Boulder unveils flood mitigation plans; Council not on board

October 1, 2014
Surfing Boulder Creek September 2013 via @lauras

Surfing Boulder Creek September 2013 via @lauras

From the Boulder Daily Camera (Erica Meltzer):

The leading version of the South Boulder Creek flood mitigation project would remove 893 homes in southeast Boulder from the 100-year floodplain, but it would also involve building a 23-foot berm through a recognized state natural area with endangered tall-grass prairie habitat.

That was a step too far for Boulder City Council members, and on Tuesday night, they asked the city’s flood engineers to take up discussions with the University of Colorado about using land the university owns for its future south campus instead.

The council heard an update Tuesday on the city’s flood mitigation efforts in the aftermath of 2013’s damaging floods. Boulder remains one of the cities at highest risk for flash flooding in Colorado.

The most likely flood scenarios — and the ones the city’s mitigation efforts are designed to limit — involve intense rainfall over a short period of time, not the days of sustained rain the city experienced last year.

Several council members asked what the city could do about flooding from groundwater, which caused 47 percent of the damage last year, either directly or indirectly in the form of sanitary sewer backups.

The city’s wastewater utility has developed plans to line older clay pipes to reduce groundwater infiltration during large rain events, but there’s no practical or legal way to lower the groundwater table, Jeff Arthur, director of public works for utilities, told the council…

But Arthur stressed that the flood scenarios modeled by the city’s engineers and reflected in floodplain maps are both more likely to occur than an event like the 1,000-year rain of 2013 and more likely to produce significant damage and loss of life.

The flooding in most of Boulder’s major drainageways in 2013 was the equivalent of a 10- to 25-year flood event. Only Twomile Canyon Creek experienced a greater than 100-year flood, while South Boulder Creek, Goose Creek and Fourmile Canyon Creek experienced 50- to 100-year flooding.

The city is in the planning stages of four flood mitigation efforts: Boulder Creek, Bear Canyon Creek, Gregory Canyon Creek and South Boulder Creek.

Mitigation planning efforts on Upper Goose and Twomile creeks, Skunk Creek, King’s Gulch and Bluebell Creek will start in 2016, after floodplain map revisions along those watersheds are complete.

Gregory Canyon will present significant challenges because so many homes are so close to the creek, and it will be impossible to do a mitigation plan that takes those homes out of the 100-year floodplain, short of simply removing the homes, engineers told the council. Instead, engineers are looking for ways to break up the channels to reduce the impact of flooding there.

The South Boulder Creek mitigation planning process has been underway for several years, and consultants and the city’s Water Resources Advisory Board had settled on a $46 million recommendation that would involve a major regional detention area south of U.S. 36 and smaller detention areas near Manhattan Middle School and on the Flatirons Golf Course.

Modeling of likely flood scenarios indicate a 100-year flood of South Boulder Creek would cause $215 million in damage. City Council members watched an animated simulation that showed much of southeast Boulder filling with water.

However, the large detention facility would have a significant impact on open space owned by the city that includes endangered tall grass prairie habitat, wetlands areas and a number of endangered and threatened plant and animal species.

The open space board officially objected to the plan as proposed, and the water resources board revised its position, recommending that the upstream and downstream pieces of the project be separated.

The two smaller detention areas could be built for $23 million with relatively few regulatory hurdles and would still take 294 dwelling units out of the floodplain…

Councilman George Karakehian said building the berm through open space was not politically feasible.

“I think that would be a tough one to get built in our community,” he said.

A revised version of the South Boulder Creek mitigation plan is expected to be presented to the City Council later this fall.

More Boulder Creek coverage here.


Boulder County: Check out this video about our collaborative Comprehensive Creek Planning Initiative

July 28, 2014

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:

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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


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.


Boulder County: It will take years for some farmers to recover from the September #COflood

May 22, 2014
St. Vrain River floodplain November 2013 via the Longmont Times-Call

St. Vrain River floodplain November 2013 via the Longmont Times-Call

From 9News (Eric Egan):

Farming is still a foundation, a livelihood for people in Colorado. But that foundation was stripped and broken down after the floods.

“We lost about 65 percent of the ground,” Longmont farmer Jim Roberts said.

When the water receded, lush soil had nearly turned to sand. Roberts, working the land since 1994, has had maybe his worst eight months as a farmer.

