Montrose: City Council to form stakeholders group for river corridor plan

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From the Montrose Daily Press (Katie O’Hare):

Senior City Planner Garry Baker went before council Thursday to update its members on the river corridor project and ultimately recommend that the city create a citizen group. After several open houses on the project, Baker said major stakeholders were split on the different components of the project. He believes a smaller 11-member citizen committee could narrow down the ideas, creating a consistent plan that could be established into a city ordinance.

The city’s comprehensive plan is clear that there needs to be a 100-foot buffer between pavement or buildings and the river’s edge. However, details and exemptions need to be hammered out. To apply for the committee, citizens must submit a letter of request to the city’s office, 433 S. First St., in care of City Clerk Teri Colvin. The letter should indicate their affiliation regarding the river corridor (land owner, interested citizen). Deadline is June 19. After reviewing the letters of interest, city council will appoint the committee at its July 2 council meeting. The committee would probably meet about three times in August and early September, and present present recommendations to council after, Baker said.

More Coyote Gulch coverage here and here.

Runoff (snowpack) news: Peak past tense

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From the Rifle Citizen Telegram (Heidi Rice):

“In the Rifle area of the Colorado River, it’s already reached its high point and although the flows remain somewhat high, it’s below flood range,” said Brian Lawrence, a service hydrologist with the National Weather Service in Grand Junction. The runoff was accelerated by mild temperatures this year in western Colorado, causing the peak runoff to take place sooner than usual…This year the river peaked on May 21 at 19,440 cfs…The runoff is expected to be high for the next two or three weeks and then slowly taper off.

From the Steamboat Pilot & Today (Brandon Gee):

Jeff Colton, a meteorologist with the weather service in Grand Junction, said both rivers peaked last week, on May 21. The Elk River near Milner rose to 7.4 feet, just above its flood stage, and the Yampa River at Steamboat Springs peaked at 5.7 feet, well below its flood stage, Colton said. The designated flood stage for both rivers is 7 feet…

At about 2:30 p.m. Tuesday, the Yampa River near Fifth Street in Steamboat Springs was flowing at 2,630 cubic feet per second, compared with a historical mean of 2,240 cfs and median of 2,120 cfs, according to U.S. Geological Survey station readings. The Elk River near Milner was flowing at 3,900 cfs, compared with a historical mean of 2,610 cfs and median of 2,420 cfs. A flood advisory remains in effect for the Elk River. Colton said that is because the river continues to flow above its “bankfull” stage of 6 feet…

There is little snowpack left to melt and feed flows in the area, and Colton said he expects local flows to drop dramatically in coming weeks. Colton also noted that June is Steamboat’s driest month and typically sees just 1.43 inches of precipitation. There was no snowpack remaining Tuesday morning at 8,400 feet at Dry Lake, at 8,700 feet on the Elk River or at 8,880 feet on Lynx Pass, according to Natural Resources Conservation Service SNOTEL station readings. The historical snow water equivalent for the three sites on the same date is 4 inches, 2.7 inches and 1.2 inches, respectively. At 9,400 feet on Rabbit Ears Pass, the snow water equivalent is 4.5 inches, compared with a historical average of 18.1 inches. At 10,500 feet on Buffalo Pass, the snow water equivalent is 35.6 inches, compared with a historical average of 47.1 inches. Across all sites in the Yampa River and White River basins, the snowpack is just 42 percent of average. Last year, the basin-wide snowpack was 118 percent of average.

Arkansas Valley Conduit: Lamar town hall meeting

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U.S. Representatives John Salazar and Betsy Markey were howling with the locals in Lamar yesterday. The primary focus was how to get the Arkansas Valley Conduit funded and built and legislation that would allow Aurora to move water out of basin using the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project. Here’s a report from Chris Woodka writing for the Pueblo Chieftain. From the article:

U.S. Reps. John Salazar and Betsy Markey, both Democrats, said they would continue to work for farmers and the Arkansas Valley Conduit, but were noncommittal on how they would proceed with proposed legislation to allow Aurora to continue to use the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project to move water out of the valley.

“Why do we need this legislation?” Salazar asked at one point, saying that the Bureau of Reclamation already acts as if it has authority to enter a 40-year contract to provide space in Lake Pueblo for Aurora to store water and to exchange it upstream. Colorado water law should protect existing water rights and should not be circumvented by federal legislation, Salazar said. “I’m here because I care and love agriculture. I’m here to keep farmers on the land,” Salazar said. “It will be a sad day in America if we ever depend on another country for our food and fiber.”

Markey said her priority is making sure the Arkansas Valley Conduit is funded. “We’re very close to getting this issue off the ground,” Markey said.

Salazar emphatically agreed. “I can assure you that before I leave office we will build the conduit. We have made it our No. 1 priority,” Salazar said.

