Poudre RiverFest [May 30] restores, celebrates our local river — North Forty News

May 22, 2015
Cache la Poudre River

Cache la Poudre River

From PoudreRiverFest.org via the North Forty News:

Five nonprofit organizations are partnering to host Poudre RiverFest, a community festival, from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. on May 30 at Legacy Park in Fort Collins. Admission is free.

Save the Poudre, Sustainable Living Association, Rocky Mountain Bird Observatory, Synergy Ecological Restoration and Fort Collins Museum of Discovery are co-organizing the festival to restore, celebrate and educate people about the Cache la Poudre River, a significant natural resource in our community.

Poudre RiverFest will feature a variety of activities for people to explore the role of the river as an important habitat for wildlife, a recreation area and a source for clean drinking water. Educational and volunteer activities will take place throughout the day with a culminating celebration in the afternoon.

At this family-friendly festival, people can experience scientific research at a bird banding station, go on nature walks to learn about the Poudre River and its inhabitants, volunteer to enhance wildlife habitat through hands-on service projects, and learn about conserving the river through a photo scavenger hunt. In the afternoon, they can kick up their heels to live music from 12 Cents for Marvin, The Burroughs and Justin Roth, connect with local conservation organizations and enjoy kids’ activities, food, a beer garden and more.

This is the second year of this current iteration of Poudre RiverFest. In May of 2014, like-minded nonprofits launched the festival in the wake of the high floodwaters of 2013. More than 1,000 people attended the festival to learn about, restore and celebrate the Cache la Poudre River last year.

All proceeds from the festival support conservation and education nonprofits in Fort Collins.

People are encouraged to get involved! Volunteers are needed to help with hands-on service projects and the festival itself. To volunteer or view the festival schedule, visit http://www.poudreriverfest.org

More Cache la Poudre River watershed coverage here.


Farmers Step Up To Solve Rocky Mountain National Park’s Pollution Problem — KUNC

May 20, 2015
St. Vrain River Rocky Mountain National Park

St. Vrain River Rocky Mountain National Park

From KUNC (Luke Runyon):

For the past eight years, the biologist has spent most of his time thinking about how nitrogen pollution is changing the park’s forests, wildflowers, and alpine lakes. He’s also been looking for a way to stop it.

As Cheatham explains, it’s not that nitrogen is bad in and of itself. It’s that there’s too much of it in the park. Think about putting fertilizer, which is basically nitrogen, on your lawn or garden, he said.

“What if you applied that fertilizer — and that’s exactly what it is — at that rate — 15 times what’s on the label. Weird things are going to happen.”

Weird things are happening in the park’s alpine meadows and in the lakes nestled beneath its craggy peaks. Cheatgrass, an invasive weed, is making its way higher and higher into the park, buoyed by extra fertilizer, as are other weeds. Native trees are weakened by the extra nitrogen. Rivers are becoming more acidic…

Scientists are still investigating the links between the algae bloom and nitrogen, said Cheatham. Regardless of if the link is direct, they are sure of one thing: too much nitrogen is throwing off the park’s ecological balance. If nitrogen levels stay high, the park could look completely different in just a few decades…

That’s where Jon Slutsky comes in. He’s a dairy farmer in Wellington, Colorado, about 50 miles east of Rocky Mountain National Park.

Slutsky admits that at first it’s hard to make a connection between a dairy farm on Colorado’s Eastern Plains and biological in Rocky Mountain National Park.

Yet strange as it might seem, farmers on the plains are responsible for a significant amount of the extra nitrogen that’s falling in the park, as rain, or snow.

Other sources include automobiles, oil and gas operations, and other industrial activities from within Colorado. Some nitrogen comes from as far away as California, Nevada, Nebraska and Iowa, according to a 2009 report.

Spurred by a 2004 petition from Trout Unlimited and the Environmental Defense Fund, the Park Service, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment began to focus on reducing nitrogen in the park.

Pointing at a corral where a few of his 1,500 dairy cows were chowing down, Slutsky said this is where the problem starts.

“Ammonia is created out in the corrals — the cows are designed so perfectly, they provide everything — so the urine hits the ground and it creates ammonia,” Slutsky said.

Ammonia, which contains nitrogen, can come from a cow urine and manure reacting with the air. Ammonia is a gas, and it can be transformed into another type of particle, ammonium nitrate, that is small and easily carried on the wind.

Normally, wind comes from the west. So most of the nitrogen created at dairies like Slutsky’s, and other farms, is carried to places like Nebraska. A few times a year, though, the winds change.

“Not real often. But on occasion they do. Maybe a dozen times a year,” said Slutsky.

