Drought news: Governor Hickenlooper is asking for more federal dough for Colorado’s dryest counties

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Here’s the release from Governor Hickenlooper’s office (Eric Brown/Megan Castle):

Gov. John Hickenlooper sent a letter today to U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack requesting drought assistance for nine additional counties.

“As the drought situation in southern Colorado continues to worsen, I am forced to request secretarial disaster designation for nine additional counties,” the governor’s letter said.

Bent, Chaffee, Custer, Fremont, Huerfano, Kiowa, Las Animas, Prowers and Pueblo counties have asked Hickenlooper to seek the federal assistance and be declared primary drought disaster areas. The declaration, if approved, would allow farmers and ranchers to apply for emergency loans if they are unable to obtain credit elsewhere.

The letter also requests disaster assistance for apple producers in Fremont County which lost 60 percent of their crop due to freezes occurring April 28 through May 1, 2011.

Also today, Secretary Vilsack approved Gov. Hickenlooper’s June 16 request for drought disaster relief for Baca, Crowley and Otero counties.

More drought coverage from Anthony A. Mestas writing for The Pueblo Chieftain. From the article:

On Monday, Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo., announced that farmers and ranchers will receive emergency assistance through the U.S. Department of Agriculture…

The declaration allows farmers and ranchers to apply for emergency loans if they are unable to obtain credit elsewhere. Drought designation also enables ranchers who cannot find pasture for their cattle to sell all or part of their herds without having to pay capital gains taxes for five years, giving them time to replenish their herds when pasture is available…

Bent, Chaffee, Custer, Fremont, Huerfano, Kiowa, Las Animas, Prowers and Pueblo counties have asked Hickenlooper to seek the federal assistance and be declared primary drought disaster areas. The declaration, if approved, would allow farmers and ranchers to apply for emergency loans if they are unable to obtain credit elsewhere. The letter also requests disaster assistance for apple producers in Fremont County, who lost 60 percent of their crop due to freezes occurring April 28 through May 1…

Udall said ranchers in several Southeastern Colorado counties also are eligible for emergency grazing through Sept. 30 on land set aside through the Conservation Reserve Program.

Colorado-Big Thompson Project update: 690 cfs in the Big Thompson River below Olympus Dam

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From email from Reclamation (Kara Lamb):

We’re anticipating that we’ll see high inflows again tonight into Lake Estes as the heat continues. Last night, inflows got to about 1200 cfs.

Consequently, we are bumping up releases from Olympus Dam on Lake Estes to the Big Thompson Canyon. We are bumping up in two steps. The first will be tonight/tomorrow morning at midnight. We’ll go up to 600 cfs–an increase of about 100 cfs. An hour later, at 1 a.m., we’ll go up another 90 cfs.

The resulting flow at the top of the canyon will be around 690 cfs.

More Colorado-Big Thompson Project coverage here.

Fryingpan-Arkansas Project update: 838 cfs in the Fryingpan River below Ruedi Dam

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From email from Reclamation (Kara Lamb):

With the heat, we saw inflows into Ruedi bump up last night to what they were a couple weeks ago, back around 1300 cfs. With the reservoir nearing full and more snow still to come, we are bumping releases up another 100 cfs today.

As usual, the changes are being made in 50 cfs increments. The first change was at noon. The second change will be in about an hour around 6 p.m. After both changes are complete, there should be about 838 cfs by the Ruedi gage below Ruedi Dam. This includes about 65 cfs coming down the Rocky Fork.

More Fryingpan-Arkansas Project coverage here.

Yuma: No drinking water violations in more than ten years

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From the Yuma Pioneer (Tony Rayl):

Yuma tests for bacterial infections each month, while other items are tested once per year, and yet others every three years. The schedule stays that way unless a problem arises, then more frequent testing is done as steps are made to rectify the situation. “We’re in really good shape here in regards to our drinking water,” Strait said earlier this week…

Yuma has not had a drinking water violation in well over 10 years. Yuma’s drinking water report did show that there was at least one water well close to the arsenic standard of 10 parts per billion. The Environmental Protection Agency changed the standard from 50 parts per billion to 10 parts per billion several years ago. Eckley and Sterling are among the municipalities that have spent big dollars having to upgrade their water systems because they were out of compliance with the new standard. It also is why Yuma had to shut off its Fairgrounds Well — it consistently tested at 11-12 parts per billion. The Hansen Well at the south end of town comes close to the standard, but so far has stayed just below it at nine parts per billion.

