Has Durango sold its river, and its soul, to recreation? — High Country News

April 22, 2014
Design for the whitewater park at Smelter Rapids via the City of Durango

Design for the whitewater park at Smelter Rapids via the City of Durango

From the High Country News (Jonathan Thompson):

The City is building a park. On the river. With a boat ramp…

As upsetting to opponents as the development itself is what it will bring: More of the inner-tubing, paddle-boarding, river-rafting, beach-partying masses that have already colonized large swaths of the river during the warmer months of the year. But it’s also what the development represents. In its quest to be an amenity-rich, recreation-based town rather than the extraction based one it once was, critics say, Durango has finally gone too far.

The problem park — its name is Oxbow Preserve — consists of 44 acres of land just north of this town of 15,000 people. The City acquired the land from private owners back in 2012 with the help of $400,000 in statewide lottery funds that are doled out for such things. Generally speaking, the land acquisition itself wasn’t controversial: It would preserve a nice stretch of the river as open space with public access, benefit wildlife and allow the City to stretch the riverside bike path further afield.

After acquiring the land, the City announced that it would keep its hands off 38 acres, leaving it as open space and wildlife habitat. No worries there. Yet the remaining six acres would be developed as a park, with not only the bike path going through, but also a driveway, parking lot, restrooms and a boat ramp, accessible to commercial outfitters. This development — the ramp in particular — is what’s fueling the fight.

The Animas River has always been critical to this southwest Colorado town. Its cold waters come crashing violently out of the narrow, v-shaped gorge that slices through the San Juan Mountains. When it hits the flat-as-glass bottom of the glacially-carved Animas Valley, it slows suddenly, and its path becomes a lazy meander, almost twisting around and meeting itself at times. The sandy banks here are so soft that ranchers used to line them with crushed, old cars to prevent erosion…

Commercial river rafting got going here in the early 1980s, and has since grown into a decent-sized chunk of the local tourism trade. Back in 1990, commercial outfitters ferried some 10,000 folks down the town run. By 2005, the peak year so far, that had jumped to 52,000. In 2012 — a low water year — 38,000 paid to raft the river, making a $12 million economic impact on the community, according to a Colorado Rivers Outfitters Association Report…

At least as many people float the river without guides, including private rafters, kayakers, paddle boarders and inner-tubers. Drought actually draws more of these users, since the river is safer at low levels.

Around the river access points, cars crowd the streets on summer days and inner-tube- and Pabst Blue Ribbon-hefting, scantily-clad youngsters wander around lackadaisically among the exhaust-belching rafting company buses, crammed to the gills with tourists getting the safety talk while wearing oversized, bright-orange life jackets. Downriver, a nice slow-moving section morphs into a party zone, replete with blaring sound systems.

A large chunk of opposition to the Oxbow park plans — particularly the commercial boat ramp and developed parking lot — comes from nearby property owners, worried that the in-town riverside zoo will simply migrate upstream to their backyards. But the resistance is not all rooted in NIMBYism. Also of concern are the impacts the floating and beach-going masses will have on wildlife — the park is near a pair of great blue heron rookeries, elk habitat and bald eagle fishing areas. Still others see the inclusion of a commercial boat ramp as a subsidy for private enterprise, and as a violation of the terms of the state funds that paid for the parcel of land. The developed park has its supporters, too: Commercial river rafters would be able to stretch out their town run, as well as the rafting season (the sandy upper reaches of the river are navigable even in very low water). And they contribute to the economy — many of my friends paid their way through college and beyond as river guides.

More Animas River watershed coverage here.


La Plata County: “[In the SW corner of the county] Old-timers used to say it was nine months of winter and three months of drought” — Trent Taylor

April 17, 2014

organicdairycows

From The Durango Herald (Ann Butler):

Agriculture is a difficult profession in the best of times, but it’s an even bigger challenge during a drought.

That’s one of the many takeaways from Wednesday evening’s panel discussing current and future issues for local agriculture sponsored by the League of Women Voters of La Plata County. About 85 people filled the Program Rooms at the Durango Public Library, including representatives from agricultural areas around the county and numerous local residents, as well.

“Everyone in this room is in agriculture because we’re all consumers,” said Patti Buck, president of American National Cattlewomen, who ranches with her husband, Wayne, in the Ignacio area. “We need to be heard. Cattle ranchers are a small number of people, but we feed the world.”

Other members of the panel included Trent Taylor of Blue Horizon Farms, who farms on the Dryside; Maria Baker, a member of a Southern Ute ranching family; Steve Harris of Harris Water Engineering; and Darrin Parmenter, the Colorado State University Extension agent for La Plata County. Marsha Porter-Norton, who grew up in a ranching family north of Cortez, served as moderator…

The idea for the panel came out of a national study the League did, said Marilyn Brown, the local chapter’s secretary and a member of the committee that’s been studying the local agricultural sector with an eye on public policy…

Harris gave a lesson about how water works in La Plata County, from the natural average runoff of about 950,000 acre-feet a year (an acre-foot is enough water to cover an acre in 1 foot of water, or 325,851 gallons). Almost two-thirds, 600,000 acre-feet, comes down the Animas River, with the Pine River drainage accounting for another 230,000 acre-feet…

All domestic use, including wells, is “insignificant,” he said, about 10,000 acre-feet.

Ranchers and farmers actually have been fighting drought conditions for more than a decade. Baker talked about how the tribe, which grants grazing units to the four or five full-time ranchers in the tribe, declared a complete moratorium on grazing units for five years starting in 2000 and still limits time or location on the ones it grants.

After taking everyone through a short history of farming and ranching in the southwest corner of the county, Taylor summed up the situation: “It’s a harsh area. Old-timers used to say it was nine months of winter and three months of drought.

More Animas River watershed coverage here. More La Plata River watershed coverage here.


Piedra River: Say hello to Chimney Rock Farms #ColoradoRiver

April 15, 2014
Chimney Rock Farms photo via the Cortez Journal

Chimney Rock Farms photo via the Cortez Journal

From the Cortez Journal (Mary Shinn):

At Chimney Rock Farms on the Piedra River, Brewer has built two commercial-scale aquaponic greenhouses that house fish tanks and thousands of square feet of troughs where kale, lettuce and tot soy float on a foot of water in rafts from seed to harvest.

“We’re pioneering this, no doubt,” said Brewer. He said that the operation, located 6,600 feet above sea level, is the largest commercial aquaponics farm venture in Colorado.

Brewer plans to supply new Southwest Farm Fresh, A Farm and Ranch Cooperative, which was started in Montezuma County. He also plans to supply the Pagosa Springs farmers market, his Community Supported Agriculture membership, organic grocery stores and restaurants.

In March, the operation had already been supplying a grocery store for three weeks.

In the aquaponic environment, the greens mature in six weeks, which allows him to provide custom mixes of greens and meet demand quickly.

“It’s revolutionary for us,” he said.

In addition to greens, his tilapia – the “aquaponic” aspect of the hydroponic system – can also be sold. Brewer may sell the fish whole on ice at farmers markets, but they are not his main focus.

How it works

In the most basic terms, fish poop feeds plants. In technical terms, the tilapia excrete ammonia. Bacteria break the ammonia down into nitrites and then into nitrates, which feed the plants. The plant roots filter the water, and the water is pumped back to the fish.

The tilapia can’t be kept with the plants because they’d eat the roots. But very small mosquito fish clean the roots and fend off potential mosquitoes.

The seeds are germinated in soil, and the fish-fertilized water flows beneath. As the plants mature, they are transferred into rafts that allow for more space and push down the trough. This system reduces man hours and eliminates all weeds.

“We were spending 60 percent of the time to produce a leafy green, weeding our beds,” he said. To harvest, the roots just need to be trimmed off.

It is also very efficient in terms of water. Aquaponic systems use less than 5 percent of the water of traditional agriculture, Brewer said.

“This is a good fit for us in the desert Southwest,” Brewer said.

As green as possible

Brewer was looking for ways to grow year round, but the inefficiencies of a greenhouse held him back.

“Heating traditional greenhouses with fossil fuels – propane and natural gas – is a very, very tough way to make a living,” he said.

In his newly built greenhouses, the water is heated by solar panels, and a wood boiler. This allows him to grow when temperatures are below freezing outside. He also uses solar panels to power air and water pumps, and grow lights. The solar panels allow him to put electricity back into the grid, and his monthly electricity bill has dropped from more than $600 to just $16.

In the new greenhouses, he hopes to grow from mid-February through Thanksgiving.

He expects that he will make back his investment in his capital improvements in five to six years.

It was important to him to reduce his use of fossil fuels because they are limited resource and their ballooning costs can cut into thin farm profit margins.

“As a farmer, your margins are too thin to rely on fossil fuel costs as a line item,” Brewer said…

“Hopefully, we can prove the economic viability of this such that other people are willing to take the capital intensive risk to build a system like this to grow local food,” he said.

More San Juan Basin coverage here.


Southwestern Water Conservation District Annual Water Seminar recap #COWaterPlan #ColoradoRiver

April 11, 2014

sanjuan

From the Pine River Times (Carole McWilliams):

With continuing population growth in Southwestern states and ongoing drought, water issues are becoming more and more about who has to cut back their use when there isn’t enough to meet demand.

That thread ran through presentations at the annual Water Seminar on April 4 in Durango, sponsored by the Southwest Water Conservation District.

“How will we handle the water and other needs of 10 million people,” asked John Stulp, a former state agriculture commissioner and current chair of the Interbasin Compact Committee (IBCC) which is developing a State Water Plan along with nine basin water roundtables…

Harris cited a statewide statistic that with municipal water use, half is used inside and half outside. Ninety percent of the inside use returns to the stream. With outside use, 70 to 80 percent is “consumed” and does not return to the stream. The Southwest Roundtable has approved a goal to shift the percentage of municipal use to indoor, especially where the water comes from ag dry-up or trans-mountain diversion, he said.

Harris initiated the idea of legislation to limit lawn sizes in residential developments after 2016 where the water would come from a permanent transfer from ag. It didn’t get through the State Senate but will be a study topic by an interim committee on water resources during the off-session.

“The lawn bill, this is just the first time, not the last,” Harris asserted. “Reduction of lawn size is a significant conservation measure to help meet 2050 water supply.”

State Rep. Don Coram from Montrose commented “On the Front Range, they haven’t addressed storage or depleting the aquifer. They are more interested in trans-mountain diversion.”[...]

John McGlow from the Upper Colorado River Commission said curtailment such as this will affect water rights decreed after the 1922 Colorado River Compact. The Upper Basin is western Colorado, eastern Utah, southwest Wyoming, and northwest New Mexico. They have begun discussions on how cutbacks would be shared, or how to avoid getting to that point with things like fallowing fields and reducing frequency of irrigation.

“Lake Powell is our bank account for complying with the compact,” he said. It’s the cushion for the Upper Basin states to deliver mandated quantities of water to the Lower Basin states (California, Arizona and Nevada) and Mexico over a 10-year average. Navajo Reservoir also is part of that.

McGlow said 1999 was the last year that Powell was full. The goal is to get enough water into Lake Powell each year to avoid curtailment or the possibility of the water level getting too low for hydropower generation, which he said would have its own serious impacts.

The good news is there’s enough snowpack in northwest and north central Colorado that these won’t be issues this year, McGlow said…

Panelist Dan Birch from the Colorado River Conservation District said most pre-compact rights on the Western Slope are in the Grand Valley and Uncompaghre Valley. There is around 1 million AF of pre-compact irrigation on the West Slope, he said. Most of that land is in pasture or hay. Pasture can’t be fallowed, he said.

With a target to make up for 350,000 AF of post-compact use, Birch said, “I don’t think we want one-third of ag to go away. What we’re talking about is interruptible voluntary market-based contracts” for pre-compact users to reduce their water use. “This has to work for the farmers and the ditch companies,” he said.

Birch said power plants in Northwest Colorado are significant post-compact water users. “In the event of a (water) shortage, it will be important to keep critical uses going,” including power generation, he said.

Demand management is a key to avoiding Upper Basin curtailment or loss of hydro generation. “We are way behind on actual implementation of demand management,” including agricultural fallowing and reducing municipal demands, McGlow said. “It’s still a concept. It’s in its infancy.”

Fallowing and reduced irrigation are part of what’s called water banking. Panelist Aaron Derwingson said, “Pretty much everyone supports water banking in concept. It gets a lot more complex actually doing it.”

More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.


Southwestern Water Conservation District 32nd Annual Water Seminar recap #ColoradoRiver

April 6, 2014

southwesternwaterconservationdistrictmap

From The Durango Herald (Sarah Mueller):

Speakers addressed the controversial practice of transmountain diversions, which takes water from the Western Slope to the Front Range. The water crosses the Continental Divide.

“Frankly, on the Front Range, they’re really not interested in depleting that aquifer; they’re more interested in the transmountain diversions,” Rep. Don Coram, R-Montrose said. “They haven’t addressed the situations of storage; their answer is there’s more water on the Western Slope than they need.”

Steve Harris, president of Harris Water Engineering, talked about the recent controversy over his idea of limiting lawn size in new suburban developments after 2016. The bill, sponsored by Sen. Ellen Roberts, R-Durango, drew fierce opposition from home builders and utility companies.

