, not catastrophic to Colorado. What lessons do you draw for future flood planning? That’s the question for communities along the Front Range in months ahead.

More Big Thompson River watershed coverage here.


Greeley gets USACE permit for pipeline

July 23, 2014

pipeline

From the Fort Collins Coloradoan (Kevin Duggan):

After a 7-year process and multiple studies, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has issued a permit that would allow Greeley to build a 6-mile section of pipeline known as the Northern Segment.

The city plans to run the pipeline under the Poudre River and through open fields on private property south of the river.

Greeley officials plan to work with affected property owners during the coming months to get easements for the pipeline, said Eric Reckentine, deputy director of water resources for Greeley Water and Sewer.

Construction is expected to begin in late fall and last about a year and a half. The segment is expected to cost about $25 million.

But the fight over the pipeline is not over and could end up in court.

Rose Brinks, who lives off Overland Trail near the river and Lions Park, stated in an email to the Coloradoan that she will not allow her family’s historic farm to be “torn up for such a pipeline.”

Greeley could use eminent domain to get the rights of way it needs to build the project.

“We would prefer to negotiate with property owners,” Reckentine said.

Brinks and other affected property owners have contended for years that the project should be built along another route, such as under Larimer County Road 54G.

But Greeley officials say their preferred route would disrupt fewer properties and would not require the removal of homes. It also would not force monthslong construction closures on LaPorte’s main street.

As part of the process of getting the permit, Greeley had to do extensive studies on the environmental impact of the project and its potential effects on historic sites, such as a section of the old Greeley, Salt Lake and Pacific Railroad line on Brinks’ property.

Greeley plans to bore underground to get the pipeline through sensitive areas, Reckentine said…

The 30-mile pipeline project would run from Greeley’s water treatment plant near Bellvue to Gold Hill Reservoir west of the city. Two-thirds of the pipeline is complete and operating. The segment that runs through Fort Collins ends at Shields Street.

From The Greeley Tribune (Sherrie Peif):

After seven years of fights and headaches, Greeley officials can finally celebrate. The Army Corps of Engineers gave approval for the final 6-mile segment of the Bellvue Pipeline from the Fort Collins/LaPorte/Bellvue area.

The final addition, which runs from Shields Street in Fort Collins to the Bellvue Treatment Plant at the mouth of the Poudre Canyon, will complete the $80 million, 30-mile pipeline. It will have the capacity to deliver an additional 50 million gallons of water per day to Greeley, enough to satisfy the projected need of Greeley’s water customers for the next 50 years.

The city hit roadblocks every direction it turned with landowners worried about the impact on wildlife and historical structures, as well as noise and fumes and the other effects of construction.

Then, concern over the Preble jumping mouse habitat got in the way. Greeley was required to study the mouse habitat and any impacts under the State and National Historic Preservation Acts before the permit verification was issued.

There are still four property owners trying to hold up the process, said Eric Reckentine, deputy director of water resources for Greeley, but the city has the go-ahead for construction, which is expected to begin in the fall.

It will run under the originally proposed 28 different properties. The city could take any remaining land through eminent domain laws if it needs to.

“We’re still working through some issues with those landowners,” Reckentine said.

He did not know how much the city has spent in legal fees on the project.

Officials say the route is the least destructive. An alternative would have traveled under Main Street in LaPorte and under that town’s two schools. When completed, this will be only the second extension of water pipeline the city has done in 100 years.

The city, which since the 1950s has had two existing 27-inch pipelines through the town, has two-thirds of the 60-inch line built and some portions already in operation.

The line parallels about 65 percent of the city’s existing lines, but it will move through a portion of historically registered property along Overland Trail at the southern edge of LaPorte. Retired water director Jon Monson said in 2011 that the structures would be completely avoided by tunneling beneath them, roughly 18-20 feet for about 1,700 feet.

The city still needs some additional permits to increase the water capacity, but Reckentine said he was confident they would not be a problem.

“This is an important project for Greeley,” Reckentine said. “We are just glad we can begin construction.”

More infrastructure coverage here.


Big Thompson River restoration meeting set July 31 — Loveland Reporter-Herald

July 23, 2014
Flood damage Big Thompson Canyon September 2013 -- photo via Northern Water

Flood damage Big Thompson Canyon September 2013 — photo via Northern Water

From the Loveland Reporter-Herald:

A Big Thompson River master planning meeting will be held at 6-8 p.m. Thursday, July 31, at the Thompson School District Administration Building, 800 S. Taft Ave.

The third in a series of meetings held to look at options for river restoration after last September’s flood, the session will present preliminary recommendations for restoration of the river and design plans.

Stakeholders will get the chance to offer feedback.

For details, call 420-7346 or visit http://bigthompsonriver.org.


First-Ever Campus Water Conservation Plan at MSU Denver

July 23, 2014

Originally posted on Your Water Colorado Blog:

Students from the MSU Denver ENV 290B Water Conservation Management Class created a campus-wide water management plant

Students from the MSU Denver ENV 290B Water Conservation Management Class created a campus-wide water management plant

MSU Denver students, along with advice from Denver Water and the One World One Water Center for Urban Water Education and Stewardship (OWOW), created the first-ever comprehensive campus water management plan. The plan was the result from the ENV 290B Water Conservation Planning summer course. The students spent 8 hours a day, for two weeks, researching and creating the plan for the new applied-learning course. The final plan was unveiled to Mark Cassalia from Denver Water’s Conservation department, Nona Shipman and Tom Cech from OWOW, and Jon Bortles, the campus Sustainably Director. The plan received rave reviews and will be used to make much needed water conserving changes to the current campus water management plan.

The plan included data and mapping for outdoor water usage, indoor water usage, a drought response plan…

View original 378 more words


Northern Water: The first C-BT Project water was released from Horsetooth Reservoir into the Poudre River on this day 63 yrs ago #ColoradoRiver

July 21, 2014

From the Fort Collins Coloradoan (Ryan Maye Handy):

Horsetooth Reservoir gets its water from a network of Western Slope reservoirs fed by mountain snowmelt. Water is usually pumped up from Lake Granby to Shadow Mountain Reservoir, where gravity eventually pulls it down through the 13-mile Adams Tunnel and into a couple of more reservoirs before it reaches Horsetooth.

Back in 1951, hundreds of people came to the reservoir to mark the event — it was a long-awaited milestone for farmers and cities along the Front Range, who had survived decades of drought.

The shuttling of Western Slope water into Horsetooth and the Poudre River is a system that Northern Colorado has been reliant on for decades. In Northern Colorado, the plea for more water started in the Great Depression, when a devastating drought plagued the western and central United States.

The federal government agreed to come to the aid of Colorado’s farmers and in the late 1930s began building the Colorado-Big Thompson project. Today, the C-BT project supplies Fort Collins with 65 percent of its water.

I was 4 months and 16 days old at time. I don’t remember the event. More Colorado-Big Thompson Project coverage here.


Northern Water opts for gradual rate increase — Fort Collins Coloradoan

July 18, 2014
Colorado-Big Thompson Project Map via Northern Water

Colorado-Big Thompson Project Map via Northern Water

From the Fort Collins Coloradoan (Ryan Maye Handy):

The Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District will increase the cost of its water step-by-step over 2016 and 2017, which will mean 28 percent cost increase per year for cities like Fort Collins.

The district’s board came to a decision about the rate increases on July 11, after months of considering the best way to hike prices to balance out the district’s budget. The board initially considered a more than 40 percent increase in 2016, but decided to compromise with cities and other water users concerned that such drastic increases would harm their finances.

Fort Collins Utilities, which now gets the bulk of its water from the district, says that in the short term customers’ utility rates will not be affected…

For 2015, allotment prices for cities were set at $30.50 per acre foot, up from $28. While that cost will only increase for cities over the next few years, irrigators will face a 61 percent increase in allotment costs in 2016 and 2017.

Fort Collins Utilities directly owns 18,855 units in addition to about 14,000 units it leases from the North Poudre Irrigation Co. But, in terms of actual use for 2014, the city has used 14,900 acre feet of water since Nov. 1, when the water year begins.

After the High Park Fire, Utilities became even more reliant on C-BT water since the Poudre River, the city’s other water source, was filled with fire and flood debris. This year, the city gets about 65 percent of its water from Northern Water, and 35 percent from the Poudre.

From the Loveland Reporter-Herald (Jessica Maher):

Costs are expected to increase every year until 2018, when municipal and industrial C-BT users will be charged $53.10 per unit and agricultural users will be charged $30.20 per unit. That represents a nearly 90 percent increase for municipalities and 202 percent increase for agricultural users.

The city of Loveland owns 12,118 units of C-BT water, 5,112 of which are fixed at a rate of $1.50 per unit that will not change.

The increase for Loveland’s remaining 7,006 open-rate units will cost the city about $176,000 more by 2018. Loveland Water and Power staff will budget for the increase in the coming years, senior water resources engineer Larry Howard said.

“It’s real money, but it’s not something that’s devastating to the utility or something,” Howard said.

Next year, rates are set to increase by 9 percent. That’s a manageable increase that will not require rate increases for Loveland Water and Power customers, Howard said.

Whether customers will see an impact from the increase in future years is not known.

“When we do our cost of service study next year, the cost increase will be taken into account, along with any other changes in our costs,” Utility Accounting Manager Jim Lees said.

The city of Loveland’s primary two sources of water are the Green Ridge Glade Reservoir and water diverted directly from the Big Thompson River at the Big Dam.

“We generally rely on those each year and then start filling in with C-BT and Windy Gap water,” Howard said. “It depends on the year and how much we need.”

Depending on conditions year to year, the city rents C-BT water to farmers, so Howard said that could help to absorb the cost of the rate increases over the next few years.

Brian Werner, Northern Water’s public information officer, said that the increases are the result of a comprehensive study that started last year.

“The cost of doing business is going up,” Werner said. “Our management has charged us with looking at where we can control costs.”

More Colorado-Big Thompson Project coverage here.


Fort Morgan kicks in another $45,000 for the Northern Integrated Supply Project

July 17, 2014
Northern Integrated Supply Project preferred alternative

Northern Integrated Supply Project preferred alternative

From The Fort Morgan Times (Dan Barker):

Fort Morgan City Council members unanimously approved an extra $45,000 for the Northern Integrated Supply Project at their regular meeting Tuesday night.

Many of the necessary reports and studies for the water project are nearly done, but that effort cost more than anticipated, said Brent Nation, water resources and utilities director for the city.

Fort Morgan had paid the project $90,000 earlier this year, which is essentially the dues for the project, but the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District asked for an adjustment to the dues to pay for the studies that have been done recently, he said.

The city of Fort Morgan has a 9 percent share of the project, which will come to about 3,600 acre feet of water the city could tap when the NISP reservoirs are completed, Nation said…

Altogether, NISP is expected to cost $500 million, Nation said, and Fort Morgan’s share would cost $40 million.

Once the supplemental draft environmental impact statement is done, which could be soon, NISP will begin thinking about starting construction, said Fort Morgan City Manager Jeff Wells…

Once the environmental impact report is published, there will be a period of public review and public meetings, Nation said.

There are those who are opposed to the project, and they will come out to say so, he said. However, this will also be an opportunity for supporters to say why they want NISP.

Nation said it is encouraging to be at this point in the project after 10 years of work.

Wells said Fort Morgan has spent about $1.2 million on the project over the past 10 years…

McAlister noted that there are a number of municipalities on the plains that have serious water supply problems, and Fort Morgan must do something or it could have similar problems.

More Northern Integrated Supply Project coverage here and here.


We must make sure Weld County’s voice is heard in water planning effort — The Greeley Tribune #COWaterPlan

July 17, 2014

lowersouthplatteriver

The Greeley Tribune editorial staff weighs in on the Colorado Water Plan:

We know that readers’ eyes tend to gloss over when we write about water issues in northern Colorado. One almost needs to go through four years of law school, with an emphasis on water law, to truly understand the complicated system that provides water throughout our state.

But we would strongly suggest that readers should pay attention to the South Platte Basin Roundtable, which is a group of water officials and experts who meet regularly to address water issues and plan for the water future of northeastern Colorado.

We won’t blame you for being bored by the topic. But the truth is, the availability of water — or the lack thereof — probably will have more to do with the future of our region than any other issue.

The South Platte water plan is part of a statewide effort, coordinated by the Colorado Water Conservation Board, which is piecing together the South Platte Roundtables plans with seven other roundtables around the state, to create a comprehensive water plan by the end of 2015.

The South Platte Roundtable’s work outlines how agriculture, cities and industries can coexist in the future. The plan for northeastern Colorado is nearing completion, and probably will be released to the public by late July.

Once the draft plan is released, the Colorado Conservation Board wants the public’s input. That should be our cue to pay attention and participate.

The South Platte Basin includes six of the state’s 10 top ag-producing counties, including Weld County, which ranks ninth nationally for its value of production. Three of the other top 10 are also in northeast Colorado in the nearby Republican River Basin, which is impacted by South Platte basin functions.

Also, eight of the 10 largest cities in Colorado are in the South Platte basin, including Denver and Aurora. That’s why the South Platte and Metro roundtables are combining their implementation plans.

Because of that, and continued growth along the northern Front Range and in the metro Denver area, the South Platte basin faces the biggest expected water shortages in the state.

“With each basin having its own interests and each facing its respective challenges, it’s going to be a Herculean effort … to bring all of these together without something getting lost,” said Eric Wilkinson, general manager of the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District in Berthoud, which oversees the largest water-delivery system in northern Colorado and is working to put in place more water-storage projects. “Each basin has put in a lot of time and thought into their plans, and to see something get lost along the way going forward would be tough for any of us.”

If you only pay attention to one water discussion this summer, make sure this is the one.

We must make sure our eyes are clear and are voices are loud to help shape the future of Greeley, Weld County and northern Colorado in a real and direct way.

More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.


Georgetown: Meter replacement project nearly complete

July 16, 2014

Georgetown Colorado

Georgetown Colorado


From the Clear Creek Courant (Beth Potter):

Georgetown is about to complete its water-meter replacement program, and rather than asking homeowners to foot the $550 installation bill, the town took out a loan and got a grant to cover the cost. The town is replacing 660 meters because they were not accurately recording how much water homeowners were using. The town board discussed the issue for two years, trying to determine the best way to foot the cost.

The town received a $170,000 grant in 2013 from the state Department of Local Affairs and has taken out a loan for $211,000 from the Colorado Water Conservation Board to pay the rest of the cost. The loan is for 30 years at 4.1 percent interest, according to town administrator Tom Hale.

Residents will repay the debt through increases to their water bills, though Hale is unsure how much the increase will be. The $211,000 loan is part of a larger amount the town has borrowed to pay for renovations to the Georgetown Lake dam. He expects water rates to reflect the entire loan repayment in 2016.

Georgetown mayor Craig Abrahamson said having residents pay for the new water meters through small increases in their water bills would be “an easier pill to swallow” for most people.

The town hired a company from Utah to replace the meters, which will allow a meter reader to drive down the street to collect meter data.

The primary purpose of replacing the meters, Abrahamson said, is to improve their accuracy and help the town better assess how much water residents actually use.
More than 87 percent of Georgetown’s 597 water users needed new meters. The radio-read meters cost $400, and installation costs $150. The remaining 75 were installed within the last couple of years and don’t need to be replaced.
Based on readings from the new meters, the town may determine whether it can lower water rates.

More infrastructure coverage here.


Water Lines: Colorado needs a better water plan — Jim Pokrandt #ColoradoRiver #COWaterPlan

July 16, 2014


From the Glenwood Springs Post Independent (Jim Pokrandt):

It’s almost time for football training camps, so here’s a gridiron analogy for Colorado River water policy watchers: Western Colorado is defending two end zones. One is the Colorado River. The other is agriculture. The West Slope team has to make a big defensive play. If water planning errs on the side of overdeveloping the Colorado River, the river loses, the West Slope economy loses and West Slope agriculture could be on the way out.