The city of Yuma purchased two new wells a few years ago from farmers on the edge of town, so the city’s water supply actually is more than it was before the Fairgrounds Well was shut off. The town could afford to shut off one more well, but would have to take more drastic and expensive measures if more wells tested above the standard…

With this being an agricultural area, Yuma officials also closely watch for nitrate levels. However, that has not even been close to a problem. The latest round of tests showed Yuma’s wells in the range of 2.9 to 3.7 parts per million in nitrate, well below the health standard of 10 parts per million…

Sanderson noted before the interview was done that the City of Yuma maintains 1 million gallons of water storage, two square miles or 33 linear miles of water pipe, 150-some fire hydrants and 200-some valves, all while utility customers enjoy a water rate that is 60 percent below the state average.

More Republican River basin coverage here.

Telluride: Cornet Creek flood mitigation will help but not prevent flooding

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From The Telluride Watch (Thomas Wirth):

People need to realize, [Karen Guglielmone] said, that in the event of a major event, “pretty much the entire town is in the Cornet Creek floodplain.”

Guglielmone, who is the town’s project manager, went on to update council on the work completed to mitigate flood damage potential since the 2007 “event.” The long list included repair and replacement of culverts and bridges, channel and bank work and repair within the creek, streetscape improvements, ongoing maintenance to keep the creek and culverts free of excessive sediment and debris, and continuing work with San Miguel County to establish emergency response protocols.

Future priorities would look much the same, Guglielmone said, including the replacement of the Cornet Creek Pedestrian Bridge and engineering studies. The suggested studies would focus on a structural analysis of the Cornet Aspen Street berm, a debris cachement system and the feasibility of an early warning system. Of the three, council was most critical of the EWS.

Guglielmone explained that, while EWS systems are improving, there is still the chance of them falling prey to the “cry wolf” syndrome, where false alerts lead to people ignoring alerts altogether. Council as a group seemed to agree that the five minutes of warning that such a system might provide was probably not worth the effort and expense…

Regardless of maintenance and preventative measures, flooding is by its very nature destructive and unpredictable. Town Attorney Kevin Geiger pointed out that no government entity could warranty private property owners against the effects of a flood. Whatever work is done, he said, Cornet Creek would “not be able to handle the bigger events that have and will overwhelm the creek.”

“Risk never goes away,” Guglielmone agreed. The reduction of those risks is a priority of the Public Works Department, she explained. Individual flood insurance, proper zoning, structures such as culverts, bridges and berms, and contingency and response plans are all tools used to reduce the effects of flooding.

More San Miguel River watershed coverage here.

Flaming Gorge Task Force is meeting Wednesday in Silverthorne

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From the Associated Press (Catharine Tsai) via The Denver Post:

Officials representing Colorado river basins meet Wednesday to consider forming a task force that would study proposals to build a water pipeline from Wyoming’s Flaming Gorge Reservoir to serve Colorado cities.

Some conservationists say it’s a waste of time.

Western Resource Advocates and other groups say no one knows if Colorado River compacts allow the state to divert as much water as some have proposed. Until they do, there’s no sense spending time and money to study plans to tap the reservoir, they say…

Eric Kuhn, general manager of the Colorado River District, notes multistate compacts limit how much water Colorado can use from the river basin. “We have no idea whether or not Colorado River water is available for this project under the 1922 and 1948 compacts,” he wrote in a memo addressing Million’s proposal.

“This proposal may burst through the ceiling of what is left to develop statewide” in Colorado, said Bart Miller, water program director for Western Resource Advocates…

Last month, independent reviewers contracted by water officials concluded that a task force to review potential Flaming Gorge diversions would be valuable. Public documents show $45,000 was requested for that study. Representatives of Colorado’s river basin roundtables are meeting Wednesday in Silverthorne to decide whether to form the task force. Agricultural, environmental and recreational interests have been invited to attend.

More Flaming Gorge pipeline coverage here and here. More Colorado Wyoming Cooperative Water Supply Project coverage here.

Colorado State’s Public Lands History Center to Create Online Exhibit of Agricultural Water Use Along Poudre River

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Here’s the release from Colorado State Universtity (Kimberly Sorensen):

The Public Lands History Center at Colorado State University received funding from the Colorado Agricultural Research Station to create an educational website that will describe the history of agricultural water organizations along the Cache La Poudre River. The website will incorporate primary sources from the CSU Morgan Library’s Water Resources Archive.

Using information and sources gathered from local experts, agricultural and water-related organizations and archives, the website will offer detailed historical information and research pertaining to the shift of water from rural-agricultural to urban and industrial uses in northern Colorado.