“About half the people I talked to thought that was a great idea and the other half thought I was a demon,” he said. “In this state, I know what it’s like to get between people and grass.”

Roberts rewrote the bill to call for a study of water conservation.

Another bill floating through the General Assembly would require Colorado residents to purchase “WaterSense” fixtures, such as toilets, shower heads and faucets, after 2016.

Coram said he opposed the bill because the products don’t save much water, and it’s impossible to enforce. WaterSense is a Environmental Protection Agency program labeling products as water-efficient…

Kehmeier, speaking on the water banks panel, said he’s participated in an informal marketplace among local farmers with personal reservoirs where people could lease excess water…

The Colorado Water Conservation Board also gave an update about creating the state’s water plan. Gov. John Hickenlooper directed the board last year to develop the plan. A draft plan is expected to go to Hickenlooper by the end of the year.

More Southwestern Water Conservation District coverage <a href="


Snowpack news (% of avg): San Miguel, Dolores, Animas, and San Juan = 83%

April 6, 2014

From The Durango Herald (Dale Rodebaugh):

The snowpack in the combined Animas, San Juan, Dolores and San Miguel river basins was 79 percent of the 30-year median April 1; however, this week’s storms brought the basins up to 82 percent.

If it’s any consolation, the combined snowpack this April 1 is 111 percent of what it was last year on the same date.

There’s a chance late storms could increase the snowpack for the southern San Juan basins, but it’s unlikely since the maximum level is generally reached in the first week of April.

In other words, it’s as good as it’s going to get for the Animas, Dolores, San Juan and San Miguel basins…

Overall, the statewide snowpack is above normal – 115 percent of the median on April 1 and 156 percent of the April 2013 number.

But storms carried less moisture in March than in previous months. As a result, the major basins showed a slight decrease in snowpack.

Only two basins – the Colorado and the combined Yampa, White, North Platte – had snowpack percentages higher than last month.

Storms have provided runoff that improved storage in reservoirs statewide.

Reservoir storage in the Animas, San Juan, Dolores and San Miguel basins was 82 percent of average, compared with 66 percent at this time last year.

Statewide, reservoirs held 89 percent of their average, compared with 69 percent a year ago.

From The Fort Morgan Times (Michael Bennet):

A few weeks ago, I was lucky enough to strap on some snowshoes for a short hike on Berthoud Pass with local water managers and staff from the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). They were taking a manual reading of the state’s snowpack and checking the automatic SNOTEL measurement device. Undersecretary Robert Bonnie, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s top environmental and natural resource official, and the man who oversees NRCS, also came along.

These snowpack measurement systems, some that date back to the 1900s, are a critical part of the Snow Survey and Water Supply Forecasting program that Colorado water officials rely on to anticipate river flows in the spring when the snow melts and calculate how much water will run off into rivers and reservoirs. Our state’s farmers and ranchers depend on these forecasts to decide how much and what type of crops to plant, while metropolitan leaders use the data to decide how best to meet their needs in the coming years and to prepare for potential flooding.

Beyond Colorado, these measurements are important for states downstream that depend on our watersheds. Colorado contains nine major watersheds, each with its own snowfall patterns and obligations to other states. While some of these water sources may be at 100 percent, in other regions the levels may be less than half of the normal supply. Many of the state’s water rights agreements are predicated on the level of snowpack making the accuracy of these measurements particularly important.

Recently, however, funding for the Snow Survey and Water Supply Forecasting Program was threatened by budget cuts and sequestration.

Colorado communities from across the state shared their strong concerns that cutting funding to this program would damage the accuracy of the measurements and reduce the effectiveness of this vital planning tool. In response to these concerns, we joined forces with Colorado’s water community, Senator Mark Udall, and Congressman Scott Tipton to urge the NRCS to reconsider the cuts. After working with local

communities, water managers, and the NRCS, we secured funding for the program for this winter. In addition, we secured funding in congress for the next fiscal year.


Tough going for cattlemen in the dry southwestern part of the state #COdrought

April 6, 2014

From The Durango Herald (Ann Butler):

“The folks on the west side of the county have been hurt worse than anyone else,” said Wayne Semler, the recently elected president of the La Plata-Archuleta Cattlemen’s Association who runs cattle and farms south of Bayfield. He has shrunk his herd between 25 and 30 percent in the last couple of years. “With no irrigation, water tables dropping and springs drying up, they’re really struggling.”

The heavy rains last fall and a predicted El Niño weather pattern, which generally brings us moisture, may make this year a little better, he said.

“Last year’s snow melted into the ground because it was so dry, so there was no runoff” he said. “This year, at least, the soil moisture’s a little higher.”

Morley said rain this year is more critical than ever as the drought continues.

“We’re all praying for rain,” she said. “Tell people we all need to pray for rain.”[...]

Most cattle ranchers run cow/calf operations, where the calves are fattened up during the summer for market in the fall.

Some ranchers feed the heifers, or mama cattle, on their own land all year long, grazing in the pasture for the summer, feeding them hay grown in their fields during the colder months.

“We fed our cattle longer than normal,” Semler said about 2013. “And our hay last year, some fields we cut once, some none at all. We had a grasshopper problem, too.”

Other ranchers, like Brice Lee, whose ranch is south of Hesperus, move them from private pastures in New Mexico, where they’ve wintered the heifers, to private pastures in Colorado for the summer.

“Last year, we only got four days of water, when we normally get 30 to 40,” Lee said. “Most everybody’s had to adjust. We haven’t harvested hay in two years, and we haven’t had a lawn for several years because we didn’t want to waste the water.”

Still others winter the cattle on their own land, moving them during the summer to pastures in the mountains where they have grazing permits on Forest Service or Bureau of Land Management land.

More La Plata River coverage here.


Mountain system monitoring at Senator Beck Basin, San Juan Mountains, Colorado

April 5, 2014

Senator Beck Basin via the National Center for Snow and Avalanche Studies

Senator Beck Basin via the National Center for Snow and Avalanche Studies


Click here to read the abstract and access the report:

A hydrologic modeling data set is presented for water years 2006 through 2012 from the Senator Beck Basin (SBB) study area. SBB is a high altitude, 291 ha catchment in southwest Colorado exhibiting a continental, radiation-driven, alpine snow climate. Elevations range from 3362 m at the SBB pour point to 4118 m. Two study plots provide hourly forcing data including precipitation, wind speed, air temperature and humidity, global solar radiation, downwelling thermal radiation, and pressure. Validation data include snow depth, reflected solar radiation, snow surface infrared temperature, soil moisture, temperatures and heat flux, and stream discharge. Snow water equivalence and other snowpack properties are captured in snowpack profiles. An example of snow cover model testing using SBB data is discussed. Serially complete data sets are published including both measured data as well as alternative, corrected data and, in conjunction with validation data, expand the physiographic scope of published mountain system hydrologic data sets in support of advancements in snow hydrology modeling and understanding.


Radiometer near Mancos used to forecast cloud-seeding potential

April 5, 2014
Calibrating the radiometer via The Durango Herald

Calibrating the radiometer via The Durango Herald

From The Durango Herald (Mary Shinn):

On Monday meteorologist, Marta Nelson, installed a temporary radiometer at Jackson Lake near the Mancos Water Conservancy District. The instrument is able to determine the best combination of water content in clouds and temperature to use a cloud-seeding generator.

Cloud-seeding generators throw up silver iodide into the atmosphere to harvest the extra water because snow will form around it.

“We can see relative humidity and vapor and the potential for a cloud to form. We can also see inside a cloud that’s already formed, so if we’re looking for liquid water versus ice that is frozen in the cloud the radiometer can tell the difference and help tell the cloud-seeding people when to run the generators or when it’s not going to do any good,” she said. Nelson works for Radiometrics Corp., based in Boulder, which installs similar machines all over the world.

The new data also will help scientists decide if the local cloud-seeding generator at Spring Creek should be run later into the winter season, said Jeff Tilley, director of weather modification at the Desert Research Institute in Reno. The institute operates the local cloud-seeding generator remotely. The data collected over the next month will be applied to operations next winter because the Spring Creek generator is almost out of cloud-seeding solution, he said.

The institute is collaborating with the Colorado Water Conservation Board on the project, and the board is paying the $8,500 to lease the radiometer for a month.

Across the state, about $1 million is spent on cloud seeding, and about 65 percent of the funds are provided by local entities such as ski areas, water districts and towns. The other 35 percent of the funds are provided by state and other funding.

The generator near Mancos has been in place for about five years, and in that time, there has been some benefit in the area, Tilley said.

“The impression we have is that we have seen some difference,” he said.

Cloud seeding is safe because silver iodide won’t break down in any way that’s harmful, Nelson said.

More cloud-seeding coverage here. More San Juan River Basin coverage here.


The Spring 2014 Water Information Program newsletter is hot off the presses

March 31, 2014
US Drought Monitor March 25, 2014

US Drought Monitor March 25, 2014

Click here to read the newsletter.


Durango: Southwestern Water Conservation District’s 32nd Annual Water Seminar, April 4 #COWaterPlan

March 29, 2014
Durango

Durango

From the Montrose Daily Press:

A line-up of water experts on topics including Colorado’s water plan, water banking, and conservation, will speak at the Southwestern Water Conservation District’s 32nd Annual Water Seminar at the Doubletree Hotel (501 Camino del Rio) in Durango on Friday, April 4 from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

Invited speakers include James Eklund, Colorado Water Conservation Board; John Stulp, Interbasin Compact Committee; and John McClow, Upper Colorado River Commission.
Registration is $35 in advance or $40 at the door. To register online, visit http://www.swwcd.org. Mail-in registration forms are also available on the website. Registration will open at 8 a.m. on April 4.

More Southwestern Colorado Water Conservation District coverage here.


2014 McPhee Reservoir irrigation water allocation set

March 20, 2014

mcpheereservoiroverlook

From the Cortez Journal (Jim Mimiaga):

The Dolores Water Conservancy District, which operates McPhee Reservoir, forecasts full-service users will receive at least 15 inches per allocated acre of the 22 inches of a full contractual amount.

“It is an improvement from our last prediction of 11 inches,” said DWCD general manager Mike Preston. “But we will need additional snowpack in the next 6-10 weeks to fill the reservoir and deliver a full supply.”

Water officials emphasize that the 15 inches is the minimum amount expected to be delivered based on current snowpack levels measured at five different locations in the river basin.

According to a March 7 letter sent to irrigators, “If conditions completely dry out, the worst case works out to 70 percent or 15 inches per allocated acre.”

Late summer monsoon rains that recharged the soil is a major factor for the improved outlook.

Instead of soaking into the ground as it did in Spring 2013 due to a extremely dry 2012, snowmelt this year will reach the reservoir more.

“The improved soil moisture will prevent us from totally cratering like last year,” said Ken Curtis, a DWCD engineer.

Last year, full-service irrigators received just 25 percent of their total allocation, or about 6 inches of water per acre. Instead of three cuttings of alfalfa, most farmers harvested just one.

The latest water news is critical for farmers, who begin ordering fertilizer and seed now for the upcoming growing season. Calculations of how much to plow also depend on estimated water supplies.

“If we get a weather build up, it will just improve from the 15 inches,” Preston said…

If the high country received 4-6 inches of snow each week through April, managers predict the reservoir would reach its full irrigation supply.

On the down side, lower elevation snow is lower than normal. Also, because there is no carryover storage from last year’s dry conditions, McPhee reservoir will end very low and lack carry over storage for a third straight year.

More McPhee Reservoir coverage here.


Tougher floodplain rules for Montezuma County

March 2, 2014

La Plata Mountains from the Great Sage Plain

La Plata Mountains from the Great Sage Plain


From the Cortez Journal (Jim Mimiaga):

New floodplain regulations were implemented in Montezuma County Jan. 13 to comply with higher standards established by the Colorado Water Conservation Board.

Colorado adopted rules to provide increased floodplain management standards in order to help communities prepare, plan for, respond to, and mitigate the effects of future flood damage.

The main change for the county, explained community services director James Dietrich, will be for critical facilities. If in a designated flood plain, those structures must now be built 2 feet above the base-flood elevation instead of the previous 1-foot standard.

Critical facilities include hospitals, schools, nursing homes, daycare facilities, power stations, and government/public buildings.

Building regulations for non-critical facilities in the floodplain did not change from the 1-foot over the base-flood elevation. Also, there were no changes to the county floodplain boundaries.

More Montezuma County coverage here.


Southwest Colorado Livestock Association annual meeting recap

February 27, 2014
La Plata Mountains from the Great Sage Plain

La Plata Mountains from the Great Sage Plain

From the Cortez Journal (Jim Mimiaga):

Congressman Scott Tipton (R-Cortez) gave an informed report of legislation he supports that will ease regulations for ranching and protect water rights in the state…

He said an effort to stop federal land agencies from acquiring water rights as a condition for renewing permits for ski areas and ranching allotments was defeated. “But they are trying to adjust the rule, so it is still a threat,” Tipton said.

He is sponsoring the Protecting our Water Rights Act, a bill that protects the priority water rights system in Colorado, and “keeps control of our water out of the hands of bureaucrats.”

More San Juan River Basin coverage here.


