Colorado Springs: Stormwater enterprise demise leaves $82 million worth of projects to compete for general fund dough

A picture named arkansasfountainconverge.jpg

From the Colorado Springs Independent (J. Adrian Stanley and Pam Zubeck):

Stormwater Enterprise manager Ken Sampley unfolds a large budget graph labeled “DRAFT” in big gray letters. He circles one total: $66,145,000. That was the estimated cost in 2006 of completing Stormwater’s 26 top-priority drainage projects. He circles another number: $82,790,676. The estimated cost for completing the same 26 projects in 2009 dollars.

Stormwater began work in 2007, with a backlog of more than $300 million in projects. So far, Stormwater hasn’t put much of a dent in that. “We never got to the point where we even got close to our $60 million,” Sampley says. “If we can’t get close to the $60 million, why even worry about the next couple hundred million?” On average, Stormwater collected $16 million a year in fees, and spent about $8 million annually on capital projects, leveraging the money where possible. The rest went to other needs: In 2009, over $4 million was spent on maintenance and another $1.7 million to maintain mandated federal water quality standards. The rest was sucked up by engineering, planning studies and administrative costs. Over three years, fees produced just $22.5 million for projects. Stormwater leveraged that to nearly $30 million but still finished less than a third of those top-priority projects.

One project that Stormwater won’t complete has certain consequences. The Federal Emergency Management Agency has said it will declare a northeast section as a 100-year floodplain if repairs and updates aren’t made to the Templeton Gap levee. The floodplain area contains more than 3,000 properties and 5,000 structures. With no Stormwater funds, the Templeton Gap project, which could cost up to $6 million, won’t get done, and most lenders will require property owners within the plain to buy flood insurance. While Stormwater fees cost a single family home $25.80 to $163.80 a year, flood insurance will cost many times that amount. Councilor Scott Hente has fought hard to keep his constituents from paying those big insurance premiums. After 300 passed, he wanted to keep Stormwater fees for at least two years, so Templeton Gap could be completed. But he was in the minority. And his fighting spirit on the issue was tempered when he found out a majority of the floodplain residents voted for 300. “You’re saving yourself a few bucks a year,” Hente says with astonishment, “to incur the luxury of spending $1,000 a year on flood insurance.”[…]

With no fees, the city will have to fork over money for emergency stormwater repairs. It’ll also have to pay for a federally mandated basic stormwater program costing about $1.75 million a year. If the city doesn’t pay, it could face fines of up to $27,500 per day for each water quality-degrading “incident” from the Environmental Protection Agency, plus an additional $10,000 in daily civil fines from the state. If an incident isn’t properly reported or is deliberate, the state can also levy criminal fines of up to $25,000 a day. But the death of Stormwater grieves none so much as Utilities. It loses a crucial partner in controlling rainwater runoff, which eventually makes its way to Fountain Creek — the lightning rod in the city gaining approval for its Southern Delivery System.

More stormwater coverage here.

BLM seeking public input for draft Wild and Scenic River Eligibility report

A picture named sanmiguelriver1109

Here’s a release from the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (Erin Curtis):

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is seeking public comments on a draft Wild and Scenic River Eligibility Report conducted by the Uncompahgre Field Office.

The report is the first step in a Wild and Scenic River evaluation for the 900,000-acre field office, which is being conducted as the field office revises the Uncompahgre Resource Management Plan. The Draft Eligibility Report provides an inventory of river and stream segments on BLM-administered lands, and identifies those segments that meet the eligibility criteria necessary for federal Wild and Scenic River consideration.

The Wild and Scenic Rivers Act was passed in 1968 to preserve selected rivers or sections in their free-flowing condition in order to protect “the water quality of such rivers and to fulfill other vital national conservation purposes.” To be eligible under the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, a river or stream segment must possess one or more “outstandingly remarkable values,” have sufficient water quality to support those values, and be “free-flowing.” The BLM evaluated 174 river and stream segments and found 35 to be eligible.

The draft report identifies five segments of the San Miguel River (approximately 55 miles), two segments of the Dolores River (approximately 20 miles), and two segments of the Gunnison River (approximately 18 miles) as eligible. Eligibility review does not take into account potentially conflicting uses or the manageability of a river segment, which will be addressed in the upcoming suitability phase.

At this stage, the BLM is specifically looking for information regarding free-flowing condition and outstandingly remarkable values, including vegetation, wildlife, cultural, recreation, hydrologic, geologic, and scenic. Public comments on the draft report will be accepted through Feb. 26. The report is available at http://www.blm.gov/co/st/en/fo/ufo/uncompahgre_rmp.html.

Comments can be emailed to uformp@blm.gov or mailed to the Uncompahgre Field Office, Attn: RMP Revision, 2645 S. Townsend Ave., Montrose, CO 81401.

“Once the eligibility study has been finalized, we’ll be working with stakeholders to look at each eligible segment to determine whether or not it is suitable for Wild and Scenic River consideration,” said Uncompahgre Field Manager Barb Sharrow. “Public involvement in this process is essential.”

The suitability study will be included in the Resource Management Plan revision, which will analyze a range of possible recommendations. The BLM may or may not actively recommend suitable segments for Wild and Scenic River designation, based on input from stakeholders and the public.

River segments determined to be eligible are afforded interim protective management by the BLM until a suitability study is completed. The Resource Management Plan revision and suitability analysis is scheduled to be completed in 2013.

The Cache La Poudre River is currently the only river in Colorado with segments included in the Wild and Scenic River system. For more information on Wild and Scenic Rivers, visit http://www.nps.gov/rivers/.

More Wild and Scenic coverage here.

Snowpack news

A picture named usdroughtmonitor12222009

From the Summit Daily News (Robert Allen):

Dillon Reservoir recorded 9 inches of snow this month — accurate before Wednesday — relative to 34.5 inches for the entire month in 2008, Burroughs said. While El Niño is often blamed for higher snowfall in Colorado’s southern mountains, Burroughs said local observers have noticed “just really a different storm track this year.”

State Representative Kathleen Curry plans to introduce bill to allow boaters access to streams running through private property

A picture named raftingarkriver.jpg

From the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Charles Ashby):

Though settled in other Western states, the question of whether rafters, kayakers and fishing enthusiasts have a right to use Colorado’s waterways when they go through private land remains a sticking point between those users and private landowners. While there is court precedent on the subject, exactly what it allows is still in dispute, the Gunnison lawmaker said. Curry, who shocked the state this week with her announcement she is leaving the Democratic Party to become an independent, plans to introduce a measure to allow commercial rafters to traverse private land even without a landowner’s consent.

The issue was sparked anew this summer when a Texas developer, Lewis Shaw, purchased thousands of acres of land on the Taylor River in Gunnison County with the intent of reselling it as exclusive 35-acre ranches. As a result, the developer notified two long-established rafting companies that they no longer could cross the land, Curry said…

Danny Tomlinson, a Denver lobbyist who represents a landowners’ group that routinely opposes such measures, said he only recently heard about the proposal and wouldn’t comment on it, either. He did, however, say his group doesn’t want to see anything that alters People v. Emmert, a 1979 Colorado Supreme Court case that ruled rafters who touch the bank or riverbed are trespassing, although some lawyers say that case affects even those who merely float through. “We’ve had concerns about various different floating, fishing, trespassing kinds of legislation,” Tomlinson said of Creekside Coalition, a group of private landowners that is expected to oppose this measure, too. “We haven’t seen a copy of the bill, so it’s hard to quantify what our concerns would be, but we would have serious concerns if it made significant changes to the Emmert case.”

Bob Hamel, president of the Colorado River Outfitters Association, said the issue is one of jobs and fairness. Hamel said the courts have long held that the water flowing down the state’s streams are publicly owned and that the right to float on it shouldn’t be an issue. “We’re not trying to take away the landowner’s rights, but rafting is a $142 million business in Colorado, and it employs hundreds of people. We’re just trying to protect jobs and people’s livelihoods,” Hamel said.

More whitewater coverage here.

Green River: Aaron Million’s pipeline dream one of the big stories of 2009

A picture named flaminggorgepipelinemillion.jpg

From The Green River Star (Jack H. Smith):

One story that hit home hard and sent shock waves across Sweetwater County was the possibility of a transbasin water diversion project. In April, Fort Collins entrepreneur Aaron Million visited Green River to speak at public scoping meeting conducted by the Army Corps of Engineers…

His plan was met that night and in the following months with stark opposition. “Mr. Million gets the last allocation of Colorado water, and we get the shaft,” Western Wyoming Professor Craig Thompson said at the scoping meeting. Local leaders, residents and government agencies would all speak out against the project.

“If the Million pipeline is built, the river below the point of diversion and Flaming Gorge Reservoir will suffer eternal drought,” Wyoming Game and Fish Department Fisheries Biologist Craig Amadio said.

