Runoff/snowpack news: There is little space to store runoff in South Platte River Basin reservoirs

May 30, 2014

Click on a thumbnail graphic for a gallery of snowpack data from the Natural Resources Conservation Service. The melt-out is in full swing.

From 9News.com (Nick McGurk):

“This is one of the best years we’ve had in the last decade or two,” said Brian Werner with Northern Water.

So good, he said that the state could send out the equivalent of five Horsetooth Reservoirs full of water to Nebraska this year because there’s nowhere to store it in Colorado.

“It’s helping Nebraskans, believe me, but it’s water that we have rights to that we’re not putting to use because there’s nowhere to store it,” said Werner.

It’s why he says Colorado needs more reservoirs. Glade Reservoir has been talked about for a decade. It would take water from the Poudre and store it northwest of Fort Collins.

From the Northern Colorado Business Report (Steve Lynn):

Horsetooth Reservoir and Carter Lake, which comprise Northern Colorado’s share of the Colorado-Big Thompson project, are within about one foot of being full, said Brian Werner, spokesman for the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District.

Farmers currently are using river water from ditches to irrigate their cropland, but generally use Colorado-Big Thompson project water later in the summer. The project collects water from the Western Slope and delivers it to the Front Range through a 13-mile tunnel the runs beneath Rocky Mountain National Park.

From the Fort Collins Coloradoan (Ryan Maye Handy):

When the Poudre River surged after a rainy Memorial Day weekend and took the lives of two Greeley residents, it alarmed residents across the state. But even after a wet spring and this year’s heavy snowpack, the Poudre is a long way from causing Fort Collins stormwater managers alarm during this runoff season…

It can be hard to pin down what exactly makes the Poudre’s levels fluctuate — it can be the weather, an irrigator, snow melt or another river, like the North Fork, dumping into it.

The Poudre has been running about twice its normal level since the September 2013 floods, when a year’s worth of rain fell in just days across Colorado. But this year a few other things could be fueling the river’s rise. Spring rains at low elevations, for instance, caused the river to rise during Memorial day weekend. In big snowpack years, snowmelt can drastically change the river’s flow.

Much of Northern Colorado’s snowpack in the mountains west of Fort Collins has yet to melt. The force of snow melt-caused runoff all depends on weather — a steady warming trend will prolong the runoff period, where as a rapid rise in heat over an extended period will fill the river quickly.

Peak runoff flows usually hit the Poudre sometime between late May and mid-June…

Fort Collins has several ways of monitoring the river’s power, one of which is using water gauges in Poudre Park, at the canyon mouth, and at the Lincoln Street bridge.

Fort Collins Utilities has a flood warning engineer and other employees who manage a flood warning system around the clock, said Varella. The city has trigger points — threshold measurements for the water — that trigger flood alerts, exactly the same as those used by the National Weather Service to issue flood alerts…

Several things have to fall into place for the river to seriously flood, and the severity of flooding could depend on when those factors come into play.

But as of Thursday, the Poudre’s level’s were forecast to continue to drop, with a possible spike late Friday due to rain. While the river is moving dangerously fast, and is higher than normal, said Varella, all city stream gauges showed only low warning levels.

From the Summit Daily News (Sebastian Foltz):

River accidents are frequently the result of inexperienced boaters getting into unfamiliar situations. This year, with water flows in rivers already climbing toward peak levels because of rapid snowmelt, there’s some concern among those in the rafting and kayaking industry. While it’s safe for professional guiding companies and experienced boaters, those less familiar with how to read rivers and recognize features may struggle in places where they would be fine during other times of the year.

Stretches of water can change dramatically with higher water flows, making ordinarily tame rivers far more challenging.

With flow levels on some rivers currently as much as 10 times higher than what they might be later in the summer, places like the usually tame Upper Colorado River may be far more technical…

The Upper Colorado, for example, now has flow levels approaching 10,000 cubic feet per second (cfs), when much of the season it runs closer to 500-800 cfs.

From The Denver Post (Tom McGhee):

The Cache la Poudre continues to overflow its banks near Greeley and the National Weather Service has extended a flood warning for the area until further notice.

“That river is expected to stay above flood stage until at least June 3,” NWS meteorologist Todd Dankers said Thursday.

A combination of snow melt, triggered by warm weather, and plentiful rain, has sent water flowing into streams and rivers around the area.

A number of streets, trails and open spaces, are closed near the river, including 71st Avenue, 83rd Avenue and 95th Avenue.

Flood advisories, which are issued when rivers and streams run high, but aren’t in immediate danger of flooding, are in place for the Cache la Poudre at the mouth of the Poudre Canyon, and for the South Platte River near Kersey, which is south of Greeley.

The NWS has also issued flood warnings for Jackson and Grand Counties, Danker said. “Snowmelt and these warming temperatures have things right near the top.”

Flooding in Boulder Creek prompted Sheriff Joe Pelle to close the creek to tubing and single chamber belly flotation devices.

The closure will take effect immediately, and will encompass Boulder Creek from Barker Dam east of Nederland to the Weld County line, north of Erie. The closure includes the section of Boulder Creek that flows through the City of Boulder.

A similar ban on tubing is in effect on the Cache la Poudre in Fort Collins until further notice, the Fort Collins police announced.

Afternoon showers are expected through Saturday, and warm nights, in the high country will assure snow continues to melt, Danker said.

“Emergency mangers are keeping an eye on things and we are going to be watching the radar and when things develop we will issue a warning.”

“The urban corridor stands to have the best chance at rain with storms moving off of the nearby mountains,” according to a Colorado Water Conservation Board flood threat bulletin.

With streams and rivers running high, it won’t take much to trigger more flooding, though major floods like those last year aren’t expected, Danker said.

There is a 30 to 40 percent chance of showers Thursday, a 40 to 50 percent chance on Friday, and 30 percent on Saturday. “Showers are coming up from the south. “The showers on Saturday may have a bit more push to them, but it will depend on where they develop,” Danker said.

From Fox21News (Mark Bullion):

About a year ago, Southern Colorado was mostly under an extreme or exceptional drought, which set the stage for the multiple wildfires that happened.

This year, most of the region is out of a drought status with the exception of the southeastern plains, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor.

“They’ve had a few dust storms, a lot of blowing dirt and not a lot of native grasses to hold that soil down,” said Jennifer Stark, NWS Pueblo Meteorologist.

Southern Colorado has for the most part come out of a drought status because of an above average snow pack this past Winter.

But with the above normal snow amounts some areas of Colorado received, there is a concern of runoff into the Arkansas River as temperatures warm and the snow melts.

“That will be the area from Leadville down to the Pueblo Reservoir depending on how the reservoir is filled,” said Larry Walrod, NWS Pueblo Meteorologist. “Also, some of that water will make it east of Pueblo toward La Junta and Lamar.”

Walrod said as of Thursday morning, Fremont Pass still had a snow pack at 147 percent of average.

“The runoff is just starting to peak and it will be in a state of peak here for the possibly two, three or four weeks,” said Walrod.

Stark said the Climate Prediction Center in Washington D.C. is forecasting above normal amounts of rainfall for the next few months, so she is optimistic Southern Colorado will stay out of a drought or where there is an exceptional drought in the eastern plains, the rain will help saturate the soil resulting in the possibility of some areas being changed to a lower drought status.


Runoff/snowpack news: Wyoming bracing for flooding along the Laramie River

May 28, 2014

Click on a thumbnail graphic for a gallery of snowpack data from the Natural Resources Conservation Service.

From the Laramie Boomerang (Chilton Tippin):

The Laramie River reached 6.3 feet Tuesday in Laramie, entering “moderate-flood” stage. With warming temperatures and rain in the forecast, it could reach 6.7 feet by June 1, according to the National Weather Service. The “major-flooding” threshold is 7 feet.

Nearly 200 volunteers checked in at Woods Landing and Big Laramie Valley Volunteer Fire Department stations Tuesday to pile thousands of sandbags near the rising river…

The Snowy and Sierra Madre ranges got between 3 and 4 feet of snow on Mother’s Day, followed by temperatures warming to above 70 degrees and rainstorms over the weekend, Binning said.

From The Denver Post (Scott Willoughby):

Even in land-locked Colorado, Memorial Day served as a day at the beach for folks across the state.

High water in rivers statewide brought out the adventurous and encouraged others to take a more cautious approach and enjoy the views from dry land as the potential hazards of swift and surging currents began to reveal themselves at the start of what is expected to be a banner year for snowmelt runoff.

“It’s a blessing in that our overall season ends up being really, really good,” said Antony McCoy, head boatman and operations manager for Vail-based Timberline Tours whitewater rafting company. “But during the early season in a year like this, we often have to reroute and run trips differently than normal in the name of safety. Out decisions are always based on safety first and fun second, and we make those decisions day by day.”

With warm temperatures and weekend precipitation boosting flows, Timberline Tours and other established commercial rafting companies were forced to make reroute Memorial Day trips away from the raucous Dowd Chute section of the Eagle River between Minturn and EagleVail. The company institutes a cutoff for commercial trips through the Class IV-plus run when the river broaches 4½ feet on the gauge installed atop Dowd Chute, launching just below the most severe whitewater rapids instead.

“That’s a fun level for expert kayakers, but it gets tricky in a raft,” McCoy said. “And with water this high, most clients don’t really notice the difference. They still love it.”

Ironically, it’s just about the time that many commercial rafting companies begin to take more extreme precautions when many of the most daring decide that conditions are optimal.

A few miles below the Eagle River’s confluence with the Colorado River, the state’s growing cadre of river surfers arrived en masse at the increasingly renowned Glenwood Springs Whitewater Park on Monday. There they were greeted by river flows unseen on the Colorado since the high-water year of 2011, measuring in the neighborhood of 16,000 cubic feet per second below the confluence with the Roaring Fork River.

“I drive up here from Boulder just about every weekend this time of year,” said Ben Smith, a stand-up paddle (SUP) surfer of two years who had never ridden the river at flows above 5,000 cfs before this spring. “This season, I’m going to surf it as much as I can, and every weekend is like a new experience for me. It’s a different wave each time. Better and better.”

Surfers on Monday’s unofficial launch of summer were lined up as many as 10 deep on both sides of the Colorado River at West Glenwood, some with paddles and others with traditional surfboards diving headlong into the raging currents before popping to their feet for rides lasting several minutes. They alternated with — and largely outnumbered — skilled whitewater kayakers performing tricks in the frothy whitewater as spectators on the banks took in the show. One photographer launched a drone above the surfers to capture the action on video.

“This wave is by far my favorite,” Smith added. “A lot of kayak play holes have a big foam pile that’s designed to hold the kayaks in the play spot, whereas this wave is so steep that it’s gravity that’s pulling you down the face of it, which is what an ocean wave does. Plus it’s so clean. You can make these nice big turns on a clean, green wave. It’s the closest thing to ocean surfing I think that you are going to get in Colorado.”

In a state renowned for its paddlesports offerings and participation, it comes as no surprise that Smith and several others have adapted a paddle to the surfing equation. Credit for SUP’s origin goes back to Honolulu, where it was known as “beach boy” surfing by the Hawaiians who used paddles while standing to photograph tourists taking surfing lessons more than 50 years ago. The sport’s recent resurgence on the ocean has rapidly crept inland during the past decade, where it has established a home on and around the beaches of Colorado.

From the Colorado Daily (Sarah Kuta):

The heavy rains and scattered thunderstorms in Boulder County over the weekend gave emergency officials a taste of what may be coming during flash flood season this summer. With the ground still heavily saturated from September’s floods, the rain that fell off and on for multiple days last week pooled in underpasses, streets and drainage areas, and it gave residents of the area burned in the Fourmile Fire of 2010 a short-lived scare. Ultimately, emergency officials said the storms didn’t cause any significant destruction and allowed them to test their plans ahead of what’s sure to be another busy flash flood season in Colorado…

Flash flood season officially began April 1 and ends Sept. 1, though it’s not just local rains and thunderstorms that can cause flooding, Chard said.

Thunderstorms high up in the mountains can cause the snow to melt quickly, prompting spring runoff to accelerate and fill the creeks within the county. Chard added that extra runoff may also occur because the ground is still saturated with water from September’s floods. The water table can stay elevated for a year to 18 months after such a major rain event, Chard said.

All of those factors have led emergency officials to ask residents to be extra vigilant this flash flood season.

“Make sure you’re signed up for emergency warnings, have a plan, have a weather radio,” Chard said. “Pay attention to the skies; pay attention to the forecast.”

From Steamboat Today (Tom Ross):

With 20 inches of water still stacked up in the snow on Rabbit Ears Pass and forecasts of daily high temperatures pushing into the low 80s Wednesday before tapering off to the mid-70s later in the week, the Yampa River in Steamboat Springs has a chance to reach the bank-full stage at the Fifth Street Bridge June 4 to 5. But the current outlook does not foresee it exceeding flood stage of 7.5 feet in the next 11 days.

The Yampa was flowing harmlessly over its banks and bypassing its meanders in the vicinity of Rotary Park as of late Sunday afternoon.

The Elk River at its confluence with the Yampa west of Steamboat is another story. The Colorado Basin River Forecast Center in Salt Lake City, Utah, updated its projected streamflows for the Elk Tuesday morning and reported that the river shot beyond bank-full over the holiday weekend and could nudge flood stage overnight Wednesday and Thursday before dipping just under flood stage again during the daylight hours. A tentative forecast for the Elk, which is weather dependent, anticipates the river will go higher June 1 to 3 but continue to bounce above and below flood stage during its diurnal cycle, which sees peak flows at night…The Elk was flowing at 4,090 cubic feet per second at 4 p.m. Tuesday, and to put that in perspective, it peaked at 6,860 cfs on June 6, 2011. The Yampa, which was flowing at 3,360 cfs Tuesday afternoon, peaked at 5,200 on June 7, 2011.

The snowpack on Rabbit Ears is 175 percent of the median for the date, and some of that snowmelt will inevitably flow down Walton Creek, which passes through the city’s southern suburbs near Whistler Park before running beneath U.S. Highway 40 and quickly into the Yampa.

Soda Creek is another tributary of the Yampa that can create minor flooding in Old Town Steamboat. #City of Steamboat Springs Public Works Department Streets and Fleet Superintendent Ron Berig said Tuesday the creeks become a problem when the Yampa gets so high it backs up its tributaries.

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

With rivers already running high and temperatures expected to rise, the National Weather Service has extended a small-stream flood advisory for Grand County until 9:30 p.m. on Thursday, May 29. Nowell Curran with Grand County’s Office of Emergency Management said her office gave the go ahead to extend the advisory due to a possible increase of runoff into the already swollen Upper Colorado River and its tributaries…

Snowpack in the Upper Colorado River Basin was over 140 percent of its normal level in April, according to a Natural Resources Conservation Service snow survey. Officials said earlier this year that they were preparing for a run-off season comparable to 2011, but Curran said that the worst case scenario could now surpass the destructive flooding Grand County saw that year.

From KUNC (Jackie Fortier):

Northern Colorado’s water storage is nearing capacity headed into the peak season for farm and residential users due to mountain snow melt and rains. Horsetooth Reservoir and Carter Lake are already full.

“We haven’t been this full for a couple years at the two reservoirs,” said Brian Werner, spokesman for Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District.

“We’re anticipating that we’re going to fill our west slope storage as well. Lake Granby the second largest reservoir in the state, we anticipate, that if we don’t fill it up completely we’re going to get very close,” Werner said…

High mountain snow melt and recent rains caused the Big Thompson River to peak at 11 hundred cubic feet per second over the weekend, well above its usual peak of 900 cubic feet per second. The Cache La Poudre peaked at 4700 cubic feet per second over the Memorial Day weekend, it’s normal peak is 3,000 cubic feet per second…

“What it means is we can’t capture much of that water. And most of the local storage, the reservoirs, that people see when they drive around Northern Colorado are full for the most part, so what’s going to happen unless ditches are opened and are ready to take as much of that water as they can, we’re going to see a lot of that water just pass downstream into Nebraska,” he said.

From The Denver Post (Tom McGhee) via the Loveland Reporter-Herald:

The National Weather Service has placed the Cache La Poudre River near Greeley under a flood warning and numerous roads are closed in the area.

“For the most part, the flooding today is snowmelt in the high country,” Evan Kalina, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Boulder, said Tuesday afternoon.

The river was overflowing its banks, with water rising 8.9 feet from the riverbed at 10:30 a.m. Tuesday. It is expected to reach 9 feet by Tuesday evening.

“Once you reach 8 feet, you start to see the water spilling into low-lying areas,” Kalina said.

By 9 a.m. Thursday, water is expected to fall below flood level and the flood warning is expected to be lifted, Kalina said.

Flood advisories — which signal that stream and river levels are higher than normal, but not at flood level — were in effect along the Cache La Poudre, Big Thompson and St. Vrain Rivers in Larimer and Weld counties until 7:15 p.m. Tuesday evening.

Jackson and Grand counties are under flood advisories until 9:30 a.m. Thursday. The area has been hit by thunder and hail storms, and even tornadoes, during the past week or so.

But the chance of rain in the next few days is low, at about 20 percent, Kalina said. Heavier moisture will move in during the weekend, but “at this point it is unlikely that the weather will be as active as it was last week,” Kalina said.

Temperatures are expected to hover in the low to mid-80s for the rest of the week, Kalina said.

From email from Wyoming Governor Matt Mead:

Governor Matt Mead is sending three more Wyoming National Guard teams to Carbon County today. The North Platte River in Saratoga is expected to rise to record levels this week. In total there will be 150 National Guard personnel in Carbon County today. They have been assisting local efforts since this weekend by filling thousands of sandbags.

“This is a tense time for Saratoga and several other communities in Wyoming. I know the local officials, the Wyoming National Guard, the Office of Homeland Security, the Smokebusters and volunteers are working very hard to protect the people and homes. It is a team effort,” Governor Mead said.

There will be 150 National Guard soldiers and airmen, more than 80 volunteers and 24 members of the Smokebusters team, which assists with forest fire fighting and flooding, in Carbon and Albany Counties today. The Wyoming Office of Homeland Security also has personnel across Wyoming working with emergency managers from counties and municipalities.

“This is a comprehensive state response,” said Guy Cameron, Wyoming Office of Homeland Security Director. “Governor Mead has told us to protect Wyoming communities from flooding and we are doing everything possible to make that happen.”

Governor Mead increased the numbers of Guard personnel deployed to Saratoga today due to warmer temperatures and increased rainfall.

“It’s an important mission for us to keep Wyoming residents safe during flood season and to support local prevention efforts,” said Maj. Gen. Luke Reiner, Wyoming’s Adjutant General.

Photos of Guard operations can be found at http://www.flickr.com/photos/wyoguard.


CWCB approves dough for projects in the South Platte River Basin

May 26, 2014
Proposed Chatfield Reservoir reallocation pool -- Graphic/USACE

Proposed Chatfield Reservoir reallocation pool — Graphic/USACE

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

The bull’s-eye for the state’s municipal water gap is centered over the Denver south metro area, which continues to boom in population.

Last week in Pueblo, the Colorado Water Conservation Board took a couple of actions that could keep that growth from sucking up water supplies from the rest of the state. The CWCB approved more than $100 million in loans to help water districts and some farmers in the area increase storage in Chatfield Reservoir and to expand a pipeline that will make their systems more efficient.

