Lake Nighthorse: “It’s like a pitcher on a high shelf we can’t reach” — Manuel Heart

Lake Nighthorse September 19, 2016.
Lake Nighthorse September 19, 2016.

Representatives of the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe were in Washington D.C. for President Barack Obama’s eighth annual White House Tribal Nations Conference, according to this report from Jim Mimiaga writing for The Cortez Journal. President Obama was informed that the Ute Mountain Utes back a Bears Ears National Monument and fulfillment of original intent of the Animas-La Plata Project to build supply infrastructure. Here’s an excerpt:

…councilwoman Regina Whiteskunk…also reminded Obama of the Bears Ears Monument plan, which is supported by a coalition of five tribal leaders in the Southwest.

“I was able to shake President Obama’s hand and said ‘Remember Bears Ears,’ and he responded, ‘There is still work to do’,” Whiteskunk said. “It was not a ‘No,’ so I am pushing forward and maintain the thought that it can still get done.”


Currently, a key issue for the Ute Mountain Ute tribe is delivering water to the reservation from Lake Nighthorse near Durango, [Tribal Chairman Manuel Heart] said. The tribe owns 40 percent of the water in the 120,000-acre-foot reservoir, and a component of the Animas-La Plata Project built to satisfy Ute Mountain, Southern Ute and Navajo water rights. But while much of the lake’s water is owned by the Ute Mountain Utes, it is out of reach for practical uses, Heart said.

“It’s like a pitcher on a high shelf we can’t reach. We need delivery to our land, which was initially promised but was eventually cut out, so we have been fighting to get that back.”

One possibility is to use local rivers to deliver the water to the reservation.

It could be released from the Lake Nighthorse spillway into the Animas River, then flow to the San Juan River, which meets up with the Ute Mountain reservation near the Four Corners Monument.

Heart said that idea is being discussed, but has legal and topographical challenges.

“From the San Juan River, it would require many miles of new pipe and pumping the water uphill before it could arrive at our farms,” he said.

Delivering it to the tribe via pipelines directly from higher Lake Nighthorse is preferred because it would be gravity-fed, he said. Piping it to Jackson Reservoir could allow it to be delivered via the Mancos River to reservation lands.

“Delivering it to our land gives us control of our water to grow our economy, expand our farms or build a new community on the east side,” Heart said.

Federal support is key to getting things done in Indian Country, he said, and Obama’s annual Tribal Nations Conference helps influence federal officials to act and secure funding.

“I have been so privileged to learn from you while visiting more tribal communities than any other President,” Obama said at the conference. “We haven’t solved every issue. We haven’t righted every wrong. But together, we’ve made significant progress in almost every area.”

Under the Obama administration:

  • The White House Council of Native American Affairs was created, a cabinet level office that focuses on Indian Country issues.
  • More than 428,000 acres of tribal homelands were restored back to their original owners, and the Cobell settlement was signed into law that established the $1.9 billion Land Buy Back Program to consolidate individual Indian lands and restore them to tribal trusts.
  • Reauthorized the Violence Against Women Act so that tribes can prosecute those who commit domestic violence against women in Indian Country, whether they’re Native American or not.
  • Provided health care services in Indian Country through the Affordable Care Act, including permanent reauthorization of the Indian Health Care Improvement Act.
  • Whiteskunk praised Obama for “elevating the voice of Native Americans and valuing us” during his administration. In her meetings with federal officials, she pushed for improved consultation with tribes on projects and laws affecting Native American lands.

    “We discussed in great length about how consultation is either weak, vague or not consistently applied,” Whiteskunk said.

    “As president he has reached out to work with Native Tribes,” Heart said. “He is the first president to hold these annual meetings, and the hope is that the next president will continue them, so we have to wait and see.”

    The road to Bears Ears via the Salt Lake Tribune.
    The road to Bears Ears via the Salt Lake Tribune.

    #ColoradoRiver: Powell and Mead get a boost from recent rainy weather #COriver

    Upper Colorado River Basin Water Year 2016 precipitation as a percent of normal through August 31, 2016 via the Colorado Climate Center.
    Upper Colorado River Basin Water Year 2016 precipitation as a percent of normal through August 31, 2016 via the Colorado Climate Center.