More Flaming Gorge pipeline coverage here and here.

Carbondale: $1.7 million targeted for wastewater treatment plant maintenance

A picture named wastewatertreatmentwtext.jpg

From the Glenwood Springs Post Independent (John Stroud):

Initial lab tests had indicated the plant may already be at 85 percent capacity, but the tests were inconsistent, according to an engineers report presented at the Dec. 22 Carbondale Board of Trustees meeting. A problem was detected that was believed to have resulted in the higher readings, and subsequent tests indicate the plant is actually at about 55 percent capacity, the report indicated. As a result, “The present plant will be capable of treating present and future growth flows for the next five to 10 years as a result of these interim improvements,” the report stated. Also reinforcing the town’s decision to proceed with the plant upgrades rather than a new plant at this point was an engineer’s determination that the quality of the water coming out of the plant and going into the river is better than most treatment plants in the area, Baker said. Another factor working in the town’s favor to extend the life of the existing plant is a decrease in demand on the facility, and lower costs for some of the work related to the economy, he said…

Approximately $123,000 worth of work was done on the plant this year, mostly to address an odor problem that became noticeable around the north end of town and in nearby unincorporated Satank last winter. So far this winter, the odor has not returned. The $1.7 million worth of upgrades will be able to be paid for out of the town’s existing wastewater fund, which had a $3.9 million fund balance going into 2009. Town trustees have also been considering an increase in tap fees for new development as a way to pay for an update to Carbondale’s 14-year-old water and wastewater master plan, which would help determine when exactly a new treatment plant would be needed.

More wastewater coverage here.

Snowpack news

A picture named usdroughtmonitor12222009

From The Denver Post:

Through Monday, the state’s snowpack this season is at 82 percent of its 30-year average. The Upper Rio Grande River basin in south-central Colorado has fared the best at 94 percent of average. The basins of the Yampa and White rivers in northwest Colorado have done the poorest, at 72 percent.

Officials have not expressed alarm, since Colorado’s snowiest months are still ahead. Besides skiing and beautiful winter landscapes, snow provides about 90 percent of the state’s year-round water supply.

Noctilucent clouds being seen a lower latitudes

A picture named noctilucentclouds.jpg

From DNA:

“These clouds exist literally on the edge of space,” said James Russell, principal investigator for NASA’s Aeronomy of Ice in the Mesosphere (AIM) satellite, adding that the clouds form only in a very narrow band a little more than 50 miles (80km) above Earth’s surface. According to a report in National Geographic News, once seen mostly in the Arctic, night-shining clouds are now appearing more frequently at lower latitudes. Scientists suspect that the increase in night-shining clouds may be due to climate change. Even as surface temperatures rise, the upper atmosphere is getting colder due to the buildup of carbon dioxide, creating perfect conditions for cloud formation, according to experts…

High-altitude night-shining clouds are similar in structure to lower-level clouds – a fact that is “startling,” according to AIM deputy principal investigator Scott Bailey, of Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University. “That’s because the two types of clouds form under such radically different conditions,” Bailey said. AIM’s data on night-shining clouds have told scientists a lot about the upper atmosphere. “The processes that control these clouds are very likely similar to the ones that control clouds down near the surface of Earth,” said Bailey…

In addition, more night-shining clouds tend to light up the skies during times when the sun is quiet, according to Daniel Marsh of the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado. “That’s because when solar activity is most intense, ultraviolet radiation breaks up the air” water molecules and prevents the clouds from forming,” Marsh said. Volcanoes also inject water vapor into the upper atmosphere, which can lead to night-shining clouds.

Ophir: Town embarks on $1 million project for new water supply and storage

A picture named orrmnwatertower.jpg

From The Telluride Daily Planet (Ben Fornell):

The project endeavors to replace Ophir’s water treatment plant, create a new source for the water, and build a 35,000-gallon storage tank. The current water-treatment plant is old, and bleeding the town’s meager coffers, as the repairs seem to never end. And a water tank, Barnes said, is a public safety necessity. “What if we had to put out a fire?” Barnes asked. “We need that kind of capacity.”

Previously, the town had relied on an archaic system that took water from Warner Springs with a simple redwood box. “You could have dropped a kid’s floaty boat in and watch it go right into our pipe,” Barnes said. The new system features a device that will run alongside a creek in Waterfall Canyon and take a bit more water with more filtration capabilities…

The project was financed with $390,000 through a grant from the Colorado Department of Local Affairs and an interest-free loan of $500,000 as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. Barnes said one of the town’s biggest goals was keeping the project affordable for its roughly 200 residents, and not creating a new mil levy to pay for it. As of now, the project will be financed through the town’s existing 2.9 mil debt service levy. However, the town has increased water fees by $20 per quarter to help pay for future water expenses.

More infrastructure coverage here.

Moab: Progress report on moving uranium tailings

A picture named moabtailingscleanupsite.jpg

From the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Gary Harmon):

Abut 630,000 tons will have been moved from Moab to the disposal cell near Crescent Junction by year’s end, said Wendee Ryan of the U.S. Department of Energy. The Energy Department and its contractor, Energy Solutions Corp., began moving the tailings pile this year. Moab residents and downstream water providers lobbied for years to have the 16-million-ton pile of mill tailings moved from its spot along the north bank of the Colorado River to a cell up against the Bookcliff Mountains at Crescent Junction that is deemed less likely to contaminate the river.

The pile is being moved by train from Moab to the disposal cell 30 miles north. It takes about 80 minutes for the train to travel to Crescent Junction with a full load of tailings, Ryan said. “It’s very slow and deliberate,” she said.

There, the contents of each 33-ton and 40-ton container placed in the cell are marked via Global Positioning System, said Fred Smith of Energy Solutions. The cell, in which native earth has been scoured out to form a half-mile-wide pit, will be filled with tailings and then recovered with the native earth. Once the tailings pile has been moved, it will fill a cell about a half-mile wide and a mile long, Smith said.

More nuclear coverage here and here.

Regional Rotary Clubs are working together to help fund the construction of new water filtration systems and sanitary latrines in Nicaragua

A picture named gravitywaterfilter.jpg

From the Longmont Daily Times Call. (Magdalena Wegrzyn):

Seven regional Rotary Clubs have combined forces to support a project that will fund the construction of new water filtration systems in the northern Nicaraguan villages of Los Pinares, Barrio Nuevo and Miraflor. Clubs of Boulder Valley, Carbon Valley, Conifer, Golden, Mead, Twin Peaks and University Hills in Denver have raised $60,518 in donations and grants for the Los Pinares project. Fundraising is still under way for the other two villages. “Once you see the need, you can’t not do something,” said Dale Rademacher, a Mead Rotarian and chairman of the committee organizing the project. “I call these the forgotten people.”

Arkansas Valley: What’s happened to the releases of tamarisk leaf beetles?

A picture named tamariskleafbeetle.jpg

From The Colorado Springs Gazette (R. Scott Rappold):

…after two summers of releases here [Arkansas River Basin], the beetles have eaten little of their favorite food, and experts fear they are leaving, dying or becoming food themselves. “In most cases that I’ve seen so far, it seems like the beetles are gone and we’re trying to come up with ways to deal with that,” said Dan Bean, director of the state’s Palisade Insectary, where the beetles are bred…

In summer 2008, the National Resource Conservation Service released 27,000 beetles along Fountain Creek north of Pueblo. Last summer, after biologists found no trace of the beetles, they released another 15,000. “We did see a slight amount of defoliation, but it often takes a couple years for the beetles to take hold and establish,” said conservation service biologist Patty Knupp. She will return in spring to look for beetles.

Elsewhere in the Arkansas Basin, there have been only a few pockets with slight signs of beetles eating the tamarisk. Said Bean, “There could be some quirks in climate and weather that cause them to not make it, but I think it’s more likely it’s something biological. Something is eating them.” He suspects other insects are the culprit.

One the other hand here’s a story about a mystery population of the little buggers in Fremont County from October 2008. From the post:

On the drive back to Grand Junction after visiting Pueblo in July, Bean noticed the tamarisk at the U.S. 50 bridge over Beaver Creek were yellowing – a tell-tale sign of beetle defoliation. He stopped, and sure enough there was a thriving beetle population in the trees below the bridge. Where the beetles came from is anyone’s guess. The Bureau of Reclamation has, for years, done controlled releases of beetles on trees below Lake Pueblo, but Bean knows of no official releases of beetles upstream of Lake Pueblo. “If the conditions were just right, they could migrate upstream,” Bean said. The beetles were found in a rocky canyon, which is similar to the areas where the same type of insects have thrived in eastern Utah and Western Colorado.

More tamarisk control coverage here and here.