“There is a significant commitment to moving forward,” South Metro Water Authority Executive Director Eric Hecox told the CWCB Thursday. Representatives of various member districts filled the meeting room at the Pueblo Convention Center. The South Metro group includes 14 water districts that primarily rely on non-renewable Denver Basin groundwater to serve 300,000 people.

In a 2007 study, the group identified the Arkansas and Colorado river basins as areas where future pipelines might bring more water to the communities south of Denver. In recent years, other efforts to consolidate and boost resources have been identified, at least delaying more costly plans to import water.

One of those ways is a $145 million plan to add 20,600 acre-feet of storage accounts in Chatfield. The reallocation project to use the flood-control reservoir for supply storage has been in the works 20 years.

The CWCB approved $84 million in loans to the Centennial, Castle Pines and the Castle Pines North water and sanitation districts, as well as the Center of Colorado (Park County) and the Central Colorado (agricultural wells between Denver and Fort Morgan) water conservancy districts. For the urban users, the new accounts will allow greater ability to stretch existing supplies. For the agricultural users, it could mean turning on some of the wells that were shut off nearly a year ago.

The CWCB also approved $25 million to help four districts buy and expand the East Cherry Creek Valley Pipeline. Those districts are Cottonwood, Inverness, Parker and Pinery. The ECCV pipeline is a $147 million project to improve distribution for 10 districts in Douglas and Arapahoe counties, and is part of the Water Infrastructure and Supply Efficiency Project. That project also allows the districts to use excess capacity in Aurora’s Prairie Waters Project to capture and redistribute return flows from Denver water and Aurora.

One of the components also includes Parker Reservoir, which provides additional storage for some WISE participants.

More CWCB coverage here.


Weather news: Impressive rain totals on the north side of Colorado

May 24, 2014

Click on a thumbnail graphic to view some precipitation data from this morning. The orange dots on the CoCoRaHS map are upstream from Weld County.


Denver Water and the DWR reach agreement for Dillon Reservoir to mitigate flood risk along the Blue River should the need arise

May 23, 2014

morninggloryspillwaydillonreservoir

From the Summit Daily News (Joe Moylan):

The Colorado Division of Water Resources recently signed off on a first-of-its-kind proposal that could significantly reduce the risk of catastrophic flooding events in Summit County.

The plan, proposed by Bob Steger, manager of Raw Water Supply for Denver Water, would allow the state’s largest water utility to divert excess flows from Lake Dillon to the Front Range by way of the Roberts Tunnel in order to prevent a destructive water event in Summit County, most notably in Silverthorne.

Summit County Emergency Management director Joel Cochran said earlier this month during a Summit County Commission workshop that record snowpack combined with unseasonably warm spring and early summer temperatures could cause flooding on a magnitude not seen in two decades in the Blue River Watershed.

According to data Cochran presented during the commission’s first meeting in May, this season’s total snowpack consists of the equivalent of 17 to 20 inches of rainwater. It’s the highest concentration of snowpack in Summit County since 1995, the last year there was significant flooding in Summit County, Cochran said.

In addition to record snowpack, Cochran said spring and early summer temperatures are hovering between 6 and 10 degrees above normal throughout the state. Although Summit County last week caught a break from unseasonably warm temperatures, the return of spring has local officials concerned that the runoff could be triggered earlier than usual.

Historically, runoff in Summit County begins the first week of June, peaks about the middle of the month and ends before early July, Cochran said.

However, floods aren’t triggered by mountain runoff or even an accelerated runoff, Cochran said.

“A lot of people remember 2011 when we lost Coyne Valley (Road), but you can’t have (extreme) flooding due solely to spring runoff,” Cochran said. “We lost Coyne Valley because we had a major rain event when the Blue River was at peak water.”

With this season’s snowpack, it’s almost a certainty the Blue River will reach its capacity of 1,800 cubic feet per second of water at some point in the coming weeks, said Summit County assistant manager Thad Noll. If Summit County receives a significant rain event while the Blue is peaking, the damage could be extensive all over the county, but particularly in Silverthorne.

“Silverthorne got by relatively unscathed once in the past when the Blue reached 2,100 cfs, but anything higher than that and we’re trying to keep Silverthorne from getting washed down to the Sea of Cortez,” Noll said. “Denver Water’s proposal would relieve that pressure on the Blue by sending excess water to Denver in the event of a flood.”

That water would be transported by way of an underground aqueduct known as the Roberts Tunnel, which was constructed to carry water more than 23 miles from Lake Dillon to the North Fork of the South Platte River, where it is then distributed to several other reservoirs in and around Denver. Each year, water from the Blue River and Lake Dillon accounts for about 40 percent of the water annually collected and stored on the Front Range.

The South Platte’s capacity is about 680 cfs, according to a letter by Steger, which means up to that much water could be sent through the tunnel to the Front Range. Depending on South Platte flows, the water diverted downtown could relieve a significant amount of strain on the Blue River should it reach critical mass.

However, prior to receiving approval, Noll said the idea sparked an interesting debate among West Slope water advocates who opposed the proposal. Although Lake Dillon is owned and operated by Denver Water, it was previously prohibited from sending water to the South Platte if Front Range reservoirs were full.

Opponents were particularly critical of the idea to divert water to Denver considering Front Range reservoirs are expected to reach capacity this year.

“It raises an interesting question because the Blue River’s natural flow is toward the Colorado River,” Noll said. “The debate was whether saving the tiny town of Silverthorne, Colorado supersedes the rights of stakeholders down the line.”

The Colorado Office of the State Engineer thinks that it does, so long as Denver Water doesn’t cause flooding on the Front Range in trying to prevent the same in Summit County.

More Blue River watershed coverage 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.


Marijuana and federal water projects

May 20, 2014
Pueblo dam spilling

Pueblo dam spilling

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

The Bureau of Reclamation will not allow federally controlled water to be used to grow marijuana in Colorado and Washington, according to a temporary policy issued Tuesday. [ed. emphasis mine] The news comes as local water providers and ditch companies have been struggling with the issue.

In fact, the Pueblo Board of Water Works, which has contracts with Reclamation, has scheduled a discussion at Tuesday’s meeting on whether it would make water available to marijuana-growing operations that will be licensed by the city of Pueblo.

Pueblo gets a small part of its water from Reclamation, but has contracts for storage in Lake Pueblo and for connection at Pueblo Dam that might be affected by the policy.

St. Charles Mesa water district already has prohibited using its water to grow marijuana on land where federally supplied water is used. Pueblo West and the Bessemer Ditch have not prohibited the use of their water supplies for marijuana grows.s

Here is the complete news release issued from Reclamation to the media Tuesday morning:

“The Bureau of Reclamation has issued a Temporary Policy on the Use of Reclamation Water or Facilities for Activities Prohibited by the Controlled Substances Act of 1970. Dan DuBray, Chief of Public Affairs, issues the following statement:

“As a federal agency, Reclamation is obligated to adhere to federal law in the conduct of its responsibilities to the American people.

“Among the 17 states Reclamation serves, Washington, Colorado and others have taken actions that decriminalize the cultivation of marijuana. Water districts and providers that receive water from Reclamation within those states have requested a decision on whether the delivery of Reclamation water to their customers is approved for those purposes.

“Reclamation will operate its facilities and administer its water-related contracts in a manner that is consistent with the Controlled Substances Act of 1970, as amended. This includes locations where state law has decriminalized or authorized the cultivation of marijuana. Reclamation will refer any inconsistent uses of federal resources of which it becomes aware to the Department of Justice and coordinate with the proper enforcement authorities. Reclamation will continue to work with partner water districts and providers to ensure their important obligations can continue to be met.”

From the Huffington Post (Matt Ferner, Mollie Reilly):

The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, which oversees management of federal water resources, “is evaluating how the Controlled Substances Act applies in the context of Reclamation project water being used to facilitate marijuana-related activities,” said Peter Soeth, a spokesman for the bureau. He said the evaluation was begun “at the request of various water districts in the West.”

Local water districts in Washington state and Colorado, where recreational marijuana is now legal, contract with federal water projects for supplies. Officials from some of those water districts said they assume the feds are going to turn off the spigots for marijuana growers.

“Certainly every indication we are hearing is that their policy will be that federal water supplies cannot be used to grow marijuana,” said Brian Werner at Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District, which handles approximately one-third of all water for northeastern Colorado and is the Bureau of Reclamation’s second-largest user in the number of irrigated acres…

A Department of Justice official told HuffPost it has no comment on the water issue. The Bureau of Reclamation is likely to announce a decision this month. “We’re going to work with our water districts once that decision is made,” Soeth said.

Marijuana advocates condemned the possibility of a federal water ban for state-legal crops. Mason Tvert, communications director for Marijuana Policy Project and key backer of Amendment 64, which legalized marijuana for recreational use in Colorado, criticized the hypocrisy of a federal government that would prevent water access to some legal businesses and not others.

“If water is so precious and scarce that it can’t be used for state-legal marijuana cultivation, it shouldn’t be used for brewing and distilling more harmful intoxicating substances like beer and liquor,” Tvert said…

Growing in Denver, home to the majority of Colorado marijuana dispensaries, likely wouldn’t notice a shortage if the Bureau of Reclamation cuts off federal water.

“Because we are not a federal contractor, we would not be affected,” said Travis Thompson, spokesman for Denver Water, the main water authority for the state’s capital and surrounding suburbs.

But many other regions of the state rely on federal water. In Pueblo, about two hours south of Denver, about 20 percent of regional water is Reclamation-controlled. Although the remaining 80 percent of the region’s water is locally controlled, it passes through the Pueblo Dam, operated under Bureau of Reclamation authority.

“Yes, they come through a federal facility, but the federal facility is required to let those water right to pass,” Pueblo Board of Water Works executive director Terry Book said to southern Colorado’s NBC-affiliate KOAA.

The St. Charles Mesa Water District, another Pueblo-area water facility, has already imposed a moratorium on supplying water to marijuana businesses until the Bureau of Reclamation settles the issue…

The potential water ban has already set off local opposition. The Seattle Times’ editorial board urged the Bureau of Reclamation to allow federal water contracts to be used by marijuana farmers.

“The bureau has never had — nor should it have — a stake in what crop is planted. That’s a basic tenet of the 1902 National Reclamation Act, which created the bureau and transformed the arid American west,” read the May 4 editorial. “Yet the federal government is now threatening to forget that history, because some regulators are queasy about Washington and Colorado’s experimentation with marijuana legalization.”

As the Times’ board points out, there is some precedent for the Justice Department to stand down on the water issue. Last August, Attorney General Eric Holder told the governors of Washington and Colorado that the DOJ wouldn’t intervene in the states’ legal pot programs. And earlier this year, federal officials issued guidelines expanding access to financial services for legal marijuana businesses, so long as the business doesn’t violate certain legal priorities outlinedby the Justice Department.

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

The Pueblo Board of Water Works today will discuss issues surrounding the supply of water to marijuana growers. The Pueblo City Council has adopted zoning regulations that allow marijuana to be grown within city limits, but not sold. City legal staff is working on how those rules will be written. Providing water for growers is a different matter, with some questions still unresolved.

While Colorado and Washington state voters legalized marijuana in 2012, it remains a federal crime. Pueblo is affected because it has federal contracts for storage in Lake Pueblo.

Pueblo also has direct flow rights that pass through Pueblo Dam, as well as a contract for connection to the dam.

“We’re trying to evaluate issues that might arise with the Bureau of Reclamation,” said Executive Director Terry Book. “So far, there have been no court cases you can hang your hat on with any certainty.”

There have been requests to provide water to growing operations both within and outside city limits, Book added.

“We just don’t know the answers yet,” he said.

After receiving legal advice prior to the meeting in executive session, the Pueblo water board will convene at 2 p.m. today in the William F. Mattoon Board Room of the Alan Hamel Administration Building at 319 W. Fourth St.

Reclamation still is evaluating how water supply fits in under the Controlled Substances Act, because it provides irrigation water for land in both Washington and Colorado. It’s not known what the decision will be or when it will be reached, said Peter Soeth, Reclamation spokesman in Denver.

The state Division of Water Resources has taken the position so far that one type of crop is the same as any other, but also is awaiting the decision on federal policy.

Another Pueblo County water provider, the St. Charles Mesa Water District, already has banned use of its water to grow marijuana.

Two Rivers Water & Farming Co. has formed a subsidiary called GrowCo that will use some of its privately held water rights for marijuana growing.

Pueblo West and the Bessemer Ditch have not adopted rules prohibiting water use by marijuana growers.


Denver Water recycled water for the Rocky Mountain Arsenal? CDPHE says not so fast.

May 20, 2014
Rocky Mountain Arsenal -- 1947

Rocky Mountain Arsenal — 1947

From The Denver Post (Bruce Finley):

Even with Colorado’s push to rely more on recycled water, the Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge will spend another summer using millions of gallons of Denver’s drinking water to fill lakes and irrigate fields after a recent decision by state health officials.

Federal wildlife biologists calculate they’re drawing more than 82 million gallons of Denver drinking water a year to fill three once-toxic lakes at the refuge, formerly a nerve gas and pesticides plant that became an environmental disaster.

“This refuge needs water, and using recycled water to fulfill a portion of our needs is a wise choice for the future,” refuge manager Dave Lucas said. Denver recycled water “meets our needs and allows millions and millions of gallons of drinking water to be put to better use by Denver residents.”

But the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment last week reaffirmed its position that the refuge must go through a process of proving why it should be allowed to use water that is not as clean and submit to an Environmental Protection Agency review.

A $2.1 billion cleanup of toxic pollution included restoration of the lakes for catch-and-release fishing and to store water, which wildlife managers use to irrigate the 27-square-mile refuge — habitat for bison and other species.

Until the drought of 2002, High Line Canal agricultural water trickled into the lakes. Groundwater pumping added more water. CDPHE at some point — it was not clear when — reclassified the lakes as water supplies, and refuge managers made a deal with Denver to use drinking water, which started in 2008.

Then, in 2009, CDPHE reclassified the lakes as water bodies, meaning “an important social or economic development” reason for allowing lesser-quality water must be demonstrated. State officials, on an emergency basis in May 2013, agreed to remove the water supply classification on the refuge lakes but still require the proof of a public purpose before water quality can be reduced.

Frustrated refuge managers, backed by Denver Water and the Denver Museum of Nature & Science, have been pressing to use recycled water and putting in the plumbing to do so.

Denver Water has spent more than $197 million installing a citywide 80-mile network of pipelines that distribute partially treated recycled water to parks, golf courses and the Denver Zoo. The museum uses recycled water in its new heating and cooling system.

All sides agree that using more recycled water is a priority.

But CDPHE Water Quality Control commissioners on May 13 voted 5-4 to reject a request to reconsider — so the refuge must go through a “necessity of degradation demonstration” review to be able to use recycled water.

“We want to support use of recycled water. But we cannot do it by bending the rules,” CDPHE water quality standards chief Sarah Johnson said. “The best solution is for them to complete the necessity of degradation determination. It isn’t a heavy lift. We have promised to help.”

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service managers of the refuge say the analysis for the review would not cost much but would require spending $10,000 to $15,000 a year more for water monitoring. They said new analysis would have to be done every three to five years, tied to permitting, creating uncertainty because state officials could ask for operational and infrastructure changes during reviews.

Lucas said even if they were to have something to present by the June commissioners’ meeting, it would be October at the earliest for the water switch if everything was approved.

Denver Water officials have been working aggressively since 2004 to increase use of recycled water, saving 7,000 acre-feet of drinking water a year, utility recycled water director Jenny Murray said.

Switching to recycled water at the refuge is the correct solution, Murray said. “It’s the right use because we are trying to preserve drinking water supplies for a growing population in a water-scarce region. Using drinking water for uses that do not require drinking water is wasteful.”

Denver Water attorneys in a May 6 letter to CDPHE argue that state lawmakers have ordered efforts to “encourage the reuse of reclaimed domestic wastewater.” Denver Water contends CDPHE decisions undermine state policy, waste public resources and defy common sense by imposing a needless bureaucratic burden.

One of Denver’s new recycled water pipelines runs by the Denver Museum of Nature & Science to the refuge. A steady, year-round flow of recycled water in that pipeline is required to ensure sufficient flow to run the museum’s innovative new geothermal heating and cooling system, which was funded by a federal grant to boost energy efficiency.

“When we designed our system three to four years ago, both Denver Water and the refuge folks felt that obtaining a permit to discharge recycled water into the lakes at the refuge would not be a problem,” said Dave Noel, museum vice president for facilities, capital projects and sustainability.

CDPHE’s stance “has got all of us scratching our heads,” Noel said.

Museum officials sent a May 8 letter to CDPHE arguing that “the loss of 17,000 acres of thriving wildlife and fish habitat due to lack of water would be a severe blow to the state and the Front Range, and simply does not make sense when a logical solution seems readily available.”

At the refuge, future water needs are projected as high as 456 million gallons a year. Beyond Denver Water, wildlife managers rely heavily on pumping water from underground aquifers into the Mary, Ladora and Lower Derby lakes — pumping they are trying to reduce by using more recycled water, which is cheaper than drinking water. They calculate the federal water bill could be cut by $30,000 a year.

A thriving bison herd is growing, with 11 calves born this spring, pushing the population to 81. An adult bison can eat around 50 pounds of grass a day. A team of biologists recently had to reduce the herd to prevent exhaustion of the short-grass prairie. Plans call for expanding bison habitat to allow a herd of 209 bison, which would roam up to the road to Denver International Airport, where a visitor viewing station is envisioned. Not having reliable recycled water will limit the bison herd and lead to decreased numbers of waterfowl, fish and grassland birds, Lucas said.

“We’re probably not going to irrigate this summer, which is bad for habitat restoration,” he said, “or we will have to drain down the lakes to irrigate.”

Lucas remains puzzled by the entire process.

“We’re talking about the same recycled water used everywhere. But somehow the refuge is different? Lots of smart people are looking at this, and no one can figure it out,” he said. “We engaged in this year-long process with hopes of fixing their error — the water supply change. Why would we want to engage in another unknown and uncertain process that will last months, if not years?”

More South Platte River Basin coverage here.


Legislative flood disaster committee will continue to meet #COflood

May 18, 2014
Plume of subtropical moisture streaming into Colorado September 2013 via Weather5280

Plume of subtropical moisture streaming into Colorado September 2013 via Weather5280

From Greeley Tribune (T.M. Fasano):

The Flood Disaster Study Committee, which was created to recommend legislative responses to the flooding that impacted the Front Range last September, will continue to meet even after the charter for the committee ended at the conclusion of the 2014 Colorado legislative session last Wednesday.

The committee will look at spring run-off on areas impacted by the flood, as well as any other issue that might arise. Several flood relief bills were passed as a result of the bipartisan efforts of the committee.

Weld County representatives on the 12-member committee are Rep. Dave Young, D-Greeley; Sen. Scott Renfroe, R-Greeley; and Rep. Steve Humphrey, R-Severance. Young and Renfroe are co-chairmen of the committee.

