Severance: FEMA explains their side of new floodplain plans

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From The Greeley Tribune (Sherrie Peif):

Dawn Gladwell, a mapping specialist with FEMA, and Jerry DeFelice in FEMA external affairs both say if everyone understood FEMA’s role and what the expansion really means, there would be no problems. The plan says that in the event of a big storm, more water will flow into Severance faster than was originally anticipated.

The new plan could cause long-term development problems, some say. “I don’t want to say it will stop development all together,” longtime Severance Developer Stan Everett said recently. “But it will have severe consequences for the future of the town.”[…]/p>

Federal Emergency Management Agency’s preliminary map to expand the flood plain in the Severance area should be done by the end of the year. A final plan is then, on average, another 14-month process that includes public comment and appeals.

More floodplain rule coverage from Bill Jackson writing for The Greeley Tribune. From the article:

Several county commissioners and officials from cities and towns first heard of the proposal last month in a meeting. They were told a rulemaking session on the proposal would be conducted next month. Several of those officials said they were led to understand the state intended to expand flood plains from the current 100-year flood to 500-year-flood levels.

But that’s not the intent of the plan, said Theo Stein, communications director for the Colorado Department of Natural Resources. Instead, Stein said, the plan would require only critical facilities, such as hospitals, schools and fire stations, to be built with stronger flood protections than other buildings. It would not require homeowners to purchase flood insurance, and only those facilities designated by local officials would be included. The new rules would not prohibit development in either the 100-year or 500-year flood plains.

More South Platte Basin coverage here.

Aspinall Unit Operations meeting recap

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From email from Reclamation (Dan Crabtree):

The summary of the April 22, 2010 meeting to coordinate Reclamation’s operation of the Aspinall Unit can be found at http://www.usbr.gov/uc/wcao/water/rsvrs/mtgs/amcurrnt.html. Presentations, handouts, and archived meeting summaries can be found by scrolling to the “Archives: Meeting Minutes/handouts” section located near the bottom of the page at the above link. The meeting was held at Reclamation’s Grand Junction Office. Highlights of the operation meeting include:

April through July inflow to Blue Mesa is forecasted at 530,000 af or approximately 73 percent of the 31 year average. The 31-year average is 720,000 af.

Based on projected forecast, the one day peak flow target for the Black Canyon water right is calculated at 3425 cfs. Final calculations will be made based on May 1 forecasted inflow.

Blue Mesa is not expected to fill this year with live storage reaching approximately 760,000 af.

Following a spring peak, probably in mid-May, Gunnison Gorge flows should be around 700-900 cfs, dropping to 500-700 cfs later in August.

If you have any suggestions on improving the operation meetings or summaries, please let us know. The next operation meeting is scheduled for Thursday, August 26, 2010 at the Elk Creek Visitor Center on Blue Mesa. If you have any questions, please call me at 970 248-0652.

More Aspinall Unit coverage here.

USGS Fort Collins Science Center: Saltcedar and Russian Olive control demonstration act science assessment

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Click through to if you want to download the report. Here’s the pitch from the authors:

The primary intent of this document is to provide the science assessment called for under The Saltcedar and Russian Olive Control Demonstration Act of 2006 (Public Law 109–320; the Act). A secondary purpose is to provide a common background for applicants for prospective demonstration projects, should funds be appropriated for this second phase of the Act. This document synthesizes the state-of-the-science on the following topics: the distribution and abundance (extent) of saltcedar (Tamarix spp.) and Russian olive (Elaeagnus angustifolia) in the Western United States, potential for water savings associated with controlling saltcedar and Russian olive and the associated restoration of occupied sites, considerations related to wildlife use of saltcedar and Russian olive habitat or restored habitats, methods to control saltcedar and Russian olive, possible utilization of dead biomass following removal of saltcedar and Russian olive, and approaches and challenges associated with revegetation or restoration following control efforts. A concluding chapter discusses possible long-term management strategies, needs for additional study, potentially useful field demonstration projects, and a planning process for on-the-ground projects involving removal of saltcedar and Russian olive.

From the Los Angeles Times (Bettina Boxall):

Federal, state and county agencies across the West have uprooted saltcedar in the belief that erasing it from riverbanks would save water. “In the West we’re always looking for ways to stretch our water supply,” Brown said. “And sometimes it takes a while for the science to catch up with the common belief.”

“If the primary interest was in stretching water supply,” he added, “there are a number of other ways to conserve and augment water supply … that are much more reliable and predictable.”