    From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Gary Harmon):

    Recent and prolonged wet weather across regions that help feed water levels in Lake Powell has had a downstream effect that has water-watchers encouraged.

    Lake Powell wrapped up the water year nearly 500,000 acre-feet more full of Colorado River water than it did last year.

    At the same time, the water level of Lake Mead rose slightly over the 12-month period ending Sept. 30.

    Lake Powell ended the year at 53 percent full.

    The 12-month period beginning Oct. 1 was dubbed the “water year” by the U.S. Geological Survey.

    Conservation efforts by the states of the lower Colorado River Basin — Arizona, California, Nevada — resulted in 10 more feet of water in Lake Mead this year “and thus averted a shortage trigger this year,” said James Eklund, executive director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board, which shepherded the state’s first water plan into existence nearly a year ago.

    “We can’t pop the end-of-water-year champagne just yet,” Eklund said. “We need to continue and finalize the (drought) contingency planning work so that it’s in place as soon as possible.”

    That planning is geared toward keeping water levels high enough in Lake Powell to allow Glen Canyon Dam to generate electricity while also meeting the Upper Colorado River Basin’s responsibility to supply 7.5 million acre-feet of water to the lower basin, based on a 10-year rolling average.

    While Lake Powell grew slightly, Blue Mesa, the largest lake in Colorado, shrunk, according to the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, which operates the reservoirs.

    Blue Mesa filled in to 825,000 acre-feet and ended the 2015 water year with 725,000 acre-feet of water, or 87 percent of full.

    This year, Blue Mesa’s high-water mark was 799,000 acre-feet and it ended the water year Friday with 668,000 acre-feet, or 80 percent full.

    A fine dam relationship — for more than 25 years

    Mile High Water Talk

    Where do Taiwanese engineers go to learn about recycled water? To a trusted resource: Denver Water.

    By Steve Snyder

    Word gets around.

    Denver Water's Dave Brancio shows a delegation of Taiwanese engineers the filter beds at Denver Water's Recycling Plant. Plant supervisor David Brancio shows a delegation of Taiwanese engineers the filter beds at Denver Water’s Recycling Plant.

    When you do something well, whether it’s running a repair shop, a restaurant or even a water utility, people will seek out your expertise.

    Even if it means traveling halfway around the world to do it.

    A group of engineers from Taiwan recently visited Denver Water’s Recycling Plant to better understand how we provide recycled water to our customers. It was part of a larger information-gathering trip to the U.S. so the Taiwanese engineers can help their government set national standards on water quality.

    “As urban development has increased across Taiwan, flooding damage and a deteriorating urban water environment have become public concerns,” said James Guo, Ph.D., a…

    View original post 245 more words

    Three years after the great floods of 2013, much work remains to be done in Colorado — The Denver Post

    Plume of subtropical moisture streaming into Colorado September 2013 via Weather5280
    Plume of subtropical moisture streaming into Colorado September 2013 via Weather5280

    From The Denver Post (John Aguilar):

    The yellow-striped chunks of asphalt that cascaded into Coal Creek in the waning days of the summer of 2013 are long gone, while the yawning gap in the road created by rushing floodwaters has once again been spanned.

    Still, motorists wait for County Road in Louisville to open to traffic more than three years after it was destroyed in Colorado’s costliest natural disaster.

    The reconstruction project just south of the city’s historic downtown, scheduled to wrap up Oct. 15, aptly illustrates the lasting impact the flood of 2013 had — and continues to have — on communities that found themselves in the path of the epic five-day deluge. Last week marked the third anniversary of the deadly storm, which killed 10 people and displaced 18,000 more, destroyed more than 1,800 homes and 200 businesses and racked up costs of nearly $4 billion.

    Though the flood has long slipped to the rearview mirrors of most folks, the recovery effort remains strong, said Molly Urbina, executive director of the Colorado Resiliency and Recovery Office.

