Restoration: Should there be a ‘Good Samaritan’ exemption to the Clean Water Act?

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From The Denver Post (Bruce Finley):

But as bad as the damage is, community watershed groups, mining companies and even state agencies contend they cannot embark on cleanups for fear of incurring legal liability. Under the Clean Water Act, parties who get involved at abandoned mines and accidentally make matters worse — even over the short term — could be vulnerable to federal prosecution for polluting waterways without a permit.

Obama administration officials two years ago promised to break gridlock on this issue, spurring a legislative fix to enable “good Samaritan” cleanups and devoting “significant resources” for watershed restoration. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar last week acknowledged there is still gridlock and that more must be done to deal with tens of thousands of leaking abandoned mines nationwide…

State records show:

• Colorado’s 7,300 abandoned mine sites contain about 17,000 point sources of pollution, such as open mine shafts and tunnels.

• At least 150 abandoned mines “significantly affect” surface water directly. Storm and snowmelt water running over slag heaps at another 300 abandoned mines measurably harms surface and groundwater.

• The abandoned mines are scattered widely — including Jamestown west of Boulder and the headwaters of the Mancos River in the southwestern corner of the state.

More water pollution coverage here.

More Good Samaritan exemption coverage here.

Conservation: The Pipe Springs Ranch near Springfield wins the 2011 Leopold Conservation Award

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From the Ag Journal Online:

The Wisconsin-based conservation organization Sand County Foundation, in partnership with the Colorado Cattlemen’s Association, the Colorado Agricultural Land Trust, Encana Oil & Gas (USA) Inc. and Peabody Energy; is proud to name Pipe Springs Ranch of Springfield, Colo. as the recipient of the 2011 Leopold Conservation Award in Colorado.

“The McEndree siblings and their families have a strong connection to, and a great sense of responsibility for, the natural resources that are in their care,” said Brent Haglund, president, Sand County Foundation. “Their commitment to pass these values on to the next generation, through a remarkable amount of agricultural education and outreach, is truly exceptional.”

Siblings Jo Ann McEndree, Kaye Kasza, Steve McEndree and Cathy Tebay are fourth generation ranchers who are committed to leaving a sustainable operation for their descendants. A large part of their land stewardship involved placing pipelines to distribute water across their 14,737- acre ranch. As a result, they created smaller pastures and were able to plant two windbreaks to offer protection for both livestock and wildlife. This allows for shorter grazing periods, which increases the productivity of the soil and plants. This has also resulted in an increase in wildlife. A herd of deer makes its home on the ranch, along with a few elk, foxes and the occasional bear. The population of songbirds and pheasants has also increased dramatically.
Future plans for the ranch include more water lines and fencing to create even smaller pastures, and shorter, more intense grazing periods. By purchasing temporary fencing materials the family will be able to split a section into quarters for grazing purposes. The 4-5 days of grazing per year in each quarter section allow for adequate regrowth of natural grasses during the remainder of the year.

The $10,000 Leopold Conservation Award will be presented to Pipe Springs Ranch on June 21 at the Colorado Cattlemen’s Association’s Annual Convention in Steamboat Springs.

More conservation coverage here.

Yampa River Festival recap: The sun showed up off and on on Saturday

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From Steamboat Today ( Luke Graham):

The Yampa River Festival featured a bit of everything Saturday. The day began off the water with 5- and 1-kilometer running races. There was a stand-up paddleboard race at Fetcher Pond, the cult-like raft race, the crowd-pleasing Crazy River Dog contest, an inner tube rodeo, and finally the kayak rodeo, where vintage crafts were the main show. The raft race, which began at Fetcher Pond and ended at the D-Hole in front of the Depot Art Center, featured competitor of all stripes. There were serious rafters, first-timers and people dressed in only their underwear…

The stand-up paddleboard race was a new event. Todd Givnish, who organized it, said he wasn’t expecting much. But by 12:45 p.m., people already were lining up to give the burgeoning sport of paddleboarding a try…

As one of the only events on the calm waters of Fetcher Pond, the paddleboard event brought out newbies and experienced paddlers for a timed race. Racers had to paddle the length of the pond and navigate around designated markers…

The Paddling Life Pro Invitational starts at 11 a.m. Monday with an extreme kayak race on Class IV-V Fish Creek followed by kayak rodeos at the D-Hole from noon to 5 p.m.

More Yampa River basin coverage here.