Other representatives on the committee include Reps. Jonathan Singer (D-Longmont), Mike Foote (D-Lafayette), Brian DelGrosso (R-Loveland) and Jerry Sonnenberg (R-Sterling); Sens. Matt Jones (D-Louisville), John Kefalas (D-Fort Collins), Jeanne Nicholson (D-Black Hawk), Kent Lambert (R-Colorado Springs) and Kevin Lundberg (R-Berthoud).

“We’ll wait and see how the spring run-off goes and get the coalition of people back together and see if the legislators heard anything from their areas that still needs to be addressed,” Renfroe said. “I think we’ve had a couple of issues come up, so we may have one or two more meetings through the rest of this year to study the impacts and if there’s anything else that can be done next year.”

More 2014 Colorado legislation coverage here.

Evans Colorado September 2013 via TheDenverChannel.com

Evans Colorado September 2013 via TheDenverChannel.com

Meanwhile, two Evans manufactured home parks have started their clean up efforts. Here’s a report from Analisa Romano writing for The Greeley Tribune:

T he owners of the two Evans mobile home parks devastated in the September flood have finally begun to clear the debris.

Cleanup efforts at Eastwood Village and Bella Vista mobile home parks follow a great deal of consternation from public health officials, who in February warned home-cleaning chemicals, trash, old food and mold left in the piles of flood debris would warm and putrefy with summer temperatures.

The park owners, faced with high cleanup costs and questions about how to legally remove damaged structures that didn’t belong to them, did not address those concerns until now.

Bella Vista at this point has removed a “significant” amount of debris and shouldn’t pose a health risk, said Mark Wallace, executive director of Weld County’s Department of Public Health and Environment.

Eastwood Village has removed less debris. Perry Glantz, an attorney representing Eastwood owner Keith Cowan, said Cowan has found a number of entities interested in the damaged homes — some to take to salvage yards and others to use the frames or other materials to build things like chicken coops or on-site construction offices.

Glantz said those entities will remove the structures themselves, meaning they may not be totally cleared from the Eastwood property for another 30-60 days.

Wallace said the county has personnel monitoring the sites weekly, but they have so far not been a problem, nor has the county received any complaints.

“At this point in time, we do not see any nuisance, and we see progress being made,” Wallace said.

While the Eastwood site is getting cleared for good, Bella Vista owner Jim Feehan said he is preparing for redevelopment.

He said he isn’t sure what will go there until he knows if he will receive some kind of disaster funding assistance. Feehan said his park will likely be more competitive for assistance if he doesn’t rebuild a park, but he said he hopes to know more within six months. Kristan Williams, Evans’ communications manager, said Bella Vista is better positioned for redevelopment because it is farther from the South Platte River.

But at Eastwood, which is closer to the river, rebuilding with new floodplain requirements adopted by the Evans City Council would be cost-prohibitive, Cowan has said. Glantz said Cowan’s lawsuit against the City of Evans for changing its floodplain rules is still underway, with a trial set for August.

“It’s just not realistic,” Glantz said of the multi-million dollar adjustments Cowan would have to make to keep his park. “They (the city) have taken his business, basically.”

Cowan is paying his staff to do surface cleanup and haul away trash, but has worked out individual deals with those interested in recovering the structures, Glantz said. He said Eastwood ultimately went through the state to get a certificate of abandonment to legally remove the demolished trailers, most of which were owned by those who lived in them.

Feehan, on the other hand, has gone through a hybrid process of either getting titles to the homes that were owned or getting an abandoned title. To obtain a title to an abandoned home, Feehan said he had to go through a multiple-month process of notifications, appraisals and bonds. For other homes, the owners gave him certificates of destruction or the title.

For Glenn Smithey, an Eastwood resident who completely lost his home, handing over the title was a matter of principal he said he couldn’t bear.

“I paid my trailer off the same day it went under,” Smithey said.

He said for that reason, he did not want to give Cowan the title to his home.

Smithey said he was originally told to clear his property himself, but he could not feasibly pay for its removal, and he had been warned not to go anywhere near the debris for health reasons.

Cowan eventually got an abandoned title to Smithey’s home so it could be removed.

From The Greeley Tribune (Analisa Romano):

John Morris was already considering a run for Evans mayor when the September flood literally shook the foundations of his home and those of his neighbors. Some might have looked at the devastation, including hundreds of displaced residents from obliterated mobile home parks and millions of dollars in damage done to the city’s infrastructure, and turned the other way. But Morris found the flood, with all of its devastation, also offered an opportunity for the city to redevelop in a way that helps residents for years to come.

“These are 50-year, 100-year decisions,” Morris said of redevelopment. “We need to make sure it’s right the first time.”

Now, the 52-year-old Nebraska native is taking charge of those decisions as the new Evans mayor. After about a month in the hot seat, Morris said things are going well.

Morris served as Evans’ mayor pro-tem for four years and is a former member of the city’s Planning Commission. He said having some experience, too, moved him to step up at a time when he knew Evans would need some experienced leadership.

Flood recovery continues to take center stage as one of Evans’ greatest challenges, Morris said. He said the city faces some big decisions on what to do with the flood-damaged wastewater treatment facility and city park.

New EPA standards and an anticipated growth in Evans residents means the city will have to decide whether to relocate the facility, Morris said, along with decisions on how to keep Evans’ enterprise funds, such as water rates, self-sufficient, and setting aside money for capital projects to sustain growth.

Water storage and acquisition — the Windy Gap and the Northern Integrated Supply Project — and how to contribute funding to those things, are also on Morris’ radar.

Morris owns his own business — EVCO Investigations, LLC, a criminal investigation and surveillance service — and has lived in Evans for 18 years with his wife. Morris has four kids, the youngest of whom attends Frontier Academy in Greeley. The others are grown and live in the Greeley and Denver areas.

Morris said Evans’ past mayor, Lyle Achziger, was a great mentor over the years.

“One of the hardest things I have probably ever done was tell Lyle goodbye,” Morris said. “I could only hope to be half of the mayor he was.”


Greeley takes second place in nationwide water conservation challenge

May 18, 2014

Longmont, Lyons, Boulder County officials take aerial look at St. Vrain flood area — Longmont Times-Call #COflood

May 18, 2014
New Saint Vrain River channel after the September 2013 floods -- photo via the Longmont Times-Call

New Saint Vrain River channel after the September 2013 floods — photo via the Longmont Times-Call

From the Longmont Times-Call (Scott Rochat):

“I thought it was really useful to see how it all fits together, the roads and the creeks and how they all influence each other,” said county transportation director George Gerstle. “The creeks go where they want to go, and we need to remember that as we rebuild.”

One of the biggest rebuilding projects will be taking place over the next five to 10 years. Longmont plans to deepen and widen the St. Vrain’s channel and replace all of its bridges from Hover Street to Martin Street, to make the river capable of carrying a 100-year flood through the city — 10,000 cubic feet per second. Prior to the flood, the channel could hold 5,000 cfs; these days, choked and clogged from the disaster, its limit is about 2,500 cfs.

To aid the $65 million to $80 million project, Longmont is putting a $20 million storm drainage project on the ballot June 24.

“Folks in town are going to love us, and they’re going to hate us,” said Longmont public works director Dale Rademacher, referring to the coming construction. “Traveling north-south in Longmont is going to be difficult over the next five to 10 years.”

Simonsen said she was relieved at the level of Ralph Price, currently at about 6,000 acre-feet. (Its maximum is about 8,000.)

“That makes me feel good,” she said. “That tells me there’s a bit of room in there for spring runoff.”

The water level has been adjusted up and down to help the flood work, with the reservoir holding back water while repairs went on to the area’s ditches and river banks, and also letting water go so that the logs left in the reservoir by the flood could be safely grounded before they sank in the lake.

Runoff began about two weeks ago and, despite high snowpacks, has not yet hit the levels some feared. A river gauge at Lyons showed the flow at about 255 cfs over the weekend; its highest levels so far have been around 350 cfs, right at the start of runoff.


Colorado Foundation for Water Education’s “Urban Waters Bike Tour” recap

May 17, 2014


It was a grand time the other day cycling along the South Platte and hearing about current projects, operations, hopes and plans.

The tour was from the Confluence of Clear Creek and the South Platte River to Confluence Park where Cherry Creek joins the river.

Along the way we heard about Clear Creek, water quality in the South Platte Basin, infrastructure investments, and education programs.

A recurring theme was the effort to reach out to a younger generation through the school system.

Darren Mollendor explained that the program he honchos attempts to get the students to connect to their neighborhood parks. This includes an understanding of pollution, pollution abatement, and habitat improvement. He invited us all to go camping at Cherry Creek Reservoir when students from the upper and lower Cherry Creek watershed get together later this summer.

Michael Bouchard (Denver Parks and Recreation) detailed planned improvements along the river through Denver. Most of the new facilities will also have an education focus, including native flora at some locations.

Metro Wastewater is one of the largest clean water utilities in the nation, according to Steve Rogowski. The Metro District is directing a huge investment to comply with tougher treatment standards.

At the Burlington Ditch diversion Gray Samenfink explained operations under the ditch. The ditch is a supply for Barr Lake, other reservoirs, and direct irrigators. Several municipalities also take water off the ditch. The new diversion and flood control structure replaced the old dam at the location.

Caitlin Coleman (Colorado Foundation for Water Education) was tasked with keeping the tour on track. That was no easy task. When you get young and older, students, water resources folks, educators, conservationists, scientists, attorneys, engineers, and ditch riders together there’s going to be a lot of stuff to talk about.

Click here to go to the CFWE website. Become a member while you are there. That way you’ll know about these cool events in advance so you won’t miss the fun.

More Colorado Foundation for Water Education coverage here.


ASARCO hopes to tap into Union Pacific for some dough for Vasquez Blvd. & I-70 superfund site

May 16, 2014

unionpacificunit4065

From The Denver Post (Kirk Mitchell):

Asarco wants the Union Pacific Railroad Co. to pay for part of the cleanup of a Superfund site where arsenic leached into Denver groundwater from rail tracks.

A lawsuit before the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals says Union Pacific should reimburse Asarco for some of the $1.5 million environmental cleanup of 4 square miles near Vasquez Boulevard and Interstate 70 known as the Vasquez site, where gold, zinc, lead and other metals were smelted.

Asarco, a Phoenix-based mining and refinery company, has paid a total of $1.8 billion at 20 Superfund sites around the country, including the much larger Globeville site in north Denver.

In its lawsuit, Asarco claims that Union Pacific used mine tailings in rail beds traversing the Vasquez site. The tailings used to support the rail lines leached into surface and groundwater, resulting in elevated levels of arsenic and lead, the lawsuit says.

But Union Pacific met all of its financial obligations related to the Vasquez site in a court-approved June 2009 settlement between the railroad, the government and Asarco, said attorney Carolyn McIntosh, who represents the railroad.

“It was a full resolution,” McIntosh told a panel of three circuit court judges in Denver on Wednesday morning.

Pepsi-Cola Metropolitan Bottling Co., a New Jersey company that owns some of the property on the Vasquez site, also is named as a defendant in the lawsuit, which was filed in December 2012.

Asarco attorney Gregory Evans said the Vasquez site is just one of many around the country that Union Pacific polluted. He estimated that cleanup costs for all the sites would be in the hundreds of millions of dollars. “Union Pacific has negatively impacted human health and the environment through its use and abandonment of mining waste along (railroad tracks),” Evans said Wednesday.

Federal District Magistrate Judge Michael Watanabe previously has ruled that Asarco failed to file its lawsuit within the statute of limitations.

Asarco attorney Duncan Getchell said Watanabe erred because the effective date of the settlement involving Union Pacific and Pepsi-Cola is Dec. 9, 2012, when Asarco’s bankruptcy was finalized.

More water pollution coverage here.


7News finds polypropylene microbeads in samples from the South Platte River

May 15, 2014
Polypropylene microbeads via CBS Chicago

Polypropylene microbeads via CBS Chicago

From TheDenverChannel.com (Theresa Marchetta, Catherine Shelley, Marianne McKiernan):

In the first known test for the small plastic beads in the river, CALL7 Investigators hired experts to test water samples. The results confirmed that the plastic microbeads from toothpastes, face washes, body washes, shampoos, eyeliners, lip glosses and deodorants had indeed made it through the state’s filtration systems and into the river…

Before our test, Greg Cronin, an aquatic ecologist and professor of integrated biology at CU Denver, told CALL7 Investigator Theresa Marchetta, “I’m sure if you went downstream of the Metro Wastewater Reclamation District, where basically the sewage system for Denver, where all these microbeads pass through…you would probably be able to find these microbeads.”

He added, “People might not have just looked yet.”

Cronin was correct. We found no one is testing for microbeads in Colorado. So we did our own test, sending water samples collected from the South Platte River to a specialized lab in Marietta, Ga., where they confirmed “polypropylene,” or plastic was floating in the water.

Polyethylene and polypropylene are the same types of plastic used to make milk jugs, bottles and other common household containers.

The Water Quality Control Division declined our request for an interview, but an email from Meghan Trubee, spokeswoman for Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment said,

“Drinking water treatment would capture and remove microbeads during the treatment process eliminating them from drinking water supplies. At this time, our work has not focused on this emerging issue nor have microbeads been brought to our attention specifically. Our research regarding microbeads reveals that this is an emerging issue.”

Some of the microbeads are easy to identify, like the ones found in face scrubs or toothpastes. Crest says the plastic is added to several of that brand’s toothpastes as “a safe, inactive ingredient used to provide color.”[...]

“Plastics don’t degrade. They actually just break into smaller particles of plastics,” said Cronin, the aquatic ecologist and biology professor. “The particles can be as small as a micron, the size of a bacterial cell, so that you wouldn’t be able to see them with the naked eye.”

According to Cronin, these plastics by nature attract toxic compounds like pesticides, and, ironically, are often used to remove harmful chemicals from water, which leads to other concerns.

“That same property causes these plastics to absorb these same toxins in the environment, so when an animal ingests it they’re getting extremely high concentrations of these pesticides and other industrial chemicals,” said Cronin. Then humans consume the toxins when they eat the fish or animals who have ingested the plastics.

Manufacturers using the microbeads in toothpaste readily admit the plastic serves no real purpose. There’s no flavor, nor any cleaning benefits. Lobbying efforts have created a greater awareness of this issue and some manufacturers set timelines to remove the plastics from their products.

Procter and Gamble, the manufacturer of Crest, stated in an email to CALL7 Investigators, “We are discontinuing our limited use of micro plastic beads as scrub materials in personal care products as soon as alternatives are qualified.”

Cronin says if you’re not thinking about microbeads, you should be.

“Yes we should care,” said Cronin. “What we should do is stop using them in the products, especially products that get flushed down the sink, immediately.”

More water pollution coverage here.


Water treatment plant for Windsor?

May 13, 2014
The water treatment process

The water treatment process

From the Fort Collins Coloradoan (Erin Udell):

The town has always purchased its water from suppliers. Currently, it has three providers: Fort Collins-Loveland Water District, North Weld County Water District and the city of Greeley.

But by purchasing its treated water and not having access to a water treatment facility of its own, Windsor loses something: control.

“As long as people are going to build houses, we’re going to need water,” Windsor’s Director of Finance Dean Moyer said, referring to Windsor’s continued growth in recent years. “And, being that we don’t have our own plant, we’re always controlled by someone else.”

Moyer said the town has always kicked around the idea of having its own water treatment facility.

“It comes up every year and we talk about it, but up until now it seems to be getting more serious, you know?” Moyer said. “We really need to do something here.”

Twenty-five years ago, when the town’s population was roughly 5,062, Windsor residents used a total of 335 million gallons annually, according to Windsor Director of Engineering Dennis Wagner.

Now, with that population more than quadrupled, residents use about 650 million gallons of water per year…

Windsor is currently one of 15 participants in Northern Water’s Northern Integrated Supply Project (NISP). The regional water supply project aims to provide its participants with 40,000 acre-feet of new water supply each year through the Glade Reservoir and Poudre Valley Canal.

The town also has been involved in conversations with a handful of other Northern Colorado communities about the possibility of sharing a regional water treatment facility.

Arnold said eight municipalities, including Windsor, Severance, Loveland, Eaton and Milliken, and water districts like Fort Collins-Loveland, Central Weld and Little Thompson are involved.

A feasibility study for the possible treatment facility has been conducted, Arnold added, and it would cost Windsor anywhere from $11 million to $17 million to buy in at a certain capacity level.

The next step for the possible project is the formation of an authority that would be responsible for building the regional plant, Arnold said, adding that the communities involved just initiated that discussion about a month ago.

More water treatment coverage here.


Environment: Feds release final study on Denver Water’s proposed new transmountain water diversions

May 12, 2014

Originally posted on Summit County Citizens Voice:

Massive study evaluates and discloses impacts of new Fraser River diversions, expanded Gross Reservoir

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Will Denver Water get permission to divert more water from the West Slope?

By Bob Berwyn

FRISCO — Not developing new water diversions from the Colorado River Basin to the Front Range would increase the chances of a major Denver Water system failure, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers concluded in its final environmental impact study for the Moffat Tunnel Collection System expansion.

The federal agency, charged with evaluating and disclosing impacts of the proposal, claims that Denver Water customers could experience periodic raw water and treated water shortages in dry years, with Arvada, Westminster and the North Table Mountain Water and Sanitation District especially vulnerable to raw water shortages.

“Severe and more frequent mandatory watering restrictions, including surcharges, may result in a reduced quality of life and place financial burdens on customers. Though still infrequent…

View original 351 more words


FEMA assistance in Weld tops $16 million — The Greeley Tribune #COflood

May 11, 2014
Evans Colorado September 2013 via TheDenverChannel.com

Evans Colorado September 2013 via TheDenverChannel.com

From The Greeley Tribune:

Weld County has so far received more than $16 million in national aid from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Small Business Administration since the September flood, those agencies announced last week.

Those numbers include programs for individuals or households and business and home loans, according to FEMA.

Colorado as a whole received $339.5 million in public assistance.

Weld County is the third-highest recipient of FEMA and SBA money in the state. Larimer County has received $37.2 million and Boulder County has received $21.3 million.

The count does not include assistance announced by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, which has yet to be doled out to communities and organizations. The two rounds announced for HUD funding total $199 million statewide.

Flood victims can call FEMA at 800-621-3362 to check their application status or provide updates about their insurance claim or contact information.


Northern Water Conservation Gardens Fair May 17

May 11, 2014
Weather station at the Conservation Gardens at Northern Water

Weather station at the Conservation Gardens at Northern Water

From email from Northern Water:

Everyone’s invited to attend the free, educational Northern Water Conservation Gardens Fair on Saturday, May 17 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Northern Water’s headquarters in Berthoud, CO.

The fair will feature Conservation Gardens tours, how-to seminars and demonstrations of irrigation technologies.

There will be garden tours starting every 30 minutes starting at 10 a.m. How-to seminars start at the top of the hour and will cover numerous topics from planning and renovating landscapes for low-water use to turfgrasses.

Vendors will be selling plants, irrigation equipment and gardening supplies.

Gardening and landscaping experts from Colorado State University, Larimer County Master Gardeners and several other organizations will provide information on gardening, landscape design and irrigation.

The first 400 fair attendees will receive a free Plant Select perennial. A limited number of free sub sandwiches will be available from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Young gardeners will enjoy the children’s potting bench, the rain maker target shoot and other kids’ activities.

For more information, see the Conservation Gardens Fair flyer.