This is how the Colorado River Basin Roundtable is viewing its contribution to the Colorado Water Plan ordered up by Gov. John Hickenlooper. A draft plan will be submitted this December and a final plan in December 2015. The Roundtable is assessing local water supply needs and environmental concerns for inclusion into the plan and there is plenty of work to consider in the region. But the big play may very well be the keeping of powerful forces from scoring on our two goal lines.

Here’s why: Colorado’s population is slated to double by 2050. Most of it will be on the Front Range, but our region is growing too. Mother Nature is not making any new water. We still depend on the same hydrological cycle that goes back to Day 1. So where is the “new” water going to come from? Right now, there seems to be two top targets, the Colorado River and agriculture (where 85 percent of state water use lies in irrigated fields). Colorado needs a better plan.

The Colorado Basin Roundtable represents Mesa, Garfield, Summit, Eagle, Grand and Pitkin counties. This region already sends between 450,000 and 600,000 acre feet of water annually across the Continental Divide through transmountain diversions (TMDs) to support the Front Range and the Arkansas River Basin.

That water is 100 percent gone. There are no return flows, such as there are with West Slope water users. On top of that, this region could see another 140,000 acre feet go east. A number of Roundtable constituents have long-standing or prospective agreements with Front Range interests wrapped around smaller TMDs. Existing infrastructure can still take some more water. That’s the scorecard right now. We assert another big TMD threatens streamflows and thus the recreational and agricultural economies that define Western Colorado, not to mention the environment.

In the bigger picture, the Colorado River Compact of 1922 requires Colorado to bypass about 70 percent of the river system to the state line to comply with legal limits on depletions so six other states can have their legal share of the water. Failure to do so, by overdeveloping the river, threatens compact curtailments and chaos nobody wants to see. For one thing, that kind of bad water planning could result in a rush to buy or condemn West Slope agricultural water rights.

The Roundtable has heard these concerns loudly and clearly from its own members across the six counties as well as from citizens who have given voice to our section of the water plan, known as the Basin Implementation Plan (BIP). A draft of the BIP can be viewed and comments offered by going online to http://coloradobip.sgm‐inc.com/. It is under the “Resources” tab.

Jim Pokrandt is Colorado Basin Roundtable Chair.

More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.


Northern Water board approves rate increase #ColoradoRiver

July 15, 2014
Colorado-Big Thompson Project east slope facilities

Colorado-Big Thompson Project east slope facilities

From The Greeley Tribune (Eric Brown):

A number of share holders in the Colorado-Big Thompson Project — the largest water-supply project in northern Colorado — will see assessment costs sharply increase during the next few years, the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District board recently decided.

Although the numbers aren’t set in stone and are subject to change, the board on Friday approved a general outline that over time increases open-assessment fees for municipal and industrial water users from $28 this year to $53.10 by 2018, and increases those fees for agricultural users from $10 this year to $30.20 per unit by 2018.

The increases won’t apply to those who own fixed-assessment C-BT shares. Those who bought shares before 1959 and still own those shares still pay a fixed assessment of $1.50 per unit. The majority of the city of Greeley’s C-BT shares, for example, are fixed-assessment shares, and won’t be impacted by the changes, according to Brian Werner, public information officer with Northern Water.

The recently approved uptick for open assessments was made to keep up with the always-increasing expenses at Northern Water, Werner said, noting that the uptick in wildfire-mitigation efforts, water-quality measures and overall regulation, among other expenses, are making it more and more pricey to deliver water from the C-BT’s high-mountain reservoirs to its users across northern Colorado.

“It’s just another example of how water is getting more and more expensive. There’s no getting around it,” Werner said, noting that, despite Northern Water continuing its efforts to reduce operating costs, the increase in open assessments was needed.

Increases in water costs are nothing new for users in the state, particularly in northern Colorado, where rapid population growth along the Front Range, large ag use and increased oil-and-gas production have sharply increased demand for water.

And as supplies have tightened, prices have skyrocketed.

In January 2013, the price of a water unit in the C-BT Project was about $9,500. Now it’s well over $20,000 per unit.

But while costs are increasing, Northern water officials stress that, in the global picture, C-BT users are still getting a good deal on good water.

Werner noted that 1,000 gallons of water is still being delivered to C-BT share holders “for pennies.”

The C-BT Project collects and delivers on average more than 200,000 acre feet of water each year (about 65 billion gallons). Most of this water is the result of melting snow in the upper Colorado River basin west of the Continental Divide. The project transports the water to the East Slope via a 13.1-mile tunnel beneath Rocky Mountain National Park.

C-BT water flows to more than 640,000 acres of irrigated farm and ranch land and 860,000 people in portions of eight counties within Northern Water boundaries, according to Northern Water data.

More Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District coverage here.


CPW: Cherry Creek State Park is proud to host Lake Appreciation Day 2014

July 15, 2014

lakeappreciationday2014cherrycreekstatepark

More Cherry Creek watershed coverage here.


The Last Drop: America’s Breadbasket Faces Dire Water Crisis — NBC News

July 15, 2014
Significant portions of the Ogallala Aquifer, one of the largest bodies of water in the United States, are at risk of drying up if it continues to be drained at its current rate. Courtesy of MSU

Significant portions of the Ogallala Aquifer, one of the largest bodies of water in the United States, are at risk of drying up if it continues to be drained at its current rate. Courtesy of MSU

From NBCNews.com (Brian Brown):

The scope of this mounting crisis is difficult to overstate: The High Plains of Texas are swiftly running out of groundwater supplied by one of the world’s largest aquifers – the Ogallala. A study by Texas Tech University has predicted that if groundwater production goes unabated, vast portions of several counties in the southern High Plains will soon have little water left in the aquifer to be of any practical value.

The Ogallala Aquifer spreads across eight states, from Texas to South Dakota, covering 111.8 million acres and 175,000 square miles. It’s the fountain of life not only for much of the Texas Panhandle, but also for the entire American Breadbasket of the Great Plains, a highly-sophisticated, amazingly-productive agricultural region that literally helps feed the world.

This catastrophic depletion is primarily manmade. By the early eighties, automated center-pivot irrigation devices were in wide use – those familiar spidery-armed wings processing in a circle atop wheeled tripods. This super-sized sprinkler system allowed farmers to water crops more regularly and effectively, which both significantly increased crop yields and precipitously drained the Ogallala.

Compounding the drawdown has been the nature of the Ogallala itself. Created 10 million years ago, this buried fossil water is–in many places—not recharged by precipitation or surface water. When it’s gone, it’s gone for centuries…

“The depletion of the Ogallala is an internationally important crisis,” says Burke Griggs, Ph.D., consulting professor at the Bill Lane Center for the American West at Stanford University. “How individual states manage the depletion of that aquifer will obviously have international consequences.”[...]

“We’re headed for a brick wall at 100 miles per hour,” says James Mahan, Bruce Spinhirne’s father-in-law and a plant physiologist at the USDA’s Agricultural Research Service lab in Lubbock. “And, really, the effects of climate change are branches hitting the windshield along the way.”

From NBCNews.com (Brian Brown):

Last August, in a still-echoing blockbuster study, Dave Steward, Ph.D., and his colleagues at Kansas State University, informed the $15 billion Kansas agricultural economy that it was on a fast track to oblivion. The reason: The precipitous, calamitous withdrawal rates of the Ogallala Aquifer.

The Ogallala is little known outside this part of the world, but it’s the primary source of irrigation not just for all of western Kansas, but the entire Great Plains. This gigantic, soaked subterranean sponge – fossil water created 10 million years ago – touches eight states, stretching from Texas all the way up to South Dakota, across 111.8 million acres and 175,000 square miles.

The Ogallala supports a highly-sophisticated and amazingly-productive agricultural region critical to the world’s food supply. With the global population increasing, and as other vital aquifers suffer equally dramatic declines, scientists acknowledge that if the farmers here cannot meet ever-growing food demands, billions could starve.

Steward’s study predicted that nearly 70 percent of the portion of the Ogallala beneath western Kansas will be gone in 50 years. He’s not the kind of person to shout these results; he speaks slowly and carefully. Yet, he has the evident intensity of one who’s serving a greater purpose. “We need to make sure our grandkids and our great grandkids have the capacity to feed themselves,” he says.

Now the chief executive of the state, himself from a farming family, is using Steward’s report as a call to action.

“One of the things we [have] to get over … is this tragedy of the commons problem with the Ogallala,” says Governor Sam Brownback, a Republican who at age 29 was the youngest agriculture secretary in state history. “It’s a big common body of water. It’s why the oceans get overfished … You have a common good and then nobody is responsible for it.”

“That’s one of the key policy issues that you have to get around,” Brownback says in his roomy, towering office at the capitol in Topeka. “Everyone has to take care of this water.”

In that spirit, a tiny legion of farmers and landowners in the northwest corner of Kansas, where the Rockies begin their rise, have just begun year two of what could be one of the most influential social experiments of this century.

The group is only 125 in number but controls 63,000 acres of prime farmland in Sheridan County. Collectively, voluntarily, they have enacted a new, stringent five-year water conservation target, backed by the force of law and significant punishments.

The Local Enhanced Management Act, or LEMA, is the first measure of its kind in the United States. Specifically, the farmers are limiting themselves to a total of 55 inches of irrigated water over five years – an average of 11 inches per year…

“So now we have the high morality of the need to protect the ecosphere. But it’s legal to rip the tops off mountains. It’s legal to drill in the Arctic. It’s legal to drill in the Gulf. It’s legal to build pipelines. It’s legal to send carbon into the dumping ground called an atmosphere. So we’ve not yet reconciled the high moral with the legal.” [Wes Jackson]

More Ogallala aquifer coverage here and here.


Where our water comes from — Fort Collins Coloradoan

July 14, 2014

Ash and silt pollute the Cache la Poudre River after the High Park Fire September 2012

Ash and silt pollute the Cache la Poudre River after the High Park Fire September 2012


From the Fort Collins Coloradoan (Ryan Maye Handy):

With Colorado’s water year at its mid-July end and many Northern Colorado reservoirs still flush with the bounty of a plentiful water year, water woes of years past have turned into discussions of how the state will store water in the future.

In the coming months, the Army Corps of Engineers will release an updated study on the Northern Water Conservancy District’s proposal to expand its water storage capacity near Fort Collins. The Northern Integrated Supply Project would build Glade Reservoir northwest of the city, bringing a new reservoir larger than Horsetooth Reservoir to the area.

Before the release of the study reignites the battle over the potential environmental impacts of expanding Northern Colorado’s water storage capacity, we look at where Fort Collins gets the water that provides the basis for everything from the natural resources residents enjoy to the craft beer they drink…

Before the High Park Fire, which burned more than 87,000 acres of the Poudre watershed, Fort Collins Utilities split its water sources between the project and the river. But the Poudre’s water has since become filled with fire and flood debris, which prompted a total shutdown of river water for Fort Collins customers.

Time and the September 2013 floods have cleaned out the river, but the city is still mostly reliant on the C-BT project for more than 60 percent of its water each year.

Fundamentally, snowmelt fills the many reservoirs in the C-BT project. The Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District, which helps manage the project, delivers a certain amount of water to cities like Fort Collins as well as farmers and irrigators — all of whom own hundreds or thousands of acre-feet of the project’s water…

Here’s a look at where our water comes from.

THE WESTERN SLOPE

The water that feeds Colorado — and a vast swath of the nation — begins its downward flow from the Continental Divide high in the Rocky Mountains. In order to harness water that otherwise would flow to the Pacific Ocean, water managers created a vast network of reservoirs, tunnels and canals to reroute Western Slope water to Colorado’s more populous Front Range.

LAKE GRANBY

For Fort Collins, and much of the northern Front Range, this is where it all begins. Snowmelt fills this Western Slope reservoir, and the water from it is pumped to Shadow Mountain Reservoir. From there, it’s literally all downhill — gravity pushes water through five reservoirs until it gets to Horsetooth Reservoir, southwest of Fort Collins. This year, due to above-average snowpack, Lake Granby soon will spill over its banks. It can hold up to 540,000 acre-feet of water.

HORSETOOTH RESERVOIR

Horsetooth was built along with the Colorado-Big Thompson Project and is a fraction of the size of Lake Granby — it holds about 156,000 acre-feet of water. This is where Fort Collins will get most of its C-BT water, which has traveled through the 13-mile Adams Tunnel, under U.S. Highway 34, and through several reservoirs. Fort Collins Utilities has its only operational water treatment plant at Horsetooth. In 2014, Fort Collins gets about 65 percent of its water from the C-BT project.

THE CACHE LA POUDRE RIVER

The Poudre River typically provides Fort Collins with 50 percent of its water. But after the High Park Fire polluted the river, Fort Collins has been forced to shut down its Poudre River sources, sometimes for months. The upper part of the river is considered “wild and scenic” — a federal designation. It is also one of the few remaining dam-free rivers in Colorado. In 2014, Fort Collins gets about 35 percent of its water from the Poudre.

CARTER LAKE

Carter Lake is one of many reservoirs that make up the Colorado-Big Thompson Project. Some of Fort Collins’ water can come from this reservoir, but not frequently. Other reservoirs in the system include Grand Lake, Mary’s Lake, Lake Estes and Flatiron Reservoir, to name just a few.

FORT COLLINS

Treated water coming into Fort Collins comes from a plant near Horsetooth Reservoir. Since Nov. 1, the city has used about 9,700 acre-feet of water from the Colorado-Big Thompson Project, and about 5,200 acre-feet from the Poudre River. Before the High Park Fire, the city typically split its water use between the two sources but has since had to use more C-BT water.

More infrastructure coverage here.


Colorado to get $58 milllion in more federal aid for #COflood recovery — The Denver Post

July 14, 2014
Plume of subtropical moisture streaming into Colorado September 2013 via Weather5280

Plume of subtropical moisture streaming into Colorado September 2013 via Weather5280

From The Denver Post (Mark K. Matthews):

Victims of the deadly floods that ravaged Colorado in September are in line for another $58.2 million in federal aid thanks to an upcoming grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. The relief money, which the agency is expected to announce this week, will be available for a broad range of recovery efforts, from fixing homes to repairing local infrastructure.

And it comes at a time when flood victims across north-central Colorado continue to struggle with the impact of a massive storm that killed at least 10 people and caused more than $3.3 billion in damages, according to disaster officials. An estimated 1,800 homes were destroyed by heavy rains and flooding. Ten months later, nearly 30 families remain in temporary housing, said Tom Schilling, a spokesman for the Colorado Recovery Office.

“Colorado has pulled together in an incredible way,” Schilling said. “But there still remains a lot to be done to rebuild infrastructure, help families recover and help get economies back on track.”

That sentiment was echoed by U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, who jointly announced the new aid money with fellow Colorado Democrat Mark Udall.

“We knew we’d have a long road to recovery, and we’re making tremendous progress,” said Bennet in a statement.

The $58.2 million grant adds to the $262.1 million that HUD already has sent to Colorado for recovery efforts, as well as $450 million in federal transportation funding that the state received to deal with storm-caused closures to more than two dozen highways and interstates.

“This latest allocation is welcome news for Colorado and underscores the critical role HUD has played and will continue to play in helping us to rebuild smarter and stronger,” Udall said.


Say hello to @Northern_Water #ColoradoRiver

July 12, 2014

Meanwhile, Northern is looking at big rate increases to coverage operations. Here’s a report from Steve Lynn writing for the Northern Colorado Business Report. Here’s an excerpt:

Under current projections, rates for Colorado-Big Thompson Project water could rise from $28 to more than $100 per unit for municipal users and from $10 to $80 per unit for agricultural users by 2023, according to documents from the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District…

The extra money is needed because Northern Water’s expenses have outpaced its revenue in three of the last four years. Property taxes, which have remained flat since the recession, make up more than half of Northern Water’s revenue, while water-rate revenue accounts for about 20 percent of its funding.

The agency has coped, up until now, by drawing from cash reserves to fund its operations. Reserve funds are partly intended to help stabilize revenue but are not a sustainable funding approach in the long term, according to Northern Water.

