Creede: Town Board meeting recap

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From The Mineral County Miner (Toni Steffens-Steward):

The Creede Town Board learned that water line work is on budget and faced more questions on special event permits and water tank access at the regular meeting on Jan. 4.

More infrastructure coverage here.

Arkansas Valley Super Ditch Company update

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From The La Junta Tribune-Democrat (Bette McFarren) via the Ag Journal:

The Super Ditch is a plan whereby the farmer/landowner retains the land, but the water is leased by the acre-foot to an urban area for a period of one year. Whatever part of the farmer’s land which would have been watered by that portion of his irrigation rights is then fallowed (not planted) for that year. This plan makes sense particularly in dry years in which the price of the farmer’s major crop is low. By leasing a portion of his water rights, he is guaranteed an income from his land although actually growing the crop probably would not have been profitable.

More Arkansas Valley Super Ditch coverage here.

Rifle: Middle Colorado River Partnership seminar recap

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Fromthe Glenwood Springs Post Independent (Heidi Rice):

Friday morning, about 25 people — including city and county officials and concerned citizens — attended a meeting in Rifle to listen to a presentation by Eric Kuhn, general manager of the Colorado River Water Conservation District, and Mike Wilde, a former teacher for Glenwood Springs High School on water education and member of the MCRWP steering committee. The presentation, which was the third in a series of educational meetings held by the group, was titled: “The Colorado River: People, Policies and Plumbing.”

“This was about the plumbing of the Colorado — what goes in and out,” Wilde said. “The Colorado River is incredibly used and is a spoken for river today.”

“The oil and gas industry is not a large user of water,” Kuhn summed up. “But oil shale potentially is.”[…]

At this time, the [Middle Colorado River Partnership] is applying for 319 funding for watershed planning activities and waiting to hear whether it will receive a $64,600 federal grant, with a $72,200 matching grant, for a total of $136,800. The money will allow the group to complete studies that will hopefully increase awareness of the Middle Colorado River Watershed and the state of the river.

More Colorado River basin coverage here.

USGS: Characterization of Hydrology and Salinity in the Dolores Project Area, McElmo Creek Region, Southwest Colorado, Water Years 1978—2006

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Here’s the abstract from the report [Richards, R.J., and Leib, K.J., 2011, Characterization of hydrology and salinity in the Dolores project area, McElmo Creek Region, southwest Colorado, 1978—2006: U.S. Geological Survey Scientific Investigations Report 2010–5218, 38 p.].

Increasing salinity loading in the Colorado River has become a major concern for agricultural and municipal water supplies. The Colorado Salinity Control Act was implemented in 1974 to protect and enhance the quality of water in the Colorado River Basin. The U.S. Geological Survey, in cooperation with the Bureau of Reclamation and the Colorado River Salinity Control Forum, summarized salinity reductions in the McElmo Creek basin in southwest Colorado as a result of salinity-control modifications and flow-regime changes that result from the Dolores Project, which consists of the construction of McPhee reservoir on the Dolores River and salinity control modifications along the irrigation water delivery system.

Flow-adjusted salinity trends using S-LOADEST estimations for a streamgage on McElmo Creek (site 1), that represents outflow from the basin, indicates a decrease in salinity load by 39,800 tons from water year 1978 through water year 2006, which is an average decrease of 1,370 tons per year for the 29-year period. Annual-load calculations for a streamgage on Mud Creek (site 6), that represents outflow from a tributary basin, indicate a decrease of 7,300 tons from water year 1982 through water year 2006, which is an average decrease of 292 tons per year for the 25-year period. The streamgage Dolores River at Dolores, CO (site 17) was chosen to represent a background site that is not affected by the Dolores Project. Annual load calculations for site 17 estimated a decrease of about 8,600 tons from water year 1978 through water year 2006, which is an average decrease of 297 tons per year for the 29-year period. The trend in salinity load at site 17 was considered to be representative of a natural trend in the region.