Get a preview of the numerous plants in the Conservation Gardens.


Drilling down on issue of water, agriculture & conservation — Allen Best #ColoradoRiver

May 11, 2014
Crop circles -- irrigated agriculture

Crop circles — irrigated agriculture

State vs. local mandates is the subject of this report from Allen Best writing for The Mountain Town News. Click through and read the whole article. Here’s an excerpt:

A lawyer now based in Durango, [Ellen Roberts] spent the early 1980s living in Grand Lake and running lifts at Winter Park. Pipelines from both towns divert enormous amounts of water, roughly 60 percent of water in eastern Grand County, to farms and cities from Denver to Fort Collins and eastward to Julesberg.

“I’m not trying to undo that—and never in a million years could we,” says Roberts. “But there’s concern on the Western Slope—legitimately—whether people on the Front Range understand that water doesn’t come from the tap. It comes from someplace else. My bill, S.B. 17, was an effort to begin that conversation about what is the best use of precious water. Because we live in high-desert like conditions, maybe we should be rethinking how we use our water.”

The idea was pitched to Roberts by Steve Harris, president of a water engineering company in Durango and a delegate to the statewide Interbasin Compact Committee. The IBCC, as the committee is called, has been meeting monthly in an effort to shape the state-wide water plan ordered by Gov. John Hickenlooper…

“We appreciate that admonishment,” says Chris Treese, director of external affairs for the Colorado River Water Conservation District, who helped Roberts draft the proposal.

“I think we need to have more of a state-wide discussion about water conservation—and not just what we have done in the past, but rather the next step, the next frontier in conservation,” says Treese.

“We need to move beyond turning off your tap while brushing your teeth. While helpful, that’s very marginal in its benefit. If you’re going to make a difference, you have to go outdoors. That’s where the consumptive use is.”

More 2014 Colorado legislation coverage here.


Moffat Collection System Project: “My sense is Denver has been pretty willing to mitigate and negotiate” — Becky Long #ColoradoRiver

May 11, 2014
Moffat Collection System Project/Windy Gap Firming Project via the Boulder Daily Camera

Moffat Collection System Project/Windy Gap Firming Project via the Boulder Daily Camera

From The Boulder Weekly (Bob Berwyn):

“After being in a permitting process for more than 10 years, we are pleased to see the release of the Final Environmental Impact Statement for Denver Water’s Moffat Collection System Project,” says Jim Lochhead, Denver Water CEO and manager.

Colorado’s biggest water provider says the project will guard against future shortages on the northern branch of its system and provide more operating flexi bility, make the overall system more resilient to climate change and extreme weather events like floods and fires. And part of the mitigation includes water earmarked for environmental purposes on both sides of the Continental Divide, water that could benefit a sometimes stressed trout population in the South Fork of Boulder Creek.

After scouring thousands of public comments and compiling the voluminous scientific and engineering studies for the Moffat Collection System Project, the federal agency says the new diversion and storage would help avert a potential major Denver Water system failure. The feds singled out Arvada, Westminster and the North Table Mountain Water and Sanitation District as especially vulnerable to raw water shortages without the project.

Release of the final EIS is one of the final steps in the intricate and regulatory ritual required by the National Environmental Policy Act, commonly known as NEPA. Especially for big projects involving public resources, the law is intended as an environmental bulwark. Ten years is a long time, but irrevocable allocation of public resources requires a hard — not a fast — look, the law says…

A few hours after the study was posted, the environmental community targeted media and the public with statements and blog posts from conservation groups, including a stern warning shot from Earthjustice, the legal arm of the green machine. In response to the Corps’ dire warnings of water shortages, some conservation advocates seemed to be saying they’re ready for an all-out battle over the Moffat project.

Hardened battle lines are nothing new in western water wars, but if Winston Churchill were to comment on this one, he might say, “Never have so many battled so hard over so little.”

The Moffat project would reliably deliver 18,000 acre feet of water. That’s enough to comfortably supply a small community for a year, but to keep that number in perspective consider this: All of Denver Water’s reservoirs combined lose more than 25,000 acre feet of water annually to evaporation…

Conflict over the Moffat project may be avoided, since all the parties worked on this collaboratively, says Conservation Colorado advocacy director Becky Long.

“People really rolled up their sleeves and went to work on that plan. … My sense is Denver has been pretty willing to mitigate and negotiate,” says Long, who has deep roots in rural agricultural water use after growing up in the ranch and grazing lands of the Lower Blue Valley, north of Silverthorne.

Even before fully studying the final environmental impact statement, Long says it’s clear that this proposal is different from many past projects because of the huge effort put into mitigating the effects of new diversions and storage, especially on the Western Slope…

“At some point, Denver Water will need a permit from the county,” says Chris Garre, who lives on the south shore and has become leader of a grassroots effort to draw attention to the concerns of area residents.

Standing at one of the stunning overlooks, Garre explained graphically how the landscape would permanently change with construction, including a de-forested rock face at the site of the potential quarry, along with a total inundation of the existing shoreline and the elimination of tens of thousands of trees…

The formal comment period ends in June, but could be extended by another 45 days, with many entities already saying they will request more time. Denver Water execs said they expect a final Corps of Engineers decision on the $360 million project within a year. The decision will be made at the regional Corps of Engineers headquarters in Omaha.

Beyond that, Denver Water still needs several other major permits, including an amendment to a federal hydropower license and a water quality certification under the state-run Clean Water Act standards.

Denver Water spokesman Steve Snyder said the cost of the project, based on a per acre-foot yield, is in line with other water projects along the Front Range.

The first phases of construction including offsite road improvements could start as early as 2017, with dam construction expected to start in 2018 and finish in 2021, with the heaviest construction occurring between 2019 and 2020, Snyder says. All schedules are based upon the permitting schedule and may be delayed or accelerated pending approvals.

More Moffat Collection System Project coverage here.


“…we have a lot of communities on a diminishing aquifer” — Eric Hecox

May 11, 2014

rueter-hessplans

From The Denver Post (Steve Raabe):

The shimmering surface of Rueter-Hess reservoir seems out of place in arid Douglas County, where almost all of the water resources are in aquifers a quarter-mile under ground.

Yet the $195 million body of water, southwest of Parker, is poised to play a crucial role in providing water to one of the fastest-growing metropolitan areas in the U.S.

As recently as a few years ago, developers were content to tap the seemingly abundant Denver Basin aquifer to serve the thousands of new homes built each year along the southern edge of metro Denver.

But a problem arose. As homebuilding in Douglas County exploded, the groundwater that once seemed abundant turned out to be finite. Land developers and utilities found that the more wells they drilled into the aquifer, the more grudgingly it surrendered water.

“Now we have a lot of communities on a diminishing aquifer,” said Eric Hecox, executive director of the South Metro Water Supply Authority, a consortium of 14 water suppliers that serve 300,000 residents.

As water pressure in the Denver Basin steadily declines, developers and water utilities that rely on the aquifer are being forced to drill more wells and pump harder from existing wells.

Enter Rueter-Hess. The massive storage facility — 50 percent larger in surface area than Cherry Creek reservoir — aims to help developers wean themselves from groundwater by shifting to other sources.

The reservoir anchors a multifaceted water plan for the south metro area that includes the purchase of costly but replenishable surface water, reuse of wastewater and a greater emphasis on conservation.

Douglas County, long a magnet for builders enticed by easy access to Denver Basin aquifers, is taking the water issue seriously.

A new proposal floated by the county government would give developers density bonuses — up to 20 percent more buildout — for communities that reduce typical water consumption and commit to using renewable sources for at least half of their water.

“In the past, the county had not taken an active role in water supplies because groundwater was sufficient,” said Douglas County Commissioner Jill Repella. “But we understand that we cannot continue to be solely reliant on our aquifers. What we’re doing today will help us plan for the next 25 years.”

Parker Water and Sanitation District launched construction of Rueter-Hess in 2006 and began gradually filling the reservoir in 2011, fed by excess surface and alluvial well flows in Cherry Creek.

Partners in the project include Castle Rock, Stonegate and the Castle Pines North metropolitan district. Parker Water and Sanitation district manager Ron Redd said he expects more water utilities to sign on for storage as they begin acquiring rights to surface water.

The chief source of new supplies will be the Water Infrastructure and Supply Efficiency partnership, or WISE, in which Denver Water and Aurora Water will sell an average of 7,250 acre-feet a year to 10 south-metro water suppliers beginning in 2016. Most of them are expected to purchase storage for the new water in Rueter-Hess. An acre-foot is generally believed to be enough to serve the needs of two families of four for a year

Parker Water and Sanitation also is exploring ways to develop recreational uses at the dam — including hiking, camping, fishing and nonmotorized boating — through an intergovernmental agreement with other Douglas County entities.

Even three years after opening, the reservoir’s stored water has reached just 13 percent of its 75,000-acre-foot capacity. Yet Rueter-Hess is the most visible icon in Douglas County’s search for water solutions.

At stake is the ability to provide water for a county that in the 1990s and early 2000s perennially ranked among the fastest-growing in the nation. The number of homes in Douglas County has soared from 7,789 in 1980 to more than 110,000 today, an astounding increase of more than 1,300 percent.

The building boom slowed after the 18-month recession that ended in June 2009. Growth rates that had reached as high as 10 percent to 15 percent a year during the 1990s ratcheted down to about 1 percent to 2 percent.

But as the economy has begun recovering, Douglas County is once again “seeing high levels of demand” for new residential development, said assistant director of planning services Steve Koster.

One of the biggest Douglas County projects in decades is Sterling Ranch, a proposed community of 12,000 homes south of Chatfield State Park.

The 3,400-acre ranch sits on the outer fringes of the Denver Basin aquifer, making it a poor candidate for reliance on the basin’s groundwater.

As a result, the project developer will employ a mixed-bag of water resources, including an aggressive conservation and efficiency plan; surface-water purchases from the WISE program; well water from rights owned by Denver billionaire Philip Anschutz; and a precedent-setting rainwater-collection program.

Sterling Ranch managing director Harold Smethills described the Rueter-Hess concept as “brilliant,” even though his development has not yet purchased any of the reservoir’s capacity.

“You just can’t have enough storage,” he said.

More Rueter-Hess Reservoir coverage here and here. More Denver Basin Aquifer System coverage here.


Sterling: “AgFest” recap

May 10, 2014

Groundwater movement via the USGS

Groundwater movement via the USGS


From the Sterling Journal-Advocate (Callie Jones):

This year’s festival included 10 stations, including the GPS mapping station, where Morgan County Extension Agent Marlin Eisenach spoke about how farmers use GPS mapping to plow, so they don’t use too much agricultural herbicide or insecticide and they can save as much fuel as possible…

At the groundwater station, Extension Agent Molly Witzel, from Burlington, spoke about watershed, an area where smaller bodies of water flow into bigger bodies of water; an aquifer, “a big underground lake;” and other groundwater terms. She also spoke about what happened during the South Platte River flood last fall…

A rangeland ecology station had students learning about the different plants and animals that can be found on rangeland. Logan County Extension Agent Casey Matney talked about the importance of rangeland, because it has trees, animals and water.

At a plant science station the fifth graders learned about the difference between dicot and monocot plants, they got to see different types of seeds and they learned about how plants grow.


Blue River “State of the River” meeting recap #ColoradoRiver

May 10, 2014
Blue River

Blue River

From the Summit Daily News (Ali Langley):

About 80 people — water managers, weather experts, government officials and interested community members — attended the event hosted by the Colorado River District at the Community Center in Frisco Tuesday, May 6. Discussion revolved around snowpack, runoff, flooding and the state water plan…

[Joanna Hopkins, board president of Blue River Watershed Group] spoke about the group’s restoration project of Ten Mile Creek, impacted by decades of mining, railroads, highways and development, and presented before and after photos of the work. The group will now focus attention on restoration of the Upper Swan River Watershed, where dredge boats in the early 20th century mined for 2 miles and the group and its partners will work to turn the river “right side up.”[...]

[Troy Wineland, water commissioner for the Blue River basin] pointed to a graph and asked the audience to consider this year’s snowpack levels. “What does that surplus, that bonus, that cream on the top, what does that mean to you?” he said. Better rafting, some said. Fishing. Full reservoirs…

Bob Steger, water resources engineer with Denver Water, discussed Dillon Reservoir operations. The utility’s main priorities for the reservoir are maintaining its water supply and reducing flood risk, he said, but it also considers boating, rafting, kayaking, fishing, endangered fish and its upcoming construction project.

The utility began lowering the reservoir level in late February, just like in other high-snowpack years, he said. Going forward, the reservoir will start filling in mid-May or June, depending on whether the spring is wet or dry.

The Roberts Tunnel, which brings water from Dillon to Denver, won’t be turned on until mid-June or July, he said, and the utility will replace the large gates that control outflow to the Blue River likely sometime between August and October…

Ron Thomasson, a hydrologist with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation who oversees Green Mountain Reservoir operations, said he expects to fill that reservoir in mid-July.

He talked about how more runoff will improve habitat for four endangered fish species in the 15-Mile Reach of the Colorado River and showed his “obligatory snowpack graph.” Then he presented spaghetti plots to explain that when experts say “most probable scenario” what they really mean is, “It’s actually no more probable than any other scenario. It just happens to be in the middle.”[...]

explained the rare conditions that combined to cause record-breaking flooding in the Boulder area in September. Then he switched to the “crazy winter that you just lived through” in Summit and what to expect in the six- to eight-week runoff season produced by seven months of snow.

He joked about the polar vortex, a phenomenon that’s been around forever but didn’t make the media until this winter, and he showed more spaghetti plots saying, “Those averages are beautiful. They give us something to think about. They never happen.”

Those excited about a surplus should remember the rest of the state is experiencing drought conditions. “You fared well,” he said. “It’s not always going to work that way, so please be grateful.”

Then he asked for volunteers to help collect real-time precipitation data with rain gauges for http://cocorahs.org.

Jim Pokrandt, chair of the Colorado Basin Roundtable that represents Summit and five other counties, emphasized problems with low levels in Lake Powell and Lake Mead and focused on the state water plan, which the roundtable is helping to create.

Of the 14 states in the West, Colorado is one of four without a water plan. The other three are Washington, Oregon and Arizona…

“Transmountain diversion should be the last tool out of the box,” he said. “Conservation and reuse needs to be hit hard.”

If a new transmountain diversion must be constructed, it should be done along the lines of the recent agreement between West Slope stakeholders and Denver Water.

One audience member asked why reducing population growth wasn’t one of the considered solutions. Most of the projected growth “is us having children,” Pokrandt said. “It’s the elephant in the room, but it’s the one that you really can’t touch.”

He said in some parts of the Front Range, the untouchable issue is green grass.

More Colorado River Basin coverage here and here.


HB14-1333: Legislature to fund Long Hollow project — The Durango Herald #COleg

May 9, 2014
Long Hollow Reservoir location map via The Durango Herald

Long Hollow Reservoir location map via The Durango Herald

From The Durango Herald (Joe Hanel):

A Southwest Colorado water district can expect $1,575,000 from the Legislature to help build a dam just off the La Plata River. It’s one of the few water projects statewide the Legislature is funding this year.

Long Hollow Reservoir, about five miles north of the New Mexico border, is being built to help farmers and ranchers in southwestern La Plata County keep water through the dry months, while at the same time letting the state meet its legal obligation to deliver water to New Mexico.

“Part of the reservoir would be for interstate compact compliance when Colorado has a difficult time making deliveries to New Mexico,” said Bruce Whitehead, executive director of the Southwest Water Conservation District…

With the money from the state’s water projects fund, Long Hollow reservoir should be finished by fall, he said. Most of the money to build the reservoir was set aside when the Animas-La Plata Project was scaled down.

The Legislature’s annual water projects bill, House Bill 1333, often has something for water users all across the state. But this year, Long Hollow is the only construction project to get direct funding. The bill also makes up to $131 million in loans to two projects on Denver’s south side – an expansion of Chatfield Reservoir and a water-efficiency and reuse project in the southern suburbs.

The bill has passed the House on a 61-1 vote, and it is on track to pass the Senate early this week.


Breckenridge: “We can’t just sit up here and say we have all the water, now we’ll use it” — Tim Gagen #ColoradoRiver

May 9, 2014
Breckenridge circa 1913 via Breckenridge Resort

Breckenridge circa 1913 via Breckenridge Resort

From The Mountain Town News (Allen Best):

The town council is considering legislation that would cap outdoor use at three days a week. It’s part of an effort to put a new emphasis on water conservation and efficiency, says Tim Gagen, the town manager.

“We have to walk the talk,” says Gagen. “We can’t just sit up here and say we have all the water, now we’ll use it.”

Breckenridge is not alone. Other mountains towns in Colorado are devoting more attention to water conservation and efficiency. A coalition in the Roaring Fork Valley is assembling plans for public outreach to elevate water efficiency. The Vail-based Eagle River Water and Sanitation District began crimping water use in 2003. Aspen’s water-efficiency measures go back even further, to the 1990s…

Colorado’s Front Range cities, where 85 percent of state residents live, have become more efficient with existing supplies. But they have also expanded supplies in recent decades by buying farms in the South Platte and Arkansas River valleys for their water rights, and allowing the farms to then dry up. They have also purchased mountain ranches in such buy-and-dry transactions.

Front Range water providers also want to retain the option of going to the Colorado River and its tributaries for one final, big diversion. Western Slope water leaders urge caution. But to have credibility, leaders in the mountain valleys realize they first must put their own houses in order.

“The Western Slope needs to be goosed,” says Chris Treese, director of external affairs for the Colorado River Water Conservation District. “Frankly, the Front Range has led most of the water-conservation efforts in Colorado to date.”[...]

Gagen says that Breckenridge has been nibbling at water conservation efforts for several years. Leaking segments of existing pipes, which can cause loss of 8 to 15 percent of all the municipal water supply, are being replaced. Sprinklers in parks are being changed out in favor of more efficient devices. And the town is now looking at narrowing irrigation at its golf course to avoid watering of the roughs.

Breckenridge, in its municipal operation, has also adopted more xeriscaping, using plants that don’t require irrigation, reducing irrigation of remaining turf, and, in some cases, installing artificial turf.

Still on the agenda is elevating rates for high-consumption users. The average water bill in Breckenridge is just $35 every two months, not much more than dinner at one of the town’s higher-end restaurants. As such, most people probably pay little, if any attention, to the idea of conserving water in order to reduce their costs. They just write the check, says Gagen.

While Breckenridge has broad goals of improved sustainability, Gagen says the plan to reduce outdoor lawn irrigation to three days a week was pushed by two council members who have been persuaded by books they’ve read: “Blue Revolution,” by Cynthia Barnett (2011), “Cadillac Desert,” by Marc Reisner (1986), and “Getting Green Done,” by Auden Schendler (2011)…

Eagle River Water and Sanitation District has achieved a 20 percent per capita reduction in use, according to Diane Johnson, communications director. That’s in line with the reduction in water use since 2000 by Denver Water’s 1.3 million direct and indirect customers.

However, Eagle River has not pushed indoor water savings. Because 95 percent of indoor water is treated and released into the Eagle River, explains Johnson, the impact is small on the valley’s creeks and rivers. This compares with just 15 to 40 percent of water returned to streams after outdoor irrigation. Given limited resources for messaging, the better return is to hammer home the message of reduced outdoor use.