The agency’s board is expected to decide on short-term rate hikes through 2018 this month. These potential hikes to $52.70 for municipal users and $32.20 for irrigation users would represent the largest dollar increase in Northern Water’s history, although the district has seen similar, double-digit percentage increases in the past.

“In the early 1980s, there were several years with double-digit increases, similar to what we are looking at now,” Northern Water spokesman Brian Werner said.

The rate hikes are essential to maintain infrastructure, according to Northern Water, and experts believe they will lead to additional water conservation. But the higher prices will put pressure on farmers…

Northern’s customers receive water under two types of contracts: fixed and open rate. The new rate hikes apply to those customers who buy open-rate water. In June, Northern Water board members raised the open-rate assessment 9 percent for next year. The 2015 rate for cities will increase to $30.50 per unit while the agricultural rate will rise to $10.90 per unit. Fixed-rate assessments based on decades-old contracts will remain $1.50 per acre foot.

Roughly two-thirds of Northern’s water is delivered via open-rate contracts, while one-third is governed by fixed-rate agreements…

Northern Water isn’t the only water district that has had to raise water rates. The Greeley-based Central Colorado Water Conservancy District, which supplies water to areas of Weld, Adams and Morgan counties, also has passed rate-assessment increases in recent years and plans to meet this month to consider additional rate hikes.

“Our organization is looking at future (operations and maintenance costs) and how do we keep our finances up,” Central Water Executive Director Randy Ray said. “You’ve got regular operations costs like labor, electricity and gasoline for vehicles. Then you also have deferred maintenance.”

The rate increases come as the nation faces challenges from deteriorating water infrastructure, which will cost more than $1 trillion over the next 25 years to fix in order to maintain current water service levels, according to a report from the American Society of Civil Engineers. Customers will pick up the tab mostly through higher water bills.

Similarly, users of Colorado-Big Thompson Project water will pay higher water bills as a result of the increased rate assessments. Increased revenue from the assessments will help fund Northern Water’s operations and maintenance budget, which accounts for almost half of the water district’s expenses. Northern Water says it needs to make major upgrades to water delivery infrastructure, much of which was built more than 60 years ago.

Tom Cech, director of One World One Water Center at Metropolitan State University of Denver, said higher expenses and a rising population have pressured water supplies, leading to elevated costs. He noted, however, that investments in water infrastructure are critical to maintaining water delivery systems.

“Look at all the investments that water providers did 100 years ago in our water system: new reservoirs, delivery systems and so forth,” he said. “That’s just the process of keeping up with the costs and population growth.”

The Northern Board did pass an increase. Here’s a report from Steve Lynn writing for the Norther Colorado Business Report. Here’s an excerpt:

The board of directors for Colorado’s largest water wholesaler Friday passed a historic water-rate hike in terms of dollars, representing a 202 percent increase for agricultural users and 90 percent for municipal users from 2014 through 2018.

Customers of the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District receive water units under two types of contracts: open rate and fixed. By 2018, the open-rate assessment for a unit of water from the Colorado-Big Thompson Project will cost $30.20 for agricultural users, up from $10 this year, and $53.10, up from $28, for municipal users.

Fixed-rate assessments based on decades-old contracts will remain $1.50 per acre foot.

Board members unanimously approved a steep rate hike for the open-rate assessments, though Colorado-Big Thompson Project water users had requested a smoother transition of increases over time. The rate hike through 2018 represented the largest dollar increase in the public water district’s 77-year history, though the water district’s board members has passed similar percentage increases in the past.

The steeper rate hikes will help Northern Water more quickly achieve a balanced budget, said Jerry Gibbens, project manager and water resources engineer for Northern Water. The water district’s expenses have outpaced its revenue in three of the last four years, but Northern Water expects to reach a balanced budget by fiscal 2017 through the rate hikes.

Based on decades-old contracts, the fixed-rate assessments remained the same, a point of contention among some water users who pay the higher open-rate assessments and contend that Northern Water should raise the fixed-rate assessments.

Northern Water’s board agreed to look into how it could adjust the fixed rates in the future, but the agency has indicated that it may not be able to do so because they are set “contractually in-perpetuity.”

In June, the board decided to raise 2015 open-rate assessments to $30.50 per unit while the agricultural rate will rise to $10.90 per unit.

Under current projections, rates for Colorado-Big Thompson Project water could increase to more than $100 per unit for municipal users and to $80 per unit for agricultural users by 2023, according to Northern Water documents.

Board members did not decide on increases after 2018, but they plan to set rates annually as well as make projections of rate adjustments two fiscal years in advance.

More Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District coverage here.


Chatfield Reallocation Project: “This a premier state park, and it’s going to have the heart knocked right out of it” — Polly Reetz

July 10, 2014
Proposed reallocation pool -- Graphic/USACE

Proposed reallocation pool — Graphic/USACE

From The Denver Post (Joe Vaccarelli):

The Army Corps of Engineers has approved an expansion of Chatfield Reservoir that will also bring some infrastructure improvements to the park, but patrons shouldn’t expect to see work done any time soon. According to Army Corps of Engineers project manager Gwyn Jarrett, it could be three to four years before work is underway and two to three years after that before it’s complete.

The project was approved in late May and has been in discussion since the mid-1990s. The expansion will add 20,600 acre feet of water capacity — which could raise water levels in the reservoir by 12 feet — for joint use, flood control and water conservation. The $183 million project will help supply water providers in the metro area and across the Front Range as population and demand increases.

“This project will meet a portion of the expected demand in Colorado,” Jarrett said. “It’s not going to solve the problem, but it will help with the growing population.”

Once construction does start, most of the work will be done in the off-season, but people can expect that certain portions of the park could be closed at times. Part of the construction will include improving some of the amenities at the park such as new recreation buildings, picnic tables, beach areas and bathhouses.

“A lot of amenities date back to the mid-to-late 1970s when the project was constructed,” Jarrett said.

Chatfield State Park manager Scott Roush said the park doesn’t have to do much to get ready for the construction, but his staff will be involved with the design process when that kicks off, possibly this fall.

Part of that discussion will include the marina, which may have to move because of the rising water levels.

Public feedback had not been all positive, as some organizations feel that this project will damage some environmental aspects of the park.

The plan will flood more than 500 acres of the park and inundate some cottonwood trees near the reservoir, destroying habitat for several species of birds.

“We initially thought at first that (the project) was fairly benign, but we didn’t know that it will do massive environmental damage on one of the largest parks in the metro area,” said Polly Reetz, conservation chairperson for the Audubon Society of Greater Denver.

Reetz had other problems with the plan, saying that increasing the capacity of the reservoir doesn’t guarantee more water. She was also displeased that the state passed legislation to permit loans to water providers in order to pay for the project.

Roush said that while they will lose some trees, some would be relocated to other parts of the park.

“There’s been a lot of feedback about the cottonwood trees. We’re going to lose some trees; they will come back eventually,” he said.

But Reetz said there is no guarantee that the trees will come back and she was surprised the corps went with the proposal, saying it was the most harmful environmentally.

“It’s a really bad deal for the public,” Reetz said. “This a premier state park, and it’s going to have the heart knocked right out of it.”

More Chatfield Reservoir coverage here.


Conservation front and center in Broomfield

July 7, 2014

broomfield

From the Enterprise Broomfield News:

Broomfield offers two water conservation programs to help residents save water and money. Residents and businesses could qualify for an irrigation audit and/or rebates if they receive treated water from Broomfield.

Free irrigation audits are provided by Slow the Flow Colorado, a nonprofit program of the Center for Resource Conservation. To schedule an irrigation audit, call 303-999-3820 ext. 217 or go to conservationcenter.org/.

Water rebates help offset the cost to replace inefficient toilets and irrigation components. More information on rebates, including qualifying models and residential rebate instructions, go to broomfield.org/index.aspx?NID=1098.

More information on water conservation, including lawn watering guidelines, can be found at broomfield.org/index.aspx?NID=439.

More conservation coverage here.


Denver Water: Video collage — Beautiful, water-efficient landscapes of our customers

July 5, 2014

Originally posted on Mile High Water Talk:

Because July is Smart Irrigation Month, we thought it would be fun to highlight some of our customers who have transformed their yards into a more water-efficient landscape.

We sent out Denver Water’s team of nine Water Savers, who spend their day with customers providing water-saving tips and tools, to capture some of the beautiful landscapes throughout Denver Water’s service area. In just one day, our Water Savers captured more than 100 photos highlighting a variety of efficient landscapes.

This video highlights a portion of what the Water Savers discovered.

Transforming your landscape doesn’t have to be extreme or even happen all at once. It can be as simple as identifying an area of your grass that is difficult to maintain because it is on a slope or receives too much sun exposure, or by locating areas of turf that aren’t necessary or beneficial, like on the side…

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Strontia Springs Dam — under the spillway

June 30, 2014

Originally posted on Mile High Water Talk:

Last week we explored the history of the High Line Canal, which begins at a diversion dam on the South Platte River 1.8 miles upstream from the mouth of Waterton Canyon. Roughly five more miles up the canyon is Strontia Springs Dam.

And, as we learned in our trip to Cheesman Reservoir two weeks ago, several Denver Water reservoirs filled this spring during the runoff, including Strontia Springs Reservoir.

Lance Cloyd, Denver Water’s Strontia Springs caretaker, provides an all-access tour of the area with behind-the-scenes vantage points capturing the beauty behind 800 cubic feet per second flowing out of the spillway.

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South Platte and Metro roundtables #COWaterPlan update

June 30, 2014
Basin roundtable boundaries

Basin roundtable boundaries

From The Fort Morgan Times (Marianne Goodland):

The Colorado Water Plan draws upon a decade of work by the state’s eight basin roundtables, the Interbasin Compact Committee and the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB). It also incorporates information from the 2010 Statewide Water Supply Initiative, which predicted the state will have a gap between water supply and demand of about 500,000 acre feet of water by 2050, with the largest gap projected for the South Platte River Basin.

During the past year, the basin roundtables and the CWCB have held dozens of town meetings on the water plan, seeking input from citizens and organizations interested in the state’s water future. Those meetings wrapped up in April, and then the basin roundtable members went to work to develop their basin implementation plans (BIPS), that will be submitted to the CWCB at the end of July. Those plans will be incorporated into the draft Colorado Water Plan, which is due to the Governor at the end of the year. The plan is to be finalized by December, 2015.

In addition to the basin implementation plans, the state water plan will include a “framework” document that outlines the issues to be addressed. The CWCB has already released eight draft chapters of this framework document this year, with four coming out in the last month. The most recent drafts covered water quality, conservation and re-use, and alternative agriculture to urban transfers. The drafts will be updated based on input from the BIPs.

The draft on agricultural transfers focused on alternative agricultural transfer methods (ATMS) and current efforts to develop more creative solutions to “buy and dry.” The draft noted several ATMs are already in place and more are on the way. These include deficit irrigation, water co-ops, water banks, water conservation easements; and flexible water markets, which was proposed in the 2014 legislative session but failed to clear the Senate. Another ATM, farrowing-leasing, which would allow for farrowing of irrigated farmland with temporary leasing of water to municipalities, is being studied under legislation passed in 2013.

More than 1,000 emails and documents have come in to the CWCB, addressing the draft chapters. Almost half of the responses came from stakeholders in the South Platte River and Metro Denver districts.

Most of the comments received by the CWCB have come either through emails to cowaterplan@state.co.us or through a webform on the water plan website, coloradowaterplan.com. CWCB staff responded to all of the comments, even those that might not be financially or technically feasible. One such comment said the state should cover its reservoirs with a thin membrane “similar to bubble wrap” to slow evaporation. Another suggested that the state halt all housing development along the Front Range.

A handful of comments addressed agricultural use, including responses that encourage more efficient irrigation systems and pointing out that agriculture is far and away the biggest user of water. But one commenter suggested a new form of “buy and dry.” Kristen Martinez of Metropolitan State University of Denver said the city of Denver could pay for businesses and residents to xeriscape their lawns, similar to a plan implemented by the city of Las Vegas. She also recommended the city of Denver invest in more efficient irrigation systems for farmers, as a trade-off for buying up agricultural water rights.

“…agriculture stands as the biggest water user, but farmers should not be the only ones to feel the pain of supply and demand,” Martinez wrote. “Most Denverites don’t give heed to the serious task of stewarding their water — not as a farmer must. Why aren’t local industries or municipal users being asked to sacrifice their lifestyle or adjust their operations?…can Colorado’s water plan please ask urban users to take ownership of their consumption, in addition to solving it by diverting farm water?”

Sean Cronin, director of the St. Vrain & Left Hand Water Conservancy District, chairs the South Platte River Basin roundtable, and pointed out that the South Platte and Metro Denver basin are collaborating on a joint BIP.

Cronin noted that although they are submitting a joint BIP, the two districts are quite diverse and one size will not fit all. “Water is very local!” he said recently. Feedback in the town meetings has been very different throughout the two districts. In Sterling, for example, he said the focus was on agriculture. In Longmont, people spoke about groundwater because of the well issues in the area. Denver’s focus was more on municipal conservation and recreational/environmental concerns.

So how will the two roundtables come up with one BIP, given the divergent views? Cronin said that they knew going into the process it would be difficult to address all of the different interests and cultures surrounding water. “It’s incredibly challenging to par it down to one solution that will make everyone happy,” he said. Cronin believes the draft BIP will instead reflect the diverse interests of the basin districts…

A recent presentation on the BIP by the roundtable to Colorado Counties Inc. laid out the plan’s major premise: “You can’t have conservation without storage, and you can’t have storage without conservation.” Even with the “Identified Projects and Processes” already in discussion (which came out of the 2010 SWSI), the gap in the South Platte would at best be reduced to about 100,000 acre feet of water, and many of those solutions are years, and maybe decades, away.

And that raised red flags for environmental groups, with one warning Coloradans that the BIP will further endanger the rivers of the South Platte basin…

Cronin encourages people to continue to submit comments through the South Platte Basin Roundtable website (http://cwcb.state.co.us/water-management/basin-roundtables). Public comments also will be accepted on draft versions of the plan through September, 2015, and can be submitted through the Colorado Water Plan website noted earlier.

More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.


Barr Lake: Lake Appreciation Day 2014, July 12

June 29, 2014

barrlakeappreciationday2014


Take a trip down the High Line Canal

June 29, 2014

Originally posted on Mile High Water Talk:

The trail along the High Line Canal is a favorite urban getaway that meanders 66 miles across the Denver metro area. While the waterway (71-miles long) is owned and operated by Denver Water, this National Landmark Trail is maintained by municipal recreation agencies.

The workers who built the High Line Canal more than a century ago didn’t envision that people would be using their ambitious irrigation project as a recreational outlet in the midst of a busy urban area. Take a trip back in time with Greenwood Village to learn how the canal transformed into the recreational amenity it is today.

Beyond The Green – The High Line Canal Trail


The Guide to the High Line Canal Trail, a full-color guide with mile-by-mile descriptions and a pull-out trail map, is a perfect companion for anyone looking to enjoy a slice of the outdoors in the middle of a city.

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COGCC halts activity at injection well; seeks additional review

June 26, 2014

Deep injection well

Deep injection well


Here’s the release from the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (Todd Hartman/Matt Lepore):

The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission this week directed High Sierra Water Services to stop disposing wastewater into one of its Weld County injection wells.

The company agreed to a 20-day halt to wastewater injection as a cautionary step the COGCC believes necessary to gather and further analyze more information to determine whether injection at the site is tied to recent seismic activity recorded within the general vicinity of the well.

Ongoing monitoring by a team of University of Colorado seismologists has picked up additional evidence of low-level seismic activity near the injection site, including a 2.6-magnitude event Monday afternoon. The additional data comes after a 3.4 magnitude earthquake shook the Greeley area May 31.

“In light of the findings of CU’s team, we think it’s important we review additional data, bring in additional expertise and closely review the history of injection at this site in order to more fully understand any potential link to seismicity and use of this disposal well,” said COGCC director Matt Lepore.

