Runoff news: People with structures and operations in the Cache la Poudre floodplain need to start preparing for possible snowmelt flooding

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From the Fort Collins Coloradoan (Bobby Magill):

The snow keeps on falling in the mountains of Larimer County, and the snow is not forecast to begin melting significantly for at least a week. “When it does start melting, the probability is really high that it’s going to melt really fast,” Fassnacht said, adding that the Poudre River is likely to peak at a level as high or higher than ever seen before.

The Poudre’s historic peak flow through Fort Collins for the last 35 years occurred April 30, 1999, when the river was measured at 10.46 feet with a streamflow of 7,710 cubic feet per second, or cfs, according to U.S. Geological Survey data. The 2010 runoff came close when the Poudre crested at 9.27 feet and 4,570 cfs…

Flood stage at the mouth of Poudre Canyon is 7.5 feet or about 5,000 cfs. Through Fort Collins, flood stage is 12 feet or 10,500 cfs. Streamflows greater than 9,000 cfs have occurred only five times in Fort Collins’ history, according to city data. The greatest streamflow ever recorded on the Poudre came in 1904, when a rainstorm caused the river to surge to about 25,000 cfs, killing one person. Fassnacht said this year’s runoff could bring a streamflow double the size of last year’s highest-in-a-decade flows on the Poudre.

Precipitation news: Denver is above average for the year

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Click on the thumbnail graphic to the right for a look at the 21 day rainfall for Denver from the Urban Drainage and Flood Control District. Here’s a report from Jordan Steffen writing for The Denver Post. From the article:

Since May 1, the metro area has received 3.75 inches of precipitation — 2.24 inches more than normal for this point in the month and 0.48 inches above the normal amount for the year to date, according to the National Weather Service…

So far this month, Colorado Springs has received 0.53 inches of rain, putting the area 2.66 inches below the normal average for this time of year, said Byron Louis of the National Weather Service. Fire dangers in the southern and eastern parts of the state will likely remain high until July, when monsoon rains start to fall, Segin said. Drought conditions, especially in southern Colorado, are creating major problems for ranchers and farmers, said Jim Miller, deputy commissioner for the Colorado Department of Agriculture. The drought has caused a hay shortage and a severe lack of forage on the plains, which leads to grasshoppers competing with livestock for precious food.

Whitewater news: Big year forecast for the Colorado River and the Green River

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This spring / summer promises to be one of the top 10 best high water years on record for the Colorado River System in Utah and Arizona, reports Brian Merrill, CEO of Western River Expeditions that 50 years ago helped pioneer the sport of river rafting on white waters of the West.

“It’s possibly the best water year ever on Utah’s Green River in our half century of river running,” Merrill said. He noted that for raft enthusiasts and whitewater adrenaline junkies “2011 is THE year to book a river trip through Westwater or Cataract Canyons of the Colorado River or Gray and Desolation Canyons on the Green.” Also, the Bureau of Reclamation is releasing extra flow from Glen Canyon Dam which means higher water through the Grand Canyon this year. (The water release strategy is an effort to increase the level of Lake Mead.)

Merrill anticipated that high water would continue through late July this year; ordinarily it tapers off at the end of June. The public may monitor Colorado and Green River drainages on a daily basis by going to:

More whitewater coverage here.

Colorado River Cooperative Agreement: The Moffat Collection System Project will divert an additional 15% of Upper Colorado River flows

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Update: I incorrectly attributed the article. Mr. Neubecker is not representing Trout Unlimited’s views in the article but those of his organization, the Western Rivers Institute. Thanks to a Coyote Gulch reader for pointing this out.

Western River’s Institute’s Trout Unlimited’s Ken Neubecker has penned a guest column running in the Vail Daily about the things the Colorado River didn’t get from the Colorado River Cooperative Agreement. Here’s an excerpt:

If anyone is a loser in this, it is the river itself. Although the agreement claims to have provisions that will help the rivers, that’s not as accurate as it could be. Yes, lots of money, cooperation and a small amount of water for environmental “enhancement” are provided. But far more water will still be taken from the river than is left to flow in its starved channel. The agreement does not address or acknowledge that more than 60 percent of the Fraser and upper Colorado are already being diverted to the Front Range. The Moffat Expansion will take an additional 15 percent or more on top of that. With that much of the native flows removed, making about 1 percent available for “environmental enhancement,” as this agreement does, won’t go far to help the river, much less improve it.