Montezuma County: The State Historical Society ponies up $125,000 for restoration of the McElmo Flume

February 10, 2014

McElmo Creek Flume via the Cortez Journal

McElmo Creek Flume via the Cortez Journal


From the Cortez Journal (Jim Mimiaga):

The State Historical Society announced this week it has awarded Montezuma County, which owns the Flume, $125,000 to restore and stabilize the foundation of the unique structure…

A $40,000 local match is required, and $17,500 has been raised, $15,000 from the Southwest Water Conservation Board, and $2,500 from Montezuma county.

“There is about $23,000 outstanding so we need more fundraising efforts in the next 3 to 4 months,” Towle said, adding that the State Historical Society is flexible on their deadline “as long as we are making progress.”

The grant money and matching funds will be used to repair braces on the south end of the structure. Old concrete will be removed from steel supports to repair corrosion and new concrete will be poured. The area will be graded and contoured so the flume rests on stable ground.

Once the match is raised, the project will go through a county competitive bid process.

The McElmo Flume No. 6 operated up until the mid-1990s, explained John Porter, president of the Southwestern Water Conservation Board. The old water delivery line was replaced by the Towaoc Canal and underground piping of the Dolores Project.

Fifteen years ago, a flash flood damaged a portion of the flume and undermined the foundation…

The flume system has a long and somewhat tumultuous history in the Montezuma Valley, he said.

In the late 1800s, the federal government gave the land to private companies who developed irrigation systems for new farms that spurred the city of Cortez. Once water was delivered, the irrigation companies sold the land to recoup their construction costs…

The flume is on the National Register of Historic Places and is adjacent to Highway 160, part of the Trail of the Ancients Scenic Byway. The organization has been awarded a $252,631 grant from the Federal Byways Program to construct a pullout and interpretive panels about the flume…

“It’s a symbol of the heritage of this valley,” Porter said. “Irrigation is what brought the population here, so it ought to be preserved.”

More San Juan Basin coverage here.


The McElmo Flume restoration project scores $15,000 from Southwestern Water

January 4, 2014
McElmo Creek Flume via the Cortez Journal

McElmo Creek Flume via the Cortez Journal

From the Cortez Journal (Jim Mimiaga):

The McElmo Flume restoration project gained some traction recently when the Southwestern Water Conservation District board agreed to contribute $15,000 in matching funds pending approval of a grant.

Montezuma County has applied for a $122,700 grant from the Colorado State Historic Fund to repair the flume’s foundation.

If approved in February, a 25 percent match of $41,000 is required by May.

The county has agreed to pitch in $2,500 toward the match if awarded the funds.

“We’re looking for another $24,000 in matching funds if the grant is approved,” said Linda Towle, a historic-site advocate and volunteer. “We will continue our fundraising efforts.”

Built in the 1880s, the wooden flume was a marvel of engineering, delivering water to Towaoc and area ranches. It operated until 1992 but was replaced by the concrete canals of the McPhee Project and has since fallen into disrepair.

More San Juan Basin coverage here and here.


Pagosa Springs hopes to tap geothermal for electrical generation

December 31, 2013
Geothermal Electrical Generation concept -- via the British Geological Survey

Geothermal Electrical Generation concept — via the British Geological Survey

From the Pagosa Sun (Randi Pierce):

The Town of Pagosa Springs council met in executive session with town attorney Bob Cole last Thursday, Dec. 19, with the topic of conversation centering on matters involving funding for a possible geothermal electric utility. According to town manager David Mitchem, council gave Cole instruction during the executive session. Mitchem said that the executive session did, “move the process forward,” but that no decisions were made at the meeting. A decision, Mitchem indicated, is expected in the next three weeks to a month…

Mayor Ross Aragon said the geothermal utility discussed Dec. 19 was the same contract the county [Archuletta] earmarked money for, and said the town and county have been and are expected to continue to be on par with each other in contributing to the project.

In 2013, both the town and the county pledged $65,000 toward research on geothermal resources and the possibility of using a geothermal resource to create power. That exploration work is being done by Pagosa Verde, LLC, headed by Jerry Smith.

More geothermal coverage here and here.


Cortez: Some sewer rates skyrocket

December 12, 2013
Cortez early 1900s via Crow Canyon Archaeological Center

Cortez early 1900s via Crow Canyon Archaeological Center

From the Cortez Journal (Tobie Baker):

Cortez City Manager Shane Hale said municipal leaders have been meeting with CSD officials to fully understand the impacts new rates would have on city facilities.

“Preliminarily, it looks as though the majority of city buildings will be assessed with exorbitant increases, ranging from four to eight times what the city currently pays for this service,” Hale said.

The most dramatic increases will be felt at the recreation center, where the sewer rates would increase from an average of $93 per month to $762 per month. City Hall, Cortez Police Department, municipal pool and city service center are all projected to see rates increase four-fold.

“From our standpoint, these increases are excessive,” Hale said.

Current sewer rates for the city and other businesses are based on actual metered water usage. City Hall currently uses 3,000 to 4,000 gallons per month of water, approximately half what a single family home is presumed to use.

“The bill for City Hall will go from $29 a month to a proposed $116 per month, or four times what a single family home pays,” Hale said.

Taxpayers would be responsible for picking up the city sewer tab, with total annual municipal sewer collections increasing from $27,600 in 2013 to $52,500 in 2014, according to CSD budget forecasts.

CSD’s new proposed sewer fees would be billed starting Jan. 1. Commercial and municipal rates would be determined based on six different classifications, with a majority of the new rates based on square footage. Hotel charges, however, are linked to the number of units, the hospital is related to the number of beds, and schools and day cares are subject to student capacity. And new rates for the Cortez Journal will be determined based on the number of employees.

CSD officials have indicated that each business type is awarded a Single Family Equivalency (SFE) ratio based on American Water Works Association guidelines. The SFE ratio is then multiplied by the square footage, number of employees or number of beds, for example, which is then multiplied by $30 to determine the business’s monthly sewer rate.

According to CSD budget figures, annual sewer collections from area schools are also expected to nearly double starting next year. CSD officials project the school district’s annual rates will increase from $19,200 in 2013 to $37,920 in 2014…

New residential sewer rates, including single-family residences, duplexes, apartments and mobile homes, contain a flat $30 monthly sewer fee without regard to the number of occupants.

Under the new rate structure, a 10,000-square-foot warehouse would pay $12 per month for sewer; a 1,000-square-foot beauty salon, $51 per month; a 200-seat movie theater, $18 per month; a 5,000-square-foot nursing home, $216 per month; a five-bay self-serve car wash and a 25-space RV park with full hookups, $300 per month; a 5,000-square-foot restaurant or bar, $364.50 per month; a 50-unit hotel with restaurant, $1,035 per month; a 50-unit hotel without a restaurant, $720 per month; and a 1,000-square-foot laundry mat, $357 per month.

More wastewater coverage here and here.


The Pagosa Springs Sanitation and General Improvement District board is moving ahead with wastewater pipeline

December 9, 2013
Wastewater Treatment Process

Wastewater Treatment Process

From the Pagosa Sun (Ed Fincher):

The Pagosa Springs Sanitation and General Improvement District board voted last week [week of November 25] to accept a bid from Hammerlund Construction Company for work on a pipeline and pumping stations needed to deliver wastewater from the town’s current lagoon site to the Pagosa Area Water and Sanitation District’s Vista treatment plant.

Art Dilione, special projects manager for Bartlett & West, the company tasked with handling the bidding process for the town, sent a letter to both town manager David Mitchem and Gregg Mayo, special projects director for PAWSD.

The letter, dated Nov. 19, explained how the project was originally bid on Oct. 2, but all of those bids came in well above the engineer’s estimate as well as the project’s budget, so those original bids were rejected and the project was rebid on Nov. 12.

More wastewater coverage here.


Text of the Colorado Basin Roundtable white paper for the IBCC and Colorado Water Plan

December 3, 2013
New supply development concepts via the Front Range roundtables

New supply development concepts via the Front Range roundtables

Here’s the text from the recently approved draft of the white paper:

Introduction
The Colorado River Basin is the “heart” of Colorado. The basin holds the headwaters of the Colorado River that form the mainstem of the river, some of the state’s most significant agriculture, the largest West Slope city and a large, expanding energy industry. The Colorado Basin is home to the most-visited national forest and much of Colorado’s recreation-based economy, including significant river-based recreation.

Colorado’s population is projected by the State Demographer’s Office to nearly double by 2050, from the five million people we have today to nearly ten million. Most of the growth is expected to be along the Front Range urban corridor; however the fastest growth is expected to occur along the I-70 corridor within the Colorado Basin.

Read the rest of this entry »


‘Don’t goddamn come here [#ColoradoRiver Basin] any more’ — Lurline Curran

December 3, 2013
Colorado transmountain diversions via the State Engineer's office

Colorado transmountain diversions via the State Engineer’s office

Here’s an article about the white paper approved last week by the Colorado Basin Roundtable, from Brent Gardner-Smith writing for Aspen Journalism. Click through and read the whole article. Here’s an excerpt:

“Don’t goddamn come here any more,” was the way Lurline Curran, county manager of Grand County, summed up the roundtable’s position just before the group voted to approve a white paper it has been working on for months.

“We’re trying to tell you, Front Range: Don’t count on us,” Curran said. “Don’t be counting on us to make up all the shortages.”

The actual paper crafted by the Colorado roundtable states its case in a more diplomatic fashion, but it is still blunt.

“The notion that increasing demands on the Front Range can always be met with a new supply from the Colorado River, or any other river, (is) no longer valid,” the position paper states…

“There is going to have to be a discussion and plan for developing a new West Slope water supply,” the South Platte roundtable stated in a June memo directed to Committee.

Together, the South Platte, Metro and Arkansas roundtables are pushing that discussion. They’re asking the state to preserve the option to build “several” 100,000 to 250,000 acre-foot projects on the Green River at Flaming Gorge Reservoir, the lower Yampa River, and/or the Gunnison River at Blue Mesa Reservoir…

On Nov. 25, the members of the Colorado River roundtable clearly wanted to inform the Committee that they don’t support the idea of new Western Slope projects.

Jim Pokrandt, a communications executive at the Colorado River District who chairs the Colorado roundtable, said the group’s paper, directed to the Committee, was “an answer to position statements put out by other basin roundtables.”

The Committee’s eventual analysis is expected to shape a draft statewide Colorado Water Plan, which is supposed to be on the governor’s desk via the Committee and the Colorado Water Conservation Board in 12 months.

And while there has been a decades-long discussion in Colorado about the merits of moving water from the Western Slope to the Front Range, the language in the position papers, and the roundtable meetings, is getting sharper as the state water plan now takes shape.

“It’s not ‘don’t take one more drop,’ but it is as close as we can get,” said Ken Neubecker, the environmental representative on the Colorado roundtable, about the group’s current position.

The paper itself advises, “the scenic nature and recreational uses of our rivers are as important to the West Slope as suburban development and service industry businesses are to the Front Range. They are not and should not be seen as second-class water rights, which Colorado can preserve the option of removing at the behest of Front Range indulgences.”

That’s certainly in contrast to the vision of the South Platte, Metro and Arkansas basin roundtables, which in a draft joint statement in July said that the way to meet the “east slope municipal supply gap” is to develop “state water projects using Colorado River water for municipal uses on the East and West slopes.”[...]

The white paper from the Colorado roundtable states that “new supply” is a euphemism for “a new transmountain diversion from the Colorado River system.”

“This option must be the last option,” the paper notes.

Instead of new expensive Western Slope water projects, the paper calls for more water conservation and “intelligent land use” on the Front Range.

It goes on to note that Front Range interests are actively pursuing the expansion of existing transmountain diversions — many of which are likely to be blessed by the Committee because they are already in the works.

It says the Western Slope has its own water gap, as the growing demands of agriculture, energy development, population growth and river ecosystems are coming together in the face of climate change.

It calls for reform to the state’s water laws, so it is easier to leave water in Western Slope rivers for environmental reasons, and it rejects the Front Range’s call to streamline the review process for new water projects.

“Streamlining as a means of forcing West Slope acquiescence to any new supply project ‘for the good of the state’ is unacceptable,” the paper states.

Finally, the document advises the state not to endorse or get behind a Western Slope water project unless it “has been agreed to by the impacted counties, conservancy districts and conservation districts from which water would be diverted.”

More IBCC — basin roundtables coverage here. More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.


US Representative Scott Tipton Testifies on Hermosa Creek Legislation in Senate

November 29, 2013
Hermosa Park

Hermosa Park

Here’s the release from Representative Tipton’s office:

Rep. Scott Tipton (R-CO), today, testified in support of the Hermosa Creek Watershed Protection Act of 2013 in the U.S. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Subcommittee. Tipton and Senator Michael Bennet (D-CO) have introduced companion bills in the House (H.R. 1839) and Senate (S.841) to protect the Hermosa Creek Watershed–an area in the San Juan National Forest north of Durango–as well as protect multiple use of the land.

In his testimony, Tipton spoke on the community effort behind the legislation that is endorsed by a broad coalition of stakeholders including: the City of Durango, the La Plata County Commission, the Southwestern Water Conservation District, the San Juan County Commission, Region 9, the Colorado Snowmobilers Association, Jo Grant Mining Company, Inc., in addition to numerous business and sportsmen groups, among others.

