Habitat Work to Improve Arkansas River Below Leadville

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Here’s the release from the Colorado Department of Parks and Wildlife:

Fish habitat enhancement work is set to begin later this year on public parts of the upper Arkansas River below the Highway 24 bridge as biologists and engineers with Colorado Parks and Wildlife prepare to restore a section of river that was once mostly lifeless because of decades of mining activity.

The river restoration work is a key part of the federal and state effort to restore the California Gulch Superfund Site, an 18-square mile area where historic mining activities occurred. Mines in the area created the discharge of heavy metals and acid into California Gulch at the headwaters of the Arkansas River, making the river in that area unable to sustain healthy fish populations. The river currently supports a good trout population because of earlier mine cleanup efforts and will be further enhanced by the upcoming habitat improvements.

“The planning for this project has been going on for many years and people in the area are excited to see it moving forward,” said Greg Policky, aquatic biologist for Colorado Parks and Wildlife in the area. “By this summer we hope to be in the river and physically manipulating the habitat to restore the environment for aquatic life in that section. Over the next few years, we hope anglers will start to see the benefits.”

Improvements will be centered on an 11-mile stretch of the river from California Gulch downstream to Twobit Gulch. Public river access in the area includes the Arkansas Headwaters Recreation Area, which is managed by Colorado Parks and Wildlife, and numerous fishing access easements held by the agency.

While this project is on public lands, there are separate projects on the privately held sections of the river, including two large publicly-accessible ranches owned by Aurora Water. The Hallenbeck Ranch and part of the Hayden Ranch are owned by Aurora Water and are private lands though there is some public fishing access. Public access to the Hallenbeck Ranch parcel ended this year but Aurora officials are opening the river sections of the Hayden Ranch for public access on May 1.

“These habitat improvements will provide immense benefits to the fishery and the anglers who frequent this part of the Arkansas Headwaters Recreation Area,” noted Rob White, Park Manager for the Arkansas Headwaters. “We are very fortunate to have received funding for this work.”

The restoration work will utilize heavy machinery to move rocks, logs and other materials in and out of the river channel to improve fish habitat. As a result, downstream anglers may see periods of muddy water and other evidence of disturbance during the project.

“Anglers might deal with a short-term disturbance, but in the long run this work should have a big positive upside,” said Tracy Kittell, Colorado Parks and Wildlife engineer. “For public safety, we’ll mark the areas where work is occurring and require that anglers bypass those areas.”

The in-stream and riparian habitat restoration projects are only one part of the overall river restoration effort on the upper Arkansas. Other elements include water-quality monitoring, upland habitat improvements, habitat protection efforts and noxious weed control.

Colorado Parks and Wildlife is pleased to be a partner in the river restoration project with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Environmental Protection Agency, Bureau of Land Management, Bureau of Reclamation and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

The full restoration plan and environmental assessment for the project can be viewed online at http://www.fws.gov/mountain-prairie/nrda/LeadvilleColo/CaliforniaGulch.htm.

More Arkansas River basin coverage here.

How would the State Engineer administer diversions with respect to the Flaming Gorge pipeline?

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

“I just laid out the options we have if either Flaming Gorge plan were to move forward,” State Engineer Dick Wolfe said following a meeting last week of the Flaming Gorge Task Force in Grand Junction. The options include special legislation to cover bringing water from outside the state, an agreement between the states or state rules on water imports…

Wolfe is concerned that a pipeline could inadvertently injure Colorado water rights. Prompted by Million’s plan, Wolfe talked to the Colorado legislative interim committee on water resources last year about the possibility of legislation…

Colorado already has agreements with Wyoming and Utah on how to administer specific rights that cross state lines. Those involve smaller quantities of water than Flaming Gorge would divert, and neither targets a specific water right. Under an agreement, Colorado would be able to ask Wyoming to curtail diversions if they threatened rights on the Colorado River within Colorado. There could also be impacts to the Colorado River Compact, among seven states, that could affect Flaming Gorge diversions. “We don’t want Wyoming making judgments on how much water we have left to develop under the compact,” Wolfe said…

“It would involve a very public process, and would create the conditions for importing water,” Wolfe said. “Right now we have no venue to do that.”

