Raw water project gains traction — Telluride Daily Planet

Lone Cone from Norwood
Lone Cone from Norwood

From The Telluride Daily Planet (Jessica Kutz):

The project to bring raw water irrigation to the town of Norwood is gaining traction with a recently approved grant awarded by the Hermitage Fund, a philanthropic fund advised by the Telluride Foundation.

The $10,000 grant is the first won by The Norwood Lawn & Garden group, community raw water advocates who have been in charge of advocacy efforts and community surveying for the project.
Not to be confused with grey water, raw water is untreated [surface water or groundwater] — in this case from the Gurley Reservoir — that can be used for agricultural and home irrigation.

The raw water project has been on the radar of the town of Norwood for many years but did not become a tangible project until a grant issued to the town by the Colorado Water Conservation Board was used to conduct a $47,000 feasibility study.

After the feasibility study was presented in February, the Norwood Lawn & Garden group was formed and started distributing surveys to the community to see how many residents would be ready to give a tap commitment — a $2,500 fee for installing a tap to access the new water source — which also helps offset the initial costs of the project.

Led by Clay Wadman, the group of volunteers consists of members of the Norwood Water Commission, the Norwood Board of Trustees, the Colorado Water [Conservation] Board and community citizens that want to see raw water from the nearby Gurley Reservoir be directed to the town of Norwood for lawn and garden irrigation purposes.

This grant is one of three that is being solicited in order to see the raw water project come to fruition. A second grant from the Southwestern Water Conservation District for $175,000 will be submitted on Friday, and a third grant will be requested from the state Department of Local Affairs in late fall of 2016.

“Our hope is that this grant from the Hermitage Fund helps spearhead additional fundraising and grant efforts for the project,” April Montgomery, programs director of the Telluride Foundation said.

According to Montgomery, the grant provided by the Hermitage Fund will be split between two areas of concentration: for a senior citizen scholarship fund, which will provide senior citizens on fixed incomes with subsidized or free taps to access the new water source, and for administrative costs associated with running the project including marketing, community outreach and grant-writing initiatives.

The Hermitage Fund was created in memory of Reverend Sylvester Schoening and gives funds to organizations “which promote the preservation and restoration of land, water, natural resources and wildlife habitat in the San Miguel region of Colorado,” according to the Telluride Foundation.

According to Wadman, 107 people have already said they would be interested in the taps (up from 80 in July) and if they could get that number to 150 and win the other two grants the project will have enough funding to begin the first phase of construction in the summer of 2017. The project needs to raise $1.1 million dollars to reach that goal.

Wadman said that for residents, the tap commitments are “a big bullet to bite” but that in the long run it will be worth it. “(People are) going to save money on water bills, water is going to be much cheaper, it is going to make their properties more valuable, and going to make their rentals more rentable.”

If Norwood were to complete the project, it would join the ranks of other Colorado towns that have adapted to a raw water system including Carbondale, Nucla, Dove Creek and Grand Junction.

For Wadman, the raw water project is an extension of the growing agricultural movement taking place in Norwood.

“Norwood is defining itself as food centric. It is gardening, it is food based … raw water supports that,” he said.
Wadman will be presenting at the Norwood Board of Trustees meeting this Wednesday where the presale of taps will be up for discussion.

Rico tests the water for uses of geothermal resources — The Cortez Journal

Rico photo via WesternMiningHistory.com
Rico photo via WesternMiningHistory.com

From The Cortez Journal (Jim Mimiaga):

The Colorado School of Mines recently completed a preliminary study of Rico’s geothermal resources and presented three potential development options during a town meeting Aug. 25…

Paul Morgan, senior geologist and geophysicist for the college, reported that surface hot springs in the Rico area have low toxic elements, and have temperatures ranging between 93 and 111 degrees Fahrenheit…

Becky Lafrancois, School of Mines economics professor and co-author of the study, evaluated the business potential for a small hot-springs spa, commercial-grade geothermal greenhouse, and district-level heating of buildings.

Historic McElmo flume awarded final funding — The Cortez Journal

McElmo Creek Flume via the Cortez Journal
McElmo Creek Flume via the Cortez Journal

From The Cortez Journal (Jim Mimiaga):

A recently constructed interpretive pullout off U.S. Highway 160 east of Cortez showcases the wooden irrigation flume, which was built in the 1890s to deliver water to the Ute Mountain tribe and pioneer farms.