“Most of those are just gravel bars. I doubt there will be any grass or feed for livestock,” he said.

Roberts’ farm was the first stop of a farm and flood tour held by Boulder County Parks and Open Space. He took questions from the tour group at the bed of his pick-up, alongside Boulder Creek. The spot was underwater last fall.

From the Longmont Times-Call (Scott Rochat):

A thundering wall of water shoots from the outlet for 50, 75, 100 feet, a current designed to take the “kick” out of the water leaving Button Rock Reservoir, dissipating its energy in a nearby pool. This is what 225 cubic feet per second looks like.

“We will be doubling this over the next two weeks,” said Dale Rademacher, Longmont’s public works director, over the roar. “We hope that’s all we need to do.”

If it’s not — well, the outlet can take it. Almost four times over. And that was part of the larger message Wednesday during a city-led tour of the off-limits Button Rock Preserve: the St. Vrain is ready.

“It’ll take the runoff,” said Ken Huson, Longmont’s water resources administrator.

The next week or two may put that to the test. Levels in the St. Vrain have been rising as a delayed snowmelt hits the creek. Near Lyons, the river lingered on either side of 450 cfs for much of the day— the “warning” level is 1,250, with capacity at 2,500 — with the possibility of thunderstorms every day through Sunday to add still more.

But in the Button Rock area, two facts grab the attention. The first is how clear the St. Vrain’s water is, free of the chocolate murkiness that would indicate choking debris. The second is the number of places where the water isn’t — the stream-molded boulders where a channel used to be, or the receded banks of Ralph Price Reservoir, lowered by city workers to clear flood-swept trees from the lake.

That reservoir now holds 12,000 acre-feet of water. When full, it can carry 16,000. On first arriving on its shore, three large piles of wood can be seen, last remnants of the logjam that once plugged the inlet. Some wood remains, Huson and Rademacher said, but not enough to interfere with runoff.

That doesn’t mean the river is perfectly safe, especially as more water comes into the channel.

“Stay back away from the streambed itself,” Huson urged, noting that parts of the banks may be less stable than before and break away without warning. “You just don’t know how the streambed is going to react to the increased stream flow. And you don’t know what might be coming down the stream.”

The flow of money has been just about as uncertain. City officials have estimated the total cost of flood-related work at $152 million. So far, Rademacher said, Longmont has about $11.5 million in projects deemed eligible for aid by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. About $7.5 million has been spent by the city. But of the FEMA-approved money, only about $250,000 has been released by the state.

In March, the Colorado Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management hired Deloitte, one of the “Big Four” accounting and audit firms, to help break the bottleneck. City Manager Harold Dominguez said Deloitte has now set up an electronic system for reimbursements and that Longmont has turned in a number of submittals.

“They said we should see something in 30 days,” Dominguez said. That clock started about two and a half weeks ago.

“We’re thinking Christmas in June,” Rademacher joked.

The city has also become part of a FEMA pilot program introduced during Hurricane Sandy. Normally, the city would lay out a project, and get money that could be used only for those expenses. Under the “alternate procedures” program, some of that money can be reassigned for other flood needs by city officials.

The tradeoff? It’s a one-time payout.

For example, it’s currently estimated that removing granular debris from Ralph Price Reservoir will cost $4.5 million. FEMA can reimburse up to 75 percent of an eligible expense, which in this case, would be $3.375 million. If the city applied for that amount through traditional channels, it could only be spent on that debris — but if the estimates were off and the cost came in higher, FEMA could reimburse more.

By contrast, if the project were submitted under the pilot program, Longmont could get that $3.375 million and spend some of it on other flood-related needs. But that price estimate is final; if Ralph Price’s cleanup proved more costly, tough; it can’t be resubmitted.


“…the waterways of Grand County have become the poster child for aquatic death by a thousand cuts” — Allen Best #ColoradoRiver

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

Denver Water’s collection system via the USACE EIS

Another independent journalist covering water issues is Allen Best purveyor of The Mountain Town News. Here’s an analysis of the recent agreement between Denver Water, Trout Unlimited, and Grand County for operating the Colorado River Cooperative agreement. Here’s an excerpt:

Located at the headwaters of the Colorado River, the waterways of Grand County have become the poster child for aquatic death by a thousand cuts…

Called the Mitigation and Enhancement Coordination Plan, the agreement between Denver Water, Grand County, and Trout Unlimited proposes to govern Denver’s incremental diversions through the Continental Divide known as the Moffat firming project. However, according to the architects of the deal, it should also serve as a model in the ongoing dialogue as Colorado’s growing metropolitan areas look to squeeze out the final drops of the state’s entitlements to the Colorado River, as defined by the Colorado River compact of 1922 and other compacts.