More Flaming Gorge Pipeline coverage here and here.

2012 Colorado November Election: The sponsors of Initiatives 3 and 45 are looking for help gathering signatures

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Here’s a letter to the editor written by Dennis Obduskey, Vice Chair, Park County Democrats that’s running in The Fairplay Flume. Here’s an excerpt:

Sponsored by microbiologist Richard Hamilton of Fairplay and Littleton attorney Phil Doe, both of whom have been active in Park County and Colorado water issues for years, Initiatives 3 and 45 are looking to give us more control over our water and treat it as a public trust. The proposals require more than 86,000 signatures to be placed on the November ballot, and we strongly support the effort to put the issues to a public vote. The amendments would change our water laws away from just who owned the water rights first to one related to the public good – something that should be important for the more than five million citizens who call Colorado home.

One underlying theme in Amendment 45 is allowing for control of “fracking,” the process of injecting millions of gallons of water and chemicals, some toxic, into the ground in an effort to induce natural gas back to the surface for profit, and returning that polluted water to large evaporation pools or, worse yet, dumping the contaminated water onto the ground…

Initiative 3 also grants public access to streams and waterways while also requiring state government to act as steward of and to protect, enforce, and implement public ownership of water. Our understanding is that they would allow anyone to use the state’s water and then leave it up to the public to determine if the water is being used for the common good. If members of the public were to determine the water isn’t being used for the common good, they could file a lawsuit in an effort to curtail or prevent further water use in that capacity…

Those proposed pieces of legislation collectively seek to apply the public trust doctrine to Colorado water rights through a constitutional change, and would override the state’s current prior-appropriation system – law that states those who own older water rights have a higher priority in using them…

If you would like to volunteer to help gather signatures to be able to see these initiatives on the ballot in November, please email: ProtectColoradoWater@gmail.com.

2012 More Colorado November election coverage here.

Snowpack/drought/runoff news: Summit ‘State of the River’ public meeting May 8

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Click on the thumbnail graphics for the current U.S. Drought Monitor map and the Colorado snowpack map from the Natural Resources Conservation Service.

From the Summit Daily News:

The National Integrated Drought Information System has declared a severe drought in Summit County and the Colorado River Basin. As of Wednesday, snowpack levels in the basin stood at 33 percent of average, tracking below the last memorable drought year of 2002.

The public can learn more about the drought, snowpack and critical reservoir operations at the annual Summit County State of the River meeting set for 6:30-8:30 p.m. on May 8, at the Summit County Community and Senior Center in Frisco. The event is sponsored by the Colorado River District and the Blue River Watershed Group.

Presenting on the river and snowpack conditions will be Summit County water commissioner Troy Wineland. Bob Steger of Denver Water and Ron Thomasson of the Bureau of Reclamation will discuss the operations of Dillon and Green Mountain reservoirs, respectively.

The meeting will also update the public on the Colorado River Cooperative Agreement, which Summit County is scheduled to sign on May 15 in conjunction with Grand County and Denver Water. Summit County manager Gary Martinez will offer details.

