Southwest Roundtable to hold 4 meetings about their basin implementation plan #COWaterPlan

November 12, 2014
Basin roundtable boundaries

Basin roundtable boundaries

From The Durango Herald:

Four meetings on the Southwest Basin Implementation Plan, part of a statewide effort to resolve water shortages, to be unveiled next month, start next week.

Members of the public can learn about draft plans and offer opinions to water authorities.

The Southwest basin contains nine subbasins from the San Juan River to the Dolores and San Miguel rivers.

The meetings are scheduled from 6 to 8 p.m. on Nov. 17 at the Ross Aragon Community Center, 451 Hot Springs Blvd., in Pagosa Springs; Nov. 19 at the Pine River Senior Center, 111 West South St., in Bayfield; Dec. 1 at the Mancos Community Center, 117 N. Main St., in Mancos; and Dec. 9 at the Placerville School House, 400 Front St., in Placerville.

Further information is available from Ann Oliver at 903-9361 or Carrie Lile at 259-5322.


Telluride: New Pandora treatment plant awaiting final state approvals to go online

November 3, 2014

From The Telluride Daily Planet (Mary Slosson):

The Pandora Water Treatment Plant valves were opened up on Oct. 24 and everything worked, Telluride Public Works Director Paul Ruud said. The plant will not plug into the municipal water supply until a few remaining state certifications are completed, he added. Those final approvals from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment will probably be finalized in the new two weeks, Ruud said. Town officials were obligated to have the plant functional by a Nov. 1. deadline.

But the plant works, a fact that Ruud and members of the Telluride Town Council and town staff have heralded this week.

“We’re quite pleased after 20-some years of working on it, we finally have a functional water plant,” Ruud said. “It’s been quite an undertaking. We’re happy to be at the place we are now.”

The facility, located off Bridal Veil Road on the east end of the box canyon, has been under construction for three years. The plant can produce one million gallons of water per day, and has the capacity to be expanded to double that – two million gallons of water per day – if the need ever arises in the future, Ruud said.

“It is our expectation that once the Pandora Water Plant comes online and is functioning as it is designed… we will basically be in a very good position with water for the foreseeable future, possibly the next 50 years,” Ruud said.

City planners realized 20 years ago that neither Corner Creek nor Mill Creek would be sufficient sources of water, Ruud said, especially if the region went into a drought scenario.

“We’re very, very fortunate that our elected officials 20 years ago got the ball rolling. Projects this big take 20 years to accomplish. They had a lot of foresight to start thinking about this way back when,” Ruud added. “For a small town like ourselves, that’s a fairly ambitious undertaking.”

They began working to acquire water rights in the Bridal Veil Basin and converting those rights to municipal water rights. But that effort sometimes caused delays.

After voters approved a $10 million bond in 2005 to fund the construction of the project, it stalled for years as the town and Idarado Mining Company, which owns much of the land and infrastructure involved, tussled over water rights.

Work on the project finally began in earnest in the summer of 2011. In 2013 the town had to add around $4.7 million to the project after a budgetary shortfall.

Now the town will be able to take water out of Blue Lake, Lewis Lake or even Bridal Veil Creek.

The San Miguel Power Association has agreed to purchase electricity generated by a hydropower generator in the treatment plant, Ruud added, so the facility can also contribute to the electrical grid.

“It’s very, very exciting. Anytime a community can take care of some of their really, really important infrastructure needs, it’s a tremendous milestone for the community,” Ruud said.

More infrastructure coverage here.


Valley Floor sewer lagoons to get makeover — The Telluride Daily Planet

October 13, 2014
Photo via TellurideValleyFloor.org

Photo via TellurideValleyFloor.org

From The Telluride Daily Planet (Mary Slosson):

Town Council approved a restoration project Tuesday that will transform two man-made sewage lagoons on the Valley Floor into new wetlands.

The two artificial ponds, located in the open Valley Floor space adjacent to the southwest corner of the Pearl Property, are believed to have been excavated in the 1960s with the intent to use as sewage treatment lagoons. They were never used and almost immediately filled with water, officials said. As a result, they were eventually left alone to grow as wild as they could.

“We look at this as a naturalizing of what was obviously a mechanical, man-made and never used excavation, the spoils of which isolated it from the wetland ecosystem,” said Angela Dye, chair of the Open Space Commission. “This project will integrate it into the wetland system we have up there now.”

