September 2013 flood damage continues to ding Boulder County budget

Plume of subtropical moisture streaming into Colorado September 2013 via Weather5280
Plume of subtropical moisture streaming into Colorado September 2013 via Weather5280

From the Longmont Times-Call (John Fryar):

Boulder County Commissioners Elise Jones and Deb Gardner signaled their support Thursday for a $53.8 million package of road, bridge, transit and trails spending, and equipment and vehicle purchases, that the county Transportation Department has proposed for this year.

Transportation Director George Gerstle spent much of his presentation of that overall 2016 capital improvements program focusing on the $29.9 million expected to be spent by the end of the year on the latest set of repairs and replacements of roads and bridges destroyed in the September 2013 floods.

“Road and bridge flood repairs are dominating the program in 2016,” Gerstle said.

Officials have estimated that flood damages to Boulder County’s transportation network amounted to $120 million, and work on emergency, and then temporary, and then permanent, repairs has been underway for more than 2 ½ years.

If things proceed as planned the rest of this year, by the start of 2017, Boulder County should have completed or at least started construction on between $50 and $70 million worth of transportation flood-recovery projects, Gerstle said.

Already, during the first quarter of 2016, about $11 million in such flood-recovery transportation projects are being constructed, Gerstle told the commissioners.

The Board of County Commissioners is expected to formally vote to adopt the Transportation Department’s Capital Improvement Program during one of the board’s regular business meetings next Tuesday or Thursday.

Activists continue effort in Boulder to block Gross Reservoir expansion — Boulder Daily Camera

Moffat Collection System Project/Windy Gap Firming Project via the Boulder Daily Camera
Moffat Collection System Project/Windy Gap Firming Project via the Boulder Daily Camera

From the Boulder Daily Camera (Alex Burness):

Environmentalists are rallying support for a renewed fight against a long-standing proposal from Denver Water to nearly triple the capacity of Gross Reservoir by diverting from the Colorado River Basin…

Before a group of about 30 Monday night at Shine Restaurant and Gathering Place, the directors of two non-profits united in the fight against the expansion — Save the Colorado River and The Environmental Group — made presentations alleging impropriety on Denver Water’s part and soliciting donations to a legal fund.

“They’ve been working on their decision, and we assume, feel very strongly, that (Army Corps) will issue the permit,” said Chris Garre, President of The Environmental Group, which is based in Coal Creek Canyon. “As soon as that happens, the clock starts ticking.”

The Colorado River, the presenters said, is the most dammed and diverted on the planet. At the Colorado River Delta, there is no longer water, and there is concern that an expansion of Gross Reservoir would see some creeks and tributaries drained at the 80 percent level, with some “zero flow” dry days.

An expansion of Gross Reservoir, which is a roughly 25-minute drive west from Boulder on Flagstaff Road, would have a significant local impact. In fact, it would be the biggest construction project in Boulder County history, and would likely take about four or five years to complete.

The proposal seeks to increase the height of the dam by 131 feet, and would require the clearing of about 200,000 trees…

“Caring for the environment,” Garre added, “particularly those who live in the environment, in the forest, is crucial to your experience in Boulder County. This has never been addressed by Denver Water. It’s been ignored.”

While the universal downsides such major construction — noise and temporary aesthetic downgrade, among others — aren’t up for debate, Denver Water tells a very different story about the project.

The public agency that serves 1.3 million people in the Denver metro area gets about 80 percent of its water from the South Platte River System, and another 20 percent from Moffat, a smaller clump up north. Expanding Gross Reservoir and thereby Moffat, Denver Water says, will help balance the existing 80/20 split.

“This imbalance makes the system vulnerable to catastrophic events, such as the Buffalo Creek and Hayman fires, which caused massive sediment runoff into reservoirs on the south side of our system,” the agency published on its website.

During times of severe drought, the argument continues, “We run the risk of running out of water on the north end of our system,” which would primarily impact customers in northwest Denver, Arvada and Westminster.

Denver Water also maintains that as the Front Range continues to be one of the country’s fastest-growing areas, a shortfall in water supply is imminent unless addressed through projects like the one pitched for Gross Reservoir.

