Lamar: City Council awards $5 million water system improvement contract

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From The Lamar Ledger:

The special session was held because of unusual time constraints resulting from the financing of the project. The city was recently informed that it would receive funding through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) for the project. To qualify for the funding, the project needed to be awarded and a contract in place by the end of 2009. By awarding the contract on Tuesday, the council has the ability to approve the contract for construction of phase two of the project within the appropriate time frame mandated by ARRA regulations.

The portion of the project awarded Tuesday includes the installation of a 24 inch transmission line, connections to the existing water system, and construction of bypass piping around the valve house and existing treatment building. Tezak’s bid was the lowest received by the city, at $1,213,487.49, when bids were opened on Dec. 3. The new 24 inch transmission line is intended to serve as the city’s primary line from the water storage facility and provide redundancy to the system. Currently the system is served by a single 24 inch transmission line that is several decades old. The new line will allow for repairs to be made to the system without halting service to the whole city. The construction of bypass piping around the valve house and existing treatment building is included in the project because the two facilities are slated to be replaced during a separate phase of the system improvement project. Currently there is no bypass piping in place.

More infrastructure coverage here .

Dolores River restoration project underway in Dolores

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From the Cortez Journal (TJ Holmes):

Bill Coughlin, owner of Western Stream Works based in Ridgway, and Danny Bankston contracted with the U.S. Forest Service out of the Dolores Public Lands Office to complete a stream restoration project, part of a comprehensive plan that started with a Colorado Department of Transportation and forest service project to plant willows and improve parking at the Dolores River-Lost Canyon Creek confluence in 2006. “This is not an erosion problem, but what could we do to enhance the asset,” Coughlin said last week in the river bed. “It’s a continuing effort of the forest service to improve the area for recreation.” The Army Corps of Engineers, Colorado Division of Wildlife, Montezuma County and the town of Dolores also are partners in the project.

The project’s goals are to encourage the river to flow along the north side of the channel for rafting and to create additional wetland habitat, Coughlin said. “Our goal is to make (the river) look like we were never there, so it’s not overly contrived,” he said. The lines of boulders – called “vein arms” – being placed by Bankston might look natural, but they serve a specific purpose. They will keep the water rolling away from the bank, especially the southern bank, and following the path of least resistance along the northern bank. Smaller rocks and “fines” – very small rocks and sandy soil from the bed – will be deposited on the boulders in a process known as “chinking, just like a log cabin,” Coughlin said. The river will deposit its own fines over time, especially during high runoff. For the trout, holes will be dug behind the boulders. “We’re working with the river, not against it,” Coughlin said. “This is fine tuning, replicating what nature does. My goal is to make it look like we were never here. That’s the real magic.” By next spring’s runoff, the work will look even more natural, he said. Both the fishery and recreational opportunities will improve. The division of wildlife supports the project from that standpoint, Coughlin said, and much of the work that makes good fish habitat – eddies and rapids and holes – is fun for kayakers too. The weather may have curtailed planting willow trees and other stream-side shrubs this year, but Coughlin hopes to do some follow-up planting in the spring, perhaps with a group of science students from Dolores Middle and High schools…

The beach at the confluence will be preserved as part of what the Dolores Public Lands Office has re-named Wagner-Rotary Park in honor of Bill Wagner and the section of river from the Fourth Street bridge to the confluence generally known as Rotary Park, said Penny Wu, recreation specialist at the office. “We’ll protect the beach and place some rocks to prevent people from driving up the river,” Coughlin said. “We’ll also protect and improve the take-out to mitigate erosion.” In addition to placing the boulders to help direct the river flow, work to improve fish habitat and planting vegetation, Coughlin has plans to place more flat boulders at the beach area of the confluence to enhance the area for visitors. The work is formally called fluvial geomorphology, which means simply “the science of rivers,” Coughlin said. He has spent 20 years in the field of hydrology and said the fairly young field is always changing. The project ultimately “will help with low flow and help control (the water) at high flow, and it’s a good opportunity to create fish habitat,” he said.