Here’s a look at the costs involved in beating down the weed, from The Lamar Ledger. From the article:

In 2009, 1,414 acres of Tamarisk were sprayed at a cost of $116,748.60. Of that amount, $83,686.86 came from the NRCS EQIP, $7,500 came from NRCS WHIP, $7,405 from the State Land Board, $2,949.69 from the Division of Wildlife and $13,156 from the Colorado Water Conservancy Board. Per acre, tamarisk spraying cost $82.57. Five percent of EQIP dollars were reserved for maintenance on NRCS funded areas and WHIP funds will be used for maintenance on CWCB funded areas.

Areas under consideration for tamarisk removal include the Clay Creek tributary and the Arkansas River west between Holly and Granada.

Here’s the release from the USGS (Peter Soeth, Pat Shafroth, Curt Brown):

Long considered heavy water users and poor wildlife habitat, non-native saltcedar and Russian olive trees that have spread along streams and water bodies in the West may not be as detrimental to wildlife and water availability as believed.

In a U.S. Geological Survey report requested by Congress and released today, scientists conducted a review of the scientific literature to assess the existing state of the science on the distribution and spread, water consumption, and control methods for saltcedar (also called tamarisk) and Russian olive. They also assessed the considerations related to wildlife use and the challenges associated with revegetation and restoration following control efforts.

The report was a collaboration among the USGS, the Bureau of Reclamation, U.S. Forest Service, and other federal agencies and universities to assess and summarize a large number of previously published studies.
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One notable finding is that native trees such as cottonwoods and willows along western rivers typically consume as much water as non-native saltcedar and Russian olive. Generally, the report noted, removal of saltcedar from floodplain areas along rivers leads to replacement by other vegetation that consumes roughly equal amounts of water. Therefore, removal of saltcedar from these areas is unlikely to produce measurable water savings once replacement revegetation becomes established, report authors wrote.

“None of the published studies to date, which include projects removing very large areas of saltcedar, have demonstrated production of significant additional water for human use,” said Curt Brown, Director of Research for the Bureau of Reclamation. However, the authors note that saltcedar and Russian olive can also grow on river terraces that are too high and dry for cottonwoods and willows. Some scientists have suggested that, on these sites, revegetation with native dry-site species could save some water for human use. But, the effectiveness of such an approach has not been demonstrated.

Similarly, although it has long been assumed that these non-native trees harm streamside habitat and wildlife productivity, research evaluated in the report indicates this isn’t always true. Many reptiles, amphibians, and birds use habitat dominated by saltcedar and Russian olive. Even the endangered southwestern willow flycatcher frequently breeds in saltcedar stands.

However, according to the report, saltcedar-dominated landscapes do not provide suitable habitat for more specialized birds, such as woodpeckers and birds that live in cavities. Dense tracts of pure saltcedar are typically unfavorable for most wildlife, and the report notes that many birds still prefer native cottonwood or willow habitat. Other negative impacts of dense stands of these introduced species can include impeded access to riverside recreational areas, increased wildfire hazard, and clogging of irrigation ditches.

Saltcedar and Russian olives are now the third and fourth most common streamside plants in 17 western states. The species have been the focus of significant removal efforts along some western rivers, such as the Rio Grande and Pecos River.

Plant removal techniques range from use of herbicides and bulldozers to biological controls such as insects. Once the invasive plants are killed or removed, effective restoration depends on replacing them with plant species that meet the specific goals of the planned restoration, the report said.

“The vegetation that replaces salt cedar following its removal, with or without restoration actions, will influence the quality of wildlife habitat, amount of water use and other ecological conditions,” said Pat Shafroth, a USGS scientist and lead editor of the report.

Site restoration, however, can be challenging and costly, depending on the size of the area and the methods used. Restoring key river processes, such as natural patterns of high and low flows, can help re-establish native vegetation and other important ecosystem features over larger areas than is possible with site-specific restoration, he added.

The authors highlight areas where further study could advance understanding of invasive plant control and restoration, including effects on wildlife habitat and water use. “Research and monitoring could be particularly important in the context of biological control of saltcedar,” Shafroth said. “The beetle that has been released for biological control has been defoliating saltcedar and spreading rapidly in some watersheds. We really need to understand the effects of biocontrol on these ecosystems, to better inform river and riparian restoration.”

The report provides a summary of the latest science and is expected to be helpful to organizations that undertake the management of saltcedar and Russian olive.

The report, Saltcedar and Russian Olive Control Demonstration Act Science Assessment, was completed to fulfill requirements in the Salt Cedar and Russian Olive Control Demonstration Act of 2006 (Public Law 109-320).

