Durango: The 21st annual Children’s Water Festival attracted more than 750 fifth-graders

Olivia Alirez, a fifth-grade student from Ignacio Elementary School, empties buckets of water in a race known as the bucket brigade during the Children’s Water Festival on the campus of Fort Lewis College Wednesday. The 21st annual event attracted more than 750 fifth-grade students from 15 schools across Southwestern Colorado. The event is sponsored by the Southwestern Water Conservation District and is an effort to educate students about water issues, the importance of the natural resource and how they can help to protect it. Photo by Shaun Stanley/Durango Herald.
Olivia Alirez, a fifth-grade student from Ignacio Elementary School, empties buckets of water in a race known as the bucket brigade during the Children’s Water Festival on the campus of Fort Lewis College Wednesday. The 21st annual event attracted more than 750 fifth-grade students from 15 schools across Southwestern Colorado. The event is sponsored by the Southwestern Water Conservation District and is an effort to educate students about water issues, the importance of the natural resource and how they can help to protect it. Photo by Shaun Stanley/Durango Herald.

From The Pine River Times (Carole McWilliams):

Classes rotated through a series of fun and educational activities, some of which inevitably involved water being thrown at someone.

Durango firefighters showed students the portable water tank used to supply water to fight a rural fire where there are no hydrants. Tankers shuttle water from a central supply to the portable tank, while a pumper truck pulls water from the tank to put on the fire. In the old days, community members had to use a bucket brigade, students were told.

Libby DeHaan’s class from Ignacio lined up to compete with kids from another school in a bucket brigade to see which group could be first to fill a five gallon bucket to overflowing. Not all the water ended up in the five gallon bucket. The Ignacio kids won at least two rounds.

Another session introduced kids to the intricacies of Colorado water law, which determines who gets water when there isn’t enough for everyone to have all they want. Presenters were water commissioners Marty Robbins, who oversees water from McPhee Reservoir on the Dolores River, Jeff Titus who oversees water from the Animas River, and Tom Fiddler who is in charge of water from the Florida River. They are the front line enforcers of Colorado’s priority system, “first in time, first in right.”

Students from Ryan Blundell’s class in Bayfield gathered around a table top three dimensional landscape with a reservoir at the top end, several little stream channels, and markers showing senior and junior water rights with their priority dates.

Robbins asked students if they know where their water comes from, for household use or irrigation, and how it gets to them. He asked them to describe the water cycle and then led into the priority system. He stressed that water is a private property right. “Today everyone but the La Plata River has plenty of water,” he said. “Everybody is happy. What happens when the snow goes away?”

The water commissioners opened or closed tiny barriers on the mock landscape to shut off junior water rights in favor of senior rights. There is a way for those with junior rights to keep getting water, by having storage rights in a reservoir, they said. Reservoirs hold water for use later in the year when stream flows drop. A reservoir is man-made, while a lake is natural.

Titus advised that Emerald Lake above Vallecito is one of the largest natural lakes in Colorado. He said the oldest ditch in Colorado that’s still in use is the People’s Ditch on the Culebra River in the San Luis Valley. It dates from 1852 (Colorado became a state in 1876) and was constructed by Spanish settlers.

What happens if dams aren’t properly inspected and maintained, Robbins asked. The dam could break and all your houses below get wet, he said, splashing water across the tabletop landscape and students.

Students learned about a quantity of water called an acre foot. That is one acre, about the size of a football field, covered with water one foot deep. Vallecito holds 125,000 AF.

Titus said an average household uses around 100,000 AF per year, or about half that with no outside watering. People who have to haul water use much less, he said. Water is used and re-used as it flows through Bayfield and Ignacio to Navajo Reservoir and the San Juan River to join the Colorado River in Lake Powell, then to Lake Mead, then south to Mexico.

From The Durango Herald:

The 21st annual Children’s Water Festival attracted more than 750 fifth-graders from 15 schools across Southwest Colorado to Fort Lewis College on Wednesday.

Sponsored by the Southwestern Water Conservation District, the event aims to educate the students about water issues, the importance of the natural resource and how they can help protect it.

#Snowpack news: The Upper #Colorado and South Platte basins look good heading into #runoff season

Westwide SNOTEL May 4, 2016 via the NRCS.
Westwide SNOTEL May 4, 2016 via the NRCS.

