More Cache la Poudre River watershed coverage here.
Here’s part II of the series on Clear Creek from the Clear Creek Courant (Ian Neligh). Here’s an excerpt:
Editor’s note: This is the second installment of a three-part series examining the past, present and future of Clear Creek.
Through the mountains and down to the plains, Clear Creek has rushed along its jagged banks long before civilization ever found it and the gold hidden within. Its discovery led to industry, economy and community. The tie binding the stream to the people living along its banks will not be broken easily.
Several thousand mines are estimated to crisscross the county. Lasting repercussions of the mining industry led to more than 100 efforts to clean up the stream and mitigate the mining pollution in the last decade.
According to David Holm, the Clear Creek Watershed Foundation’s executive director, stream mitigation is a “forever commitment.”
“Once you’re going down that road, you’ve really made a forever commitment for maintenance,” Holm said. “So mine drainage is like that. It is a forever problem.”
Mine waste removal and restoration of stream banks are projects that, once completed, are ultimately removed from the Clear Creek remediation radar screen, Holm said.
Clear Creek always had a “metal footprint” because of the natural mineralization in the mineral belt, which the stream cuts across, Holm said.
“So there’s no question that there would have been iron, manganese, aluminum in elevated levels, and probably a little bit of a diminished pH,” Holm said. “The tremendous increase in exposure to the weather and elements of the mineral zone, brought about by mining, definitely has increased that footprint, and we will never eliminate that additional increased footprint.”
However, the stream is cleaner today than in recent memory, thanks to efforts by the Watershed Foundation, the U.S. Forest Service, and the Division of Reclamation, Mining and Safety.
A new industry
The mining industry, once so reliant on the stream, has dwindled to nearly nothing. In its place, a recreational industry has grown by leaps and bounds.
Since 1991, rafting companies using Clear Creek have experienced more than a 7,000 percent increase in customers. This increase comes at an ideal time, when the county is looking to transition to a recreation-based economy, with Clear Creek considered the area’s crown jewel.
The increase in visitors to the county had nearly a $19 million economic impact in 2013, according to the Colorado River Outfitters Association.
Association executive director David Costlow said the meteoric rise in recreation over the years is in large part due to the stream’s close proximity to Denver and to the relatively relaxed regulations for outfitters launching in Clear Creek.
Costlow said a lot of companies based on other rivers, such as the Arkansas, now bring customers to Clear Creek.
Last year, 61,000 “user days” were reported on the stream. A user day is how the rafting industry tracks customers and equates to one customer spending time on the river during one day. In 1991, the Colorado River Outfitters Association noted, Clear Creek had just 800 user days. Today the area has 15 rafting outfitters, with several owning locations in the area and putting in additional features such as zip-lines.
“You can see the growth on Clear Creek pretty rapidly. It was just 30,000 (user days) not too long ago, and now it is around 60,000,” Costlow said. “It’s a fun river, a lot of rapids per mile.”
‘Mining recreation opportunities’
County officials see the stream as a large piece in the area’s economic puzzle. In 2010, Clear Creek Open Space, with the help of funding from a Federal Highway Administration grant, created the Lawson Whitewater Park. The park includes boulders that create specialty chutes and waves for kayakers and other boaters along the 450-foot stretch of Clear Creek just upstream from Mile Hi Rafting. The park also has parking and a changing station with environmentally friendly toilets.
County Commissioner Tim Mauck said Clear Creek saw little to no rafting 15 years ago, and now it is the second busiest river in Colorado. The county is working on a Greenway Project, which it hopes one day will create an uninterrupted recreational space following the stream from one end of the county to the other.
Earlier this year, officials met for a groundbreaking ceremony for a $13.9 million project that will link Clear Creek and Jefferson counties with a 10-foot-wide concrete trail for 6 miles, improve stream access, and link the Oxbow parcel with Mayhem Gulch.
