For almost 30 years, the CWA worked to make America’s waters clean, fishable and swimmable. And our country moved from an ethic of “out of sight, out of mind,” to “everyone lives downstream.” Now that ethic is under assault — and so again are our rivers and streams. In recent years, the Supreme Court has issued confusing and muddled rulings that have distorted the original language of the Clean Water Act and drastically narrowed its scope. Worse, the justices themselves have not agreed on what the law means, with four justices suggesting that only rivers that flow year-round and can float logs or boats deserve protection. As a result of this legal confusion, some 20 million acres of our country’s wetlands and millions of miles of rivers and streams have been stripped of protections.
In Colorado, about 75 percent of rivers and streams — some 76,000 miles of waterways — run either seasonally during spring runoff or after summer rains, and thus may no longer qualify for CWA protection from dredging operations, oil spills, discharges of industrial waste or sewage, construction or unregulated development.
That’s why Congress must pass the Clean Water Restoration Act.
The 16 projects started in 2005 with a $5.7 million challenge grant from Great Outdoors Colorado. More than 30 partners, including cities, counties, private foundations, individuals and landowners who contributed part of the value of their conservation easements found $11.8 million to supplement the GOCO grant. “We’re very pleased we exceeded our own expectations,” said Ken Francis of the Fort Lewis College Office of Community Services, who coordinated efforts. “We raised more money, got more work done and preserved more land than anticipated.”[…]
Nina Williams, executive director of the Montezuma Land Conservancy, which acquired conservation easements on 3,100 acres of 10 working ranches along the Mancos and Dolores rivers, spoke of the relationship between people and the landscape in Southwest Colorado. “The San Juan Skyway and Southwest Colorado is defined by the relationship that people – ranchers, farmers, sightseers and hunters and fishermen – have with the land,” Williams said. “The vision of the Skyway coalition has been to preserve the intrinsic quality of the region so people can continue to maintain that relationship and their way of life.” The San Juan Skyway is a 236-mile highway loop that takes the traveler from Durango and back via Silverton, Ouray, Ridgway, Telluride, Rico, Dolores, Cortez and Mancos.
Here’s a recap of a recent tour of the northern Front Range set up by the NCWCD, from Shari Phiel writing for the Berthoud Recorder. From the article:
While much of the water used in the northern Front Range areas originates along the western slope, the canals, reservoirs and pumping stations find along the eastern slope are critical to delivering our water. These facilities include Carter Lake, Horsetooth Reservoir, Flatiron Reservoir and the proposed Chimney Hollow and Glade Reservoir projects. “If you look at where the demands for water are in Colorado, both in terms of agriculture and in terms of municipal and industrial use, and you look at where the water’s located in Colorado, we’re just opposite of what we should be,” said Eric Wilkinson, general manager for the NCWCD.
Meanwhile, here’s a report from Tuesday’s rally for the Northern Integrated Supply Project, from Jamie Folsom writing for the Berthoud Recorder. From the article:
“Wouldn’t this have been a time to fill a reservoir?” asked former Colorado Agriculture Commissioner Don Ament, alluding to the overflowing creeks and ponds that dot the landscape. He and others noted the excess water will head downstream to surrounding states this year. They support storing the water to ensure it would be available for future, drier years.
More coverage from the Loveland Reporter Herald (Pamela Dickman):
The message, sown strongly by speaker after speaker Tuesday, was that the water project, which would be managed by Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District, is essential to the survival of agriculture — one of the main industries in the region. Without the reservoir to store water for growing cities and towns, that burden would fall onto water currently set aside for agriculture — and farm acres would dry up, hitting the economy and local food supply, according to area farmers and spokesmen for farm agencies.
Zimbelman comes to the position with an impressive background. Prior to his retirement in November of 2006, Zimbelman served as chief engineer, associate general manager and treasurer of the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District and municipal sub-district. As chief engineer, he was responsible for the operations and maintenance of the water collection and distribution systems while as treasurer, he was a board officer directly responsible to the directors for monitoring and overseeing the financial transactions of both districts. As associate general manager, Zimbelman was responsible for the day-to-day management of district functions, including administration, employee benefits, and computer services. He also assisted the general manager in making policy decisions in conjunction with the Board of Directors.
Just a quick update before the Fourth of July Holiday Weekend. We are starting to get back, almost, to more normal operations after the peak of what turned out to be a very late snowmelt run-off season. High run-off peaked last weekend and we have been adjusting the Colorado-Big Thompson Project accordingly.
With the majority of the snowmelt behind us, releases from Olympus Dam to the Big Thompson River have returned to about 125 cfs. Lake Estes is also on the rise. Currently it is at an elevation of 7471 and will probably go up a little more tonight. It should stay up through the weekend.
Pinewood has been experiencing some fluctuations as we move water on downstream through the project. It dropped pretty significantly today–to an elevation of about 6565–but is now on its way back up. It will be up–a handful of feet down from full–for the Holiday weekend. But expect it to start dropping again top of next week. Then we will refill it. As we move water through the project, Pinewood will see fluctuation like this, this summer.