Wu stopped by the river to observe the process and while there spotted four bald eagles and a red-tailed hawk soaring above Dolores.

More Dolores River coverage here.

Snowpack news

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From the Cortez Journal (Kimberly Benedict):

2009 precipitation levels through November stood at 7.87 inches, only 59 percent of the 13.21 inches normally received in the area, according to Jim Andrus, the National Weather Service’s cooperative weather observer in Cortez. The early winter storm helped the situation, providing almost 80 percent of the precipitation normally received in December, Andrus said…

“As far a snowpack, we are looking like we are sitting at 119 percent for the day (Thursday),” Preston said. “That is 19 percent above where we normally are. That is what matters to us the most, is how much water is in that snowpack up there.” The district measures snowpack at five snowpack telemetry – or SNOTEL – sites located at El Diente Peak southwest of Telluride, Lizard Head Pass between Rico and Telluride, Lone Cone south of Norwood, Scotch Creek near Rico, and Sharkstooth Peak northeast of Mancos. The Sharkstooth station is not figured into the average because it has not been in operation long enough to build an average, according to Preston. “We get real time readings of the snowpack to see where we are at,” Preston said. “We don’t get too serious until January. The winter is just shaping up.”[…]

“It is looking much better now than it did a week ago,” Preston said, referring to the snow-water equivalent levels. Those levels, which measure the inches of water snow would produce if it melted, help determine the impact of snowpack on reservoir levels…

“As of Nov. 30, we had active capacity of 104,000 acre feet (in McPhee),” Preston said. “So we are down by about 124,000 acre feet. That is about 26,000 acre feet less than where we were this time last year.” The lower levels in the reservoir are the result of early pulls from reserve waters and arid summer conditions. “We were already pulling storage by the first of June this summer,” Preston said. “Then we had a very dry summer.” Water levels at both Groundhog and Narraguinnep reservoirs look relatively normal for this time of year, according to Brad Reed, water master for Montezuma Valley Irrigation Co. “We are very close to normal,” Reed said. “Maybe a little behind on Narraguinnep, but there is no major concern.” Narraguinnep currently stands at 8,659 acre-feet, and Groundhog is at 14,200 acre-feet. Though the early winter storm eased dry conditions, Preston cautioned that the season is still in its infancy. “It is pretty early in the year to tell how things will go,” he said. “We are off to a promising start, but we have a long ways to go. We need snowpack that is going to produce at least another 155,000 in inflow just to meet our obligations.” A runoff of that magnitude is well within the realm of possibility, according to Preston. Runoff for 2009 produced 260,000 acre-feet. Runoff in a dry year can be much worse. Preston noted that the dry year of 2002 produced only 48,000 acre-feet of runoff.

Lower Dolores River Plan Working Group meeting December 14

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From the Cortez Journal (Kimberly Benedict):

The Lower Dolores River Plan Working Group will meet at 5 p.m. Monday, Dec. 14, at the Lewis-Arriola Community Center, 21176 County Road S, to kick-off the recommendation and brainstorming phase. The group will meet again Jan. 19, Feb. 16 and March 15. The intention is to hand recommendations to the Dolores Public Lands Office in April.

More from the article:

Created to examine alternatives to a Wild and Scenic River designation for the Dolores River, the group spent the past year identifying and brainstorming around the plethora of issues involved in river protection. “What we have done the last year is a really intensive education process with the group around the whole area,” said Marsha Porter-Norton, facilitator of the Dolores River Dialogue. “If we are going to ask people to come up with recommendations for the future, we felt it was important that they were really steeped in knowledge.”