Runoff/snowpack news: The Yampa River is likely to reach flood stage the week of June 4, Clear Creek is coming up some

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Here’s the link to the gage reading Yampa River below Soda Creek at Steamboat from the USGS via the Colorado Division of Water Resources. Here’s a report from Tom Ross writing for Steamboat Today. From the article:

“We see a big warmup as a ridge of high pressure settles over Colorado next week and we’re projecting a strong chance that the Yampa there exceeds flood stage by next week,” Greg Smith said. “Temperatures could be 10 degrees above average, and if that forecast verifies, we could see a lot of rivers off to the races.”[…]

Mike Chamberlain, a forecaster with the National Weather Service in Grand Junction, said he foresees daily highs in the range of 75 to 77 degrees settling in by the middle of the coming week. He cautioned that the forecast could change, particularly if a southeast flow brings more clouds to Northwest Colorado than currently anticipated. Smith said a change of 4 to 5 degrees in temperature could significantly change the rate of snowmelt…

Strautins said that given the amount of snowpack held this late into the year, it’s not unreasonable to think Steamboat might set a new record for the peak flow. NOAA’s forecast for the Yampa River in Steamboat assigns a 90 percent change that the river will exceed 5,200 cfs, a 75 percent chance that it will exceed 5,500 cfs, and a 50 percent chance that it will exceed 6,000 cfs. The chances of peak flows exceeding 7,000 cfs are 25 percent, and there remains a 10 percent chance the river could exceed 8,000 cfs. The U.S. Geological Survey and NOAA differ on the all-time peak flow in the Yampa. The latter puts it at 5,870 cfs, but the USGS shows the Yampa peaking as high as 6,820 cfs (a gauge height of just 6.64 feet) on June 14, 1921. It’s almost a certainty that the channel of the river in the town stretch has changed during the intervening 90 years. The highest peak in recent years was 5,310 cfs (7.65 feet) on June 3, 1997…

The snowpack at the Tower measuring site at 10,500 feet on Buffalo Pass actually increased at times during the week that just ended. The snow depth jumped from 178 inches on May 20 to 194 inches the next day after a 16-inch snowstorm, according to automated gauges operate by the Natural Resources Conservation Service. The snowpack there gave up 23 inches of depth due to settling and possible melting by May 25, then added a fresh 8 inches on May 26. The 79.3 inches of water stored there is 171 percent of average. At the base of Buffalo Pass at Dry Lake Campground, the 27.8 inches of water is 772 percent of the typical 3.6 inches of water for this date. That measurement is influenced by the fact that snow at Dry Lake’s 8,400-foot elevation is usually all but melted by this date.

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Meanwhile Clear Creek is coming up some since yesterday. Here’s the link to the stream gage Clear Creek at Golden. Flows are still under the median for this date by 70-80cfs.

From (Lori Obert/Will Ripley):

9NEWS meteorologist Marty Coniglio says the flooding threat this week is very high and flood-prone areas, including Clear Creek, could be at-risk…

“It’s probably a good idea to get together with your neighbors and start making a plan,” Coniglio said. “Because we’re going to start seeing water running very high and it’s going to happen fast by the end of the week.”

From The Denver Post (Joey Bunch):

Metro temperatures could soar to the 90s by midweek…

Western Colorado has a 40 percent to 50 percent chance of above-average temperatures through August, according to the Climate Prediction Center. The Front Range, southeast plains and northern mountains has a 33.3 percent to 40 percent of above average readings, while the outlook for northeast Colorado is still uncertain. Whether Colorado receives more or less rain over the next three months is still undetermined, however.

Colorado-Big Thompson update: Flows in the Big Thompson below Olympus dam 450cfs

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From email from Reclamation (Kara Lamb):

I just happened to be awake when our hydrologic engineer sent out the water order [early Monday morning]. So, please be aware we are bumping releases from Olympus Dam to the Big Thompson River upwards of 200 cfs. The resulting flow below the dam through the upper part of the canyon will be about 450 cfs.

Sunday was the first day it really started to warm up. As a result, some of the snow pack is melting. This made inflows to Lake Estes via the Big Thompson River start to rise. Travel times typically have snow run-off hit Estes after midnight. As a result we are bypassing, sending on down, that native flow. Most likely, we will probably curtail releases during the day on Memorial Day. But if the weather holds and we have more sun and pleasant temperatures, it is also likely releases will bump up again about 24-hours from now following a pattern similar to what we are seeing tonight. It all depends on how warm the holiday winds up being.

More Colorado-Big Thompson Project coverage here.