Farmers express concerns about a Fountain Creek dam — La Junta Tribune-Democrat

Report: Remediation Scenarios for Attenuating Peak Flows and Reducing Sediment Transport in Fountain Creek, Colorado, 2013
Report: Remediation Scenarios for Attenuating Peak Flows and Reducing Sediment Transport in Fountain Creek, Colorado, 2013

From the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District (Norman Kincaide) via The La Junta Tribune-Democrat:

At a work session held Wednesday, May 18, 2016, the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District (LAVWCD) board members listened to farmers’ concerns about the possibility of a dam to be built on Fountain Creek. All board members were in attendance except Melissa Esquibel. First on the agenda was Cindy Lair, Colorado Department of Agriculture. Lair reported on salinity and nutrient pollution in the Arkansas River, stating that agricultural users are not big polluters compared to municipalities. Regardless of historically high levels of salinity in the Arkansas it is likely that the salinity issue will have to be addressed in the future. This means that agricultural users will have to address the issue along with municipalities. How and by what means salinity in the Arkansas will be remediated remains to be seen but funding for remediation may come from NRCS or the Colorado Water Quality Control Department. Regardless of the means and funding, Kansas wants to see Colorado users moving in the right direction by 2022.

Following Lair’s report, Alan Frantz of Rocky Ford, gave a short slide presentation: Fountain Creek vs. Individual Water Rights. Slides showed graphs and data on Fountain Creek that from 1921 to 1965 (44 years) that there were 21 flows with less than 10,000 cfs and 10 flows higher with 13 years of data missing. From 1966 to 2014 (48 years) there were 36 flows less than 10,000 cfs and 7 flows higher with 5 years of data missing. This data came from the Fountain Creek Flood Control Study of Oct. 14, 2015. Frantz raised the question of: Is there really a problem? Speaking for ditch directors and shareholders of all the ditches, county commissioners, Ark Valley Ditch Association, well associations and others, they think there is not a problem with Fountain Creek and wanted some questions answered.

These groups want an independent engineering study to evaluate possible consequences of any type of structure on Fountain Creek, (whether it be a dam or holding ponds), an in depth assessment of historical precipitation versus stream flow and assess the validity of Duane Helton’s Fountain River study. Furthermore, a professional analysis and discussion on long term effects of structures on the whole river system was also desired. What was needed from LAVWCD was expertise and technical assistance.

Agricultural users want to form a committee consisting of 5 to 7 individuals, including farmers and ditch directors, a county commissioner or two, with Jack Gobel, District Engineer for LAVWCD, for technical support and funding from LAVWCD for completion of the study. Frantz asked if there are any valid reasons this study should not be pursued.

Farmers are concerned about the amount of press given to a Fountain Creek dam. A Pueblo Chieftain article published Tuesday, May 17, 2016, the opinions of two researchers, Del Nimmo and Scott Hermann, indicated that a dam on Fountain Creek would decrease erosion. Without mentioning the consequences to peak flow users and prior appropriations to agricultural users, Nimmo said: “A large dam could provide better understanding of what’s happening in the watershed, and be a good recreational benefit to the entire watershed of Fountain Creek.” The main reason for supporting a dam on Fountain Creek is to reduce erosion, which is the primary cause for selenium making its way into the water. Scott Hermann said: “A large dam on Fountain Creek would give us the flood control we need, but also provide recreational opportunities that are primary, with a pool of water as well as tailwater. So we have a fishery and fishing benefits from such a structure.”

Fountain Creek District board meeting recap

<a href="https://pubs.er.usgs.gov/publication/sir20145019">Report</a>: Remediation Scenarios for Attenuating Peak Flows and Reducing Sediment Transport in Fountain Creek, Colorado, 2013 -- USGS.
Report: Remediation Scenarios for Attenuating Peak Flows and Reducing Sediment Transport in Fountain Creek, Colorado, 2013 — USGS.

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Two projects to improve Fountain Creek will get underway soon after contracts were approved at Friday’s meeting of the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District.

A $67,000 contract with MWH Global was approved to evaluate flood control alternatives on Fountain Creek between Colorado Springs and Pueblo.

It’s the next phase of a project to determine the best type and placement of flood control structures on Fountain Creek, which could include a dam or several smaller detention ponds.

The planning started with a U.S. Geological Survey study in 2013 that identified the most effective concepts to protect Pueblo from severe floods and reduce harmful sedimentation. Last year, another study determined flood control projects could be built without harming water rights downstream.