“What we really try to work with local people to understand is that their outdoor use affects how much water is in the rivers,” says Johnson. “If you are using water indoors, save yourself some money and be efficient, but most of that water comes back to the treatment plant and returns to the river.”[...]

In adopting its regulations on outdoor lawn watering, Eagle River Water was motivated by the searing drought of 2002. But laws also provide incentives. When seeking permits for new or expanded reservoirs, county regulations ask about “efficient use” of existing resources. State and federal regulations approach it with different wording, but essentially the same intent. “Efficient use of resource is going to be a consideration in any of those permitting processes,” says Johnson.

Eagle River Water has also adopted tiered rates, charging higher rates per 1,000 gallons as consumers step up consumption. But what do you do about those pockets of consumers for whom money is no deterrent?

That’s an issue in the Vail Valley that water officials are starting to wrestle with. Aspen recognized years ago that price was no object to some homeowners—and charges nosebleed rates.

Aspen’s municipal utility, which delivers both electricity and water, uses the income from high-use water customers to pay for front-end renewable energy programs and demand-side energy efficiency, says Phil Overeynder, the former utilities director and now the utilities engineer for special projects.

Aspen in the early 1990s approached the forked paths of water use. But instead of continuing to build capacity for existing water demands, the city instead reined in use. Last year, Aspen used the same amount of water as it did in 1966, despite having three times as many residents. (See more detailed story).

Now, an effort has been launched to frame a broad water efficiency strategy for the Roaring Fork Valley. The seed was planted in 2010 by the Community Office for Resource Efficiency, or CORE, a non-profit founded in the mid-1990s. The effort has several motives—including energy.

Formation of the group was at least partly influenced by the writings of Amory Lovins, a resident of the area, who for decades talked about “negawatts”—the idea that efficiency in energy was as good as new supply. The group he co-founded, Rocky Mountain Institute, further applied this idea of a soft path to water efficiency.

CORE’s Jason Haber explains that saving water also saves energy in several ways. Developing water resources requires energy, but it also takes energy to pump water. Energy is also embedded in treatment of sewage, he points out. Typically, water and sewage are the largest components of any municipality’s energy budget…

Whether Colorado truly has any water to develop on the Western Slope is debatable—and has been debated frequently in state-wide water forums. The Colorado River Water Conservation District has suggested that major new diversions would be risky, simply because of the lack of certainty of legally entitled water in future years. Colorado’s use of the river that bears its name is tightly capped by two inter-state water compacts and one international treaty.

More conservation coverage here.


Aurora Water embarks on expansion of Prairie Waters

May 8, 2014

prairiewaterstreatment

From The Denver Post (Megan Mitchell):

Aurora Water has begun construction to expand the city’s Prairie Waters Project for the first time since the natural water filtration and collection system opened in 2010. Projects nixed from the original construction plan kept the $659 million project about $100 million below its initial budget. Now, those projects are being called back up to make sure Prairie Waters stays on track for exponential growth over the next 40 years.

“The expansion part of the project has been planned from the very beginning,” said Marshall Brown, executive director for Aurora Water. “This year, we’re at a place where we can prioritize the growth and look toward the future of system capacity.”
Crews have begun digging six new collection wells in between the existing 17 wells that collect water from a basin near the South Platte River in Weld County, downstream from the Denver Metro Wastewater Reclamation District’s plant. From there, the water is piped through wells 44 miles south to treatment and storage facilities in Aurora for residential use.

Along the way, the water is pulled through 100 feet of gravel and sand. This 30-day, natural process helps pull large contaminants out of the water.

Two new filter beds will also be installed at the Peter D. Binney Water Purification Facility near the Aurora Reservoir this year. At the Binney facility, water is treated with chemicals and ultraviolet lights to make it potable.

The cost of the expansion projects is $2.9 million, said Greg Baker, spokesperson for Aurora Water. He said water tap fees will not be affected by the new wells and filters this year.

“We plan our capital projects (which are predominantly paid for by development or tap fees) well in advance,” Baker said. “We plan for these expenses so that our rates don’t roller coaster based on immediate projects.”

Right now, Prairie Waters is spread over 250 acres in Weld County and is only built out to about 20 percent of its total potential capacity. Baker said the system currently provides 10 million gallons of water per day. At full build-out, Prairie Waters will able to provide 50 million gallons of water per day.

The project itself was conceived in response to extreme drought conditions in 2003.

“Ideally, we would like to have two years’ worth of supply stored in the system at all times,” Brown said. “Aurora’s system varies between one and two years’ worth of storage now.”

The long-term vision for the project involves well development all the way down the South Platte River to Fort Lupton, as well as adding more physical storage components. Aurora Water has already started to acquire additional property for capacity expansion in the future.

Baker added: “As Aurora’s population grows, we will expand into the system to support that growth.”

More Prairie Waters coverage here and here.


CU-Boulder researchers confirm leaks from Front Range oil and gas operations

May 8, 2014
DJ Basin Exploration via the Oil and Gas Journal

DJ Basin Exploration via the Oil and Gas Journal

Here’s the release from the University of Colorado (Gabrielle Petron/Katy Human):

During two days of intensive airborne measurements, oil and gas operations in Colorado’s Front Range leaked nearly three times as much methane, a greenhouse gas, as predicted based on inventory estimates, and seven times as much benzene, a regulated air toxic. Emissions of other chemicals that contribute to summertime ozone pollution were about twice as high as estimates, according to the new paper, accepted for publication in the American Geophysical Union’s Journal of Geophysical Research: Atmospheres.

“These discrepancies are substantial,” said lead author Gabrielle Petron, an atmospheric scientist with the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences, a joint institute of the University of Colorado Boulder and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. “Emission estimates or ‘inventories’ are the primary tool that policy makers and regulators use to evaluate air quality and climate impacts of various sources, including oil and gas sources. If they’re off, it’s important to know.”

The new paper provides independent confirmation of findings from research performed from 2008-2010, also by Petron and her colleagues, on the magnitude of air pollutant emissions from oil and gas activities in northeastern Colorado. In the earlier study, the team used a mobile laboratory—sophisticated chemical detection instruments packed into a car—and an instrumented NOAA tall tower near Erie, Colorado, to measure atmospheric concentrations of several chemicals downwind of various sources, including oil and gas equipment, landfills and animal feedlots.

Back then, the scientists determined that methane emissions from oil and gas activities in the region were likely about twice as high as estimates from state and federal agencies, and benzene emissions were several times higher. In 2008, northeastern Colorado’s Weld County had about 14,000 operating oil and gas wells, all located in a geological formation called the Denver-Julesburg Basin.

In May 2012, when measurements for the new analysis were collected, there were about 24,000 active oil and gas wells in Weld County. The new work relied on a different technique, too, called mass-balance. In 2012, Petron and her colleagues contracted with a small aircraft to measure the concentrations of methane and other chemicals in the air downwind and upwind of the Denver-Julesburg Basin. On the ground, NOAA wind profilers near Platteville and Greeley tracked around-the-clock wind speed and wind direction.

On two days in May 2012, conditions were ideal for mass-balance work. Petron and her team calculated that 26 metric tons of methane were emitted hourly in a region centered on Weld County. To estimate the fraction from oil and gas activities, the authors subtracted inventory estimates of methane emissions from other sources, including animal feedlots, landfills and wastewater treatment plants. Petron and her team found that during those two days, oil and gas operations in the Denver-Julesburg Basin emitted about 19 metric tons of methane per hour, 75 percent of the total methane emissions. That’s about three times as large as an hourly average estimate for oil and gas operations based on Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) Greenhouse Gas Reporting Program (itself based on industry-reported emissions).

Petron and her colleagues combined information from the mass-balance technique and detailed chemical analysis of air samples in the laboratory to come up with emissions estimates for volatile organic compounds, a class of chemicals that contributes to ozone pollution; and benzene, an air toxic.

Benzene emissions from oil and gas activities reported in the paper are significantly higher than state estimates: about 380 pounds (173 kilograms) per hour, compared with a state estimate of about 50 pounds (25 kilograms) per hour. Car and truck tailpipes are a known source of the toxic chemical; the new results suggest that oil and gas operations may also be a significant source.

Oil-and-gas-related emissions for a subset of volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which can contribute to ground-level ozone pollution, were about 25 metric tons per hour, compared to the state inventory, which amounts to 13.1 tons. Ozone at high levels can harm people’s lungs and damage crops and other plants; the northern Front Range of Colorado has been out of compliance with federal health-based 8-hour ozone standards since 2007, according to the EPA. Another CIRES- and NOAA-led paper published last year showed that oil and natural gas activities were responsible for about half of the contributions of VOCs to ozone formation in northeastern Colorado.

This summer, dozens of atmospheric scientists from NASA, the National Center for Atmospheric Research, NOAA, CIRES and other will gather in the Front Range, to participate in an intensive study of the region’s atmosphere, said NCAR scientist Gabriele Pfister. With research aircraft, balloon-borne measurements, mobile laboratories and other ground-based equipment, the scientists plan to further characterize the emissions of many possible sources, including motor vehicles, power plants, industrial activities, agriculture, wildfires and transported pollution.

“This summer’s field experiment will provide us the information we need to understand all the key processes that contribute to air pollution in the Front Range,” Pfister said.

More oil and gas coverage here.


2014 Colorado legislation: HB14-1002 passes House (again) now on to Governor Hickenlooper’s desk #COleg

May 7, 2014

Runoff news: Timing of Rio Grande River Compact deliveries questioned downriver #RioGrande #ColoradoRiver

May 6, 2014
Rio Grande River near Del Norte May 6, 2014

Rio Grande River near Del Norte May 6, 2014

From the Taos News (J.R. Logan):

Streamflow data from the Colorado Division of Water Resources showed the Río Grande was flowing at 1,330 cubic-feet per second (cfs) when it came out of the mountains near Del Norte, Colo Wednesday (April 30).
But by the time it was just about to cross the New Mexico border, it was at just 209 cfs.
The 84 percent drop is due almost entirely to irrigation in the San Luís Valley, which begins in earnest around this time of year.

Rio Grande River near Cerro May 6, 2014

Rio Grande River near Cerro May 6, 2014

A hydrograph of the Río Grande near Cerro showed the river was hovering at nearly 700 cfs between the end of February and the end of March. But starting at April 1, the streamflow at Cerro begin to plummet. At one point in mid-April, the river in New Mexico was at just 100 cfs.

The amount of water in the river as it crosses state lines is dictated by the Río Grande Compact — a deal hashed out between New Mexico, Colorado and Texas in the 1930s…

Water officials in New Mexico and Colorado say Colorado has met its legal obligation in recent years. The total water delivery from Colorado is calculated on an annual basis, meaning water that runs unimpeded in the fall and winter makes up for big diversions in the spring and early summer.

Taos County residents — especially some rafting guides — have been vocal critics of the arrangement, which they say does harm to their business and affects the ecology of the river.

Farmers and water managers in the San Luís Valley, meanwhile, point out that they too are suffering from the effects of drought and are operating within the limits of the compact.

From Reclamation via the Loveland Reporter-Herald:

With runoff starting to increase in the Big Thompson Basin, the Bureau of Reclamation bumped up outflow from Olympus Dam, at the east side of Estes Park, into the river Monday morning.

Kara Lamb, public information officer for the agency, said the flow was gradually increased through the day from 40 cubic feet per second to about 140 cfs.

“The heat over the next few days will likely increase nightly runoff inflows to Lake Estes, which will pass on through Olympus Dam to the canyon,” she said in a press release, adding, “So far, runoff inflows have been typical for this time of year.”

Warm weather has started melting mountain snowpack, leading to the increase in river flow.

On Friday Lamb had reported runoff inflow reaching up to 200 cfs at night. Runoff typically reaches its peak at night as water from snow that melted during the day heads downstream.

Lamb said it’s possible there could be more increases in outflow into the Big Thompson on Tuesday.

Last week, the bureau diverted some of the runoff inflow to the Colorado-Big Thompson Projects reservoirs, including Carter Lake and Horsetooth Reservoir.

By Friday, Carter Lake was at 98 percent of capacity, and more water was being diverted to Horsetooth. By Sunday it was reported at 88 percent full.

From email from Reclamation (Kara Lamb):

We’re still making space for the upcoming runoff on the Blue River. As a result, about an hour ago, we bumped up releases from Green Mountain Dam to the lower Blue by 50 cfs. We are now sending about 950 cfs on downstream.


2014 #COLeg: SB14-195, South Platte River Post #COflood Phreatophyte Study, Ag to Appropriations unamended 12-0

May 5, 2014

Click here to read the bill.

More 2014 Colorado Legislation coverage here.


St. Vrain Creek Restoration Master Planning Process Begins — Lyons Recorder #COflood

May 4, 2014

Storm pattern over Colorado September 2013 -- Graphic/NWS via USA Today

Storm pattern over Colorado September 2013 — Graphic/NWS via USA Today


Here’s the release from Boulder County (Stacey Proctor) via the Lyons Recorder:

As part of long-term flood recovery, Boulder County has hired consultant Michael Baker Jr., Inc. to complete a master plan for the St. Vrain Creek watershed, which includes South St. Vrain Creek, North St. Vrain Creek, and the main stem of St. Vrain Creek to the confluence with Boulder Creek.

The master plan will be used to guide the county, municipalities, and individual landowners in identification and prioritization of stream rehabilitation and restoration projects. The goal of the master planning effort and subsequent project implementation is increased resiliency in communities, economies, and river systems.

“Using an open and collaborative process among public agencies, property owners, ditch companies, stakeholders, and the public, the St. Vrain master plan will help facilitate the transition to the next phase of creek recovery,” said Dave Jula, St. Vrain Creek Watershed Master Plan Project Manager, for Michael Baker Jr., Inc.

The master planning effort is funded by a grant from the Colorado Water Conservation Board, Boulder County, and other local agencies. The project will begin immediately with public meetings, field assessments, and data analysis. The final master plan is expected to be completed by early fall.

The consultant was selected through a competitive process by the St. Vrain Creek Coalition. The St. Vrain Creek Coalition consists of representatives from Boulder County, Natural Resource Conservation Service, Town of Lyons, City of Longmont, St. Vrain and Left Hand Water Conservancy District, USDA Forest Service, Arapaho Roosevelt National Forest, Colorado Department of Transportation, and the Colorado Water Conservation Board.

“After thorough review of the bids we received, the St. Vrain Creek Coalition selected Michael Baker Jr., Inc. for the project because of their strong technical expertise and their commitment to citizen participation in the process,” said Julie McKay, St. Vrain Creek Coalition lead for Boulder County.

Please refer to http://www.BoulderCountyCreekPlan.org for the schedule of public meetings, which will be announced in May.

Similar master planning efforts are underway for many other watersheds in Boulder County, including Left Hand Creek, Little Thompson River, and Fourmile Creek. For more information on any of the master plans, please contact Stacey Proctor, Communications Specialist at 303-441-1107 or sproctor@bouldercounty.org.

More South Platte River Basin coverage here.


Colorado-Big Thompson Project update: Carter will fill Monday, Horsetooth at 88% #ColoradoRiver

May 4, 2014
Colorado-Big Thompson Project east slope facilities

Colorado-Big Thompson Project east slope facilities

From email from Reclamation (Kara Lamb):

On Monday, May 5, we will stop pumping water to Carter Lake. Carter is about 98% full and ready for the season.

Colorado-Big Thompson Project water that was going up to Carter will now go to Horsetooth. Horsetooth Reservoir is about 88% full and its water level is still rising.

Boat ramps are open.

From email from Reclamation (Kara Lamb):

apologize for a late evening notice. I’m on business travel and communicating across time zones.

This e-mail is to let you all know there are some changes coming to the river flow down the Big Thompson Canyon. Run-off is increasing and so will flows down the canyon, beginning Monday.

Currently, we are seeing run-off inflows up to 200 cfs at night. But, as you have read in previous e-mails, under Free River conditions, we have been able to divert some of that at Olympus Dam to Colorado-Big Thompson Project reservoirs like Carter Lake and Horsetooth Reservoir. This weekend, Free River conditions are ending.

As a result, we will no longer be able to pull some of the spring run-off flows native to the Big T coming into Lake Estes out of the river. Instead, the Big Thompson will resume its native outflow through Olympus Dam to the Canyon.

Currently, we are releasing about 35 cfs. Beginning Monday, May 5, we will start incrementally increasing the releases in several steps. The resulting flows down the Canyon by Monday afternoon could go up to about 140 cfs. It is possible there could be additional increases on Tuesday.

I will send an update on Monday. Meanwhile, please let me know if you have any related questions.

More Colorado-Big Thompson Project coverage here.


Living West exhibit at the History Colorado Museum takes on #ColoradoRiver diversions now and in the future

May 4, 2014
The Storm is Coming -- History Colorado

The Storm is Coming — History Colorado

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Gary Harmon):

Water, according to Western lore, flows uphill to money. According to a display at the History Colorado Center in Denver, it runs uphill with something else: a grudge.

That’s according to what History Colorado describes as “a groundbreaking new 7,000-square-foot exhibit that explores the living dynamics between the people of Colorado and their state’s extraordinary environment.”

Called “Living West,” the exhibit includes a diorama of Colorado depicting the natural flow of water west from the Continental Divide and the population differential showing the vast majority of people, 80 percent, on the east side of the Rocky Mountains.

“The Western Slope has water, but a small population,” reads the display. “To eastern Colorado, this is a waste; shouldn’t water go where the people are?”

“But piping water east means less for western towns, ranches, and orchards. Western Slope residents believe their future is being sacrificed to benefit the rest of Colorado.”

dontsuckthecoloradoriverdry

The text accompanies a photo of a rally in which protesters waved signs emblazoned with slogans such as “Let Our Rivers Run!” and “Don’t Suck the Upper Colorado River Dry.”

Headlining the text is, “Water comes from the Western Slope (with a grudge.)”

Western Slope residents and water managers said they weren’t consulted on the exhibit, and some suggested that it might be a harbinger of bad feelings to come.

Indeed, the exhibit, which illustrates the way Coloradans from ancient Puebloans to Dust Bowl-era farmers have dealt with drought, is subtitled “The Storm is Coming!”

“Wouldn’t anybody begrudge the fact that their future is being limited?” Mesa County Commissioner Steve Acquafresca said when told of the exhibit. “I wouldn’t dispute the fact — but I think there are good reasons for it.”

“It sounds like somebody is trivializing the issue,” Acquafresca said.

Kids open pumps

There is more to the Colorado River story than the exhibit suggests, said Bonnie Petersen, executive director of Club 20, a Western Slope advocacy organization.

Colorado River Basin including out of basin demands -- Graphic/USBR

Colorado River Basin including out of basin demands — Graphic/USBR

“There’s certainly no recognition that seven states rely on the water over here,” Petersen said, referring to Arizona, Colorado, California, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming.

The diorama is interactive and geared to younger visitors, who can open and close pumps to move water about the state.

“Your job:” the exhibit says, “Send water from Big River in the west to Small River in the east, all the way down to Thirsty Town.”

Another instruction urges visitors to “Crank that pump and keep cranking, Watch the pump move water from Big River into Western Reservoir. This takes water away from Busy City and Dry Throat Ranch.”