The restoration grant requires a $60,000 match, and a fundraising effort is underway. Once that is raised, the flume’s main wooden trough structure will be repaired and restored, completing the multiyear project.

“Right now, people will stop at the interpretive pull-off and see that the flume needs repair, and that is what this grant will be paying for,” Towle said, adding that as much original wood as possible will be used in the restoration.

Repairing the foundation was the priority. In 2014, a $123,000 state historical grant was awarded to the county to rebuild the foundation and stabilize the structure to withstand flows in McElmo Creek. That foundation work was completed in February.

The paved highway pullout, parking lot, interpretive panels, information, kiosk, sidewalk and flume overlook were made possible by $250,000 in funding allocated by the National Scenic Byways Program in 2013.

The historic flume is an agricultural artifact that symbolizes the beginning of the city of Cortez and surrounding communities, Towle said.

“Cortez would not be here without these first irrigation systems,” she said. “It is important for visitors coming through to learn the story about how the efforts of early farmers and ranchers grew the town and got us to where we are today.”

Final interpretive panels on water history are still being created for the flume overlook. Also a regional tourism map will be installed at the kiosk highlighting local attractions.

Throughout the project, contributions have been made by many agencies and organizations, including Montezuma County, Southwestern Water Conservation District, Southwest Roundtable, Montezuma Valley Irrigation Company, Dolores Water Conservancy District, and the Ute Mountain Tribe. The Colorado State Historical grants awarded for the project are derived from a portion of gambling revenues in Cripple Creek, Central City, and Black Hawk.

Removing Tamarisk on the San Miguel River — The Nature Conservancy

From the Nature Conservancy:

How an ambitious tamarisk removal project on the San Miguel River set the precedent for future restoration work.

TAMARISK: A THREAT TO THE RIVER
The free-flowing San Miguel River extends for 80 miles from high-alpine headwaters above Telluride, to a desert confluence with the Dolores River near the Utah border. The area is marked by Cottonwood forests with understory of willows and skunkbrush sumac and supports an array of wildlife such as great blue heron, American dipper, black swift, river otter, beaver, black bear, and mountain lion.

In 2005, a watershed-scale conservation plan developed by the Conservancy and partners identified the invasion of non-native species specifically tamarisk, Russian olive, and Chinese elm as the highest threat to the riparian vegetation along the San Miguel River.

Tamarisk replaces native vegetation, and accumulates high concentrations of salts in the soil, threatening plant and animal species and local economy dependent on the river and riparian systems. Removing tamarisk and other nonnative woody plants from riparian corridors improves water quantity and quality, and restores the health of native vegetation.

AN AMBITIOUS GOAL
In response to this, the Conservancy designed a restoration plan and set an ambitious goal of making the San Miguel the first tamarisk-free river system in the Western United States, something that had never been tried before. Working with community members, landowners, the Bureau of Land Management and local government officials, the Conservancy educated stakeholders on the benefits of the project for the river ecosystem and garnered support from almost everyone in the watershed.

Starting in 2007, the project took seven years to complete. While not reaching the goal of a fully tamarisk-free river system, the woody invasive species abundance is drastically reduced in all of the areas that were treated. Analysis done in 2014 has shown that the removal work was a success and minimal continued management is needed.

A MODEL FOR RIPARIAN RESTORATION
“This comprehensive project was a first of its kind in the western United States and has become a model for large scale riparian restoration,” said Terri Schulz, director of landscape science and management for The Nature Conservancy in Colorado.

Efforts have expanded to projects on the Dolores River and prompted the establishment and expansion of groups such as the Tamarisk Coalition. By thinking about this work in the context of the whole watershed, the Conservancy was able to reach out to a wide variety of partners to provide leadership and manpower to the project and to grow the capacity for this work moving beyond the San Miguel watershed.

As the Conservancy plans for future restoration efforts, the tamarisk removal project on the San Miguel River provides an outline for how to successfully work together with communities, landowners and the government to complete projects and reach largescale conservation goals.

