Drought news: Fire danger still high in Northwestern Colorado #CODrought

November 9, 2012

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From Steamboat Today:

Area fire departments put out a 40-acre wildfire near Sleeping Giant on Monday that began as an agriculture burn before getting out of control because of strong winds and dry vegetation. On Tuesday, South Routt firefighters extinguished a small wildfire that temporarily shut down Colorado Highway 131 between Phippsburg and Yampa.


Rifle: Voters approve additional sales tax to help finance new water treatment plant

November 9, 2012

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From The Rifle Citizen Telegram (Mike McKibbin):

By an overwhelming margin, Rifle voters said they wanted to share the cost of a new water treatment plant with shoppers and approved a 3/4 of a cent sales and use tax rate hike in Tuesday’s general election. Question 2A asked voters to approve the increase in exchange for lower future water rate hikes needed to build and operate a new $25 million water treatment plant…

The tax hike will take effect in January, raise an estimated $1.65 million a year, and increase the city’s sales and use tax rate from 3.5 cents to 4.25 cents…

The city borrowed $25.5 million from the Colorado Water and Power Development Authority to build the new plant. The loan comes from a special fund dedicated to water projects. The effective interest rate will be 1.86 percent, with $2 million loaned interest-free, resulting in what city officials called “an overall historic low loan rate.”

Repayment requirements of the loan led to sharply higher water rates in September, and more than doubled some customers’ water bills, payable in October. Money from the higher water rates will help pay for operations and associated costs of the new plant.

Miller said a few months into the new year, the city will look at how revenues are coming in from the tax hike, then very likely sharply reduce the September rate hikes, both base and tiered rates.

More Rifle coverage here.


Forecast news: ‘Heavy snow, strong winds, and plummeting temperatures will be the norm for much of the West’ — NWS #CODrought #COwx

November 9, 2012

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From the NWS:

A DEEP UPPER-LEVEL TROUGH WILL MOVE FROM THE WEST COAST TO THE ROCKIES BY SATURDAY. A QUASI-STATIONARY FRONT EXTENDS FROM THE UPPER GREAT LAKES SOUTHWESTWARD TO THE CENTRAL ROCKIES THEN SOUTH TO SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA. THE WESTERN PART OF THE BOUNDARY WILL MOVE EASTWARD TO WESTERN TEXAS AS THE UPPER-LEVEL TROUGH MOVES EASTWARD BY SATURDAY EVENING. THE SYSTEM WILL PRODUCE SNOW OVER NORTHERN/CENTRAL ROCKIES/GREAT BASIN AND SOME OF THE HIGHER ELEVATIONS ALONG THE WEST COAST ON FRIDAY. THE PRECIPITATION WILL WANE TO A FEW POCKETS OF SNOW OVER PARTS OF THE NORTHERN/CENTRAL ROCKIES AND THE GREAT BASIN ON SATURDAY. RAIN WILL ALSO DEVELOP OVER PARTS OF THE SOUTHWEST THROUGH SATURDAY MORNING.

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Matt Hildner):

The National Weather Service office in Pueblo issued a winter storm warning for elevations above 10,000 feet. Combined with wind gusts of up to 60 mph, the snowfall is expected to make conditions treacherous for drivers on U.S. 160 over Wolf Creek Pass and on Colorado 17 over Cumbres and La Manga passes…

South Fork is expected to see 1 to 2 inches of snow Saturday night, while the weekend storm could leave between 3.5 to 7 inches at Creede. The Sangre de Cristo Mountains are not expected to get the brunt of the storm. La Veta Pass will likely get no more than an inch of snow, according to weather service forecasts.


Longmont makes history as first city to ban hydraulic fracturing

November 9, 2012

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From NorthCentralPA.com:

Today [November 6, 2012] is a historic day for the city of Longmont, Colorado. Nearly 60 percent of Longmont voters approved an amendment to the city’s charter to prohibit hydraulic fracturing, more commonly known as fracking, and disposal of waste products connected with the process within city limits.