The new study will use $41,800 in grants from the Colorado Water Conservation Board through the roundtable process. It is expected to be complete by Jan. 31, 2017.

A second project, totaling $60,000, was approved to continue a study of Fountain Creek stability and sediment loading by Matrix Design. The project was begun in 2010, and will identify the most critical areas for projects along Fountain Creek.

The district obtained matching funds for the projects through the payment of $125,000 from Colorado Springs Utilities to the district under terms of a recent intergovernmental agreement with Pueblo County that allowed Southern Delivery System to be put into service.

The district board also agreed on a formula to fund routine operation of the district among member governments in Pueblo and El Paso County. The district is looking at $200,000 in funding for next year’s budget. The funding is allocated by population, with Colorado Springs paying half; unincorporated El Paso County, 25 percent; small incorporated cities in El Paso County, 5 percent. The city of Pueblo would pay $26,000, or 13 percent; Pueblo County, $13,000, or 6.5 percent.

Those costs are still subject to approval by each governmental entity.

#AnimasRiver: New Mexico pushes for remedies in wake of mine waste spill — The Native Times

On April 7, the Environmental Protection Agency proposed adding the “Bonita Peak Mining District” to the National Priorities List, making it eligible for Superfund. Forty-eight mine portals and tailings piles are “under consideration” to be included. The Gold King Mine will almost certainly be on the final list, as will the nearby American Tunnel. The Mayflower Mill #4 tailings repository, just outside Silverton, is another likely candidate, given that it appears to be leaching large quantities of metals into the Animas River. What Superfund will entail for the area beyond that, and when the actual cleanup will begin, remains unclear. Eric Baker
On April 7, the Environmental Protection Agency proposed adding the “Bonita Peak Mining District” to the National Priorities List, making it eligible for Superfund. Forty-eight mine portals and tailings piles are “under consideration” to be included. The Gold King Mine will almost certainly be on the final list, as will the nearby American Tunnel. The Mayflower Mill #4 tailings repository, just outside Silverton, is another likely candidate, given that it appears to be leaching large quantities of metals into the Animas River. What Superfund will entail for the area beyond that, and when the actual cleanup will begin, remains unclear.
Eric Baker

From the Associated Press (Susan Montoya Bryan) via The Native Times:

The federal government and Colorado have made little progress in remedying damage from the release of millions of gallons of wastewater from a southern Colorado mine last year, New Mexico’s top prosecutor charged in a pair of scathing letters sent to officials this week.

The wastewater, which contained arsenic, copper, lead, mercury and other dangerous pollutants, rushed down a Colorado mountainside and eventually fouled rivers in three Western states, setting off a major response by government agencies and private groups.

Attorney General Hector Balderas wrote to the head of the U.S Environmental Protection Agency and Colorado officials as New Mexico’s threat to sue the agency, the neighboring state and two mining companies remains on the table.

Balderas said New Mexico reached out to discuss independent monitoring and remedial measures in the wake of the spill, but he’s concerned about the lack of progress.

New Mexico’s requests have been disregarded and minimized, he said.

“I am disappointed by the continued unwillingness to respond to the New Mexico Environment Department’s numerous attempts to resolve this matter diplomatically and outside of court,” Balderas said. “The safe and peaceful livelihood of our citizens should override any political or scientific indifferences that we face.”

The EPA didn’t comment directly on the letter, but a spokeswoman told The Associated Press that the agency takes responsibility for the cleanup of the spill.

Erin Lamb, a spokeswoman for Colorado Attorney General Cynthia Coffman, declined to comment because of the possible litigation.

The EPA announced last month that it would reimburse states, tribes and local governments about $1 million for their costs after an EPA-led crew triggered the release of 3 million gallons of wastewater from the inactive Gold King Mine while doing preliminary cleanup work.

Most of the money is for the cost of responding to the spill, but requests for another $570,000 in expenses from the immediate aftermath are still being considered.

During the spill, water utilities briefly shut down their intake valves and farmers stopped drawing from the rivers as the bright yellow plume moved downstream.

The EPA said the water quality quickly returned to pre-spill levels, but some continue to warn about heavy metals collecting in the sediment and being stirred up each time rain or snowmelt results in runoff.

In his letters, Balderas said New Mexico’s agricultural landscape was severely damaged by what he described as a catastrophe. He said meeting the state’s repeated and reasonable demands for compensation and long-term monitoring would be a step toward justice.