More Hermosa Creek watershed coverage here and here.


First Small Hydro Project in Colorado Moves Forward Thanks to Regulatory Efficiency Act

November 23, 2013
Mayflower Mill

Mayflower Mill

Here’s the release from US Senator Michael Bennet’s office:

Colorado U.S. Senator Michael Bennet today announced that the Silverton-based San Juan County Historical Society’s small hydro project would be allowed to move forward without undergoing the burdensome and expensive federal permitting process thanks to the Hydropower Regulator Efficiency Act. The bill, which Bennet cosponsored, cuts red tape for noncontroversial hydro projects that are less than 5 megawatts.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission officially announced last night that the project would not be subject to the federal permitting process, thanks to the bill, which passed Congress unanimously in August. As a result, the 11-kilowatt Silverton project will be the first small hydro project in the state, and one of the first in the nation to take advantage of this streamlined system.

“The Hydropower industry has tremendous potential to stimulate economic growth and job creation in Colorado,” Bennet said. “This common-sense bipartisan bill removes unnecessary regulations to help small projects like this one get up and running in communities across the state. We should continue to look for ways to cut through red tape and promote these types of clean, cost-effective energy sources.”

“The Feds had previously said that our project needed to apply for a hydropower license, but requiring a federal license for a tiny, non-controversial hydro project on an existing pipeline didn’t make sense,” Beverly Rich, Chair of the San Juan County Historical Society, said. The Historical Society operates the Mayflower Mill site where the new hydropower project is being built. “We’re grateful to Senator Bennet for helping us cut through this red tape.”

In addition to Silverton, projects in Telluride and Orchard City are working to take advantage of this reform under the new law.

The Hydropower Improvement Act was a companion bill to H.R. 267, the Hydropower Regulatory Efficiency Act of 2013, sponsored by Reps. Diana DeGette (D-CO) and Cathy McMorris-Rogers (R-WA).

Background Info on the Hydropower Regulatory Efficiency Act:

Prior to the new law, the costly federal permitting requirements had been a barrier to entry for small hydropower developments. In many cases, the cost of federal permitting exceeded the cost of the hydro equipment.

The Hydropower Regulatory Efficiency Act solves this problem by creating a “regulatory off-ramp” from permitting requirements for small, non-controversial hydro projects on existing conduits, such as pipelines and canals. It doesn’t change any underlying federal or state environmental statute, it simply streamlines the federal approval process.

The Colorado Small Hydro Association estimates that 100 MW of new hydro development in the state could mean 500 new jobs in various fields including developers, engineers, plumbers, carpenters, and others.

For more details on the Silverton hydro project, feel free to call Beverly Rich, Chair of the San Juan County Historical Society, at 970-387-5488.

More San Juan Historical Society coverage here. More H.R. 267 coverage here. More hydroelectric coverage here.


Durango: Construction has begun on improvements to the whitewater park as Smelter Rapids

November 20, 2013
Planned improvements for the whitewater park at Smelter Rapids via the City of Durango

Design for the whitewater park at Smelter Rapids via the City of Durango

From The Durango Herald (Vanessa Guthrie):

The construction at Santa Rita Park near Durango’s wastewater-treatment plant will result in a temporary diversion of the river trail while a crew restructures the riverbed, which will allow for more control over the intensity of the rapid.

The in-stream work is slated to be completed by March, just in time for the spring runoff.

Scott McClain, landscape architect for the city of Durango, said the riverbed will be grouted and rocks will be moved to maintain river-flow consistency. During major water runoffs, the rocks can move, changing the rapids, he said, and every so often, the rocks have to be rearranged. This structure is intended to be more permanent, he said…

After a long process of applying for a recreational in-channel diversion right through the water courts, a conditional water right was given in 2007. The water right will not be permanent until the boating park is complete, she said.

Protecting the public’s recreational access to the river was a long process, Metz said. The Animas River Task Force, a group of residents who wanted to obtain the water rights for recreation, were the initial spark commencing the project in 2005, she said…

The initial estimate for Whitewater Park was about $1.3 million, but Metz said that might be high. She said the project is contracted for about $850,000, with additional money available as a safety net in case of any unforeseen financial hiccups…

Scott Shipley, the engineer and mastermind behind the current project, is looking forward to bringing Durango back on the map as a major river-running location. This type of project is not a first for Shipley, whose company developed the hydraulic features in the whitewater course for the London Olympics. An avid competitive kayaker, Shipley is thrilled to be working on the project even though he’s far away from his home in Lyons…

Phase 1 of the project will be completed in the spring, and the river then will be open to the public. The entirety of the fully developed park with amenities will not be completed until the end of 2014, Metz said.

More whitewater coverage here and here.


State hopes to recover the $49,000 it spent stabilizing the illegal Red Arrow mill site in Mancos

November 16, 2013

Red Arrow Mill site Mancos via The Durango Herald

Red Arrow Mill site Mancos via The Durango Herald


From The Durango Herald (Joe Hanel) via the Cortez Journal:

The state spent more than $49,000 to stabilize mercury-tainted material at an illegal gold mill in Mancos. Now the state mining board wants Red Arrow Gold Corp. to repay the money, and it moved Wednesday to revoke the company’s mining permit.

Red Arrow owner Craig Liukko did not attend Wednesday’s hearing in Denver, but in letters to regulators, he blamed the problems on a former business partner and a receiver appointed by a bankruptcy court, who has controlled access to Red Arrow’s property since April.

The state excavated and isolated soil at the mill, and it isn’t currently presenting a hazard, said Loretta Pineda, director of the Division of Reclamation, Mining and Safety…

More mercury remains to be removed from the Out West mine north of U.S. Highway 160, mining inspectors said. Pineda’s division is working with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on a permanent cleanup. And she still does not know the degree of pollution the mill produced in the past. The EPA is testing samples to figure out if there was a past risk, Pineda said…

On Wednesday, the Mined Land Reclamation Board found Red Arrow in violation of its order from August to clean up the site and pay a $100,000 fine. The board increased the fine to $285,000, increased Red Arrow’s bond and started the procedure to revoke Red Arrow’s mining permit in the next two months.

As part of the cleanup, the state removed mill tailings from a nearby pasture and the Western Excelsior aspen mill, across the street from the Red Arrow operation. Western Excelsior officials thought they were getting sand to patch holes in their lot, said Kyle Hanson, a manager at the aspen mill. The state did a good job of removing the mill tailings, he said…

The mining division spent its entire emergency fund on the initial cleanup, Pineda said. State officials want Red Arrow to repay them…

The Mined Land Reclamation Board also cracked down Wednesday on another Red Arrow property, the Freda mine west of Silverton. Both portals at the mine have collapsed, and stormwater berms have failed, allowing tainted water an tailings to flow off the site toward Ruby Creek, said Wally Erickson, an inspector for the Division of Reclamation, Mining and Safety. The board fined Red Arrow $2,500 for the violations at the Silverton mine.

More water pollution coverage here.


Postwildfire Debris-Flow Hazard Assessment of the Area Burned by the 2013 West Fork Fire Complex, Southwestern Colorado

October 26, 2013
West Fork Fire June 20, 2013 photo from the Pike Hot Shots via Wildfire Today

West Fork Fire June 20, 2013 photo from the Pike Hot Shots via Wildfire Today

Click here to read the abstract and download the report. Here’s the abstract (Kristine L. Verdin/Jean A. Dupree/Michael R. Stevens):

This report presents a preliminary emergency assessment of the debris-flow hazards from drainage basins burned by the 2013 West Fork Fire Complex near South Fork in southwestern Colorado. Empirical models derived from statistical evaluation of data collected from recently burned basins throughout the intermountain western United States were used to estimate the probability of debris-flow occurrence, potential volume of debris flows, and the combined debris-flow hazard ranking along the drainage network within and just downstream from the burned area, and to estimate the same for 54 drainage basins of interest within the perimeter of the burned area. Input data for the debris-flow models included topographic variables, soil characteristics, burn severity, and rainfall totals and intensities for a (1) 2-year-recurrence, 1-hour-duration rainfall, referred to as a 2-year storm; (2) 10-year-recurrence, 1-hour-duration rainfall, referred to as a 10-year storm; and (3) 25-year-recurrence, 1-hour-duration rainfall, referred to as a 25-year storm.

Estimated debris-flow probabilities at the pour points of the 54 drainage basins of interest ranged from less than 1 to 65 percent in response to the 2-year storm; from 1 to 77 percent in response to the 10-year storm; and from 1 to 83 percent in response to the 25-year storm. Twelve of the 54 drainage basins of interest have a 30-percent probability or greater of producing a debris flow in response to the 25-year storm. Estimated debris-flow volumes for all rainfalls modeled range from a low of 2,400 cubic meters to a high of greater than 100,000 cubic meters. Estimated debris-flow volumes increase with basin size and distance along the drainage network, but some smaller drainages also were predicted to produce substantial debris flows. One of the 54 drainage basins of interest had the highest combined hazard ranking, while 9 other basins had the second highest combined hazard ranking. Of these 10 basins with the 2 highest combined hazard rankings, 7 basins had predicted debris-flow volumes exceeding 100,000 cubic meters, while 3 had predicted probabilities of debris flows exceeding 60 percent. The 10 basins with high combined hazard ranking include 3 tributaries in the headwaters of Trout Creek, four tributaries to the West Fork San Juan River, Hope Creek draining toward a county road on the eastern edge of the burn, Lake Fork draining to U.S. Highway 160, and Leopard Creek on the northern edge of the burn. The probabilities and volumes for the modeled storms indicate a potential for debris-flow impacts on structures, reservoirs, roads, bridges, and culverts located within and immediately downstream from the burned area. U.S. Highway 160, on the eastern edge of the burn area, also is susceptible to impacts from debris flows.

More USGS coverage here.


October 21 is the anniversary of the approval of the Mancos Project

October 22, 2013
Jackson Gulch Dam photo via USBR

Jackson Gulch Dam photo via USBR

Click here to visit the Bureau of Reclamation Mancos Project website.

More Mancos River Watershed coverage here and here.


Montezuma County is being asked to apply for a Colorado State Historic Fund Grant for the McElmo Flume

October 1, 2013
McElmo Creek Flume -- Photo / Cortez Journal

McElmo Creek Flume — Photo / Cortez Journal

From the Cortez Journal (Jim Mimiaga):

Built in the 1880s, the flume was a marvel of engineering, delivering water to Towaoc and area ranches. It operated until 1992, but was replaced by the concrete canals of the McPhee Project and has since fallen into disrepair.

But buffing it up is seen as good for tourism and also for preserving history.

When driving through towns while on vacation, people look for pullouts featuring historic landmarks, interpretive sites and viewpoints.

The McElmo Flume, off of U.S. Highway 160 near the fairgrounds, has that potential. The Colorado Department of Transportation sees its value.

CDOT has committed to constructing a paved pullout and parking lot at the flume. The $250,000 project is being paid for by the National Scenic Byway Program as part of the Trails of the Ancients tourism loop. The interpretive site will feature a sidewalk to a viewpoint overlooking the flume and may go in next summer. Stone walls, education panels and an informational kiosk also will be built.

“But as it is right now when people walk to the overlook it is not much too look at, so we are seeking funding to restore and stabilize this piece of local history long term,” said Linda Towle, a historic site advocate and volunteer. “It reverted back to county ownership, so they must be the grant applicant for the restoration.”

The county agreed on Monday, Sept. 16 to chip in $2,500 toward the renovation. The grant-application deadline for the $122,700 to repair the foundation and steel supports is Oct. 1.

Giving visitors a chance to slow down, pull over and learn of the region’s innovative past is good for tourism and shows respect for previous generations, Towle said.

“It was the first water source to Towaoc, and shows a lot of ingenuity. It needs stabilization or it will fall over,” she said. “Everyone wants the top fixed, but we have to fix the bottom structure first so it will stay standing permanently.”

More San Juan River Basin coverage here and here.


Montezuma County has juridiction over the Red Arrow Gold Corporation’s illegal milling operation

September 1, 2013

detentionpond.jpg

From the Cortez Journal (Jim Mimiaga):

The site was recently ordered to cease and desist by the Colorado Division of Reclamation, Mining and Safety, who fined Liukko $337,167 for operating a mill without a license and five other mining violations.

Inspectors found dangerous levels of mercury inside the building and arsenic pollution in tailing piles outside the site and at the mine site in the nearby La Plata mountains. The Environmental Protection Agency is evaluating the sites for cleanup and remediation.

“We did not know it was there, and did not receive any plans from the operator that it was going on,” said county planning director Susan Carver. “It is a violation of the land use code because it is an industrial use that requires a high-impact permit and hearings before the county planning board and commission.”

Carver said Red Arrow Gold Corporation could face penalties for non-compliance but the decision would be up to the county commissioners.

“Operations there have ceased at this point,” she said. “It is a concern because of the health hazards for neighbors and for employees. Safeguards would have been required and evaluated under our permit system.”

Commissioner Larry Don Suckla, who represents the Mancos area, was angered by the illegal mill site.

“It is very upsetting because (the mill) broke the rules and created a risk to the safety of county residents and the town of Mancos as well,” he said. “This type of operation is far different than panning for gold.”