When that happens, the nitrogen gets carried up into the park. If it rains or snows, it falls on the park, providing fertilizer for weeds like Canada thistle and stressing out the park’s ecosystem.

Neither the park’s Jim Cheatham nor cattle feedlot owners want this to happen. That’s why the Park Service and other federal agencies are partnering with groups of Front Range farmers to use a novel alert system.

Slutsky and around 50 other farmers signed up for a voluntary program where they get an alert when the winds are blowing the wrong way, from the east, and a system is likely to move in and rain nitrogen down on the park.

The alert tells them how long the weather system will last, often two days or less. In response, the farmers can implement conservation practices that keep nitrogen out of the air. Slutsky might decide to move manure another day. Another farmer might postpone a fertilizer application.

Texas A&M University professor Brock Faulkner is a consultant for the project, which went through a trial run in 2014, sending out 10 warnings to Eastern Plains farmers.

“If we could shift the timing of those practices so that those emissions occur at a time when they’re less likely to cause detrimental environmental impacts, that would be fantastic,” said Faulkner.

More water pollution coverage here.


Colorado’s Water Plan and WISE water infrastructure — The Denver Post

May 19, 2015

WISE System Map September 11, 2014

WISE System Map September 11, 2014


From The Denver Post (James Eklund/Eric Hecox):

The Water Infrastructure and Supply Efficiency (WISE) project is a partnership among Aurora Water, Denver Water and the South Metro Water Supply Authority to combine available water supplies and system capacities to create a sustainable new water supply. Aurora and Denver will provide fully treated water to South Metro Water on a permanent basis. WISE also will enable Denver Water to access its supplies during periods when it needs to.

All of this will be accomplished while allowing Aurora to continue to meet its customers’ current and future needs.

Aurora’s Prairie Waters system will provide the backbone for delivering water from the South Platte when Aurora and Denver Water have available water supplies and capacity. The water will be distributed to the South Metro Denver communities through an existing pipeline shared with Denver and East Cherry Creek Valley Water and Sanitation District, and new infrastructure that will be constructed over the next 16 months…

WISE is a key element to this plan. With construction agreements in place, we will break ground in coming weeks to begin connecting water systems throughout the Denver Metro area. When WISE begins delivering water in 2016:

• The South Denver Metro area will receive a significant new renewable water supply;

• Denver will receive a new backup water supply;

• Aurora will receive funding from partners to help offset its Prairie Waters Project costs and stabilize water rates; and

• The Western Slope will receive new funding, managed by the River District, for water supply, watershed and water quality projects.

More WISE Project coverage here.


Have you ever wondered what happens to gravel pits? Most of them turn into water storage — @Coloradoan

May 18, 2015

From the Fort Collins Coloradan (Kevin Duggan):

The bodies of water once were strip mines where excavators and bulldozers roamed, pulling up rich deposits of gravel, sand and river rock. Noisy crushing machines sorted out the materials, which went toward building roads, bridges and buildings and decorating gardens.

In their wake, the mining operations left behind deep, gaping pits in the Poudre Valley landscape that over time were transformed into water-storage vessels and “natural” areas.

“There is not a natural lake on the Poudre,” said Rob Helmick, a senior planner with Larimer County. “All of those areas have been mined at some point. In many cases, it happened decades ago.”

A review of aerial photos of the river between Laporte and the Larimer/Weld county line near Windsor showed at least 30 permitted gravel-mining sites and about 70 ponds of various shapes and sizes, Helmick said. Many of the pits likely predate state and county regulations on gravel-mining operations.

A state law passed in 1977 put an end to the practice of abandoning spent gravel pits by requiring reclamation of mining sites, said Tony Waldron, mineral program manager with the Colorado Division of Reclamation, Mining and Safety.

“It used to be a rape-and-escape mentality,” he said. “Operators moved on and left the mines behind.”

Today, an operator must post a bond with the state that is returned only after reclamation work, such as grading and planting native plants to re-vegetate a site, is completed and the permit closed.

The reclamation and treatment a pit receives depends upon its next use. The complexities of state law on water ownership also come into play…

The water volumes may be small compared to large reservoirs, but they matter to the districts, he said. The partnership expects to spend about $17 million on the project.

“We don’t have the return-flow obligations that Greeley has, so we are going for storage,” DiTullio said. “Every little bit helps. And it’s a natural use for those pits.”

State water law requires water managers to account for where their water comes from and where it goes, including evaporation. The pits are lined with clay or have “slurry walls” built around them to keep groundwater out of the facilities.