That could present an opportunity, Acquafresca said.

“I’d like to go there and direct it back from the east to the west,” Acquafresca said.

“Living West,” according to the History Colorado website, was presented by Denver Water with “generous support” from the Gates Family Foundation.

“Denver Water, yeah, there’s a surprise,” Petersen said.

Denver Water's collection system via the USACE EIS

Denver Water’s collection system via the USACE EIS

“Denver Water,” Larry Clever, general manager of the Ute Water Conservancy District in Grand Junction, guessed when told of the exhibit. “I didn’t know. I just figured it was Denver Water.”

“And people wonder why we don’t trust them,” said Diane Schwenke, president of the Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce.

Denver Water, however, had little to do with the display that prominently bears its name, said spokesman Travis Thompson.

“We had no influence or design on the content of the exhibit,” Thompson said. “It wasn’t for us to tell the story. It was for them to tell the story.”

“Them” is History Colorado, a nonprofit organization previously referred to as the Colorado Historical Society. It’s also a state agency that receives funding under the Division of Higher Education.

A spokesperson for the museum didn’t respond to several requests for comment.

East-west relations

Colorado transmountain diversions via the State Engineer's office

Colorado transmountain diversions via the State Engineer’s office

The transmountain diversion display “seems a little biased” toward a Front Range perspective, said David Bailey, curator of history at the Museum of Western Colorado in Grand Junction, who has viewed the exhibit.

“Usually you try to give all a voice,” Bailey said. “Our job is to make you think about the topic, in this case the historic and present-day crisis of water.”

Denver Water is a major transmountain diverter and water provider to 1.3 million customers that just last year reached an agreement with water providers and local governments down the Colorado River Basin that was hailed as marking a new era in east-west water relations.

Lurking beneath the good feelings, however, has been the possibility of a new transmountain diversion. Although Gov. John Hickenlooper’s state water plan is being drafted without identifying one, it is to set out a way by which such a project could be pursued.

And James Lochhead, who heads Denver Water, last month signed a letter on behalf of the Front Range Water Council saying that a new transmountain diversion is a necessity.

Talks about a state water plan “should begin with an assurance, and not simply a hope” for a new project diverting water from the Colorado River to the Front Range.

Broader picture

Western Slope water is now sent east via 24 transmountain diversions that suck up, in a wet year, about 600,000 acre feet of water. An acre foot of water, or 325,851 gallons, is enough to supply about two and a half Front Range households for a year, according to DenverWater.org.

It’s also about 8 percent of the water that the upper Colorado River Basin states are required to deliver to the lower basin under a 1922 compact governing management of the river.

The amount of water diverted east could be crucial in a succession of dry years as the upper and lower basins deal with keeping enough water in Lake Powell to ensure the efficient operation of the electricity-generating turbines and putting enough water into Lake Mead downstream, Clever said.

The issue involves more than diverting water, Clever said.

Front Range water interests “want everybody to pay for a diversion,” Clever said. “They want the West Slope to help pay for taking our water.”

The fact is, said Grand County Manager Lurline Underbrink Curran, the Colorado River Basin “might not have as much water to give as everybody thinks we do.”

To be certain, Denver Water has lived up to its agreement with the Colorado River Basin, Curran said, but the tone of the exhibit bearing its name and citing the grudging nature of the Western Slope is “somewhat disturbing,” Curran said.

“Does the West Slope grudgingly withhold water?” Curran said. “No, in my opinion. The West Slope wants to have recognition of the needs and uses (of water) on the West Slope.” Those uses aren’t limited to ranches and orchards, Curran said, noting that the West Slope has growing cities and industries of its own, just as on the East Slope.

It’s possible that the message children absorb isn’t one favoring transmountain diversions, Acquafresca said.

“If Denver Water is trying to indoctrinate kids to view water resources as the Front Range does, I think that’s the wrong approach,” Acquafresca said. “Children could easily ask themselves, ‘Shouldn’t water flow where God meant for it to flow?’”

More education coverage here.


Northern Water slows down rate restructuring push #ColoradoRiver

May 4, 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):

Without changes to its water rates, Northern Water’s expenses are on track to exceed its revenue in 2015. At its monthly meeting on Thursday, the board reviewed a study it commissioned to outline options for future water-rate hikes.

Northern Water released the rate study on Tuesday, and several water district managers and lawyers asked the board on Thursday to postpone its decision until they had more time to review the massive document.

The board also postponed a decision to set the water rates for 2015, which will likely increase by 9 percent for all stakeholders…

Northern Water plans to raise the cost of Colorado-Big Thompson or CB-T shares, which many districts rely on for most of their water. Regardless of the board’s ultimate decision, water rates will increase for Fort Collins Utilities, which gets about half of its water from the Big Thompson. Utilities costs for Fort Collins customers will not be affected, a city official previously said.

The rate study, done by CH2MHill in Denver, came up with three options for rate changes, all of which would double or triple the costs of water for farmers and cities alike.

At its Thursday meeting, the board eliminated one option, which would keep the existing rate system.

In June, the board will decide between the two remaining options, which could turn out to be drastically different after 10 years, according to CH2MHill’s research:

• One option could mean a sharp increase in water rates. For municipalities and industrial clients, at most, one unit of CB-T water would jump from $28 per acre foot to $51.90 per acre foot by 2016. For irrigators, this increase would bump the cost from $10 to $18.70 per acre-foot.

• The other model would likely mean a more gradual increase. By 2016, this option would bump municipal and industrial rates to $49.10 and irrigation rates to $20.90 per acre foot.

Only those who own fixed-rate contracts would escape the proposed changes. Fixed-rate allotments were created in 1957 and set at $1.50 per acre-foot. The city of Fort Collins owns 6,052 fixed-rate units among its 18,885 total units of CB-T water.

Several water district managers asked the board to reconsider the fixed-rate contracts and allow them to absorb some of the costs of modern water operations.

Dennis Jackson, who worked on the rate study for CH2MHill, cautioned that a volatile economy could drastically change some of the study’s findings. While a strong economy would make rate hike unnecessary, a weaker economy would likely mean more increases in the future, he told the board.

“If for some reason the economy were to stall, and if we had conditions that were sluggish and not as forecasted, assessments would need to be higher, 15 to 20 percent higher,” Jackson said.

More Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District coverage here.


April 24 “celebration lunch” for Colorado River Cooperative Agreement recap #ColoradoRiver

May 1, 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 (Leia Larsen):

At a celebration lunch on April 24 at Devil’s Thumb Ranch in Tabernash, representatives from Denver Water, the Colorado Governor’s Office, Grand County and Trout Unlimited spoke in favor of the Colorado River Cooperative Agreement. Nearing its one-year anniversary this September, the agreement coordinates efforts between 18 interest groups to both protect West Slope watersheds while providing future water supplies to Denver customers. The celebration came in the wake of the latest development in the proposed Moffat Collection System, Denver Water’s latest trans-mountain water project.

“(Our) overall goal is to protect the watershed and economies in the Colorado River Basin and help provide additional water security for those who live, work and play on the West Slope and (for) the customers of Denver Water,” said Jim Lochhead, CEO and Manager of Denver Water, at the lunch celebration…

Denver Water will pay out $1.95 million in Grand County for watershed, water treatment and river habitat improvements. It will send another $2 million to Summit County. The agreement is being called “historic” for its unprecedented work in bringing together a wide range of interests throughout the state and for its “learning by doing” program of adaptive water management.

“Working together, we were able to resolve historic conflicts through a holistic approach to resolving Colorado water disputes,” Lochhead said.

According to John Stulp with Gov. John Hickenlooper’s office, the unprecedented water cooperation will also be used as a model for the statewide Colorado Water Plan, set to be ready by December 2014.

“Part of the concerns we have, and why we need a water plan, is based on many of the same principles you had in this cooperative agreement,” Stulp said at the lunch. “Important … building blocks that went into this cooperative agreement (are) having good people with a broad vision of the future beyond their own community.”[...]

Still, the agreement hasn’t eliminated all controversy. Part of the Colorado River Cooperative Agreement negotiations is that West Slope parties must agree not to oppose any permits for the Moffat Project, the latest trans-mountain diversion plan to move water from the Fraser watershed to the Denver-metro area…

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers released its final Environmental Impact Statement for the Moffat Project last week. It’s a massive document — the table of contents alone is over 60 pages and Wockner said it has around 11,000 pages total. So far, however, he said he hasn’t seen anything in the study to address the negative impacts to river systems in Grand County. Other environmental interests have also said even with the environmental impact statement, the Moffat Project is “far from a done deal.”

“This project should not be approved unless the long-term health of the river is assured and our nation’s environmental standards are met,” said McCrystie Adams, a Denver-based attorney with Earthjustice, in a press release. “We and our partners are committed to keeping the Colorado River flowing.”

Geoff Elliott, an earth scientist with the local firm Grand Environmental Services, said Denver Water presented bad data to begin with, stacking the numbers in its favor.

“Their data is skewed to show more water in the Fraser Headwaters than now exists,” he said. “My problem is no one is doing math. Denver gets out with everything it wants.”

Elliot said according to his analysis so far, the Moffat Project’s proposals compared with U.S. Geological Survey data on actual water flows means it could take 90 percent or more water out of the Fraser.

“Now, we get hit by a 12,000-page Final EIS that requires an army to review,” he said. “This is Big Brother Denver Water hitting Grand County hard, and we are told we should be happy with vague platitudes, scraps of water and lawyerly agreements for more closed-door meetings.”

More Colorado River Cooperative Agreement coverage here.


Northern Water’s draft rate study now available

April 30, 2014
Colorado-Big Thompson Project Map via Northern Water

Colorado-Big Thompson Project Map via Northern Water

Click here to read the report.

More Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District coverage here.


Denver Water: Waterton Canyon will be closed May 6-9 to reduce dust on canyon road

April 29, 2014

Denver, Aurora and Colorado Springs all utilize non-potable irrigation in city operations

April 29, 2014
Metropolitan Wastewater Reclamation District Hite plant outfall via South Platte Coalition for Urban River Evaluation

Metropolitan Wastewater Reclamation District Hite plant outfall via South Platte Coalition for Urban River Evaluation

From the Colorado Springs Business Journal (Marija B. Vader):

Colorado Springs Utilities, along with Denver Water and the city of Aurora, all reuse a significant amount of water after it has gone through a treatment plant. It’s called non-potable water and as such is not acceptable for public consumption, cooking or bathing.

The wastewater system collects all the water from homes and businesses, then treats it to conditions set by the state health department. In most treatment centers throughout the state, the treated, non-potable water is then released back to the river or source whence it came. In Colorado Springs, Denver and Aurora, that water is recaptured and reused to water golf courses, public parks, cemeteries and the like. The systems do not extend to residential uses.

“The cost is extremely prohibitive to build such a system,” said Steve Berry of CSU. “Most customers would not tolerate the rate impact.” A system would cost in the hundreds of millions of dollars, he added…

The non-potable system in Colorado Springs provides a capacity of 13 million gallons a day during the summer. The Colorado Springs system has 26 miles of distribution pipelines that stretch to Bear Creek Regional Park, Kissing Camels Golf Course, Patty Jewett Golf Course, the U.S. Olympic Training Center, Peak Vista Community Health Centers, El Paso County, Memorial Park, Evergreen Cemetery, Colorado College, Valley Hi Golf Course and others. This program was put together beginning in 1961. Utilities’ charge for non-potable water is significantly less than for treated water.

Aurora’s non-potable system is used to irrigate parks, said Greg Baker, manager of public relations for the Aurora Water Department.

“It’s 5 million gallons a day we can save from potable use,” Baker said. The city’s irrigation season stretches from May 1 through Oct. 30.

“It makes perfect sense,” Baker said. “We don’t always want to apply potable water for irrigation.”

Denver’s non-potable system has a current capacity of 30 million gallons a day, expandable to 45 million gallons a day. The distribution system includes more than 50 miles of pipe with two major pump stations and storage tanks, according to Denver Water’s website. The system began operating in 2004, and when the recycled water system build-out is complete, Denver Water’s recycled supply will account for about 5 percent of the city’s total water volume annually, according to Travis Thompson, media coordinator for Denver Water.

More wastewater coverage here and here.


Snowpack/runoff news: Race is on to beat snowmelt in areas pummeled by fall’s #COflood — The Denver Post

April 27, 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 Denver Post (Joey Bunch):

Swollen streams are running faster than normal in northern Colorado while an enormous snowpack begins to melt in the mountains above. With reservoirs too full to help absorb the expected rush, municipal, county and state crews are scrambling to strengthen improvements in the same areas wrecked by last fall’s flooding.

A snowpack that the National Weather Service ranks among the highest in the past 35 years is poised to melt and cause flooding in normal conditions. Instead, snowmelt will rake across a landscape left fragile by September’s historic floods.

Crews hope spring flooding doesn’t endanger the millions of dollars in repairs that already have been made.

Whether the crews have done enough in time is a question that can be answered only by Mother Nature.

“Nobody is quite sure how things are going to respond,” said Bill McCormick, Colorado’s chief of dam safety.

September’s floods plowed through this region, obliterating the stream banks, dams and ditches that help funnel water from the mountains to the plains. In Larimer County, the flood damaged or destroyed 65 culverts and bridges.

Still about three weeks from the typical peak of the northern Colorado snowmelt, creeks and rivers are already being tested.

“There’s more water running in the streams this year than I’ve seen in 35 years of doing this,” said Randy Gustafson, water resource administrator for Greeley who has worked his entire career at the filter plant that the city operates in Bellvue at the mouth of Poudre Canyon.

Wednesday morning, he and Kallie Bauer, a state dam-safety engineer, inspected and gave the A-OK to the Milton Seaman Reservoir. The dam there is continuously rated “high risk” because if it fails, “people in Fort Collins will die,” Gustafson said.

The dam, however, survived last fall’s flood in good shape and is capable of handling much more than even that historic flood, Bauer said.

Historic snowmelt

How high the water rises depends partly on how warm the temperature gets at higher elevations, where the snow awaits. Areas above the flood zones have a snowpack of about 150 percent of its 30-year average, and some areas are closer to 250 percent, according to water managers.

The agency already is telling people in Jefferson, Boulder and Larimer counties to brace for flooding.

Complicating matters, reservoirs that normally empty out in the fall and make room for the snowmelt in the spring refilled in September, McCormick said.

Water storage statewide was already at 89 percent of average at the end of March, when only a fraction of the snowpack had melted, according to the Colorado Water Conservation Board. In other words, reservoirs will provide little or no harbor for the massive snowmelt still to come. The rest will travel downriver.

“They’re going to spill a lot sooner this year, there’s no doubt about that,” McCormick said.

Residents in the area hit hardest last fall are worried about any level of flooding and the further damage it could do.

“I don’t even want to think about the creek rising,” said Ben Huff, whose home near the Big Thompson River outside Drake is one of the few that can still be inhabited after the last flood. “And the ground under our house is so soft; I don’t want any more water underneath it, or it might slip on down the hill.

Under threat

The recurrence of washed-out canyon roads is a disaster the Colorado Department of Transportation is hurriedly trying to avert this spring. The highway department made emergency repairs to reopen major roads last fall, but the fixes were temporary. The plan was to make more durable repairs when the weather improved in the spring.

The work to fix the problems that ruined the fall-tourism season is now complicating travel in the spring.

On Wednesday — a sunny, dry afternoon — the 20-mile drive on U.S. 36 from Estes Park to Lyons took more than an hour. The route narrowed to one lane of bumpy, dusty dirt road in several locations, and 10- to 20-minute stops were common, as road crews and heavy equipment worked nearby.

“We’re kind of in a race against time to beat the snowmelt,” said CDOT spokeswoman Amy Ford. “We’re certainly hoping (flooding will be manageable), but we can’t leave that to chance.”

Crews were blasting away the hillside this week to move U.S. 36 as far from the water as possible, she said.

Boulder County officials are concerned the snowmelt could lead to landslides and could create artificial dams made of debris lifted by the higher water levels. Crews hope to have 85 percent of the debris removed and sediment dredged by Thursday, said county spokeswoman Gabi Boerkircher.

The county is urging those who see tilting trees and utility poles — possible signs of an impending landslide — to call 911. Besides unusually high water, people should also report unusually low water, because it could indicate the water is dammed by debris upstream. A collapse could trigger a flash flood, Boerkircher said.

On the Eastern Plains, dozens of irrigation ditches are still under repair from the floods, so the abundant water will be of little use to thousands of acres of farmland.

“The runoff this year is shaping up to be a good year for water — but whether we’re able to take advantage of it, we don’t know yet,” said Sean Cronin, executive director of the St. Vrain and Left Hand Water Conservancy District, which lost 44 of its 94 ditches in the fall flood. Ten had been repaired as of April 1, and another 21 could be completed by Thursday.

For a lot of the major growers, the pace of federal help proved too slow, so they raised the money for repairs among those who share the water in the ditches to help get the work going sooner.

“They said, ‘We have no choice; this is our livelihood,’ ” Cronin said.

Brian Werner, spokesman for the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District, said the combination of last fall’s floods, the snowpack and the potential wet spring — on the back of several years of drought — show the need for more reservoirs.

More storage would provide a rainy-day account for water providers to draw from in drier times, he said.

On top of about 1 million acre-feet from the Colorado-Big Thompson water system, the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District already has projects on the board to store another 300,000 acre-feet. An acre-foot is generally enough to serve the needs of two families of four for a year.

“We’re still trying to build reservoirs so we can spread that water out from the wet years to the dry ones,” Werner said.

For Lyons resident Connie Starnes, getting through the spring is the highest priority for government work.

“We can’t live like this,” she said. “Nobody wants to go through anything like that ever again, and having to worry about it again isn’t any fun.”

From the Longmont Times-Call:

Cleanups of flood-deposited debris and sediment in unincorporated Boulder County’s stream corridors will resume this coming week.

The county has targeted specific debris locations identified as posing potential hazards and public-safety threats during spring runoff.

Ongoing cleanup projects include such areas as: Lefthand Creek west of U.S. Highway 36; the Apple Valley Road area; Fourmile Creek; Fourmile Canyon Creek; the Little Thompson Creek; the Longmont Dam Road area; North St. Vrain Creek; the St. Vrain River corridor through the county’s plains; the South St. Vrain as it crosses Boulder County open space; and the Streamcrest area.

Cleanup projects set to begin this week include: Gold Run Creek; the Middle St. Vrain Creek; the Raymond-Riverside area; the Salina area; and other parts of the South St. Vrain Creek.

From Steamboat Today (Tom Ross):

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration released a drought summary Friday showing that the Park and Elkhead mountain ranges that wrap around Steamboat Springs and Craig are among a few pockets in the West enjoying above-average moisture and snowpack during the water year that began Oct. 1, 2013…

Based on snowpack, moisture in Routt and Moffat counties ranges from 113 percent to 132 percent of the median for April 25. And that positive trend extends to Wyoming and particularly the northwest corner of that state, where snowpack is near 150 percent of average near Jackson, Wyo.

Moisture is even higher in west central and northern Montana where snowpack is as much as 164 percent of the median. Northern Washington’s snowpack also is more than 100 percent, but central Oregon is in the 50th percentile and some places in southern Oregon are just 20 percent of median.

There are portions of north Texas and Oklahoma’s panhandle that have not seen rain in 140 days.

