North Fork of the Gunnison River ‘River Watch’ group update

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From the Delta County Independent (Ann Santo):

Because no baseline water quality data existed on the North Fork of the Gunnison River and its tributaries, River Watch began monitoring in 2001 with the support of the North Fork River Improvement Association (NFRIA) and the Colorado Water Quality Control Division (CWQCD). Over the past 10 years, more than 40 individuals have volunteered their Wednesdays to go out and monitor, come rain or shine, or snow. The volunteers include biochemists, farmers, teachers and retirees, and they all have different reasons for getting involved.

Phil Johnson of Paonia has been an NFRIA River Watch volunteer since it began. He said, “I look forward to River Watch every month . . . It gives me a chance to do something I wouldn’t normally get to do, out in the field and then in the lab. Also, it’s really good company.”

Bob Halley, a Cedaredge farmer, likes the technical and political aspects of water monitoring. “Monitoring programs that collect data for the long-term are essential,” he said. “Other monitoring programs are not capable of getting into specific areas with enough detail. A program like ours really helps fill that gap.”

Meanwhile, from the Delta County Independent:

Whether you have a PhD in water chemistry, or are just interested in learning about water quality in the North Fork River, NFRIA-WSERC Conservation Center wants you to participate in the first ever North Fork Water Quality Monitoring Committee meeting. The meeting will be held at the Paonia Public Library at 10 a.m. on Thursday, Nov. 4…

The purpose of this first meeting is to get you acquainted with the three water monitoring programs going on in the valley, and the 10 years of water quality data NFRIA volunteers have already collected. Things to be discussed in this meeting and at future meetings might include: Why and where are we monitoring? What questions would we like to answer with our monitoring? Do we need to change or add to our current monitoring programs? How are we using our monitoring data? How should we use it?

Email or call 527-5307 x203 if you plan to attend the meeting, or would like to be included in future meetings.

More Gunnison River Basin coverage here.

Partners Sign Gunnison Basin Selenium Management Program Memorandum of Understanding

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Here’s the release from the Bureau of Reclamation (Justyn Hock/Steve McCall):

Reclamation announced today that a Memorandum of Understanding to form a Selenium Management Program in the Gunnison Basin was signed by federal and non-federal partners. The SMP is being formed based on the 2009 Gunnison River Basin Programmatic Biological Opinion released from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The PBO identifies a selenium issue in the lower Gunnison Basin and states “the ongoing operation of irrigation projects and other water uses in the basin will continue to contribute selenium to the Gunnison and Colorado Rivers at levels that adversely affect the endangered fishes and their designated critical habitat.”

Selenium is a naturally occurring element that is required by all life at low concentrations. However, higher selenium concentration in streams and lakes can lead to reduced reproduction and deformities in fish and in waterfowl. Locally, selenium comes from the Mancos shale where it is picked up by water seeping from canals and ponds, and percolating through soils beneath irrigated fields and lawns. “Signing the MOU is important because it fulfills the first major milestone required by the PBO” said Carol DeAngelis, Reclamation’s Western Colorado Area Office manager. “The partners in the MOU have agreed to work together to find ways to reduce selenium in the Gunnison Basin.”

The goal of the SMP is to reduce adverse effects of selenium on endangered fish species in the Gunnison and Colorado rivers. This goal will be achieved by incorporating and accelerating ongoing irrigation system improvement efforts and other programs in the Uncompahgre Valley and other portions of the lower Gunnison River Basin to reduce the amount of selenium in the river.

Partners of the MOU include: Reclamation, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S. Geological Survey, Bureau of Land Management, Natural Resource Conservation Service, the Colorado Water Conservation Board, Colorado River Water Conservation District, Upper Gunnison River Water Conservancy District, and the Uncompahgre Valley Water Users Association.

More Gunnison River basin coverage here.

Pagosa Springs: Town officials are chasing USDA grant funds for new wastewater treatment plant

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Here’s a look at the complicated financing web that the town of Pagosa Springs in trying to spin to fund their new wastewater treatement plant from, Jim McQuiggin writing for the Pagosa Sun). Here’s an excerpt:

In early 2010, the town’s fortunes changed. Personnel changes at the USDA created a friendlier environment for the [Pagosa Springs Sanitation and General Improvement District] and it was suggested that the board take a second bite at the apple. Submitting preliminary paperwork to the USDA last spring, both Mitchem and PSSGID Supervisor Phil Starks presented an optimistic picture to the board. Given details of a report that was seemingly positive as far as its potential return on investment, the board gave Mitchem and Starks the green light to renew the pursuit of USDA funding. Mitchem could not say how much money the USDA might provide for the new facility. When asked if the funding would meet the almost $6 million price tag previously estimated for the project, Mitchem responded, “The real answer is, we don’t know yet and we won’t know yet.”

More wastewater coverage here and here.

San Luis Valley: Rio Grande River erosion mitigation project update

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Matt Hildner):

Heather Messick, an employee of the project, said it is designed to stabilize the river’s banks and stem erosion, which increases sediment in the river. More sediment can alter the river’s channel, heat up water temperatures to the detriment of fish and change the riparian habitat as the river eats more of its unstable banks. Gone are banks that resembled cliff faces and stood as high as 14 feet over the river in spots. In their place are sloping banks that gradually push back to the flood plain.

The project also includes a series of rock barbs that jut into the river channel. The piles of rock push the river’s current into the center of the channel and away from the banks. It’s expected they will keep the banks in place until willows can spread.