Typically, salinity concentrations at outflow sites decreased from the pre-Dolores Project period (water years 1978—1984) to the post-Dolores Project period (water years 2000—2006). The median salinity concentration for site 1 (main basin outflow) decreased from 2,210 milligrams per liter per day in the preperiod to 2,110 milligrams per liter per day in the postperiod. The median salinity concentration for site 6 (tributary outflow) increased from 3,370 milligrams per liter per day in the preperiod to 3,710 milligrams per liter per day in the postperiod. Salinity concentrations typically increased at inflow sites from the preperiod to the postperiod. Salinity concentrations increased from 178 milligrams per liter per day during the preperiod at Main Canal #1 (site 16) to 227 milligrams per liter per day during the postperiod at the Dolores Tunnel Outlet near Dolores, CO (site 15).

Calculation of the historical flow regime in McElmo Creek was done using a water-budget analysis of the basin. During water years 2000—2006, an estimated 845,000 acre-feet of water was consumed by crops and did not return to the creek as streamflow. The remaining 76,000 acre-feet, or 10,900 acre-feet per year for the 7-year postperiod, was assumed to represent a historical flow condition. The historical flow of 10,900 acre-feet per year is equivalent to 15.1 cubic feet per second.

Average total dissolved solids concentrations for water in each type of sedimentary rock were used to estimate natural salinity loads. Most surface-water sites used to fit the criteria needed to achieve a natural TDS concentration were springs. An average spring TDS value for sandstones geology in the basin was 350 milligrams per liter, and the average value for Mancos Shale geology was 4,000 milligrams per liter. The natural salinity loads in McElmo Creek were estimated to be 29,100 tons per year, which is 43 percent of the salinity load that was calculated for the postperiod.

More San Juan River basin coverage here. More Dolores River watershed coverage here.

Snowpack news

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From The Mountain Mail (Paul Goetz):

Allen Green of the National Resources Conservation Service said Wednesday that by Jan. 5, statewide snowpack was 136 percent of average. He said that’s the highest Jan. 1 snowpack measured since 1997 when the state reported overall snowpack at 160 percent of average. Snowpack in the Arkansas River Basin was 105 percent of average while reservoir storage was 93 percent of average. Snotel sites maintained by the conservation service reported depths ranging from 30-45 inches in the Upper Arkansas River Basin. Water content ranged from 6.8-10.3 inches. Gunnison River Basin snowpack averaged 156 percent, Colorado River Basin was 147 percent, South Platte River Basin has 126 percent, North Platte Basin has 147 percent, Yampa and White river drainages show 145 percent. In addition, the Rio Grande drainage has 107 percent and the basin of the San Miguel, Dolores, Animas and San Juan rivers was 144 percent of average.

Meanwhile, many eyes are focused on the water level at Lake Mead. Here’s a report from the Las Vegas Sun (Dylan Scott):

Snow accumulation in the Colorado River Basin above Lake Powell in Utah is more than 30 percent above historical levels, the bureau estimated. If that number holds steady through the spring, Lake Powell’s depth could rise to 3,643 feet, a trigger point that would prompt the bureau to release at least an additional 3.13 million acre-feet of water into Lake Mead over the summer. As part of the Colorado River Compact, Lake Powell annually releases 8.23 million acre-feet of water into Lake Mead. According to agency statistics, if the higher threshold were reached at Lake Powell, a total of 11.36 million acre-feet of water or more would flow into Lake Mead by September. Andrew Munoz, spokesman for the Lake Mead National Recreation Area, said 100,000 acre-feet is equal to about 1 foot of elevation on the lake. If 3.13 million additional acre-feet of water was pumped into the lake at once, the surface level would rise more than 30 feet…

The Bureau of Reclamation projected a 76 percent chance that Lake Powell would reach the 3,643-feet threshold by April 1, the deadline for a decision to be made.