“It is a demonstration of a new way of doing business that should be a model as Colorado talks about meeting its water gaps (between demands and supplies),” says Jim Lochhead, chief executive of Denver Water.

“Instead of platitudes or politics or parochialism, you need to do it by sitting down and working together and dealing with the issues,” he adds…

There are skeptics, unable to explain this strange alchemy in which a river can in any way benefit from having less water, as the agreement insists can be the case.

Among those withholding enthusiasm is Matt Rice, the Colorado coordinator for American Rivers. He points out that the agreement covers just 4 of the 32 creeks and streams trapped by Denver Water in the Fraser Valley and the adjoining Williams Fork. Too, like too many other similar programs, the data collection begins after permits are awarded, not before, which he thinks is backward.

In short, while Denver is careful to talk about “enhancements,” he thinks it falls short of addressing full, cumulative impacts.

Cumulative impacts are likely to be a focal point of federal permitting. While the Environmental Protection Agency is likely to have a voice, the vital 404 permit must come from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The parties to the new agreement have asked that their agreement be incorporated into the permit…

A far greater financial cost to Denver specified by the agreement is the agency’s commitment to forfeit up to 2,500 acre-feet annually of the city’s added 18,700 acre-foot take.

Based on the firm yield of the water and Denver’s rate for outside-city raw water to customers, this commitment is valued at $55 million.

Denver will make this water available for release into the creeks and rivers, to keep water temperatures colder and hence more hospitable to insects and fish. The water can also be used for flushing, to mimic what happens naturally during spring runoff, scouring river bottoms, to clear out the silt that clogs the spaces between rocks where mayflies and other insects live – and upon which fish feed…

A final environmental impact statement from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is expected in late April. The federal agency can also impose conditions of its own making. They would be included in a record-of-decision, which is expected to be issued in late 2015.

A permit from the Colorado Department of Health and Environment is also needed. Boulder County insists it also has say-so over enlargement of Gross Reservoir, an assertion contested by Denver Water.

In addition, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission must award a permit for revised hydroelectric generation at Gross.

At earliest, expansion of Gross could start in 2018 and be ready to capture spring runoff in 2022…

The agreement represents a new wave of thinking about impacts of water diversions. The older way of thinking was demonstrated in the Colorado Big-Thompson project. Financed by the federal government, it gave the Western Slope a one-time package, Green Mountain Reservoir, between Kremmling and Silverthorne, to serve Western Slope needs, particularly the farmers near Grand Junction who need water for late-summer fruits and produce. The agreement did not cover a more recent problem seemingly caused by the diversion, algae that obscure the clarity of Grand Lake.

The most recent of of the new agreements since the 1990s provides more living, breathing elasticity. The foundation for the new agreement was announced in 2011 but not finalized until recently. Called the Colorado River Cooperative Agreement, it sharply restricts Denver’s ability to develop new water sources on the Western Slope and also calls for Denver to provide both water and money to address problems in the Vail, Breckenridge and Winter Park areas.

Then, in 2012, came agreements addressing the ambitions by five cities along the northern Front Range to increase the take of spring flows at Windy Gap, similar to what Denver wants to do at the Moffat Tunnel.

The Windy Gap settlement introduced adaptive management, an idea gaining favor in management of rivers of the West for several decades. The essential idea of Learning by Doing, the program embraced for both Windy Gap and the Moffat projects, is that it’s impossible to know exactly what to do in advance…

“In the past, you’d build a project, do the required mitigation and move on. That’s no longer the case. Denver Water is committed to a new way of doing business – one that approaches water management in a way that is collaborative and as beneficial to West Slope interests as possible. The partnership we’ve created through Learning by Doing is permanent. Our commitment is t o work with Grand County, Trout Unlimited and all the partners in Learning by Doing in an ongoing manner permanently into the future.”

More Denver Water coverage here.


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