The commissioners are considering holding a community meeting with mine regulators to inform the public of the situation. Whether the county will levy penalties of its own, Suckla said, “Everything is on the table at this point. I feel like we were misled.”[...]

Decontaminating the milling site and mine have been handed over to the EPA and are in the planning stages. State mine regulators are expecting a cleanup to be completed by the end of the year.

detentionpond.jpg

More coverage from Nancy Lofholm writing for The Denver Post:

While the town of Mancos worries over what a rogue gold mill might have put into its air, water and soil, Colorado mining authorities have called on the federal government to deal with what is being described as one of the most serious cases of pollution from illegal gold milling in the state.

The Colorado Division of Reclamation, Mining and Safety is asking the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to determine just how bad contamination is from a mill that had been using mercury to remove gold from ore at an under-the-radar, unlicensed mill on the edge of the southwestern Colorado town.

The EPA also will decide whether the mill should be designated for a Superfund cleanup. The Superfund program was created in 1980 to clean up the worst uncontrolled hazardous waste sites in the country.

The Red Arrow Gold Corp. mill contamination was discovered in June, and the mill was shut down by the state that same month. Mercury was found in two metal and cinder-block buildings just west of town when the company, which also owns the historically rich Red Arrow Mine, was placed in receivership. The division has fenced off and locked the site.

An initial investigation of the mill buildings turned up mercury contamination throughout the operation. Mercury was found in plastic buckets of sludge and in an overturned washtub that served as a vent hood. Inspectors’ photographs show droplets of mercury on drains, a jug marked “21.5 lbs Mercury” and stock tanks filled with sediment. Piles of processed material outside the building were covered with plastic tarps held down by old tires.

“This is one of the most serious cases we’ve come across of illegal milling,” said Tony Waldron, who is with the Division of Reclamation, Mining and Safety. Testing thus far has shown the entire mill is probably contaminated with mercury. On some pieces of equipment, it is concentrated as much as 744 times the allowable level. The highest concentrations were measured at 32,000 parts per million. The standard considered safe for industrial operations is 43 parts per million.

Mercury can cause nerve damage in humans, and its use in separating gold from ore would not have been approved, Waldron said.

Tailings outside the mill buildings and also piled outside a nearby lumber operation were found to be contaminated with arsenic, but Waldron said the arsenic-laced tailings don’t pose a health hazard where they now sit.

“Obviously, we are concerned about the potential spread of mercury,” said Mancos town administrator Andrea Phillips. “We don’t know enough yet to know exactly what our concerns are.” Phillips has asked the EPA and state mining regulators to hold a public information meeting so that concerned Mancos residents who have been calling town hall can get some answers.

Red Arrow Gold Corp. president Craig Liukko might be able to provide some of those answers, but he did not show up at a Mined Land Reclamation Board hearing in Denver on Aug. 14, and he has not been seen lately around Mancos, Phillips said. In his absence, the board cited Liukko for the contamination and for operating a mill without a permit. The board fined him $285,000 for the 57 days the mill was believed to have operated in violation of state laws. All but $100,000 of that will be suspended if Liukko complies with corrective actions the division orders. Red Arrow was also ordered to reimburse the division $52,167 for the cost of its response to the mill discovery.

Liukko did not return a call asking for comment. In a conversation a month ago, he said his company had gone to great lengths to be cautious with the small amount of mercury he said was used in the gold-separating process. He said he did not think the mill needed approval to operate because it was a “pilot project.”

Liukko, whose family acquired the Red Arrow Mine nearly 30 years ago, also blamed an out-of-state hedge fund for Red Arrow’s troubles.

In a tangled financing agreement, Maximillian Investors of Delaware sued American Patriot Gold, He-Man LLC and Red Arrow Gold Corp., resulting in the receivership and the revelation that Red Arrow, which had promised investors large returns, had only $2,043 left in a bank account.

The Red Arrow Mine had delivered riches in another era. The mine’s ore body discovered in 1933 produced 4,114 ounces of gold between 1933 and 1937. In those days, ore from the mine was shipped to Leadville for smelting and then sent to the Denver Mint. The gold from Red Arrow included a legendary 5.5-pound nugget.

Marcie Jeager, who is handling the receivership through Jeager Kottmeier Associates of Denver, said she is focusing her asset-recovery efforts on the mine. It is permitted to operate by the state and is not contaminated like the mill. “We want to preserve the mine permit so someone else can buy that as a permitted mine that has value,” she said.

The mine

The Red Arrow Mine’s ore body discovered in 1933 produced 4,114 ounces of gold between 1933 and 1937. The gold mine and mill had operated off and on since 1988. It had most recently resumed operations in 2006.

State authorities took emergency actions in June to shut down the mine over mercury contamination. 43 parts per million of mercury is the standard measure considered safe for industrial operations 32,000 parts per million of mercury measured on equipment at the Red Arrow Mine, the highest concentration found there.

From The Durango Herald (Joe Hanel):

It’s “one of the uglier cases of using hazardous chemicals and illegal milling” that state mining regulators have seen, said Julie Murphy, a lawyer for the state Division of Reclamation, Mining and Safety…

On Wednesday [August 14], the state Mined Land Reclamation Board slapped fines totaling $337,167 on the mill’s operator, Red Arrow Gold Corp. If Red Arrow cooperates with the cleanup and increases its bond with the state, $185,000 of the fine will be suspended. The facility has been shut down since April because of a bankruptcy dispute. The state got involved in June and issued a cease-and-desist order on the mill. The state contracted with Walter Environmental to test for contamination inside and outside the two buildings on the site, and the results came back last week…

Inspectors painted an alarming picture of what they found at the two small buildings, which sit across Grand Avenue to the north of the Western Excelsior aspen mill. They showed pictures of a series of machines that use mercury to separate tiny gold particles from rock taken from Red Arrow’s mine about 10 miles northwest of Mancos. The mercury-gold mixture was heated to separate the gold and attempt to recycle the mercury through a scrubber. A galvanized steel washtub was flipped upside down and used as a hood to catch mercury near the scrubber.

More Mancos River Watershed coverage here and here.


Reclamation Selects Five Entities to Receive $485,423 to Establish or Expand Existing Watershed Groups

August 25, 2013

animasriverdurangorealestate.jpg

Click here to read the release from Reclamation (Peter Soeth):

Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Michael L. Connor announced today that five entities in Colorado, Idaho and Oregon will receive a total of $485,423 to establish or expand watershed groups. The selected entities will use the funding to address water quality, ecosystem and endangered species issues.
“Collaboration is the key if we are going to meet the many water challenges we face across West,” said Commissioner Connor. “Reclamation’s Cooperative Watershed Management Program focuses on bringing diverse groups together within basins. These strong partnerships will ultimately help reduce and resolve future conflict.”

The funding is made available through the Cooperative Watershed Management Program, part of the U.S. Department of Interior’s WaterSMART Initiative. This grant program supports the formation and development of locally led watershed groups and facilitates the development of multi-stakeholder watershed projects. The five entities selected for funding are:

  • Land Trust of the Treasure Valley in Idaho ($100,000) – The Land Trust of the Treasure Valley will establish the Boise River Enhancement Network in collaboration with Trout Unlimited, Ecosystem Sciences Foundation, Idaho Rivers United and the South Boise Water Company. The Network will address water quality issues, endangered species and loss of natural habitats in the lower Boise River watershed and will work with stakeholders to increase opportunities for public and private enhancement project collaboration.
  • Western Slope Conservation Center in Colorado ($100,000) – The Western Slope Conservation Center in Paonia is an established watershed group that will use funding to address issues in two adjacent drainages above and below the North Fork of the Gunnison River to improve stream stability, riparian habitat and ecosystem function in the watershed. The watershed has been experiencing water quality issues with E.coli exceeding state water standards, selenium in the North Fork of the Gunnison River and excessive amounts of salt flowing from the river into the Colorado River.
  • Friends of the Teton River, Inc. in Idaho ($89,379) – Friends of the Teton River located in Teton County will expand a current watershed group to form the Teton Advisory Council to develop a restoration plan that identifies, prioritizes and endorses a specific series of watershed restoration and water conservation activities to improve water quality and ecological resiliency of the Teton River watershed.
  • San Juan Resource Conservation and Development in Colorado ($96,415) – The San Juan Resource Conservation and Development in Durango will expand the membership of the Animas Watershed Partnership. The partners will address concerns with the temperature, sedimentation and E. coli levels in the Animas River as well as issues related to the endangered Southwest Willow Flycatcher.
  • Hood River Soil and Water Conservation District in Oregon ($99,629) – The Hood River Soil and Water Conservation District will use the funding to expand the Hood River Watershed group. The watershed group will address water supply and instream flows for threatened native fish such as the winter steelhead, Chinook salmon and coho salmon and other concerns in the watershed. The watershed group will address these issues by conducting analyses to identify and prioritize actions that partners can undertake to develop long term solutions within the basin.
  • A complete description of all projects is available at: http://www.usbr.gov/WaterSMART/cwmp/.

    Each entity will receive half of its funding this year and if sufficient progress is made as identified in its application, it will receive the remainder of its funding next year. No cost-share was required.

    Reclamation awarded $333,500 to eight entities in 2012 in the first year of grant funding for the Cooperative Management Program of the WaterSMART initiative. Since its establishment in 2010, WaterSMART has provided more than $161 million in competitively-awarded funding to non-federal partners, including tribes, water districts, municipalities, and universities through WaterSMART Grants and the Title XVI Program. Funding for WaterSMART is focused on improving water conservation and helping water and resource managers make wise decisions about water use.

    More Bureau of Reclamation coverage here.


    Upper Animas River: ‘It’s always been a heavily mineralized area’ — Bev Rich

    August 7, 2013

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    Here’s Part III of The Durango Herald’s (Chase Olivarius-Mcallister) series on the mining legacy in Silverton. Here’s an excerpt:

    After Sunnyside Gold Corp. shut down operations at American Tunnel in 1991, Silverton executed a bittersweet pirouette: With mining, its main industry, seemingly done for, the town focused on selling its mining history to tourists. Today, thousands of visitors pour into Silverton every summer, disembarking from the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad to tour mines, shop or playfully pan for gold.

    Meanwhile, Silverton’s abandoned mines gush toxic metals into Cement Creek, among the largest untreated mine drainages in Colorado. In turn, the metal pollution in Cement Creek is choking off the Upper Animas River’s ecosystem.

    Steve Fearn, a Silverton resident and a co-coordinator of the Animas River Stakeholders Group, said the people of Silverton want mining to return. This desire, he said, partly accounts for why many residents oppose federal involvement in the cleanup of Cement Creek. In the view of mining companies, a Superfund site designation would make Silverton’s metal mines infinitely less attractive, he said.

    Bev Rich, chairwoman of the San Juan County Historical Society and San Juan County treasurer, is the daughter of a miner, and she married one. She said it isn’t surprising that many people in Silverton look on Sunnyside Gold, the last mine to close there, with nostalgia for the good days, not anger about the mine drainage. And she said while Silverton’s eagerness to see a resumption of mining might confound outsiders, they don’t have first-hand knowledge of Silverton’s past. On the pay scale, tourism jobs can’t compete with mining work. “It was $60 or $70 an hour towards the end,” she said about the wages Sunnyside once paid.

    She also said she doesn’t believe metal concentrations in Cement Creek are a problem chiefly created by mining pollution. “I look at it as mineralization. It’s always been a heavily mineralized area,” she said, an observation repeated by Rich’s fellow Silvertonians Fearn and San Juan County Commissioner Peter McKay…

    Stakeholders co-coordinator Bill Simon said mining could certainly return to Silverton “if the price was right.” But he noted that while demand for metal has grown with the globalization of manufacturing, mining officials in the 21st century have, on the global scale, tended to continue to seek out the conditions that made mining so profitable in Silverton in the 19th and early 20th centuries: places with little regulation, where metals, like human life, are cheap and abundant.

    More Animas River Watershed coverage here and here.


    ‘…the mountain opens like a wound, oozing a sticky, white, webbed lattice over red ground’ — The Durango Herald

    August 5, 2013

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    Here’s Part I of The Durango Herald’s series on cleaning up Cement Creek written by (Chase Olivarius-Mcallister). Click here for the photo gallery. Here’s an excerpt:

    At Red and Bonita Mine, the mountain opens like a wound, oozing a sticky, white, webbed lattice over red ground. There, especially after heavy rains, toxic amounts of metal gush out from within the mountain and bleed into Cement Creek. Peter Butler, co-coordinator of the Animas River Stakeholders Group and chairman of the Colorado Water Quality Control Commission, said Cement Creek is one of the largest untreated mine drainages in the state of Colorado…

    Like all great earthly calamities, the environmental problem posed by Cement Creek – daunting, scientific and indifferent to protest – becomes human – legal, social, financial and technological – as soon as the focus moves to solutions. In this three-day series, The Durango Herald explores what has been done about this environmental hazard, possible ways forward, and what cleaning up Cement Creek might mean to Silverton, town motto: “The mining town that never quit.”[...]

