Oil spill near Windsor ~7,500 gallons

June 21, 2014

South Platte River Basin via Wikipedia

South Platte River Basin via Wikipedia


From The Greeley Tribune:

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

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

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

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

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

Noble had environmental response personnel on site Friday afternoon.

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

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

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

More water pollution coverage here.


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

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

Denver Water’s collection system via the USACE EIS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More Moffat Collection System Project coverage here and here.


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

June 19, 2014

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

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


Colorado: Not much love for proposed new water diversions

June 19, 2014

Originally posted on Summit County Citizens Voice:

EPA raises questions about compliance with Clean Water Act

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

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

By Bob Berwyn

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

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

View original 500 more words


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

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

Denver Water’s collection system via the USACE EIS

From the Boulder Daily Camera (Charlie Brennan):

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More Moffat Collection System Project coverage here and here.


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

June 18, 2014

Graphic via the Clear Creek Watershed Foundation

Graphic via the Clear Creek Watershed Foundation


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

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

Gold

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More Clear Creek watershed coverage here.


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

June 18, 2014
Southern Water Supply Project

Southern Water Supply Project

From the Broomfield Enterprise (Megan Quinn):

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

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

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

More infrastructure coverage here.


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

June 18, 2014

From The Greeley Tribune (Eric Brown):

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More invasive specie coverage here.


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

June 18, 2014
Pueblo West

Pueblo West

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More Southern Delivery System coverage here and here.


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

June 11, 2014

Proposed reallocation pool -- Graphic/USACE

Proposed reallocation pool — Graphic/USACE


From The Greeley Tribune editorial staff:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More Chatfield Reservoir coverage here.


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

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

Northern Integrated Supply Project via The Denver Post

From CBS Denver:

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

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

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

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

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

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

But the federal approval process is moving slowly.

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

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

From the Fort Collins Coloradoan (Ryan Maye Handy):

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From email from Reclamation (Kara Lamb):

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

We are now releasing 1800 cfs to the Lower Blue.

From email from Reclamation (Kara Lamb):

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From The Crested Butte News (Toni Todd):

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From the Vail Daily (Randy Wyrick):

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

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

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

Gore Creek in Lionshead may have peaked June 4.

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

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

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


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

June 8, 2014
Deep injection well

Deep injection well

From The Greeley Tribune (Sharon Dunn):

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WHAT ARE INJECTION WELLS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Water, water everywhere

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From the Associated Press via the Fort Collins Coloradoan:

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

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

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

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

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

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

More oil and gas coverage here.


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

June 6, 2014
Deep injection well

Deep injection well

From The Greeley Tribune (Sharon Dunn):

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

They said that wasn’t the case in Greeley.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More oil and gas coverage here.


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

June 6, 2014

Originally posted on Summit County Citizens Voice:

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

fdgfag

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

By Bob Berwyn

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

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

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

View original 375 more words


Northern Water sets rates for 2015

June 6, 2014

From the Fort Collins Coloradoan (Ryan Maye Handy):

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

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

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

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

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

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

More Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District coverage here.


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

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

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

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

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

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

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

Apparently there is more to come.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From the Associated Press via the Fort Collins Coloradoan:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From the Vail Daily (Raymond A. Bleesz):

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

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

From KWGN.com (Sara Morris):

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Big Sur wave near DeBeque

Big Sur wave near DeBeque

From KJCT8.com (Lindsey Pallares):

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The wave is rarely here and oftentimes hard to find.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From The Denver Post (Noelle Phillips):

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

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

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

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

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

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

Two voluntary evacuation notices were issued for Greeley neighborhoods.

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

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

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

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

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


2014 Boulder County Water Tour 6/7/14

June 3, 2014

Did fracking fluid cause Greeley quake? — 9 News

June 3, 2014
Deep injection well

Deep injection well

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

June 3, 2014

cachelapoudreatfortcollins06032014
From the Fort Collins Coloradoan (Erin Udell):

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From The Greeley Tribune:

Greeley officials have issued a second voluntary evacuation notice.

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

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

From CBS Denver:

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

From the Chaffee County Times (Maisie Ramsay):

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

June 2, 2014

castlerock
From The Denver Post (Clayton Woullard):

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More Denver Basin Aquifer System coverage here.


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

June 2, 2014
Deep injection well

Deep injection well

From The Greeley Tribune (Trenton Sperry):

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More oil and gas coverage here.


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.


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