    “The summer of 2016 was a very busy season in flood recovery, as we saw many projects coming out of the ground with a lot of construction activity with housing, roads, bridges and watersheds,” she said. “We saw activity begin to peak this year and will continue through 2017 as the process for various projects continues through engineering, environmental reviews and permitting at the local level.”

    Besides the bridge in Louisville, there are two other flood-damaged bridges still out of commission in Boulder County, a road wiped out in Larimer County, a park closed in Evans and tens of millions of dollars worth of permanent repairs needed on miles of roads that thus far have only seen a temporary fix.

    Of the $353 million the Federal Emergency Management Agency has given to the state for distribution to local communities tackling major infrastructure repairs, $137 million has been disbursed. The remainder, Urbina said, will be paid out “after completion of eligible activities and submittal of required documentation.”

    Which means the mopping up of the mopping up is still several years out.

    “The one thing that surprised me is how long this process takes,” said Roy Rudisill, director of emergency management for Weld County.

    While all roads in the county are passable, there are at least two major repairs on a bridge and road near Kersey still to go, he said. Work on everything related to the 2013 flood, including reimbursement checks from the government, probably won’t close out until 2018, Rudisill said.

    So far, Weld County has been reimbursed $7.5 million of the $10.2 million in expenses it submitted to both FEMA and the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA).

    For the small city of Evans, reimbursements from a variety of federal agencies have added up to $3.4 million so far. Spokeswoman Kristan Williams said the city has spent more than $5.7 million recovering from the flood, which sent the South Platte River rushing over its banks and into the city’s neighborhoods.

    The biggest impact to Evans residents from the flood was the destruction of Riverside Park, Williams said. A small portion of the park has been refurbished and has reopened, but the bulk of the 100-acre facility is not yet usable. It won’t be until 2018, she said.

    “This park has been the venue for baseball tournaments and festivals and is deeply missed in our community,” Williams said. “Thousands of hours have been spent by the city to plan, design and work with federal and state agencies to be able to reopen. It is extremely complex and challenging to convey that it isn’t a matter of putting on gloves and picking up trash to be able to reopen it.”

    At least $2 million is needed to get Riverside Park back in order, Williams said, but securing funds from a variety of state and federal agencies is no easy task.

    “There is a process you follow to make sure you get reimbursed,” she said.

    “The process was lengthy”

    That process can be painstaking. Longmont, which is eligible for $55 million in FEMA reimbursements for damage to its bridges, roads, wastewater treatment plant and the St. Vrain River itself, has assigned half a dozen city staffers to gather receipts and put together expense reports for FEMA to vet.

    Peter Gibbons was hired by Longmont in March to head up the city’s recovery division.

    “It doesn’t work as, like, you get this big blank check,” he told the Longmont Times-Call this month. “You get a $55 million obligation, which means, ‘We’re going to give you $55 million as long as you do all the things you said you’re going to do.’ ”

    That process is a big reason Louisville’s County Road bridge took so long to rebuild. City Manager Malcolm Fleming said the bridge was not as high a priority as were some other critical flood recovery efforts in Boulder County, but the $3.2 million project was also subject to federal and state procedures and review guidelines.

    “The process was lengthy, and residents have expressed frustration with how long project has taken,” Fleming said. “However, to get the FHWA funding, we had to operate within the FHWA’s constraints on the design, bidding and construction process, which took time.”

    The new bridge couldn’t come any sooner for Myra Chapman, a seven-year Louisville resident enjoying a late morning at Community Park last week. She said the rush-hour backups on State Highway 42 from cars trying to take a left onto Pine Street are getting old. Restoring the County Road link to downtown is vital.

    “You have to wait three light cycles before you can turn,” she said. “It’s been a very long time.”

    A very long time is something many Boulder County residents, especially those living in the foothills, know a lot about. Roadways paralleling rivers in steep, narrow canyons took the biggest hit, as torrents of water barreled through the narrow passages desperately seeking lower elevation in as little time as possible.

    Giant machines moved dirt and rock last week along Lefthand Canyon Drive, just east of where Lee Hill Drive intersects with the mountainous road. Boulder County Transportation spokesman Andy Barth said the work is part of $30 million to $40 million worth of road reconstruction projects expected to be completed in the county in 2017 alone.