“This educational website has the potential to elevate the quality of debate about local water use by improving community understanding of the historical and ongoing interdependence of agricultural and urban communities in the region,” said Maren Bzdek, website project manager.
In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, irrigation development on the Cache La Poudre River was a model for the development of legal administration of water rights in the American West and contributed to Colorado’s prominence in the advancement of agricultural water rights and regulation. More recently, northern Colorado has been recognized as a main location for negotiations associated with the pressure of urbanization on agricultural water supplies, drought and water quality problems and the search for the most equitable and efficient technologies, organizational forms and conservation practices.

In addition to primary documents obtained from CSU’s Morgan Library, the website will also include historical narratives, biographical sketches, timelines, bibliographies and maps. The Public Lands History Center hopes that the development of this website will raise historical literacy about the complex connections between agriculture, urban-industrial development and population growth in this semi-arid region.

For more information about CSU’s Public Lands History Center, visit www.publiclands.colostate.edu.

McPhee and Jackson reservoirs end of May status report

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From the Cortez Journal:

Jackson Gulch reservoir live content stood at 9,977 acre-feet with a 9,977 acre-feet maximum capacity and a 9,296 acre-feet average (1971-2000) end-of-month content. At Jackson Gulch, a daily maximum/minimum of 42/0 cubic-feet-per-second was released into the Mancos River, and 51 acre feet were released for municipal purposes.

McPhee Reservoir live content stood at 366,023, with a 381,051 acre-feet maximum capacity and a 354,188 average (1986-2000) end-of-month content. At McPhee, 17,380 acre-feet were released into the Dolores River, and 35,094 acre-feet were released for transbasin purposes. At McPhee, a daily maximum/minimum of 1,001/51 cubic-feet-per-second was released into the Dolores River.

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

Flaming Gorge pipeline: The project is morphing into a hydropower project, Aaron Million hopes to attract collaborators

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From The Denver Post (Bruce Finley):

Entrepreneur Aaron Million on Friday also invited collaboration on his $3 billion project. But skepticism, environmental issues and uncertainty surround it.

A south-metro group [Colorado Wyoming Cooperative Water Supply Project] simultaneously is pressing ahead in a rival effort to sustain future growth by diverting water from the Green River-fed Flaming Gorge reservoir in Wyoming — before the water flows into the heavily subscribed Colorado River Basin. Colorado government officials and water authorities have called for a stakeholder dialogue to explore the overall concept more carefully…

Million welcomed the interest. “When we started this project, nobody had ever considered the Flaming Gorge options,” he said. “We’ll do everything we can to facilitate that discussion.” The Million Conservation Resources Group received offers of “several hundred million dollars of equity capital” to build a pipeline, Million said. He declined to give details…

He likely will pursue permitting through the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission instead, he said, due to the emerging “alternative energy” dimension. Million said elevation changes between Wyoming and Colorado enable generation of 70 megawatts of power and that this could be increased to 500 to 1,000 megawatts…

FERC’s review process is more structured, Million said, with firm deadlines that could help him meet a 2 1/2-year timetable for securing permits…

“This is an expensive and technically complicated wild goose chase,” said Stacy Tellinghuisen, senior analyst at Boulder-based Western Resource Advocates, an environmental-policy group.
“As an entire pipeline, this would be a net consumer of energy” because diverted water would have to be pumped across the Continental Divide, Tellinghuisen said.

Launching a stakeholder dialogue now “makes no sense” and “will divert resources and attention from more realistic solutions,” Colorado River District manager Eric Kuhn said in a memo to state round-table members…

“The reality is we’ve overdelivered [ed. under the Colorado River Compact] to the lower- basin states since 1922,” Million said. “Those surplus waters that actually belong to the upper basin have been used to generate economic development in the lower-basin states.”

More coverage from Wyoma Groenenberg writing for the Wyoming Business Report. From the article:

There also has been opposition to moving water out of Flaming Gorge. Opponents have argued that the reservoir provides recreational opportunities and increases the amount of tourism dollars spent in the area. Others along the Wyoming I-80 corridor also have expressed opposition.

For example, in 2009, the City of Laramie opposed construction of the project and recommended that “the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Wyoming Board of Control withhold any and all permits and approvals for the proposed project,” a resolution of the Laramie City Council shows.

The resolution continues saying that “250,000 acre-feet of water from the Green River upstream of Flaming Gorge Reservoir in Sweetwater County across the state of Wyoming, including a portion of Albany County [and] entails utilizing Lake Hattie in Albany County,” which could facilitate the influx of invasive water species, noxious weeds, hurt Wyoming’s fishing and agricultural industries, and more.

More Flaming Gorge pipeline coverage here and here. More Colorado Wyoming Cooperative Water Supply Project coverage here.