Conditions in Moffat County are “abnormally dry,” according to NOAA’s drought monitor, but do not meet the standard for moderate drought conditions. Routt, Jackson, Grand, Summit, Eagle and many of the counties straddling the Continental Divide in Colorado are free of any drought listing.

In spite of the abundant snowpack here, Steamboat has seen below-average April precipitation through Friday morning.

“Normal” precipitation in the city of Steamboat for the month of April is 2.41 inches, according to NOAA. As of 7 a.m. Friday, April precipitation had totaled 1.72 inches. The 6 inches that had fallen as of the end of the week compares to a “normal” monthly average in town of 13.1 inches. You can find that data at the National Weather Service by clicking on “nowdata” and searching for Steamboat Springs.

Just to the west of Colorado, the snowpack in far eastern Utah that includes the La Sal, Abajo and Henry mountain ranges is just 4 percent of what is typical this time of year.

Across the West, 61.6 percent of the land mass is reported as being under moderate to exceptional drought conditions, up from 58.9 percent at the start of the water year. Some of the worst conditions are in southeastern Colorado, far eastern New Mexico, central Nevada and southern Colorado…

The National Weather Service is predicting that an entrenched ridge of high pressure will bring colder than normal temperatures east of the Rockies from Thursday to May 7, but warmer than normal temperatures to the West.

NOAA sees the drought persisting or intensifying in most of the West between now and July 31, excluding Montana, Wyoming and all of Colorado but the southeastern portion of the state.

Western New Mexico, however, could catch a break in July from a summer monsoon that would improve drought conditions and even remove them in an isolated area of the state.

From TheDenverChannel.com (Russell Haythorn):

On Highway 72 up Coal Creek Canyon, many of the culverts damaged by last September’s catastrophic floods remain collapsed, damaged or clogged…

The Colorado Department of Transportation and Denver Water are working with residents to fix problems even though many of the culverts lead to private driveways and are privately owned, like the one on Crescent Lake Road.

“We recognize that that canyon has been through a lot,” said CDOT engineer Stephen Harelson. “So we’re just trying to keep another issue from happening.”

“Access culverts are the responsibility of the property owner rather than CDOT, but CDOT is attempting to find ways to keep them clean and be a good neighbor,” Harelson added.

Denver Water spokesman Travis Thompson said the utility met with residents on Crescent Lake Road on Thursday. And even though the collapsed culvert is privately owned, Denver Water plans to make the repairs to the culvert as a good faith measure.

Dust streaming across Four Corners April 29, 2009 via MODIS

Dust streaming across Four Corners April 29, 2009 via MODIS

From The Denver Post (Scott Willoughby):

For longtime locals, the final day on the Vail Mountain ski slopes is a customary ritual, the last chance to make use of the nearby network of chairlifts and cruise spring snow before the so-called “mud season” transition to summer. While the mountain attracted its fair share of disciples on the Easter Sunday closing last weekend, some of the region’s most dedicated skiers went the opposite direction, recognizing that the best snow to be found was already in the Colorado River.

“The brown frown is bringing me down,” said Mike Wertz, a 23-year resident of Vail whose ski days regularly approach triple digits. “I’d much rather be doing this.”

Despite above-average snowpack on his home hill, Wertz had joined a throng of stand-up paddle (SUP) surfers and kayakers making the most of an unseasonably early spike in the spring runoff at the Glenwood Springs Whitewater Park. Mud season, it seems, has turned to dust season, and impacts of the gritty layers of dirt covering the mountain snowpack — Wertz’s “brown frown” — have been revealed twice over: both as bad skiing conditions and increasingly early runoff.

Make no mistake, the dust-on-snow phenomenon is real. And it’s making a mess of things in the Colorado Rockies. During recent years, desert dust carried by strong winds has been settling thick and dark on the snowpack in the Rocky Mountain headwaters of the Colorado River. Snow dusted with dark particles absorbs more of the sun’s rays and melts faster than clean snow. According to researchers at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences (CIRES) at the University of Colorado in Boulder, the snowpack is melting out some six weeks earlier than it did in the 1800s. And the problem appears to be getting worse.

It’s not an issue to be underestimated. Studies dating to the moderately dusty years of 2005-08 show that the dusty snowpack robbed the Colorado River of 5 percent of its flow before it reaches the Grand Canyon, equating to about 750,000 acre-feet annually, or about twice what the city of Denver uses. During 2009, 2010 and 2013, scientists observed unprecedented amounts of desert dust falling on Colorado snowpacks, about five times more than observed from 2005-08. Those extra layers of dirt resulted in an extra percentage point of water loss as snowmelt creeps earlier into the spring, and less water is left for later in the year. Never mind the future exacerbation of climate change models. It’s a phenomenon that already has been observed this spring as the Colorado River surged to more than 8,000 cubic feet per second (cfs) in Glenwood and 14,000 cfs at the Utah state line last week.

“The surging being logged on streams throughout the Colorado mountains is likely to be sustained until at least (this past) weekend,” reported Chris Landry, who heads up the Colorado Dust-on-Snow program as director of the Silverton-based Center for Snow and Avalanche Studies. “Several watersheds experienced flows (Tuesday) that approached their median peak flow levels.”

In other words, the water is rising, and fast. Landry only capped the stream surge this weekend because of a forecast for more snow that should temporarily cover the dust — and potentially add to it. The thing is, dust doesn’t melt. It merely grows darker and more concentrated as the snow beneath it melts, exponentially increasing the rate of runoff as the sun’s intensity grows with the approach of summer.

The research suggests that we can keep the snow on our mountains longer if we can figure out a way to adopt dust-reducing land management strategies and rehabilitate major dust sources in the Southwest. Meanwhile, we are forced to adapt.

“In the Upper Colorado River Basin, the snowpack is our most important reservoir,” said dust-on-snow research pioneer Thomas Painter of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. “With continued dusty years and greater warming, water managers will have to make their decisions very early in the season. No longer will they have the nice long snowmelt season, shortened as it already has been, to see how snowmelt runoff is going.”

And neither, apparently, will the skiers and river runners.


2014 Colorado legislation: The House turns thumbs down on HB14-1332 #COleg

April 26, 2014
Map of the South Platte River alluvial aquifer subregions -- Colorado Water Conservation Board via the Colorado Water Institute

Map of the South Platte River alluvial aquifer subregions — Colorado Water Conservation Board via the Colorado Water Institute

From The Greeley Tribune (Eric Brown):

A groundwater bill supported by a group of local farmers and the Central Colorado Water Conservancy District in Greeley has been defeated. House Bill 1332 — aimed at providing relief for areas of Weld County and elsewhere where groundwater wells have been curtailed, and where high groundwater levels have caused damage — narrowly passed out of the House Appropriations Committee by a 7-6 vote Wednesday morning, but that afternoon was defeated 36-29 when it went to the House floor, according to Rep. Randy Fischer, D-Fort Collins, who sponsored the bill.

“It’s disappointing,” said LaSalle-area farmer Glen Fritzler, an outspoken proponent of the bill, whose groundwater wells had been curtailed in recent years, whose basement flooded and who also helped form the Ground Water Coalition. “It might be the end for us in this legislative session, but we’ll certainly try again next year.”

HB 1332 called for de-watering measures in areas of high groundwater, funding for more groundwater monitoring and studies, and potentially creating a “basin-wide management entity.”

The bill struggled for support from other water circles in the state.

Earlier this month, the Colorado Water Congress voted 20-3 against supporting the bill, and members of the South Platte Basin Roundtable — a group of water officials and experts who meet regularly to discuss the region’s water challenges — spoke out against the bill.

Rather than support the proposed legislation, the roundtable voted in favor of having further discussions about the high groundwater levels and curtailed wells, and, if reaching consensus on the issues down the road, adding such suggestions to the South Platte basin’s long-term water plan and eventual statewide Colorado Water Plan, which are currently in the works.

The majority of South Platte Roundtable members said at that meeting that such measures, like the de-watering efforts, are more complex than they appear. They also said the state putting forth more dollars for more groundwater studies is unnecessary since the recent Colorado Water Institute’s study is available for further examination, and the State Engineer’s Office is in the midst of a separate groundwater study.

Furthermore, creating an entity for basin oversight would just add “another layer of unnecessary bureaucracy.”

Wednesday’s defeat was another setback for LaSalle and Gilcrest area farmers, who, due to changes over the years in the state’s administration of groundwater, had their groundwater wells curtailed or shutdown several years ago. They’ve pushed for several other bills this year and in recent years that address the issue, but have been voted down.

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. The pumping of that groundwater draws down flows in nearby rivers and streams — surface supplies owned and used by senior water rights holders. But, because of increasing water prices, some in the ag community struggle to find affordable water they can use for augmentation.

In addition to losing the ability to pump their wells, many of those impacted believe the lack of well-pumping and increased augmentation is what’s caused the high groundwater levels that in recent years flooded basements and ruined crops in saturated fields. Many believe, however, that the high groundwater levels in recent years were caused by a variety of factors, and the existing system for groundwater management is needed to protect senior surface water rights.


Jamestown is on the rebound #COflood

April 26, 2014

Here’s a report about Jamestown’s recovery from TheDenverChannel.com (Jaclyn Allen, Brad Bogott, Brian Hernandez). Click through for their photo gallery. Here’s an excerpt:

In the middle of September’s flooding, Jamestown was cut off by floodwaters on all sides, leaving only destruction in its wake…

Mayor Tara Schoedinger said things are getting better every day in Jamestown. But she added that the process has been tough.

“The last 7 1/2 months have been, probably, the most difficult in our lives,” said Schoedinger.

With the help of federal funding, engineering experts have come in to stabilize the river that runs through the town.

“We have to understand how the stream behaves, how it moves material and then we design ways for the water to come down the stream to make their way through town without causing the kind of damage we saw last September,” said Marco Aieta with the engineering company AMEC.

Graeme Agget with AMEX said he’s confident that the river is this a lot more stable than it was back when they started the repair work

“It really is about survival. This is a small mountain town and if we can’t put the infrastructure back in play for people to live here they’re going to have to find someplace else to go,” said Aieta.


Colorado-Big Thompson Project update #ColoradoRiver

April 26, 2014
Colorado-Big Thompson Project east slope facilities

Colorado-Big Thompson Project east slope facilities

From email from Reclamation (Kara Lamb):

You’ve likely noticed the water level at Pinewood dropping again. While this is typical for this time of year (Pinewood often fluctuates for power generation), we’ll be going a little lower, back to the 6560 foot level seen last month. The reason is the same: more canal maintenance downstream of the reservoir.

We are anticipating we’ll hit the 6560 elevation on Tuesday, April 29. Water level elevations will begin going up again on Wednesday the 30th, and the reservoir should be close to full again by next weekend, May 3.

From email from Reclamation (Kara Lamb):

The weather front coming in over the weekend is probably raising some questions for folks. I want to reassure you all that we do not anticipate any major changes at Olympus Dam or Lake Estes as a result of this weekend’s forecast.

The reservoir’s water level has dropped down to about 85% of full. We will continue sending some of the inflow from the Big Thompson River to the Olympus Tunnel and on over to Horsetooth and Carter. We will continue releasing about 40 cfs through the dam on down to the canyon.

Also, if you missed our presentation at the Town of Estes’s public workshop for runoff preparedness on Monday, here is a link to the video they took and other related information: http://www.colorado.gov/cs/Satellite/TownofEstesPark/CBON/1251652514966

More Colorado-Big Thompson Project coverage here and here.


Snowpack news: Greeley and Pueblo plan to lease water to farmers this season #COdrought #ColoradoRiver

April 24, 2014
Statewide snow water equivalent as a percent of normal April 23, 2014 via the NRCS

Statewide snow water equivalent as a percent of normal April 23, 2014 via the NRCS

From The Greeley Tribune (Eric Brown):

With the water outlook now drastically better than it was in 2013, many Front Range cities in Colorado, which leased little or no water to ag users last year due to shortages, are now saying they will have extra water to lease out this year.

Harold Evans, chairman of the city of Greeley Water and Sewer Board, said board members officially decided at their recent meeting they would have extra water to lease to agriculture this year, although they would have to examine requests from farmers and take other things into consideration before deciding how much they would lease out.

Officials with the city of Loveland, too, said this week they will have extra water to lease to agriculture.

Snowpack on Tuesday in the South Platte River Basin — which supplies northeast Colorado — was 130 percent of historic average, according to NRCS figures, and reservoir levels in the basin are also above normal, sitting at 108 percent of historic average on April 1.

While the outlook has been good for months in northern Colorado, many city officials in the area were waiting to see how much water would be released this year from the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District’s Colorado-Big Thompson Project, the largest water-supply project in the region, before giving the official yay or nay on leasing to agriculture.

The Northern Water board set its spring quota for the C-BT Project on April 11, and even though the board set it at a below-average 60 percent, it was enough to give most cities the green light to lease to ag.

While the C-BT quota played a large part in determining how much water most northern Front Range cities can lease out this year, the situation is a little different for the city of Longmont. Ken Huson, water resources administrator for Longmont, said that because some of its water-delivery systems are still under repair from September’s flooding, the city likely won’t be renting any water out this year.

Evans noted that while Greeley has plenty of water to lease this year, cities typically get fewer requests in years of good snowpack like this year, because so much snowmelt makes its way down the mountains, filling irrigation ditches and reducing the farmers’ needs of supplemental water from cities.

But even with plenty of snowmelt expected to fill ditches this spring, farmers still like to have water available to lease from cities as a back-up supply, if nothing else. Local farmers say they never know how fast the snow is going to melt and flow by, or how dry it’s going to get later into the summer.

At the beginning of last year, the state was coming off the 2012 drought, during which reservoirs were drained to low levels, and snowpack in the mountains was also historically bad.

As early as January of 2013, a number of cities — like Greeley, Pueblo, Longmont, Fort Collins and Loveland, each of which typically lease thousands of acre-feet of excess water each year to producers across eastern Colorado — were telling local farmers they would have little or no water to lease to ag users.

Back in 2011, which was a historically wet year, the city of Greeley — located in the most ag-productive part of the state — leased 25,427 acre-feet of water (nearly 8.3 billion gallons) to ag users, but last year, could only honor its long-term ag agreements of about 5,000 acre-feet.

Water officials from cities around the state said last year marked the first time in about a decade, longer in some cases, that they’d had such little water to lease to agricultural users.

This year is different.

Even in the southeast part of the state, where cities have less water compared to their neighbors to the north, it’s looking like those municipalities will have enough extra for agriculture.

According to NRCS figures, snowpack in the Arkansas River Basin that supplies southeast Colorado was at about historic average Wednesday and reservoirs were only filled to 60 percent of average on April 1.

Still, Sharon Carleo, water resources coordinator with the Board of Water Works of Pueblo, said they could lease in the range of 6,000 acre feet of water this year to farmers.

From the Fort Collins Coloradoan (Ryan Maye Handy):

On his farm just outside of Mead, [Kent Peppler] relies both on irrigated water and spring runoff. While water from the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation’s Colorado-Big Thompson Project can be an integral part of keeping his crop alive, Peppler only gets that water through cities like Fort Collins, which regularly lease extra water to irrigators and Front Range farmers.

“We’re hoping to rent some Big Thompson water this year, absolutely,” he said on Tuesday.

But this year it’s unlikely that Peppler, who lives well outside the Poudre basin and is on the city’s lowest priority rung, will get water from Fort Collins. When the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District announced two weeks ago how much water customers will get from the reservoir system — 60 percent of their full allotment — city officials were concerned that amount would minimize the water leasing market. While “domestic” customers like homeowner associations will be able to lease water from the city, others like Peppler most likely will not.

Colorado-Big Thompson Project, or C-BT, rentals make up one of three water leasing markets the city runs. Fort Collins Utilities also leases water to the North Poudre Irrigation Co. and the Water Supply and Storage Co. in Fort Collins. C-BT leases have garnered the city the least money of the three since 2009. Last year, the city made $74,585 from the leases, down from $227,920 in 2009.

While not a huge moneymaker for a city with a nearly $500 million annual budget, C-BT leases can be cruicial for farmers like Peppler, who has leased water from Fort Collins sporadically over the past 30 years.

“We do depend on rented irrigation water,” he said. “We don’t have enough water rights to get us through.”

The city normally takes half of its water from the Poudre River and the other half from the Colorado-Big Thompson Project, a network of basins and reservoirs that brings water from the Western Slope to the Front Range. While the bulk of the water serves the daily needs of city residents and businesses, some fills city irrigation ditches, is channeled to homeowners associations, or feeds city parks. Fort Collins leases any leftover water to farmers like Peppler, who put in requests every year for a certain number of acre feet.

Leasing water from Fort Collins Utilities has been tricky after burn-scar debris from the High Park Fire polluted the Poudre River, forcing the city to rely more on reservoir water. The city is also partially reliant on the C-BT water when spring runoff and late-summer monsoons reduce Poudre River water quality.

High snowpack years like this can be mixed a blessing to those hoping for more C-BT water, as a plentiful snowpack doesn’t translate into a higher quota of water.

“It’s just the opposite,” said Susan Smolnik, a water resources engineer for Fort Collins Utilities. “Colorado-Big Thompson is a supplemental system. In the higher snowpack year, we will not get as much CB-T water.”

To manage the water it does receive, Fort Collins Utilities keeps strict priorities, dividing lessees into tiers. The first tier, made up of HOAs, city ditches and parks, had all its water requests fulfilled this year, worth about 80 acre feet, said Smolnik. Poudre basin farmers in the second tier had only about 25 percent of their requests for water fulfilled, although customers have requested leases for all 10,480 acre feet potentially available to the tier.

Peppler is among those in the bottom tier of users living outside the basin, who have no prospects of getting water from the city yet. Thus far, that group has requested 4,664 acre feet of water from the city.

Despite this year’s plentiful snowpack, Utilities has been “conservative,” Smolnik said, when it came to meeting regional water needs, because it will mostly rely on C-BT water until it is satisfied with the quality of Poudre River water.

“We planned that we are not going to treat more Poudre water until we know more about fire effects,” she said.

Ultimately, if city demands for C-BT water is less than expected, Utilities will be able to release more acre feet of water to those who seek leases.

For now, Peppler, who is president of the Rocky Mountain Farmers Union, hopes that a good spring runoff season will help fill the ditches that irrigate his corn, wheat and barley. Like most farmers he has crop insurance, which could help if planting season doesn’t turn out to be as lucrative as expected. But falling back on insurance is hard to justify during a year with a deep snowpack, even if that doesn’t translate into more water for Peppler’s fields.


Arkansas River Basin Water Forum: “What happens when you overdevelop?” — Jim Pokrandt #COWaterPlan

April 24, 2014
Arkansas River Basin -- Graphic via the Colorado Geological Survey

Arkansas River Basin — Graphic via the Colorado Geological Survey

Chris Woodka was front and center at the Arkansas Basin Water Forum. Below are 3 articles recapping the first day of the event.

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

A team of paragliders won’t cut it out of a glacier with a chainsaw. A ski patrol can’t bring it down from the top of a snowy mountain. Deep-sea divers won’t blow up an iceberg to get at it. In other words, no Silver Bullet for the state water plan. But it will provide options, said James Eklund, executive director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board.

