Dust storms and forecasting runoff

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From the Summit Daily News (Bob Berwyn):

“It’s profound,” said researcher Tom Painter, director of the snow optics laboratory at the University of Utah. “Areas that are actively disturbed release 1,000 times more dust,” Painter said, adding that dust layers in 2009 caused the snow pack to melt 45 to 48 days earlier than normal. Areas that haven’t been disturbed by human activities release very little dust, Painter said. “This has huge impacts on hydrology and snow cover,” Painter said, explaining that water managers have to account for changes in runoff as they plan the operation of reservoirs and diversions.

More climate change coverage here and here.

CWCB: Governor Ritter nominates April Montgomery for board position

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Governor Ritter has nominated Southwest Water Conservation District Board member April Montgomery to the Colorado Water Conservation Board. She will take over for Bruce Whitehead who is is exiting to the state senate. Here’s a report from Ben Fornell writing for the Telluride Daily Planet. From the article:

“It’s a very interesting group of representatives from across the state that sit on the board. I think this is the first time they’ve had a representative from the San Miguel Basin,” Montgomery said. “Maybe what I have to give to the process is I think, it sounds so trite to say, but I bring a balanced perspective. I’m very interested in rivers for their importance to the environment and recreation, as well as the fact that I understand that we’re dealing with municipal shortages and the needs of agriculture.”

Montgomery has been working with water issues in southwest Colorado for more than six years. In 2003, she was named to the Southwest Water Conservation District Board, which oversees nine water basins including the San Miguel. She was also appointed by the San Miguel County Commissioners to serve on the Southwest Basin Roundtable.

Montgomery said she sees water conservation as one of the most important issues Colorado faces in upcoming years.

“We have, in the past, been pretty isolated from water shortages,” Montgomery said. Places like Denver and Aurora are facing tremendous challenges, their consumption threatening to outpace their supply as the population there grows.

More CWCB coverage here.

Nestlé Waters Chaffee County Project: Commissioners approve final permit

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From The Mountain Mail (Jennifer Deneven):

Resolutions had been tabled at the Aug. 19 meeting at which commissioners approved the project, pending county staff developing appropriate language. Commissioners also approved the Chaffee County cost reimbursement fund, into which Nestlé will make payments from which the county can draw to offset costs related to the project. A portion of the project related to an easement along CR 301 was tabled pending commissioners receiving appraisal information. The easement will be included on a regular business agenda for commissioners…

[Chaffee Citizens for Sustainability board member Lee Hart] mentioned 20 standards not met by Nestlé’s initial application and questioned whether county-imposed conditions would ensure Nestlé’s compliance since they use the word “should” instead of “will.” Commissioners charged us with being the watchdogs-we’ll show them what a watchdog is like,” she said.

Here’s Lee Hart’s report from the Salida Citizen. From the article:

Of the dozen or fewer people who testified in favor of Nestle over the course of its public review, almost without exception, all stood to enjoy direct financial benefit from approval of the project. I hope these good, hard-working folks and neighbors understand that the opposition to Nestle was never about them. Like any private property owner in this country, the ranchers can sell their land to whoever they believe gives them a fair price for it. What happens after the sale is no longer the seller’s responsibility. However, when the new landowner proposes to change the existing uses on the land, in particular in this case when the property is deemed to be “an area of state interest,” then the matter must be considered by elected officials during a public process in which the public has a chance to air their concerns about how that new land use designation may impact them, for better or worse.

Over nine months of public hearings, hundreds of citizens passionately voiced their unambiguous opposition to Nestle. This, in the face of a hearing format that seemed biased in favor of giving Nestle every courtesy and consideration while on more than a few occasions showing visible irritation at testimony by local residents. In packed meeting rooms in Buena Vista and Salida, taxpaying voters waited patiently through inhumanely long meetings for their turn to speak out. The commissioners allowed Nestle to run beyond their allotted agenda time by – on some nights – hours, yet when citizens went a few seconds over their 3-minute allotment of time at the microphone, Commission Chair Holman threatened to forcibly remove the speakers. The bias was apparent again today when in the waning moments before they unanimously agreed to approve Nestle, the commissioners haggled over language pertaining to a Nestle-funded community endowment. In refusing the quantify – at all – Nestle’s annual programmatic contributions to the fund, the commissioners left it to Nestle – rather than the community – to define the dollar amount of philanthropic giving that constitutes being a “good neighbor.”

Face to face with a cadre of Nestle lawyers and high-priced experts, campaign promises by Giese and Holman, made less than a year ago, melted away as quickly as butter in August. Holman pledged that on his watch, no more water would leave this valley. How then could he sign a resolution permitting 65 million gallons to be sucked and trucked beyond county lines? Giese famously said that green is the color of the future of this valley. How could Giese possibly interpret as good for green all the warnings thrown up by the county’s own consultants and referral agencies warning that Nestle could have negative impacts to surface water quantity and quality, groundwater quantity, air quality, wetlands and the plants and critters that depend on the riparian habitat.

