Happy 140th birthday to Yellowstone National Park

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Thanks to the Colorado Environmental Coalition Twitter feed (@CoEnviroCo) for the heads up.

A team of geologists is making the claim that all of Yellowstone’s geysers may share the same geology, heat and water source. Here’s a report from Crystal Gammon writing for the Discovery Channel. From the article:

A team from the U.S. Geological Survey in Menlo Park, Calif., recently dove into the question of just where Yellowstone’s water comes from. Their findings indicate that the region — and its variety of geysers, mud pots and hydrothermal pools — could be supplied by a single water source that continuously boils, mixes and flows its way through the park.

” Visitors to Yellowstone and even professional naturalists may not realize that the acid fumaroles and mud pots at Yellowstone represent the steam boiled off of deeper boiling groundwater that ultimately emerges kilometers away,” said Jacob Lowenstern, the geochemist who led the team’s study.

Blue Mesa Dam: ‘The reservoir took away small communities, family homes, fishing resorts, a way of life’ — Delta County Independent

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From the Delta County Independent (Kathy Browning):

This winter the museum has had eight presentations on pioneer families and others who made a difference in the community. Two more presentations are scheduled. On March 17 at 1:30 p.m. at the museum, Danny Cotten will give a presentation on sawmills on Black Mesa and in the Crawford area and also the Diamond JO cattle outfit in the 1880s. April 21 at 1:30 p.m., Ross Allen will talk about the Allen family and their influence on the area.

David Primus, Gunnison author and historian, gave a presentation, “Beneath Blue Mesa.” The dam was completed in 1965 on the Gunnison River about 30 miles west of Gunnison, 30 miles east of Montrose and within 1-1/2 miles of Sapinero.

Primus shared what it was like before the dam and reservoir were created. There were homes, hotels, fishing resorts, train service, bridges and cattle ranches in the small towns that were in the area. To make the area ready for the new dam and reservoir, those hotels and homes were moved or burned to the ground. Bridges were left standing and are now beneath a mountainous amount of water. The slide show featured a final cattle round up, trains connecting people and commerce, a group of boaters and fishermen and women who called themselves the Gunnison Navy and the grand opening ceremony for the Blue Mesa.

More Aspinall Unit coverage here.

What does the rate payer get for their dough?

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Here’s Part Two of the Mile High Newspapers series “Unquenchable Thirst” (Megan Quinn). Ms. Quinn evaluates what goes into high quality water delivered to your tap. Click through and read the whole article. Here’s an excerpt:

Conservation is key, water providers said. In fact, water bills are often designed to encourage residents to watch their usage. In some cities, such as Thornton, Arvada, Wheat Ridge and Northglenn, rates are determined based on how much is used per month. When families use a base number of gallons, they pay one rate. But if they let the tap run long enough to spill over into the next tier of usage, the same family would pay a higher rate per gallon.

For example, an average Westminster household pays about $3.78 per 1,000 gallons. If usage goes above 20,000 gallons in a given month, the bill will hit $5.60 per 1,000 gallons instead.

Jim Sullivan, Arvada’s utilities director, said the tiered system helps encourage conservation, but it’s rare for households to move into a more expensive tier.

An average household used about 115,000 gallons of water in 2010, according to Denver Water, a public utility that serves about 1.3 million people in the metro region.

More infrastructure coverage here.

Clear Creek: Anne Beierle (City of Golden) — ‘I don’t know another river in Colorado that has so much data collection’

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Here’s Part Three of the Metro North Newspapers series “Unquenchable Thirst” (Megan Quinn). Ms. Quinn explores the world of Front Range municipal diverters and the quality of the surface water supply. Click through and read the whole thing. Here’s an excerpt:

Whether it’s waterborne diseases, invasive species or pollution, it’s up to a combination of water laboratories, testing facilities, activist groups and government agencies to make sure the water we drink is clean. For many cities, monitoring begins at a treatment plant, such as the city of Golden, which serves as a central location for collecting a huge volume of data on Clear Creek and its flow.

Golden is part of a group of cities that helps collect and publish detailed data sets on the water’s quality and condition.

“I don’t know another river in Colorado that has so much data collection,” said Anne Beierle, the city’s deputy director of public works.

The group started in the early 1990s as a way for cities that use Clear Creek water, such as Golden, Arvada, Thornton, Northglenn and Westminster, to monitor quality and share information.