    For much of the 1990s, scientists took heart that the metals flowing into the Animas from Cement Creek were diluted by the time the water reached Bakers Bridge, a swimming hole for daredevils about 15 miles upriver of Durango. But between 2005 and 2010, 3 out of 4 of the fish species that lived in the Upper Animas River beneath Silverton died. According to studies by the USGS, both the volume of insects and the number of bug species have plummeted. And starting in 2006, the level of pollution has overwhelmed even the old bellwether at Bakers Bridge: USGS scientists now find the water that flows under Bakers Bridge carries concentrations of zinc that are toxic to animal life.

    Bill Simon, co-coordinator of the Animas River Stakeholders Group, said cleaning up the environmental damage wrought by mining remains the unfinished business of previous centuries. “Getting anyone to pay is notoriously difficult,” he said. He noted that without robust regulation, it was common practice from the 1870s on for mining companies to take what they could and then go broke, abscond or incestuously merge with other mining entities, leaving the future to foot the bill…

    What keeps them working together? Simon, a longtime coordinator of the stakeholders group, said, “There is this overwhelming feeling: Let’s spend the money on the ground rather than in litigation.”[...]

    For a while, it appeared that the stakeholders’ collaborative effort to clean up Cement Creek was working: After Sunnyside Gold Corp. stoppered American Tunnel with the first of three massive concrete bulkheads in 1996, declining water flow from the site meant less metal pollution in Cement Creek. But Butler said that in 2004, the bulkheads stopped functioning like a cork in a wine bottle. Instead, they started working like a plug in a bathtub: Water, prevented from exiting the mountain through American Tunnel, rose up within the mountain until it reached other drainage points, namely, the Red and Bonita, Gold King and Mogul mines. Since then, Butler said, data shows that most metal concentrations in Cement Creek have “easily doubled” their pre-bulkhead amounts. He said as a result, the recent environmental damage done to the Animas has far outpaced gains made in other stakeholders group cleanup efforts, like the remediation of Mineral Creek, another Animas River tributary…

    Though federal budget cuts have seriously diminished the EPA and gutted its Superfund monies, the EPA says the mine drainage in Silverton has gotten so bad it may yet pursue a Superfund listing. And without federal intervention, even stalwarts of the Animas River Stakeholders Group say it’s not clear there will ever be enough money to clean up Cement Creek.

    Here’s Part II. Here’s an excerpt:

    According to Bill Simon, a co-coordinator of the Animas River Stakeholders Group, an organization that has tried since 1994 to ensure the Animas River’s water quality, the science behind the cleanup is comparatively simple: A limestone water-treatment plant would do the trick. The catch with this technology, he said, is that it’s expensive. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates it would cost between $12 million to $17 million to build and $1 million a year to run – in perpetuity.

    Sunnyside Gold Corp. was the last mining company to operate in Silverton. Bought in 2003 by Kinross Gold Corp., an international mining conglomerate that generated billions in revenue last year, Sunnyside denies all liability for cleaning up Cement Creek. Sunnyside officials argue the state released it from liability in an agreement that partly depended on its building the American Tunnel bulkheads. These are the same bulkheads that, according to government scientists, are causing unprecedented amounts of metal to leak from mines higher up the mountain and flow into Cement Creek. The toxic cargo in turn flows into the Animas River.

    Larry Perino, Sunnyside’s representative in Silverton, said the company has offered the EPA a $6.5 million settlement – an offer the EPA is mulling. In return for the money, Perino said Sunnyside is merely asking the EPA to reiterate that it is not liable for all damage going forward…

    If Sunnyside wants the EPA to release it from liability, at $6.5 million the EPA probably isn’t biting.

    “$6.5 million is a starting point,” said Mike Holmes, the EPA’s Denver-based remedial project manager for Region 8, which includes Silverton. The EPA could turn to the Superfund, a designation that gives the agency broad powers to clean up sites contaminated with hazardous substances and force responsible parties to pay for the cleanup.

    Perino said Sunnyside vehemently opposes Cement Creek becoming a Superfund site, noting the people of Silverton oppose it, and that the designation likely would undermine Silverton’s economy and Sunnyside’s collaborative work with the Animas River Stakeholders.

    Peggy Linn, the EPA’s Region 8 community involvement coordinator, said if Silverton would support the EPA designating upper Cement Creek a Superfund site, making it easier for Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper to sign off on the designation, the agency might have a limestone water-treatment plant up and running within five years…

    And using about $8 million from government grants and in-kind donations, the group has managed significant environmental progress, including the cleanup of Mineral Creek. It has also lobbied U.S. Sen. Mark Udall and U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton to push Congress for good Samaritan legislation. This would protect “vigilante” environmentalists from taking on liability for the sites they try to reclaim.

    During Animas River Stakeholders meetings, there is a lot more talk about exciting emerging technologies that might address the mine drainage into Cement Creek cheaply than there is hot talk about holding Sunnyside’s feet to the fire.

    An exception is Todd Hennis, owner of the Gold King Mine, who places the blame on Sunnyside and who is frustrated by others’ complacency on the subject. Metals draining out of Gold King Mine have increased tremendously since Sunnyside placed bulkheads into the American Tunnel. During a recent stakeholders meeting in Silverton Town Hall, Hennis lambasted the environmental record of Kinross Gold Corp., the mining conglomerate that owns Sunnyside. He said the only solution was for Sunnyside to remove the bulkheads from American Tunnel and pay for Cement Creek’s cleanup…

    Asked how personal tensions with Hennis were affecting the Animas River Stakeholders, co-coordinator Simon acknowledged, “we’ve all had our problems with Todd.” He said he did not like discussing it. “I think when Todd enters it, the conversation becomes kind of cheap and trite. We’ve all committed our lives to this thing.”

    More Animas River watershed coverage here and here.


    Western Water Workshop — Planning for the new normal — recap

    July 26, 2013

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    From the Glenwood Springs Post Independent (Hannah Holm):

    Attendees of the Colorado Water Workshop in Gunnison July 17-19 heard sobering news about the long-term, devastating impacts expected from the West Fork Fire complex east of Alamosa in the San Juan and Rio Grande national forests.

    The fires are burning in an area hard hit by beetle kill, with many dead trees. Despite previous scientific disagreements about how beetle kill would affect wildfire behavior, anecdotal evidence suggests that areas with extensive beetle kill burn with much greater thoroughness and intensity than areas with healthy trees. This appears to be the case with the West Fork Fire complex.

    The 100,000+ acres the complex has burned so far encompass the headwaters of the Rio Grande River, in a basin even harder hit by drought in recent years than the rest of Colorado.

    And now the monsoon rains are here: Good for putting out fires, but problematic in other ways. Hard rain hitting burned over ground can create tremendous destruction: Land slides and loads of sediment and debris choking streams, reservoirs and other water infrastructure on which downstream communities depend.

    More education coverage here.


    Montezuma Valley Irrigation and the Dolores Water Conservancy District stipulate out of Cortez’s change of diversion case

    July 16, 2013

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    From the Cortez Journal (Tobie Baker):

    Last year, a Colorado Water Division engineer discovered the City of Cortez never filed an application to officially change its point of diversion from the Montezuma Valley Irrigation Canal to the Dolores Tunnel. In June of last year, the city filed the change application, but the proposal was met with opposition.

    According to court documents, the city’s water rights date back to 1892, when the Sheek Ditch, Illinois Ditch, Giogetta Ditch and Dunham & Johnson Ditch were decreed for the town’s irrigation needs. In 1952 and 1953, the city’s point of diversion was changed to the Dolores River through the Dolores Tunnel, now via McPhee Reservoir, but water court officials never approved the change.

    Court records show the application filed by the city last summer sought to officially change municipal water rights from the headgate of the Main No. 1 Canal of the Montezuma Valley Irrigation Company to the Dolores Tunnel via McPhee Reservoir.

    The application met opposition from both Montezuma Valley Irrigation Company and Dolores Water Conservancy District, but an agreement has since been reached, said City Manager Shane Hale…

    According to the agreement, the city will continue receiving water diverted via McPhee Reservoir through the Dolores Tunnel. The application and the proposed decree do not change the ability of the City of Cortez to continue to use the full 4.2 cubic feet per second it has historically had access to, Krob added.

    More Dolores River Watershed coverage here and here.


    The drought has the City of Durango pumping from the Animas to supplement supplies #COdrought

    July 3, 2013

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    Click on the thumbnail graphic for the streamflow graph from the Animas River at Durango since April 1. Here’s a report from Jim Haug writing for The Durango Herald. Here’s an excerpt:

    However you do it, the city of Durango would like you to cut back your water usage by 10 percent…

    The city’s terminal reservoir is currently about a foot below the level it should be. Officials would like to maintain it at maximum capacity so the city can respond to crises such as wildfires or a sudden loss of water.

    For most of the year, the Florida River is sufficient to meet the city’s needs with a daily supply of 5.7 million gallons, but in summertime, the city’s average of daily water usage is 9.5 millions gallons. The reservoir must be supplemented with water from the Animas River.

    The city has three water pumps at Santa Rita Park. Since the peak water usage day of June 22 when the demand reached almost 14 million gallons, the city has been able to use only one pump because the water level in the river has gotten so low.

    Because of the drought, water from Florida River is expected to diminish to 5.2 million gallons a day…

    City officials think voluntary measures might be sufficient to get through the season. Asking people to voluntarily decrease their water by 10 percent is “thought to be a first good step,” said Steve Salka, director of utilities. “These are all small changes, but they will help us maintain the water level in the reservoir.”

    More Animas River watershed coverage here and here.


    Long Hollow Reservoir should improve water rights administration on the La Plata River

    May 22, 2013

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    From The Durango Herald (Dale Rodebaugh):

    The water collected in Long Hollow Reservoir from Long Hollow Creek and Government Draw will supplement the often scant water from the La Plata River, half of which must be shared with New Mexico.

    “We’re happy to see the project moving along so well,” Brice Lee, president of the sponsoring La Plata Water Conservancy District, said last week. “It’s been a tough year because we haven’t gotten the monsoons yet.” Lee gets water from a ditch off the La Plata River for pasture and to irrigate hay. But he’s had only four days of water from his ditch so far this spring…

    Long Hollow Creek and Government Draw drain a basin of 43 square miles on the east side of Colorado Highway 140 about five miles north of the New Mexico line and about a half mile from the confluence of Long Hollow Creek and the La Plata River. The reservoir, expected to be completed this year, will have a capacity of 5,432 acre-feet and 160 surface acres…

    Colorado and New Mexico share the water of the La Plata River under a 1922 agreement. Each state has unrestricted use of water from Dec. 1 to Feb. 15. But from then to Dec. 1, if the river is flowing at less than 100 cubic feet per second at the state line, Colorado must deliver one-half the flow at Hesperus to New Mexico.

    Fulfilling the compact isn’t easy for several reasons:

    The La Plata, which rises in the mountains north of U.S. Highway 160, doesn’t have abundant water even in its best years.

    Water availability and the growing season don’t follow parallel paths. The bulk of the water – as 95 years of records show – is available from April 1 to July 1. Flow shoots from 50 cubic feet per second to 200 cfs then drops quickly to 50 cfs before trailing off. The growing season goes on much longer.

    A porous river bed and vegetation siphon off water in the 31 river miles from Hesperus to the state line.

    Lee said there are probably 15 major ditches off the La Plata River and many smaller ones. He estimated that 500 to 600 irrigators have a share of the flow, however small.

    The cost of the project must come in at $18.6 million or less because there’s no additional funding in sight, Lee said. The source is $15 million – plus accrued interest – from what the state contributed for irrigation in the Animas-La Plata Project. The irrigation component was removed from the A-LP – a settlement of Native American water right claims – in the 1990s.

    More La Plata River Watershed coverage here and here.


    Bennet, Tipton Reintroduce Companion Bills to Preserve Hermosa Creek Watershed

    May 12, 2013

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    Here’s the release from US Representative Scott Tipton’s office:

    Colorado U.S. Senator Michael Bennet and Representative Scott Tipton are introducing a bill to protect more than 100,000 acres of the Hermosa Creek Watershed, an area in the San Juan National Forest north of Durango. The bill would establish management for the Hermosa Creek Watershed based on recommendations from the Hermosa Creek River Protection Workgroup, which included local water officials, conservationists, sportsmen, mountain bikers, off-road-vehicle users, outfitters, property owners, grazing permit holders and other interested citizens. Bennet’s bill was introduced today, while Tipton will introduce his bill in the House as early as tomorrow.

    “We are lucky in Colorado to be able to enjoy many of the country’s most beautiful landscapes in our backyards. The Hermosa Creek Watershed represents some of the best Colorado has to offer,” Bennet said. “This bill will protect this land for our outdoor recreation economy and for future generations of Coloradans and Americans to enjoy. It is the result of a local effort that took into account the varied interests of the community, and that cooperation helped us put together a strong bill with the community’s input.”

    “As one of Colorado’s most scenic areas, Hermosa Creek has long been treasured by the local community and by countless visitors who have explored all that the region has to offer,” Tipton said. “Local stakeholders including snowmobilers, anglers, hunters, other outdoor enthusiasts, elected officials, miners and Southwest Colorado residents have voiced their support to preserve the Hermosa Creek watershed and the multiple use recreation opportunities it provides. In response to this locally driven effort, Senator Bennet and I have joined together to put forward legislation to, without any additional cost to taxpayers, protect and preserve this special place, and ensure that Coloradans as well as visitors to our great state have the opportunity to experience Hermosa Creek’s abundant natural beauty for generations to come.”