“Following this tragic incident, our greatest concern should be ensuring that the people and the lands we live on are free from hazardous materials,” he wrote.

According to the EPA, $2 million has been allocated to support the states’ and tribes’ monitoring plans. Another $628,000 will help to fund a real-time alert system that will monitor water quality.

Sampling locations also have been set up in Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and on Southern Ute, Ute Mountain Ute and Navajo tribal lands as part of the EPA’s monitoring program.

New Mexico has developed its own monitoring plan and the city of Farmington, which taps the Animas River for drinking water, has installed sensors to detect contamination.

#Colorado Springs pays first $10M to Fountain Creek district — The Pueblo Chieftain

Fountain Creek
Fountain Creek

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Colorado Springs Utilities presented the first of five $10 million payments to the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District this week.

The check was actually for $9,578,817, in order to reflect prepayment of $600,000 and interest payments.

The payment of $50 million to the district is a condition of the Pueblo County 1041 agreement with Pueblo County, reached in 2009 for the construction of the Southern Delivery System.

The district has plans to spend about $2.5 million this year, as it continues studies of where the best sites for dams or detention ponds are located. The money could be used to leverage funds for large projects such as a dam.

The second $10 million payment is due Jan. 15.

The money is to be used for Fountain Creek flood control projects, including a possible dam, that have a primary, not incidental benefit to Pueblo.

The release of the money was made possible by the settlement of stormwater control issues that arose after Colorado Springs abolished its stormwater enterprise in 2009. That agreement requires Colorado Springs to spend an additional $460 million to control stormwater in the city.

The enterprise was in place when Pueblo County issued its 1041 permit in 2009, which allowed Colorado Springs Utilities to construct the 17-mile portion of the pipeline in Pueblo County.

SDS is a 50-mile pipeline from Pueblo Dam to Colorado Springs. Colorado Springs, Security, Fountain and Pueblo West all benefit from the $825 million project.

Meanwhile, Fountain Creek keeps knocking out Colorado Springs’ stormwater control projects. Here’s a report from Chris Woodka writing for The Pueblo Chieftain:

Two projects meant to improve Fountain Creek through Pueblo have not held up well, but the city is not in a position to simply walk away from them.

Both were kicked off with a great deal of fanfare in 2011 as part of a $1.5 million demonstration project, but neither was able to withstand high water that came in single events in 2011 and 2013 or in a prolonged deluge in 2015.

Jeff Bailey, Pueblo’s stormwater director, gave a bleak assessment to the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District Friday of the side detention pond that was built behind the North Side Walmart and the sediment collector located just north of the confluence with the Arkansas River.

He inherited both projects two years ago, and didn’t sound thrilled with either. But because of the investment put into the collector and the environmental implications of the detention pond, he is obligated to try to make them work.

The pond was designed to collect water as it backs up from a full channel, then slowly release it as the water recedes.

But the detention pond flooded in September 2011 before the project was completely finished. That scoured the ground too deeply, causing the pond to intercept groundwater. There wasn’t enough money to fill the pond, so the city — through an arrangement with the Pueblo Board of Water Works — must repay the evaporation costs each year.

The floods in 2013 and 2015 damaged the east retaining wall of the pond and took out most of the service road to the north bank. Disaster funds from the Federal Emergency Management Agency can be applied to repairing the embankment, but the money is slow in coming, Bailey explained.

The Army Corps of Engineers won’t allow the city to disturb the wetlands that were created as part of the project. Finally, sediment has clogged the inlet/outlet pipe.

“Because of all this stuff, it’s difficult to maintain,” Bailey said.

The sediment collector was put in by Streamside Systems, and billed as a way to continuously dredge Fountain Creek by removing sediment as water washed over the large concrete structure. But differing opinions about where it should be placed and how it should be operating led to failure after it initially collected a pile of sand.

The device relies on pumps to remove sediment laden water, then return the water to the exact point where it was taken out. But when it is turned off, sediment continues to fall into it.

“It’s very labor intensive to clean out the collector and the pipes,” Bailey said.

No sediment has been collected since July 2013, and the collector is buried under 3-4 feet of sand.
“Since I came into stormwater, I’ve decided to give it one more college try and attempt to make it operational at low flows,” Bailey said. “We’re hoping to do it this winter. But we have to get it set up before we can turn it back on.”

