A look at the current southwestern Colorado #drought #ColoradoRiver

March 1, 2015
Colorado Drought Monitor February 24, 2015

Colorado Drought Monitor February 24, 2015

From The Durango Herald (Mary Shinn):

Years of drought and overgrazing have dried out the fields in southwestern La Plata County. Dust easily blows away in the wind.

Last year, from March until May, dust storms caused problems for students, drivers and farmers, and without enough precipitation, the dirty storms could return…

The area from Breen into New Mexico and west of Black Ridge to the La Plata County line was hit hard last year by dust, said Sterling Moss, district conservationist for the Natural Resources Conservation Service office in Durango.

The recent snowfall earlier this week dumped about a foot of snow near Breen and Kline, and more snow is expected to accumulate this weekend.

“This is a huge blessing, but we are still way far from being out of the woods,” said Trent Taylor, owner of Blue Horizons Farm Inc.

The entire river basin, which includes the Dolores, Animas, San Juan and San Miguel rivers, would need to receive 218 percent of historical snowfall to get back on track, said Bruce Whitehead, executive director of the Southwestern Water Conservation District.

“I don’t think we’ll make it to normal snowpack this year,” he said.

A long dry spell in January and February left local conservationists and farmers nervous. In mid-February, Moss dug down to test soil moisture as wind dried the field of winter wheat all around him.

In southwestern La Plata County, snow should have blanketed the field near County Road 119 for weeks. But instead, Moss didn’t even find enough moisture in the soil to support the wheat through harvest.

“I’ve never seen a February like that,” Taylor said.

The newly fallen snow could ease the situation. If it melts slowly, it can soak deeper into the soil than rain does.

But re-establishing healthy fields is key to preventing dust storms through the spring winds.

Moss and his office have been working with landowners to plant grass in areas dedicated to conservation reserves to keep the top soil from blowing away. These areas are dedicated to wildlife habitat, and landowners receive a government subsidy for not working the land. This helps farmers survive in the worst drought years, Taylor said.

But it has been challenging.

“A lot of grass has been planted that hasn’t been established yet,” Moss said.

The stands of grass are key to keeping valuable topsoil in place. An inch of topsoil can take 100 years to accumulate, he said.

But without precipitation at the right time, the grasses won’t grow. This year, Moss might recommend planting grass or another cover crop in mid-summer in hopes the monsoons will come.

In the past few years, fall rains have brought most of the moisture for the year.

Leaving the stems from last year’s crop in place also can prevent wind and rain erosion and keep the soil cooler, said Abdel Berrada, a soil scientist with Colorado State University.

This stubble helps conserve soil, but it also provides habitat for pests, like cut worms that may require herbicide, Taylor said.

Planting trees as wind breaks or setting up snow fences can help keep the dust down. But trees can’t thrive when there’s very little water…

“Growing plants on bare bones soil with little to no water can be an uphill challenge,” said Darrin Parmenter, county extension agent for Colorado State University.

San Miguel, Dolores, Animas, and San Juan Basin High/Low Graph February 25, 2015 via the NRCS

San Miguel, Dolores, Animas, and San Juan Basin High/Low Graph February 25, 2015 via the NRCS


Pueblo Reservoir winter operations update

February 23, 2015
Pueblo dam releases

Pueblo dam releases

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Water users are playing the annual guessing game of how much water will be in Lake Pueblo when it comes time to ensure enough space is left for flood protection.

While there could be a slight chance for a spill, the Bureau of Reclamation is working with other water interests to reduce the odds.

“The long-term forecast for this spring is for cooler temps and increased precipitation,” said Roy Vaughan, Reclamation’s local manager for the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project.

Right now the reservoir holds about 247,000 acre-feet, and at the current pace of filling would be at 267,000 acre-feet by April 15 — about 10,000 acre-feet above the limit for flood control.

Of the total, nearly 49,000 acre-feet is in “if-and-when,” or excess capacity, accounts subject to spill if there is too much water in Lake Pueblo. Fry-Ark Project water would be the last to spill.

However, the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District is again seeking a waiver to hold a little more water until May 1, the deadline for releasing about 14,500 acre-feet of holdover water.

At the same time, flows below Pueblo Dam are increasing to balance the winter water program, Division Engineer Steve Witte said.

“That’s not good news for the work that’s going on along the levee,” Witte said.

Some winter water also is stored in John Martin Reservoir, which is very low, or in reservoirs owned by ditch companies. Winter water storage ends March 15 and is running close to the 20-year average for the first time in years.


Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District 2015 budget update

November 30, 2014
Pueblo dam releases

Pueblo dam releases

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

The Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District board is expected to approve a $17.9 million budget at its next meeting, 11 a.m. Dec. 4.