The agreement does not deal with the impacts from the Moffat and Windy Gap expansion. Future diversions by Denver Water and others are not ruled out. Even with cooperation, the upper Colorado and Fraser could still be drained of their last drop.

Neither this agreement nor the potential mitigations proposed to the Division of Wildlife deal with the damage already done from more than a hundred years of diversions. Yet everyone pats themselves on the back for a job well done and goes back to work, never really admitting what has been lost.

Here’s another guest column written by John Berggren running in The Denver Post. From the article:

In an era of constrained water supplies threatened further by climate change, the precedent should not be building more diversions or pipelines. It should be water governance that recognizes no more new water is available and limitless supply is a thing of the past. This is not an argument for limiting growth. In fact, some cities in the Southwest have shown the ability to reduce overall water consumption while adding population. It can be done. Instead, this is an argument that conservation, smart planning, and cooperation needs to be the first thought in water management, not diversions and pipelines. The Colorado River Cooperative Agreement is a step in this direction. The agreement includes increased conservation and reuse by Denver Water; water planning that includes environmental needs in a long- term, statewide framework; and collaboration with entities on both sides of the divide.

More Colorado River basin coverage here.

Animas River watershed: American Tunnel mitigation is raising groundwater levels in nearby mines, superfund designation on the horizon?

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From The Durango Herald (Dale Rodebaugh):

“We wanted to bring people up to date on the quality of water in the Animas and why it’s getting worse,” Peter Butler said Friday. “But any decisions are quite a ways off.” Butler is a member of the Animas River Stakeholders Group and chairman of the Colorado Water Quality Control Commission. He lives in La Plata County.

When Sunnyside Mining Co. ended operations in Silverton in 1991, it negotiated a court decree to plug mine outlet tunnels, including the main access, the American Tunnel, with bulkheads. But the bulkheads raised the subterranean water level tremendously, increasing pressure that created drainage in nearby mines that had been mostly dry. Since 2004, when treatment of mine drainage ceased at the American Tunnel, discharge has increased to a total of 700 gallons a minute from other mines in the Gladstone area. The American Tunnel still discharges 100 gallons a minute.

More Animas River watershed coverage here.

Southern Delivery System update: Construction starting in earnest this summer

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From The Denver Post (Bruce Finley):

Construction crews this week began work on the $2.3 billion Southern Delivery System. It is designed to pump water uphill and north from Pueblo Reservoir — through a 62-mile pipeline — to sustain Colorado Springs, which owns the rights to the river water, and other growing Front Range cities. The cities embarked on this project because water supplies have emerged as a constraint on population growth.

CH2MHill project engineers and construction chiefs at Pueblo Reservoir this week re-channelled the river below the 240-foot-high dam using sandbags. They’re adjusting dam valves to dry an area so that digging crews can start laying the pipeline without relying on expensive underwater divers. Three 15,000-horsepower pumps are to propel the water through a pressurized 66-inch-diameter steel pipeline. Moving water to the planned end points — two 30,000 acre-foot reservoirs to be built east of Colorado Springs — requires an elevation gain of 1,600 feet…

The Pueblo Reservoir, built in 1975, holds 357,000 acre-feet of water, and the diversion is expected to lower the average water level by about six feet…

Meanwhile, the $50 million for cleaning and restoration of Fountain Creek could enable new recreation, reservoirs and fishing, [Pueblo County Commissioner John Cordova said. “We could have trout,” he said…

Environmental groups “are generally satisfied,” as long as Colorado Springs live up to its commitments to ensure appropriate water levels in the Arkansas River above and below the reservoir, Trout Unlimited water project director Drew Peternell said.
Huge amounts of energy required to pump water uphill, however, looms as “a greenhouse gas issue,” Peternell said. “We’d encourage them to consider renewable sources” of electricity, he said.

More Southern Delivery System coverage here and here.