El Dorado Springs’ Rocky Mountain spring water best tasting in US

El Dorado Springs pool back in the day via the Denver Public Library
El Dorado Springs pool back in the day via the Denver Public Library

From the Associated Press via The Denver Post:

Eldorado Springs, Colorado, has won the top prize for U.S. tap water at an international tasting contest.

The judges gave out two gold medals for Best Municipal Water on Saturday at the 26th annual Berkeley Springs International Water Tasting in West Virginia. They awarded the top prize among U.S. entries to Eldorado Springs, while Clearbrook, British Columbia, won first place for best in the world.

The award for best purified water went to Bar H2O of Richmond, Michigan.

An entry from Karditsa, Greece, Theoni Natural Mineral Water, won the top prize for bottled water, while the best sparkling water was awarded to Tesanjski Kiseljak of Tesanj, Bosnia.

Ten judges tasted and selected from among dozens of waters from 18 states, seven Canadian provinces and five foreign nations.

#ClimateChange: Mountains west of Boulder continue to lose ice as climate warms — CU Boulder

alpineflowersniwotridgeviacuboulder

Here’s the release from the University of Colorado at Boulder:

New research led by the University of Colorado Boulder indicates an ongoing loss of ice on Niwot Ridge and the adjacent Green Lakes Valley in the high mountains west of Boulder is likely to progress as the climate continues to warm.

The study area encompasses the Niwot Ridge Long-Term Ecological Research (LTER) site, thousands of acres of alpine tundra, subalpine forest, talus slopes, glacial lakes and wetlands stretching to the top of the Continental Divide in the Rocky Mountains. The Niwot Ridge LTER site, which includes Green Lakes Valley and CU-Boulder’s Mountain Research Station (MRS), is one of 26 North American LTER sites created and funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) and one of the initial five LTER sites designated by the federal agency in 1980.

The decline of ice at the Niwot Ridge LTER site appears to be associated with rising temperatures each summer and autumn in recent years, said CU-Boulder Professor Mark Williams of the Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research, lead study author. The decline is especially evident on the Arikaree glacier — the only glacier on Niwot Ridge — which has been thinning by about 1 meter per year for the last 15 years.

“Things don’t look good up there,” said Williams. “While there was no significant change in the volume of the Arikaree glacier from 1955 to 2000, severe drought years in Colorado in 2000 to 2002 caused it to thin considerably. Even after heavy snow years in 2011 and again in 2014, we believe the glacier is on course to disappear in about 20 years given the current climate trend.”

The new study looked at changes in the cryosphere — places that are frozen for at least one month of the year– at the Niwot Ridge LTER site going back to the 1960s. In addition to the changes occurring on the Arikaree glacier, the researchers also have seen decreases in ice associated with three rock glaciers (large mounds of ice, dirt and rock) as well as subsurface areas of permafrost – frozen soil containing ice crystals.

The team used several methods to measure surface and subsurface ice on Niwot Ridge: ground-penetrating radar, which measures ice and snow thickness; resistivity, which measures the conductivity of electrical signals through ice; and seismometers to measure signals bounced through subsurface ice. “We found that a combination of all three methods provided the best picture of changing snow and ice conditions on Niwot Ridge,” said Williams.

The researchers also discovered an increased discharge of water from the Green Lakes Valley in late summer and fall after the annual snowpack had melted, a counterintuitive trend that began in the early 1980s, said Williams. The increased discharge appears to be due to higher summer temperatures melting “fossil” ice present for centuries or millennia in glaciers, rock glaciers, permafrost and other subsurface ice.

“We are taking the capital out of our hydrological bank account and melting that stored ice,” he said. “While some may think this late summer water discharge is the new normal, it is really a limited resource that will eventually disappear.”

Scientists have been gathering information on the snow, ice and plant and animal abundance and diversity on Niwot Ridge going back to the 1940s, when CU-Boulder Professor John Marr and colleagues began studies. The two highest climate stations on Niwot Ridge, one at 10,025 feet and the other 12,300 feet, have been monitoring data continuously since 1952.

“This study demonstrates declines in ice — glaciers, permafrost, subsurface ice and lake ice in the Niwot Ridge area over the past 30 years,” said Saran Twombly, LTER program director in NSF’s Division of Environmental Biology, which funded the research. “Long-term research at Niwot Ridge offers a rare opportunity to document the continuous, progressive effects of climate change on high alpine ecosystems, from ice and nutrients to plant and animal communities.”