Pagosa Springs: Pagosa Area Water and Sanitation District scores $48,700 grant for water audits to help with conservation efforts

A picture named waterefficenttoilet.jpg

From The Pagosa Springs Sun (Chuck McGuire):

Working with Great Western Institute, a Colorado-based non-profit, the district successfully procured the “Water Efficiency Grant” to help cover costs associated with performing “SMART WATER audits” and installing water-conserving fixtures at select local businesses. Last winter, PAWSD conducted pilot SMART WATER audits at various volunteer businesses to gauge potential water savings and community-wide interest in a fixtures retrofit program. In the process, the district evaluates a business’s water use and determines water savings solutions. Typically, the most obvious and efficient actions include replacement of older water-wasting toilets, shower heads, and spray valves, while adding aerators to existing faucets, thereby reducing unnecessary flow and hot water usage. The district also performed irrigation audits to evaluate outdoor water usage by certain homeowner associations. Again, the audits identified needed fixture replacements and established annual reporting requirements, which will later detail water use before and after specified retrofits are made. Too, such “before and after” comparisons will measure program benefits from year to year…

In 2010, PAWSD intends to audit and retrofit another 15 area businesses, at an estimated annual savings of approximately 11.5 acre feet, or 3,747,287 gallons of precious water. The district invites all interested businesses to contact Water Conservation Coordinator Mat deGraaf to learn more about the program, or schedule a consultation for consideration in the next phase of SMART WATER audits beginning in March 2010. Meanwhile, for additional water conservation programs and practices directed at all water users, visit the PAWSD Web site at pawsd.org, click on the Conservation link, then click on Catch the Wave and Save. You can also contact deGraaf at 731-2691.

More conservation coverage here.

Vail Valley: ‘Girls in Science’ expands to five valley schools

A picture named studentslesherjhsamples.jpg

From the Vail Daily:

The Gore Range Natural Science School’s after-school program, Girls In Science, has expanded from one to five Vail Valley Schools. The program was launched at Avon Elementary School in 2007 and then added at Brush Creek Elementary last year. This year, the program is being offered at Avon, June Creek, Brush Creek, Edwards, and Gypsum elementary schools with spaces for 25 students per class. “Girls are truly engaged with this program,” said Markian Feduschak, executive director of the Avon-based Science School, “Educators and administrators value the program’s unique ability to advance literacy, develop lasting role models that inspire careers in science, and build confidence in the classroom.”

Lara Carlson, who teaches the program in Avon, and Natalia Hanks, director of Development at the Science School, started the program. In its first year, Girls In Science was taught by Carlson, fellow Science School colleague Erin-Rose Schneider and Vail Mountain School sophomore Holly Domke. Twenty third through fifth grade girls took the class. On the first day of the program, girls examine their perceptions of who a scientist is. Over the course of the year, lessons are drawn from the natural sciences, engineering, architecture and forensics. Girls build skyscrapers out of paper, mimic tsunami formations with slinky toys and practice the scientific method by determining how many drops of water can fit on the surface of a penny.

More education coverage here.

Leadville: Parkview Water District to raise rates

A picture named watertreatment.jpg

From the Leadville Herald Democrat:

The increase will amount to about 10 percent across the board for residential and commercial customers for all meter sizes. For most residential customers, this will translate to an extra $3 per month on their bills since most customers stay below the 3,000-gallon minimum each month. For the customers who use more than the monthly minimum of 3,000 gallons, there will also be an increase of 30 cents per thousand gallons above the minimum. Even with the increase, the average monthly water charge for Parkville residential customers will still be substantially less than the Colorado statewide average water charge of $37.20 per month, Teter said. Being too far below the state average for water rates has had a negative effect on recent grant applications for Parkville. Both state and federal grant agencies are reluctant to award grant money to districts with rates that are too low to sufficiently cover operating and capital costs.

With Parkville’s line-replacement program, water loss and waste in the system have been reduced substantially. Total water through the system is half what it was ten years ago even though with more customers. Less water loss means less pumping costs, a major cost component of Parkville’s operation. Several large capital projects are carried over from year to year for lack of funding, in the hopes that increased revenue and reduced expenses will eventually allow Parkville to add more money to additional capital improvements.

More infrastructure coverage here.

Colorado Water Conservation Board to meet January 26-27 in Denver

A picture named unaweepcanyon.jpg

From email from the Colorado Water Conservation Board:

Notice is hereby given that a meeting of the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) will be held on Tuesday, January 26, 2010, commencing at 10:15 a.m. and continuing through Wednesday, January 27, 2010. This meeting will be held at the Hilton Garden Inn, Denver Tech Center, 7675 E. Union Avenue, Denver, CO 80237, (303) 770-4200. The CWCB will hold a workshop on the Colorado River Water Availability Study (CRWAS) Tuesday, January 26, 2010, from 8:00 a.m. to 10:00 a.m. at this same location.

More CWCB coverage here.

Colorado Springs city council approves $1.11 billion budget for Colorado Springs Utilities

A picture named pikespeak.jpg

From the Colorado Springs Independent:

In approving Colorado Springs Utilities’ $1.11 billion budget, City Council this week allowed the city-owned agency to use water rate money to fund $75.8 million in projects over 10 years. The projects will satisfy regulations imposed on the Southern Delivery System pipeline that will bring water from Pueblo Reservoir. Money for those projects is included in the rate base starting in January, although roughly $64 million in work won’t begin until after 2010. The idea is to spread the cost over 10 years, rather than coming up with all the money now, says Councilman Randy Purvis, adding that amortizing payments spreads the cost to future ratepayers. Projects include dredging Fountain Creek, developing wetlands and erosion control. The largest sum, $49.7 million, comprises five annual cash payments to the Fountain Valley Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District formed this year to improve and preserve the corridor. The Utilities budget contains rate increases that will raise the typical residential bill by about $1.90 a month, which would have been larger but for reductions in gas charges due to falling fuel costs.

More Southern Delivery System coverage here.

Pueblo West: Water and sewer rates to rise

A picture named fountainpavementdrawing.jpg

From The Pueblo West View (Mike Spence):

…the 7.9 percent hike in water rates and the 3.2 percent increase in wastewater fees aren’t enough to offset the district’s costs. The fee hikes will increase the monthly water bill for the average water user by $3.51 ($1.75 for water and $1.76 for wastewater).

Steve Harrison, Pueblo West’s director of utilities, has been pushing for higher increases for several years. His proposal – 13.5 percent for both water and wastewater services – received some support from members of the Pueblo West Metropolitan District board of directors at past meetings. In an effort to close the funding gap, Harrison proposed the 13.5 percent hike in fees at the metro board’s Dec. 14 meeting. “The sewer fund is seriously underfunded,” Harrison said. “We need help.” Despite Harrison’s plea, the request was voted down.

More Pueblo West coverage here.

South Platte Roundtable recap

A picture named soplatteapril09

From the Fort Lupton Press (Rosalie Everson):

“There is virtually no new water left to develop in the South Platte River Basin,” Mike Shimmin, a member of the Interbasin Compact Committee said in a roundtable progress report [December 17] at the Larimer County Fairgrounds. There might not be any more water to develop, but there will be major population growth, perhaps double, in the basin, an area that includes the northeastern quadrant of the state. Closing the door to new residents, an option one member of the audience inquired about, would not completely solve the problem. Fifty percent of the increased water users will be the children and grandchildren of those who are already living in Colorado. They will need water for their basic needs, and they will also expect to fish, water ski, work and eat, priorities that can conflict with the water that will, or by 2050, will not, be supported by the existing water supply.

Agriculture in the South Platte River Basin is big business, with an annual value of more than $3 billion in crops sold. If water currently irrigating the 1,027,000 acres of cropland in the South Platte Basin is diverted to growing cities, then the average $3,102 of income per crop acre will evaporate, drying up not only farms but also the small town businesses and special district taxes-school, library, and fire protection, their profits support. Recreation, a huge generator to Colorado’s economy, could be affected if farms aren’t irrigated, Simmons said. “Much of sports and recreation environment along the river and streams is created by return flow from irrigation,” he added…

There’s also an impending double water whammy. Underground reservoirs used by municipalities are shrinking, so they are acquiring surface water rights to make up for the shortage. “We have data from South Metro Denver, and Northern El Paso County that they will need 110,000 acre feet,” said Eric Hecox, the section chief of the Colorado Water Conservation Board…

The gap between available water and increased municipal needs should be accomplished without the destruction of the agricultural economy, the roundtable members said. “We need to look at every way we can to solve this gap,” Evans said. The solution most endorsed was increasing water storage, with several members noting that the proposed Glade Reservoir would have been filled to 60 percent of its capacity had last summer’s above average rainfall been “captured.”

More South Platte Basin coverage here and here.

