Health department offers tips for #AnimasRiver recreation — The Durango Herald

Tubing the Animas River via
Tubing the Animas River via

From The Durango Herald (Jonathan Romeo):

Unseasonably warm weather has prompted health officials to offer tips to recreationists on the Animas River as higher water levels stir lingering sediment of 880,000 pounds of metals dumped into the river in August 2015.

San Juan Basin Health Department’s Claire Ninde said the recent spring-like temperatures, which are forecast to continue into March, has the river running high.

“So we just wanted to get ahead of it,” she said.

Every spring, snowmelt surges into the Animas, bringing with it naturally occurring sediments as well as heavy metals from mine waste, and on occasion, changing the color of the river.

But this year is different. On Aug. 5 last year, an Environmental Protection Agency crew breached the Gold King Mine portal, about 10 miles north of Silverton. The spill turned the Animas orange, and though the river returned to its normal shades of blue not long after, concerns remained about heavy-metal laden sediment which contains cadmium, lead and arsenic.

“Sediment left behind from the Gold King Mine has a noticeable yellow-orange color but is otherwise similar to the naturally occurring sediment that is present every spring as water levels rise,” Ninde said. “Exposure to both water and sediment is not expected to harm human health during typical recreational exposure.”

The San Juan Basin Health Department recommends that river users wash with soap and water after exposure, avoid extended contact, supervise children to limit exposure, properly treat water before consumption and rinse fishing and boating equipment after use.

“San Juan Basin Health Department advises the public to avoid areas with orange sediment or discolored standing water,” Ninde added.

According to a news release, the health department, along with state and local partners, is establishing a regular monitoring system of river levels.

Joe Lewandowski, spokesman with Colorado Parks and Wildlife, said this spring runoff wouldn’t be different than years past when it comes to fish.

“Fish in the Animas have been swimming in water that has had metal contamination for years, and they’re still safe to eat,” Lewandowski said. “Most people catch and release, but there are people who keep fish out of the Animas.”


Peter Butler with the Animas River Stakeholders Group said earlier this month that he’s not too concerned about spring runoff and the potential spike in metals from stirred-up sediment.

“Usually, the lowest metal concentrations we see throughout the year are during spring runoff, and that’s because you have so much dilution. So I’m not really expecting an issue.”

Rafting and fishing expedition companies, too, have told The Durango Herald they don’t expect the spill to deter tourists.

EPA previously said in a prepared statement it intends to monitor the river before, during and after spring runoff.

CSU ag and resource economists examine water trade-offs

Photo via Colorado State University
Photo via Colorado State University

Here’s the release from Colorado State University (Jason Kosovski):

As Colorado’s population grows, especially across the Front Range, issues of water rights and water usage by consumers must be balanced relative to the continued need for water by agricultural producers and the environment. Understanding the impact of changing allocations of water from agriculture to urban areas and policies aimed at conserving groundwater resources is an area of focus for Colorado State University researchers who study water economics in the Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics.

Needs outpacing supply

“We know that our water needs, both for consumers and industry, are outpacing our current water supply,” said Chris Goemans, associate professor of agricultural and resource economics. “Because water has so many sets of stakeholders – consumers, producers, and environmentalists – there is not always agreement as to how best to utilize this resource.”

Offering options for new approaches to water usage is just one way that ag and resource economists help producers navigate the challenging water allocation decisions that they face. “We don’t tell them what to do,” said Jordan Suter, an associate professor of agricultural and resource economics. “We provide them with the results of models that link producer decisions to future water availability. This information helps producers to better understand the tradeoffs that they face. Ultimately, they decide what is best for their operations and their communities.”

Collaborative projects

Goemans, Suter and other faculty members in the department take their work directly to the areas that would be most impacted by these water reallocations. They have worked hard to build relationships through community outreach and by meeting with producer groups. They also plan to utilize survey data to better understand how their research and modelling influences the opinions of producers.

Some of these faculty members are involved in collaborative projects that focus on: reducing groundwater pumping in the Northern High Plains region of Colorado; developing models to help explain how population growth in rural, urban, and translation communities has led to increased competition for land and water; and bringing electricity to rural communities in Rwanda.

Balancing the economic and environmental impact

Competition for water is not limited to people. The environment requires water for fish, wildlife and other natural functions. Dana Hoag, a professor of agricultural and resource economics, helps producers make decisions that balance the economic and environmental impact of their land and water management practices. “Providing accurate and credible information about the economic impact of pollution from agriculture allows farmers, ranchers, and off-farm stakeholders to make informed decisions about how to balance protecting the environment and farm livelihoods,” said Hoag.

