Agricultural drain replacement project a top priority for the Grand Valley Drainage District

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):

It’s when storms break uphill that the Buthorn Drain becomes overwhelmed and the network of pipes turns from a pastoral conveyance to a pressurized system for which it was never designed.

“I’ve seen that manhole cover blow two feet off the ground,” said Bruce Palmer, who has lived for 51 years near the manhole cover on Walnut Court, through which the running water can be heard. “I’ve stood here in 9-inch engineer-type boots and the water was running over the top of those boots.”

The Buthorn Drain runs beneath the property of 50 or 60 residences, through a mobile-home park, beneath businesses and streets, and below — and through — a park.

It runs below Westlake Park downhill from West Middle School and then flows above and below a hill steep enough that concrete piles, or baffles, have been built in its path to slow floodwaters. Those same waters have dug beneath the baffles, reducing their ability to slow the floods.

The Grand Valley Drainage District made the Buthorn Drain its top priority and is expecting to spend $5 million on repairs and improvements to it, beginning with a close look at the system by Eric Krch of the engineering firm Souder Miller & Associates.

The first step in his study is to make sure that the drain still can handle its main job, then move into the question of whether it could handle a [1% probability flood].

It almost surely will not. Work already done has shown the system to be “severely undersized” for the 922-acre watershed served by the Buthorn Drain.

From there, Krch will draw up one or more solutions he’ll propose to the drainage district…

Businesses, local governments and other property owners, including churches and nonprofits, are charged $3 a month for every 2,500 square feet of impervious surface — those roofs, driveways, parking lots and so on. The district also has a $500 per 2,500 feet of impervious surface fee on new construction.

In all, the charges are expected to generate $2.7 million this year.

The fees, however, have earned the ire of Mesa County and the Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce, which have challenged them in Mesa County District Court, contending that they amount to a tax that was imposed without a vote as required by the Colorado Constitution.

A judge, however, has ruled in denying a preliminary injunction that the charges are fees and not subject to the voter-approval requirement of the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights.

A full hearing on the matter remains to be scheduled — attorneys next week are to set a schedule — even as the district is moving ahead with the Buthorn Drain by hiring Souder Miller & Associates.

County and chamber officials say they don’t question the need for improvements such as those contemplated for the Buthorn Drain, but say they prefer to tackle drainage issues — and there are plenty — on a larger scale, using the 5-2-1 Drainage Authority.

The authority encompasses an area 10 times larger than that of the district. It takes in lands north of the river that are outside the boundaries of the drainage district, as well as land south of the river.

The county also questions the leadership of the drainage district, characterizing the three-member board as self-perpetuating.

The election of Cody Davis to the drainage district board this year was the first contest in decades.

All of those issues are beside the point for Ryan, who contends that the drainage district board is dealing properly with issues inside district boundaries, which happen to include much of the most heavily populated parts of the county, as well as much of its commercial and industrial base.

Dealing with the Buthorn Drain means dealing with “a major public health hazard,” Krch said.

When the drain is overfilled by stormwater, Krch said, “People have suffered significant damages to their possessions, there has been loss of property and I don’t know how many accidents occurred on flooded streets.”

Colorado Springs completes first stormwater project promised under new commitment — KRDO.com

The Fountain Creek Watershed is located along the central front range of Colorado. It is a 927-square mile watershed that drains south into the Arkansas River at Pueblo. The watershed is bordered by the Palmer Divide to the north, Pikes Peak to the west, and a minor divide 20 miles east of Colorado Springs. Map via the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District.
The Fountain Creek Watershed is located along the central front range of Colorado. It is a 927-square mile watershed that drains south into the Arkansas River at Pueblo. The watershed is bordered by the Palmer Divide to the north, Pikes Peak to the west, and a minor divide 20 miles east of Colorado Springs. Map via the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District.

From KRDO.com (Chris Loveless):

The City of Colorado Springs says it has finished building a detention and water quality basin on the city’s northeast side as part of a new commitment to stormwater projects.

The city has committed to spending $19 million a year on stormwater projects.

The new detention basin at Woodmen Road and Sand Creek cost $3 million and is designed to reduce the velocity of flows in Sand Creek and to prevent downstream erosion while creating a more natural environment.

The city says 71 projects were selected based on negotiations with Pueblo County to identify and prioritize stormwater projects that would benefit both Colorado Springs and downstream communities…

All of the projects are designed to reduce flooding, provide improved water detention, and reduce flows, sediment and other pollutants entering drainages and going downstream.

NOAA launches America’s first national water forecast model

Flooded confluence of Cherry Creek and the South Platte River June 2015 photo via Andy Cross, Getty Images and The Denver Post
Flooded confluence of Cherry Creek and the South Platte River June 2015 photo via Andy Cross, Getty Images and The Denver Post

Here’s the release from NOAA (Susan Buchanan):

New tool hailed as a game changer for predicting floods, informing water-related decisions

August 16, 2016 NOAA and its partners have developed a new forecasting tool to simulate how water moves throughout the nation’s rivers and streams, paving the way for the biggest improvement in flood forecasting the country has ever seen.