    “On behalf of the La Plata County Commissioners, I thank Senator Bennet and Congressman Tipton for their great work for the interests of La Plata County citizens,” said Julie Westendorff, La Plata County Commissioner. “This bill protects the clean waters of our Hermosa Creek and promotes the responsible use of federal lands for the recreation that supports our economy and sustains our quality of life.”

    “We are very excited about this bill. We are hopeful that all the hard work and cooperative partnership that went into the Hermosa Creek Watershed Protection Act will lead to the swift passage of this bill for the benefit of Southwest Colorado and all the visitors to our area.” said Pete McKay, San Juan County Commissioner.

    “The Hermosa Creek Wilderness bill rests on a foundation of broadly-based stakeholder input,” said Dick White, mayor of Durango. “It will protect the watershed while preserving historical and recreational values. In addition, it provides protection for iconic scenic and recreational areas near the City of Durango. The bill will contribute both to the natural amenities that attract residents and tourists to Southwest Colorado and to the economic benefits that they bring.”

    “It was my privilege to represent the interests of the Southwestern Water Conservation District and San Juan County, Colorado during this process. Interests of the Southwestern Water Conservation District included protecting existing water rights and uses; and, the potential for future water development. The interests of San Juan County included protecting existing water quality, county road access, mineral development potential, forest product harvesting, and recreational uses,” wrote Stephen Fearn, President, Jo Grant Mining Company, Inc. “Both the District and San Juan County have voted to support the proposed legislation.”

    The bill, which is cosponsored by Senator Mark Udall, would designate roughly 108,000 acres of San Juan National Forest land as the Hermosa Creek Watershed Protection Area. Much of the land would remain open to all historic uses of the forest under the bill, including mountain biking, motorized recreation, and selective timber harvesting. Grazing will continue to be allowed in the entire watershed.

    In accordance with the consensus recommendations of the Hermosa Creek Workgroup, roughly 38,000 acres of the watershed would be set aside as wilderness, to be managed in accordance with The Wilderness Act of 1964. No roads or mineral development are permitted in wilderness areas; while hunting, fishing, horseback riding and non-mechanized recreation are allowed.

    Per the community recommendations the following trails all remain open to mountain biking: Hermosa Creek, Dutch Creek, Elbert Creek, Corral Draw, the Colorado Trail, Little Elk Creek, Jones Creek, Pinkerton-Flagstaff and Goulding Creek. Also, in keeping with the community recommendations, the following trails will remain open to motorized use: Hermosa Creek, Jones Creek, Pinkerton Flagstaff, Dutch Creek and Corral Draw. In addition the bill will allow areas in the Hermosa Creek watershed currently used by snowmobiling to remain open to that use. Also, at the request of Silverton and San Juan County, the bill ensures areas currently open to snowmobiling on Molas Pass will remain open for that use.

    The bill contains several provisions to provide for active land management in areas designated by the bill as necessary to control wildfires, insect infestations and disease outbreaks. Finally, per the request of the Durango City Council and La Plata County Commission, the bill would prohibit future federal mineral leasing on Animas Mountain, Perins Peak, Ridges Basin and Horse Gulch.

    Supporters of the bill include the City of Durango, the La Plata County Commission, the San Juan County Commission, the Wilderness Society, Trails 2000, Four Corners Back County Horsemen, Jo Grant Mining Company, Inc., in addition to numerous business and sportsmen groups, among others.

    More Hermosa Creek Watershed coverage here and here.


    Durango: Ambitious restoration/construction project for the city’s whitewater park to kick off in November

    May 2, 2013

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    From The Durango Herald (Jim Haug):

    By using berms or coffer dams, sections of the river will be split into dry and wet sides to allow workers to get to the river bottom of the whitewater park, also known as Smelter Rapid, by Santa Rita Park and Durango’s wastewater-treatment plant.

    Contractors then will do restoration and maintenance work, such as grouting boulders into place, as well as creating a new underwater structure to allow for gentler rapids and to accommodate beginner and intermediate ability levels.

    The work is scheduled to begin in November and wrap up by next March, which also will result in a temporary diversion of the Animas River Trail to the other side of the wastewater-treatment plant and away from the river construction. This section of river trail is scheduled to get an upgrade, too, widening from 10 to 14 feet to accommodate an anticipated increase in traffic to the river.

    Plans also call for a partial relocation of the equipment yard for the wastewater-treatment plant to create a more park-like setting by the river entrance. Erosion of the shoreline would be mitigated with boulders. Officials hope to create a more graded or level access to the river that would be in compliance with the Americans With Disabilities Act.

    The city’s hired mastermind is Scott Shipley, a World Cup champion kayaker who also competed in three Summer Olympics and whose firm, S2O Design, also developed the hydraulic features in the whitewater course for the London Olympics. The firm currently is a consultant for the whitewater course for the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro…

    Trying to place rocks strategically without knowledge of the river bottom was “always a roll of the dice,” Brennan said. “You’re not sure what the (rock) is hitting,” Brennan said. “You’re hoping it stays.” With this construction plan, “we’ll see how the rocks are touching each other. We’ll be able to put it together like a jigsaw puzzle.”[...]

    The $1.3 million project is funded by a half-cent sales tax that voters approved in 2005 for parks and recreation purposes, but the project has ramifications bigger than minimizing maintenance and hopefully getting Durango “back on the map” as a destination for whitewater competitions. It fulfills a mandate of the city’s Recreational In-Channel Diversion right, which was granted by the Colorado Water Conservation Board about six years ago. “By completing the whitewater park, it gives us the right to protect the (river) forever,” said Cathy Metz, director of Parks and Recreation. “So we could never have a diversion of the Animas upstream or a dam on the Animas. It’s a big deal for our community, not only for paddling but for environmental reasons, as well.”[...]

    “This is the flagship of the whitewater parks, or it was,” [Shipley] said. “It will be the flagship of whitewater parks again. So I hear from you. This is not a project we’re going to fall asleep on.”

    More whitewater coverage here and here.


    Will Lake Nighthorse recreation facilities be online in by 2014?

    April 9, 2013

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    From The Durango Herald (Jim Haug) via the Cortez Journal:

    Almost two years after the reservoir was filled in June 2011, local government officials have not allowed kayaking, bird watching or mountain biking on the 5,500-acre site. Lake Nighthorse might be a case of politics proving to be a bigger obstacle than the laws of physics.

    About two miles from downtown Durango, the lake is a temptation for all kinds of outdoor enthusiasts, but it is not yet accessible to the public. Officials now are saying 2014, but they have delayed the opening before.

    To venture onto the property without permission literally is a federal offense, although judging by footprints and pawprints, people and their dogs apparently have made the trek. “We’ve had to chase out people with kayaks and canoes,” said Tyler Artichoker, facilities manager for the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation…

    After budgeting almost $200,000 to open the lake this summer, Durango Parks and Recreation Director Cathy Metz laid out a series of complications that has moved the goal of opening the lake to the summer of 2014. The city first must annex the land so it can provide law enforcement. The Bureau of Reclamation must approve a lease agreement with the city and do an environmental assessment of the city’s master recreation plan, which was developed after much public input and consensus building about the kinds of recreation to allow. Jet skis are out. The master plan calls for a “family beach” to distinguish it from other kinds of beaches. The bureau’s environmental assessment then must be made available for public comment, which is expected to happen in April.

    Once the bureau signs off on the lease agreement, the city plans to get assistance from the Colorado National Guard for help with land clearing. An entrance station and boat-inspection area also must be built with funding from a state grant…

    “If you can name a governmental entity, it has a stake in Lake Nighthorse,” Rinderle said.

    More Animas-La Plata Project coverage here and here.


    San Juans: Just two dust on snow events so far this winter #codrought

    March 11, 2013

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    From The Telluride Daily Planet (Collin McRann):

    One of the leading local climate research entities in the state is the Silverton Center for Snow and Avalanche Studies, which has been conducting research on local precipitation and snowpack for more than a decade. Over the years, the center has accumulated reams of data about the snowpack, and on Friday a researcher presented some of the center’s findings at the monthly EcoAction Roundtable at the Wilkinson Public Library to a crowd of more than 15 people…

    Though a lot of climate change research is focused on increasing temperatures, there are many side effects of warmer temperatures that could have a profound impact locally. One of those is dust on snow, which the center has been studying for years. Since 2004, the center has been gathering data on the amount of sunlight radiation reflected from the snowpack at sites in Beck Basin. When the snow is clean it reflects more heat and melts slower, but when covered in dust it melts faster. [Researcher Kim Buck] said almost all of the dust on snow in Colorado comes off of the Colorado Plateau. She said once the dust blows in and gets on the snow, it can speed up the melt dramatically — by an entire month in the spring…

    Locally, there have been two dust blow-ins this winter, but they were mild compared with dust storms of the past few years, notably 2009, Buck said…

    The center’s and NOAA’s snowpack data shows that this year’s snowpack is lower than last year at this time. According to NOAA information, the snowpack in the San Miguel, Dolores, Animas and San Juan River Basin is around 85 percent of normal. Last year it was slightly higher. Buck said it could be bad news this summer.

    “It is extremely unlikely that we’re going to catch up on precipitation,” Buck said “Last year the state was just coming off of that great big water year, so reservoirs were full. This year reservoirs are low and then we’re getting another low snow year back to back. So I think the cities in the Front Range will have a pretty hard time in the summer.”


    Durango: The city is becoming proactive in preventing wastewater spills

    February 25, 2013

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    Here’s an in-depth report about Durango’s sewer system, from Jim Haug writing for The Durango Herald. Click through and read the whole article. Here’s an excerpt:

    The Colorado Water Quality Control Division has ordered the city to come up with an emergency-response plan, a sewer-maintenance program and a training program.

    The city had no such formalized plans in place as late as four months ago, said Steve Salka, the new utilities director.

    “The state was leading us in a direction, but I knew we needed an emergency action plan,” he said. “I knew we needed a spill-response plan. I knew we needed a maintenance plan. I just put it all together (and sent it to the state).”

    The city has struck a tentative agreement to spend $84,000 on backup generators for its sewer lift stations to bring it into compliance.

    More infrastructure coverage here.


    Mancos Water Conservancy District water workshop recap

    February 3, 2013

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    From The Mancos Times (Jeanne Archambeault):

    Gary Kennedy, superintendent of the Mancos Water Conservancy District (MWCD) , started the day off with a talk about the organization and what it does for the Mancos Valley. He gave information and statistics about Jackson Gulch Reservoir – how much water it can hold, what it holds now, and where the water comes from. He said the MWCD is #36 priority for water and can capture about 250 cubic feet of water from the Mancos River between March and May. The MWCD fills water priorities as they come up and are called in…

    Mike Rich, of the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) gave a talk about what’s been going on in the last 10 years with the Mancos River and the watershed that surrounds it.

    Then, Kirsten Brown, of the Colorado Department of Reclamation Mining and Safety, and Cathy Zillich, of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) gave an extensive talk about the East Mancos River and the mining impacts on it. Ann Oliver talked about the Middle Mancos River and the management measures they are doing.

    George San Miguel talked about the part of the Mancos River that runs through Mesa Verde National Park, and Colin Laird, a water quality specialist, talked about the lower watershed on the Ute Mountain Ute land.

    The workshop was the beginning of an an ongoing discussion. There will be more workshops and informational sessions to come.

    More Mancos River Watershed coverage here.


    Mancos: ‘Water 101′ workshop Saturday

    January 24, 2013

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    From The Mancos Times:

    For all interested people, there will be a meeting at the Mancos Community Center called “Water 101 in the Mancos Valley” on Saturday, Jan. 26, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

    Water will the subject and various people will talk about it. Gary Kennedy, superintendent of the Mancos Water Conservancy District will speak about the Jackson Reservoir; Marty Robbins of the Department of Water Resources will talk about the priority water systems, Brandon Bell of Mancos Rural Water will be there to address any concerns. Questions and comments will be encouraged from all who attend.

    The workshop is hosted by the Mancos Conservation District and will be a good starting point for the discussion on water.

    More Mancos River Watershed coverage here.


    U.S. Forest Service Files Several Small Water Rights to Protect Historical Uses on the San Juan National Forest

    January 6, 2013

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    Here’s the release from the U.S. Forest Service:

    The U.S. Forest Service has filed an application to perfect a portion of the Animas Service Area water right owned by La Plata County and the Southwestern Water Conservation District. The application was filed in District Court, Water Division 7, on November 29th as confirmation of a number of historic existing water uses in the Animas River basin on the San Juan National Forest, Columbine Ranger District.

    The Animas Service Area water right is a unique Colorado water right acquired in response to the recreational in-channel diversion water right owned by the City of Durango for whitewater recreation. A settlement between the City of Durango, La Plata County and the Southwestern Water Conservation District allowed for water to support a whitewater park on the Animas River, while setting aside two large water rights that are senior to the city’s allotment for current and future development.