The COGCC will undertake several actions over the shutdown period to include: evaluation of baseline, historical seismic activity; continued coordination with the CU team; coordination with the U.S. Geological Survey and Colorado Geological Survey; evaluation of other disposal wells in the area; and a detailed review of data associated with the well in question, including further examination of injection rates, pressures and volumes.

The company immediately agreed to COGCC’s request, and shut the well down on Monday.

From The Greeley Tribune:

Noble Energy continued on Monday to clean up the oil spill it located Friday along the Poudre River near Windsor, according to a news release from the Colorado Department of Natural Resources.

Noble began to dismantle a damaged tank battery Monday in preparation for soil removal, according to the release, after about 173 barrels — or about 7,500 gallons — of crude oil were found to have spilled from the tank while the Poudre River was flooding.

On Saturday, Noble established site security, repaired the access road and had a crew of approximately 30 people using absorbent pads to clean up visible residual oil, according to the release. Soil samples were collected along the path of the release and submitted for laboratory analysis, according to the release, and the results of that analysis are still pending.

Visual observations by Noble along the flow path indicated the oil did not seep deep into the soil, so removal of the soil was ruled out as the main way to clean up the spill, according to the release.

Instead, a product known as Petro Green was applied to help enhance the degradation of any remaining hydrocarbons, according to the release.

Noble also had a consultant perform a biological study on the area, according to the release, and it was determined no wildlife were impacted by the spill.


Westminster piloting native grasses to replace Kentucky bluegrass in some parks

June 24, 2014

kentuckybluegrassvsfescueviamowersource

From The Denver Post (Austin Briggs):

The new grass coming up on the west side of Kensington Park isn’t replacing a die-off — it’s replacing grass that was killed off.

Parks officials this year used an herbicide to kill the Kentucky bluegrass that had been there prior to planting native seeds — including fescue, rye and Canadian bluegrass.

The new ground cover will conserve water and save the city money, said Jessica Stauffer, the community outreach coordinator for the city’s Parks, Recreation and Library department.

“We went $200,000 over budget last year in watering costs for our parks,” Stauffer said. “The native grass being seeded stays greener longer and means fewer taxpayer dollars used for maintenance.”

In addition to Kensington, England and Oakhurst Park II are also being re-seeded in select spots totaling 8.4 acres away from playgrounds and high-traffic areas.

The new blend, which will grow between eight to 10 inches tall, won’t need to be mowed because it will follow a natural cycle of dormancy and growth, said parks supervisor Jerry Magnetti.

“We’ll do a second seeding this fall,” Magnetti said. “It’s a low-grow, low-maintenance seed mix that will fill in and look beautiful, especially in the fall and cooler months.”

While it’ll take another year or two for the grasses to establish, the goal is to see how this experiment works and perhaps apply it to a citywide program amid a long-term drought and rising water costs.

In 2005 the Department of Parks, Recreation and Libraries used 216 million gallons of water at a cost of $863,675 and in 2012 this grew to 319 million gallons and $1,362,975.

An acre of established native grass with trees and shrub beds costs about $500 a year to maintain, compared to $2,100 for Kentucky bluegrass.

More conservation coverage here.


Poudre oil spill cleanup update

June 24, 2014
Cache la Poudre River

Cache la Poudre River

From the Associated Press via 9News.com:

Environmental officials and work crews are dismantling a flood-damaged storage tank so they can remove oil-stained soil from an area where about 7,200 gallons of crude leaked into a northern Colorado river.

Todd Hartman, a spokesman for the Colorado Department of Natural Resources, says Noble Energy, which operates the tank, has been cleaning up the site on the Poudre River near Windsor since the leak was discovered Friday. The bank next to the storage tank was undercut by the high spring river flows, causing it to drop and break a valve.

From the Fort Collins Coloradoan (Ryan Maye Handy):

“We consider this a significant spill,” wrote Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission spokesman Todd Hartman in an email Monday. “The vast majority of spills are far smaller. We’ve had larger spills, but those are true anomalies.”

Colorado hasn’t seen a spill this big since September 2013, when a deluge of floodwaters in multiple rivers spilled 48,250 gallons of oil.

The September flooding, along with spills like the one discovered Friday near Windsor, have prompted state regulators and environmental groups to consider increasing the distance between wells and Colorado’s waterways. Today, state law governing the distance between oil wells and water along Colorado’s Front Range does not take into account seasonal flooding, Hartman said.

COGCC has one law that adjusts setbacks for high water marks that applies only to gold medal fisheries or cutthroat trout habitats. The fisheries predominately operate on the Western Slope.

Following the floods, environmental advocates are pushing more than a dozen new oil and gas regulations toward ballots in the November election. One proposal suggests moving setbacks to 2,000 feet from bodies of water. Some experts say that would cripple oil and gas development in places like Weld County, where more than 21,000 wells operate today.

There are about 5,900 oil and gas wells within 500 feet of a Colorado “waterway that is significant enough to be named” and more than 20,000 wells within 500 feet of water of some kind.

The practice of drilling near water originates from “longstanding practical pressures” by mineral rights owners to confine wells to their least productive sections of land, according to a special report on oil and gas development commissioned after the September 2013 floods. It’s also easier to drill for oil in more accessible areas, particularly along waterways.

In the post-flood report, the COGCC recommended that tank batteries “be located as far from waterways as possible,” and that all wells near an ordinary high water mark should have remote shut-in equipment, allowing them to be shut down automatically when waters are high. The report also suggested that regulations should “apply within a designated distance from the ordinary high water mark of all waterways in Colorado.”

Since Friday, Noble Energy crews have been cleaning up after the Windsor-area spill. As of Monday, they have yet to identify any wildlife impacted by the spill, and drinking water has not been polluted, said Hartman. On Friday, Noble Energy, owners of the well, began a biological study of the spill’s impacts. Soil samples were also taken, but the results of those are pending.

The river flooded two tanks off Weld County Road 23, an area surrounded by a cattle ranch and farm land. As crews continued work Monday, bikers sped by along the Poudre River Trail, which winds just on the opposite side of the river from the spill.

The well feeding the tanks was shut May 24 due to spring runoff flooding. Although Noble discovered the spill June 20, the company can’t be sure exactly when the damage was done to the tank.

Each tank can hold 300 barrels of crude oil, with about 42 gallons per barrel. Flood waters had undercut the bank below one battery, releasing the contents of 178 barrels.

Noble has since drained the second tank, which was undamaged, said Hartman. Most of the spill was washed away in the floodwaters, which left a few stagnant polluted pools behind. Clean-up crews used absorbent pads to remove oil from vegetation and water pools. On Monday, crews began to excavate a shallow layer of soil.

More oil and gas coverage here.


Colorado State University to study water quality impacts of beetle kill — the Fort Collins Coloradoan

June 23, 2014

mountainpinebeetles

From the Fort Collins Coloradoan (Ryan Maye Handy):

Scientists from Colorado State University and Colorado School of Mines have begun a five-year study of the impacts beetle kill forests have on water quality in Northern Colorado.

The study, funded by a $3 million grant from the National Science Foundation Water Sustainment and Climate Program, will look at the South Platte and Colorado River basins.

Scientists from both universities will use computer models and field and lab experiments to assess changes to water quality and availability following the mountain pine beetle outbreak. Although the outbreak is on the down-swing, it has killed millions of acres of trees in Colorado and across the Rocky Mountain West.

The Poudre River drains into the South Platte River Basin, where Fort Collins sits.

More Cach la Poudre River watershed coverage here.


Colorado: Forest Service comment letter shows breadth and depth of impacts from Denver Water’s diversion plan

June 23, 2014

Originally posted on Summit County Citizens Voice:

ghj

More water from the West Slope? Not the best idea, says the U.S. Forest Service . bberwyn photo.

Current plan underestimates impacts to water and wildlife

By Bob Berwyn

FRISCO — As currently spelled out, Denver Water’s plan to divert more water from the headwaters of the Colorado River will result in unacceptable impacts to wildlife and other resources on publicly owned national forest lands, the U.S. Forest Service wrote in a June 9 comment letter to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

The Forest Service also wrote that the creation of a pool of environmental water in an expanded Gross Reservoir doesn’t compensate for the loss of two acres of wetlands and 1.5 miles of stream habitat that will be lost as a result of the expansion.

View original 297 more words


Fort Collins hosts tours of Poudre River

June 21, 2014

From the Fort Collins Coloradoan (Ryan Maye Handy):

Fort Collins Utilities will lead a guided tour of the Poudre River watershed this July and August, when residents can learn about the city’s water resources and quality control for their drinking water.

Utilities will charter a bus to Cameron Pass, along Colorado Highway 14. While on the tour, residents will learn about Fort Collins’ watershed and water supply history, and take a short walking tour and stop at Gateway Natural Area. The tour starts at 8 a.m. and will leave from the Utilities service center at 700 Wood St. Utilities will provide lunch; the tour will end in Fort Collins at about 5 p.m.

The tour will also address the effects of fire and floods on the watershed.

The tour is free and open only to adults age 18 and up. The first tour will be on July 16, and the second on Aug. 9. Residents can register at http://www.fcgov.com/watershed, (970) 221-6700 or utilities@fcgov.com.


Oil spill near Windsor ~7,500 gallons

June 21, 2014

South Platte River Basin via Wikipedia

South Platte River Basin via Wikipedia


From The Greeley Tribune:

About 178 barrels of crude oil, or roughly 7,500 gallons, has spilled east-southeast of Windsor and is affecting the Poudre River, state officials said Friday.

The operator, Noble Energy, discovered the spill Friday and reported it to the Colorado Department of Natural Resources, said Todd Hartman, the department’s communications director.

Noble reported a storage tank affected by spring flood waters released its contents. The release appears to be due to floodwaters undercutting a bank, causing the tank to drop downward and damaging a valve, allowing oil to escape from a broken valve. The well associated with the tank is shut in, and a second tank nearby appears unaffected.

Standing water with some hydrocarbons remains in one low-lying area near the tank, Hartman said.

Vegetation is stained for about one-quarter mile downstream of the site.

Noble had environmental response personnel on site Friday afternoon.

A vacuum truck was removing standing water and response personnel were sampling soils.

The oil storage tank sits next to a field east of Weld County Road 23, on the north side of the Poudre River. The tank sits about 200 feet from the river, up a hill. A lot of flood damage was visible in the area, with washed out and eroded river banks and debris still in the water.

Hartman said water quality staff from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment also were at the spill site Friday but have not discovered any impact on drinking water.

More water pollution coverage here.


Moffat Firming Project support absent at Boulder BOCC hearing — Sky-Hi Daily News #ColoradoRiver

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

Denver Water’s collection system via the USACE EIS

From the Sky-Hi Daily News (Hank Shell):

“There were numerous data issues raised that might be worth flagging,” said Elise Jones, Boulder County commissioner. “Everything from the use of median versus average in the statistics to whether or not the cost estimates are accurate. There were numerous other examples but that seemed to be a theme.”[...]

At the beginning of the meeting, Boulder County Commissioners’ staff voiced concerns about the project’s Final Environmental Impact Statement.

The 12,000-page Final Environmental Impact Statement is meant to reveal possible environmental impacts of the project.

“There wasn’t a robust discussion of the need and purpose of the project,” said Michelle Krezek, the commissioners’ staff deputy. “Specifically, there wasn’t any analysis of water conservation measures that could be taken or other smaller projects that could be undertaken instead of this large project. So it was hard to determine whether this was the right alternative.”

Other concerns included the absence of the Environmental Protection Agency from the process and the effect that expansion of the reservoir would have on Boulder County infrastructure.

Though most of the discussion focused on the project’s impacts in Boulder County, Grand County arose multiple times during the discussion, from both Grand and Boulder county residents. Boulder County commissioners said that they would take into account testimony about the effects of the project on the Western Slope.

“We would want to draw the Corps’ attention to those substantive comments even though they were outside Boulder County,” Jones said.

More than 20 people spoke during the hearing, but only one speaker, Denver Water Planning Director David Little, was in favor of the project, though he did not present an argument to counter previous assertions.

“The passion that the people in the audience have shown and some of the information that they’ve brought forward is important for you to consider in augmenting your comments to the corps,” said Little.

The Boulder County Commissioners will now submit their new comments to the Army Corps of Engineers.

More Moffat Collection System Project coverage here and here.


Friends of Barr Lake fundraiser “Concert on the Prairie” Saturday

June 19, 2014

2014 Jun 21 11 x 17 poster 05-01-14 (2)
From email from Amy Conklin:

Just wanted to remind you about the concert on the prairie this Saturday June 21st from 7-9pm. This is a fundraiser for Friends of Barr Lake. There will be great music, dancing and FREE WINGS from Buffalo Wild Wings. Tickets are only $10.00!(This includes park entry.)


Colorado: Not much love for proposed new water diversions

June 19, 2014

Originally posted on Summit County Citizens Voice:

EPA raises questions about compliance with Clean Water Act

Denver Water plans to increase transmountain diversions through the Moffat collection system will be up for comment at a pair of upcoming meetings.

Denver Water plans to increase transmountain diversions through the Moffat collection system is not drawing rave reviews, as numerous entities have expressed significant concerns about impacts to water quality. bberwyn photo.

By Bob Berwyn

FRISCO — For all the detailed information in the 16,000-page study for Denver Water’s proposed new water diversions from the Western Slope, there are still more questions than answers, according to formal comment letters filed in the past few weeks.

As currently configured, the proposal to shunt more water from Colorado River headwaters streams to the Front Range could worsen water water quality in many streams that are already feeling the pain of low flows, EPA water experts wrote in a June 9 letter.

View original 500 more words


Boulder County Commissioners’ hearing about Moffat Collection System Project now online #ColoradoRiver

June 19, 2014
Denver Water's collection system via the USACE EIS

Denver Water’s collection system via the USACE EIS

From the Boulder Daily Camera (Charlie Brennan):

To listen to Monday’s Boulder County commissioners public hearing on Gross Reservoir (Requires installation of Silverlight).

The Environmental Protection Agency has added its voice to those with critical comments on the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ analysis of the potential impact of a Gross Reservoir expansion.

“This letter and enclosed detailed comments reinforce the primary concern as stated in the EPA’s draft EIS letter that the Project would adversely impact water quality and aquatic resources in an already degraded system,” the EPA’s letter stated, referring to criticisms it initially raised when the analysis was in draft form.

The letter, from the EPA’s office of Ecosystems Protection and Remediation, asserts that the Army Corps’ analysis describes all mitigation measures “as conceptual, and does not include mitigation commitments for some Project impacts that are significant to regulatory requirements” of the Clean Water Act.

The official 45-day public comment period for the finalized environmental impact statement for what is formally known as the Moffat Collection System Project closed on June 9, and the EPA’s letter carries that date.

The project manager for the proposed expansion has said, however, that the Army Corps would continue to take “meaningful” and “substantive” comments on the analysis until the agency makes a decision on the project, likely by April 2015…

The EPA in its letter also states that it hopes its comments will stimulate further discussions with the Army Corps, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, and Denver Water to ensure that its concerns are addressed prior to issuance of a project permit, so that the project is compliant with the Clean Water Act and “protective of waters of the U.S.”

U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., had implored the Army Corps on June 5 to extend its public comment period. And, the same day, the Boulder County Commissioners unanimously approved a letter detailing their objections to the adequacy and accuracy of the Army Corps’ analysis of the project, also saying the 45-day window for public comment should be extended.

On Monday, the commissioners held three hours of public comment on the project, which will be distilled and used to contribute to a follow-up letter the commissioners will be sending to the Army Corps.

“We had a full room, and I would say it was very well attended, and that people came in with quite a bit of research, science and data,” said commissioners’ spokesperson Barbara Halpin.

More Moffat Collection System Project coverage here and here.


Clear Creek Courant series [Part 1] about the past, present and future of Clear Creek

June 18, 2014

Graphic via the Clear Creek Watershed Foundation

Graphic via the Clear Creek Watershed Foundation


Check out Ian Neligh’s retrospective about Clear Creek and the heydays of mining and logging (The Clear Creek Courant). Click through and read the whole thing. Here’s an excerpt:

Editor’s note:This is the first installment of a three-part series examining the past, present and future of Clear Creek…

Gold

There’s a monument in Idaho Springs hidden away in the parking lot of the former middle school. The giant boulder pays tribute to George Jackson, an adventurer and fortune hunter, who discovered gold in Clear Creek 155 years ago.