From The Greeley Tribune (Nikki Work):

Colorado’s snowpack conditions are above average heading into the warmer months of the year after a wet April and end of March.

All but one of Colorado’s snowpack basins are above 100 percent of the historic average, and as of Monday, the state was at 101 percent.

The river basins that affect northern Colorado, the Upper Colorado and South Platte, are at 114 and 116 percent of the average, respectively. Both jumped 12 percentage points from their levels at the beginning of April.

March and April snows are ideal for building snowpack, because they have high moisture content, and wet, snowy springs are key for good water years, said Northern Water’s Brian Werner in February.

Reservoir storage for the state also is above the historic average at 113 percent. The Upper Colorado River Basin is at 115 percent and the South Platte River Basin is at 107 percent.

As of the end of April, the state was above average in total snowfall, according to Kyle Fredin, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Boulder. The official measuring center at Denver International Airport showed a total of 72.8 inches this season, 25 percent more than an average year, and Greeley got 43.6 inches, about 3 inches more than normal.

Though both the snowfall and snowpack are above average, Fredin said they aren’t excessive.

“We’re within what we typically see,” he said.

With temperatures expected to hit the 80s by the end of the week, the focus for meteorologists is shifting to monitoring rates of melting snow. Ideally, the mountain snowpack will melt and runoff at a controlled rate, but Fredin said the National Weather Service will watch for higher temperatures in the mountains and fast melting rates. If flooding occurs, it typically happens in early June.

“We’re about a month away from that,” Fredin said. “Time is on our side in that regard.”

BLM wants to turn scenic swimming hole outside of #Colorado Springs into true attraction — The Colorado Springs Gazette

Cliff Jumper at Guffey Cove in July 2013. Photo via Wikimedia.
Cliff Jumper at Guffey Cove in July 2013. Photo via Wikimedia.

From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Debbie Kelley):

Once a little-known hangout for locals, Guffey Gorge, nicknamed Paradise Cove, has become such a sought-after taste of the tropics in landlocked Colorado that big changes are afoot.

The Bureau of Land Management wants to turn the remote swimming hole in Park County into a legitimate recreational attraction.

Paradise Cove has remained a largely unmonitored, carefree summer indulgence, where the adventurous dive from tall cliffs – up to 100 feet high – into a small deep pool, to the awe of onlookers.

“It’s a well-known spot to go to swim and lounge around,” said Kym Trutwin, a recent Pikes Peak Community College graduate who grew up in Teller County. “A big part of the appeal is that it’s completely natural and tucked away in the woods. It’s a peaceful area – a public space that gives you a sense of privacy.”

In the last 15 years, more people have been seeking out Paradise Cove, located off County Road 102 outside the small town of Guffey. On average, 18,000 people now visit the site each year, with usage peaking in July with more than 6,000 visitors. Most are Front Range urbanites between the ages of 16 and 30, BLM research says.

But empty beer bottles, fast food wrappers and other trash, along with human waste and dog doo, have tarnished the hidden gem.

The increased usage has adversely impacted the environment and raised safety concerns, according to a proposed BLM business plan for the area.

As a result, BLM wants to build a designated parking lot with easier access to the trailhead, add permanent restrooms, charge a $6 per vehicle daily admittance fee, ban alcohol, require dogs to be leashed, provide trash receptacles, install picnic tables and increase policing of the area.

Those steps would reduce health risks to downstream water users, lessen soil erosion and damage to vegetation and pay for the improvements, BLM officials say.

Public comments on the draft business plan are being accepted through May 13 at the Royal Gorge Field Office, 719-269-8500, email comments to rgfo_comments@blm.gov or go to http://blm.gov/co/st/en/fo/rgfo/planning/guffey_gorge_ea.html.

“If a comment is substantive and something that should be included or changed in the business plan, we will include it in the document,” said BLM spokesman Kyle Sullivan.

The Front Range Resource Advisory Council will review the final business plan and decide whether to approve it, Sullivan said. Construction of the parking area and installation of a vault toilet, bear-proof trash receptacle and picnic table would be done during next year’s off-season, with the fee starting May 15, 2017. The fee would be charged May 15 through Sept. 30 each year and raise an estimated annual revenue of $16,000 to $26,000.