The significant role of agriculture

Whether their focus is on water usage or the impact of pollution, there is no question that agriculture plays a significant role in the quantity and quality of water available. “The competition for water is real,” said Dale Manning, assistant professor of agricultural and resource economics. “Our role as a land grant institution is to provide the citizens of Colorado with information and options for water usage that help ensure that we get the most value from our scarce water resources, considering both current and future generations.”

Club 20: Forest health should be included in #COWaterPlan

Waldo Canyon Fire
Waldo Canyon Fire

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Gary Harmon):

Colorado’s water plan overlooks an important element: forest health, especially in the headwaters areas, a Club 20 committee said Thursday.

A supplement to the next phase in the water plan should discuss wildfires and their effects on water quality and forest health, the committee said during winter meetings in Grand Junction.

The committee recommended the full board consider the resolution when it meets in April in Grand Junction. It also is to be considered today by Club 20’s public-lands committee.

Wildfires around the West have pushed the issue of water quality to the forefront, said Chris Treese, co-chairman of the committee and spokesman for the Colorado River Water Conservation District.

In addition to recommending that the water plan consider forest health, the resolution also suggests that Club 20 urge the federal government to stop taking money from land-planning and forest-health projects to refill quickly depleted wildfire-suppression accounts.

Projects such as one being considered by the Grand Mesa Uncompahgre and Gunnison national forests to deal with a spruce-beetle infestation and aspen decline should be fully funded, the resolution said.

Club 20 is a lobbying and promotional organization representing the Western Slope in Denver and Washington, D.C.

Committee meetings continue today at Ute Water Conservancy District, 2190 H 1/4 Road.

SDS North Outlet Works at Pueblo Dam supplies Pueblo West after pipeline failure

The new north outlet works at Pueblo Dam -- Photo/MWH Global
The new north outlet works at Pueblo Dam — Photo/MWH Global

From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Billie Stanton Anleu):

For the second time in eight months, the Southern Delivery System is providing water to Pueblo West after a pipeline break, help that “could mean the difference between life and death,” in the words of one Pueblo West official.

The repeat bailout for those 35,000 residents comes even as Pueblo County rethinks the critical 1041 permit granted to Colorado Springs Utilities to pump Arkansas River water from the Pueblo Reservoir.

The massive water project is scheduled to start pumping 5 million gallons of water a day on April 27 to Pueblo West, Colorado Springs, Fountain and Security.

As Pueblo County negotiates with the City of Colorado Springs for more stormwater projects to protect it from Fountain Creek surges, using the 1041 permit as its bargaining chip, the Pueblo West Metro District’s recurring reliance on SDS underscores the benefit of redundant water systems.

“This is the second time SDS has stepped in to supply water to Pueblo West when there was a problem, and I just think it evidences the fact that, No. 1, SDS is important not only to Colorado Springs, but also to other water users, including Pueblo West,” said Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers.

“And we have evidenced a wholly cooperative attitude to make sure our partner in this project continues to have uninterrupted water delivery,” Suthers said. “We are trying to be as cooperative as we can. We think we’re all in this together, and we hope we get reciprocal cooperation coming back the other way.”

Pueblo County commission Chairwoman Liane “Buffie” McFadyen said, “The (system) redundancy has always been Pueblo West’s mantra as to why they entered the agreement with Colorado Springs Utilities on SDS, and it’s tangibly being demonstrated right in front of us.

“It’s a huge concern having municipal drinking water as well as water to fight fires,” McFadyen said, especially because 11,000 households and some commercial customers depend on the Metro District for water.

Asked how county negotiations are proceeding with Colorado Springs for Fountain Creek stormwater projects, McFadyen said, “Very thorough. And comprehensive. I can say we hope we won’t go to court (with the city), but it’s not something we would rule out.”

Requests for comment were not returned by key Metro District leaders: Manager Darrin Tangeman, Utilities Manager Scott Eilert and board member Jerry Martin.

But Metro District officials did join an emergency conference call with the county, other SDS partners and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation late last week to ensure that Pueblo West could tap into the SDS North Outlet Works and continue delivering water with no disruptions over the weekend.

“I just think it’s wonderful that Pueblo West has the opportunity to back up its systems,” said John Fredell, SDS project manager. “We’ve said all along there are three reasons for SDS: growth in all our communities, to back up our systems and for security, staving off water shortages.”

SDS also allows the partners to take down their systems for repairs while still getting water, Fredell said. Although an agreement allows Pueblo West to use the North Outlet Works for 30 days, SDS will provide “whatever it is they need,” he added. “They may have to rebuild that whole pipe under the (Arkansas) river.”

SDS also provided water to Pueblo West in July after a pipeline crack was found in its South Outlet Works on the other end of the Pueblo Reservoir dam.

“We aren’t just talking drinking water and sprinklers for lawn maintenance,” Pueblo West Fire Chief Brian Caserta told the Pueblo Chieftain at the time.