Colorado’s population passes the 5 million mark

A picture named suburbs.jpg

From the Associated Press via The Durango Herald:

U.S. Census Bureau estimates released Wednesday show the state’s population went slightly over 5 million in July. The population rose by nearly 90,000 people from last year for a 1.8 percent increase. Neighboring Wyoming was the fastest-growing state with a 2.1 percent increase. It was followed by Utah and then Texas. The West led the nation, growing as a region at 1.2 percent.

More Colorado water coverage here.

CWCB: Is there a transmountain pipeline in Colorado’s future?

A picture named coloradopipelineconcepts.jpg

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

The state is pondering proposed pipelines to move water from most areas of the state to the Front Range in an attempt to meet future water demands. Not all will be built, and none has been officially endorsed…

Strategies in the report that move water from one basin to another include:

Flaming Gorge Pipeline: Proposed by Aaron Million, it would bring water from Flaming Gorge Reservoir in Wyoming to reservoirs near Fort Collins and Colorado Springs. Yampa Pumpback: A pipeline would look at bringing water from Maybell to the Brighton area.

Green Mountain Pumpback: Water from Green Mountain Reservoir would be pumped back to Dillon Reservoir and moved to the Denver area.

Big Straw: A pipeline would take water from the Colorado River at the state line near Grand Junction and bring it to the Front Range.

At the request of Front Range roundtables, another project, the Blue Mesa Pumpback in the Gunnison River basin, also is being studied…

There are also alignments of pipelines in both the Arkansas and South Platte basins that would bring water to the Front Range, possibly storing it in Rueter-Hess Reservoir, a 72,000 acre-foot reservoir constructed near Parker that currently lacks water to fill it.

Here’s some background on solving Colorado’s water supply problems, from Chris Woodka writing for The Pueblo Chieftain. From the article:

The newest project, proposed by entrepreneur Aaron Million, would build a pipeline from Flaming Gorge Reservoir that would go around Colorado’s Rockies rather than through them. Another, the Yampa River pumpback plan, was suggested by the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District. Those still face the pressure of a skeptical audience. The concept behind each of the projects – building a large-volume project to bring more water across the Continental Divide – is under renewed study by the Colorado Water Conservation Board, but a long way from becoming reality. Taking water from the Rio Grande basin is for the moment off the table, but all of the Colorado River basins are part of the CWCB study. Other plans look at moving water from farmlands in the Arkansas and South Platte valleys to serve population growth…

For the next decade, the major cities began developing alternatives to the big projects of the past, leading to major changes in how water was developed. There was more talk of recycling, drying up more farmland and more long-range planning. There was more speculation by private developers to buy ag water rights from struggling farmers to hold until the cities were willing to pay. That happened during two very wet decades in the 1980s and ’90s.

When the drought of 2002 came, the state mobilized in new ways. The CWCB launched its Statewide Water Supply Initiative, which in 2004 identified more agricultural dry-ups as the easiest way to meet future urban demands. State voters turned down Referendum A in 2003 that would have created a $2 billion state fund to develop projects. When the top-down approach didn’t work, the state Legislature created the grass-roots Interbasin Compact Committee and basin roundtables to help tackle the gnawing question: Could another transmountain project be developed?[…]

The state studies of water projects looked at the relative feasibility of each and found that it could be expensive to develop more than one. Each project could bring about 250,000 acre-feet and would cost between $7.5 billion and $10 billion to build. “Projects have a better chance of success if they evaluate and mitigate impacts and produce benefits in both the basin of use and the basin of origin,” [Jennifer Gimbel, CWCB executive director] said.

Even if agreements are reached, more water would be needed. Conservative estimates of growth and water needs call for 830,000 acre-feet of new supplies in 50 years, when the state’s population is expected to double to 10 million people. Could the carrying capacity of existing diversions be increased? “The state hasn’t looked at this comprehensively,” Gimbel said. “However, most of the transmountain projects are being used to full capacity, depending on the demand pattern on the East Slope. In other words most projects use as much transmountain water as is physically and legally available.” The IBCC’s model for balancing water portfolios between strategies – conservation, more diversions, ag dry-ups – is a useful tool, but has not produced the answer so far. Groups looking at the problem focused on general proportions, not a specific project at the most recent meeting.

More CWCB coverage here.

British Antarctic Survey: New pictures reveal rich Antarctic marine life in area of rapid climate change

A picture named featherstar.jpg

Click through and check out the cool photos of some of the marine life along the Antarctic continental shelf.

More climate change coverage here.

Aspinall Unit update

A picture named bluemesa.jpg

From email from Reclamation (Dan Crabtree):

Flows in the Black Canyon and Gunnison Gorge decreased last week. This was due to water being diverted through the Gunnison Tunnel periodically at the rate of 100 cfs to fill Fairview Reservoir. Also, the 900 cfs flow through the Crystal Powerplant is not in an ideal operating range for that particular unit. This, combined with less than projected inflows, required that releases be reduced to 800 cfs.

Reminder – The next Aspinall Operations Meeting will be held on January 21st at the Montrose Holiday Inn Express, 1391 S. Townsend, starting at 1:00 p.m.

More Aspinall Unit coverage here.

Energy policy — coal: Colorado scores $7.3 million for coal mine cleanup

A picture named coal.jpg

From the Associated Press via KRDO.com:

The grant announced Tuesday is part of a total $369 million going to 28 eligible coal-producing states. The reclamation program is financed through fees on coal production and the grants are based on each state’s past and current production.

More coal coverage here.

Orchard City: Town board approves new pipes

A picture named orchardmesa1911

From the Delta County Independent (Hank Lohmeyer):

The West Main water line work is estimated at $4.4 million. If a $2 million low-interest government loan becomes available as hoped, work will commence with a $750,000 expenditure from the town water fund. The budget document foresees spending $1 million of the hoped-for loan next year on the project in 2010 with the rest carried over to 2011.

Repayment of the 30-year, one-percent-interest loan is estimated at $78,000 per year. That money will come from the $5-per-month capital construction fee now included on all Orchard City water bills. That fee raises an estimated $130,000 per year. It is hoped that other money to pay for the West Main project will come from future tap sales.

More infrastructure coverage here.

Sterling city council approves two water resolutions

A picture named bluegreenalgaebloom.jpg

From the Sterling Journal Advocate (Forrest Hershberger):

The council also approved two resolutions regarding the water quality improvement project. The first is a resolution defining the intent of the city to “execute and deliver” a loan agreement with the Colorado Water Resources and Power Authority regarding the $29 million loan voters approved in November. [ed. This debt will pay for the construction of a new water treatment plant.] “This basically authorizes the city to notify the lending institution that the money spent, already nearing $600,000, will be included in the loan,” city manager Joe Kiolbasa said…

A 7-0 vote did, however, approve an agreement with the Department of Natural Resources Division of Wildlife that would provide funds to treat the Overland Trail fishing pond. The pond has experienced excessive algae growth in recent years. The resolution approved the city’s part in a subgrant costing $12,800 total for aeration of the pond. The city’s share of the cost is $3,200.

More Sterling coverage here and here.

IBCC: Conservation, ag dry ups, pipelines?

A picture named watersprinkler.jpg

The Interbasin Compact Committee has been charged with determining how to satisfy Colorado’s future water supply needs. So far there is little agreement about the mechanics for solving the problem. There is a agreement that there is a problem. Here’s a report from Chris Woodka writing for The Pueblo Chieftain. Click through and read the whole thing. Here are a few excerpts:

Here’s the choice: Colorado can dry up 400,000 acres of farmland, build a couple more pipelines through the Rockies or put 5 million new residents of the state – plus most already living here – on permanent watering restrictions or shower schedules. Can’t make up your mind? You’re not alone.

It’s the big question Colorado’s Interbasin Compact Committee has been struggling with for the past year, leading to development of a model that projects the impacts from mixing the strategies. The foregone conclusion is that Colorado’s population will double by the year 2050. Every time someone stands up in a water meeting and suggests the state bar the borders for new growth, the rest of the group shouts down the idea, saying you can’t stop people from moving in, raising families and adding to the general prosperity that benefits those already living here.

More IBCC — basin roundtables coverage here.

Colorado Springs: Stormwater utility spent $1.6 million on equipment

A picture named arkansasfountainconverge.jpg

From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Daniel Chacón):

The soon-to-be-annihilated Colorado Springs Stormwater Enterprise has spent more than $1.6 million on trucks, trailers, mowers and other pieces of equipment since it was created in 2005, according to documents obtained under an open-records request…

With the looming demise of the enterprise, there have been questions about the fate of the enterprise-owned equipment. “These vehicles will be used in 2010 during the phase out of the program,” Scott said recently. “We will be doing a reduced maintenance program so we will be using the equipment required to perform the maintenance, we will also be working on the in-progress and pending (capital improvement) projects, etc. We have not yet identified what will happen with the vehicles in late 2010.”