A special issue of the journal Plant Ecology and Diversity that includes several research papers involving CU-Boulder faculty and students is being published this month. Study co-authors on the Niwot Ridge snow and ice paper, part of the special issue, include emeritus Professor Nel Caine of CU-Boulder, Professor Matthew Leopold of the University of West Australia and professors Gabriel Lewis and David Dethier of Williams College in Williamstown, Massachusetts.

From an ecological standpoint, Niwot Ridge has seen a significant increase in alpine shrubs above treeline in recent decades, said Williams. At one research site known as “The Saddle” at about at 11,600 feet in elevation and 3.5 miles from the Continental Divide, the ecosystem has gone from all tundra grasses and no shrubbery in the early 1990s to about 40 percent shrubs today.

“Places that once harbored magnificent wildflowers in this area are being replaced by shrubs, particularly willows,” he said. “The areas dominated by shrubs are increasing because of a positive feedback – patches of these shrubs act as snow fences, causing the accumulation of more water and nutrients and the growth of more shrubs.”

One nutrient, nitrogen — produced primarily by vehicle emissions and agricultural and industrial operations on the Front Range and elsewhere in the West — is being swept into the atmosphere and deposited on the tundra in increasing amounts, said Williams. Nitrogen deposition also is an issue in nearby Rocky Mountain National Park.

Niwot Ridge is part of the Roosevelt National Forest and has been designated a United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) Biosphere Reserve. The Green Lakes Valley is part of the City of Boulder Watershed and CU-Boulder’s MRS is devoted to the advancement of mountain ecosystems, providing research and educational opportunities for scientists, students and the general public.

To view a video on snow, ice and water research on Niwot Ridge visit this CU-Boulder climate website and click on “Water: A Zero Sum Game.” For more information on the Niwot Ridge LTER program and CU-Boulder’s Mountain Research Station visit this CU-Boulder webpage.

Boulder County officials see 2016 flood-recovery expenses approaching $76.8M — Boulder Daily Camera

Storm pattern over Colorado September 2013 -- Graphic/NWS via USA Today
Storm pattern over Colorado September 2013 — Graphic/NWS via USA Today

From the Boulder Daily Camera (John Fryar):

Ongoing or in-the-pipeline projects could cost as much as $76.8 million in 2016. Most of these projects are aimed at repairing the September 2013 floods’ damages to county roads, bridges, parks, open space areas — as well as services and programs to assist Boulder County residents and property owners still recovering from the floods.

That estimate, from a recent county staff report to the Board of County Commissioners, would be on top of more than two years of flood recovery spending that’s expected to have totaled nearly $97.9 million by the end of this year.

And 2016 won’t be the final year that county officials expect to devote a major portion of their spending on flood recovery.

The county staff is sticking by its late 2013 estimates that flood recovery projects and services will have a total cost of more than $217 million by the time they are completed, so another $43.2 million might be needed beyond 2016.

EPA doesn’t expect ‘adverse effects’ from Boulder County mine discharge — Longmont Times-Call

The Arcade Saloon in 1898 Eldora Colorado via WikiPedia
The Arcade Saloon in 1898 Eldora Colorado via WikiPedia

From the Longmont Times-Call (John Bear):

EPA spokeswoman Laura Williams said the agency is continuing to investigate samples taken from the creek to see whether the metal content in the water is higher than historic levels.

Officials said that samples collected did not show the presence of some of the metals the EPA tests for, but, as of Monday, they had not explained what metals were present in the samples and in what concentration.

The tests look for aluminum, antimony, arsenic, barium, beryllium, cadmium, calcium, chromium, cobalt, copper, iron, lead, manganese, magnesium, nickel, potassium, selenium, silver, sodium, thallium, vanadium and zinc.

The deluge of water from the Swathmore Mine on Sept. 21 temporarily turned the creek orange and led officials to briefly shut down water intake systems downstream.

Boulder and Nederland use the creek as part of their water supplies.

EPA officials said soon after the spill that the discharge from the mine was not toxic, but sent water samples for testing. They expect further results to be available later this week.