“A rupture of that single supply line would mean no water to fight fire. Having a redundant water supply in a crisis could mean the difference between life and death,” said Caserta, then the Metro District’s interim director.

#Drought news: Above normal temps forecast for #Colorado for the next week

Click here to go to the US Drought Monitor website. Here’s an excerpt:


Increasingly warm weather prevailed across much of the nation, with beneficial rain observed from Texas to the central and northern Atlantic Coast. Seasonable dryness over the Great Plains accompanied temperatures averaging 10 to 15°F above normal, with numerous daily record highs noted over southern portions of the region. Out west, progressively warmer weather heightened concerns of early snow melt, with early-week rain and mountain snow falling short of weekly normals and doing little to ease long-term drought…

Central Plains

Sunny skies and above-normal temperatures prevailed across this drought-free region, with daytime highs reaching 90°F in central and southwestern Kansas and upper 70s to lower 80s elsewhere. While still within the central Plains’ climatologically dry season, the recent abnormal warmth hastened winter wheat out of dormancy and will heighten the need for topsoil moisture over the upcoming weeks…

Northern Plains

Spring-like warmth was observed over the northern Plains, with daytime highs reaching the upper 60s (°F) in southern Montana and lower 70s in southern South Dakota. Light precipitation was observed across much of the region, though amounts were again insufficient to offer relief from Abnormal Dryness (D0) and Moderate Drought (D1)…

Southern Plains and Texas

After early-week heat, increasingly wet weather resulted in a significant reduction of Abnormal Dryness (D0) and Moderate Drought (D1) over much of the region. Early in the period, daytime highs topped 80°F across Texas and Oklahoma, with readings touching 90°F over the southern High Plains and Deep South Texas. While the hot, windy conditions sparked wildfires and increased concerns over “flash drought”, widespread, moderate to heavy rain (1-3 inches, locally more) during the latter half of the period reduced or eliminated a wide swath of D0 and D1 over central and southern portions of Texas and neighboring Oklahoma. In contrast, persistent short-term dryness necessitated expansion of D0 and D1 in Deep South Texas…

Western U.S.

Despite some welcomed rain and mountain snow at the beginning of the weekly drought assessment period, a return to dry, warmer weather by week’s end renewed concerns of a sub-par Water Year even with the ongoing strong El Niño. There were localized improvements to drought intensity and coverage, but the overall trend was toward maintaining or increasing the West’s multi-year drought.

In northern portions of the region, additional rain and mountain snow continued the locally favorable Water Year in the Northwest and resulted in further reductions of Abnormal Dryness (D0) across southwestern Oregon, eastern Washington, and northern Idaho. Farther east, Moderate Drought (D1) was likewise reduced in south-central Montana (Big Horn County) to reflect near- to above-average reservoir storage and Water Year precipitation. In contrast, Wyoming’s snowpack Snow Water Equivalent (SWE) remained below the 10th percentile (40 to 70 percent of average) in the Bighorn Mountains and below the 20th percentile (50 to 85 percent of average) in the River Range, where Severe (D2) and Moderate (D1) Drought were introduced, respectively.

Farther south, there were small changes to the dryness/drought depiction from the Great Basin into the Four Corners Region. In the D1 and D2 areas around Great Salt Lake, reservoir storage hovered near or below 60 percent of average for the date, reflecting the lingering impacts of the region’s long-term drought. D0 was expanded over central Arizona and southeastern New Mexico, where the favorable first half of the Water Year has given way to protracted dryness over the past 90 days (generally less than 50 percent of normal, locally less than 40 percent). Furthermore, the initially favorable snowpacks in the lower Four Corners have begun to rapidly diminish, with SWE near or below the 20th percentile (less than half of normal) from central Arizona into western New Mexico.

In the core drought areas of California and western Nevada, welcomed early-week rain and mountain snow gave way to warm, dry weather. Despite locally impressive precipitation totals during the 7-day period (ending Tuesday morning at 4 a.m., PST) , wetter-than-normal conditions for the week were confined to the northern-most counties in California as well as portions of the Sierra Nevada. Extending back another 7 days, precipitation over the past two weeks — even with this week’s rain and snow — has fallen well short of normal over most of the state. Nevertheless, a boost to northern California’s SWE and reservoir storage led to a small reduction of Extreme Drought (D3). However, the recent overall trend toward warmer, drier weather — despite the ongoing strong El Niño — has raised concerns over increasing short-term drought impacts in addition to the region’s ongoing long-term (“L” Impact) drought. To illustrate, a pronounced pocket of short-term dryness extends from the foothills of the San Jacinto Mountains southeast of Los Angeles northwestward to Santa Barbara, where rainfall has averaged a meager 33 to 50 percent of normal during the current Water Year (since October 1)…