The state’s permitting process and testing requirements have strict standards, including the slope of a pit, Guggisberg said…

A mined-out gravel pit once was considered a liability by property owners, Waldron said. The pits were sold for low prices or given away to municipalities and counties to use as natural areas.

Attitudes started to change in the 1990s when water storage became a statewide issue and major reservoir projects, such as Two Forks Dam proposed west of Denver, became increasingly difficult and expensive to build.

A law passed in 1981 requiring owners of unlined pits that were connected to groundwater flow to account for evaporation and replace the lost water by was another complication.

Former pits became a viable way to store and release water to meet state regulations for augmenting water lost to evaporation, said Mark Sears, natural areas manager with Fort Collins. Being able to return water to the Poudre motivated the city’s Natural Resources Department to partner with Fort Collins Utilities to build Rigden Reservoir off East Horsetooth Road.

Some ponds are stocked for fishing by the Colorado Division of Wildlife and Parks. The river areas are highly popular, Sears said.

“Just from their scenic value, the river natural areas are great,” he said. “And they are wonderful habitat, especially around the edges, for a variety of species.”

More Cache la Poudre watershed coverage here.


70 Ranch Reservoir project east of Kersey will add 6,000 acre-feet of storage — The Greeley Tribune

May 18, 2015
70 Ranch Reservoir Project

70 Ranch Reservoir Project

From The Greeley Tribune (Sharon Dunn):

The piles of dirt tend to rise daily, as the heavy construction continues to dredge into the earth about five miles east of Kersey.

The massive dirt-moving operation, which involves a couple of handfuls of heavy construction equipment, has been dredging ground for three months to dig the 70 Ranch Reservoir, a planned 6,000 acre-foot reservoir just north of U.S. 34 and west of Weld County Road 69, about 15 miles east of Greeley.

The $10 million project will be used to help replenish water that farmers pump from the fields in Weld County, and supply water to municipalities east and south of Denver.

The project is headed by Bob Lembke, president of United Water and Sanitation District, which supplies water to the East Cherry Creek Valley Water and Sanitation District and Arapahoe County Water and Wastewater Authority. The project also is under the auspices of the Sand Hills Metropolitan District, which is the subject of a lawsuit by two oil and gas companies, citing their taxes were used incorrectly through the district.

“Upon completion, it will be somewhere in the neighborhood of 6,000 acre-feet of storage, and it will be used to store water rights in that section of the Platte River and serve as location for storage for well augmentation plans,” Lembke said.

The reservoir may be a bit a source of contention for some involved in Weld agriculture, as it is seen as yet another way to divert water from the county to municipal users. The concern of outside municipalities buying up water rights on Weld farms has been ongoing for years.

Lembke said the reservoir will be used chiefly for Weld uses, though there will be storage for some water rights outside of Weld.

“Some are in Adams County, some are Weld, some go to Araphoe County. Some will benefit 70 Ranch directly to get land there irrigated because we have a fair amount of farmland that needs water,” Lembke said.

One potential user could be Central Colorado Water Conservancy District, which serves Adams, Weld and Morgan counties. Lembke has been in discussions with district leaders, who have not yet committed to using the reservoir for its storage purposes. Three years ago, voters in the water conservancy district approved spending $60 million to secure water storage.

Executive Director Randy Ray has about half of that today to find and develop additional water supplies.

“This could be one of those projects,” Ray said. “We’re evaluating additional gravel pit storage projects. We have a lot of options to look at and 70 Ranch could be one of those.”

Any involvement in the project would have to be vetted through the district’s board of directors, which is made up of area farmers.

Ray said the reservoir’s location is ideal, and its size also is appealing.

“The location for 70 Ranch reservoir is very good,” Ray said. “It’s downstream of where all tributaries come into the Platte. A lot of people call it the fat part of the river because you have the St. Vrain, Thompson and Cache la Poudre, all entered in the river, and typically, on a wet or average year, there’s enough flow on the river there that junior water rights can be diverted and filled.

“So the location, we like, it’s a good place,” Ray said. “We’ve been looking for a site in that area since the bond passed.”

The perception problem, however, may prove difficult.

“There is this perception that a lot people do not like United Water’s and other entities’, like Castle Rock, Aurora, Thornton, they don’t like these municipalities moving water from Weld County,” Ray said.

“It could be a perception thing that Central Water Conservancy District is the hometown (agency) partnering with an entity that’s moving water out of the district.”

The district represents about 1,000 wells on about 600 family farms, a large percentage of which are in Weld County.

Ray said if his board sees benefits for its membership to store water in the 70 Ranch Reservoir, the perception may be a non-issue.