Dolores River: Balancing streamflow forecast and boating releases from McPhee

Dolores River near Bedrock
Dolores River near Bedrock

From The Cortez Journal (Jim Mimiaga):

A sporadic 12-day boating release from McPhee dam into the Dolores River in June was hampered by uncertain runoff forecasts after a late-season snowfall, reservoir managers said at community meeting Tuesday in Dolores.

Boaters faced on-again, off-again announcements of whitewater releases from the dam, which complicated their plans for trips down the river. It was the dam’s first whitewater release since 2011.

A 22-day rafting season was forecast as possible in March when snowpack registered at 130 percent of its median normal. A two-month dry spell erased the advantage, and the release was adjusted to five to 10 days of boating for late May. The forecast then dropped to a three-day release in early June, and after it was confirmed days later, hundreds of boaters flocked to the Dolores as it filled below the dam.

“Small spills are the most difficult and tricky to manage,” said Mike Preston, general manager of the Dolores Water Conservancy District, which manages the reservoir.

But on the fourth day, managers said they realized the volume of river inflow was more than the reservoir could handle, and the dam release was extended nine additional days.

“The second spill was highly under-utilized,” said boater Kent Ford, who added that the lack of notice “killed a lot of multi-day trips.”

Vern Harrell, of the Bureau of Reclamation’s office in Cortez, attributed the uncertainty to the narrow margin of runoff expected to exceed reservoir capacity.

The runoff forecast has a margin of error of 10 percent, “and this year, the spill was within that 10 percent,” Harrell said.

Decisions about dam releases rely on forecasts from the Colorado River Basin Forecast Center, which depends on Snotels that measure snowpack in the Dolores Basin.

When there is possibility for a small spill, managers don’t have the tools to give a lot of notice, Harrell said, so decisions are made day-to-day based on river inflow and reservoir levels.

“By May, all the Snotels are melted out, and we are in the blind,” he said.

In small spill years, managers said they err on the side of caution when announcing the number of days available for boaters. They want to ensure that the reservoir remains full, but they don’t want to end a dam release prematurely.

“We have to be careful we don’t leave boaters stranded on the river,” Harrell said.

Ken Curtis, an engineer with Dolores Water Conservancy District, said the priority is to fill the reservoir, and if there is excess water, it is managed for a boating release.

It was especially difficult to forecast runoff into the reservoir this year, he said, because much of the late-season precipitation came as rainfall.

“In May, we called off the spill because we were not reaching our reservoir elevation,” he said. “Then the forecasters bumped us up by 30,000 acre-feet,” enough for a small spill.

At the end of a five-day release, the forecast center showed a dip in river inflow, “so we started to shut the gates, but the river inflow was hanging in there,” and the spill was extended several days.

Managers acknowledged that they were rusty managing the release. They’d faced many dry winters that hadn’t filled the reservoir, and the unusual winter of 2015-16 complicated the matter.

Sam Carter, president of the Dolores River Boating Advocates, said boaters and the reservoir managers cooperate on potential spills, and this year was a learning experience.

Pollution control systems added to Rico Argentine mine — The Cortez Journal

St Louis Tunnel Ponds June 29, 2010 - view south towards Rico. Photo via the EPA.
St Louis Tunnel Ponds June 29, 2010 – view south towards Rico. Photo via the EPA.

From The Cortez Journal (Jim Mimiaga):

The long-closed site is on about 80 acres just north of Rico. Its leaking St. Louis Tunnel and pond treatment system sit beside the Dolores River, which provides agricultural and municipal water for 27,000 people in two downstream counties, several towns and the Ute Mountain Ute reservation.

But unlike Gold King Mine, the Rico Argentine Mine has had significant pollution-control systems in place. And more control systems are planned, said Paul Peronard, the Environmental Protection Agency’s cleanup coordinator at the mine.

“Here, we have a great understanding of the mineworks and have controls and monitoring in place, so we know where the pressure is,” Peronard said during a June 29 tour. “Based on that, the risk is pretty low.”

The mine is being reclaimed by Atlantic Richfield Co. under a 2011 Superfund order from the EPA. The reclamation program has four major components: new relief wells, more advanced water treatment, real-time monitoring, and a new waste disposal site.

How crews work to prevent a blowoutConstruction and drilling have begun on two new relief wells that will help drain the tunnel and prevent a blowout.