From the Longmont Times-Call (Scott Rochat):

“We have an adequate water supply for the entire year, in the bank,” said Ken Huson, the city’s water resources administrator. “We’re doing quite well and we’re very happy about that.” If the figures are right, “quite well” might be an understatement. The city is projecting that its water supply will be 147 percent of its demand — basically, that for every acre-foot Longmont needs, it’ll have one and a half. Surpluses are projected over the next two years as well…

As of mid-April, the Upper Colorado river basin had about a third of the snowpack that it should. The South Platte basin had about half its usual levels — low, though still above the desperate levels of the 2002 drought. In fact, of all Longmont’s river basins, it’s the St. Vrain that’s holding up the best, and even that’s at about 65 percent of its typical snowpack…

…communities that draw their water from the Colorado-Big Thompson project — which brings water from the Western Slope to the Front Range and the plains — got an extra dollop this year. This year, the participants get a 90 percent quota, meaning they can draw nine-tenths of an acre foot for every share they hold. A normal year sees a 60 or 70 percent share. In plain numbers, that means Longmont can claim 19,424 acre-feet of “transbasin” water this year. Even after putting aside 2,542 acre-feet for future use, that’s still almost enough to meet the city’s demand by itself…

Now add in the rest, such as a lot of very senior water rights — the city’s oldest, on the 1861 Beckwith irrigation ditch, is the third-oldest claim on the St. Vrain — and storage reserves such as Button Rock Reservoir. Put it all together, take out the water that Longmont rents and leases to other communities, and it comes to an estimate of 25,921 acre-feet for this year. The city’s demand estimate, meanwhile, comes to 17,621 acre-feet. It might even come out tighter — the first three months of this year saw the lowest Longmont water use of the past 10 years, according to Huson. Through March, Longmont had used 2,310 acre-feet. (By comparison, the city’s residents used 2,488 at the same point in 2002.)

From The Aspen Times (Randy Wyrick):

There are good years and not-so-good years, but as long as there’s water where water’s supposed to be, there are no bad years, Hoeve said. So far, the Colorado and Arkansas rivers are “dam” good — they’re dam controlled. The Arkansas River and the Colorado River are running at 100 percent because they’re fed from reservoirs, and those reservoirs are full because last year’s snow and water levels were so high. “They’re augmenting the rivers by running water out of these dams,” [Ken Hoeve, a local television personality and competitive kayaker and stand-up paddler] said.

Not getting out on the river because you think the likely summer drought is already here is a bad idea, Hoeve said. “People are misinformed, I think,” he said…

Locally, Homestake Creek, where they hold a Teva Mountain Games event, is running at 61 cubic feet per second. You can run at it at 25 if you don’t mind getting knocked around a little…

The average snow accumulation in February that boosted the snowpack across the state was short lived. March brought dry, warm and windy weather to Colorado, resulting in significant declines in the snowpack, the NRCS reported. When that warm and windy March hit, that February statewide snowpack shrank by 29 percent. By April 1, the statewide snowpack was 52 percent of average, said Phyllis Ann Philipps, state conservationist with the Natural Resources Conservation Service. Also, March snowfall was 29 percent of the historical average, Phillipps said.

Colorado Water Trust Employs New, Unique Tactics In Drought Response

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From the Aspen Daily News (Brent Gardner-Smith):

he Roaring Fork Conservancy and the Colorado Water Trust are asking owners of water rights in the upper Roaring Fork River basin and in the Crystal River basin to leave some of their water in the river this summer to benefit fish and the environment.

The two nonprofit organizations are seeking water owners who might be willing to lease their water on a short-term basis to the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) — without endangering their water rights — as part of an innovative program launched in the face of a looming drought…

The snowpack in the Roaring Fork River basin is currently at 22 percent of average and conditions are similar to 2002, when the Roaring Fork through Aspen was reduced to a trickle.

A meeting has been set for Thursday at 5:30 p.m. in Carbondale Town Hall for interested water rights owners to meet with representatives from the Water Trust and the Conservancy to discuss the program, which is called “Request for Water 2012.” The deadline for water rights owners to sign up for the program is May 11. The initial round of screening is set to be wrapped up by June 6 and the leases are to be implemented — and the first round of checks to owners to be sent — by July 1. That’s working at warp speed compared to how Colorado water law usually proceeds, but the Water Trust has designed the facilitated process in conjunction with the CWCB, which will lease the water and hold the water right for up to six months.