Todd Hartman, a spokesman for the Colorado Department of Natural Resources, said the mine has discharged at a “low flow rate,” less than 15 gallons a minute, for as long as the landowner can remember, but had apparently never surged before…

The Colorado Division of Reclamation, Mining and Safety has identified six old or abandoned mining sites in the county that impact water quality or likely do: Bueno, Emmett, Evening Star, Fairday, Captain Jack and Golden Age.

Four of the mines — Bueno, Emmett, Evening Star and Fairday — likely impact water quality, but currently have no active water treatment programs, records show.

Hartman said the six mines are designated as “legacy mines” because they were mined prior to modern mining reclamation laws that came into effect in the 1970s.

The Captain Jack Mill is designated as a Superfund site because of multiple contaminants, including lead, arsenic and thallium, along with several other heavy metals, according to the EPA.

Mary Boardman, a project manager with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, said the Captain Jack Mill Superfund Site was added to the national priorities list in 2003 and a decision was made to begin clean-up in 2008. That project remains ongoing.

Hartman said the Golden Age Mine is still in the investigative stage, so officials can determine the best approach to managing it.

Boulder County has several waterways deemed “mine related impaired streams” and one state-run “nonpoint source mine reclamation project” that includes removing mine tailings, waste piles and restoring streams, according to the Colorado Division of Reclamation, Mining and Safety.

Hartman said “mining impacted” means the streams have been degraded by acidity or metals from a combination of mining sources and natural background geological sources in such a way that they fall below Clean Water Act Standards.

He said it’s difficult to determine how many old or abandoned mines are in Boulder County, but nearly 1,200 safety closures have been conducted in the last 25 years, and the owner of Swathmore Mine has asked that one be installed by the Colorado Division of Reclamation, Mining and Safety.

“Those are grates and other measures to prevent people and animals from entering (or) falling into old mines,” Hartman said.

@OmahaUSACE to begin ecosystem restoration project along Lower Boulder Creek

Lower Boulder Creek Restoration site map via Boulder County Open Space
Lower Boulder Creek Restoration site map via Boulder County Open Space

Here’s the release from the US Army Corps of Engineers (Omaha District):

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Omaha District, in partnership with the Boulder County Parks and Open Space Department, will hold a groundbreaking ceremony to celebrate the start of construction of an ecosystem restoration project along an approximately one-mile stretch of Lower Boulder Creek. The ceremony will take place on Thursday, October 8, starting at 12:30 p.m. MDT at the project site, which is located between N 109th Street and Kenosha Road in Boulder County approximately 3.5 miles west of the Boulder County-Weld County line and 8 miles east of the city of Boulder. Limited parking will be available along the Boulder County property access road located just east of the 109th Street Bridge. See attached map. In case of inclement weather, the ceremony will take place at the Goodhue Farmhouse located at the Carolyn Holmberg Preserve, 2009 S. 112th Street, Broomfield, Colorado.

BACKGROUND: Lower Boulder Creek once meandered across a broad floodplain that supported numerous wetlands, streamside vegetation, and associated native fish and wildlife populations. Since European settlement, the project reach and its associated habitats have been dramatically degraded by activities including upstream development, water diversions, pollution, non-native species, and gravel mining. During past on-site mining activities, the project reach of Lower Boulder Creek was channelized, and earthen levees were constructed along portions of its banks, thus disconnecting the channel from its historic floodplain and creating an impoverished stream and riparian environment. The project area is currently in a highly degraded state, which without active ecological restoration would take decades or longer to improve.

In 2011, the Omaha District completed a feasibility study which identified a feasible project to restore habitat for migratory birds and other wildlife, restore wetland and stream values, reduce invasive species and provide other ecosystem improvements. A construction contract was awarded to American West Construction LLC of Denver, Colo. for $2.6 million, which includes realigning the one-mile section of Lower Boulder Creek to restore natural meanders, in-stream habitat, and the creek’s floodplain and planting native riparian, wetland, and upland grasses, forbs, trees and shrubs along the stream and within the floodplain to greatly improve wildlife habitat. The project is expected to be complete by Fall 2016.

Click here to go to the Boulder County Open Space website for all the inside skinny.