Congress has been asked by Aurora and the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District to pass legislation that would authorize Reclamation to enter contracts with Aurora as part of a settlement in a federal lawsuit. The Lower Ark district sued Reclamation in 2007 over the Aurora contract…

Mark Pifher, director of Aurora Water, showed Salazar and Markey a copy of the 1965 contract that linked the Homestake Project, a separate transmountain diversion, with the Fry-Ark Project. Homestake, a project Aurora and Colorado Springs jointly operate, was already in motion when Congress approved the Fry-Ark Project in 1962. “At that time, the federal government saw a need for cooperation,” Pifher said.

Aurora Mayor Ed Tauer said legislation is needed to quell arguments over Aurora’s place in the Arkansas Valley. “We do believe when a federal project is built, it can have other uses so long as you don’t injure the designated users,” Tauer said.

Rawlings said the agreement between Lower Ark and Aurora needlessly ties the conduit to federal approval of legislation to let Aurora use the Fry-Ark Project. “The conduit has already been approved by Congress and should not in any way be tied to Aurora,” Rawlings said.

After the meeting, Jim Broderick, executive director of the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District, said Aurora’s participation in excess-capacity leases would reduce the burden of local costs for the conduit. Earlier, when federal legislation sought an 80-20 federal cost share, Aurora’s participation was not critical, he said. But the final legislation changed the cost share to 65-35, meaning that Aurora revenues could be key to keeping local costs manageable.

Several area farmers said the potential to lease water to Aurora would be critical to obtaining maximum value for water under the newly formed Super Ditch. “We market our water to the highest beneficial use, whether through crop production, livestock production, vegetable production or leasing to municipalities,” said McClave farmer Fred Heckman. He said the valley would not be dried up through leases, and said leasing the water to cities in the north is preferable to urbanizing rural Colorado…

Prowers County Commissioner Henry Schnabel said water rights owners have the right to sell or lease water, but urged his neighbors to use caution. “The impact to other water users in the valley is very important,” Schnabel said. “There is the possibility of less and less water in the river. I would like to see the system for transfer of water out of the valley, but it has to be done in a cautious and thoughtful manner.

More Coyote Gulch coverage here, here, here, here, here and here.

New Zealand mud snails found in three Colorado streams

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From the Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

The snail breeds asexually and rapidly, crowding out native species. The species was first found in Boulder Creek in 2005, according the state Web site. The discovery was unexpected because the nearest known population was the Green River in northeast Utah. Since then, there have been confirmed reports of the snails in the South Platte River below Eleven Mile Reservoir and the Little Snake River near Dinosaur National Monument, said Jerry Neal, spokesman for the Colorado Division of Wildlife. Although signs have been posted along streams in the Arkansas River basin, mud snails have not been found in this area…

Just as boaters have been asked to keep their equipment clean, drained and dry while moving it from lake to lake to prevent the spread of zebra and quagga mussels, fishermen are being reminded to do the same with their gear. “The snails can be transmitted on waders and other fishing equipment, so it’s important to let fisherman know that they need to keep their equipment clean,” Neal said. Like the mussels, the snails travel from one stream to another through human activity. The snails can stow away on boats, boots, waders, nets and other fishing gear, according to the Web site. The snails are only 0.25 inches long, and nearly impossible to contain once they’ve entered an area. They survive in a wide range of temperatures and can live several days out of water. The snails pass unscathed through the digestive tracts of fish. The snails are naturally controlled by a parasite in New Zealand, but they breed out of control in the American West. One snail can produce 20-120 live offspring every three months during warmer seasons, and densities of up to 500,000 per square meter have been found in the rivers of Yellowstone National Park.

More Coyote Gulch coverage here.

Animas-La Plata project: Crest gate problems causing project to miss high spring runoff

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Reclamation has had to stop pumping water to Lake Nighthorse due to problems with the crest gates. Here’s a report from Katie Burford writing for the Durango Herald via the Cortez Journal. From the article:

Problems with the crest gates, which are part of an intake structure that allows water to flow into a forebay or fish screen area before it is pumped up the hill, caused the system to be shut down since early last week. “It’s a minor issue, but it keeps us from pumping any water,” said Barry Longwell, the bureau’s deputy construction engineer for the project. The gates are air operated, and one of the lines has become pinched. The result is that the gates can be moved only to the all-the-way-down or all-the-way-up positions.

Although the problem is expected to be remedied within a couple of days, the malfunction occurs as the river is flowing high from the spring snowmelt, which came unusually early this year. Tyler Artichoker, first-fill project manager, said officials had optimistically projected Lake Nighthorse could be full by July 2010, but that depended on being able to take advantage of the seasonal high flow.

More Coyote Gulch coverage here and here.