Public opposition to Nestle boiled down to several key themes: Incontrovertible evidence prior to their arrival in Chaffee County and even during the public hearing process made it hard to believe Nestle could, without very specific legally binding stipulations, be the “good neighbor” they purport to be; the intentionally weak and sugar-coated science Nestle presented during its testimony belies lurking danger to surface and groundwater resources as well as riparian habitat that is bad for the longterm sustainability of the environment, as well as future economic development prospects for the valley. Even the county knows this as implied in the Special Land Use Permit where the county writes “Future development outside the subject parcels may impact the quality or quantity of spring water related to the Project.” It would be naive to think Nestle won’t assign some of its vast resources to block any future housing or commercial development upgradient of its Bighorn and Ruby Mountain springs. It’s hard to imagine any small developer or business person being able to prevail against a fight waged by the world’s largest food and beverage maker.

More Nestlé Waters Chaffee County Project coverage here and here.

Greeley: James Maxwell Clark and the Union Colony

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Here’s a look at James Maxwell Clark and the Union Colony, from Caroline Black writing for The Greeley Tribune. From the article:

From 1872-1875, the economy of Greeley was hurting as farmers battled harsh winter storms, drought and grasshoppers. They attempted to learn new forms of crop cultivation that were in contrast with what they had experienced in the humid areas of the eastern United States. Like his neighbors, Clark found farming a terrible struggle, leading him to name his farm “Poverty Flats.”

During Clark’s study of irrigation he became a major contributor to the theory and practice of irrigation in the Greeley area, and the door of prosperity began to open for area farmers. He and [Abner Baker], who later founded Fort Morgan, helped construct ditches between Fort Morgan and Brush, and Clark became director of the No. 2 canal that travels south of Timnath through to north of Greeley, and the Upper and Lower Platte and Beaver Canals near Fort Morgan. He also assisted James P. Maxwell, first Colorado State engineer, in devising plans to measure water for irrigation use among area farmers.

More South Platte Basin coverage here.

Surface Creek Watershed: Source water protection plan

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From the Delta County Independent (Hank Lohmeyer):

The Orchard City Town Board gave the go-ahead for its administration to apply for up to $5,000 in grant money to cover the costs of its participation in developing a “source water protection plan” for the town’s drinking water supplies. The town will be cooperating with other drinking water suppliers and interested groups in the Surface Creek Valley on the area-wide plan…

Trustee Jimmie Boyd who attended the first organization meeting of the group earlier this month explained that Forest Service facilities like gravel pits and septic systems pose the biggest concern as point source contaminants of drinking water supplies on the Grand Mesa. “This is essentially going to be a plan, or an inventory resource of what is up on the side of Grand Mesa that could involve our water sources,” Boyd explained. “There are no teeth in it that force us to do anything, but it could provide some possible advantages for grants or loans for the town.”[…]

The second planning meeting of the entities participating in the project is scheduled to take place in Cedaredge on Monday, Sept. 21, at 6 p.m. at the Community Center.

More Surface Creek watershed coverage here.

Ridgway council okays water and sewer rate hike (first reading)

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From The Telluride Watch (Gus Jarvis):

The Ridgway Town Council on Wednesday, Sept. 9 passed the first reading of an ordinance that raises both water and sewer rates over a three-year period in order to get the two operations financially sustainable. Sewer rates for users within town are currently $18 per month. That amount will increase to $25 on Jan. 1, 2010, and then increase by $5 for the next two years, making the monthly rate $35 by 2012.

For single-family homes, the ordinance will raise the current water rate of $22 a month to $27 in January. It will then increase in $5 increments, making the rate $32 in 2011 and $37 by 2012…

While the town needs to bring the two utility enterprises into the black, making them sustainable will also allow the town to pursue funding for its failing waterline infrastructure. Currently, town staff is pursuing outside funding from the Department of Local Affairs and the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act for the town-wide replacement of the polybutylene water lines. The submittal requirements for the ARRA funding include proof by the town that the utility enterprise is sustaining itself from a revenue standpoint and will continue to do so to adequately absorb the debt service (0 percent) financing. The approved first reading of the ordinance, is, according to Clifton, “hopeful proof that the town’s utility will have sufficient revenues through time to cover these [financial] costs” in order to get the ARRA loans.

The rate-raising ordinance could go before council for final approval at its Oct. 14 meeting.

More infrastructure coverage here.