“Myself and the board, provided we understand the terms and conditions and take a good look and try to determine what future brings from a relationship with other water users in a joint water storage, and long as its not injurious to members, and benefits outweigh the negatives, they generally think we should keep partnering with these outfits,” Ray said.

Partnering on water storage projects like this are typically advantageous, Ray said.

“The more you can partner with other water users and stretch costs and increase supplies, the better off you’re going to be,” he added. “With any partnership you get into, you never know who your partner’s going to be in the future.”

Ray said the chief concern is keeping costs down.

“We want to get into projects that the long-term operation and maintenance costs are affordable for our constituents,” he said. “It wouldn’t be smart to buy into a cheap facility and your costs are three times what another facility would be.”

The reservoir should be competed in 2016-17.


Precipitation/runoff news: Denver is doing well in April and May, so far

May 17, 2015
South Platte River Basin High/Low graph May 13, 2015 via the NRCS

South Platte River Basin High/Low graph May 13, 2015 via the NRCS

From The Denver Post:

The South Platte River at Cheesman Canyon was flowing at more than twice its normal median cubic feet per second. The South Platte River in Commerce City was flowing at 566 percent of its median cfs. Monument Creek in El Paso County was at 566 percent, and the Big Thompson River in Loveland was at 988 percent, according to the USGS.

Before Saturday, Denver has recorded more than twice its normal rainfall so far this month, with 2.63 inches of precipitation, when 0.99 is normal. The city’s weather station at Denver International Airport recorded rain on 12 of the first 15 days of the month. In April, the city received 2.65 inches of precipitation, which was nearly an inch above average for the month.


“Conservation without storage is not worthless but it’s close to it” — Eric Wilkinson

May 14, 2015

From The Greeley Tribune (Kayla Young):

The complexity, drama and careful planning behind Colorado’s water system took center stage Wednesday afternoon at the Union Colony Civic Center.

The Greeley Chamber of Commerce symposium, “Water: Yours? Mine? Ours?” began with “Water 101,” as panelists explained the ins and outs of Colorado’s management system, and wrapped up with pointed questions from attendees on some of Weld County’s largest water-use dilemmas.

Moderator Nicole Seltzer, executive director of the Colorado Foundation for Water Education, described the conversation as “moving upstream to downstream,” flowing throughout the diversity of topics and interests that influence resource management.

Harold Evans, chairman of the Greeley Water & Sewer Board, highlighted the challenge of preparing for a Colorado population expected to double by 2050 while maintaining the agricultural economy. Even with supplies flowing into Greeley from four river basins — the Poudre, Upper Colorado, Big Thompson and Laramie — Evans said much more work remains to be done. “We are fortunate to have forefathers who had the vision, courage and understanding of good water planning,” he said, emphasizing that water planners of the future will need to maintain the same dedication.

A message that resonated throughout panelist comments was a call for greater storage capacity and more efficiency in completing reservoir projects.

In years of heavy rainfall and high stream flows, Erik Wilkinson, general manager of Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District, said Colorado must take better advantage of storing supplies to prepare for times of drought,

“Conservation without storage is not worthless but it’s close to it. If you conserve the water, you have to have a place to store it,” Wilkinson said.

Evans and Wilkinson both attributed the lack of progress in reservoir projects in large part to long and complex federal permitting processes.

Evans pointed to the delays in expanding Seaman and Windy-Gap reservoirs, both sources of Greeley water storage, as prime examples of the lag in permitting.

“These projects are all going in excess of 10 years, and we still don’t have a permit on any of those projects,” Evans said.

During the session’s question-and-answer period, Pierce-based dairyman Charles Tucker turned the conversation toward the issue of agricultural buy-and-dry from municipalities. He described his hometown as “Thornton territory,” referring to the extensive purchase of agricultural water supplies by the Denver Metro-area city in the 1980s.

Seltzer asked the panelists if a silver lining could be found in the situation.

The panel at first struggled to answer the question, with Evans saying, “I don’t know if right now there is a silver lining.”

He later added that perhaps the silver lining is Colorado’s dedicated water planners that are working to address difficult questions.

Charles Bartlett, chairman for the Colorado Ag Water Alliance, said the future of agricultural supplies will depend on the industry’s ability to stay competitive.

“The best way to keep water in agriculture is to keep agriculture profitable,” he said.

For those struggling to find the value in maintaining stable supplies for agriculture, New Cache la Poudre Reservoir Co. manager Dale Trowbridge said we need look no further than our dinner plates. Trowbridge said the importance of Weld County agriculture and its water supply can be seen in Fagerberg onions, Hungenberg carrots, and Petrocco red cabbage, to name a few.

More education coverage here.


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