According to Don Allan, vice president of the Idaho Springs Historical Society, Jackson’s curiosity to follow the creek west into the mountains with only a couple of dogs by his side led to the country’s second largest gold rush.

Like a row of dominoes, Jackson’s discovery led to an onslaught of pioneers and ultimately in 1876 to the formation of a state.

“(Jackson) decided to go over and take a look down at the crick, and his curiosity brought him here to the confluence of Chicago Creek and Clear Creek,” Allan said. “When I talk with people about our community and how we got here, it was because of one man’s very good curiosity and a piece of gold.”

Jackson discovered gold in January, and by June, more than 400 people had settled in the area.

Natural hot springs drew more people into the area. Allan said in the Idaho Springs museum’s photography collection, there’s a photo of more than 50 employees standing in front of the hot springs.

“Once the stream was panned out, they panned all the gold out of the crick. Then they had to dig and make mining mills,” Allan said. “And this crick was integral to the milling of all the gold and silver in this area.”

The creek was used to support the mining industry such as the Mixel Dam in Idaho Springs, which was formed to help power mining mills and to create electricity. In 1864, silver was discovered to be the main mining mineral in Georgetown, and by 1877, the railroad reached Idaho Springs.

According to “A History of Clear Creek County,” the area at one point had 48 different towns with names such as Red Elephant, Freeland and Hill City. It is estimated that several thousand mines crisscrossed the mountains around Clear Creek as people sought their fortunes first along its banks and then in its mountains.

Those unlucky in gold sometimes found their way into the county’s second largest industry: logging. Early photos of the surrounding hillsides show them stripped of trees. But in time, the mining and logging industry waned, the frenzy slowed and the towns disappeared until there were only four municipalities left: Idaho Springs, Georgetown, Empire and Silver Plume. By World War II, the county’s mining industry has come almost to a complete halt.

But the stream once called Cannonball Creek, Vasquez Fork and lastly Clear Creek remained.

More Clear Creek watershed coverage here.


Broomfield’s rate payers won’t see increase in 2015 despite Northern Water’s bump for C-BT deliveries

June 18, 2014
Southern Water Supply Project

Southern Water Supply Project

From the Broomfield Enterprise (Megan Quinn):

David Allen, director of Broomfield Public Works, said the rate increase likely will not affect residents in 2015. Broomfield is in the midst of creating its 2015 budget and aims to adjust the water budget to cover the expenses. Broomfield’s finance department will have a better picture of what the water budget might look like sometime in the fall, Allen said. The $39,000 increase “is pretty minor” considering the overall water-related budget is around $16 million, he said.

Broomfield typically pays around $16 million a year for water and water-related operations, such as treatment, maintenance, administration and utility billing, he said.

That amount also includes paying for water from Broomfield’s other two water sources: Denver Water and the Windy Gap project.

More infrastructure coverage here.


2014 Colorado legislation SB14-195 funds phreatophyte study in the South Platte Basin #COleg

June 18, 2014

From The Greeley Tribune (Eric Brown):

Many farmers and others applauded the recent signing of a bill aimed at addressing a major water issue in the region — vegetation along the rivers, which consumes about 40 percent as much water as all cities in northern Colorado combined, studies show.

Signed into law this month, Senate Bill 195, co-sponsored by Scott Renfroe, R-Eaton, allows the Colorado Water Conservancy Board to use funds for a two-year-plus study on the South Platte River watershed where it was impacted by the 2013 flood. The study will attempt to determine the relationship between high groundwater and increases in non-beneficial water consumption of phreatophytes — particularly non-native tamarisk, salt cedars, Russian olives and other such plants along rivers. The bill also calls for developing a cost analysis for the removal of the unwanted phreatophytes in the South Platte Basin. The final report is expected to be presented to the General Assembly by Dec. 31, 2016.

“The amount of plants along the river … and the amount of water we lose because of them … just gets worse and worse every year for us,” said Frank Eckhardt, a LaSalle-area farmer and member of the South Platte Roundtable — a group made up of water officials and experts in the region who convene monthly to discuss ways of solving the region’s future water gaps.

Eckhardt is also chairman of the board for the Western Mutual and Farmers Independent irrigation companies, which, combined, deliver water to about 15,000 acres of farmland in the LaSalle/Gilcrest areas.

Eckhardt said his ditch companies removed some vegetation along their ditches and saw improvements in those water supplies.

The bill talks of the CWCB working with Colorado State University and the Colorado Department of Agriculture on its study, and also notes funding for the study and report could come from unused dollars in an existing $1 million state fund.

“Rather than spend $1 million to study the problem, there’s a lot of us who’d rather see that $1 million go toward more quickly removing some of those plants,” Eckhardt added. “Still, this was a good step.”

A broader study of the South Platte basin, conducted last year by the Colorado Water Institute, showed that phreatophytes continue to increase, resulting in large quantities of non-beneficial consumptive water use — perhaps as much as 250,000 acre feet per year, or 80 billion gallons. According to 2010 Statewide Water Supply Initiative study, all of the South Platte Basin’s municipalities used a little over 600,000 acre feet. That being the case, approval of the study comes as welcome news to many water users and water officials in the ag-intense South Platte River Basin, which includes all or portions of eight of the state’s top-10 ag-producing counties, in addition to many of the fastest growing cities in Colorado.

Many South Platte water users see invasive phreatophytes — deep-rooted plants that obtain water from permanent ground supplies or from the water table — as a major problem and potential threat to agriculture.

In all years, and especially in years like 2012 — one in which rainfall was at a record low, some farmers’ irrigation ditches were running dry and cities were having to watch their supplies closely — many agree some of that water could be going to a more beneficial use than quenching the thirst of vegetation along banks in the South Platte basin.

The Senate Bill 195 study won’t solve the problem, many acknowledge, but it represents another step in the right direction — although some still have questions about the bill.

“There’s still a lot of explanation needed regarding how the dollars will be spent, among other issues,” said Bob Streeter, a South Platte Roundtable member, and head of the roundtable’s phreatophyte committee. “We’re looking forward to having some of that explained to us.”

While Streeter acknowledges that phreatophytes are an issue, he, like others, questions how much water users would actually benefit in the long run if that vegetation was eradicated.

Streeter and others agree some kind of vegetation would be needed in place of the removed phreatophytes because root systems are necessary for keeping the river’s banks from eroding, and vegetation would be needed to provide habitats for wildlife in those areas and flood control.

The study isn’t the first step aimed at the phreatophytes issue. Most recently, the Colorado Youth Corps Association and Colorado Water Conservation Board, a division of the Department of Natural Resources, is funding invasive plant species mitigation projects throughout Colorado in an effort to preserve and protect the state’s water resources. Five projects in 2014 — funded through a $50,000 grant from the CWCB — will be conducted by Colorado Youth Conservation Association-accredited youth corps in conjunction with local project sponsors in four counties throughout the state.

The projects are designed to control a variety of invasive phreatophyte plants. The Weld County Youth Conservation Corps, for example, will receive $15,000 to remove invasive vegetation from riverbanks and sandbars of the South Platte River.

The CWCB, local governments and organizations also have put together other efforts to limit the amount of vegetation that now lines the banks across the state — some of which are plants that couldn’t be found along the river a century ago.

With more thorough studies required and millions of dollars needed to help reduce the number of phreatophytes along rivers, no one is expecting immediate action that would significantly help address the looming water gap.

However, despite the uncertainties, recent years — like 2012 — serve as a reminder that water shortages are likely to be an issue down the road as the population grows in northern Colorado, and all possible solutions need to be thrown on the table to avoid the expected water-supply gap.

The Statewide Water Supply Initiative study estimates the South Platte River Basin alone could face a municipal and industrial water-supply gap of between 36,000 and 190,000 acre feet by 2050.

More invasive specie coverage here.


Pueblo West Utilities Board members and staff are trying to make sense of SDS MOU with Colorado Springs

June 18, 2014
Pueblo West

Pueblo West

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Pueblo West is pondering whether it even needs to turn on Southern Delivery System early after the metro district board waded through the process that led up to a controversial memorandum of understanding that would allow that to happen. The MOU apparently represents years of complex negotiations between Colorado Springs attorneys.

Three board members, Chairman Lew Quigley, Mark Carmel and Judy Leonard, voted on May 27 to talk about the MOU in open session, rather than behind closed doors.

But at Tuesday’s metro board meeting — devoted solely to water issues — board members and staff wrangled over what the document means and how it should be drafted.

The MOU could pave the way for Pueblo West to begin using a new 36-inch pipeline from the north outlet on Pueblo Dam ahead of schedule. It’s needed because Pueblo West is reaching the limits of its current delivery line, and to provide redundancy if anything should happen to its sole supply source, said Manager Jack Johnston. Johnston said the MOU was merely conceptual, and the argued that details of it needed to be explained in executive session.

“This is really our bus to drive,” Johnston said.

Carmel countered that a more open discussion in public among Pueblo West, Colorado Springs needed.

Pueblo County commissioners and attorneys objected to details of the agreement which required Pueblo West to obtain approval of 1041 permit conditions, saying Colorado Springs is attempting to bully the metro district.

“This was presented to me as an ultimatum. … I suspect this new board will go back to the drawing board to give you a new direction,” Carmel said. He wanted to delay action until a full board could act — board member Jerry Martin was not at Tuesday’s meeting.

Quigley objected to discussing the agreement in executive said that a meeting behind closed doors was needed to explain how the agreement related to several other lawsuits in order to protect Pueblo West’s legal position.

Board member Barbara Bernard favored discussing such an agreement in executive session if necessary.

“Yes, I want to know how we got to this point,” she said. “I need as much counsel as we can have.”

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Colorado Springs Utilities was trying to make sure the clock wouldn’t start ticking if Pueblo West got water early under a controversial agreement.

That’s how Mark Pifher, permit manager for Southern Delivery System, explained the situation Wednesday to the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District during his update on SDS progress.

The agreement was to have been discussed in executive session on May 27 by the Pueblo West Metropolitan District, but newly elected board member Mark Carmel objected to talking about it behind closed doors, claiming the agreement would hold Pueblo West “hostage.”

The issue escalated when Pueblo County commissioners and attorneys claimed Colorado Springs was using bully tactics to pressure Pueblo West into gaining county approval of 1041 permit conditions from the county.

“Pueblo West wanted delivery of the water as soon as possible,” Pifher said. “The concern we had was that if the water is delivered to Pueblo West, will all the other conditions be expedited?”

Among those conditions is the beginning of $50 million payments to the Fountain Creek District and other Fountain Creek issues. Utilities and the Lower Ark have been in negotiations over Fountain Creek issues for the past nine years.

“What we’re asking is that Pueblo West go to the commissioners so those other conditions will not be triggered,” Pifher said.

The agreement also contained a provision that would require Pueblo West to stop using the new pipeline if Colorado Springs did not meet SDS conditions.

On Tuesday, the Pueblo West board discussed the agreement with Manager Jack Johnston and attorney Harley Gifford.

Carmel and board President Lew Quigley wanted an open discussion of the agreement. Johnston said it had been negotiated over several years by staff and attorneys. Gifford said it is tied to other legal issues that need to be discussed in executive session.

The 36-inch water line from the north outlet is nearly complete and would provide redundancy for the existing 24-inch line Pueblo West has connected to the south outlet. The new line would provide up to 18 million gallons per day in addition to the 12-million-gallon capacity of the existing line.

More Southern Delivery System coverage here and here.


Tribune Opinion: U.S. Army Corps approval of Chatfield water project is ‘big deal’ for some Weld County farmers

June 11, 2014

Proposed reallocation pool -- Graphic/USACE

Proposed reallocation pool — Graphic/USACE


From The Greeley Tribune editorial staff:

It’s been a long time coming, but we’re glad to see the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers give its blessing to a proposal to expand Chatfield Reservoir south of Denver.

The Chatfield Reallocation Project, as it’s officially called, would cost $184 million and raise the lake by 12 feet. There are a dozen participants in the project, including the Central Colorado Water Conservancy District in Greeley.

Without the approval of the Army Corps, the project wouldn’t move forward. But the Corps last week officially signed off on the plans, including its wildlife-mitigation efforts and other efforts to minimize the impacts of the project.

“It’s a major milestone,” said Randy Knutson, president of Central Colorado’s board of directors. “There’s still a lot of work to be done, but we at least have the needed approval now to do that work.”

One might wonder why Greeley-area farmers would be interested in a reservoir expansion project south of Denver. The reasons are complicated, but in essence the new Chatfield water will allow some groundwater wells in this part of the state to begin pumping again.

Central Colorado oversees two subdistricts providing augmentation water to farmers in the LaSalle and Gilcrest areas and other parts of south Weld.

For someone to legally pump water out of the ground in Colorado, most wells must have an approved augmentation plan to make up for depletions to the aquifer. But because of increasing water prices, some in the ag community — many in the Central Colorado’s boundaries — have struggled to find affordable water they can use for augmentation.

For example, the price of a unit of Colorado-Big Thompson Project water has more than doubled to over $20,000 per unit since January 2013.

Thousands of groundwater wells in the area have been curtailed or shut down in recent years, and the Chatfield project will help get some of those wells pumping. Through some water exchanges and trades, Chatfield will provide an additional 4,274 acre-feet of water annually to some of Central Colorado’s water users.

It’s not easy to get Army Corps approval for water storage projects. That’s a “big deal,” as Knutson says, to help irrigate thousands of acres in Weld County that have been dried up in recent years.

Water officials estimate it will be 2017 before the new Chatfield water can be used in northern Colorado, but nonetheless we join many farmers and Central Colorado water users in celebrating the news.

Here’s the release from the Corps of Engineers (Gwyn Jarrett/Eileen Williamson):

The Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works, Jo-Ellen Darcy, approved the Chatfield Reservoir, Colorado, Storage Reallocation Project in a Record of Decision sent to the Omaha District on May 29.

In the accompanying memo, Darcy said, “The proposed reallocation project alternative is technically sound, environmentally acceptable and economically justified.”

The Omaha District released the final Feasibility Report and Environmental Impact Statement (FR/EIS) in July 2013, regarding the request from the Colorado Department of Natural Resources to evaluate using Chatfield Reservoir as a solution for meeting future Front Range water needs while balancing the health of Colorado’s rivers and streams.

Gwyn Jarrett, project manager said, “The Corps has worked with the Department of Natural Resources’ Water Conservation Board in Colorado, 15 water use districts, multiple interested stakeholders and non-governmental organizations, including environmental groups, through a highly collaborative process, which helped lead to the approval of this complex, comprehensive project.”

The feasibility report and environmental impact statement aligns with the guidelines of the National Environmental Policy Act, to ensure public input plays a major role in the decision making process and that impacts to wildlife, vegetation, ecosystems, water and air quality, flood control, cultural resources and other factors are properly mitigated.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Director of Civil Works, Steven L. Stockton, requested approval of the FR/EIS earlier this year. In his request, Stockton included an addendum to the report, which provides an update to project costs for Fiscal Year 2014, as well as a summary of public and agency comments on the Final FR/EIS, completed biological opinions related to the South Platte River and the Preble’s Meadow Jumping Mouse, and the finalized Fish and Wildlife Coordination Act Report.

On learning of the Record of Decision, Jarrett said, “The Corps worked with many outstanding agency and organization representatives on this project to assist the State of Colorado in meeting a portion of its growing water demand.”

The project will allocate 20,600 acre feet of storage in Chatfield Reservoir for municipal and industrial water supply and other purposes including agriculture, environmental restoration, and recreation and fishery habitat protection and enhancement.

By reallocating storage from the exclusive flood control pool into a joint conservation/flood control pool, the conservation pool level at Chatfield will increase by 12 feet, and provide an average of 8,539 acre feet of water per year for municipal and industrial use at less cost than other water supply alternatives.