“Looking for recreational opportunities is really something we need to position ourselves to take advantage of,” Mauck said. “The stream is the lifeblood in so many ways, not just physically to the necessities of life, but we’re drawn to it in ways that just make obvious sense.”
Mauck said Clear Creek offers a diversity of recreational opportunities such as rafting, kayaking, angling and gold panning, and the county needs to continue to transform itself and take advantage of the creek, but now in a different way.
“It’s (now about) mining the recreation opportunities,” Mauck said.
More Clear Creek watershed coverage here.
Aug. 27, CBT Project was at its highest level in history for that date — Sky-Hi Daily News #ColoradoRiverAugust 29, 2014
From the Sky-Hi Daily News (Hank Shell):
On Aug. 27, the Colorado-Big Thompson Project was at its highest level in history for that date, said Brian Werner with Northern Water. Lake Granby was at its second highest level for Aug. 27, only beaten by Aug. 27, 1984.
“I tell people ‘you cant give away water this year,’” Werner said.
Looking at rainfall in Grand County, this year’s precipitation is somewhat deceiving. Precipitation is still below that for a normal year to date for Grand County, according to Accessweather Inc. Historically, the county has had around 7.78 inches of precipitation by this time in a normal year, though this year it has only seen about 5.58 inches.
So what’s keeping Lake Granby so full? For the answer, one needs to look across the Continental Divide.
Lake Granby, as part of the Colorado-Big Thompson Project, is actually a reservoir for Front Range water users. Water is pumped through Lake Granby, Shadow Mountain Reservoir and Grand Lake, where it flows through the Alva B. Adams Tunnel to Estes Park.
This year, an unusually wet summer on the east side of the Divide has kept Front Range reservoirs full, leaving little recourse for water in Lake Granby. Couple that with increased snowpack on the West Slope and a clarity study that has kept flows through Alva B. Adams tunnel minimal, and what’s left is a swollen lake Granby, said Kara Lamb with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.
“We’ve run the East Slope of the Colorado Big Thomson Project largely on East Slope water most of the year,” Lamb said.
Lamb said she wasn’t sure, but she didn’t believe the Alva B. Adams Tunnel had been run at its full capacity of 550 cubic feet per second at all this year.
Gasner said the last year he could remember Lake Granby being at a comparable level at this time was 2011, but Lamb confirmed that there’s more water in the reservoir this year.
“Even though we were spilling in 2011 at this time, the volume of water is actually higher in this year than it was in 2011,” Lamb said.
Because of the way the spill gates at Lake Granby are situated, the lake can spill even at lower water levels.
Strong monsoon season
Earlier this summer, weather forecasters with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in Boulder believed a strong El Niño was in the works, meaning a wetter summer and drier winter for the Grand County area.
Surface water temperatures in the Pacific Ocean that are sustained above average, commonly referred to as an El Niño event, can have strong effects on weather patterns in Colorado.
Though climate models have changed and a strong El Niño is less certain, climate forecasters still saw an above average monsoon season across the Front Range, said Todd Dankers, a forecaster with NOAA in Boulder.
“We’ve had one of these better monsoon type seasons here for the summer,” Danker said. “We’ve been picking up good amounts of rain, and you can’t really pin that on El Niño.”
Dankers said surface temperatures in the Pacific haven’t been following through the model of a strong El Niño that climate models predicted at the beginning of the summer.
Rather, they’ve been dropping toward normal in recent months.
“We were thinking this pattern we’re in now, it’s been able to tap into a little bit of Hurricane Maria,” Dankers said. “That is contributing some moisture to the showers that we’re going to see.”
Some of the monsoon moisture coming into Colorado has also come from the subtropical Pacific, he said.
“It’s kind of the best monsoon pattern that we’ve seen in the last few years,” he said.
Though forecasters have been able to pin recent moisture to events in the Gulf of Mexico and the Pacific, looking farther out, the view becomes much less clear.