The full report, USGS Scientific Investigations Report 2009-5247, is available online along with USGS Fact Sheet 2009-3110 that summarizes the findings.

More Tamarisk control coverage here and here.

Energy policy — nuclear: HB 10-1348 (Increase Oversight Radioactive Materials) passes out of the state senate

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From The Cañon City Daily Record (Rachel Alexander):

Colorado lawmakers passed the Uranium Processing Accountability Act, House Bill 1348, on a vote of 24 to nine Wednesday…

Cotter Corp. mill officials have said the bill will make it impossible for them to begin processing ore again in the future. In 2009, the company announced a plan to reopen as a heap leach facility in 2014, processing ore from the Mount Taylor mine in New Mexico. “This is not unexpected,” said John Hamrick, vice president of milling at Cotter. “This bill will prevent us from processing the Mount Taylor ore.”

Colorado Citizens Against ToxicWaste, a local group that has opposed Cotter restarting operations, was partnered with Environment Colorado in developing the bill. “We are thrilled the Senate sided with the people of Cañon City,” said Sharyn Cunningham of CCAT, through the same release. “It’s about time uranium companies are held responsible for cleaning up their toxic mess.”

More coverage from The Pueblo Chieftain (Patrick Malone). From the article:

The Senate on Wednesday passed HB1348 by a 22-11 margin. It now awaits the governor’s signature to become law…

Two groundwater plumes — in the Lincoln Park neighborhood of Canon City and around the city’s golf course — have been identified as groundwater contamination sites. The most recent was found in 1992, and Cotter has largely addressed the problem through “natural remediation,” or simply letting it dissipate on its own. “I just know that the water where I live has been contaminated since the 1960s, and Cotter had no plans to clean it,” said Sharyn Cunningham, co-chair of Colorado Citizens Against Toxic Waste. “They just planned to watch it, monitor it and let nature clean it.”

From the Colorado Independent (David O. Williams):

The bill, which also requires companies to notify homeowners with drinking wells near contaminated groundwater and provides for more public input in the state regulatory process, now heads back to the House to work out amendments adopted in Senate. A concurrence vote could happen later this week.

More HB 10-1348 coverage here.

Energy policy — nuclear: Colorado natural resources and health regulators don’t yet agree with Cotter for proposed remediation at the Schwartzwalder Mine

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From The Denver Post (Bruce Finley):

Denver Water and environmentalists on Wednesday demanded an aggressive cleanup to protect public health. They say drinking water is safe because water treatment plants remove uranium. State natural resources and health regulators are reviewing a cleanup proposal that Cotter submitted eight days ago. Cotter’s proposed options include:

• Rerouting Ralston Creek through pipes around the mine. This could harm aquatic life but prevent contamination from reaching Denver Water’s Ralston Reservoir.

• Creating an artificial wetland that gradually could filter out uranium. Critics said this could be too slow.

• Installing a barrier to filter the uranium from water before it gets to the creek or groundwater.

• Digging out toxic soil 20 feet deep at the mine and hauling it to a disposal site. That remedy may depend on whether groundwater links to the mine, more than 2,000 feet deep…

“If we can demonstrate there’s no communication between the mine pool and the groundwater that results in a measurable impact, then we may not have to do anything with the mine pool,” Cotter vice president John Hamrick said. “We all agree there’s a problem. We’re working to address it.”[…]

“If (Cotter’s proposal) is determined to be deficient, (state regulators) will ask for the deficiencies to be corrected,” Colorado Department of Natural Resources spokesman Theo Stein said. State inspectors documented contamination in 2007, records show. They negotiated with Cotter, which argued that the mine was not a facility subject to state law. The law was changed in 2008 to include uranium mines. In 2009, regulators rejected Cotter’s initial cleanup plan as inadequate…

Denver Water officials are waiting for results from water tests done last week at Ralston Creek and Ralston Reservoir, spokeswoman Stacy Chesney said. “The faster the parties can agree on a plan, the better it will be for everyone,” she said.

More Schwartzwalder mine coverage here. More nuclear coverage here and here.