Looking Ahead

Stormy, occasionally cold weather in the East will contrast with warmth and dryness across much of the west. A potent winter storm will march northeastward across the Great Lakes, producing additional locally heavy showers across the Atlantic Coast States as well as moderate to heavy rain and snow in the Midwest. In the storm’s wake, briefly chilly conditions east of the Mississippi will give way to a rapid warm up by early next week. Generally tranquil weather will prevail from the Plains into the upper Midwest, though here, too, increasingly warm conditions will develop into next week. Unfavorably warm, dry weather will persist from California and the Great Basin into the lower Four Corners Region, while periods of rain and mountain snow continue farther north from the Northwest into the northern and central Rockies. The NWS 6- to 10-day outlook for March 1 – 5 calls for above-normal temperatures across western and central U.S. as well as much of the Northeast, with cooler-than-normal conditions confined to the upper Midwest. Meanwhile, below-normal precipitation is anticipated from the central and southern Pacific Coast eastward onto the High Plains and upper Midwest.

#ColoradoRiver: Aspinall Unit Spring operations forecast #COriver

Aspinall Unit
Aspinall Unit

From email from Reclamation (Erik Knight):

The February 15th forecast for the April – July unregulated inflow volume to Blue Mesa Reservoir is 620,000 acre-feet. This is 92% of the 30 year average. Snowpack in the Upper Gunnison Basin is currently 99% of average. Blue Mesa Reservoir current content is 565,000 acre-feet which is 68% of full. Current elevation is 7488 ft. Maximum content at Blue Mesa Reservoir is 829,500 acre-feet at an elevation of 7519.4 ft.

Black Canyon Water Right

The peak flow and shoulder flow components of the Black Canyon Water Right will be determined by the May 1 forecast of the April – July unregulated inflow volume to Blue Mesa Reservoir. If the May 1 forecast is equal to the current forecast of 620,000 acre-feet of runoff volume, the peak flow target will be equal to 4,797 cfs for a duration of 24 hours. The shoulder flow target will be 461 cfs, for the period between May 1 and July 25. The point of measurement of flows to satisfy the Black Canyon Water Right is the Gunnison River below Gunnison Tunnel streamgage at the upstream boundary of Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park.

Aspinall Unit Operations ROD

Pursuant to the Aspinall Unit Operations Record of Decision (ROD), the peak flow and duration flow targets in the lower Gunnison River, as measured at the Whitewater gage, will be determined by the forecast of the April – July unregulated inflow volume to Blue Mesa Reservoir and the hydrologic year type. At the time of the spring operation, if the forecast is equal to the current forecast of 620,000 acre-feet of runoff volume, the hydrologic year type will be set as Average Dry. Under an Average Dry year the peak flow target will be 8,070 cfs and the duration target at this flow will be 10 days.

Projected Spring Operations

During spring operations, releases from the Aspinall Unit will be made in an attempt to match the peak flow of the North Fork of the Gunnison River to maximize the potential of meeting the desired peak at the Whitewater gage, while simultaneously meeting the Black Canyon Water Right peak flow amount. The magnitude of release necessary to meet the desired peak at the Whitewater gage will be dependent on the flow contribution from the North Fork of the Gunnison River and other tributaries downstream from the Aspinall Unit. Current projections for spring peak operations show that flows in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon could be in the 5,000 to 5,500 cfs range for 10 days in order to achieve the desired peak flow and duration at Whitewater. If actual flows on the North Fork of the Gunnison River are less than currently projected, flows through the Black Canyon could be even higher. With this runoff forecast and corresponding downstream targets, Blue Mesa Reservoir is currently projected to fill to an elevation of around 7516.2 feet with an approximate peak content of 801,000 acre-feet.

Otero County: Commissioners discuss agriculture, water — The Fowler Tribune

Pueblo dam releases
Pueblo dam releases

From The Fowler Tribune (Bette McFarren):

Commissioner Kevin Karney met with the Southeast Colorado Water Conservancy District last week. The board is working on getting last year’s winter water distributed before there has to be a spill from Pueblo Reservoir. First spill, out of district, has already been taken care of by Aurora’s sale of water shares to well companies and storage (Holbrook took some of it). Some deliveries to ditches are already started.

If John Martin spills in May as expected, there is a possibility of a free river. The water supply is excellent and the snow melt has hardly begun. Allen Hamel of Colorado Water Conservancy Board projects the board will use the plan and guidelines developed by the state. Winter water in Pueblo is at 125,000 acre-feet as of Thursday, as compared with 105,000 last year at this time and an average of 88,784 af. There is talk of dredging the Pueblo Reservoir to increase capacity.