Launched today and run on NOAA’s powerful new Cray XC40 supercomputer, the National Water Model uses data from more than 8,000 U.S. Geological Survey gauges to simulate conditions for 2.7 million locations in the contiguous United States. The model generates hourly forecasts for the entire river network. Previously, NOAA was only able to forecast streamflow for 4,000 locations every few hours.

The model also improves NOAA’s ability to meet the needs of its stakeholders — such as emergency managers, reservoir operators, first responders, recreationists, farmers, barge operators, and ecosystem and floodplain managers — with more accurate, detailed, frequent and expanded water information.

The nation has experienced a number of disastrous floods in recent years, including the ongoing flooding this week in Louisiana, accentuating the importance of more detailed water forecasts to help people prepare.

“With a changing climate, we’re experiencing more prolonged droughts and a greater frequency of record-breaking floods across the country, underscoring the nation’s need for expanded water information,” said Louis Uccellini, Ph.D., director of the National Weather Service. “The National Water Model will improve resiliency to water extremes in American communities. And as our forecasts get better, so will our planning and protection of life and property when there’s either too much water, too little, or poor water quality.”

Today’s announcement fulfills a commitment President Obama made to the American public on World Water Day in March. In a White House statement, he called for “cross-cutting, creative solutions to solving the water problems of today, as well as innovative strategies that will catalyze change in how we use, conserve, protect and think about water in the years to come.”
Initially, the model will benefit flash flood forecasts in headwater areas and provide water forecast information for many areas that currently aren’t covered. As the model evolves, it will provide “zoomed-in,” street-level forecasts and inundation maps to improve flood warnings, and will expand to include water quality forecasts.

“Through our partnership with the research, academic and federal water community, NOAA is bringing the state-of-the-science in water forecasting and prediction to bear operationally,” said Thomas Graziano, Ph.D., director of NOAA’s new Office of Water Prediction at the National Weather Service. “Over the past 50 years, our capabilities have been limited to forecasting river flow at a relatively limited number of locations. This model expands our forecast locations 700 times and generates several additional water variables, such as soil moisture, runoff, stream velocity, and other parameters to produce a more comprehensive picture of water behavior across the country.”

The underlying technology for the model was developed by the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR). NOAA developed and implemented the model along with NCAR, the Consortium of Universities for the Advancement of Hydrologic Sciences, the National Science Foundation, and federal Integrated Water Resources Science and Services Consortium partners. Continuing to leverage partnerships with the research community will prepare NOAA for new collaborations and even greater innovation in the future.

#Colorado Springs: Erosion eats away property near Sand Creek — KRDO.com

Heavy rains inundate Sand Creek (2013). Photo via the City of Colorado Springs and the Colorado Springs Independent.
Heavy rains inundate Sand Creek (2013). Photo via the City of Colorado Springs and the Colorado Springs Independent.

From KRDO.com:

A 15-foot ledge is inching its way closer to several homes in southwest Colorado Springs.

The city’s storm water manager says the fix is a priority, but can it wait?

The city admits that Sand Creek isn’t maintained. Due to recent rains and July’s huge hailstorm the channel is growing wider and washing away the land.

Homes are now just feet away from a 15-foot drop-off…

Kelley says his team is ready to take action.

“This area is a top priority. I say that because it’s actually going into construction in 2016,” said Kelley.

The city of Colorado Springs is using $1.3 million of FEMA money to secure the channel.

“We are anticipating construction to begin in November after the monsoon,” said Kelley.

Funding problems for Fountain Creek flood control project

The Fountain Creek Watershed is located along the central front range of Colorado. It is a 927-square mile watershed that drains south into the Arkansas River at Pueblo. The watershed is bordered by the Palmer Divide to the north, Pikes Peak to the west, and a minor divide 20 miles east of Colorado Springs. Map via the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District.
The Fountain Creek Watershed is located along the central front range of Colorado. It is a 927-square mile watershed that drains south into the Arkansas River at Pueblo. The watershed is bordered by the Palmer Divide to the north, Pikes Peak to the west, and a minor divide 20 miles east of Colorado Springs. Map via the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District.

From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Matt Steiner):

DOLA had awarded the county $945,000 in Community Development Block Grant money in late 2015 for a much-needed project along Fountain Creek near U.S. Highway 85/87 south of Colorado Springs, but in June, the county got some bad news:

The award would be much smaller than expected.

Federal guidelines cap at $250,000 the money that can be given out for projects that involve the Army Corps of Engineers – which is administering the work near 85/87 and Maxwell Street.

The project, necessary after torrential floods badly damaged the banks of the creek in September 2013, would shore up a 1,000-foot section of the creek, keep the highway safe and prevent eroded river banks from approaching a mobile home park during the next large flood event.

“Now we have a fear of losing this project,” Brian Olson of the county’s budget division said Friday. “If we don’t have the funding on this, they’ll take that money and use it somewhere else.”

The total cost of the work is estimated at more than $2.5 million, according to a May 2015 project overview. The Army Corps of Engineers will pick up three quarters of that tab, and the rest was expected to come from the money awarded to El Paso County, but the cap leaves the county short.