Snowpack news: Storage is near average or slightly above around the state

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Here’s Part Four of the Metro North Newspapers series “Unquenchable Thirst” (Linda Detroy). Ms. Detroy explains how the state keeps and eye on the sky to assess water availability for the irrigation season. Click through and read the whole article. Here’s an excerpt:

“If we get a lot of heavy snow from this time of year through the end of the season, we get quick runoff that creates flooding problems and disappears. Then we’re down to low flows for the remainder of the year,” Nettles said. “If a city has reservoirs to capture water, it may be OK.”

According to the most recent report on water supply conditions from the Water Availability Task Force, cities in Division 1, which includes all of Jefferson and Adams counties and is organized around the South Platte, Laramie and Republican river basins, are looking at a so-so situation. The report shows that, as of Jan. 31, reservoir storage was near or above average across the state, but the snowpack was low. As of Feb. 1, for Division 1, snow- pack was 77 percent of normal, and the National Weather Service forecast through May for the South Platte river basin is for below-average precipitation and above-average temperatures.

From the Summit County Citizens Voice (Bob Berwyn):

Long-time weather watcher Rick Bly tallied 33 inches of snow in February, compared to the long-term average of 23.5 inches. On some days, strong winds may have blown some of the snow away from the measuring stick, Bly said. That’s why the snow-water equivalent from the melted snow is a more important reading, and Bly said the February total was an encouraging 2.59 inches of water, well above the average 1.71 inches…

For the year-to-date, the precipitation total is just above average for the first time since October, at 7.95 inches of water, compared to the average 7.52 inches for this time of year. That’s good news for the Blue River Basin, where the snowpack has lagged most of the winter, but statewide, the snowpack is still about 15 percent below average. The Blue River Basin feeds the Colorado Basin, where the snowpack is now at 80 percent of average, up a bit from a month ago.

The South Platte Basin is still reporting the highest snowpack reading, at 93 percent of normal, while the Yampa and North Platte basins are at about 80 percent. In the southwestern river basins, the snowpack ranges between 84 and 88 percent of average…

In Dillon, Denver Water observers recorded 12 inches of snow in February, compared to the average 18.6 inches. That melted down to just 0.75 inches of water, well short of the average 1.2 inches.

Flaming Gorge pipeline: Should Front Range businesses more supportive of the project?

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Bart Taylor (ColoradoBiz) is wondering why Front Range businesses are not clearly on board with Aaron Million’s plans for the Flaming Gorge pipeline. Here’s an excerpt:

There’s been little or no reaction from Front-Range business, the main beneficiary of the pipeline, though more than a dozen communities have committed to buy water if the pipeline is built. Jaeger’s group supports the Colorado Water Authority’s proposal, unaffiliated with Million’s and not affected by the FERC ruling. In a statement, South Metro remained committed to Flaming Gorge as one option to develop new supplies of “renewable surface water” for the region.

Million and Jaeger, famously at odds, are seemingly left to defend Flaming Gorge on their own. Jaeger, in the Post, doubted that the tool-kit proposed by opponents, including conservation, would be sufficient to address the state’s substantial long-term water needs. He’s consistently asserted that Colorado must think big to tackle the issue. So far, businesses here seem unconvinced…

Data may be tilting in favor of Million and Jaeger. One prominent study has show Colorado may be using less water than interstate agreements allow. More research is on the way. The Bureau of Reclamation will release a Basin-wide supply and demand study this summer. If it’s shown Colorado is entitled to more and is able to maneuver to use or store more water, Flaming Gorge will remain very much in play.

It might serve Colorado’s Front-Range business community to determine if its proponents are right.

More Flaming Gorge pipeline coverage here and here.

New National Water Trails System to Promote Healthy, Accessible Rivers: Atlanta’s Chattahoochee River to become first national water trail of its kind

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Here’s the release from the U.S. Department of Interior (Adam Fetcher/David Barna):

Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar today unveiled the National Water Trails System, a new network that will increase access to water-based outdoor recreation, encourage community stewardship of local waterways, and promote tourism that fuels local economies across America.

Today’s announcement comes in advance of Friday’s White House Conference on Conservation hosted by the Department of the Interior. The conference will spotlight community-driven conservation efforts as part of President Obama’s America’s Great Outdoors Initiative.

“Rivers, lakes, and other waterways are the lifeblood of our communities, connecting us to our environment, our culture, our economy, and our way of life,” Salazar said. “The new National Water Trail System will help fulfill President Obama’s vision for healthy and accessible rivers as we work to restore and conserve our nation’s treasured waterways.”