More stormwater coverage here.

Wild and Scenic designation for parts of the San Miguel, Dolores and Gunnison rivers?

A picture named doloresrivercanyon.jpg

From the Telluride Daily Planet (Katie Klingsporn):

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) just released a draft Wild and Scenic Eligibility Report — one of the first steps in achieving the designation — that identifies segments of the San Miguel and its tributaries, the Dolores and the Gunnison rivers for Wild and Scenic status. “The idea is to safeguard the value of the rivers,” said Erin Curtis, public information officer for the BLM. The BLM’s Uncompahgre Field Office is currently seeking public comment on the draft report, which can be found at http://www.blm.gov/co/st/en/fo/ufo/uncompahgre_rmp.html.

The document is basically a 155-page inventory that describes some 35 segments that may be eligible in terms of value of geography, ownership, wildlife, recreation and more. It identifies roughly 55 miles of the main stem of the San Miguel River — stretches that runs roughly from Deep Creek to the confluence with the Dolores River. It also identifies pieces of several of the San Miguel’s tributaries: Beaver Creek, Fall Creek, Dry Creek, Naturita Creek, Saltado Creek and Tabeguache Creek. In addition, it identifies approximately 20 miles of the Dolores River, including segments where “the scenic value created by the river flowing within the canyon is rare in the region of comparison.” These rivers were plucked from some 174 segments that the BLM inventoried — and were chosen for their beauty or history, their geology, paleontology or hydrology.

But in the end, in order to achieve this designation, a river or stream segment much be determined as both “eligible” and “suitable” — qualifications that each come with their own review process. Right now, these segments are in the eligible stage, during which land managers work to determine if the river or stream segments possess one or more “outstanding remarkable value.” These could range anywhere from having fantastic wildlife activity to great recreation, holding significant historic value to just being really darn scenic…

The BLM will be accepting comments on the Draft Eligibility Study until Feb. 26. Comments can be emailed to uformp@blm.gov or mailed to the Uncompahgre Field Office, Attn: RMP Revision, 2645 S. Townsend Ave., Montrose, CO 81401.

More Wild and Scenic coverage here and here.

Pitkin County: Draft CWCB consumption report flawed with respect to county numbers

A picture named waterfromtap.jpg

From the Aspen Daily News (Catherine Lutz):

The Denver Post published an article on Monday citing a state study showing Front Range water consumption to be down while “some parts of the Western Slope have seen per capita water use explode in the last decade.” Referencing the study, the Post wrote: “Residents of Pitkin County, home of Aspen, used 1,851 gallons per person each day, the data show, as Elbert County folks used 111 gallons each.”[…]

CWCB’s report, however, is a draft, and staffers are working on a number of inconsistencies they’ve been alerted to since it came out in June, said CWCB’s Eric Hecox, section chief of the water supply planning division. Water providers gave the CWCB data on their systemwide water deliveries, which was divided by the permanent population of the service area to get at the per capita water use figure, said Hecox. The Pitkin County data was flagged for follow up, he said, because it was assumed there had to be some inconsistencies on how either the total water delivery or total population was calculated. For example, the population of Aspen’s water service area had somehow decreased by 10,000-15,000 people, Hecox said. And there are many communities in Colorado, like Aspen, that have high second-home owner and tourist populations that have to be factored in…

[Aspen utilities director Phil Overeynder] sent an e-mail to a CWCB staffer in November indicating that those served by Aspen city water use about 171 gallons per person per day — just under the national average and well below the Colorado average. In his e-mail, Overeynder explains that he’s using a local population of 12,000 people, taking into account second-home owners and tourists for a given period of time. Counting only the permanent population of the water service area — 7,550 people — Aspenites use 273 gallons per day. That does not include snowmaking, which is also served by the city utility…

The final CWCB report, whose full title is “State of Colorado 2050 Municipal and Industrial Water Use Projections,” should be finalized and released publicly by June, said Hecox.

More conservation coverage here.

Northern Integrated Supply Project: Supplemental Draft Environmental Impact Statement now planned for summer 2011

A picture named nisp2

From the Fort Collins Coloradoan (Kevin Duggan):

The supplemental draft Environmental Impact Statement, or EIS, for the project, which would draw water from the Poudre River, is now projected to be ready for public review in summer 2011. The final EIS is expected to be completed a year later, said Chandler Peter of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers…

A draft EIS on the project was released in April 2008. The document elicited hundreds of comments from members of the public and government agencies, including the city of Fort Collins. Because of the complexity and number of comments, the Corps announced in February it and a third-party contractor would craft a supplemental draft EIS with an eye toward releasing it next year. But more time is needed to collect data and work on computer modeling of the river’s flows and how it would be affected by various projects, Peter said.

The delay is tied in part to the Corps’ effort to use a “common technical platform” when evaluating several water projects proposed for the Poudre, including the expansion of Halligan and Seaman reservoirs, said Brian Werner, spokesman for Northern Water…

So far the process of crafting an EIS for the project has taken almost six year and cost more than $5 million.

More Northern Integrated Supply Project coverage here and here.

Energy policy — hydroelectric: Projects in Silverton and Ouray score dough for micro hydroelectric

A picture named microhydroelectricplant.jpg

From the Telluride Daily Planet (Katie Klingsporn):

Telluride Energy was awarded a $20,000 grant from the USDA Rural Development Renewable Energy for America Program this fall to install an 8-kilowatt micro-hydro turbine at the Mayflower Mill in Silverton. The company will be working with the San Juan County Historical Society to tap into water that flows through an existing pipeline in the Arrastra Gulch a couple miles east of the town. Once completed, the project will reduce carbon dioxide emissions by roughly 80,000 pounds annually, Johnson said.

In Ouray, meanwhile, the city was last week awarded a $30,000 grant from the Colorado Governor’s Energy Office to install a 20-kilowatt micro-hydro unit at the city-owned hot springs pool. Telluride Energy will be managing the project, which will again entail using an existing pipeline. The electrical output produced will offset the electric use at the pool, and over the 30-year life of the project it will save the city an estimated $370,000 while cutting approximately 224,000 pounds of annual carbon dioxide emissions.

More hydroelectric coverage here.

Fryingpan-Arkansas Project: Planning for the future

A picture named fryingpanarkansasproject.jpg

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

In 2008, a banner year for imported water, actual results were 10 percent below estimates as conditions changed from a massive snowpack early in the season to a warm May. A row of dry years ahead of the runoff may have caused much of it to replenish depleted supplies held in the ground and ponds throughout the region. This year, closer to average in the amount of snowpack, but cooler and wetter than usual, saw three distinct runoffs that left many scratching their heads about where all the water was coming from. As a result, there was more water than expected.

[ Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District Executive Director Jim Broderick] also is looking at ways to maximize the yield of the Fry-Ark Project in the future. The historic yield of the project has been about 80 percent of what it was designed for, of what even the West Slope agreed could be moved way back when.

There are physical limits as to how much water can be carried through the Boustead Tunnel, but that could be expanded if there were some way to store water on the other side. Right now, it all depends on when and how fast the snowpack melts.

The district also could look at purchasing more water, leasing water or other ways to increase supply for its members in years to come. It also has to analyze the risks to its structures and work with the federal government to make sure dams and diversion structures continue to function well, Broderick said.

More Fryingpan-Arkansas Project coverage here and here.

Energy policy — nuclear: EPA hears from locals regarding Powertech’s Centennial Project

A picture named uraniuminsituleaching.jpg

From the Fort Collins Coloradoan (Bobby Magill):

[Fort Collins resident Diane Marschke] and about 15 others confronted U.S. Environ-mental Protection Agency officials at the Nunn Community Center with their opinions about a proposed water pump test that will tell Powertech if its in situ leaching method of uranium mining is viable in the area. To conduct the test, the company needs a “Class V” permit from the EPA, which will allow Powertech to pump water out of the uranium-containing Fox Hills aquifer, store it, then reinject the water back into the aquifer. The permit will not allow the company to mine for uranium. Powertech will be responsible for doing its own tests on the integrity of the well hole and casing, which are meant to ensure the water will not contaminate aquifers above the area where the water is being reinjected, said Valois Shea of the EPA Underground Injection Control Program…

The pump test permitting process has been going on for nearly a year, and a public comment period ends Thursday. The EPA’s final decision on the permit is expected sometime in early 2010.

Most who spoke Monday night spoke passionately against the pump test and proposed mine, most of them fearing the pump test will stir up contaminants and harm drinking water quality. “Powertech is testing their own wells,” Fort Collins resident Scott Horak said. “They’re monitoring their own situation. It’s like the fox guarding the hen house. It isn’t gonna work.”[…]

One of the few who spoke in favor of the pump test was Erik Nelson, a mining engineer who lives near the Powertech site. He said any contaminants from the test won’t go farther than the well head, and neither the test nor the mine pose any hazard to the groundwater.