A strong El Niño is still possible, Dankers said, which could mean a drier winter in the mountains.
Though right now, the outlook for the mountains is “unsettled,” with the possibility of drier weather moving into the Front Range.
“These long-term ridges and troughs shift every six or eight weeks,” Dankers said. “In the next week or two, we may see a big shift to a drier, warmer pattern that could persist for another five or six weeks.”
More Colorado-Big Thompson Project coverage here.
From the Colorado Springs Independent (J. Adrian Stanley):
These are the facts accepted by all parties: Last summer and this summer, Green Mountain Falls has seen destructive floods following unusually heavy rains. The town was not affected by the Waldo Canyon Fire. The floods are not the result of runoff from a burn scar. And Woodland Park, located up the pass, has added major developments in recent years, including some alongside Fountain Creek.
Public officials interviewed for this story said they weren’t ready to start playing the blame game. But some people in Green Mountain Falls, especially those who live or own businesses along the creek, are getting edgy. A few have seen bridges washed out multiple times. Mayor Lorrie Worthey says even her home, which is located on a hill, recently had a flooded mudroom.
“There is more water coming down from Woodland; Woodland has grown a lot,” Worthey says carefully. “With that, we are going to get more water.”
Bill Alspach, Woodland Park’s public works director and city engineer, also is cautious when speaking of the Green Mountain Falls flooding. “Woodland Park has strived to be a good steward of the headwaters,” he says.
Woodland Park development affects two watersheds, Fountain Creek and the South Platte. Since the 1990s, the Fountain Creek side has seen the building of Walmart and Safeway stores, each with sprawling parking lots. An apartment complex is also currently under construction.
Alspach says Green Mountain Falls shouldn’t be affected by such development because Woodland Park has had strict stormwater development requirements since 1994. Driving behind the Walmart, he points out two large, grassy retention ponds that slowly release runoff during storms. He’s checked those ponds during downpours, he says, and they’ve been doing their job.
The Safeway doesn’t have such ponds, but Alspach says that’s on purpose, because allowing the water to run off there was found to reduce peak flows in the creek. The apartment complex also has retention ponds, and sits next to a $2.1 million stormwater project that was recently completed by the city and the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Water flows in an underground box culvert, and is slowed by barricades before it hits a large channel.
He also points out private and public retention ponds that dot the town, especially in newer developments.
Woodland Park just forked over $100,000 for stormwater repairs needed after a damaging July storm, and is still paying off bonds from major stream work in 1998 and 1999. Alspach says he’s working his way west-to-east along Fountain Creek, doing upgrades. By the end of next year, he hopes to be close to finishing all the improvements in the city area, and to have a study in hand of what needs to be done on private and Teller County land that stretches between the eastern edge of the city and the Walmart.
All this work has been done, Alspach notes, with money from grants, Woodland Park’s limited general fund budget, a special streets fund and stormwater fees. It’s been done despite the fact that the town is too small to be bound by state permits for water quality.
“We have really endeavored to do the right thing for a long time,” he says.
More stormwater coverage here.
From the Denver Business Journal (Cathy Proctor):
Colorado’s rural communities have received $545,000 in federal grants from the U.S. Commerce Department’s Economic Development Administration.
The money is going to:
Estes Park, to help the community recover from the devastating September 2013 floods; and Region 10 League for Economic Assistance and Planning (LEAP) of Montrose, to help the agency figure out the best way to assist the economic recovery of Delta and Gunnison counties after the closure of the Oxbow Elk Creek coal mine in December 2013.
Estes Park received a $300,000 grant to develop a strategy to diversify the regional economy and keep jobs after the 2013 floods. One key component of this grant will be developing a specific plan to make use of Estes Park’s existing fiber optic ring to deliver improved broadband services to the Town and region, according to the commerce department…
The other grant, for $245,000, will help the Region 10 LEAP develop an in-depth, data-driven analysis to help set priorities to create a more diverse economy, the commerce department said.