Secretary Salazar signed a Secretarial Order that establishes national water trails as a class of national recreational trails under the National Trails System Act of 1968. The order sets the framework for Secretarial designation of water trails that will help facilitate outdoor recreation on waterways in and around urban areas, and provide national recognition and resources to existing, local water trails.

“The Corps will actively participate, working with many local partners, to develop the water trails system and connect people to the water resources close to their homes,” said Jo-Ellen Darcy, Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works. “The National Water Trails System will recognize and promote local efforts at a national level.”

Today, Secretary Salazar also announced that the Chattahoochee River Water Trail in Georgia will be the first river to be designated as a National Water Trail under the new system. The water trail travels through 48 miles of river within the Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area. The park serves 3.2 million visitors annually, most from the local Atlanta metro-region. In addition to providing over 65% of the public greenspace in this urban region, the river provides most of Atlanta’s drinking water. The park and new water trail contain 18 developed public access points and connects with other local city and county parks. The river is heavily used by anglers, tubers, kayakers, canoers, and rafters.

“The Chattahoochee River Water Trail provides clean water, greenspace, and river access for millions of Americans every year,” Salazar said. “As our nation opens a new chapter on rivers – one where we value our waterways for their recreational, economic and ecological importance – it is fitting that the Chattahoochee River Water Trail leads the way.”

To see pictures of the Chattahoochee River Water Trail, click here.

With each designation, signage, technical assistance and resources will be provided to build on and promote the development of quality water trails. Water trails that are designated can become catalysts for restoring the health of local waterways throughout the community.

The National Trails System Act of 1968 authorized the creation of a National Trails System composed of National Recreation Trails, National Scenic Trails and National Historic Trails. Although National Scenic Trails and National Historic Trails may only be designated by an Act of Congress, National Recreation Trails may be designated by the Secretary of the Interior and the Secretary of Agriculture.

Under the Secretarial Order, the National Park Service will coordinate the national water trail nomination process.

To learn more about the National Trails System, please visit: http://www.nps.gov/nts/

Thanks to Bob Berwyn (Summit County Citizens Voice) for the heads up.

Colorado-Big Thompson Project update: Reclamation is moving water to Carter Lake

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From email from Reclamation (Kara Lamb):

A busy maintenance season that has continued from late fall well into the New Year is starting to wrap up. As a result, we have started pumping water up to Carter Lake again. Also, the water elevation at Horsetooth Reservoir is higher than is typical for this time of year.

More Colorado-Big Thompson Project coverage here.

Reclamation to use aerial photography for Arkansas Valley Conduit

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Here’s the release from the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation (Kara Lamb):

Reclamation employees will perform aerial panel placement for surveying along the Lower Arkansas River Valley corridor March 7-17. The panel placement is part of Reclamation’s National Environmental Policy Act research on the proposed Arkansas Valley Conduit and Long Term Excess Capacity Master Contract.
Reclamation has identified five possible pipeline routes from Pueblo to Lamar that will be surveyed. The survey crews will use large white panels shaped like giant plus signs in conjunction with aerial photography to map the potential routes.

The panels are constructed flat on the ground and the locations are calculated using global positioning equipment. Once placed, they need to remain on the ground for up to three weeks. The panels are used with aerial photography from an airplane flying at 5000 feet to obtain topographic information. The topographical data will be used to design the water pipeline.

During the survey process, some private land may need to be accessed by Reclamation surveyors. In those cases, most property owners will be contacted in person by Reclamation staff.

To learn more about the proposed Arkansas Valley Conduit, proposed Master Contract, and the related NEPA process, please visit: www.usbr.gov/avceis. Media is invited to contact Kara Lamb at (970) 062-4326 or klamb@usbr.gov.

More Arkansas Valley Conduit coverage here.

Twilight for Bonny Reservoir: The draining of the reservoir is nearly complete, thousands of fish die

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From 9News.com (Matt Flener):

Since state officials started draining Bonny Lake’s water in the fall of 2011 because of the decision, thousands of fish have died at the reservoir. Last week, workers from the Federal Bureau of Reclamation, which owns Bonny’s land in cooperation with the State of Colorado, had to unclog the drain from the dam using pitchforks, because so many fish had piled up. Backhoes then buried fish underneath the reservoir’s soil.

Colorado State Engineer Dick Wolfe says the practice has taken place, sometimes every other day, to keep water flowing to Kansas. Wolfe says his department has worked with the Bureau of Reclamation to humanely bury the fish so they would not become a health hazard or a visual problem at the lake in the long term. Knowing they would drain the lake, last year state officials tried to get fishermen to catch as many fish as possible by taking away catch limits at Bonny.