Bailey said collectors work in other places, and there’s still a chance Pueblo’s could be functional. He plans to install a concrete “forebay” that could be easily cleaned, and then perhaps it could begin collecting large amounts of sediment.

During the initial installation, there were discussions about what to do with the sediment.

“That’s a problem I’d love to have,” Bailey said.

Some of the funding for the project could come from $3 million that Colorado Springs Utilities made available through its recent settlement with Pueblo County and $2.2 million that it paid earlier to settle dredging issues under the 1041 permit for Southern Delivery System. Already, $350,000 has been spent on the sediment collector.

Pueblo County Commissioner Terry Hart, chairman of the Fountain Creek board, said that money also has to be used for such things as debris removal as well.

“But some of the money could go for (the collector),” Hart said, “We’ve invested a lot of money in it already.”

#Colorado Springs lists 71 stormwater projects to be built in region — The Colorado Springs Gazette

The confluence of Fountain Creek and the Arkansas River in Pueblo County -- photo via the Colorado Springs Business Journal
The confluence of Fountain Creek and the Arkansas River in Pueblo County — photo via the Colorado Springs Business Journal

From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Billie Stanton Anleu):

New detention ponds and detention basins dominate the list of 71 stormwater projects that will be built throughout Colorado Springs over the next 20 years as part of a $460 million intergovernmental agreement.

Topping the list released by the city Wednesday are $2 million worth of projects through the Federal Emergency Management Agency to maintain and repair city stormwater fixtures; a $250,000 King Street detention pond; a $2.5 million detention basin at America the Beautiful Park, and a $3 million detention basin on Sand Creek, surrounded by Forest Meadows housing developments near Woodmen and Black Forest roads.

The projects are intended to stanch the flow of flood waters into Pueblo County, and cut back on sediments and other pollutants entering drainages and going downstream.

Asked why the developers aren’t providing the Sand Creek pond, Public Works Director Travis Easton said he couldn’t recall for certain but thought one of the developers was providing other stormwater work.

The America the Beautiful project calls for a consultant to be hired and to coordinate the work with Kiowa Engineering, designer for the adjacent Olympic Museum, one of three City for Champions projects that all are privately funded.

The city money isn’t being spent to benefit the museum; rather, it’s needed for that entire downtown area, Easton said.

“What we realized is we have open space in that park, with a low-lying area, and needed to route water from downtown into the pond to treat it before it enters Fountain Creek. They didn’t have detention ponds back when that was built, and it just goes straight into Fountain Creek,” he said.

Many of the detention ponds and basins got the nod from Wright Water Engineers Inc., which is representing Pueblo County in its three-way pact with the city and Colorado Springs Utilities.

Other projects throughout Colorado Springs, including many listed by the Pikes Peak Stormwater Task Force in 2013, are lower on the city’s new list.

But, Easton said, “I wouldn’t pay too much attention to the order of things farther down the list because these will change. We’re starting the top nine projects this year. We’re meeting with Pueblo County’s engineers soon to go over the list, which we’ll do every year, and plan the projects for the next five years.”

Big concessions to Pueblo County had to be made in the agreement, or Utilities could have been blocked from launching its $825 million Southern Delivery System last month. The county held a critical permit for the massive water project, and its commissioners demanded extensive stormwater work on Fountain Creek and its tributaries.

The county’s needs were heavy on flood control, sediment loading and channel stabilization, Easton said, “but we agree those are needed.”

The city’s Stormwater Division is spending $7.1 million next year on operating costs alone, primarily personnel and equipment, he said. Three new employees have been brought on board, and five more will be hired over the next three months.

“We need to make sure we have processes in place so these people can hit the ground running and do the job.”

The city has launched a new website to highlight the location of all 71 stormwater projects on an interactive map. Easton said he also plans to combine the city’s new interactive maps so stormwater and roads projects all will be in one place.

“It will be a one-stop shop for citizens to go and see where their money is being spent. This is a tool meant for the citizens, a communication tool.”

The Grand Valley Drainage district fights back in court

Bicycling the Colorado National Monument, Grand Valley in the distance via Colorado.com
Bicycling the Colorado National Monument, Grand Valley in the distance via Colorado.com

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Gary Harmon):

The Grand Valley Drainage District has been able since 1983 to charge fees for services such as handling stormwater runoff, the district says in a Mesa County District Court filing.