More coverage from Jakob Rodgers writing for The Greeley Tribune. From the article:

Should the EPA grant the permit, Mylott said Powertech hopes to draw water up through a pipe and store it in containers. After testing it to determine the quality of the water and how the aquifer recharges, the water would then be placed back into the aquifer unprocessed. The company has yet to file for a class III permit to actually mine uranium at the site, Mylott said. Once it does, Mylott said there would be another public comment period before a final decision is made…

Meg Corwin, the regional director for U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., also spoke at the meeting. She read a letter sent by Bennet and U.S. Rep. Betsy Markey, D-Colo., to the agency noting their constituents’ concerns and urging the agency to make the rule-making process public. The meeting was the second public comment meeting concerning the class V permit — the first meeting was held in July. The comment period is open through Thursday, Mylott said. Comments gathered until then will factor into the agency’s decision on whether to grant the permit, he said.

More nuclear coverage hereand here.

Greeley: New pipeline through LaPorte may utilize tunneling rather than trenching

A picture named pipeline.jpg

From The Greeley Tribune (Bill Jackson):

Jon Monson, director of the city’s water and sewer department, said the city hopes to bore a tunnel underground for part of its new water pipeline from the Bellvue Water Treatment plant near Laporte, rather than dig an open trench. There are several reasons, Monson said, the least of which is that a tunnel will be less invasive to old railroad bridges, wildlife habitat and other environmental concerns dealing with restoration…

The area in question is about a quarter-mile in length. About 700 feet would be tunneled in three different locations, Monson said. “The problem is two ridges of rock, and we’ve decided it would be better to tunnel under that rock instead of trenching through it,” Monson said.

The decision doesn’t necessarily end a dispute with landowners in the area who are opposed to the pipeline going under their property. “We certainly hope this goes a long way toward ending the dispute with landowners, but they haven’t been terribly responsive” to the tunneling idea, Monson said. “We’re really trying to listen to their concerns. But they just don’t seem to want us there at all.”

Monson said the cost of tunneling is expected to be about the same as trenching because the price to restore the land and address historic and environmental concerns was substantial.

More coverage here and here.

Trinidad Lake North Watershed project scores $60,000 in stimulus dough

A picture named trinidadlake.jpg

From the La Junta Tribune-Democrat:

The first contract in the Trinidad Lake North Watershed (TLNW) Project using American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) of 2009 dollars was recently signed by John Knapp, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) Area Conservationist, La Junta. The project area is in Las Animas County…A total of five Colorado watershed projects were approved for funding, including the TLNW Project in the Trinidad area, which will receive approximately $60,000.

The project area encompasses approximately 111,100 acres. Conservation practices installed will result in the reduction of sediment transported to Trinidad Lake, thus improving water quality. There will also be improved grazing values and significant habitat improvement for the Trinidad Lake fishery.
“We are very pleased that the Trinidad Lake North Watershed Project was one of the five watersheds in Colorado to receive funding,” stated Knapp…

NRCS partners in the TLNW Project include the Spanish Peaks Purgatoire River Conservation District, Purgatoire River Conservancy District, Las Animas County, City of Trinidad, and Colorado State Conservation Board. For additional information about the TLNW Project, contact Levi Montoya, district conservationist, Trinidad NRCS office, at (719)846-3681 ext. 3.

More Arkansas River Basin coverage here.

Raw water systems winter operations

A picture named twinlakesdiversionsystem.jpg

Here’s a look at winter operations for Pueblo’s raw water system, from Chris Woodka writing for The Pueblo Chieftain. Click through and read the whole thing. Here are a couple of excerpts:

“When we plow the roads out, those banks of snow start to melt and freeze again until they turn hard as rocks. The trucks can get pretty banged up, so those guys have to be careful,” said Bud O’Hara, water resources division manager for the Pueblo Board of Water Works. Avalanches, broken bulldozer blades and survival in a dozen feet of snow are all part of the job for those who maintain and clear the systems that bring the water over. “Every one is different,” O’Hara said.

The Twin Lakes system, where a caretaker lives year-round, is in a bowl of mountains where avalanches are common. Those who live with them say you can hear them coming. In the winter, the caretakers at Grizzly Lake, located in the high country of the Roaring Fork valley near Independence Pass, have to drive to Leadville through the Twin Lakes Tunnel for supplies because the drifts are too high to make the trip to Aspen. Their lifestyle is isolated in the remote valley.

More Pueblo Board of Water Works coverage here and here.

Northern Integrated Supply Project: Supplemental Draft Environmental Impact Statement planned for summer 2011

A picture named nisp2

From email from Save the Poudre (Gary Wockner):

On Friday, December 18, Chandler Peter from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers confirmed that the permitting process for the Northern Integrated Supply Project and its destructive Glade Reservoir has once again been delayed. In December of 2008, the Army Corps stated that the “Supplemental Draft Environmental Impact Statement” (SDEIS) for NISP/Glade would be released in June of 2010. But on Friday, the Army Corps stated in an email to the Save The Poudre Coalition that the release would be delayed at least another year until the summer of 2011. The Army Corps now also hopes that a “Final Environmental Impact Statement” (FEIS) might then be released in 2012.

“This is a holiday present for the Poudre River,” said Gary Wockner of the Save The Poudre Coalition. “The Poudre now has at least one more year of life, and the Save The Poudre Coalition has another year to grow stronger to save this beautiful river.”

This latest delay is just another in a long and extensive list of delays for this highly controversial and extremely expensive project. With each new version of the Environmental Impact Statement comes more public comment with more scientific, economic, and legal scrutiny. The project is now at least 6 years behind schedule and millions of dollars over budget with no end in sight.

More Northern Integrated Supply Project coverage here and here.

Denver Water: Cheesman Reservoir to be closed Jan 1, 2010 and reopen May 1, 2011

A picture named firstwaterovercheesman.jpg

Here’s the release from Denver Water (Stacy Chesney):

Cheesman Reservoir will be closed to visitors beginning Jan. 1, 2010, as Denver Water makes essential upgrades to the dam, which was built in 1905. The reservoir is scheduled to reopen May 1, 2011. Upper and lower Gill Trail will remain open to hikers who want to access Cheesman Canyon throughout the closure period.

During the closure, Denver Water will be upgrading the dam’s valve system, which was installed when the dam was built in 1905, and will be installing underwater trash racks to prevent debris from clogging the valves.

“Cheesman is more than 100 years old, and the underwater valves we are replacing were installed in 1905 and the late 1920s,” said Brian Good, director of operations and maintenance. “Upgrading our aging infrastructure is vital to maintaining dam safety, providing a viable water supply and ensuring smooth operations.”

Most of the construction at the site will take place underwater through specialized underwater diving construction techniques.

For more information about Cheesman Reservoir, visit http://www.denverwater.org/Recreation/Cheesman.

More Denver Water coverage here.

Transmountain diversions: Moving water from the rainy side of Colorado

A picture named coloradotransmountaindiversions.jpg

Here’s a look at some of the history behind transmountain diversions, from Chris Woodka writing for The Pueblo Chieftain. Be sure to click though and read the whole thing. Here are some excerpts from the article:

“I expect that these waters in the mountains, instead of being a menace to the people upon the plains, will be their source of strength and their source of wealth,” William Jennings Bryan told an international water conference in Pueblo in 1910. The problem then, as it is now, is that the water just wasn’t there.

A semi-arid region where the average annual rainfall is less than 20 inches was not readily recognized as an agricultural mecca. In most years as it does now, water came in a rush when snow melted in spring, during summer monsoons and in many years would stop late in the growing season, when many crops were ready for harvest. In the worst years, no water came at all. “Nature gave Colorado two valuable resources: an abundance of water and vast tracts of fertile and arable land,” said the late Harold Christy, a CF&I water engineer who helped form the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District. “She gave us these great assets but did not logically locate them practical use. She left the job of consolidation to the hand of man.” The solution was to move water from one side of the mountains to the other and store it for when it was needed. The state Legislature began looking at ways to do that as early as 1889. The 50-year span from 1920-70 would mark an era of projects designed to fulfill that vision in Eastern Colorado.

At first, moving water across mountains mostly involved digging ditches across mountain passes. The earliest effort still running is the Grand Ditch, completed in the 1890s, in what is now Rocky Mountain National Park. Many other ditches were dug by farmers looking for a way to make water available throughout the growing season. As the cities have grown, they have acquired many of those systems after irrigators found them expensive to maintain. Pueblo, for instance, acquired the Ewing, Wurtz and Columbine ditches in Lake County in the early 1950s to cope with water shortages at the time.