The restoration project is expected to take two to three weeks and is budgeted at $116,500. Town officials hope to complete the project this fall, when they say the construction would least impact wildlife that calls the ponds home.

In fact, that wildlife is one of the reasons that planners decided to incorporate some of the ponds’ already existing standing water into the final wetland restoration design, instead of reverting the plots back to their native state and removing the standing water altogether.

“There was a desire to keep the pond, and it wasn’t purely for aesthetic reasons,” said Town of Telluride Program Director Lance McDonald, summarizing planning discussions leading up to the restoration proposal.

“There is a lot of wildlife that use the standing water. There is not a lot of standing water on the floor,” McDonald said. “The diversity of animals is quite high here: raccoons, muskrats, fox, geese, ducks. This was an opportunity to have a place for those species on the Valley Floor even though it’s not a natural feature.”

Dye said that the restored sewer ponds would become an environmental education opportunity, with student groups able to observe the waterfowl, mammals and wildlife that flock to the area.

The restoration project will remove the land beam between the lagoons that was created during the original pond excavation to create one uniform body of water, and then use that soil to create wetland benches in the water. The project will also reintroduce native vegetation to the area using samples and seeds from the immediate wetland areas.

A total of 34,800 square feet of new wetlands will be rehabilitated, creating a seamless natural environment from the Pearl Property to the rest of the Valley Floor.

More restoration/reclamation coverage here.


McPhee Reservoir update: “…inflow from the Dolores River is helping us tremendously” — Vern Harrell

October 3, 2014


From the Cortez Journal (Jim Mimiaga):

Recent rains are filling McPhee Reservoir, improving its outlook for next season.The reservoir’s elevation is 4½ feet higher than this time last year, reports Vern Harrell, a Bureau of Reclamation engineer.

“This latest storm produced 1,676 acre-feet of storage,” he said. “Irrigation outflow is pretty much done, and the inflow from the Dolores River is helping us tremendously.”

Carryover storage as of Oct. 1, 2014, is at 34,185 acre-feet, compared with 21,943 acre-feet for the same day last year, an increase of 12,242 acre-feet.

Last year, farmers suffered shortages, receiving just 25 percent of their normal water allocation because of poor snowpack and early hot weather.

This year, farmers from Dove Creek to Towaoc received 90-100 percent of their allocation, and monsoon rains reduced overall irrigation demand.

“It turned out to be a good water year,” Harrell said.

On Sept. 29, the Dolores River hit a record peak of 1,060 cubic feet per second — up from 100 cfs the day before — because of a massive rainfall event in the San Juan Mountains over the weekend. The previous record on that day was 626 cfs in 1927. On Oct. 1, the river at Dolores was flowing at 456 cfs, a boatable level.

Also this fall, significant upgrades to McPhee’s irrigation infrastructure will begin. The Bureau and the Dolores Water Conservancy District secured $4.5 million in funding for the improvements.

Automated pumping stations at Fairview, Pleasant View, Ruin Canyon, Cahone, and Dove Creek are all slated for upgrades, said DWCD engineer Ken Curtis.

The majority of the funding ($4 million) for the upgrades comes from revenues generated at the Glen Canyon hydro-electric power plant. DWCD pitched in $465,000.

“The Colorado Basin Power funds were used to pay for new reservoir projects, but there are no more of those, so now it distributes the money for upgrades and maintenance of existing facilities,” Curtis said.

The Fairview Pumping plant, which feeds off the Dove Creek canal, will receive the first overhaul at a cost of $1.6 million.

“The $500,000 needed for installation came in and construction is slated to begin in November,” Harrell said.

Now that the farming season is over, three variable-speed pumps and their 500-horsepower motors will be replaced, along with electronics and transformers.

The Fairview station delivers irrigation water through underground pipelines to 8,000 acres of farmland southwest of Yellow Jacket…

A wet fall and some carryover storage is a good sign for boaters as well. Officials say the reservoir needs an above-average winter snowpack to fill.

More Dolores River watershed coverage here.


NWS Grand Junction photo: New snow in the San Juan Mountains

September 28, 2014

Southwestern basin implementation plan ready for comment #COWaterPlan

September 26, 2014
San Juan River from Wolf Creek Pass

San Juan River from Wolf Creek Pass

From the Pagosa Sun (Ed Fincher):

Laura Spann from the Southwestern Water Conservation District in Durango announced yesterday the release of The Southwest Basin Implementation Plan (BIP), which can be found under the “community” tab on the Colorado Water Plan website http://www.coloradowaterplan.com.