Alamosa: State of the Rio Grande levee meeting

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From The Valley Courier (Ruth Heide):

As a result of the mammoth 2005 storm [Katrina] and the levee breaches that occurred in its wake in the South, the federal government has revised river levee standards nationwide, a move that is now affecting the Rio Grande levee through Alamosa. The Rio Grande levee, constructed under U.S. Army Corps of Engineers jurisdiction, is now substandard by post-Katrina guidelines. Bringing the river dike up to the new 2009 standards will likely cost Alamosa hundreds of thousands, city officials told residents attending a levee forum Monday night…

William Trujillo, levee safety program manager out of the Albuquerque Corps of Engineers office, told the group that the levee repairs facing Alamosa are due in part to post-Katrina standards, but Alamosa’s river dike has other deficiencies that must be addressed, such as beaver infiltration of the levee system.

City Public Works Director Don Koskelin and City Manager Nathan Cherpeski said the city is addressing the beaver problem. Trujillo said the city could request a compliance extension, but Koskelin said even during a potential grace period the city would have to begin levee repairs. “As a city we have a set of rules we have to abide by right now,” he said. “This isn’t some time in the future. We can apply for an extension … but during those years we have to be taking actions.” Trujillo said a vegetation variance guideline is also being drafted and may be approved by headquarters in September. The city could request a variance on vegetation, he explained. Although he did not have definitive cost estimates for levee repairs, Koskelin said a tree removal project already in the works for city-owned river frontage is going to cost about $10,000 to remove 10 trees. “If it would only cost $1 million I would be happy,” Cherpeski said.

More coverage from The Pueblo Chieftain (Matt Hildner):

Left unanswered were how the corps’ new rules would affect residents along the levee who negotiated individual agreements with the agency in the late 1990s and how the status of the barrier would affect federal flood insurance requirements. Nor did the forum provide a clearer picture of what steps the city might take or how much those steps would cost…

Nor did it appear likely that Rep. John Salazar, D-Colo., would be able to steer the levee rules affecting Alamosa. Erin Minks, a staffer for Salazar in the San Luis Valley, said the congressman would likely not be able to find an out from the corps’ rules for Alamosa, given that Pueblo, Grand Junction and Durango also had problems with the regulations but over different aspects. “It’s not a matter of John going into the committee chair and saying this shouldn’t affect Alamosa. It just doesn’t work that way,” she said…

Officials with the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s regional office in Denver did not return calls for this story, but Cherpeski said the agency could begin a re-examination of the Alamosa flood plain maps within the next year. Some city residents questioned the need for the levee, stating that in their lifetimes the Rio Grande has never approached the barrier’s capacity, which was designed to withstand 11,000 cubic feet per second or the equivalent of a 100-year flood. But the highest recorded flows through Alamosa came on July 1, 1927, when 14,000 cfs came down the river, according to the corps’ 1990 Interim Feasibility Report on the levee…

The one effort that appeared likely to move forward Monday sprung from a suggestion by Alamosa County Emergency Manager Pete Magee, who urged the city to form a citizens task force to review the city’s options.

More Alamosa coverage here.

Snowpack news: Arkansas River — head to the Pueblo kayak park this weekend

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

“They’re talking about increasing flows by 1,500 cubic feet per second,” said Roy Vaughan, manager of the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project for the Bureau of Reclamation. Flows this week have been about 700 cfs through Pueblo, and 1,200 cfs at Avondale, well above average for this time of year.

The release would be winter water carried over from 2009 that reverts to state waters under the court decree that governs the program. “It’s basically been so wet out east that farmers couldn’t use it,” Vaughan said.

Otherwise, Lake Pueblo has almost reached levels necessary to provide flood control in the event of spring storms, about 257,000 acre-feet as of Wednesday.

While snowpack in the state has dropped to 75 percent after an early runoff came in mid-April, things have slowed down with new snow and cooler temperatures in the high country, Vaughan said. “It’s not as bad as it sounds,” Vaughan said. “After that one early peak last Friday, things have really cooled down. It’s cold at the upper elevations. There’s a new storm coming in tonight that’s supposed to leave 6 to 12 inches.” Still, dust and winds have beaten down the snowpack this year. The Colorado River basin was at 68 percent of average Wednesday. The Roaring Fork basin, the source of water imported by the Fry-Ark Project, was at 63 percent. The Arkansas River basin was at 91 percent…

“We know the snowpack is diminishing, but we don’t know what will happen with these next few storms,” Vaughan said. An early snowmelt in the Southern mountains is contributing to above-average flows in the Lower Arkansas River as well, with John Martin Reservoir filling to more than 92,000 acre-feet Wednesday, its highest level since 2001. The Huerfano River was running four times its normal April flow as of Wednesday, and high flows were also seen in the Apishipa and Purgatoire Rivers, said Pat Edelmann, of the Pueblo U.S. Geological Survey.