Meanwhile, a little more water is coming into Carter and Horsetooth Reservoirs. Carter is at an elevation of 5747 and Horsetooth at just under 5420–both pretty full. They will remain at or near those elevations through the Holiday weekend.
From email from Reclamation (Kara Lamb):
[Thursday] afternoon, we are reducing releases from Ruedi Dam to the Fryingpan River. As you have probably noticed, we have been reducing releases throughout the week. The snowmelt run-off has peaked, the peak has passed, and we are responding accordingly. As of this evening, flows in the Fryingpan should be right around 300 cfs. They should stay at that level through the weekend.
From email from Reclamation (Kara Lamb):
Earlier this week, we were able to scale back releases from Green Mountain Reservoir to the Lower Blue to under 2000 cfs. But all that changed today with a localized rain storm. We are back up to about 2680 cfs. We have been increasing releases all afternoon in response to the storm.
Because we are working with the weather, I have no prediction for the weekend. We are anticipating releases to stay at this level or perhaps go a little higher, but depending on Mother Nature, those plans could change. As always, I advise to please check the gage before you head up to the Lower Blue. And please keep in mind that we could make changes while you are on the water this weekend.
From email from Reclamation (Dan Crabtree):
Inflow to the Aspinall Unit has finally decreased to levels at which we can begin to slowly reduce releases from Crystal Reservoir. This evening (Wednesday) releases from Crystal will be reduced by 200 cfs and another 200 cfs will be cut Thursday morning. This will bring flows in the Black Canyon and Gunnison Gorge to about 2,700 cfs. No further release changes are anticipated through the Holiday Weekend.
From the Delta County Independent (Hank Lohmeyer):
The proposed facility would be operated by Wells Gulch Evap, Inc. The company’s contact person is listed as Jim Harker of Lincoln. Their plan received a recommended approval from the Delta County Planning Commission on June 25. The Board of County Commissioners held a public hearing on Monday and tabled consideration the company’s specific development application until July 13.
The company is negotiating to buy a 124-acre site that currently is used as winter sheep range. At final build-out, the seven membrane-lined evaporation ponds ranging from 2.5 to nine acres in size would cover 40 acres and have a total holding capacity of 64.2 million gallons. The company’s specific development application to the county states, “The site will accept exploration and production (EP) water from oil and gas drilling operations. Drilling mud and cuttings will not be accepted at this site.” EP water, also known as produced water, contains high levels of minerals, salts and other chemicals classified as “non-hazardous.” The company would accept EP water from around the Rocky Mountain region. There are two other EP water sites operating in the region; one at Cisco, Utah, and another at Baggs, Wyo.
David M. Kennedy, who is also director of the Bill Lane Center for the American West at Stanford University, used maps, tables, figures and photographs to show the development of the country west of the [100th] meridian, the role of water in the West and the challenges facing the nation in future management of the resource. The future challenges of water management are largely a function of the past development, Kennedy said. And most of that development, which included a lot of manipulation to benefit humans, leaves us a tough hand to play. “When it comes to Mother Nature, you can only push Mother Nature around for so long before she starts pushing back,” he said…
Today’s management of our natural resources is a function of the management regimes we’ve inherited, Kennedy noted. He used Lake Mead as an example. Lake Mead is a product of the country’s scientific development phase and was one of the government’s first, large-scale interstate projects for water. And because of upstream demands on the Colorado River, Lake Mead will never again fill to its capacity, said Kennedy, referring to a recent presentation he and other industry professionals heard on the subject. By 2020, the lake “could be nothing more than a mudhole.”
And one of the factors that has changed the game completely, Kennedy said, is climate change. Meltwater is starting to run off nearly a month earlier, which means more wildfires, and alpine snowpacks are holding less water. “There’s less of the resource available as a result of climate change,” Kennedy said.
Kennedy said that the changing climate will require new ways for existing and future generations to handle the water management regimes inherited from developers of the past century.
Total rainfall in June was 1.47 inches, not too much higher than the average precipitation of 1.29 inches, according to preliminary data from the city of Aspen water department. City water treatment plant supervisor Laura Taylor said she was surprised when she did the calculations that June didn’t come out wetter.
Still, June was “wetter than normal” across all of western Colorado, said Dan Cuevas, a technician with the National Weather Service in Grand Junction. Aspen’s yearly average precipitation is actually just 20.39 inches, he said, with the wettest month, December, usually producing 2.36 inches of precipitation (in that case meaning melted snow). June is actually typically the driest month. The next driest month, October, usually produces 1.42 inches of precipitation, according to National Weather Service records dating from 1971. (NWS also measures averages from 1899, but the last 30 years presents a more relevant comparison.) According to water department records, there were 20 days in June with no precipitation. But very few days were clear, with 15 of the 30 days classified as partly or mostly cloudy in the afternoon…
May, in fact, was far wetter, with precipitation totals of 2.54 inches. That’s significantly higher than the average for the month of 1.83 inches. In fact, May 2009 was the 14th rainiest May in 59 years of records…
Denver came narrowly close last month to its moisture record for June — 4.96 inches in 1882. With just one day to go and little chance of rain, The Denver Post reported earlier this week that 4.86 inches of precipitation had fallen on the normally dry Front Range city.