Engineers also were already toying with tunnels in the early 1900s. An early large tunnel project devoted solely to water was the Gunnison-Uncompahgre Tunnel completed in 1909, which was built by the Bureau of Reclamation to move water from one sub-basin of the Colorado River to another, and later transferred to a local district. Similarly, the Laramie-Poudre Tunnel, completed in 1911, brought water from the North Platte into the South Platte basin in Northern Colorado. Rail tunnels, like the Carlton Tunnel near Leadville that later became the diversion tunnel for the Busk-Ivanhoe system, or Denver’s Moffat Tunnel, were later used as ways to move water.

More transmountain/transbasin coverage here.

How does Colorado water consumption measure up?

A picture named waterfromtap

From The Denver Post (Bruce Finley):

The number of gallons per person used daily in Denver and other South Platte River basin cities decreased 13.6 percent between 2000 and 2008, to 178 gallons from 206 gallons. Water use in Colorado Springs and Arkansas River basin communities decreased during that time by 11.2 percent to 190 gallons, down from 214…

Water use rose to 256 gallons per person in the Colorado River basin, 332 in the Rio Grande, and 236 in the Dolores/San Juan, according to Colorado Water Conservation Board data…

The new Colorado Water Conservation Board data indicate wide variations in consumption statewide. Residents of Pitkin County, home of Aspen, used 1,851 gallons per person each day, the data show, as Elbert County folks used 111 gallons each. Water analysts attributed the decreasing water use in Front Range cities to conservation programs that create financial incentives. Denver Water, for example, pays customers up to $150 to replace a toilet, shower or washing machine with a newer, more efficient model.

More conservation coverage here.

Energy policy — nuclear: Geovic Mining Corp. and Black Range Minerals biding their time waiting for uranium prices to rise and watching Powertech go through the regulatory hurdles

A picture named uraniuminsitu.jpg

From the Fort Collins Coloradoan (Bobby Magill):

The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission in July issued a report describing the environmental impacts of several in situ leach uranium mines in Wyoming and New Mexico. The report doesn’t cover Colorado because the federal agency doesn’t have jurisdiction over uranium here. In Colorado, Utah and a few other states, the state government has authority over uranium. The report found most of the in situ mines’ operations would take at most a small toll on the groundwater, depending on specific geologic conditions unique to each site. The report did find, however, the mines’ impact on deep aquifers could be large depending on site-specific conditions. A 2008 Colorado law, HB 1161, requires companies doing in situ leach mining to clean the mine’s contaminants out of the groundwater once mining is complete and leave the water in the same condition in which it was found. Solution mining has been used in Texas and Wyoming for decades, but many of the mines have been cited by state environment departments for a slate of violations. One of those came as recently as Dec. 8, when the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality cited Cameco Resources for failure to clean a chemical leak, or “excursion,” at its Highland Uranium Project near Glenrock…

“The regulations are more strict now,” said [Bill] Chenoweth, former geologist for the now-defunct U.S. Atomic Energy Commission in Grand Junction, adding that mines are able to completely cleanse the groundwater of any contaminants, just as HB 1161 requires. “If they spend enough money in flushing and recycling the water, they can do it,” he said. “It’s all a matter of economics.”[…]

Black Range Minerals and Geovic Mining have their sights set on mostly private land near Keota and Grover in an area that was the site of uranium exploration in the 1980s in Weld County near the Pawnee Buttes. Geovic Mining, a Denver-based company whose primary business is a cobalt mine in Cameroon, is holding its breath waiting for Powertech to move its Centennial Project through the regulatory hurdles imposed by a 2008 state law. The law, HB 1161, requires companies operating an in situ leach uranium mine to ensure no contamination is left in nearby groundwater once the mine shuts down. Geovic also is waiting for the price of uranium – currently about $45 – to increase enough to justify a new mine…

Like Geovic, Australia-based Black Range, which owns property northwest of Keota, is waiting for the right moment to make its next move. “The project’s sitting idle at the moment,” said Ben Vallerine, exploration manager for Black Range. “We haven’t secured the land we need. We’ve got some leases from the federal government, and we have to do a plan of operations to complete that leasing process.” He said Black Range has secured about 35 percent of the land it needs for a uranium mine. Black Range’s land sits near federal land in the Pawnee National Grassland, but U.S. Forest Service spokesman John Bustos said the agency is not analyzing any uranium leasing proposal for the grassland and no leases have been granted. The Forest Service denied leases for in situ leach uranium mining operations on the Pawnee National Grassland near Keota in the 1970s and 1980s “because of concern for rehabilitation of aquifers in the formation containing the uranium,” according to a 1997 Forest Service environmental impact document for the plan that currently governs how the grassland is managed.

Here’s a look at the current state of uranium mining in Colorado along with some history, from Bobby Magill writing for the Fort Collins Coloradoan. From the article:

With the third-largest uranium reserves in the country behind Wyoming and New Mexico, interest in uranium exploration in Colorado in recent years before uranium prices fell has been staggering. “In 2005 and 2006, 10,000 mining claims were filed on federal land in Colorado,” said Vince Matthews, Colorado State University geologist and director of the Colorado Geological Survey. “Then, in 2007 alone, another 10,000 were filed.”

Uranium was first discovered in Colorado in 1871 near Central City in Gilpin County, but the mother lode of hot ore was to be found more than a decade later in western Montrose County. The Uravan mining district, centered on a wedge of canyon country between the Uncompahgre Plateau and the Utah state line, encompasses hundreds of uranium mining claims…

A cycle of boom and bust around Uravan – formed from the names of the elements uranium and vanadium – followed, first with the radium boom of a century ago, then a vanadium boom of the 1930s and ’40s, a uranium boom in the 1940s and another uranium rush during the Cold War…

Congress approved a program in 1972 to cleanup the mill tailings beneath homes across the [Grand Junction], and it soon realized health hazards from radioactive tailings weren’t limited to Mesa County. Another federal program during the next two decades cleaned up uranium mill tailings in Durango, Fruita, Palisade, Gunnison, Naturita and Rifle…

The biggest uranium deposit in the state was found in Jefferson County in the 1940s, where 17 million pounds of the ore ware extracted until the mine there closed in 2000. The Cochetopa mining district near Gunnison produced 1.2 million pounds of uranium, while less than 500,000 pounds were produced from a few mines in Fremont County. A uranium mill still operates in nearby Canon City.

Just west of the Pawnee Buttes in Weld County, Wyoming Minerals Corp. built a uranium project near Grover – 35 miles east of the Centennial Project – in the early 1980s to test technology called solution mining, or in situ leach uranium mining…

There are now more than 90 active uranium prospects and 35 active uranium projects statewide, according to state statistics. Powertech remains in the permitting process for the Centennial Project, and the state will kick off a formal rulemaking to ensure in situ leach mines, such as the one proposed by Powertech, conform to a new state water quality reclamation law in early 2010…

Energy Fuels Resources Corp. recently scored the support of Gov. Bill Ritter in its proposal to open a new uranium mill – the first of its kind in decades in the United States – in Western Colorado’s Paradox Valley, west of Naturita. The mill, opposed by environmental groups, still must receive approval from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

More nuclear coverage here and here.

Vibhu Nayar: ‘Water is the climate challenge’

A picture named spainsunflower.jpg

From The Hindu (Vibhu Nayar):

Only 0.5 per cent of the water on the planet is available for human use. This is now under pressure. Globally, per capita availability decreased from 16,900 cubic metres in 1950 to 6,800 cubic metres in 2000, and is expected to fall to 5,400 cubic metres by 2025. Water is also unevenly distributed, with the developed world being better endowed. Scarcity is both physical and economic and affects Africa and Asia the most. India is spatially and temporally challenged as 50 per cent of rainfall is received in 15 days and 90 per cent of flows occur in just four months.

More climate change coverage here.

Moffat Collection System Project: Can the west and east slope find common ground?

A picture named pipeline.jpg

Drew Peternell, Director of Colorado Trout Unlimited’s Colorado Water Project has penned a call to negotiation and common sense in today’s Denver Post. Click through and read the whole thing. Here are a couple of excerpts:

Trout Unlimited, a sportsmen’s group committed to preserving Colorado’s rivers and fisheries, can accept a Moffat project if Denver agrees to responsible measures to protect western Colorado. That means, at a minimum, guaranteeing healthy year-round stream flows in the Fraser, Williams Fork and upper Colorado Rivers. That also means improving Denver’s track record on water conservation. Denver has implemented some meaningful conservation measures, but there is much more it can do — such as offering incentives for households to replace water-thirsty turf with drought-tolerant landscaping…

What’s at issue in the Moffat plan is our willingness on the Front Range to accept a modest tradeoff to preserve Colorado’s magnificent outdoor resources. With smart resource management, we have enough water to sustain both our home places and our wild places — we don’t need to choose between the two. If it respects diverse needs, Denver Water can find pragmatic water supply solutions that work for everyone, on both sides of the Divide.

