Snowpack news: Statewide snowpack at 65% of average, South Platte basin — 76%, Rio Grande basin (88%) drops to below average


Click on the thumbnail graphic to the right and then go out and conjure up the snow spirits.

From The Greeley Tribune (Eric Brown):

The snowpack for the entire state is [35] percent behind the norm.

However, most of the snowfall in the mountains comes in March and April and “some really good snowstorms during those months could get numbers back up to normal before the snow season is over,” said David Nettles, an engineer for the Colorado Division of Water Resources office in Greeley.

Also, the amount of water stored in northern Colorado reservoirs and other storage facilities is at healthy levels because of last year’s above-average snowpack. Dana Strongin, communications specialist with the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District, said water levels in the region’s 12 reservoirs that are part of the Colorado-Big Thompson Project are nearly 30 percent above normal.

“There’s nothing terribly alarming about the snowpack numbers we’re seeing right now,” Nettles said. “If this continues, that could be a different story. But for now, we’re not panicking.”

Jim Hall, water resources manager for the city of Greeley, echoed Nettles’ comments. He said the current low levels of snowpack aren’t particularly alarming, not for a city that has plentiful access to water storage facilities.

Since reservoir levels are well above average, those with senior rights on the river and access to water storage facilities — particularly municipalities — will be in good shape for quite a while, even if low snowpack levels persist.

Nettles said it’s those with junior water rights and who don’t have access to storage water — consisting mainly of farmers in the region — who will be hurt first if snowpack numbers stay low, or fall off even further.

Frank Eckhardt — a LaSalle area farmer who serves as president for the board of directors for the Farmers Independent and West Mutual ditch companies, and also serves presidents of the Board of Consolidated Ditches, made up of 11 ditch companies — said there are only two ditch companies between Denver and LaSalle that own rights to water storage facilities.

“Just about all of us farmers depend on good snowpack and having good flows in the river to operate,” he said. “Hopefully Mother Nature starts to cooperate with us a little better. Hopefully there will be more snow.”

Sand Creek: Suncor employees have been exposed to benzene in their water supply


From The Denver Post (Bruce Finley):

Workers at Suncor Energy’s oil refinery — nearly all 500 — have had their blood tested for benzene as Suncor excavates pipelines to deal with tainted tap water and tries to contain contamination of Sand Creek. Nobody knows how long drinking water at Suncor’s refinery has contained benzene. Results of blood tests at an occupational medicine clinic, done partly to reassure employees, were kept confidential…

“We believe we have a breach in the drinking water line near one of our office buildings,” Gallagher said. “We’re digging down to that pipeline to see what we can find.”[…]

Denver Water, which delivers water to Suncor, has determined that no benzene entered the metro pipe system, utility spokeswoman Stacy Chesney said.

Click through for the cool photo slideshow.

More oil and gas coverage here and here.

The November/December issue of ‘Colorado Water’ from the Water Center at CSU is hot off the press


The theme for the issue is, “Water Quality and Health.” Click here to download a copy. Here’s an excerpt:

Many situations exist in which water practitioners want to know the concentrations of organic chemicals in water, including evaluating whether a site is characterized as contaminated and/or whether a water treatment process is effective. But obtaining this informa- tion has traditionally involved collecting a water sample and analyzing it in a laboratory, usually off-site. Laboratory analyses involve various steps before the sample is analyzed in a gas chromatograph or similar instrument, and thus results are expensive and not readily available. Undesired outcomes of this situation include cases in which relatively few data are available to make important decisions (e.g., about the design of a remediation system), and that poorly functioning treatment systems are not corrected quickly.

About 15 years ago, my [Ken Reardon] laboratory at CSU began to develop biosensors to make it easier to measure this aspect of water quality. Our goals were to develop sensors that could provide continuous measurements of an organic chemical concentration and that could be placed directly in the water to be measured. The ability to take the sensor to the water (rather than removing a sample of water) is important, because sampling can skew the results in several ways.

A biosensor is a device that contains a biological detection element, usually an enzyme or antibody, as well as components that allow the biological detection event to be converted into a useable signal or number. We used our knowledge of the ways in which bacteria break down pollutants to develop enzymatic biosensors, and we chose to interface this with an optical method to produce a signal, since that approach often is more sensitive and has less environmental interference than electrical methods. These sensor systems consist of three parts: an optical- electronic hardware unit, one or more biosensor tips, and optical fiber connectors. Sensing is done using a two-layer detection element immobilized on the end of the biosensor tip (Figure 2). One layer is a fluorescent dye, and the other layer contains specific enzymes. The enzymes catalyze a reaction with the chemical of interest (the analyte), and the products of that reaction change the fluorescence properties of the dye. Those changes in fluorescence are detected and correlated to the analyte concentration. We recently started OptiEnz Sensors LLC to commercialize this technology.

Important features of the biosensor system are:

• Versatility: By matching enzymes and fluorescent dyes, biosensors for a wide range of organic chemicals can be constructed. The biosensors can also be designed to cover different concentration ranges.

• Ease of use: Measurements with these biosensors are simple and require no reagent or pretreatment. The tip of the biosensor is simply placed in the sample to be measured, and the analysis time is on the order of minutes.

• Ability to measure continuously, in place and online: These biosensors can be placed in a process vessel or in a process flow and can provide continuous, real-time measurements of the analyte concentration. Such information can then be used for process control or quality assurance/control.

• Low detection limits: Detection limits in the biosensors developed to date range from μg/L to sub-ng/L.

• Small size: The biosensors are based on plastic optical fiber that is about one millimeter in diameter, and can thus easily be placed in small wells.

• Multiplexing: Our optical-electronic hardware unit can monitor up to eight biosensors simultaneously, meaning that several contaminants can be measured.

Super Ditch: More than 100 people showed up yesterday for a palaver over the impending substitute water supply plan


From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

More than 100 people, representing nearly every major water interest in the Arkansas Valley, attended Friday’s meeting. State water officials also were on hand, including Gov. Hickenlooper’s water adviser John Stulp, State Engineer Dick Wolfe and Colorado Water Conservation Board members Alan Hamel and Travis Smith. Wolfe suggested the meeting as a way to hash out issues prior to a 30-day comment period when the Super Ditch files for a substitute water supply plan. “This is a one-year plan at this point. There is concern by farmers about how it will affect their water rights,” Wolfe said. “I am hoping this will allow the proponents to modify their plan before it is submitted.”

It’s anticipated the plan will be submitted in February for approval by April. It already has been approved by the Super Ditch and Catlin Canal boards, and the Pikes Peak Water Authority is expected to approve it soon.

The pilot program is a small step toward a water leasing-land fallowing program that could eventually involve 100,000 acres of farm ground in the Arkansas Valley. Only a portion of that would be dried up in any given year. This year, about one-fourth of the ground on of farms totalling more than 1,100 acres will be dried up. Only some of the ground will be dried up this year, and other areas will be rotated if the program continues in subsequent years.

One share on the Catlin Canal has a consumptive use of about 1.7 acre-feet of water per acre, while diversions can be as high as 5 acre-feet per acre. About 300 shares of water are anticipated to be used in the program, either for exchanges, delivery or return flows. Engineering is being completed on how return flows would be handled and how dry-up would be accounted for.

Heath Kuntz, engineer for the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District, gave an in-depth presentation on how farms were chosen for the program and the parameters that will be used. Flood, sprinkler and drip systems will be included. No fields with alfalfa will be included.

More Arkansas Valley Super Ditch coverage here and here.