    “We’ve estimated that we could be in construction until 2019, 2020,” he said.

    Boulder County’s roads and bridges took a $150 million hit from the 2013 flood. Barth said $57 million has been spent so far on repairs, with $24.1 million of that total having come back to the county in the form of reimbursements from FEMA or FWHA. There is still nearly $93 million worth of flood-related work to do.

    “It wasn’t like the asphalt was just broken — it was scoured down to bedrock,” he said. “This stuff takes a long time.”

    It will also take a long time for the resurrection of U.S. 34 west of Loveland, where a 3-mile section of the highway will be closed in both directions to all but canyon residents starting Oct. 17 so that major repairs can be performed.

    “The canyon section sustained widespread, massive damage,” according to a description of the coming project on the Colorado Department of Transportation website. “Major sections of roadway were washed away completely, along with access bridges and retaining walls. In the narrows, much of the roadway and grade were undermined, washing out the pavement from below and exposing the wall support structures.”

    The closure, between Drake and Cedar Cove, will last until Memorial Day weekend.

    Signs of progress

    While challenges remain plentiful three years after the skies opened to tragic effect, many communities are successfully putting the flood of 2013 behind them one fix at a time.

    In Larimer County, the gigantic task of putting County Road 43 back together again — at a cost of $49 million — has come to an end. The months of escorted traffic through multiple blasts zones as crews resuscitated a road swept away by manic waves of water are no more.

    The website that for more than a year informed motorists of nearly constant delays on the route between Estes Park and Drake bears a happy, if short-lived, message.

    “Because this project is now substantially complete, this website will be taken down in mid-September,” it reads.

    Todd Juergens, road and bridge director for Larimer County, said after spending nearly $46 million on flood repairs through the end of August, the county projects it has nearly $55 million left of repairs to do. That includes reconnecting County Road 22H to County Road 29 over the Big Thompson River west of Loveland, a task he thinks will be completed by the end of the year.

    “This is what we do,” Juergens said matter-of-factly of the work in front of him.

    The residents of hard-hit Jamestown did what they had to do to come back from nearly total destruction. For months after the storm, dozens of residents were unable to return because of flood damage to their houses — if their houses were standing at all.

    Tara Schoedinger, Jamestown’s mayor, said even with up to $20 million in damage and a population of about 20 fewer people than there were preflood, her town has emerged as a “strong and more resilient community” three years after the deluge.

    The final home to be rebuilt on a once-sodden ground will be unveiled in the spring. And Jamestown proudly shows off its newly built bridge with burly retaining walls on the west end of town.

    Urbina, the head of Colorado’s recovery office, said other postflood accomplishments are worth noting.

    More than 100 affordable housing units in flood-impacted communities have been built, many of which are available for residents displaced by the flood. One hundred sixty-nine businesses and farms in Colorado have received money through the Community Development Block Grant program. Also, 74 watershed restoration projects in the state will be implemented through the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Emergency Watershed Protection Program.

    “The strength shown by the disaster survivors and the leaders at the local level continues to inspire us, and the state will remain a partner working side by side with them until this recovery is complete,” Urbina said.

    2013 Flood recovery by the numbers

  • FEMA public assistance (infrastructure): $355 million
  • FEMA individual assistance: $62 million
  • FEMA reimbursements distributed via the state: $137 million
  • Total damage from storm: $3.9 billion
  • Killed: 10
  • Evacuated: 18,000
  • Homes destroyed: 1,852
  • Businesses destroyed: 203
  • 3-month temperature, precipitation, and #drought outlooks through December 31 from the Climate Prediction Center

    Temperature outlook through December 31, 2016 via the Climate Prediction Center.
    Temperature outlook through December 31, 2016 via the Climate Prediction Center.
    Precipitation outlook through December 31, 2016 via the Climate Prediction Center.
    Precipitation outlook through December 31, 2016 via the Climate Prediction Center.
    Drought outlook through December 31, 2016 via the Climate Prediction Center.
    Drought outlook through December 31, 2016 via the Climate Prediction Center.