    The Animas Service Area water right is for the beneficial uses of irrigation, wetlands and wetland
    irrigation, domestic, municipal, pond, reservoir, water feature and other evaporation, industrial, manufacturing, power, geothermal, commercial, gravel and other mining, stock, wildlife, firefighting, recreation, snow and ice making, fisheries, recharge of aquifers, and augmentation and exchange to protect other water right holders.

    The U.S. Forest Service filing will confirm 153 water rights for the San Juan National Forest, representing a cumulative total of about 2.3 cubic feet per second (cfs) of flow amounts in springs, and an additional 57.8 acre-feet of storage in Henderson Lake. To put the amounts into perspective, approximately 1 cfs of water per year is typically used to irrigate 30 acres of land in the Animas Valley. An acre-foot of water is enough water to cover one acre of land to a depth of one foot.

    Most of the Forest Service claims are for surface-water rights to protect water for livestock at 137 small natural springs on National Forest grazing allotments in the Animas Basin. These uses have been in effect on the National Forest since the early 1900s, and altogether represent a cumulative total of almost 2.2 cfs.

    Other claims being filed by the Forest Service will protect existing domestic water use and lawn watering at cabins on the National Forest. These represent only about 0.13 cfs cumulative total. Claims are also being filed to confirm the ability of the Forest Service to provide drinking water to campers at South Mineral Campground (0.0043 cfs) and to continue to provide for recreation and fisheries at Henderson Lake (57.8 acre feet).

    More Animas River Watershed coverage here.


    Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants; Designation of Critical Habitat for Southwestern Willow Flycatcher

    January 3, 2013

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    Here’s the ruling from the USFWS published in the Federal Register:

    We, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service), designate revised critical habitat for the southwestern willow flycatcher (Empidonax traillii extimus) (flycatcher) under the Endangered Species Act. In total, approximately 1,975 stream kilometers (1,227 stream miles) are being designated as critical habitat. These areas are designated as stream segments, with the lateral extent including the riparian areas and streams that occur within the 100-year floodplain or flood-prone areas encompassing a total area of approximately 84,569 hectares (208,973 acres). The critical habitat is located on a combination of Federal, State, tribal, and private lands in Inyo, Kern, Los Angeles, Riverside, Santa Barbara, San Bernardino, San Diego, and Ventura Counties in California; Clark, Lincoln, and Nye Counties in southern Nevada; Kane, San Juan, and Washington Counties in southern Utah; Alamosa, Conejos, Costilla, and La Plata Counties in southern Colorado [ed. emphasis mine]; Apache, Cochise, Gila, Graham, Greenlee, La Paz, Maricopa, Mohave, Pima, Pinal, Santa Cruz, and Yavapai Counties in Arizona; and Catron, Grant, Hidalgo, Mora, Rio Arriba, Socorro, Taos, and Valencia Counties in New Mexico. The effect of this regulation is to conserve the flycatcher’s habitat under the Endangered Species Act.

    From the Summit County Citizens Voice (Bob Berwyn):

    The designation covers about 208,000 acres of riparian habitat along 1,227 miles of rivers and streams in California, Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, Utah and Nevada. Some of the critical habitat is along the banks of well-known rivers, including the Rio Grande, Gila, Virgin, Santa Ana and San Diego.

    The flycatcher is a small, neotropical, migrant bird that breeds in streamside forests. It was first listed as endangered in 1995 in response to a petition from the Center for Biological Diversity.

    “Protection of critical habitat for this tiny, unique bird could make a crucial difference to its survival, and also gives urgently needed help to the Southwest’s beleaguered rivers,” said Noah Greenwald, the Center’s endangered species director. “For all of us who love our desert rivers, this protection is great news.”

    The USFWS initially designated 599 miles of riverside habitat in 1997 but was challenged by the New Mexico Cattle Growers’ Association. That led to a revised designation in 2007 that protected more stream miles.
    But that was not enough to ensure recovery of the species, according to the Center for Biological Diversity, which challenged the rule, pointing out that it failed to consider hundreds of miles of rivers identified in a scientific recovery plan for the flycatcher.

    “Like so many desert plants and animals, southwestern willow flycatchers have suffered from the wanton destruction of rivers by livestock grazing, mining, urban sprawl and overuse,” Greenwald said. “We have to take better care of our rivers.

    This week’s designation still excludes hundreds of miles of river habitat that was identified in 2011 plan. Greenwald said his organization will take a close look at these the exclusions to determine if the recovery of the flycatcher was properly considered.

    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Matt Hildner):

    Federal wildlife officials designated just over 9,000 acres in the San Luis Valley Tuesday as critical habitat for the southwestern willow flycatcher. While the move excluded all of the endangered bird’s habitat on private and state­owned land, it designated an 11.4 ­mile stretch of the Rio Grande through the Alamosa National Wildlife Refuge and another 12.7­ mile segment that sits downstream under Bureau of Land Management jurisdiction.

    The bird, which also received habitat protection from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in five other southwestern states, makes its home in the dense streamside cover often provided by willows, cottonwood trees and tamarisk.

    Mike Blenden, who oversees the Alamosa refuge for the service, said the designation would change little about how the refuge is operated but added that activities such as ditch cleaning and prescribed burning would involve more discussion with others in the agency.

    Likewise, Denise Adamic, a BLM spokeswoman, said little would change for how the agency manages its land along the Rio Grande, save for a stricter consultation process with the service to comply with the Endangered Species Act.

    The official rule designating the habitat said 11 miles on the Rio Grande and 64 miles on the Conejos River were excluded because of work by the Rio Grande Water Conservation District and other local governments to set up a conservation plan for the bird.

    The ruling also noted that the flycatcher’s habitat had benefited from the establishment of conservation easements on nearly 9,000 acres of private land lining the Rio Grande and Conejos.

    More endangered/threatened species coverage here.


    Bayfield: 5% Sanitary sewer rate increase takes effect this month

    January 2, 2013

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    From the Pine River Times:

    Bayfield sewer rates will increase 5 percent starting in January. The town board approved the increase on Dec. 18. The additional money will be used to secure a $600,000 loan for sewer collection system repairs, according to Town Manager Chris La May.

    The town’s sewer collection system experiences ground water infiltration during the spring and summer months. The groundwater level rises and infiltrates the system through weakened joints and cracks in the lines. Groundwater infiltration increases the hydraulic loading (total volume) at the sewage treatment plant, pushing the plant’s design capacity and negatively impacting the biological treatment process.

    To address the infiltration, the town proposes to slip-line the main sewer collection lines rather than replace aging lines. Pipe lining would be completed with thermoformed or thermoplastic (PVC) pipe or cured-in place-pipe (CIPP). The liner material is rapidly pulled through the host pipe from manhole to manhole while the liner material is still flexible and then expanded and cured, generally through the application of steam, to form a hard, durable liner material. Pipe lining products conform to the interior of the host pipe so that there is no gap between the liner pipe and the host pipe. Services are then re-established remotely using a robotic cutter traveling inside the pipeline…

    The 5 percent increase equates to an additional $2.10 per equivalent residential tap (ERT) per month and is expected to generate approximately $35,000 annually.

    The town is concluding an extensive planning effort, which includes a survey of the existing collection systems, evaluation of collection system capacity for future growth, and identification of capital improvements necessary to accommodate growth. Upon completion of the planning effort, town staff will reevaluate the water and sewer rate structures to assure long term needs are addressed.

    More infrastructure coverage here.


    Pagosa Springs: Increased focus on water loss yields results

    November 27, 2012

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    From the Pagosa Springs Sun (Lindsey Bright):

    During Tuesday afternoon’s PAWSD board of directors’ meeting, the directors looked at the gallons of water being produced both at Hatcher and Snowball.

    At Hatcher, in the time since new meters were installed and monitored, Nov. 6-8, the plant produced 174,000 gallons of water, with 124,310 gallons sold — a loss of 49,690 gallons in the three-day period.

    The Snowball treatment plant, which has one meter left to be installed, produced 10,951,611 gallons of water, with 7,697,100 sold between Sept. 29 and Oct. 28, making for a monthly loss of 3,254,511 gallons of water.

    PAWSD District Manager Ed Winton said one area of water loss was discovered when PAWSD and Bartlett and West engineers, “shot elevations.” During the process, engineers realized the Reservoir Hill and Cemetery water tanks are not at the same elevation, as had been thought — there is a 38-inch disparity. Since the two tanks work together, when one is being filled, instead of filling completely, it fills part way and the other tank overflows.

    Director Roy Vega asked how much of the overall water loss can be attributed to the tank overflowing.

    Winton said he could not answer that, but did say that just fixing the tanks would not solve the overall water loss problem.

    By the next regular meeting in December, all the new water meters should be installed at the treatment plants, which should provide accurate monthly numbers.

    More Pagosa Springs coverage here and here.


    Pagosa Springs: Fishery improvement project to take place over the next few weeks

    November 19, 2012

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    From the Pagosa Springs Sun:

    The Town of Pagosa Springs would like to make residents and businesses at the east end of town aware of increased, construction-related traffic in the vicinity of the River Center.

    Over the next several weeks, construction and hauling crews will be working behind the River Center performing various tasks associated with the town’s “Fishing is Fun” fish habitat and angler access project along the San Juan River corridor.

    Work will include hauling dredged silt from the fishing ponds via dump truck to the sanitation lagoons on South 5th Street. Work will also include hauling river habitat enhancements (root wads, boulders, etc.) to the River Center

    Construction activities will begin this week and continue intermittently until approximately mid-December. Work will be performed during the daytime work hours of 7 a.m.-5 p.m., Monday-Friday. Weekend work may be performed periodically, when necessary.

    More San Juan River Basin coverage here.


    Colorado Water 2012: A look at the basins of Southwestern Colorado

    October 31, 2012

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    Here’s the latest installment of the Valley Courier’s Colorado Water 2012 series, written by Bruce Whitehead. Here’s an excerpt:

    Southwestern Colorado’s rivers are unique in that many of the rivers and tributaries flow from north to south and are administered as independent river systems.

    This is due to the fact that many, such as the Navajo, Blanco, Piedra, Pine, Florida, Animas, La Plata, and Mancos Rivers, are tributary to the San Juan River in New Mexico or just upstream of the state line. The Dolores River flows from north to south, but makes a “U-turn” near Cortez and heads back to the northwest and joins the Colorado River in Utah. The San Miguel River originates just above Telluride, and flows to the west where it joins the Dolores River just above the Colorado-Utah state line.

    The southwest basin has many areas that are under strict water rights administration on a regular basis, but there is still water available for appropriation and development pursuant to Colorado’s Constitution and the Colorado River Compact. The region is also known for its beautiful scenery and recreation opportunities, which is the basis for the establishment of the Weminuche Wilderness area as well as nearly 150 reaches of streams with in-stream flow water rights. Over 50 natural lake levels are also protected by the state’s In-Stream Flow and Natural Lake Level Program.

    Water leaders have been active for many years in the basin and recognized early on that in order to meet agricultural and municipal demands storage would need to be developed. The Southwestern Water Conservation District was formed in 1941, and has been responsible for the planning, development, and water rights acquisition for many of the federal projects in the region. Reservoirs such as McPhee (Dolores Project), Jackson Gulch (Mancos Project), Ridges Basin a.k.a Lake Nighthorse (Animas-La Plata Project), Lemon (Florida Project), and Vallecito (Pine River Project) provide for a supplemental supply of irrigation and municipal water in all but the driest of years. The delivery of these supplemental supplies assists with keeping flows in many critical reaches of river that historically had little or no flow late in the season due to limited supplies and water rights administration.

    Southwest Colorado is also home to two Sovereign Nations and Indian Reservations that were established by treaty in 1868. Under federal law the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe and Southern Ute Indian Tribe were entitled to federal reserved water rights, which had the potential to create conflicts with Colorado water law and non-Indian water users in the basin. After nearly a decade of negotiations, a consent decree was entered with the water court that settled the tribal claims. The Tribal Settlement included some early dates of appropriation for the tribes, and a water supply from some of the federal storage projects including the Dolores, Animas-La Plata, Florida, and Pine River Projects. This landmark settlement is evidence that both tribal and non-Indian interests can be provided for with water storage and cooperative water management.

    More Colorado Water 2012 coverage here.


    The CWCB approves a $500,000 grant for the La Plata Archuleta Water District pipeline project

    October 28, 2012

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    From The Durango Herald (Dale Rodebaugh):

    A Colorado Water Conservation Board grant will cover $475,000, with the remainder coming from the Southwest Basin Roundtable’s share of the Water Supply Reserve Account. Ground breaking is scheduled Nov. 13. Water will be available for the district’s first customers next year, Steve Harris, the district’s engineer, said Friday. Long­range plans envision serving 400 square miles, first in southeast La Plata County and later southwest Archuleta County…

    The pipeline will follow Bayfield Parkway from the roundabout on County Road 501 to County Road 509, then south along County Road 509 to County Road 510, where it will turn west…

    The district’s water will come from the city of Bayfield treatment plant, the capacity of which is to be expanded from 1.5 million gallons a day to 2.5 mgd. The plant currently treats 900,000 gallons a day…

    The first two miles of pipeline will be 14 inches in diameter to accommodate several laterals, Harris said.
    “Once we get into the rural area, we’ll use 8­inch pipe,” Harris said.

    More infrastructure coverage here.


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