Click through for the photo slideshow showing the flooded town of St. Thomas. In the recent past the town was part of the lake bottom but these days it sits on the shore of the Colorado River.

From the Valley Courier (Ruth Heide):

Recent snowstorms brought the Rio Grande Basin (San Luis Valley) up to almost average levels of snowpack, Division of Water Resources Staffer Pat McDermott reported in the Rio Grande Roundtable meeting on Tuesday…

At the same time, precipitation has been down in recent years. Last year’s precipitation was only 6 inches, for example, more than an inch lower than the 7 1/4 inches average precipitation, and in 2008 the annual precipitation was only 5 1/2 inches…

As far as snowpack on January 11, the Upper Rio Grande Basin sat at 114 percent of normal, with some areas such as Wolf Creek much higher. Wolf Creek Summit’s SNOTEL site showed 136 percent of normal snowpack as of Tuesday, the Upper San Juan site 130 percent, Beartown 104 percent and Cumbres Trestle 131 percent…

The Valley’s east side, the Sangre de Cristo Mountain Range, was showing a different picture, however. McDermott pointed out that as of Tuesday, the Sangre de Cristo Mountain Range basinwide was showing only 62 percent of normal snowpack. The Culebra near San Luis, for example, was at 58 percent of normal. Medano Creek was sitting at 53 percent of normal, and North Costilla was 45 percent of normal. The highest snowpack in the Sangres was Ute Creek at 70 percent of normal…

The Rio Grande nearly “broke even” but ultimately appeared to have over-delivered about 300 acre feet, McDermott reported. That’s a pretty close call, considering the annual index supply on the Rio Grande totaled more than 539,000 acre feet. Of that, the river owed about 26 percent of the flow to downstream states New Mexico and Texas under its Rio Grande Compact agreement.

The Conejos River system over-delivered to downstream states by a much larger amount, about 2,300 acre feet, but part of that was by design, according to McDermott. He explained that because Colorado is storing water in the post-compact reservoir Platoro when it is not supposed to be (but cannot help doing so), it will basically trade its credit water from the Conejos River system with New Mexico and Texas to make up for the water it is storing in Platoro.

(When the Rio Grande Compact reservoirs in New Mexico reach a project storage level of less than 400,000 acre feet, post-compact reservoirs upstream are not allowed to store water, and that includes Platoro Reservoir. The reservoir storage in New Mexico is currently much lower than 400,000 acre feet. Because of current conditions at Platoro, however, the water cannot be released downstream.)

Energy policy — oil and gas: Garfield County ‘Mamm Creek hydrological study’ update

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From the Glenwood Springs Post Independent (John Colson):

Known as the “Mamm Creek Hydrological Study,” the current investigation involves the use of a group of monitoring wells to determine the amount of “thermogenic” methane present at depths of 300-600 feet. “It’s not clear where the methane that we found came from,” said Judy Jordan, Garfield County’s oil and gas liaison, referring to thermogenic methane gas that had been detected in domestic water wells in past studies. The county is paying for the roughly $370,000 cost of the study.

Thermogenic hydrocarbons, including methane, typically are found much deeper than the reach of a normal domestic water well. The thermogenic compounds, which can be either liquid or gaseous, often appear as far as 8,000 feet below the surface, where they often are linked with deposits of natural gas and oil. Another type of methane, called “biogenic,” is found at much shallower depths and is related to the decomposition of organic material…

Jordan explained that GeoTrans recently completed the installation of six monitoring wells, at varying depths, in the Mamm Creek Basin, the same general region where previous consultants have taken samples from domestic water wells. Those domestic water wells, Jordan said, are typically much shallower, perhaps 300 feet deep or less, than the monitoring wells. And the domestic wells, she said, yielded only “chemical data” regarding what substances were present in the water. The monitoring wells are paired, with one well at a specific depth and a second well at a different depth. The data obtained by the pairs of wells, Jordan said, is meant to provide a three-dimensional profile of the movement of groundwater in the Wasatch Formation. The Wasatch Formation, Jordan said, lies between the earth’s surface and a depth of 2,000 feet, and is the source of most domestic drinking water supplies in Garfield County. By mapping the direction of movement in the groundwater flows, she said, experts can determine the direction contamination may be coming from.