For more than six months Longmont and its citizens have been of threatened, bullied and out-spent by the oil and gas industry. Longmont’s victory over this highly industrialized and dangerous oil and gas extraction process signals to communities throughout the state and the nation that they can and will prevail over state officials who answer to the oil and gas industry rather than to their constituents.

According to Michael Bellmont, a member of Our Health, Our Future, Our Longmont (Our Longmont), “We have shown that Big Oil money does NOT always win and that our constitutionally guaranteed right to health, safety, and protection of property is NOT for sale. We proved that ordinary citizens with very little money but a lot of determination, intelligence, passion and boot leather can prevail.”

Over 100 volunteers worked in hot summer days to gather the necessary signatures to place the measure on the ballot. Over 8,200 signatures were submitted, well over the 5,700 required to move the measure to today’s ballot. Also, more than 200 citizens contributed the funds necessary to carry out the Yes on 300 campaign. The opposition raised over a half-million dollars to oppose Question 300. All of their funds came from the oil and gas industry and their trade associations. Not one Longmont resident contributed.

“The people of Longmont have made history: they have chosen to ban fracking,” said Sam Schabacker, a Longmont area native and Mountain West Regional Director for Food & Water Watch, the national consumer group who supported Our Longmont’s efforts. “Longmont residents were not frightened away or fooled by the oil and gas industry’s attempt to buy the election, to the tune of $500,000, through deceptive and threatening TV commercials, full-page newspaper advertisements and multiple mailers. Hopefully this citizen-led effort will inspire other communities to stand up and protect their health, safety and property against the risky practice of fracking as well.

Our Health, Our Future, Our Longmont, a group of concerned citizens from throughout Longmont, believes that Longmont has a right to protect the public health, safety, and welfare of our community. By protecting the health, safety, and welfare of our citizens, we will preserve our economic vitality, our home values, our water, parks, wildlife, lakes, trails, streams, open space, recreational areas and our quality of life for ourselves and future generations.

More oil and gas coverage here.


‘The water levels in the San Luis Valley aquifers are dropping, and have been dropping’ — Craig Cotten

November 9, 2012

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Here’s the latest installment in the Valley Courier’s Colorado Water 2012 series, written by Craig Cotten. Here’s an excerpt:

The Rio Grande is in the fourth year of below average streamflows. Other parts of Colorado are also in a severe drought this year, with some areas having a more severe single year drought than the San Luis Valley. However, much of Colorado had very good precipitation and streamflow last year which filled their reservoirs and aquifers. In fact, some areas in the northern part of the state had one of their best years ever last year in terms of precipitation and streamflow, while this basin languished in the midst of a multi-year drought. Since the extreme drought year of 2002, there have only been three years of above normal flow on the Rio Grande and only two years on the Conejos River. Some smaller streams around the valley have fared even worse, with only one year of above normal flows in the last ten.

The water levels in the San Luis Valley aquifers are dropping, and have been dropping, over the last several years. This drop is in response to the lower than normal recharge into the aquifers from the area rivers, streams, and ditches. After seeing modest gains during the years of 2007 to 2009, the unconfined aquifer is once again dropping substantially.

According to the aquifer study conducted by Davis Engineering, the unconfined aquifer in the West Central part of the San Luis Valley has lost nearly 500,000 acre-feet of water during the last three years. There is not a formal, comprehensive study of the confined aquifer throughout the Valley, but this aquifer is also seeing significant declines in the amount of artesian pressure. While it is not known exactly how much water is in the aquifers, it is obvious that the San Luis Valley cannot continue this drastic drop in the aquifers without severe long-term consequences…

In order to address the problem of injury to surface water users and the decline in the aquifers due to well pumping, the State Engineer is in the process of developing Rules and Regulations concerning the withdrawal of groundwater in Division 3. The State Engineer is being assisted in the development of these rules by a 55 member advisory committee made up primarily of area water users.