Implementation of the pool rise and use of the reallocated storage will occur incrementally as recreational and environmental mitigation projects are completed. The reservoir operations plan will also be modified to reflect the changes.

In addition to water supply benefits, the FR/EIS states that flood control capabilities at Chatfield and within the Tri-Lakes system will not be affected. The pool raise and more frequent fluctuations in pool elevations will require significant modifications to relocate and replace existing recreation facilities, resources and project roads with new facilities and roads.

The plan includes expansive environmental mitigation to replace or compensate for habitat on Chatfield project lands inundated by the pool raise, including wetlands, bird habitat and habitat (including designated critical habitat) of the federally threatened Preble’s meadow jumping mouse. The selected plan includes up to five years of monitoring the environmental mitigation features and adaptive management to ensure mitigation success.

Associated costs including the updated cost of storage, water supply infrastructure, recreation area modifications and environmental mitigation will be funded at no cost to the Federal government.

More Chatfield Reservoir coverage here.


Runoff/snowpack news: Good year to fill storage — if we had it to fill

June 10, 2014
Northern Integrated Supply Project via The Denver Post

Northern Integrated Supply Project via The Denver Post

From CBS Denver:

Flooding along the Cache La Poudre River damaged nearly two dozen homes and businesses in Greeley last week, and according to officials at the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District, the Poudre River does not have any dams or reservoirs specifically for flood control. But there is an effort underway to change that.

The Poudre River is full of melted snow — so much so right now that levels are well above average in Larimer and Weld counties, spilling over banks, and flooding homes and businesses.

“We could fill a reservoir in a year like this,” Brian Werner with the Northern Colorado’s Water Conservancy District said.

He points out farmers’ irrigation dams inside the Poudre Canyon, but says water cannot be diverted to those to prevent flooding. He says there is no reservoir along the river because the idea was unpopular in the past.

“I think the general public is more aware when they see these flows and saying, ‘Boy, couldn’t we just store a little bit of that?’ Which is what this proposal does,” Werner said.

Northern Water wants to build two reservoirs off stream that could store water during high flow times. Planners estimate the project would cost $500 million, including $40 million to re-route Highway 287 to make room for Glade Reservoir, and build a smaller one north of Greeley…

But the federal approval process is moving slowly.

“We’ve been working on this in some form for over 20 years, taking some of the flood flows here on the Poudre and storing it,” Werner said.

They do expect to get some news on the status of studies being conducted on the project by the end of this year. It’s unlikely building would start before 2018.

From the Fort Collins Coloradoan (Ryan Maye Handy):

Several of the reservoirs that feed Northern Colorado are full, or approaching overfull, said Brian Werner, a spokesman for the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District, which helps manage the reservoirs. Carter Lake, southwest of Loveland, is full, and Lake Granby near Rocky Mountain National Park is about to overflow, Werner added.

“We wouldn’t have guessed that in a million years a year ago,” Werner said Tuesday. Only a month ago, it was fifty-fifty if the reservoir would spill. “Now it looks like it will spill.”

Horsetooth is just 2 feet shy of being full, the highest the reservoir has been in late May and early June in the past six years.

The reservoir can hold enough to submerge 156,735 football fields in a foot of water. As of June 3, Horsetooth was holding 154,480 acre-feet of water, putting it around 98.5 percent full, said Zach Allen, a spokesman for Northern Water.

But what happens if Horsetooth does get full? The answer, Werner said, is basically “nothing.”

“We can control all the inflows to Horsetooth,” he said. Flatiron Reservoir and the Big Thompson River feed Horsetooth, and Northern Water controls all the outflows and inflows to the reservoir; Horsetooth’s water level can’t get higher than Northern Water wants it to, Werner said…

Lake Granby, on the other hand, is fed with snowmelt straight from the mountains. It’s levels are uncontrollable, and it could spill over any day now, Werner said.

“You can’t control what nature is going to do” with Granby, he added…

Northern Water for years has pursued an expansion of its water storage capacity to take advantage of plentiful water years. The Northern Integrated Supply Project would build a reservoir larger than Horsetooth northwest of Fort Collins. The proposal has drawn opposition from environmental groups and is in a yearslong federal review of its potential environmental impacts expected to be released late this year…

Much of Northern Colorado’s snowpack, around 200 percent of normal levels after an early May snow, has yet to melt, which brings the potential for much more water to come down from the mountains in the coming weeks.

From email from Reclamation (Kara Lamb):

We have seen the water level at Green Mountain Reservoir rise to the spillway gates as snow melt runoff inflows continue to come into the reservoir. As a result, we were able to increase the release from the dam to the Lower Blue River by 300 cfs today [June 9], using the spillway.

We are now releasing 1800 cfs to the Lower Blue.

From email from Reclamation (Kara Lamb):

The weekend went pretty smoothly for runoff here on the east slope of the Colorado-Big Thompson Project. Thunderstorms boosted runoff to the Big Thompson River slightly with inflow into Lake Estes peaking early this morning around 721 cfs. But this is still a downward trend.

As a result, outflow through Olympus Dam to the Big Thompson Canyon dropped today down to about 125 cfs. As we move into the rest of the week, visitors to and residents of the canyon will continue to see nightly flows rise with snow runoff, enhanced some by rain runoff, just as they have seen for the past week.

Deliveries to the canal that feeds Horsetooth Reservoir have brought Horsetooth back up to full. Its water level elevation has been fluctuating within the top foot of its storage between 5429 and 5430 feet. With it back up near 5430, we have curtailed the canal to Horsetooth and increased the return of Big Thompson River water to the canyon at the canyon mouth using the concrete chute. By 5 p.m. this evening the chute should be running around 300 cfs.

The drop off in snowmelt runoff inflows will allow us to begin bringing some Colorado-Big Thompson Project West Slope water over again using the Alva B. Adams Tunnel. We anticipate the tunnel coming on mid-week and importing somewhere between 200-250 cfs.

Once the tunnel comes back on, we will also turn the pump to Carter Lake back on, probably on Wednesday of this week. Carter’s water level elevation dropped slightly during runoff operations. It is around 95% full. Now that Horsetooth is basically full, Carter will receive the C-BT water. Turning the pump back on to Carter means residents around and visitors to the reservoir will see it fill for a second time this season.

Pinewood Reservoir, between Lake Estes and Carter Lake, is seeing a more typical start to its summer season. It continues to draft and refill with power generation as it usually does this time of year. This is also true for Flatiron Reservoir, just below Carter Lake and the Flatiron Powerplant. Both are expected to continue operating this way through June.

That is the plan we anticipate the East Slope of the C-BT to follow the rest of this week, June 9-13. We will post information if there is a major change; but as it stands now, I do not plan on sending an update again until next Monday. The state’s gage page is always available for those wishing to continue watching the water on a daily basis.

From The Crested Butte News (Toni Todd):

Word on the street this spring was that Blue Mesa Reservoir would be bursting at its banks this summer. Predictions were based on official and unofficial reports of above-normal river flows. However, a 2012 Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) has changed how local dams are operated in wet years, in deference to endangered fish species downstream. This new operational protocol will preclude the reservoir from filling this year.

“The reservoir is now only scheduled to reach a maximum storage of around 80 percent capacity in 2014,” said Upper Gunnison River District manager Frank Kugel. The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation (BOR) began blasting water through Blue Mesa Dam last week, with simultaneous releases happening at Morrow Point and Crystal Reservoirs, a trifecta of water storage and management that makes up what’s known as the Aspinall Unit.

The Record of Decision (ROD) states, “The EIS modifies the operations of the Aspinall Unit to provide sufficient releases of water at times, quantities, and duration necessary to avoid jeopardy to endangered fish species and adverse modification of their designated critical habitat while maintaining and continuing to meet authorized purposes of the Aspinall Unit.”

Given this new norm of operations adapted by the bureau during wet years, will Blue Mesa ever fill again?

“That’s a valid question, since the reservoir often does not fill in dry years due to lack of supply, and now with the Aspinall EIS, it will have trouble filling in wet years,” said Kugel.

“We all signed onto this because we agreed it’s important to save these fish,” said Colorado Fish and Wildlife Aquatic Species coordinator Harry Crocket.

According to the BOR’s website, an update written by hydraulic engineer Paul Davidson, unregulated inflow to Blue Mesa is 126 percent of normal this year, April through July. That’s 850,000 acre-feet of water entering the lake during the runoff months. “This sets the senior Black Canyon Water Right call for a one-day spring peak flow of 6,400 cfs, the Aspinall 2012 ROD target at a 10-day peak flow of 14,350 cfs… Reclamation plans to operate the Aspinall Unit to meet both the water right and ROD recommendations,” said Davidson.

The Colorado pike minnow, bonytail chub, humpback chub and razorback sucker are the fish that stand to benefit. The big flows are expected to improve the fishes’ critical habitat, at a time when the fish will be looking to spawn. Water will inundate otherwise shallow or dry riverbank areas, creating calm, sheltered spots for hatchlings, and heavy flows will wash the larvae into those areas.

The Gunnison River, said Crocket, was “mostly omitted” from the EIS as critical habitat. However, he said, “Historically, it was home to at least a couple of these species.”

“It’s a highly migratory fish,” Crocket said of the Colorado pike minnow. “It’s adapted to this big river system.”

It’s a system irrefutably changed by humans. Critical habitat for the Colorado pike minnow includes 1,123.6 miles of river, to include stretches of the Green, Yampa and White rivers, from Rifle to Glen Canyon, and the Yampa River to its confluence with the Colorado River.

“They [US Fish and Wildlife] did designate critical habitat [from the mouth of the Gunnison] to the Uncompahgre confluence [at Delta],” Crocket said.

The Colorado pike minnow called the Gunnison River home through the 1960s. “After that,” said Crocket, “it blinked out. It’s not been possible for it to be re-colonized.” A new fish passage at the Redlands structure, two miles upriver from the Gunnison-Colorado River confluence at Grand Junction, allows fish to make their way around the barrier and upstream, marking the first time in more than 100 years for those downstream fish to gain passage to the Gunnison.

Meanwhile, upstream, a form of collateral damage resulting from the big water releases at Blue Mesa worries Fish and Wildlife personnel. The number of fish sucked into and blown out through the dam is staggering. The technical term for this is entrainment.
“Bigger water years mean more water through the dam, and more fish entrained,” said Gunnison area Colorado Fish and Wildlife aquatic biologist Dan Brauch. “Certainly, loss of kokanee with those releases is a concern.”

From the Vail Daily (Randy Wyrick):

Water levels and snowpack are 121 percent of normal, with as much as 40 percent yet to melt at some higher elevation areas, according to Snotel data…

Snow water equivalent at the Fremont Pass Snotel site, the headwaters of the Eagle River, had 15.1 inches of snow water equivalent on Friday morning still to melt and run into the river. It hit 17 inches on March 18 and kept piling up until May 17 when it peaked at 25.6 inches. It usually doesn’t melt out until June 18, Johnson said.

Streamflow on the Eagle River in Avon may have peaked on May 30, when the daily mean discharge was 4,110 cubic feet per second, which was 249 percent of median for that date. Thursday’s daily mean discharge was 3,650 cfs, 197 percent of normal for Wednesday.

Gore Creek in Lionshead may have peaked June 4.

“Having 20 to 40 percent of the total snowpack remaining in higher elevations in the Colorado Basin is good overall. It should help sustain streamflows through the month,” [Diane Johnson] said…

Copper Mountain still has 4.1 inches of snow water equivalent. That would normally be melted out by now, Johnson said…

Reservoir storage in the state is running 95 percent of normal and 62 percent of capacity. That, however, depends on where you are.


Weld County earthquake: “Just drill new wells and increase recycling” — Ken Carlson

June 8, 2014
Deep injection well

Deep injection well

From The Greeley Tribune (Sharon Dunn):

The answer to Greeley’s first earthquake in at least 40 years may be sitting 10,000 feet below the surface in a deep-water trash can that might be overfilling.

The oil and gas boom has put added stress on the industry’s resources, more specifically in deep wastewater injection wells that cut two miles below the surface. But some say the answer may be as simple as water management.

Wastewater injection wells — which take in produced water from fracking jobs — may now go under increasing scrutiny in Colorado, as scientists have found strong connections between them and a spate of small earthquakes across the country in recent years.

Still, most injection wells are not linked to any earthquakes; it’s only a tiny fraction of injection wells that have specifically been cited as the cause of a minor quake. It’s a puzzle that continues to grow for seismologists looking for answers.

Researchers from the University of Colorado at Boulder put out seismographic equipment throughout Weld County last week, hoping to cull the earth’s secrets into a database of answers. If injection wells are found to be the common denominator in further quake activity, they’ll capture it.

But in the absence of answers, some would say solutions are not that difficult.

“There are ways to fix this,” said Ken Carlson, an associate professor of civil and environmental engineering at Colorado State University. “This is sort of a byproduct of too much water being disposed of, but it’s not like we should shut it down. That’s what the activists will say. It just means we need to improve our water management. So if you say this is probably related to disposal wells, it isn’t that hard to change our practices and really fix this. Just drill new wells and increase recycling.”

WHAT ARE INJECTION WELLS

Injection wells have long been handy tools for oil and gas companies to dispose of wastewater in an environmentally friendly way. The water is pumped two miles beneath the surface into porous rock, through which the water disperses — allowing more water to be pumped in. The process is highly regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency and state oil and gas regulators. Operators must adhere to disposing of water at tested rates and volumes, so as not to overwhelm the well, and they are subjected to annual inspection and well integrity testing every five years, state officials say.

“In a natural system like that, you can do projections. But until you push it to the limit, you can’t really prove it,” Carlson said, noting that he was clearly guessing. “Maybe it’s never been pushed that high.”

For Anadarko Petroleum Corp., which is working to manage its water resources by using municipal effluents, recycling and piping water into sites rather than trucking, officials say they may be coming close to a “limit” on its injections wells, and have been working toward better management to dispose of less.

“The wells are definitely a cause of concern with induced seismicity,” said Korby Bracken, environmental health and safety manager for Anadarko. “We think they’ll continue to be used but it’s something we’re studying quite a bit. There have been multiple studies in Ohio and Oklahoma and other areas where the injection of produced water from oil and gas had the potential to cause induced seismicity. It’s definitely something we’re taking a look at.”

The puzzling part to seismologists is that some areas rife with injection wells for years have no earthquake activity; still others start quaking the minute the well is drilled. There were two injection wells in proximity to the perceived epicenter of the Greeley quake — one was two years old, and the other was 20.

“There are a lot of variables,” said Justin Rubinstein, a seismologist out of Menlo Park, Calif., who is chief of the Induced Seismicity Project, which studies man-made earthquakes. “Maybe this earthquake relieved everything that was available to be relieved or maybe it didn’t and there will be more. Maybe the operator said I might be causing earthquakes, I need to stop injection or slow injections. Generally, when you slow or stop injections, earthquakes slow down.”

The idea of drilling more injection wells to relieve the pressure on existing wells is favored in the exploration community.

Carlson said the water could get dispersed a bit more evenly, reducing pressure with the oil and gas boom going on in Weld.

“It’s not a bucket,” Carlson explained of the rock in which the water is pumped. “It’s more like a sponge. You put the water in and it gets absorbed, then it diffuses through the formation. But you can’t just put in an unlimited rate and keep raising the pressure. Then something would give, and that something might be a fault. With the growth in fracking and unconventional oil and gas in the DJ, there’s certainly greater demand on some of these water disposal sites.”

Rubinstein said he wasn’t so sure drilling more injection wells is the answer.

“In a different perspective, now you’re covering more areas with injections wells, so maybe you’re increasing the probability of finding an area that has a fault,” Rubinstein said. “There are so many variables out there.”

Rubinstein suggested creating mid-volume wells, alleviating pressure that way. “But I don’t know if it gets you out of the problem,” he said.

Anadarko has a permit pending for an injection well. The company has three in Colorado now, all that are running at capacity.