“We’re still trying to figure how we can fill that gap,” county Commissioner Sallie Clark said.

Olson said the project is doing feasibility analysis, a study that will cost the county $180,000. If the Army decides the project isn’t worth the cost, no grant money will be available at all, Olson said. The actual cost the county must pay will be determined after the feasibility study is complete.

While the county still has at least two months before the feasibility study is complete and the Army Corps’ determination on the value of the project is made, the county has shown urgency about finding alternate sources of money. They hope to receive some assistance in solving that problem.

“The state has got a lot on their plate,” Olson said. “They made an error on this. I’m hoping they’ll help us get through this thing.”

Teens help with river restoration project as part of North Fork flood recovery By Pamela Johnson — the Loveland Reporter-Herald

The Big Thompson River September 14, 2013 via The Denver Post
The Big Thompson River September 14, 2013 via The Denver Post

From The Loveland Reporter-Herald (Pamela Johnson):

The project, spearheaded by Wildlands Restoration Volunteers, is wrapping up, and a crew of teens attending a fly-fishing camp this week planted trees, shrubs and grass on a section of the river about 2 miles above Drake as part of the final touches…

The Big Thompson River and the North Fork suffered severe damage during the September 2013 flood. Torrents of water wiped out homes, sheds, trees, boulders and anything else in their path and left behind destruction that, in many places, resembled a barren moonscape…

During the aftermath of the flood, Wildland Restoration Volunteers began reaching out to find ways to help restore trails, wildlands and sections of the river.

They connected with Chenoweth and other landowners and applied for state grants to redesign and rehabilitate a 2.5-mile section of the North Fork to be studied and used as an example for future projects. Most of the land in the project is owned by the Chenoweth family and Colorado Parks and Wildlife.

With $360,000 in grants and $140,000 worth of donated time and supplies, crews and volunteers have realigned and regraded the river channel to make the river and surrounding habitat healthy and more able to survive a future flood.

This included specifically designing the depth of pools in the river, carefully placing rocks to create ripples in the water and to stabilize the bank and creating areas along the river that will allow water to slow down and spread out in the event of another flood.

The next step was to plant vegetation along the river to enhance habitat and to protect the banks from erosion.

The teens from the Rocky Mountain Flycasters Fly Fishing Conservation Camp worked on the planting this week, putting in willows, cottonwoods, dogwoods, chokecherry trees and native grasses.

Luke McNally, who works for Wildland Restoration Volunteers, pointed out to the teens the trees that survived the flood as well as grasses that have returned since. But, he noted, the amount of plant life is nothing compared with what was there before the flood…

The goal of the camp, which is in its seventh year, is for the teens to learn about fishing as well as ecology and conservation and to stir in them a love of the outdoors and a desire to protect the lands, noted Dennis Cook, camp director and a member of Rocky Mountain Flycasters.

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

#RioGrandeRiver: “It looked like taking samples from a mud puddle” — Ashley Rust

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

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Matt Hildner):

When the Papoose and West Fork fires burned 88,000 acres in the upper Rio Grande basin in 2013, water and wildlife officials feared the worst.

With 53,000 acres of the burn scars classified as moderate or severe, they feared rainstorms would wash dirt and ash into streams, suffocating fish and even clogging irrigation works on the San Luis Valley floor.

Those concerns have been squelched, if not by laymen’s observations, then by the work of a researcher at the Colorado School of Mines who’s spent the last three years studying water quality below the burn scars.

With some exceptions on the river’s tributaries, the Rio Grande’s water quality and its fish have survived fine.

“Nothing really changed on the Rio Grande,” said Ashley Rust, a doctoral student in hydrological science. “Everything looks great and still continues to look great.”

Rust, whose work was partially funded by the Rio Grande Watershed Emergency Action Coordination Team, installed six water-quality probes on the main stem of the Rio Grande and another four on tributaries that run through the burn scar.

There were no metals that exceeded water quality standards. There was initial concern that abandoned mines were burned and held the potential to leak pollutants…

Nor were there any increases in the amount of nutrients, such as phosphates, nitrates and nitrites, that sometimes happen after fire.

But measurements for suspended solids, an indicator of how much dirt is in the water, and turbidity, or water cloudiness, have spiked on the Rio Grande’s tributaries during rainstorms.

Problem areas, such as Trout Creek southwest of Creede, have either especially steep slopes or severely burned soils.

Those areas have had turbidity measurements that reach 50 nephelometric turbidity units — roughly the point at which trout begin to die from suffocation. Some measurements reached as high as 3,000.

Perhaps the biggest fish kill tied to the burn scars came on Trout Creek at the beginning of August 2014, when a hillside gave way following a rainstorm.

Rust heard of the fish kill and went to take samples.

“It looked like taking samples from a mud puddle,” she said.

She returned to the stream last year and found newborn fish downstream from the debris flow and fouryear- olds above it, leading her to conclude that the population will come back without stocking.

Rust’s findings coincide with what anglers have found, especially on the Rio Grande.