The group focused on the five primary reaches of the Dolores River covered by the planning area and then examined the “Outstandingly Remarkable Values” within each reach. “Through a grant that we have, we had a person gather every conceivable piece of information related to the ORV in each reach,” Porter-Norton said. “We looked at it from a 20,000 foot level and then from the ground level.” The identified ORVs along the Lower Dolores include archaeology/cultural resources, scenery, geology, hiking in Bull Canyon and Coyote Wash, rafting, roundtail chub, plants, and the canyon treefrog. The Dolores Public Lands Office posed a series of questions to the group relating to each ORV. The group was then divided into small groups that brainstormed tools, strategies and recommendations for each question. Some issues have garnered a good deal of consensus, and others have been harder to address. “Nothing in this process is easy,” Porter-Norton said. “We are taking some of the issues where I think there is a good amount of consensus and starting there. For the next six months we are going to delve into the landscape and water protection issues. That is where the alternative to the Wild and Scenic designation comes in.” The group has been charged with the task of determining if the river and surrounding area should keep the Wild and Scenic designation or if there is an alternative protection mechanism…

The working group comprises 58 members who represent a wide range of stakeholder positions. From public land managers to property owners, water managers to rafters and rafting companies, U.S. Bureau of Land Management officers to oil and gas company representatives, the group has a diverse range of values. Despite that, the group has not allowed differing opinions to stand in the way of progress, Porter-Norton said. “I have to say, speaking very personally, this group is fabulous,” she said. “You have people who have very different views, in some cases, who have been willing and able to engage in learning. They are really able to talk about things and disagree in a very productive way.”

Fallout from the demise of Colorado Springs’ stormwater fund

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From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Daniel Chaćon):

…city officials say is abundantly clear is that without the enterprise, there is no longer a funding source to pay for improvements to the 2-mile Templeton Gap Floodway, which is actually a levee. That will force hundreds, if not thousands, of nearby property owners with federally-backed mortgages to buy flood insurance. Collectively, annual insurance premiums for those property owners could reach about $3 million, according to city government estimates. “I’ve tried my best to circumvent that and prevent that, but it looks like that’s going to happen,” City Councilman Scott Hente, whose district includes the floodway, said Tuesday after his colleagues voted 5-4 to abolish the enterprise at the end of this year. “I’m sorry for that,” Hente added…

A two-year phaseout would have allowed the enterprise to complete projects under construction and also add capacity to the floodway, which protects more than 3,000 properties and 5,000 buildings from flooding. The floodway starts just east of Union Boulevard and runs west to Monument Creek between Fillmore Street and Austin Bluffs Parkway. The added capacity is needed to gain certification from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which sped up an effort to digitize its maps after Hurricane Katrina broke several levees in New Orleans. That effort put the Templeton Gap Floodway under scrutiny, and many properties that hadn’t been previously identified as being at risk of flooding are now. In September, the enterprise notified property owners affected by the floodway that it planned to add capacity to the levee…

[city spokeswoman Mary Scott] said no other source of money has been identified to pay for the work that had been planned for the floodway through the Stormwater Enterprise. “It’s likely that project is not going to be done,” she said. Scott also said the enterprise is still trying to figure out how to develop an automated process for refunds as well as how to collect from delinquent property owners.

More stormwater coverage here.

Southern Delivery System: Colorado Springs Utilities submits application to Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

“We’re very proud that we have reduced the wetlands impacts to one-quarter acre, and that we will add 12 new acres of wetlands on Clear Springs Ranch,” said Keith Riley, SDS planning and permit manager. “This is an environmentally responsible project. The citizens advisory committee of the district reviewed the proposal Friday. Last week, the technical advisory committee looked at the same presentation. The district board will consider it in January…

The Fountain Creek district has authority over part of the pipeline’s path where it crosses Fountain Creek and will make recommendations to El Paso County commissioners…

There have been discussions, however, that other El Paso County water users might use it to move water uphill from the Arkansas River. “Do you see it as a regional opportunity?” asked Jay Winner, general manager of the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District and a representative from the Arkansas Basin Roundtable to the Interbasin Compact Committee. “Not beyond Monument Hill,” Riley quickly replied…

Ross Vincent of the Sierra Club asked about the adaptive management plan, which is mentioned in Reclamation’s environmental impact statement as a way to mitigate potential impacts on Fountain Creek. “That will be wrapped up in the contract negotiations,” Riley said. “It would be helpful to have that in hand,” Vincent said.