More Moffat Collection System Project coverage here.

Meanwhile here’s a look at transmountain diversions from Chris Woodka writing for The Pueblo Chieftain. From the article:

The diversions vary in size from the very small, like the Larkspur Ditch that brings Upper Gunnison River water to the Arkansas River basin, to the very large – the Colorado-Big Thompson Project. Many were developed as primarily agricultural diversions that are turning into municipal projects. The C-BT Project, fed by the Alva B. Adams Tunnel, was four-fifths agricultural when it started more than 70 years ago. Today, about two-thirds of the project’s yield provides water for northern Colorado’s growing cities.

Here’s a look at the current state of planning for growth and consumption, from Chris Woodka writing for The Pueblo Chieftain. From the article:

The ditches and tunnels that already cross the mountains have a long history of dispute. Water planners are starting to worry about what could happen if those systems fail. Those who live in the areas where the water is taken from on the West Slope want to make sure the water is used wisely on the Front Range. And the Front Range is looking to slake its thirst with even more pipelines from the West.

More transmountain/transbasin diversions coverage here.

Drought readiness is one of the reasons that Denver Water wants to move more water to their northern system, hence the enlargement of Gross Reservoir by raising the dam 125 feet or so. Colorado River Basin firm yield is expected to keep dropping as it has in recents years as a result of climate change. Here’s a look at statewide planning for climate change from Chris Woodka writing for The Pueblo Chieftain. From the article:

You may not think climate change is real. As for water planners, they believe.

Climate change already had become a staple of water discussions by October 2008, when Gov. Bill Ritter convened a special meeting on the topic. “At no time has our water been threatened so much by drought, climate change and population growth,” Ritter said at the time. “As we assess the impact of climate change, water absolutely has to be a part of the discussion.”

More climate change coverage here.

Greeley: New pipeline through LaPorte may utilize tunneling rather than trenching

A picture named pipeline.jpg

From the Fort Collins Coloradoan (Kevin Duggan):

Boring a route for the pipeline would cost “millions” more than digging a trench, but it would still be less expensive than trying to run the pipeline along other routes, said Jon Monson, director of water and sewer for Greeley. Tunneling also poses less of a threat to bridges that carry a historic railroad near the south bank of the Poudre River as well as irrigation ditches on the properties, he said. “Either way we go would be expensive,” Monson said. “We thought tunneling would give us the best shot at avoiding the bridges and minimizing the environmental impacts through this area.”

But some affected property owners said they are not impressed with Greeley’s tunneling proposal and plan to continue fighting the pipeline. “I’m not a bit interested in their plan,” said Rose Brinks. “It would still be extremely disruptive to our farm.” Brinks said running the pipeline across her land would cause irreparable harm to historic and natural resources on the property. The pipeline’s presence would impede her family’s ability to develop the property if they chose to do so, she said. The Colorado Historical Society has indicated the property would be eligible for the National Register of Historic Places, Brinks said. The designation could affect Greeley’s ability to get a permit for the project from the Army Corps of Engineers, she said…

Tunnels would be bored along an area about a quarter of a mile long, said Dan Moore, project manager for the pipeline. Surface disruption over tunneled area would look like a “Jeep road” rather than a 30-foot wide swath that would come with an open trench. “The whole idea is that we will try to use the bores where practical to reduce impact and make the restoration efforts a lot successful,” Moore said…

Digging the tunnel would cost about $3 million. But the route is still preferable to alternatives, such as running the pipeline down County Road 54G and disrupting many businesses and homes, Monson said.

More coverage here and here.

Snowpack news

A picture named bigthompson.jpg

From the Loveland Reporter Herald (Pamela Dickman):

“We got off to a bang-bang fast start with a lot of early season snow,” said State Climatologist Nolan Doesken. Only one storm brought snow with a lot of water, yet the area is at 3.67 inches of precipitation since Oct. 1, Doesken said. “That’s above-average precipitation for the beginning of the winter season,” he said.

Higher up in the mountains, the water level in the snow that has fallen is at or near average in the two basins that feed into the Colorado Big-Thompson Project, the diversion project that brings water from the other side of the Continental Divide and fills Carter Lake and Horsetooth Reservoir. The amount of water in the snow sat at 85 percent of average in the Upper Colorado Basin and 101 percent in the South Platte Basin on Friday, said Brian Werner, spokesman for the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District…

Carter Lake, Horsetooth and other reservoirs that hold Colorado Big-Thompson water are 15 percent above average, while other water storage facilities in the region are sitting at 35 percent over average. “There’s more water in the river than there has been in a decade,” Werner said.

Martha Rudolph named by Governor Ritter to run CDPHE

A picture named aspenssouthpark0909

From The Denver Post (Lynn Bartels):

Gov. Bill Ritter has promoted the state’s environmental programs director to run the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. Martha Rudolph has worked for the department since June 2007. Previously, she handled environmental issues for the Colorado attorney general and served as assistant counsel to a natural gas and energy transportation company.

Fifth Annual Colorado Ag Classic recap

A picture named irrigation.jpg

From the Ag Journal (Candace Krebs):

Reagan Waskom is director of the Colorado Water Institute, an affiliate of Colorado State University, which was created for “the express purpose of focusing the water expertise of higher education on the evolving water concerns and problems being faced by Colorado citizens.” He spoke on water in the West and the future of irrigated agriculture recently during the fifth annual Colorado Ag Classic, the joint convention of the Colorado Association of Wheat Growers, the Colorado Corn Growers Association, Colorado Sunflower Administrative Committee, Colorado Sorghum Producers, Colorado Seed Growers Association and the Colorado Seed Industry Association.

Irrigated agriculture accounts for only 15 percent of total crop acres but 40-50 percent of all crop receipts, according to USDA. Since 2003, irrigated cropping has increased primarily in the Eastern U.S. and in Nebraska. (The average cost of irrigating from wells in Nebraska in 2008 was $42.89 an acre. In Texas, at the shallow end of the vast Ogallala Aquifer, the comparable figure was $105.10. In California, battling drought and increasing competition for water from urban residents, it was $114.27.) Meanwhile, states like California, Texas and Colorado are losing irrigated acreage. As of 2007, Nebraska had the highest number of irrigated acres at 8.5 million. Colorado has 2.9 million irrigated acres, and Kansas 2.8 million. The Ogallala Aquifer accounts for 25 percent of irrigated cropland. As of 2007, 8 percent of the aquifer was depleted. Texas and Kansas are seeing the biggest declines.

Use of water for irrigation peaked in 1980. The per-acre application rate has gradually declined since then, a story that has not always been successfully conveyed to the public, Waskom says. In addition, the value irrigated agriculture contributes to Colorado’s economy is a hefty $16 billion annually. Livestock production accounts for less than 1 percent of direct water use, but indirectly relies on the water-intensive production of feed. “A question that needs to be analyzed is what happens to livestock feeding in this state,” Waskom says. “I think we are working ourselves into a situation of off-shoring our livestock production just like our fruits and vegetables.”

In the South Platte basin, an estimated 10,000 to 30,000 acres have been lost as direct result of curtailment of water use, but that figure could be as high as 70,000, Waskom says. The Arkansas River basin is also experiencing significant declines. Waskom says the Arkansas Valley has already lost 20-25 percent of irrigated acreage. The population there is expected to increase 500,000 by 2030. There’s also pressure on the San Luis Valley to dry up about 65,000 acres over the long term. In sum, Colorado will likely lose 400,000-600,000 irrigated acres in the next 20 years, Waskom estimates.

More Colorado water coverage here.

Energy policy — geothermal: BLM to offer 799 acre site near Mt. Princeton Hot Springs for lease February 11

A picture named geothermalenergy.jpg

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Tracy Harmon):

A 799-acre parcel with subsurface federal mineral rights will be offered for geothermal development in Chaffee County, near the Mt. Princeton Hot Springs Resort west of Buena Vista…

According to a Web site, chaffeecountygeothermal.com, a group of Nathrop residents oppose the geothermal lease, citing concerns about possible impacts on the scenery in the Mt. Princeton area…

Leases contain language that would require buyers to take measures to protect riparian areas, antelope breeding and peregrine falcon nesting sites, among other considerations for the environment. Protests of parcels being offered for lease can be submitted in writing by 4 p.m. Jan. 27 via fax at 303-239-3799 or via mail to BLM Colorado State Office, 2850 Youngfield St., Lakewood, CO 80215. Lease sale information can be obtained online at http://www.blm.gov/co/st/en/BLM_Programs/oilandgas/leasing.html or at any of the BLM field offices.

More geothermal coverage here and here.