While these rules are not completed yet, we do know generally what they will require. In general, the rules will require that large capacity wells in the San Luis Valley repay the injury that they are causing to senior water rights, which are generally ditch and canal rights. In addition, the rules will have a sustainability component which will require that well owners ensure that the underground aquifers are brought back to a sustainable level.

The repayment of injurious depletions and ensuring sustainability can be accomplished by a well owner in two ways. A well owner may choose to implement an individual augmentation plan in which that owner will cover his individual well or wells. Otherwise, a well owner may choose to join a subdistrict, which, in exchange for monetary payment, will provide the repayment of injurious depletions and the sustainability of the aquifers for that owner.

More Colorado Water 2012 coverage here.


Restoration: Coal Basin mitigation project seeks to lessen the sediment load transported to the Crystal River

November 9, 2012

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From the Grand Junction Free Press (Rose Ann Sullivan):

Earlier this year, Dr. Russ Walker, head of the Colorado Mesa University Department of Physical and Environmental Sciences, participated in a workshop that brought nearly 50 resource experts together to develop a strategy for carrying on critical restoration work in Coal Basin and in the downstream confluence area where Coal Creek meets the Crystal River near the town of Redstone, Colo. He presented the results of CMU’s evaluation of existing water quality data and made recommendations for future monitoring. The workshop and water quality assessment were funded by the Pitkin County Healthy Rivers and Streams Fund.

Participants in the Coal Basin & Crystal River Area Restoration Workshop immediately identified a series of data gaps that needed to be addressed in order to provide a sound foundation for the continued restoration effort. The lack of adequate baseline water quality data was among the significant issues. Fortunately, funding has just been obtained from the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) that allows collection and analysis of water quality data from Coal Creek and the Crystal River in order to provide the baseline data necessary to assess the effectiveness of this comprehensive, high-profile restoration effort.

Over $300,000 in Colorado Water Supply Reserve Account grant funding was recently awarded to the Roaring Fork Conservancy for “Crystal River Watershed – Assessment and Design of Restoration Projects.” Roaring Fork Conservancy and the U.S. Forest Service White River National Forest are coordinating the long-term restoration effort with the assistance of CMU and other stakeholders, including the U.S. Forest Service, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Colorado Department of Transportation, Pitkin County, Colorado Parks and Wildlife, private landowners, and the Crystal Valley Environmental Protection Association.

The CWCB funding will be used to conduct a series of assessments to identify the continued sources of sediment loading and the geomorphic processes that are degrading water quality and damaging instream and riparian habitat in the Coal Basin sub-watershed and contributing to sedimentation issues in the Crystal River. This information will be supplemented with new stream flow, sediment, water quality, macroinvertebrate and meteorological data, and used to prioritize and design a series of site- and process-specific restoration projects for the Crystal River Watershed — with emphasis on Coal Basin and the Coal Creek/Crystal River confluence area.

The funding will also help cover the costs of a decommissioned mining road reclamation pilot project already underway in Coal Basin. This pilot effort will assess the cost-effectiveness and utility of using biochar, coupled with drainage improvements, to reduce the toxicity of surface runoff, improve the water and nutrient-holding capacity of soils, and enhance the growth of native vegetation.

Dr. Walker and his CMU team will continue to work with the Roaring Fork Conservancy on water quality monitoring for parameters that reveal basic aspects of water quality, and those that are of the most concern. Over the next two years the restoration effort will be guided by both water quality data analysis and an assessment of trends over time – as specific restoration projects and programs are implemented in the watershed.

Follow the Coal Basin and Coal Creek/Crystal River confluence area restoration efforts on the Roaring Fork Conservancy’s website at http://www.roaringfork.org/coalbasin.

Here’s the link to the USGS webpage about aerial inspection of the basin earlier this year.

More restoration/reclamation coverage here.


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