Lower South Platte River artificial wetlands update

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From The Denver Post (Bruce Finley):

The loss of duck habitat in the South Platte River basin, which is at least partly the result of man-made alteration of the river to make it flow like a channel, is likely a major reason for a decline in duck populations by as much as 50 percent in some parts of eastern Colorado.

The newly created duck habitat is designed to mimic natural conditions. Colorado has gained 16,000 acres of artificial wetlands at about 100 areas along the South Platte, with plans for another 11,000 acres by 2014, funded in part by $1.5 million from the Colorado Water Conservation Board. Hundreds of duck hunters held banquets and auctions statewide, and ponied up $150,000 for the effort.

Water is pumped and piped from the South Platte to ponds carved out of adjacent prairie. This water then is routed through sloughs and filtered back into the river’s main stem. Diversion of water into wetlands is done during low-demand periods and builds water credits for participating landowners, giving some the ability to draw water for farming…

The long-term future for waterfowl looks bleak, said Dave Sharp, a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist. “Our needs for water are only going to grow,” Sharp said. Dams and diversions for cities and farming “take away those natural pulses, like in the spring. The flooding that used to occur no longer occurs,” he said. Woody vegetation also is taking over sand bars essential for ducks.

More South Platte River Basin coverage here.

HB 10-1188 (Clarify River Outfitter Navigation Right): State Senate morphs bill into a study

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From The Denver Post (Scott Willoughby):

Before a political end-around coordinated by Senate President Brandon Shaffer and others last Friday, HB 1188, the so-called “River Outfitters Navigation Bill,” had the potential to firmly establish the rights of Colorado’s professional and private boaters to continue floating on rivers that pass through both public and private property. The bill passed in the Senate on Monday, but not before it had been gutted by an amendment effectively reducing it to a privately funded six-month study by the Colorado Water Congress — a group that has already gone on record in opposition to the legislation originally drafted by Rep. Kathleen Curry of Gunnison…

According to Curry, boaters can float through private property without criminal trespass charges if they don’t drop anchor or touch the banks. Boaters lack the same protection for civil trespass complaints. And current law provides no guidance on what to do if a river is blocked by an obstacle such as a fallen tree or, as in the case of the Jackson-Shaw property, a poorly designed bridge.

Above it all, however, Shaw is somehow under the impression that he now owns the river that Russell and others have been floating for decades. “It is my firm opinion any individual or group or company rafting through our private property is committing an act similar to someone walking across your front lawn on a short cut to the grocery store. It may be convenient, but it is nonetheless illegal,” states the letter signed by company president Lewis W. Shaw II. “I encourage you to select counsel who can look freshly at the specific circumstance of private property and rafting in Colorado without merely arranging ideas to confirm a previously espoused opinion.”[…]

Given the vast quantity of private property lining the banks of float-friendly rivers throughout Colorado, Schumacher’s concerns are legitimate. At least one small, underfunded rafting company facing civil trespassing suits already has been put out of business by lawyers representing Shaw and other out-of-state landowners in Colorado — the same lawyers currently sitting on the Colorado Water Congress. Bear in mind that episode occurred shortly after a similar “blue ribbon” panel had been appointed to study the same matter for two years a decade ago. Until the state’s muddled right-to-float laws are clarified on both the civil and criminal sides, others realistically face the same fate…

Contributing to the problem is the antiquated bridge on the Shaw property that becomes dangerously low for boats to pass under when the Taylor runs high. In Shaw’s view, the portage necessary to avoid the hazard constitutes a further violation. Just the same, the developer — who has invested a small fortune in other upgrades — has yet to make good on a promise to replace the bridge and bring it up to code. Amendments allowing short portages around hazardous obstacles in the river and expanding HB 1188’s reach to include private boaters had been approved before last Friday’s tactical death sentence. Those amendments helped establish a solid bill that provided firm legal footing for practices that have been established in Colorado for almost half a century, while the Senate’s final version did nothing more than offer weak politicians an escape clause until the next election.

More HB 10-1188 coverage here.

Snowpack news: South Platte River Basin gains a bit against average

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From the Fort Collins Coloradoan (Bobby Magill):

Even with Friday’s snowstorm, the snowpack for the South Platte River Basin, which includes the Poudre River watershed, is 19 percent below normal, according to Natural Resources Conservation Service, or NRCS, data. That’s right in line with the well-below-normal snowpack in river basins north of Interstate 70, a product of a relatively dry winter.

Today, that all changes. A major snowstorm is targeting the Front Range, with between 3 to 6 inches on the way for the Interstate 25 urban corridor, said Don Day of DayWeather in Cheyenne. The National Weather Service on Monday afternoon issued a winter storm warning for Denver beginning at 3 p.m. today, calling for 5 to 10 inches of snow…

“We’re not on track for a very decent water year because we’re still a fair amount below average,” said Michael A. Gillespie, snow survey supervisor for the NRCS. “If we could repeat last year, in a nutshell, we’d be doing great. There might be some hope for that.” Klaus Wolter, a University of Colorado climate research scientist, said he expects the wet weather pattern to continue through May, though he won’t place any bets on a late spring similar to that of 2009, which produced “crazy” hailstorms and a plethora of cool, wet weather. The storms, he said, are a product of El Nino, which was also one of the main drivers behind last year’s frequent storms. But, Wolter said, it’s unusual to have two El Nino-driven wet springs in a row.

From the Summit County Citizens Voice (Bob Berwyn):

After starting to weaken a bit in late January, this year’s El Niño was revived by a giant Kelvin wave sweeping warm water eastward across the Pacific in February. The surge of tropical water made this El Niño the fifth-strongest on record for this time of year, in a pattern expected to influencing Colorado’s weather for the next few months, according to climate researchers with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association…

Kelvin waves are bumps of warm water in the Pacific that form around Indonesia. They are typically just a few inches high, hundreds of kilometers wide and a few degrees warmer than the surrounding water, according to Bill Patzert, an oceanographer with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Usually, prevailing easterly trade winds near the equator push sun-warmed water away from the Americas and toward Australia and Indonesia, where the globe’s biggest pool of warm ocean water forms. During El Niño, in a complex atmospheric dance, the trade winds falter, enabling pulses of warm water to slide back to the east. The waves can actually increase the height of tides along west-facing shorelines of North and South America by a few inches, as well as warm the water on those beaches.