    Conservation Prevents #ColoradoRiver Shortage Declaration — Circle of Blue #COriver

    Lake Mead behind Hoover Dam December 2015 via Greg Hobbs.
    Lake Mead behind Hoover Dam December 2015 via Greg Hobbs.

    From Circle of Blue (Brett Walton):

    A resolute effort in Arizona, California, and Nevada to reduce Colorado River water use is slowing the decline of Lake Mead and delaying mandatory restrictions on water withdrawals from the drying basin.

    The Bureau of Reclamation, the federal agency that oversees lake levels, forecasts that Arizona, California, and Nevada will draw less than 7 million acre-feet from the river this year, some 500,000 acre-feet less than they are permitted to consume and the lowest since 1992. (An acre-foot is 325,851 gallons, enough water to flood an acre of land with one foot of water.) At Lake Mead’s current water level, 500,000 acre-feet equals slightly more than six feet in elevation — just enough water to tip the lake into shortage levels, if it had been used.

    The savings have been building. Four major conservation programs since 2014 have added roughly 10 feet of water to Lake Mead since 2014, according to Rose Davis, spokeswoman for the Bureau of Reclamation’s Lower Colorado Office. These programs, collaborations between federal, state, and local agencies, pay farmers not to grow crops, line earthen canals with concrete to prevent leaks, remove grass from golf courses, or install more efficient irrigation equipment. The savings are banked in Lake Mead.

    “These programs are working,” Davis told Circle of Blue. “These partnerships are working. They are making a difference.”

    The August analysis of the basin’s hydrology, an assessment carried out every month by the Bureau of Reclamation, concluded that the water level in Lake Mead will be above 1,075 feet in elevation next January. Those dates are important because the August study determines how much water the Bureau will release from Lake Powell into Lake Mead the following year and whether there will be a shortage in the three lower basin states. A shortage, which has never been declared, happens when the August study shows that Lake Mead will be below 1,075 feet in January. That will not happen next year. The lake’s forecasted water level in January is 1,080 feet.

    The benefits of conservation spread beyond next year. The risk of a shortage in the near-term will go down. The last time the Bureau ran the numbers, in April, the results showed a 56 percent chance of shortage for 2018. The updated calculations, which will be published next week, will show “greatly reduced odds,” Davis said.

    Water managers in the basin say that conservation gains can be maintained and extended. “All of the programs are long-term, reaching out several decades,” Tanya Trujillo, executive director of the Colorado River Board of California, told Circle of Blue.

    More Challenges Still To Come
    Even with the conservation success, hard decisions are close at hand. One, the basin must come to terms with the “structural deficit.” This is the term water managers use to describe a basic imbalance: in a year with average water releases from Lake Powell, the water level at Lake Mead will drop by roughly 12 feet because demand exceeds supply. James Eklund, director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board, called the structural deficit “a root discussion over the last several years” among all seven basin states.

    Two, the risk calculations will change as the four states in the upper basin — Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming — pull more water out of the basin.

    Three, water managers and politicians alike must figure out what to do about the Salton Sea, a festering sore in the basin’s politics. The sea — in fact, a lake — was created in 1905 when the Colorado River burst through a dike and filled a desert depression that had no ocean outlet. In later years, the Salton, now California’s largest lake, swelled with farm drainage and grew saltier from evaporation.

    The Salton has been shrinking since 2003, when a historic agreement between Imperial Irrigation District and state, federal, and tribal agencies resulted in a large transfer of water from farm to city, which reduced farm runoff. As part of the agreement, Imperial delivered water to prop up the lake, which is also an important habitat for birds migrating along the Pacific flyway. But those deliveries will cease at the end of 2017, after which the lake will go into a tailspin, shrinking rapidly and becoming several times saltier than the ocean. Pesticides, salts, and toxic dust on the seabed poses an immediate health threat to the people of the Coachella Valley, Imperial County, and Mexicali, a border city of 1 million people. A solution to the Salton Sea problem is inevitably tied to Colorado River issues upstream.