According to Jordan, there are three possible sources of the methane — either it is seeping upward into groundwater reservoirs from formations deeper in the earth, using natural faults; it is from naturally occurring gas deposits within the Wasatch Formation; or it is migrating upward into the Wasatch Formation using faults linked to gas-drilling activities, perhaps even the well bores themselves.

Meanwhile the debate over disclosure of chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing goes on. Here’s a report from David O. Williams writing for the Colorado Independent. From the article:

Forty-six members of Congress, including Colorado Democratic Reps. Jared Polis and Diana DeGette, sent a letter to former Colorado senator and current Interior Secretary Ken Salazar Thursday backing the disclosure of secret chemicals used in the controversial natural gas drilling process called hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking.” Polis and DeGette, along with Rep. Maurice Hinchey, D-N.Y., co-sponsored the Fracturing Responsibility and Awareness of Chemicals (FRAC) Act in 2009, only to see it languish in the overall gridlock over energy policy and climate-change legislation. Dubbed the “Haliburton Loophole” for the oil services company that perfected the process, fracking was granted an exemption from the Safe Drinking Water Act during the Bush-Cheney administration in 2005.

More oil and gas coverage here and here.

Orchard City: Butte Ditch annual meeting recap

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From the Delta County Indpendent (Hank Lohmeyer):

[Andy] Wick, who served as board president during 2010, reported that the Butte Ditch Company completed a lengthy and involved process of getting about six cfs of tail water, called the Cedar Run Tributary, decreed for company ownership and use. Final word of the decree came on Nov. 11, Wick said. Also during 2010, new company bylaws were approved, and an elegant, hand drawn map from the early 20th century showing the original Butte Ditch has been matted, framed, and hung in the town hall community room. The map display is accompanied by two other original documents: a handwritten letter from 1916 and a list of water users from that same time…

Widener and some shareholders discussed the need for a new water wagon that would be used during ditch burning operations. The condition of the current wagon has raised concerns about the unit’s effectiveness and safety…

Mike Thomas, president of the OCID board, reported there are currently 2,310 acre feet of water stored in Fruitgrowers Reservoir. That is “very encouraging,” he said. The snowpack on Grand Mesa is also looking good for this year’s water supply.

More Gunnison River basin coverage here.

Energy policy — hydroelectric: Telluride is assessing micro-hydroelectric potential in its wastewater and water systems

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From the Telluride Watch (Karen James):

The first project is a feasibility study of the town’s existing wastewater and water systems to determine where it would make the most sense to install turbines to generate electricity. “The goal is to have the whole system analyzed and have most promising locations highlighted…and to learn how much it would cost,” said Public Works Project Manager Karen Guglielmone, who anticipated the town will issue a Request for Proposal for the analysis in the coming weeks. As it stands now, valves found throughout the system are used to bleed off pressure from the town’s existing, gravity-fed system. “That energy could be used in the right circumstances,” she explained.

In addition to its ability to generate power using existing infrastructure, retrofitting the existing system for micro-hydro would not require additional staffing for monitoring, would have no adverse environmental impacts, and would not require potentially controversial institutional or public process elements, according to a list of project benefits identified by Guglielmone in a memo to council…