The district responded to a lawsuit filed by the Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce and Mesa County that asked the court to nullify the bills sent out to more than 40,000 property owners aimed at generating $2.5 million annually for stormwater improvements. The suit seeks a preliminary injunction that would stop the fee.

Mesa County owes $25,000 and the chamber $600, the drainage district said in its response that asks Judge David Bottger to uphold the fee and require the plaintiffs to pay the bills.

A hearing date is to be scheduled.

The district’s due date for payment is May 31. It is negotiating with the state to collect any unpaid fees.

The original lawsuit said the fees violated the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights section of the state constitution because it amounted to a tax that was imposed without a vote of the residents of the district.

The fees “are not a tax of any kind,” the district said in its response, but “service fees” needed to defray the cost of managing and controlling stormwater flowing off impervious surfaces.

The district’s existing mill levy brings in enough money to operate the networks of ditches and conduits needed to carry irrigation waters and seep toward the Colorado River.

The levy, however, “is not sufficient to address either the quality of water, or the increase in the quantity of water, generated by urban development and the impervious surfaces that are created as part of urbanization, such as roofs, sidewalks, driveways and parking lots,” the district said.

The district is charging residents within its 90-square-mile area north of the Colorado River $36 per year. Businesses, local governments, churches and other nonprofits are charged $36 per year for each 2,500-square-foot area of impervious surface they occupy.

The district also charges an impact fee on new development.

School District 51 is receiving a credit for its payments in recognition of teaching children about water and runoff.

“Fountain Creek is not a dead stream…It’s rich in biota” — Scott Herrmann

Fountain Creek photo via the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District
Fountain Creek photo via the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Two researchers say Fountain Creek has a rich aquatic environment that would benefit from flood control structures such as a dam.

“This is an extremely diverse biological stream and needs to be continuously studied,” said Scott Herrmann, a retired biology professor from Colorado State University-Pueblo.

“A large dam could provide better understanding of what’s happening in the watershed, and be a good recreational benefit to the entire watershed of Fountain Creek,” said Del Nimmo, who has worked with Herrmann on Fountain Creek projects for the past decade.

The pair presented a suite of studies to Pueblo County commissioners, who have funded their recent work, last week.

Those studies began in 2007 and continued for five years, providing a baseline of conditions before the Waldo Canyon and Black Forest fires, and the growth impact of the Southern Delivery System. They track selenium and mercury concentrations moving through the food chain in plants, insects and fish.

“A large dam on Fountain Creek would give us the flood control capability that we need, but also provide recreational opportunities that are primary, with a pool of water as well as a tailwater. So we would have a fishery and fishing benefits from such a structure,” Her- rmann said.

The studies began in 2007 when the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District purchased equipment for CSU-Pueblo that allowed measurement of minute concentrations of contaminants in tissues.

Herrmann led a team that identified how bryophytes (moss) absorbed selenium.

“What it told us was that selenium is there and available (to life forms), and there is more of it as you go downstream,” Nimmo said. “But not too many people care about bryophytes, so we began to look at fish.”

Further studies looked at the impact on fish and insects, particularly chironomid midges.

Some of the studies have only been published in the last six months.

“One of the surprises was that we also found mercury in all but one of the 111 fish we tested,” Nimmo said.

Selenium may act as a protection against harmful effects of mercury for the fish, because it reduces toxicity, Herrmann said. But the presence of both elements points to the need to monitor levels in species to measure how development in El Paso County is affecting the creek.

The main reason Nimmo supports a dam on Fountain Creek is to reduce erosion, which is the primary reason for selenium making its way into the water. The Pierre shale that underlies Fountain Creek is known to contribute selenium when it comes into contact with water.

“We’re on a selenium dome,” Nimmo said.

“Nobody has tied selenium to erosion, but every time it floods there is not only damage by erosion, but to water quality.”

The studies found that Fountain Creek exceeded EPA selenium levels at all measuring points.

The insects, which provide food for the fish, are the subject of the most recent study, and the most fascinating for Herrmann.

“Fountain Creek is not a dead stream,” Herrmann said. “It’s rich in biota.”

Scientists found at least 150 species of insects on Fountain Creek, including 24 new species. The same methodology — pupal exuvia, or identifying casts left behind by adult males as they hatch — was used in an earlier study of the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon, and found just 38 species, Herrmann said.

“The question is what effects will increased SDS return flows and runoff have on the species diversity of midges?” he said.