    “Being one of the largest users on the river, it’s in our best interest to look out for and promote the health and welfare of the system as a whole,” Marion Champion, spokeswoman for Imperial Irrigation District, told Circle of Blue. “That said, we will need some reassurances from the state of California that it will live up to its restoration promises for the Salton Sea.”

    Imperial has the largest allocation of Colorado River water — 3.1 million acre-feet, more than one-fifth of the river’s average annual runoff — of any user in the basin. Champion said that she expects Imperial to be a part of a basin-wide drought plan, but only if the Salton Sea is addressed, with either money or water, or both.

    “That participation is contingent on a state led restoration plan and implementation commitment to ensure our community’s public health is protected,” she said.

    Estes Park: Fish Creek restoration project

    Fish Creek Road after September 2013 floods via YouTube.
    Fish Creek Road after September 2013 floods via YouTube.

    From the Estes Park Trail-Gazette (T.A. Rustin):

    Students from Estes Park High School teamed up with ecology experts from the Estes Valley Watershed Coalition on Wednesday to help rebuild the ecosystem along lower Fish Creek. That area was devastated by the flood in 2013, washing away vegetation, eroding the banks, destroying the utility infrastructure, and damaging homes.

    The Coalition has been working for the last year to restore areas damaged by the flood. They selected this area of Fish Creek as their first project, according to Molly Mills, Coordinator of the Coalition. Nearly a year ago, she met with Chuck Scott, principal of the high school, and asked if the Coalition could work on restoring the river banks adjoining school property.

    “I asked him for permission to work on school property,” she recalled, “and he said, ‘Only if you involve the kids and make this a learning experience,'” said Mills.

    Mills agreed at once to the plan, and she took the responsibility for securing grant funding and obtaining legal permission to work on the river banks. That required several months, since there are numerous overlapping jurisdictions involved in the Fish Creek watershed.

    With guidance from teacher Alex Harris, the high school’s Environmental Club began planning and recruiting their classmates for this event. Mills did some training with the students, teaching them about riverine ecology, and the proper techniques for planting trees. The students in the club then created training materials for the student volunteers.

    “This has been a student-run project the whole way,” said Mills. “I brought the idea to them, and the funding; they organized the volunteers, mapped it out, and got the logistical support.”


    Beginning early in the morning on Wednesday, students transported plants and supplies in pickup trucks to three areas along Fish Creek. More than 300 students arrived and split into teams to get to work on the riverbank. They began by pulling and bagging noxious weeks that have proliferated since the flood. They also cleared the banks of accumulated flood debris and trash.

    The Coalition brought in 3,000 trees, provided by the Colorado State Forest Service. The specific species had been selected by Mills in consultation with ecology experts. They included river birch, alder, chokecherry, and cottonwood. Mills’s ecology consultants marked the locations for each tree. Working in teams, the students dug holes, planted the trees, and carried buckets of water from Fish Creek to water them.

    Nearly the entire student body has been involved in this project, including the Culinary Arts class, which planned and prepared lunch for the students, teachers and volunteers. Students in the Film Studies are making a documentary to tell the story of the project. The faculty and administrators also supported the project…

    Randy Mandel, representing the Colorado Water Conservation Board, walked among the groups of students. A water and ecology specialist, Mandel explained to the students how their efforts would improve the watershed. Mandel noticed a student struggling with the root ball of a tree. He bent down and guided her in the proper technique.

    Gary Miller, President of the Coalition, said that the flood impacted Fish Creek more severely than any other area in the Estes Valley, and therefore was chosen as the first project.

    “The Coalition was formed to bring together organizations interested in sustainable restoration of the flood damaged areas,” he said. The Estes Valley has seen three 500 year floods since 1979, and Miler predicted that we should expect more in the future. “We need to be prepared for the next huge event,” he said. He pointed out that this project has served to educate the students about the broader problem of environmental disasters.

    Mills said that this is the first phase of the revegetation of the Fish Creek watershed. The next phase will be putting up fencing around the young trees to encourage the elk and deer to browse elsewhere.

    “Otherwise,” she said, “they will eat everything we’ve planted.”

    In the next few months, the Coalition will be mulching the area and broadcasting native grass seeds to improve the ground cover.