‘It takes your breath away’

After hiking half a mile across Fourmile Creek and through a lush valley, the sound that something out of the ordinary lies ahead reaches trekkers before the sight of the scenic canyon.

Loud slaps can be heard while hiking an incline that gives way to the cove. The noise is the bodies of divers hitting the water.

Entering the waterfall-fed pool is the worst part of leaping off the granite cliffs that have outcroppings of various heights, some say.

“It’s freezing” is the most common complaint about the water, even in the heat of the summer.

“It takes your breath away,” one diver said last August, shivering as she emerged from the pool.

A shallow end accommodates waders, and large boulders provide viewpoints from which to watch the cliff jumping. Signs warn of the dangers of diving but don’t seem to deter many of the brave or foolhardy.

For some, the apparent impending changes will mark the end of an era, like the death of the drive-in.

“It’s pretty natural and mostly untouched,” Trutwin said, adding that she hopes nothing will detract from the area’s beauty.

Erik Kjelland, who works in the health care industry in Teller County, said he isn’t in favor of any changes.

“I think it should be left the way it is, as a beautiful natural resource and recreation area,” he said. “It’s a gorgeous place to cool your feet.”

The BLM’s Royal Gorge Field Office has been working for more than a decade to address “resource issues” at Paradise Cove, the agency’s Sullivan said.

Restrictions aimed at reducing impacts to the environment started in 2005, with the banning of motorized vehicles, glass containers and campfires, and limiting usage to daylight hours and prohibiting overnight camping.

Porta-potties have been added in recent years, along with designated parking.

The most recent environmental assessment started in 2013 and was finished last year. It included input from cove-goers, the general public and the local community.

The 80-acre site is surrounded by private land. Locals want stricter regulations because they say Paradise Cove has become a popular destination for underage drinking and partying. Users are often loud and noisy, leave their trash behind, disrespect nearby property owners and get drunk or use drugs, creating a potential for safety issues, according to public comments previously made.

Trutwin said commercializing the area might make it even more dangerous, though.

“It might make it too crowded in the summer on warm days when people want to go there the most,” she said. “The more crowded that space gets, the more dangerous the area around the water might become.”

Among the alternatives considered were closing the area entirely or banning diving. Neither of those options are suggested in the draft proposal.

Normal ops to resume at Wolford dam — #ColoradoRiver District #COriver

Click here to read the latest board meeting summary from the Colorado River Water Conservation District. Here’s an excerpt:

The Colorado River District has found that there is no compelling safety reason to proceed with remediation of Ritschard Dam at Wolford Mountain Reservoir in Grand County, now or in the foreseeable future.

This conclusion comes after exhaustve study of the settlement and a failure-risk assessment of the rock-fill, clay-core dam put into service in 1995. The River District’s consulting engineers and a separate Consultant Review Board it commissioned, together with the State of Colorado Dam Safety Branch, have concluded that the dam remains safe.

Snowmass approves tax increase for sewer plant overhaul — The Aspen Times

Wastewater Treatment Process
Wastewater Treatment Process

From The Aspen Times:

Snowmass Village water district residents approved a tax increase to pay for a new wastewater treatment plant Tuesday.

Four hundred twenty-eight residents voted in favor of the mill levy increase that will cover the almost $20 million cost of the project, according to unofficial results from Tuesday’s election.

The increase means property owners in the district will pay an additional $1.89 per $100,000 of assessed property value each month. The water district is required to overhaul its wastewater treatment facility in order to comply with new standards handed down by the Environmental Protection Agency.

Sixty-nine residents voted against ballot measure 5A. All residents of the district, including rental tenants, who are registered to vote could participate in the election as well as any property owners or their spouses who are registered to vote in the state of Colorado.

Snowmass Villagers also elected Shawn Gleason and David Spence to fill two vacancies on the district’s board.

Denver: 20th Annual WateReuse Research Conference, May 22-24

Denver photo via Allen Best
Denver photo via Allen Best

From the Water Reuse Foundation website:

The latest research focused on helping communities develop resilient water supplies will be presented at the 20th Annual WateReuse Research Conference in Denver, CO on May 22-24, 2016. The Research Conference provides a unique opportunity for water professionals and researchers to interact, network, and discuss current research and future trends. This solutions focused event will provide water professionals and industry with tools to address water scarcity and sustainability challenges.

Click here to register.