Arkansas River: Lower valley irrigation rules move ahead

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Here’s a recap of yesterday’s meeting of the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District Board, from Chris Woodka writing for The Pueblo Chieftain. From the article:

The Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District Board Wednesday unanimously voted to continue developing its compliance plan, refine estimates about costs to participating farmers and pursue the remainder of state funds set aside to ease the impact of the rules on farmers. “There have been substantial changes in the rules to reduce the impacts and costs to farmers,” attorney Peter Nichols told the Lower Ark board. Some of those changes have included the removal of on-farm improvements for things like pipe, ditch lining, furrowing techniques or fertilizers and adding new ways to comply with the rules…

The district also has used about $100,000 of $250,000 in available state funds so far to develop a compliance plan under Rule 10 of the state’s proposal. The board voted to apply for the remaining $150,000 to refine its plan and identify specific sources for replacement water…

The engineers developed two plans for compliance, depending on whether return flows come back to the Arkansas River above and below John Martin Reservoir. River conditions and presumed consumptive use differ depending on the location, Ten Eyck explained. The plans use refined models based on state data to determine the average amount of water a farmer would owe the river. Fees would be based both on the cost of running the program and the size of deficit or credit generated by each farm under the models…

The Lower Ark district would provide replacement water to the state to make up the deficits to the river. Water would be obtained from a variety of sources, and enough kept in storage to cover maximum projected deficits each year…

Farmers, in recent meetings with the Lower Ark district and with the state committee looking at the rules, say they are still not happy with the concept that led to the rules. “We have a philosophical difference,” Fred Heckman, a Fort Lyon Canal farmer near McClave, told the Lower Ark board Wednesday. He explained farmers look at it as an economic question, while the state is concerned with the volume of water. The model being used by the state probably underestimates consumptive use on the Fort Lyon in particular and overestimates the efficiency of sprinklers operated from ponds, Heckman said. The state has adjusted the model, just this week adding seepage from ponds as a factor, and will continue to adjust it as better numbers emerge, State Engineer Dick Wolfe said Monday. Even with the current numbers, the damage to the river, estimated to be about 1,000 acre-feet annually from 120 sprinklers installed so far, is statistically insignificant, Heckman said. At the same time, farmers can’t afford the costs of providing annual engineering reports for each system, another option under the state rules, so most would probably sign on with the Lower Ark plans, Heckman said.

More coverage of the proposed new rules, from Chris Woodka writing for The Pueblo Chieftain. From the article:

“You do not have consensus on filing these rules the way they are,” said Dan Henrichs, speaking for the Arkansas Valley Ditch Association.

“We fully recognize that,” replied State Engineer Dick Wolfe. “We never thought we would get 100-percent consensus. We think we’ve got a large majority of those who recognize the benefit and need for these.”[…]

Water rights decrees specify an amount of water and area of land to be irrigated and sprinkler systems cover the same area as flood irrigation, Henrichs said. “The method of irrigation does not increase consumptive use,” he said. State models claim it does, however, and in particular along water-short ditches like the Fort Lyon Canal.

The rules incorporate a variety of strategies to deal with perceived or measured depletions of return flows to the Arkansas River from improvements to farms or canal systems since 1999. They cover only surface irrigation improvements – not wells – in the Arkansas Valley with the intention of preventing future shortfalls in deliveries to Kansas at the state line.

More Arkansas Valley ag efficiency coverage here.

Male bass in Colorado River system showing feminine sex traits

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From The Denver Post (Bruce Finley):

This gender-bending was most common in the southeastern U.S. as well as in western Colorado, in the Yampa River, where 70 percent of male bass had eggs developing alongside their testicular organs, the U.S. Geological Survey study found. The causes aren’t clear, scientists said in the report in Aquatic Toxicology. Nor could they say whether “intersex” fish could reproduce.

But the extent of the intersex fish was startling, said Jo Ellen Hinck, the USGS biologist who led the project. “When we see 70 percent, we don’t think that’s normal,” Hinck said, referring to a sampling along the Yampa about 18 miles west of Craig.

The researchers studied 16 species, collecting data from 1995 through 2004 (funding was cut in 2006), and documented intersex characteristics in three other species, including catfish. Researchers with microscopes examined about 1,500 fish in nine river basins: the Apalachicola, Colorado, Columbia, Mobile, Mississippi, Pee Dee, Rio Grande, Savannah and Yukon. Only in the Yukon Basin in Alaska did researchers find exclusively male males. The intersex condition was most common in bass, with about a third of male smallmouth bass and a fifth of male largemouth bass showing eggs growing alongside testicular organs…

USGS scientists now must verify, using museum samples, whether intersex bass occur naturally, said David Norris, a University of Colorado professor of integrated physiology who has documented fish- gender distortions in Boulder Creek, Fountain Creek and the South Platte River. If not, “we’ve got a concern,” Norris said. “At these incredibly low levels of contamination, we’re starting to produce reproductive effects in animal populations…

Federal wildlife officials along the Yampa will consider possible sources of pollutants, said Tom Chart, director of the Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “If we’re having these endocrine disrupters showing up in bass, it’s very likely they’re affecting native and endangered fish as well,” Chart said. “This is out of the natural balance.”

More water pollution coverage here and here.