More Republican River basin coverage here and here.

Montrose: BLM’s Regional Advisory Council to meet March 7-8, Upper Colorado fee hikes on the agenda

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From the Summit County Citizens Voice (Bob Berwyn):

At issue is a Bureau of Land Management proposal to up the daily fees at the Pumphouse and Radium sites from $3 to $5 per vehicle, as well as a small hike for commercial users, who make up the bulk of the use at the sites, from $1 to $1.25 per day.

“The river is popular because it’s affordable,” said Dave Costlow, executive director of the Colorado River Outfitters Association, explaining that a half-day run down the relatively gentle waters of the reach costs about $45 per person. “If you have a family of five, it all adds up,” Costlow said, describing it as a 25 percent increase that will be passed on to consumers. The BLM already gets 3 percent of every ticket sold, he added…

The increase is one of the agenda items at a March 7-8 meeting of the agency’s regional Resource Advisory Council in Montrose. The statewide Resource Advisory Council will also meet in Montrose (March 6-8) to consider other matters.

The additional fees at the Colorado River sites would boost the BLM’s revenue for the two sites by about $27,000, helping to boost services and possibly add new boating facilities. Additional road repair will help ease access to popular spots, and the BLM also plans to add a new storage facility and publish a new guide to the Upper Colorado.

More Colorado River basin coverage here.

Cotter Mill history: The mill first processed uranium for the U.S. nuclear weapons program

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Here’s the first part of a new series, a look back at the history of the Cotter Mill near Cañon City now that the mill is being decommissioned, from Rachel Alexander writing for the Cañon City Daily Record. From the article:

Construction on the Cotter uranium mill south of Cañon City began in April 1958. By the end of that year, the mill had processed 7,700 tons of uranium ore. Now the company is moving into the process of terminating its radioactive materials license and getting off of the National Priority List.

“There were a lot of thorium deposits in this area,” said Cotter’s Vice President of Milling John Hamrick of the choice of the location. At the time, in the early days of the nuclear industry, it was unclear whether the standard fuel would be uranium or thorium based.

Early on, the mill processed uranium ore into yellowcake — U3O8 — for the federal government. “The mills in that era were operated by the Atomic Energy Commission for weapons,” Cain said…

In the late 1970s and early 1980s, it was discovered that ground water supplies in the Lincoln Park neighborhood had been contaminated by the operations at the mill. The water was discovered to be contaminated with uranium and molybdenum from the mill along Sand Creek and affecting the private wells in the area. Overexposure to either element could cause heavy metal poisoning. The site and the Lincoln Park neighborhood was added to the National Priorities — or Superfund — List in 1984.

More nuclear coverage here.

Colorado Water 2012: A dentist’s perspective

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Tom Autobee):

My concerns about future water availability in Colorado, as a whole, relates to the Colorado River Compact because I feel the Colorado River is overappropriated, with the upper basin states compromising their water rights so the lower basin receives its entitlement. Something has to give. As the population in our state grows, there will be more pressure on the Western Slope and on agriculture to provide more water on the Front Range because that is where our state is growing.

I believe that the most critical part of our future water availability in Colorado is storage. Unfortunately, the issue of storage is caught up in various political circles. The politics of storage is softening, so hopefully storage will become a reality in the near future. What is interesting now is the issue of agriculture surface irrigation which requires augmentation. The challenge will be the source of the augmentation and prepare for its side effects.

Fortunately, there is more collaboration now than there has ever been regarding water issues on a state wide basis. Unfortunately, to accomplish meaningful change in the world of water takes 10-30 years.

More Colorado Water 2012 coverage here.

Keystone science school to host H2Outdoors three day water education program April 21-23

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From the Summit Daily:

The Keystone Science School, in partnership with Colorado River District, Aurora Water and Denver Water, will be hosting a standards-based, educational, three-day water program known as H2O Outdoors. Open to all Colorado high school students, H2O Outdoors will take place April 21-23.

The aim of the program is to provide students with insight into the world of Colorado’s water supply, laws and quality through hands-on experience in watershed observation. At the close of the program, students will present their findings during a “town hall”-formatted dialogue. Meals and dorm-style housing are provided to all students and chaperones come from the science school. Colorado students can enjoy this experience for only $25. Registration forms and fees are due by March 16. For more info about H2O Outdoors or to register, call Susan Juergensmeier at (970) 468-2098 or visit www.keystonescienceschool.org.

More education coverage here.