The local portion of the state plan can be accessed by clicking on “San Juan and Dolores River Basin” under the community tab. The resulting page states, “Residents and interested parties are encouraged to participate in the Basin Implementation Plan process. As the process moves forward, documents relating to the plan will be posted here.” There are currently two documents on the page available for download.

While the website allows for electronic comments to be made concerning the broader Colorado Water Plan, Spann asks that interested members of the public direct any comments specifically about the southwest portion of the plan to Carrie Lile via email at carrie@durangowater.com or phone, 259-5322…

The website goes on to explain, “The Southwest Basin is located in the southwest corner of Colorado and covers an area of approximately 10,169 square miles. The largest cities within the basin are Durango (pop. 15,213) and Cortez (pop. 8,328). The region also includes three ski areas: Telluride, Wolf Creek and Durango Mountain Resort.”

The website concludes, “The Southwest Basin is projected to increase in municipal and industrial (M&I) water demand between 17,000 acre feet (AF) and 27,000 AF by 2050 with passive conservation included.”

More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.


Projects planned for upper and lower reaches of the Dolores River

September 26, 2014

From the Cortez Journal (Jim Mimiaga):

Matt Clark, director for the Dolores River Chapter of Trout Unlimited, is organizing a project to install a fish passage and improved diversion dam at the Redburn Ranch north of Dolores.

Currently, landowners have to build a cobble push-up dam across a wide section of river every year to get enough draw into a nearby diversion that irrigates the pastures.

The make-shift dam blocks fish from moving up and down the river and washes out every year at high flows.

“During the nine months out of the year it is up, there is no water flowing over it, preventing fish passage,” said Clark. “Plus it is a pain for the landowner to maintain.”

The solution is to build three, large-rock dams 200 feet apart that step down.

“Each one drops down the river a foot and has a pour-over,” Clark explained. “A side benefit is that it forms pools and ripple-habitat structure in between.”

In addition a new head-gate will be installed for the irrigation diversion.

Clark said there is anecdotal evidence that juvenile fish are getting trapped in that area of the river.

“A health trout fishery requires a connected river system,” he said. “When fish spawn higher up in the system, their larvae drift down and need to spread out without obstructions.”

The project is expected to be installed next fall, with cost estimates between $200,000 and $300,000. The Redburn Ranch fish passage project has been awarded a $50,000 grant from the Southwest Basin Roundtable, and $98,000 from the Colorado Water Conservation board. Trout Unlimited contributed $20,000, and the landowner contributed money as well, Clark said.

“We’re piecing it together,” Clark said. “It is a win-win for ranch management and fish habitat. Plus the pour-overs allow for easier passage for recreational boat passage.”

Meanwhile on the Lower Dolores River below McPhee dam, The Nature Conservancy is committed to improving riparian habitat by eradicating invasive tamarisk and planting native species.

TNC, along with the Southwest Conservation Corp, and the BLM formed the Dolores River Restoration Partnership. So far the effort has created 175 jobs and restored 821 acres.

“The impact of tamarisk is huge — they rob waterways of their health and make recreational access cumbersome,” says Peter Mueller, director of the Conservancy’s North San Juan Mountain Program in Colorado.

But, he adds, “When you get rid of this wicked tree, all of a sudden you can see the light, and you can see the river again.”

Aiding the effort is the spread of the tamarisk beetle, introduced into the West in the 1990s as a biological control agent. The U.S. Department of Agriculture imported tamarisk beetles from Eurasia, where they keep tamarisk in check, and after years of quarantine and testing, released them in Utah, Wyoming and Colorado.

“These beetles are one of the most tested biological agents we have and there’s little risk of them harming other plants,” says Mueller.

Over the last three years, the beetles have defoliated a majority of the tamarisk on a 60-mile reach of the Colorado River. From the release site in Utah, the insects have now moved into Colorado and the Dolores River watershed.

The lower Dolores is a more difficult river to tame because damming has altered its flow and flood timing, a condition that favors tamarisk and other exotic species.

“Restoring the health of the Dolores will require not only tamarisk removal, but improved water management and planting of native species,” Mueller said.

Native willow, sumac, and cottonwoods are planted, and native grass seeds are spread around where tamarisk once dominated.


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