“If you want to do planning, you have to do it before the crisis hits,” Eklund told the Arkansas River Basin Water Forum at Otero Junior College on Wednesday. “We’re not going to luck into what we want for our kids. We have to be intentional.”

The state water plan occupied all of the attention at the first day of the forum, along with the Arkansas Basin Roundtable’s basin implementation plan. The forum continues today with the focus on preserving irrigation for farms. The basin plan will be part of a draft state water plan that will be submitted to the governor in December.

“I can’t tell you what will be in the plan,” Eklund said. “It has to come from the grassroots up.”

The basin roundtables, the Interbasin Compact Committee and the CWCB have been talking about the core issues of a water plan — alternatives to ag dry-up, urban conservation, new supply, storage and environmental needs — for 10 years. New meetings are pushing to include more people in the statewide conversation, with about a dozen more planned in the next three months.

Eklund stressed the need to preserve watershed health to prepare for drought, floods and fires that have plagued the state for the past two years. While there will be measurable outcomes, the state water plan likely will not contain blanket solutions for filling the needs of cities on the Front Range as more people move into the state, he added.

“There may be tough decisions in the future,” Eklund said, speaking about some climate models that show reduced snowpack in coming years. “If climate change occurs, at that point dramatic steps will be taken. We have to be comfortable as a state.”

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

The Arkansas River basin is no stranger to the troubles of overdevelopment of water resources. But its neighbors also have complaints as they develop their part of the state water plan. Experts from four other basins shared some of those Wednesday at the Arkansas River Basin Water Forum at Otero Junior College.

September’s record floods were a mixed blessing for the South Platte basin, said Sean Cronin, executive director of the St. Vrain and Left Hand Water Conservancy District.

“While some reservoirs filled, it wiped out the infrastructure to deliver water to ditches,” Cronin said.

The Rio Grande basin has been in drought since 2002, and will provide little help in meeting the state’s water gap because it’s struggling to fill its own needs, said Mike Gibson, general manager of the San Luis Valley Water Conservancy District.

“We’re an ag-based economy, and we have a gap already,” Gibson said.

He jokingly suggested moving Interstate 70 — the dividing line for the state’s wet and dry weather — 300 miles south to solve state water problems.

The Gunnison River basin is softening its hard line against taking water out of its basin, but would demand tough conservation measures and no Colorado River Compact complications before agreeing to any further diversions out of the basin, said John McClow, attorney for the Upper Gunnison River Water Conservancy District. It’s still not a popular idea.

“We’re an untapped basin and intend to keep it that way,” McClow said. “And, we’re paranoid.”

Colorado transmountain diversions via the State Engineer's office

Colorado transmountain diversions via the State Engineer’s office

The Colorado River basin is also resistant to more transmountain diversions, said Jim Pokrandt, an education and communication specialist for the Colorado River District. The Front Range already takes 450,000-600,000 acre-feet from the Colorado River each year, so there is no excess water. Pokrandt applauded cooperative agreements with the Denver Water Board and proposals by the Northern Water Conservancy District as examples of moving ahead collaboratively. The Colorado River basin is cautious because of the types of problems the Arkansas River and Republican River basins already have faced.

“What happens when you overdevelop?” Pokrandt asked. “The Colorado River Basin Roundtable does not want that kind of future.”

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

An aquatic biologist who worked to establish a high-quality fishery on the Upper Arkansas River was honored Wednesday. Greg Policky, who works for Colorado Parks and Wildlife, received the Bob Appel Friend of the Arkansas River award at the 20th Arkansas River Basin Water Forum. The award is named for the late Bob Appel, who was a farmer and conservationist who helped found the forum 20 years ago. Policky has been the state’s primary biologist for the Upper Arkansas River for more than 20 years and has worked to improved the brown trout fishery.

“His attention to detail and collection of objective fishery data has provided numerous benefits to the river’s fishery,” said Jean Van Pelt, in introducing him at the forum.

In addition to programs and studies, his ability to provide public education about fisheries was cited.

“His goal is to increase the public understanding of aquatic ecology and fishery management,” she said. “He has actively targeted angling organizations and land resource agencies, but he finds his most rewarding beneficiaries in school-age children.”

Policky was humble in accepting the award, thanking members of the Arkansas River basin forum for working together on the voluntary flow program, which modulates reservoir releases for the benefit of fish.

Past winners of the Appel award are Mike Conlin, Denzel Goodwin, Paul Flack, Reed Dils, Carl Genova, Allen Ringle, Bud O’Hara, Alan Hamel and Steve Witte.

More Forum coverage from Bette McFarren writing for the La Junta Tribune-Democrat:

The 20th Arkansas River Basin Water Forum “Planning and Planting for the Future” got under way on Tuesday evening at Otero Junior College. Welcoming the group was La Junta Utility Board Chairman Lorenz Sutherland.

The first session was “Landscaping for Drought Tour of Otero Junior College Campus,” an informative session on selecting drought tolerant plants, xeriscape principles and growing drought tolerant trees, conducted by Genia Short of Otero Junior College, Liz Catt of Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District, and Shelly Simmons of the Colorado State Forest Service. The group urged use of drip irrigation and showed the simple and inexpensive tubing needed to accomplish the job. Also stressed were weed barrier material which is water permeable, gravel for mulch and edging to keep out encroaching grass. Also, look at your neighbors’ yards for good drought-tolerant plants. Anything with a bulb or tuber, such as irises and tulips, are drought-tolerant. Also, the old-fashioned bushes like spirea and rose of Sharon are good. Many other design suggestions and tree selection pointers made the session extremely worthwhile.

In the next session, Kevin Rein of the State Engineer’s Office explained the complications of the Colorado water rights system. It sounds simple, first in, first rights, but industrial, agricultural and municipal needs have complicated matters. Many states, in fact more than half of the United States, depend on water originating in Colorado, known as the Headwater State. “It falls as snow on our mountains,” said Rein, “melts, and runs off out of state. We try to catch a little of it as it goes by.”

La Junta’s Director of Water and Wastewater Joe Kelley led off the session on the Arkansas Valley Conduit, supported by Erin Mink, of Senator Mark Udall’s office. She recalled 20 years ago when she was warned about our drinking water while she was working at Bent’s Old Fort. Also making comments about the conduit were Doris Morgan of Congressman Cory Gardner’s office and Brian McCain, of Congressman Scott Tipton’s office. They emphasized that all of Colorado’s congressional representatives are supporting the Arkansas Valley Conduit.

On Wednesday morning, the really big crowd arrived, filling the adjacent parking lots around the Otero Junior College Student Center. Host Chairman Lorenz Sutherland, Otero County Commissioner Keith Goodwin, and La Junta City Manager Rick Klein welcomed the group. The local color guard presented the colors. The keynote speaker was James Eklund, director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board, who spoke on “Colorado’s Water Plan.”

More Arkansas River Basin coverage here.


Snowpack/runoff news: “At this point we [Denver Water] do expect that our reservoirs will fill” — Stacy Chesney #COdrought #ColoradoRiver

April 22, 2014
Statewide snow water equivalent as a percent of normal April 21, 2014 via the NRCS

Statewide snow water equivalent as a percent of normal April 21, 2014 via the NRCS

From CBSDenver4.com:

The mountain snow is melting and it looks like Colorado’s white winter in the high country will bring good news for residents along the Front Range. Denver Water thinks Dillon Reservoir will fill to capacity for the first time in years.

It was the end of March last year when Denver Water put in Stage 1 water restrictions as Lake Dillon was only 65 percent full. As on Monday it’s at about 85 percent full and it’s actually being drained to get ready for more melting snow, which will mean even more water.

“It’s always a balancing act with our reservoirs across the state — Dillon in particular. We want to ultimately keep it full so people can enjoy recreation on the reservoir, but we have to be really conscious too as to what happens below the reservoir,” Stacy Chesney with Denver Water said.

With the snowpack well above average surrounding the largest reservoir that sends water to Denver, officials have been planning all winter to let some go.

“We’ve been proactively releasing water into the river below to create that room to help reduce any risk of flooding that could happen later in the season,” Chesney said.

But officials from Denver Water are keeping an eye on the snowpack with the hope of having full reservoirs for the first time since July of 2011.

“At this point we do expect that our reservoirs will fill and we hope that customers will continue that wise water use and not overuse water and follow our watering rules which will start on May 1,” Chesney said.

What many people in the high country are going to be watching is a layer of dust on the Western Slope that has sat on the snow for nearly a month. That, along with rain and warm temperatures over the last week, helped rush the melt over the past few days.

From Steamboat Today (Scott Franz):

This week, the persistent snow in the mountains just outside Steamboat Springs is reminiscent of the impressive snowpack of 2011, when the Yampa River overran Bald Eagle Lake and caused the youth minister at the Steamboat Christian Center and his family to evacuate their parsonage.

Is spring 2014 another 2011 in the making? It’s unlikely, according to a hydrologist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration who keeps close tabs on the Yampa River Basin.

Ashley Nielson confirmed that the total volume of water that flowed down the Yampa in 2011 beginning on April 1 and continuing through July 31 was the highest on record. And this year’s snowpack doesn’t measure up.

“We do see a 10 percent chance the peak flow on the Yampa will go over flood stage, but it’s totally dependent on what kind of spring we have and how that snow comes off,” Nielson said Monday. “There’s a lot less snow than what we had in 2011.”

The Natural Resources Conservation Service is reporting that the snow at the top of Buffalo Pass is currently 134 inches deep, which is down from 149 inches April 14, and the snow water equivalent is 112 percent of median. That compares to a record 180 inches of snow depth that stood at 130 percent of average in 2011. At the west summit of Rabbit Ears Pass on Monday, the snow water equivalent was 150 percent of median compared to 157 percent April 23, 2011…

Still, the hydrograph for this week closely mirrors 2011, Nielson agreed, when low elevation runoff peaked on April 23. Nielson’s office is forecasting that the Yampa will shoot up Wednesday at about 1,900 cfs, then slip back to the range of 1,000 to 1,200 cfs through the end of the month when a cold front is expected to apply the brakes. It’s very typical, she said, for the Yampa to rise steeply in late April as snow melts suddenly from the valley floor and lower slopes.


Jamestown recovery from #COflood

April 22, 2014

From the Mountain Town News (Allen Best):

Mayor Tara Schoedinger says 80 percent of the [Jamestown’s] 300 residents remain displaced. They’ve rented houses in Boulder, Longmont, or elsewhere. This winter, Schoedinger feared few would return if water service and roads were not restored by August.

Now, it looks like they will. Bids will soon go out for design and construction of restored infrastructure of water treatment, mains and service lines. If all goes as planned, construction will begin in late May or early June. Completion is expected by August.

For repairs above ground, the town’s insurance will pay for replacements. But for the more costly below-ground work, the Federal Emergency Management Agency will pay 75 percent of costs and the state of Colorado 22.5 percent.

That leaves the town paying just 2.5 percent. This is expected to cost just under $2 million.

In an interview at the Boulder County Courthouse, where the town board has met since last September, Schoedinger recently explained that temporary roads associated with the water works will be completed by early August, with one significant bridge repair likely to be done by November.

As before, sewage treatment is handled through individual septic tanks, and $50,000 has been donated to that cause.

Roots of the settlement are traced to 1863, when evidence of gold nearby drew prospectors. It’s the most northerly extent of the belt of gold and other precious metals that sweeps across Colorado to the Durango area. The gold never amounted to that much, but the town stayed.

This isn’t the first challenge. Schoedinger describes floods in the late 1800s, then again in 1913 and 1969—and with at least comparable ferocity to that which occurred in September.

Jamestown was probably drenched worse than any other town in the four days of storms that dropped up to 18 inches in some locations. The flooding waters destroyed 20 percent of the houses and 50 percent of roads, plus the water treatment plant and the fire station. A mudslide also killed Schoedinger’s next-door neighbor, Joey Howlett, who was regarded as the town’s patriarch.


Northern Water’s 2013 Annual Report is hot off the presses

April 21, 2014
Map of the Northern Integrated Supply Project via Northern Water

Map of the Northern Integrated Supply Project via Northern Water

Click here to read the report. Here’s an excerpt:

In April when the Board considered the quota, forecasts indicated below average runoff. Because the C-BT Project delivered more than 300,000 acre feet in 2012, storage reserves were significantly below normal in early 2013, and inadequate to provide the higher quota many would have preferred.

As this roller coaster year progressed, mountain snowpack and resulting runoff increased. The Board felt it prudent to not increase the declared 60 percent quota, hoping to build C-BT reserves and be better positioned for future years.

The September record-breaking rains and devastating floods will be forever remembered. Our hearts go out to all who were impacted. In addition to the personal and public property devastation, water supply infrastructure suffered severe damage. In many areas streamflows exceeded maximum levels recorded since the advent of South Platte Basin irrigation in 1859.

Rebuilding has been the region’s focus since the floods. Some efforts have succeeded, some will require more time. The Colorado Water Conservation Board stepped up and provided

As this roller coaster year progressed, mountain snowpack and resulting runoff increased. The Board felt it prudent to not increase the declared 60 percent quota, hoping to build C-BT reserves and be better positioned for future years.

The September record-breaking rains and devastating floods will be forever remembered. Our hearts go out to all who were impacted. In addition to the personal and public property devastation, water supply infrastructure suffered severe damage. In many areas streamflows exceeded maximum levels recorded since the advent of South Platte Basin irrigation in 1859.

Rebuilding has been the region’s focus since the floods. Some efforts have succeeded, some will require more time. The Colorado Water Conservation Board stepped up and provided $2.55 million in grants to help those in need. Northern Water was honored to act as CWCB’s agent, administering over 100 grants in accordance with CWCB criteria and direction.

Northern Water suffered relatively light flood damage compared to many. We are blessed with a very dedicated and talented workforce that aggressively took on the challenge of flood recovery. As a result, Northern Water completed flood repairs by early January.

Reclamation repaired additional C-BT Project facilities damaged by the floods. The exception is the Dille Tunnel Diversion on the Big Thompson River, which will likely not be fully operational until the beginning of the 2015 irrigation season.

In 2013 Northern Water successfully finished refurbishing the original Carter Lake outlet. This past year also marked the culmination of a 13-year effort to meet the annual water delivery requirements of the Colorado River Endangered Species Recovery Program. Through a unique solution that does not diminish C-BT Project yield, water was released from Lake Granby for beneficial uses in the Grand Valley while also meeting endangered species needs. This effort, implemented by Northern Water, was funded by East Slope entities that divert water from the Colorado River.

More Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District coverage here.


USGS: Geologic Sources and Concentrations of Selenium in the West-Central Denver Basin, Including the Toll Gate Creek Watershed, Aurora, Colorado, 2003–2007

April 21, 2014

selenium

Here’s the abstract from the USGS (Suzanne S. Paschke/Katherine Walton-Day/Jennifer A. Beck/Ank Webber/Jean A. Dupree)

Toll Gate Creek, in the west-central part of the Denver Basin, is a perennial stream in which concentrations of dissolved selenium have consistently exceeded the Colorado aquatic-life standard of 4.6 micrograms per liter. Recent studies of selenium in Toll Gate Creek identified the Denver lignite zone of the non-marine Cretaceous to Tertiary-aged (Paleocene) Denver Formation underlying the watershed as the geologic source of dissolved selenium to shallow ground-water and surface water. Previous work led to this study by the U.S. Geological Survey, in cooperation with the City of Aurora Utilities Department, which investigated geologic sources of selenium and selenium concentrations in the watershed. This report documents the occurrence of selenium-bearing rocks and groundwater within the Cretaceous- to Tertiary-aged Denver Formation in the west-central part of the Denver Basin, including the Toll Gate Creek watershed. The report presents background information on geochemical processes controlling selenium concentrations in the aquatic environment and possible geologic sources of selenium; the hydrogeologic setting of the watershed; selenium results from groundwater-sampling programs; and chemical analyses of solids samples as evidence that weathering of the Denver Formation is a geologic source of selenium to groundwater and surface water in the west-central part of the Denver Basin, including Toll Gate Creek.

Analyses of water samples collected from 61 water-table wells in 2003 and from 19 water-table wells in 2007 indicate dissolved selenium concentrations in groundwater in the west-central Denver Basin frequently exceeded the Colorado aquatic-life standard and in some locations exceeded the primary drinking-water standard of 50 micrograms per liter. The greatest selenium concentrations were associated with oxidized groundwater samples from wells completed in bedrock materials. Selenium analysis of geologic core samples indicates that total selenium concentrations were greatest in samples containing indications of reducing conditions and organic matter (dark gray to black claystones and lignite horizons).

The Toll Gate Creek watershed is situated in a unique hydrogeologic setting in the west-central part of the Denver Basin such that weathering of Cretaceous- to Tertiary-aged, non-marine, selenium-bearing rocks releases selenium to groundwater and surface water under present-day semi-arid environmental conditions. The Denver Formation contains several known and suspected geologic sources of selenium including: (1) lignite deposits; (2) tonstein partings; (3) organic-rich bentonite claystones; (4) salts formed as secondary weathering products; and possibly (5) the Cretaceous-Tertiary boundary. Organically complexed selenium and/or selenium-bearing pyrite in the enclosing claystones are likely the primary mineral sources of selenium in the Denver Formation, and correlations between concentration of dissolved selenium and dissolved organic carbon in groundwater indicate weathering and dissolution of organically complexed selenium from organic-rich claystone is a primary process mobilizing selenium. Secondary salts accumulated along fractures and bedding planes in the weathered zone are another potential geologic source of selenium, although their composition was not specifically addressed by the solids analyses. Results from this and previous work indicate that shallow groundwater and streams similarly positioned over Denver Formation claystone units at other locations in the Denver Basin also may contain concentrations of dissolved selenium greater than the Colorado aquatic-life standard or the drinking- water standard.

More South Platte River Basin coverage here.


SB14-147 hits a wall in the Senate Ag Committee — indefinite postponement

April 20, 2014
Map of the South Platte River alluvial aquifer subregions -- Colorado Water Conservation Board via the Colorado Water Institute

Map of the South Platte River alluvial aquifer subregions — Colorado Water Conservation Board via the Colorado Water Institute

From the Sterling Journal-Advocate:

Senate Bill 14-147, “A Study to Determine the Impact of Increased Well Alluvial Well Pumping In District 2 of Water Division 1,” would have allowed wells to pump 20 percent more than their decrees permitted under the auspices of a study.

Testimony was given during the hearing that the additional 20 percent of pumping proposed in connection with the study would injure other water rights and should not be used to solve high ground water issues. Additionally, Jim Yahn of the North Sterling Irrigation District told lawmakers that, based on court documents, there have been localized areas of high ground water in the South Platte since the early 1900s.

“The bill would have conflicted with existing water court decrees and undo stipulations between parties in hundreds of water court cases, making it unconstitutional,” the press release from WRASP said. “It could also interfere with Colorado’s obligations under the South Platte River Compact.”

Following the hearing, WRASP member Joe Frank expressed ongoing concern with the idea behind this legislation: “Water rights in Colorado are property rights. WRASP will always oppose proposals that undermine these property rights to the detriment of Colorado farmers. Taking our water should never be an option to solving water shortages in other areas. WRASP remains committed to working with all parties for reasonable solutions.”

More 2014 Colorado legislation coverage here.


“…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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