The district last week reviewed the details of the budget and hosted a public hearing. No member of the public attended.

A mill levy of 0.94 mills is planned, the same as 2014. One mill is an assessment of $1 for every $1,000 of assessed valuation. The district covers parts of nine counties, including Chaffee, Fremont, Pueblo, El Paso, Crowley, Otero, Bent, Prowers and Kiowa.

The district also makes money through sales of water and grants.

More than $12 million will go toward repayment of the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project, including the Fountain Valley Conduit. The conduit serves El Paso County communities that pay a dedicated mill levy on top of the district mill levy.

The district will spend $2.34 million for its own operating expenses, and $3.5 million on enterprise, or business, activity.

Included in the enterprise fund are the Arkansas Valley Conduit, and an ongoing project to develop hydroelectric power at Pueblo Dam.

More Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District coverage here.


Souteastern Water winter water storage meeting recap

October 18, 2014

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Lower Arkansas Valley water users could face a different sort of challenge next year, especially if it’s a wet winter: Finding places to store the water. The possibility was discussed Friday at the annual meeting of the winter water storage program, hosted by the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District.

“I think the way we’re managing reservoirs is shifting a bit,” said Jim Broderick, executive director of the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District. “We need to start planning. If one area gets full, you can’t move the water there.”

The winter water program is a court-decreed plan that allows most major ditch companies east of Pueblo to store water from Nov. 15 to March 15 each year. Rather than irrigating during the winter months, the companies can store the water for use later in the season.

But the storage is not all in one place.

About one-third of last year’s water was stored in Lake Pueblo, with the rest being stored by individual canal companies or in John Martin Reservoir.

Not all ditch companies have storage.

Lake Pueblo has more water than usual going into the winter water storage season because cities were able to beef up their storage in Fryingpan-Arkansas Project space this year. In addition, the Bureau of Reclamation is moving water from Turquoise and Twin Lakes to Lake Pueblo to make room for next spring’s transmountain imports.

If rainfall and snowpack are above average in the Arkansas River basin, Lake Pueblo could fill more. If it gets too full, some water would have to be evacuated, or “spilled,” next spring in order to leave space to contain potential floods.

It’s a problem the valley hasn’t really faced since 1999. In 2011, the Southeastern District got permission from the Army Corps of Engineers to delay releases of water from the flood pool by several weeks because of conditions at the time.

Roy Vaughan, Fry-Ark Project manager for the Bureau of Reclamation, said a spill is unlikely next year if weather conditions remain in the average range. But Lake Pueblo should be nearly filled to the flood pool level by next spring.


“I have been proud to work for years to ensure the [support for] the Arkansas Valley Conduit” — Sen. Mark Udall

July 25, 2014
Arkansas Valley Conduit Comanche North route via Reclamation

Arkansas Valley Conduit Comanche North route via Reclamation

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

A draft federal energy and water funding bill includes an additional $90 million for projects such as the Arkansas Valley Conduit, U.S. Sens. Michael Bennet and Mark Udall, both Democrats, said Thursday. The Senate appropriations committee approved the bill, which contains a provision supported by both senators that explicitly makes data collection and design work eligible for funding through these accounts. It will help ensure the Arkansas Valley Conduit is eligible for these funds and sends a clear signal to the Bureau of Reclamation that the conduit is a priority project.

The board of the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District, conduit sponsor, was dismayed earlier this year when it learned only $500,000 was budgeted for the conduit next year. It is hoping to get at least $3 million for continuing data and design tasks that will lead to construction of the $400 million conduit.

The conduit is the final piece of the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project, authorized in 1962. When complete, the 130-mile pipeline will provide clean drinking water to 50,000 people in 40 communities east of Pueblo.

“For more than five decades, folks in Southeastern Colorado have been waiting for the federal government to fulfill its promise to build the Arkansas Valley Conduit.

That’s far too long for these communities to wait for a reliable source of clean drinking water,” Bennet said.

“I have been proud to work for years to ensure the federal government supports the Arkansas Valley Conduit. This funding brings the people of Southeastern Colorado one step closer to having a clean, safe and reliable source of water,” Udall said.

More Arkansas Valley Conduit funding here and here.


Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District board meeting recap

June 20, 2014
Arkansas Valley Conduit Comanche North route via Reclamation

Arkansas Valley Conduit Comanche North route via Reclamation

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

New wrinkles in the federal budget process have improved chances for funding of the Arkansas Valley Conduit.

Appropriations bills in the U.S. House and Senate have increased funding for the Bureau of Reclamation, with emphasis on capital projects that are in the design phase.

While that does not provide an increase for the conduit’s $500,000 funding level next year, it could mean a shift in funding to the conduit by Reclamation, lobbyist Christine Arbogast told the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District Thursday.