“That being said, we’re looking at other and alternative ways to recycle the fluids that come from the well bore,” Bracken said. “So we don’t have to rely as much on those saltwater injection wells.”

Water, water everywhere

A typical frack job will use 3 million to 4 million gallons of water, but not all of it comes back once the rock is stimulated 7,000 feet below ground. Typically, about 20 percent of the water comes back to the surface during a frack job.

Companies will take that flowback, treat the water on site to take out harmful bacteria from beneath the ground, and truck or pipe it out for recycling or injection. The rest of the water comes out with the oil and gas over time.

Recent years have shown the technology is available to clean up used fracking water, enough to be reused, much like a municipal wastewater treatment system.

“Some operations are pushing ahead with more recycling,” Carlson said. “The more you recycle, the less you’re disposing of and that’s a good thing.”

Anadarko and Noble are big customers of High Sierra Water Services, which operates two recycling facilities in Weld County. Two of their facilities together can recycle about 20,000 barrels a day (840,000 gallons). Both companies have worked on both ends to recycle water.

Anadarko, for example, takes effluent from the city of Aurora’s wastewater treatment plant for most of its fracking operations, then reuses the water over and over.

“If you put down 10 units of something and only get two back, you have to make up eight units for the next well,” Bracken explained. “We’ll recycle what comes back, add make-up water, put it downhole, recycle what comes back and, eventually, you’re recycling the same molecule of water over and over again.”

Both companies are piping recycled water to and from recycling facilities.

But not all water can be recycled. Sometimes it’s too salty. That’s where injection is most necessary.

“Some of the water is very saline,” Rubinstein said. “Some of the water they’re producing in Oklahoma is … 15 percent salt. Salt is highly corrosive. They really can’t reuse it.”

Though reusing the water is the ideal, there’s simply not enough storage out there to hold the water.

“I guess I’d say there is the ability to now recycle probably 15 to 20 percent of the 100,000 barrels a day coming out of the DJ,” said Josh Patterson, operations director for High Sierra. A third recycling center is in the planning stages.

“Logistically speaking, there wouldn’t be a reservoir large enough to store every barrel (of wastewater) for it to be re-used,” Patterson said.

Costs of recycling are high, but so are trucking costs. If companies can eliminate trucking in new water, and recycle existing water, that takes trucks off the road and reduces those expenses.

Patterson said the demand for water recycling continues to grow, however, with both of High Sierra’s facilities contracted out for the next five years.

From the Associated Press via the Fort Collins Coloradoan:

The Greeley Tribune reported Friday that [geophysicist] Anne Sheehan and a team of graduate students have been deploying seismographs to study the magnitude 3.4 quake. The U.S. Geological Survey determined the epicenter of the quake was believed to be 5 miles beneath the surface about 4 miles northeast of Greeley.

The suspected epicenter is near two injection wells. The May 31 earthquake caused no damage.

“If we find out something useful about whether injection causes earthquakes, it might be something that the industry can use to do a better job of injecting, if that turns out to be a problem,” Sheehan said.

Weld County has 28 injection wells for oil and gas waste, or “Class II” disposal wells.

State drilling regulators said earlier this week they were skeptical that the wells caused the earthquake.

The epicenter is difficult to determine, said Justin Rubinstein, a seismologist in Menlo Park, California, who has studied the increasing phenomenon of man-induced earthquakes for the past three years.

More oil and gas coverage here.


CU research team studying earthquake activity near Greeley — The Greeley Tribune

June 6, 2014
Deep injection well

Deep injection well

From The Greeley Tribune (Sharon Dunn):

A small team of Boulder graduate students and their professor hope to soon put an end to the mystery of what created a small magnitude earthquake on Saturday northeast of Greeley.

While the quake measured 3.4 in magnitude — barely enough to be felt and not enough to cause damage to structures — the coincidence of its proximity to wastewater injection wells has researchers pondering the potential of an oil and gas role.

Yes, it could be natural, scientists say. It’s not altogether impossible the Greeley area could have a natural earthquake — though there hasn’t been any such activity in a good 30 years.

A temblor of that size could happen anywhere in the country, seismologists say.

But recent years have proven throughout drilling fields in Ohio, Oklahoma and Texas that the connection between quakes and oil and gas wastewater disposal wells is rather strong.

That’s where University of Colorado at Boulder geophysics professor Anne Sheehan and her small team of graduate students come in. They spent the last several days deploying seismographs in and around what the U.S. Geological Survey determined was the epicenter of the quake believed to have originated five miles beneath the surface about four miles northeast of Greeley.

They “believe” only because the closest station to record tectonic activity is in Idaho Springs, 70 miles away.

The epicenter of the quake was a bit of an educated guess, as well as the depth. But based on what are called “felt reports,” in which area residents reported what they felt at the time of the earthquake, Sheehan has been able to zero in a little better on the area to get the best readings.

Having seismographs closer in the suspected area — which is near two injection wells — will help scientists get a better fix on the cause.

“I guess we wouldn’t have done this if we didn’t think there would be some small follow-up earthquakes,” Sheehan said. “It’s possible we won’t record anything of interest. One would hope there would not be any more earthquakes. But if there are, we will study them.”

In fact, just two hours after Saturday’s quake, there were three smaller tremors that followed, Sheehan said. One was 2.0 and the other two were 1.4 in magnitude. Those aren’t recorded at the USGS in Golden, which only tracks quakes of 2.5 magnitude and above.

Wastewater disposal wells take in produced water from fracking and drilling operations, a practice that has been going on for several years and which is practiced by a variety of industries.

There are about 150,000 injection wells across the country — 40,000 of which are for oil and gas waste, or “Class II” disposal wells. Weld County has 28 of them.

There were two injection wells in proximity to the epicenter of Saturday’s quake, one dug more than 8,700 feet deep and the other 10,700 feet. One is 20 years old, the other just two years old.

Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission officials earlier this week said they were skeptical that the wells caused the quake because they believe the three historic well-related quake instances recorded in Colorado all shared one common characteristic: the point of injection was the epicenter of the quake.

They said that wasn’t the case in Greeley.

But even that is difficult to measure, given the inexact measuring from 70 miles way, said Justin Rubinstein, a seismologist in Menlo Park, Calif., who has studied the increasing phenomenon of man-induced earthquakes for the last three years.

“As long as there is a pathway for the fluids to transfer, it doesn’t matter where you’re injecting,” Rubinstein said of the misconception on locations. “Faults are an incredible transmitter of fluids and fluid pressures. Just because earthquakes are occurring deeper than where injections are, there’s no reason to say they can’t be related.”

But, he said, there’s little proof of any cause at present, and he wouldn’t rule out a natural quake.

An injection well is dug 10,000 feet below the surface into very porous rock. The rate and volume of the water that is pumped in is governed by state and federal regulations.

Once pumped into the porous rock, the water disperses through that formation, allowing more water to be pumped in.

Sometimes the pressure of the water is such that it causes earthquakes in the existing faults.

The injection wells in question were those of High Sierra Water Services, which manages injections wells throughout Weld County and also recycles produced water for companies.

High Sierra also recycles produced water in an ever-growing amount, shipping it back out to the field for further use in drilling.

“We looked at our charts and we’re operating within the parameters of the well and it’s been operational for quite some time,” said Josh Patterson, operations manager for the company.

Sheehan said by studying whether any subsequent quakes are a result of injection wells potentially being drilled into faults, or the wrong rocks, or were simply overvalued in terms of volume and rate capacities, will help bring about better practices in the field.

“If we find out something useful about whether injection causes earthquakes, it might be something that the industry can use to do a better job of injecting, if that turns out to be a problem,” Sheehan said. “So maybe if they inject at lower volumes or spread it out more, it could be that there are things that we’ll learn that can help inform some sort of best practices.”

More oil and gas coverage here.


Colorado: Wrangling continues over Denver Water’s proposed new transmountain diversion, reservoir enlargement

June 6, 2014

Originally posted on Summit County Citizens Voice:

Boulder County gets high-level backup on request for comment period extension on major new transmountain water diversion

fdgfag

Will the public get more time to review and comment on the final environmental study for the largest proposed water project in years?

By Bob Berwyn

FRISCO — Boulder County’s request for more time to comment on the proposed Moffat Tunnel Collection System expansion got some high-level backup this week, as Sen. Michael Bennet formally asked the federal government for an extension.

Denver Water’s proposed new diversions from Colorado River headwaters in Grand County, specifically the Fraser River, are under federal scrutiny as the Corps considers issuing a permit for the enlargement of Gross Reservoir in Boulder County. The federal agency released the final version of a massive environmental study in April, setting a June 9 deadline for comment.

The agency received about 400 requests for an extension, many of them via a…

View original 375 more words


Northern Water sets rates for 2015

June 6, 2014

From the Fort Collins Coloradoan (Ryan Maye Handy):

While the district’s board of directors opted to wait until July to resolve the debate of how to change long-term water rates, the short-term rates for 2015 were fixed. At its monthly meeting, the board voted to raise the cost of water 9 percent for all its customers — from irrigators to cities to industrial users.

Nearly three months ago, the district announced that it needs to change its water rates, or else it will continue to borrow from its financial reserves to stay afloat. It hired Denver-based CH2MHill consulting firm to come up with three suggested changes to its rate structure.

The water in question comes from the Colorado-Big Thompson Project, or C-BT, a network of reservoirs on the Western Slope that provides water to Northern Colorado. Like many cities, Fort Collins gets much of its water from the project. The city is equally dependent on water from the C-BT and from the Poudre River.

Northern Water charges for water by the acre foot. Fort Collins Utilities, for instance, owns 18,855 units of project water, 12,803 units of which go for about $28 per acre foot. That cost will likely double when Northern Water rates increase in 2016.

In addition to setting the rates for 2015, the board did agree that the rate structure should shift from being based on users’ ability to a model based on the cost of service. The board was divided, however, on how quickly the rates need to change.

CH2MHill gave the board two options: one is for a gradual increase, the other for a rapid increase that would help the district quickly recover lost revenue. The gradual increase would bump rates by 20 percent and 41 percent for cities and irrigators, respectively. The sharp increase would bump rates by a respective 61 percent and 92 percent.

More Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District coverage here.


Runoff/snowpack news: “It’s [Wellsville gage] been flat as a string” — Steve Witte

June 4, 2014
Colorado Water Watch (USGS) statewide streamflow map June 4, 2014

Colorado Water Watch (USGS) statewide streamflow map June 4, 2014

Click on the map above to peruse the USGS’ Water Watch interactive map for Colorado. The dark dots represent higher flows.

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

There’s some debate about whether the Arkansas River has seen its peak runoff yet. The river has been running very high after gaining momentum over the weekend and has been dangerous in places. All along the river, from Pueblo to Leadville, flows are twice average for this time of year as spiking temperatures and heavy snowpack have led to a heavy runoff.

Temperatures Tuesday reached 97 degrees, about 3 degrees shy of the record 100 degrees in 2006.

Apparently there is more to come.

“It is kind of surprising for this time of year,” said Steve Witte, Water Division 2 engineer. “I suppose what we’re seeing is the result of a cool May.”

Snowpack above the timberline is still ample, based on observations by Division of Water Resources staff, and more hot weather’s on the way. A fast, early runoff was forecast at the end of April, but more precipitation and cooler weather set the stage for a June peak.

The Arkansas River gauge at Wellsville has been at 4,000-4,200 cubic feet per second for days.

“It’s been flat as a string,” Witte said.

There are advisories for rafters through the Arkansas River canyon on certain stretches of the river.

Levels below Pueblo Dam topped out at 4,800 cfs on Monday, and were falling Tuesday after releases from the dam were cut back slightly.

Meanwhile, about 23,000 acre-feet of Fryingpan-Arkansas Project water has been imported through the Boustead Tunnel into Twin Lakes. More than 60,000 acre-feet is projected this year.

“It’s been about what we would expect at this point,” said Roy Vaughan, Fry-Ark manager for the Bureau of Reclamation.

So far, nothing is at flood stage and the river has been higher on this day in history — June 3, 1921, was the date of the deadliest flood recorded here.

From the Associated Press via the Fort Collins Coloradoan:

Some streets and fields remain flooded in Greeley as the spring runoff continued to push the Poudre River over its banks on Tuesday.

The water reached 9.16 feet, more than a foot above flood stage, around midday. That’s just above the previous crest record for the river set in 2010, the National Weather Service said.

The flooding was making it harder to drive around the city, although some drivers disregarded warnings to stay off closed roads.

Two homes were flooded this week, forcing those residents to evacuate, Greeley street superintendent Jerry Pickett said. Across the flooded street, other residents sat on the porch of a home surrounded by sandbags.

Nearby, Tony Stansbury and Robert Villa waded through waist-deep water with a canoe to recover records from DBE Manufacturing & Supply.

The Greeley Tribune reported Greeley City Councilman Charlie Archibeque caught a 10-pound carp in the driveway of his home, which was surrounded by water.

The water has been high along the Poudre for a week and levels of waterways around the state are expected to remain high for another two weeks or so as the plentiful mountain snowpack melts and fills reservoirs.

“The good news is there’s water to be had, but it could be a nuisance for another few weeks,” National Weather Service forecaster Kyle Fredin said.

The South Platte Basin, which includes the Poudre, was listed as being nearly 300 percent of its average level as of last week.

In western Colorado, the spring runoff was creating a wave known as “Big Sur” in the Colorado River, drawing kayakers and paddle boarders to DeBeque Canyon.

The Daily Sentinel reported that the wave develops when water flows over a submerged bridge reach at least 20,000 cubic feet per second. The last time the wave appeared was in 2011.

Things are much drier in the state’s southeastern and southwestern corners, where fire and blowing dust warnings were posted Tuesday.

From the Vail Daily (Raymond A. Bleesz):

John Comer, of McCoy, knows about calamity regarding his beloved water wheel at his Wagon Wheel Ranch. Last month, the high waters of the Colorado River partially destroyed his water wheel for the third time in its 92 years of history.

The Brooks-Dixson water wheel was initially constructed in 1922 by the two entrepreneurial ranchers, Earl Brooks and Wyman Dixson, as they needed water to irrigate their pasture — water, hay and cattle are the focal cornerstone elements for a successful livelihood in ranching. The water wheel was put together with no plans other than using their imagination. The engineering feat, the material and lumber the two ranchers mustered for themselves was a significant feat using approximately 3,570 board feet of lumber. It showed determination and a frontier can-do attitude. The purpose of the wheel was to raise water from the river bottom to the top of the wheel in constructed wooden buckets, as the wheel rotated on its axle to the height of approximately 46 feet and for the water to then flow into a catching wooden flume and into the irrigation ditches of the pasture land. This ingenious device was perhaps the largest one in the state of Colorado and certainly in Eagle County.

From KWGN.com (Sara Morris):

Portions of southeast Greeley remain under water Tuesday night and Greeley’s Emergency Manager believes the flooding isn’t over yet. That concerns many like Erica Nevarez and her family who are trying everything to keep the high water away from their home. So far they have installed four pumps to get the water out of their back yard and horse stalls, funneling it into a nearby ditch. They also had to evacuate all of their animals.

“We had to take all of our horses we put them up here down the street,” said Erica Nevarez.

Building a giant dirt barrier around her property wasn’t enough, so she started making sandbags.

“More than a hundred that’s for sure,” Nevarez said.

And so far their efforts seem to be working because at one point the water was several feet deep.

With two kids and a neice and nephew to watch, Erica said it’s been a stressful couple of days.

“We haven’t slept at all. Just to be watching this water,” said Nevarez.

Unfortunately this may be just the beginning of the flooding in Greeley.

“I think the biggest concern is the longevity of the event. How long will it last and that’s difficult to predict,” said Pete Morgan, the City of Greeley Emergency Manager.

In the meantime voluntary evacuations continue to be in effect in portions of southeast Greeley.

Many including the Nevarez’s are opting to stay because they want to protect their home from future flooding.

Big Sur wave near DeBeque

Big Sur wave near DeBeque

From KJCT8.com (Lindsey Pallares):

A water phenomenon of the Grand Valley has made its appearance once again, but it’s not here for long.