The Water Trust is not a policy or advocacy organization but instead works “with willing sellers and lessors to put senior water rights back into rivers to benefit the natural environment.”

More coverage from Scott Condon writing for The Aspen Times. From the article:

Sharon Clarke, a land and water conservationist with the Roaring Fork Conservancy, said the lower Crystal River and the Roaring Fork River in Aspen and just east of Aspen are among the local stretches that desperately need extra water during dry times. Irrigation draws the rivers down to extremely low levels in dry years.

Rick Lofaro, executive director of the conservancy, said the water-loan program is “critical” this year because all streamflow forecasts for the state are below average. “Recent information shows the Colorado Basin with the lowest snowpack in the state — at 37 percent of average,” Lofaro said in a statement. “If conditions don’t improve, we could see some streams dry up in the Roaring Fork watershed — just as they did in 2002. We need to take steps now to make sure that doesn’t happen.”

More Roaring Fork River watershed coverage here and here.

Upper South Platte River: Slow recovery from sedimentation after the Hayman burn

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From The Denver Post (Scott Willoughby):

“How is that poor, mutilated stream doing these days?” [Former Denver Post outdoors editor Bob Saile] queried upon reading the success story of the river through Eleven Mile Canyon last week. “Maybe another follow-up is in order on what is surely going to be a long, long recovery for what used to be the most important section of trout stream in the state.” Like most of the South Platte River, the Deckers section below Cheesman Canyon has seen its share of ups and downs. Along with the upstream reaches of Eleven Mile Canyon profiled on these pages last Wednesday, this downstream segment of the river is on the upswing these days. But a full decade after the fire, it still has a long way to go.

“I thought maybe after 10 years that the sediment would pass, but it’s nowhere near where it needs to be,” said Jeff Spohn, Colorado Parks and Wildlife aquatic biologist for the region. “The lower (Cheesman) canyon is holding up pretty well. But once you get down into that Deckers reach — below Wigwam Creek and Horse Creek — there’s still a lot of sediment coming down. It’s definitely making progress, but if you look at the fish data pre- and post-fire, it’s nowhere close to what it was.”

The most telling statistics relate to brown and rainbow trout size. In 2001, the year before the Hayman Fire, CPW biologists measured the biomass, or pounds of fish per acre, at 216, with 89 fish measuring greater than 14 inches. In 2010, the biomass fell to 88 pounds per acre, 24 fish longer than 14 inches.

The greatest impact is being felt in the lower portion of the 8-mile unit, where the river flattens out. Upstream, from Cheesman Reservoir down to Deckers, the fishery is rebounding, benefiting in part from trophy trout escaping from the privately owned Wigwam Club separating the two reaches.

More South Platte River basin coverage here.

Arkansas River Basin Water Forum: Alan Hamel receives the Bob Appel Friend of the River Award

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Alan Hamel was honored for his 50+ years serving the rate payers of Pueblo Board of Water Works. Here’s a report from Chris Woodka writing for The Pueblo Chieftain. From the article:

The Arkansas River Basin Water Forum gave Hamel the Bob Appel Friend of the Arkansas award Thursday at the culmination of a two-day event at Colorado Mountain College. “I’m humbled,” Hamel said. “I’ve been blessed to work in the field of water.”

Hamel is retiring in August as executive director of the Pueblo Board of Water Works, and in an April 22 Pueblo Chieftain opinion piece he tried to get people excited about tap water for the Water 2012 celebration.
Must have worked.

Actually, his accomplishments in water circles have gone far beyond the water board’s mission to provide safe, reliable drinking water for Pueblo. Hamel currently serves on the Colorado Water Conservation Board and is the governor’s appointee to the Arkansas Basin Roundtable. He also has represented the Arkansas River basin on other state water panels, including the Colorado Water Resources and Power Development Authority and the Interbasin Compact Committee.

More Arkansas River basin coverage here.