Mine and EPA officials estimate there is 1.7 million to 2.2 million gallons of water backed up in the mine. The contaminated water has high concentrations of manganese, zinc, copper, arsenic and cadmium.

The Rico Argentine mine’s workings come together to continuously drain through the collapsed St. Louis tunnel at a base flow of 400-600 gallons per minute, spiking to 1,000 gallons per minute in the spring.

But in the past few years, officials have noticed that the pressure behind the collapsed tunnel has been increasing each spring, which they attribute to silt, which has constricted the flow of the drainage.

Monitoring devices in the mine tunnel give operators real-time data on the elevation of the of backed-up water and the built-up pressure. Currently, the water level in the tunnel is at 8,860 feet elevation from sea level. A level considered dangerous is 8,871 feet.

A siphon in the tunnel has been pulling water out and piping it to the treatment facility. But officials fear that is not enough, so two new horizontal relief wells are being drilled into the tunnel to pump backed-up water to the treatment facility. The new wells and pumps are scheduled to be operational by the end of summer.

“We are currently getting water out of there, but let’s not miss the point of preventing a blowout, so we’re installing big relief wells as a redundant safety factor. If it backs up to a level we don’t want, we can pump it out more efficiently,” Peronard said.

Water-treatment system is scaled upA pilot water-treatment system that uses biological controls is working better than expected and is being scaled up to treat higher volumes of mine drainage year-round.

The Enhanced Wetland Demonstration Treatment System is one of two in the nation and is the only one at such a high elevation.

Water from the mine flows through a series of treatment cells with bio-reactor substrates of sawdust and organic material that use bacteria to break down heavy metals.

The treated mine water then flows through a series of 11 settling ponds before being released into the Dolores River.

“The water treatment plant is designed to handle the variable flows and water temperatures year-round,” Peronard said.

The biological system is preferred over the previous lime treatment system, he said, because the spent substrate matrix only has to be replaced every 5-15 years. It also can operate during winter without on-site management in the avalanche-prone area…

“The water here needs to be treated forever, so we want to make the costs as low as possible to give the plant longevity and not be a huge money pit,” Peronard said.

A double-lined, solid waste disposal site has been built at the site to permanently store mine wastes from the abandoned lime-treatment system as well as the toxic sludge that is removed from settling ponds. The pit can hold 60,000 cubic yards of waste, and can be expanded to store up to 365,000 cubic yards of waste.

Systems monitored in real timeCritical systems are wired to be monitored in real time, and there are live cameras throughout the plant. Mine managers and the EPA are notified remotely about the water level and pressure behind the collapsed tunnel, and on flow rates from the mine into the water treatment facility.

“We get real-time readings that ping us on the conditions,” Peronard said. “It’s an impressive system that continuously tracks and monitors operations.”

If a problem threatens the Dolores River, an automated notification system alerts county and emergency managers, irrigation managers, sheriff departments and irrigators.

And the historic and current monitoring data is, or soon will be, posted on the EPA website.

“If the public wanted to know the elevation of water behind the tunnel, they can look it up,” Peronard said.

New dam considered as a backupAs an additional precaution against a blowout, the EPA and Atlantic Richfield are considering building a dam just beyond the St. Louis adit that would be capable of capturing up to 2.2 million gallons of water backed up inside the mine.

“If you did have a catastrophic blowout, the dam would knock everything down right there,” Peronard said.

The plans for the dam are in place, and the EPA will make the decision by the end of the summer on whether it is necessary.

Atlantic Richfield is paying for “99 percent” of the costs of the mitigation and reclamation project at the mine, the EPA said, but total costs were not reported. Eventually, a long-term operator will be contracted to maintain the system, and oversight will be handed off to the Colorado Department of Health and Environment.

The tour gave area water managers confidence that the old mine is being controlled.

“It gives me peace of mind that the are doing a good job with the treatment of water and are planning for larger flows,” said Randy McGuire, water-plant manager for the downstream town of Dolores.

“The redundancies designed into the system raises my confidence level,” said Todd Parisi, emergency operations coordinator for Dolores County.