“We have incredible support from those in Congress who represent the area to be served by the conduit,” Arbogast told the board. “They are fighting for the funding of it. Clearly, it is unprecedented, the levels they are going to for this.”

She was referring to U.S. Sens. Michael Bennet and Mark Udall, both Democrats, and U.S. Reps. Cory Gardner and Scott Tipton, both Republicans.

For instance, during meetings in Washington, D.C., last week, the senators met with top Department of Interior and Office of Management and Budget officials to make the case for more funding for the conduit.

The $400 million Arkansas Valley Conduit would have a main line of 130 miles from Pueblo Dam to Lamar, serving 50,000 people in 40 communities.

Federal money for the project would be repaid through Fryingpan-Arkansas Project excess storage contracts and user fees.

More Arkansas Valley Conduit coverage here.


Northwest Pipe Co. is major supplier for the Southern Delivery System #ColoradoRiver

May 23, 2014
Southern Delivery System construction celebration August 19, 2011 via The Pueblo Chieftain

Southern Delivery System construction celebration August 19, 2011 via The Pueblo Chieftain

From The Denver Post (Aldo Svaldi):

Orders at the Northwest Pipe Co. plant in Denver were drying up in 2010 when bid requests started coming for a massive water project linking the Pueblo Reservoir and Colorado Springs called the Southern Delivery System.

“The start of the SDS project couldn’t have come at a better time,” Northwest’s vice president of sales Eric Stokes said.

At a cost of $841 million, the water project is the largest the region has seen in decades. Starting in 2016, it will pipe water held in the Pueblo Reservoir to consumers in Colorado Springs, Pueblo West, Security and Fountain.

“This is our water security for many years to come, 50 years into the future,” said John Fredell, program director of the water services division for SDS.

Northwest Pipe’s Denver plant won almost all the contracts to supply 50 miles of steel pipe, and the company celebrated the completion of the last piece Thursday afternoon. Northwest produced 7,000 pieces of the pipeline, each averaging 50 feet in length and 66 inches in diameter. The orders allowed Northwest’s employment in Denver to grow from 116 full-time workers to more than 231 at the peak of manufacturing.

Of about $500 million spent so far on the project, $359 million has gone to 333 Colorado businesses, including more than 75 based in metro Denver, Fredell said.

Northwest Pipe alone received about $110 million, including $23 million spent on payroll. Given that the next closest competitor was in California, Stokes said Northwest had a distinct advantage.

“Proximity was part of it,” Fredell said.

Back in 1997, Northwest Pipe, which is based in Vancouver, Wash., acquired Thompson Pipe & Steel Co., a manufacturer with Denver roots going back to the late 1800s. For decades, Thompson built pipes in the Curtis Park area that continue to help move water across much of the state. Thompson moved its plant to a 45-acre facility at 6030 Washington St., where workers continued to convert steel coil arriving by rail car into water pipes shipped out on trucks.

Once formed, the pipes are pumped full of water and pressure-tested to ensure there are no leaks. They are moved into a cavernous ⅛ – mile-long warehouse where they are rotated rapidly while concrete is poured inside to make a lining designed to last for decades. In a third building, the pipes are primed, painted and prepared for shipping.

“It is nice to know you have finished on time,” said Jason Cheng, a welder from Westminster who joined Northwest in October to work on the SDS order.

Cheng and other workers lined up to sign the last piece of pipe, undeterred as the rain poured down Thursday afternoon. Their signatures, in white ink, quickly smeared down the bright-blue pipe.

“We want the water on the inside of the pipe, not the outside,” one person commented.

From the Denver Business Journal (Cathy Proctor):

Northwest Pipe, (Nasdaq: NWPX) is based in Vancouver, Washington. Its Denver manufacturing plant had a $110 million contract to build the project’s 50 miles of pipeline to carry the water. It was the biggest contract for materials under the project.

Northwest Pipe started making its 50-foot sections of pipe for the project, each section 66 inches in diameter, in 2011.
And the last pieces are now coming off the manufacturing line and awaiting a truck for transport to the project site.

“This is one of the largest programs that we’ve seen,” said John Moore, manager of Northwest Pipe’s manufacturing plant at 6030 N. Washington St. in north Denver.

During peak production, as many as 25 trucks a day left Northwest Pipe’s manufacturing facility.
Being in Denver meant trucking costs were less and Northwest Pipe could submit a more competitive bid for the project, Moore said.

And the project meant jobs for Northwest Pipe, which ramped up to 231 people during peak production, from a low of 116 people prior to work on the project, said John Moore, the plant manager. The company currently has 131 people on staff.
Northwest Pipe, which supplies pipes to carry water and waste water, has delivered pipes to other big water providers, including Denver Water and Aurora.

More Southern Delivery System coverage here.


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