More coverage of Friday’s meeting from Chris Woodka writing for The Pueblo Chieftain. From the article:

Water quality and standards for development on Fountain Creek are important issues that cannot be abandoned, a committee dedicated to improvement of the creek told Southern Delivery System officials Friday. “The discussions have focused on water volume, but no one’s talking about water quality,” said Ross Vincent of the Sierra Club. “The demise of the stormwater enterprise re-raises the question.”[…]

Vincent also was concerned about the opportunity for public comment on Colorado Springs plans to dredge Fountain Creek through Pueblo. “Is there a public process for review?” Vincent asked Keith Riley, SDS planning and permit manager. Riley said SDS officials will be meeting with Dennis Maroney, Pueblo stormwater director, next week to review the dredging program. “We’ll be identifying high spots to determine where dredging will occur,” Riley said. “We want to be sure we’re doing the right project.” Pueblo has partnered with Colorado Springs, the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District and various state and federal agencies to use a continuous flow dredging collector to remove bedload sediment from the channel through Pueblo. The project also will analyze the material being removed and consider alternative means of dredging the channel, Riley said.

Maroney had his own questions about whether the city would complete the drainage criteria manual now that the stormwater enterprise is ending. The manual would provide standards for new development in terms of impacts to Fountain Creek and its tributaries. Holding developers to those standards is part of Pueblo County conditions for SDS. “You need the drainage criteria manual,” Maroney said. “If you don’t have it, it’s like going bear hunting with a 30.06 and only having the ammunition for a .22.” Colorado Springs developer Kevin Walker, another member of the committee, said developers have a keen interest in seeing the manual developed and noted that Fountain already has bought into the concept of using it as a regional tool. “The development community and the building industry know that the manual has to be completed,” Walker said. “The political and business interests (of Colorado Springs) are obliged to get to the finish line.”[…]

…another $500,000 grant to develop a mini-dam, wetlands and detention pond near Pueblo’s North Side Kmart is part of this year’s Natural Resources Conservation Service budget, Jay Winner, general manager of the Lower Ark District, reported at the meeting. The project was first envisioned by Maroney following a flood of a nearby area and a breach of an old railroad berm as a way to siphon off flows in small floods. It was approved in the same package of federal legislation that will grant the Arkansas Valley Conduit $5 million this year.

More Fountain Creek coverage here and here.

S. 796 Hardrock Mining and Reclamation Act of 2009: U.S. Senator Bennet signs on as co-sponsor

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From the Associated Press via The Denver Post:

The Colorado Democrat said Thursday that he’s joining Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., to reform rules covering the mining of gold, copper, uranium and other minerals. The bill would assess royalties on hard-rock mining on public land for the first time at rates of 2 percent to 5 percent. The proposal also would eliminate the ability to buy public land for mining for as little as $2.50 an acre. It would require reviewing whether some public land should be off-limits to development.

More S. 796 coverage here.

El Niño bulking up

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From the Associated Press via The Denver Post:

The El Niño climate phenomenon has strengthened and is expected to last into spring, potentially affecting weather around the globe for the next few months, the government said Thursday…

Sea-surface temperatures in the central and eastern Pacific were about 3 degrees Fahrenheit above normal in November, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said.

Computer models used to forecast climate do not all agree, but the agency said it seems likely the conditions will strengthen. Potential impacts through February, NOAA said, include:

• Above-average precipitation for the southern tier of the United States, with below-average precipitation in the Pacific Northwest and the Ohio and Tennessee Valleys.

• Below-average snowfall and above-average temperatures across the northern tier of states, except New England, and lower-than-average temperatures in the Southeast.