The shrubs carry an added benefit of being the primary habitat for the southwestern willow flycatcher, an endangered species that makes its home along rivers in six other Southwestern states.

Unlike much of the Arkansas Valley, tamarisk invasion is not a threat to the exposed banks. Messick said researchers aren’t entirely sure why the invasive plant hasn’t taken root in the San Luis Valley, but hypotheses range from the valley’s cooler temperature to its higher altitude.

More Rio Grande River basin coverage here.

Douglas County: Colorado Congressional Delegation Supports Efforts for Chatfield Study

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Here’s a release from the Douglas County Water Resource Authority (Thanks to Mark Shively for the link):

A study process concerning how water can best be stored at Chatfield Reservoir will soon be moving forward to invite public comment. The effort at Chatfield has brought together farmers in northern Colorado, municipal water users in Douglas and Arapahoe Counties, as well as recreational and environmental users throughout the Metro Denver area. “This sort of cooperation is unprecedented”, said Jeff Shoemaker, Executive Director of The Greenway Foundation, an environmental advocate for Front Range water issues.

Colorado’s federal elected officials have been instrumental in the success of this process. All nine members of the delegation recently pulled together in signing a letter of support for the completion of the study in a timely fashion. Sen. Udall’s staff helped pull together this joint letter effort. Sen. Michael Bennet personally made telephone calls to help facilitate communication with Federal agencies. Congresswoman Betsy Markey directed her staff to attend meetings with the Chatfield supporters to talk out issues with federal agencies. Congressman Ed Perlmutter worked hard to make sure the Chatfield study is completed, not lost in the shuffle with other Federal initiatives. Congresswoman DeGette and Congressman Coffman directed their staff to participate in conference calls on important interagency cooperation. Congressman John Salazar and Congressman Doug Lamborn have been untiring in their support for good process and successful completion of the study effort. Without this support and teamwork from our Federal elected officials, this important cooperative study of a Front Range water project may not have been possible.

The state is the local sponsor of the effort. Special thanks to Gov. Ritter for his letters of support.

The study will determine if additional water can be stored at the existing facility, without having to perform any new construction on the existing dam facilities. The study will consider mitigation of environmental impacts as well as recreational modifications that will be required at the facility. “This is a Win-Win-Win situation for the environment, for recreational users, and for water users. It could be water supply for farmers to grow crops, and water for families along the Front Range” said Shoemaker, who also heads the Foundation for Colorado State Parks. The process is being directed by the US Army Corps of Engineers in partnership with the Colorado Water Conservation Board, and water users with service areas that stretch from Park County, through the Denver Metro area, to Ft. Morgan. Invitation for public comment on the process is expected early next year.

More South Platte River basin coverage here.

San Luis Valley: Now is the time for sandhill crane viewing

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From the Associated Press (Jan Nesset) via Washington Examiner:

Miller said the ducks and geese depart when temperatures consistently dip below freezing. Colonial waterbirds, such as the white-faced ibis, snowy egrets and black-crowned night herons, are already gone, he said, but sandhill cranes remain in abundance. Vocal birds, a spree of squeaky-wheel yawps from a congregation of excited sandhill cranes is unforgettable. In the fall, sandhill cranes use the San Luis Valley as a major stopover point on their migration from their breeding grounds in the greater Yellowstone area. From the valley, cranes fly to wintering grounds in New Mexico. “Right now, we have about the peak numbers that we’ll have in the fall,” Miller said. “We’d estimate about 18,000 to 20,000.”

Meanwhile the San Luis Valley irrigation ditches will be turned off on Monday. Here’s a report from the Valley Courier. From the article:

The November 1 ending of the season applies to all irrigation ditches and canals that divert water from the Rio Grande or its tributaries in Water District 20, and it also applies to all irrigation wells in Water District 20, which is generally the drainage area of the Rio Grande above Alamosa.

More Rio Grande Basin coverage here.

Arkansas Valley: Water court judge Dennis Maes signs new surface water irrigation rules

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

“The process worked,” said State Engineer Dick Wolfe, who filed the application for the rules. “That was our vision from the outset. Even after we filed the rules, we continued to work with the objectors, and that led to productive changes in the rules.” Settlements reached earlier this month with all of the objectors in the case avoided the need for a trial that was scheduled for November.

The rules apply only to the Arkansas River basin and are designed to prevent farm improvements such as sprinklers, drip irrigation or canal lining from increasing consumptive use, in order to comply with the Arkansas River Compact between Colorado and Kansas…

The rules become effective Jan. 1 and require anyone making an improvement to a surface irrigation system to file an application. Those who installed sprinklers or drip irrigation systems after Oct. 1, 1999, also must file.

The rules were first suggested in 2007 by Water Division 2 Engineer Steve Witte to address the possibility that farm efficiencies would increase consumptive use and deplete return flows — the water that drains off fields. That could violate a section of the Arkansas River Compact that prohibits developing “works” that increase the use of water in Colorado. Kansas sued Colorado in 1985, leading to a 24-year lawsuit in the U.S. Supreme Court…

There are three ways of complying with the rules: through direct engineering reports, under a general permit or through a compact compliance plan. The Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District is developing a compliance plan, which would charge farmers for administration and allow those who show a gain in return flows under the model to claim a credit. The compliance plan would be for farmers in the areas below Pueblo Dam.

More Ark Valley consumptive use rules coverage here.