The second micro-hydro project slated for completion in the coming year would be to install a continuous discharge monitoring station upstream of the Jud Wiebe Bridge as recommended in the 2009 Stillwell Micro-Hydro Feasibility Study. Its goal would be to obtain real-world discharge data to refine the study’s cost-benefit analysis and to better quantify its potential adverse environmental impacts, including drying up approximately 1,800 feet of Cornet Creek and Cornet Falls for a portion of the year. “We have to find out what is the actual discharge in Cornet Creek,” explained Guglielmone, who indicated that the existing studies have so far relied on hydrologic modeling. “It would be useful to have more refined data.” A first, recommended option being considered by the town would repair an existing diversion dam on Cornet Creek above the falls and run a new, pressurized pipe to a small powerhouse near the Jud Wiebe trailhead. Preliminary production estimates suggest the project could produce between 780,000 and 980,000 kilowatt hours of energy annually, or about one-third of the town government’s 2009 electric use. It would also eliminate 22 percent of its 2009 carbon emissions, for roughly $1.1 million. A second option would require a new diversion dam be build on Cornet Creek above the Stillwell adit and replacing the existing water line from the adit with pressurized pipe to the same powerhouse site near the Jud Wiebe trailhead.

More hydroelectric coverage here and here.

Southern Delivery System update

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

The state’s certification of the Southern Delivery System under the federal Clean Water Act is a way to attain better monitoring and protection of water quality, says a local member of the state board that approved the action. “Our purpose is to protect water quality, and it affects me because I’ve experienced the negative impacts,” said John Klomp, a member of the Water Quality Control Commission and a former Pueblo County commissioner…

Klomp sees numerous positive impacts for state certification of SDS. Among them:

– The alternative will be the least damaging to the environment, with annual reviews and continued oversight from the Water Quality Control Division.
– Colorado Springs will comply with the Upper Arkansas and Pueblo flow programs.
– More monitoring stations — 13 on Fountain Creek — may help identify and prevent adverse changes in water quality.
– A fish and wildlife plan approved by the Wildlife Commission provides additional protection for water.

More Southern Delivery System coverage here and here.

Longmont: Public Works Deparment reduces the level of fluoride in treated water

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From the Longmont Ledger (Bruce Leaf):

Based on new federal recommendations, Longmont began reducing the amount of fluoride to 0.7 milligrams per liter from the 0.9 to 1.2 milligrams per liter the city had been doing since 1958, Dale Rademacher, director of the city’s Public Works and Natural Resources Department, said Tuesday at the City Council meeting.

More water treatment coverage here.

Aspen: Sanitary sewer rate hikes

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From The Aspen Times (Andre Salvail):

Bruce Matherly, manager for the quasi-public entity that handles sewer maintenance and wastewater treatment for Aspen and outlying areas, said the district board approved a 10 percent rate increase in early December. He said some customers have called to question the hike over the past few days, and most have expressed understanding of the reason once it was explained…

The rate hike was necessary, he said, because the downturn in the economy over the last few years has led to a construction slowdown. New construction means new business for the sanitation district, and pumps money into the entity’s capital fund, which pays for various repair and maintenance projects for the area’s sewer and wastewater-treatment systems. Capital revenues have fallen steadily since 2007, when they amounted to $3 million. They totaled an estimated $800,000 in 2008, $500,000 in 2009 and $350,000 in 2010. This year, the district has budgeted $478,000 for capital projects, but that’s a loose projection, and not all of the tasks outlined in the budget will be tackled…

The board decided to raise rates 10 percent as a method of garnering extra money to cover the cost of 2011 projects — whether scheduled or unforeseen. The district has a rainy-day fund to cover emergencies but didn’t feel it would be fiscally prudent to tap it, he said. The increase will generate about $280,000 over the year, Matherly said. “It’s not much money, but every bit helps,” he said. “The board is trying to stay proactive and increase the revenue stream just in case. We’ll see if the increase keeps us in the black.”[…]

Currently the district is having some issues with its aeration system. The problem is a lack of consistency in getting enough air to microorganisms used to treat wastewater before it’s released into the Roaring Fork River. The water the district releases has to be extra sanitary because the river is a gold-medal trout-fishing stream.

More wastewater coverage here and here.