Big Sur returns to give rivergoers the adventure of a lifetime.

It’s unlike anything most surfers and kayakers have seen on the river.

“In the ocean, the water moves, or stays the same and the wave stays the same, on the river the wave stays put and the water moves past you,” says Pete Atkinson of Whitewater West.

It’s become one of the most sought after standing waves in the West, emerging from the depths of the Colorado River only when river conditions are just right.

“Big Sur is kind of like a novelty wave, it only comes in upwards at like 20,000 or so CFS is when it starts getting good, which we haven’t had for like three years,” says surfer, Brittany Parker.

If you’ve got good balance and stamina you can ride this wave for hours on a kayak, paddle boat, or surfboard.
Last time the wave came to De Beque in 2011 it was here for nearly three weeks, one of its longest recorded stays in river history.

Continued spring runoff determines how long the wave will be around before it subsides.

At this time, experts don’t have a clear of estimate of just how long water enthusiasts will be able to ride the wave.

The wave is rarely here and oftentimes hard to find.

From the Estes Park Trail-Gazette (David Persons):

According to information published by the Colorado Division of Water Resources, the weekend’s top inflow into Lake Estes was at 3 a.m. Saturday when 1,370 cubic feet of water was flowing into Lake Estes. Likewise, the top outflow into the Big Thompson River below Olympus Dam was 1,020 cubic feet per second. An additional 500-550 cfs was also diverted into the Olympus Tunnel.

“That’s right, the peak on the Big Thompson may have been Friday night,” said Kara Lamb, the public information officer for the Bureau of Reclamation’s Eastern Colorado Office in Loveland. The bureau owns both Lake Estes and Olympus Dam.

Lamb pointed out that the water levels have been so high the past week that it’s been necessary to release between 500-550 cfs through Olympus Tunnel. That water generally has been going to Horsetooth Reservoir. However, that reservoir reached capacity at times. When that happened, it was necessary to re-release that water back into the Big Thompson River at the mouth of the canyon.

Lamb said while no one is exactly sure if the spring runoff peak has occurred, it is certain that the Big Thompson River – and others along the Front Range – will run high in the coming weeks as snowpack in the mountains continues to melt.

Despite the fact that the remaining snowpack in the mountains to the west is about 200 percent of average, Lamb said residents shouldn’t be too concerned about that.

“There’s really not a connection between feet of snow on the ground and the amount of snowpack on this day in history,” Lamb said. “But, if it rains up there and the snow melts quickly, then we could have some problems.”

From The Denver Post (Noelle Phillips):

Six roads in Weld County were closed Monday as two rivers reached flood stage.

County officials were keeping a close watch on the Cache la Poudre and South Platte rivers as waters rose from heavy snowmelt and recent rain.

The National Weather Service reported the Poudre was at 9.15 feet Monday afternoon. Flood stage is 8 feet.

The water was expected to recede by Tuesday, the Weather Service reported.

“It’s holding steady right now,” said Joel Hemesath, the county public works director. “They’re not rising, but they’re not receding like we’d like.”

With 59th Avenue, Eighth Avenue and U.S. 85 the only north-south roads coming into Greeley, the city warned motorists to expect congestion and delays.

Two voluntary evacuation notices were issued for Greeley neighborhoods.

Residents in at least one Greeley subdivision were filling sandbags, said Sgt. Sean Standridge of the Weld County Sheriff’s Office. The Spanish Colony neighborhood along 25th Avenue and O Street is along the Poudre River, he said.

A couple of residents in Greeley reported water inside their homes, Hemesath said.

The county’s public works department had employees monitoring bridges across the county. There are concerns about the rising rivers splitting the county in half and cutting the north and south sides off from each other, Standridge said.

Deputies also were watching flooded roads and warning residents not to get too close to rising water, he said. They will issue tickets to anyone trying to cross high water.

“We’ve got a lot of ‘Lookie Lous,’ ” Standridge said. “We are reminding people for their safety to stay out of the water.”


2014 Boulder County Water Tour 6/7/14

June 3, 2014

Did fracking fluid cause Greeley quake? — 9 News

June 3, 2014
Deep injection well

Deep injection well

From 9News.com (Laurie Cipriano and Brandon Rittiman):

Scientists are investigating whether a rare 3.4 magnitude earthquake near Greeley, Colorado this weekend may have been caused by the disposal of fracking fluid.

The quake was centered in an area of Weld County located near four underground injection sites, in which used fracking fluid is forced deep underground as a method of disposal…

“I think we have a good reason to suspect there may be a link,” said Shemin Ge, a hydrologist with the University of Colorado. “We’re still looking into it.”

Ge says there are several injection wells very close to the epicenter of the earthquake.

“One of them is relatively high volume,” Ge said.

Ge is part of a team of scientists that are responding to the Greeley quake by placing a series of seismometers in the area to get more detailed data.

A team from the University of Colorado at Boulder was sent out to scout locations for the measurement devices on Monday.


Runoff/snowpack news: High water in the Cache la Poudre leads to road closures

June 3, 2014

cachelapoudreatfortcollins06032014
From the Fort Collins Coloradoan (Erin Udell):

Windsor Police Chief John Michaels said officers will be watching the river all week, monitoring its flow and hoping to see it go down a bit.

It’s not uncommon for Weld County roads 13 and 17 to be closed periodically as spring runoff causes the river to come across the roads, Michaels said. But with added rain, other roads — like Colorado Highway 257 — see closures as well. Amid the rising water, sections of WCR 13, WCR 17 and Colorado 257 remained closed Monday.

“(Closing Colorado 257) doesn’t happen every year, but it happened in September and it’s happening now,” Michaels said, adding that CDOT closed the road around 12:30 a.m. Sunday.

From Steamboat Today (Tom Ross) via Craig Daily Press:

The Elk River west of Steamboat Springs is under a flood warning, likely continuing through Wednesday when there are preliminary signs the rivers in Northwest Colorado will peak for the season. The National Weather Service posted the warning at 7:37 p.m. Sunday saying that the Elk’s flows could be expected to rebound from the weekend when cool, cloudy weather kept the river below flood stage. The Elk was expected to go back above flood stage Monday night into Tuesday morning for the second time this season.

The Yampa River in Steamboat Springs is expected to follow a similar trend but will remain well below flood stage…

The Weather Service said the river still could go higher in the next few days. It was predicting the Elk could reach nearly 7.8 feet early Wednesday morning with “additional rises possible thereafter. At 7.9 feet elevation, backwater flooding is possible due to any debris blocking culverts under U.S. Highway 40 at the East Fork of the Elk.”[...]

A tentative projection by the Colorado Basin River Forecast Center in Salt Lake City, Utah, suggests both the Yampa and the Elk will reach their final peaks of the season later this week, possibly Wednesday night for the Elk and Thursday night for the Yampa in Steamboat. Beyond Thursday, projections show both rivers gradually falling below bank-full.

The Yampa could fall to 3,200 cubic feet per second at Fifth Street by June 9 or 10. It was flowing at 4,770 cfs at Fifth Street at midnight Sunday and well above 5,000 cfs eight blocks downstream below Soda Creek…

Walton Creek was running almost a foot deep Monday morning on a section of concrete public trail that links Chinook Lane to the vicinity of Whistler Park with the help of two pedestrian bridges over the creek. The water rose to within about 20 feet of several single-family homes between Meadowood Court and Meadowood Lane.

From The Greeley Tribune:

Greeley officials have issued a second voluntary evacuation notice.

The boundaries are 5th Street on the north (includes addresses on both sides of the street), 7th Street on the south (includes addresses on both sides of the street), 6th Avenue on the west (includes addresses on both sides of the street), and the Poudre River on the east.

Greeley Public Works Director Joel Hemesath said reports are coming in that the water is recedeing in west Greeley. It should be several hours before east Greeley sees anything similar, Hemesath said.

From CBS Denver:

A breach along the Cache la Poudre River sent rushing flood waters into Greeley on Monday and prompted voluntary evacuations into the evening. Officials don’t consider the flooding to be life-threatening and said they expect the water in Greeley to recede Monday evening. Two homes and a contractor supply business near 5th Street suffered some of the worst damage.

From the Chaffee County Times (Maisie Ramsay):

The closure of a 2-mile section of the Arkansas River south of Buena Vista does not apply to all users, Colorado Parks and Wildlife clarified Monday. CPW and the Arkansas Headwaters Recreation Area announced May 30 that a stretch of river near the Silver Bullet rapid had been closed because of safety concerns. On June 2, CPW explained that the closure did not apply to whitewater canoes or kayaks under Colorado law. However, the closure does apply to individual rafters and rafting outfitters, CPW public information officer Abbie Walls said. Walls noted that regardless of the legalities involved, paddlers are strongly advised against boating that section of the Arkansas River.

“We still are highly recommending people avoid that area,” Walls said.

A reconstruction project at the Silver Bullet rapid completed last winter is resulting in problematic hydraulics that can cause boats to capsize, AHRA park manager Rob White said.

“For whatever reason, it’s causing a massive recirculating wave that’s tending to hold boats and potentially cause a flip,” White said.

White said reopening the river would depend largely upon receding water flows.

The U.S. Geological Survey reported the Arkansas River was running at nearly 3,600 cfs at the gage below Granite as of Monday afternoon.

High water advisories are in effect for the Pine Creek Rapid, the Numbers and the Royal Gorge.

The advisories do not bar boaters, but it is standard practice for commercial outfitters to stop running river sections with high water advisories in place, Arkansas River Outfitters Association president Mike Kissack said.

Meanwhile, outfitters report that other sections of the Arkansas River are prime for rafting at high water levels, especially Browns Canyon and Big Horn Sheep Canyon.


Castle Rock hopes to get 75% of water supply from renewable sources by 2050

June 2, 2014

castlerock
From The Denver Post (Clayton Woullard):

After one year of operation, the Plum Creek Water Purification Facility has exceeded Castle Rock’s expectations in terms of efficiency as it plays an important role in the town’s long-term renewable water projects. The $22.6-million-dollar plant went online in April 2013, specifically to treat more ground water, as well as renewable surface water from Plum Creek. The facility is part of an effort by Castle Rock to have 75 percent of its water come from renewable sources by 2050, when the town projects it will be built out at 100,000 people. The town’s population is at about 53,000 now.

Other parts of the project are a renewable water agreement through the Water, Infrastructure and Supply Efficiency partnership (WISE) with Denver Water and Aurora Water, as well as storage of 8,000 acre feet of water in Rueter-Hess Reservoir in Parker. Castle Rock Utilities Director Mark Marlowe said the plant’s operating costs, along with the WISE partnerships, are coming in under budget.

“If we don’t do these things, we continue to be reliant on our deep water supplies,” Marlowe said.

That’s something the town and other Douglas County jurisdictions can’t afford, because well water continues to be depleted.

The WISE partnership agreement is almost complete, Marlowe said and will eventually bring about 7,225 acre feet of renewable water and 1,000 acre feet in the short term to Castle Rock. Marlowe said two contingencies must be finished by next year to get WISE water flowing: the $4 million purchase of a pipeline that will get water from Denver and Aurora to Castle Rock; and a new pipeline the town will need to allow it to begin receiving renewable water.

Marlowe said the water supply from WISE is interruptible, unlike the supply coming through the treatment facility.

The Plum Creek Purification Facility captures water from East and West Plum Creek and lawn irrigation return flows. The plant treats more than 4 million gallons of water per day but has the capability to treat up to 12 million gallons when it is eventually expanded. The plant has the capacity to bring the town 35 percent renewable water; now it’s between 12 and 20 percent renewable, depending on demand.

“It is exciting for our community that we get to use this resource,” said Karen McGrath, spokeswoman for the town.

Because the plant also treats surface water, it has different processes, including a series of racks or tubes of thousands of very thin, vertical membranes that filter the water and require regular maintenance and cleaning. Marlowe said surface water requires more treatment than ground water and necessitated the facility.

Most of the plant’s processes run automatically, so the plant only requires about two workers at any time. The system is set up with alarms and auto-correcting mechanisms.

Level 4 plant operator Ken Timm said it’s the most advanced water treatment plant he’s worked at.

“The only challenge is if something breaks,” Timm said, “and how fast can we get it repaired and what caused it.”

More Denver Basin Aquifer System coverage here.


Epicenter of Saturday earthquake in Greeley was near oil, gas wastewater injection wells — The Greeley Tribune

June 2, 2014
Deep injection well

Deep injection well

From The Greeley Tribune (Trenton Sperry):

As the annual number of earthquakes in the United States has increased, some have pointed to the oil and gas industry as a cause. But while scientists say there is evidence to suggest wastewater injection wells used by the industry could be linked to the increase, there is little or no evidence to suggest a similar link for fracking operations.

“Hydraulic fracturing almost never causes true earthquakes,” University of Texas seismologist Cliff Frohlich told the Associated Press in September during a gathering at West Virginia University for a National Research Council workshop. “It is the disposal of fluids that is a concern.”

Frohlich was referring to the disposal of wastewater, a byproduct of oil and natural gas production from tight shale formations and coal beds, according to the U.S. Department of the Interior’s website. Wastewater produced from many oil and gas production wells within a field may be injected through a single or just a few disposal wells, according to the website.

The question of whether oil and gas operations cause earthquakes was on the minds of Weld County residents Sunday after a 3.4-magnitude earthquake struck 4.8 miles northeast of Greeley about 9:35 p.m. Saturday night, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. The epicenter was near Weld County roads 66 and 43, which is about 3 miles northeast of Greeley.

The epicenter of the quake was about 1.5 miles from two oil and gas wastewater injection wells, both operated by High Sierra Water Services LLC of Denver, according to data from the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission. They are the only injection wells in at least a 5-mile radius of the quake’s epicenter.

Injection wells provide one of the most economical ways to dispose of wastewater, according to the USGS website, forcing the wastewater deep below aquifers that provide drinking water.

The USGS website also notes, however, wastewater injection increases the underground pore pressure, which may, in effect, lubricate nearby faults, thereby weakening them. If the pore pressure increases enough, the weakened fault will slip, releasing stored tectonic stress in the form of an earthquake. Even faults that have not moved in millions of years can be made to slip and cause an earthquake if conditions underground are appropriate, according to the USGS website.

USGS scientists have found the increase in seismicity in some locations coincides with a significant increase in the injection of wastewater into disposal wells, mostly in Colorado, Texas, Arkansas, Oklahoma and Ohio, according to the Department of the Interior’s website.

Saturday night’s quake near Greeley provided minor shaking that was felt as far south as Longmont and as far north as Fort Collins, according to the USGS website.

The 10,800-foot injection wells near the epicenter were last inspected by the Weld County Department of Public Health and Environment in October 2013, according to COGCC records. State inspectors last checked the wells in August 2012, about four months before one of the wells was completed as a wastewater injection well, according to COGCC records.

Representatives of High Sierra Water Services and the COGCC did not immediately respond to requests for comment Sunday.

The vast majority of wastewater injection wells do not cause earthquakes. According to the Department of the Interior’s website, of approximately 150,000 Class II injection wells in the United States — including roughly 40,000 wastewater disposal wells for oil and gas operations — only a tiny fraction have induced earthquakes large enough to be of concern to the public.

However, injection wells in Colorado causing earthquakes would not be without precedent. In 1961, a 12,000-foot well was drilled at the Rocky Mountain Arsenal, northeast of Denver, for disposing of waste fluids from Arsenal operations, according to the USGS. Injection began in March 1962, and an unusual series of earthquakes erupted in the area shortly after. The U.S. Army ceased use of the injection well in 1966, and in 1990 a solid link was established between the injection of fluids and the subsequent rash of earthquakes.

But Paul Earle, a seismologist with the USGS, said there’s still plenty to consider to determine if the Greeley earthquake was natural or man-made.

“Just because there are injection wells near there doesn’t necessarily mean they caused the earthquake,” Earle said. “There are a number of things you have to address to make that determination. But it’s certainly something we need to look at and will look at.”

More oil and gas coverage here.


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