For documents on the mine cleanup and treatment facility at the Rico-Argentine mine go to https://www.epaosc.org/site/site_profile.aspx?site_id=7459

After dam release, river runs through the Lower Dolores — The Durango Herald

Dolores River Canyon near Paradox from the Coyote Gulch archives.
Dolores River Canyon near Paradox from the Coyote Gulch archives.

From The Durango Herald (Jonathan Romeo):

Overgrown banks, loads of sediment in the waterway and a depleted fishery cast a pale backdrop to an otherwise awe-inspiring float down the lower Dolores River, known for its deep canyons, lush ponderosa forests and seemingly endless succession of whitewater.

“And all of that is just a reflection of the channel starting to reflect the current hydrology,” said Colorado Parks and Wildlife aquatic biologist Jim White. “It has changed.”

[…]

Today, water out of McPhee Reservoir, considered the most expensive allotments in the Southwest, mainly supplies farms growing alfalfa, one of the most water-intensive crops used to feed cattle.

The divisive interests between farmers and recreationists have caused a debate over water rights to rage on for almost four decades.

A different riverSince the dam operates on a “fill, then spill” policy, enough water to float the lower Dolores River is only released when the dam is at capacity, and there’s no other place to store inflows.

That hadn’t happened since 2011 – until this year, when two small releases allowed boaters as well as wildlife officials to get an inside peek at what’s been happening to the long-neglected stretch of river.

And it didn’t look good.

The wildlife division’s White said a survey of the 19-mile stretch from Bradfield Bridge to the Dove Creek Pump Station found only 150 brown trout, a non-native species, and came up nearly empty-handed on native species.

“The loss of consistent spring flow to maintain habitat, coupled with altered base flow regimes, just all adds up to where we’re seeing reduced numbers of native species,” White said. “But what struck me, just the abundance of fish in general, native and non-native, is low through that part of the canyon.”

Another discernable transformation noted by many boaters was the unbridled vegetation that has started to bottleneck the river’s original channel. It was one of the most striking changes Sam Carter, board president of the Dolores River Boating Advocates, noticed on his trip this year.

“The overgrowth was intense, and dangerous,” Carter said. “There were two places that made it dangerous to move in a rapid.”

Carter said for the most part, this year’s release was a success: The large turnout of Dolores River aficionados worked together at boat launches, the weather made for hot days and warm nights, and the past year’s lack of access to the river left campgrounds, and the canyon in general, as wild as ever.

Yet a larger issues looms.

“This one spill is not the answer,” Carter said. “There has to be a change in the paradigm how that water is used. The river is getting killed. It’s a slow process, but it is happening.”

Is change possible?Mike Preston, general manager of the Dolores River Water Conservancy District, said at this point, it is “highly, highly unlikely” that any changes would occur to the management plan for the Dolores River.

Preston, a boater himself who took a trip on the Dolores River this year, said many farmers in the area made large investments setting farms up based on the water allocations.

“One boating day at 1,000 cubic feet per second is enough water to irrigate 1,000 acres for a full season,” he said. “And the farmers are paying us to maintain the facilities. And they also make payments to the federal government.”

Indeed, John Porter, a farmer turned Dolores Water Conservancy District manager who retired in 2002, said he’s clear in his bias for use of the river.

“There’s another side of it,” Porter said. “Do you just quit farming in this area and leave the water in the river? Until McPhee, it was dry river in the summertime because all the water was diverted. This project at least keeps it as a full-time river.”

Though the Dolores flowed anywhere from 800 to 1,500 cfs during the release, river levels throughout the year remain chronically low. In 2013, for instance, the river was at a trickle at just 13 cfs. The boating advocate’s president Carter said that doesn’t exactly constitute a healthy, flourishing river.

Carter said the group is “very actively” working on ways to secure annual releases out of McPhee for the benefit of recreationists and the environment.

“It’s not going to happen overnight, but we’re definitely working on it,” Carter said.

But for now, as the Dolores River slowly returns to its dispossessed flows, boaters look with a mixture of frustration and optimism toward next year.

“It was very much a bigger adventure than I think most people anticipated,” said Josh Munson, a board member of the Dolores River Boating Advocates. “Many longtime boaters noted the same things. It was faster, more wild. But the lack of water is really changing the characteristic of the river itself.

“When there isn’t a recreational release, it really isn’t much of a river.”

Dolores River watershed
Dolores River watershed