Restoration: ‘When you put a hole in a mountain, it would fill up with water’ — Mike Holmes (EPA)


From the Valley Courier (Lauren Krizansky):

On Wednesday, the Environmental Protection Agency officials presented the Willow Creek Reclamation Committee, a Creede grassroots mining waste clean-up group, the findings and conclusions of its December 2011 Nelson Tunnel/Commodore Waste Rock Pile Site report.

“We are still not seeing the water quality improve in the Rio Grande,” said EPA Environmental Protection Agency Project Manager Mike Holmes in the Creede Town hall meeting room. “For the old miners, the biggest problem was water. When you put a hole in a mountain, it would fill up with water. That is the problem that we are still dealing with today.”

Water passing through the site enters Willow Creek, flows through flood plains and spills into the Rio Grande. The EPA has concluded in order to lower zinc and cadmium levels in the Rio Grande, the water passing through the site must either undergo treatment or reroute through new hydrology.

“We won’t magically make up water quality standards in the Rio Grande,” said EPA Hydrologist Mike Wireman. “But it is something we should do.”

The site feeds 150 to 250 gallons of water a minute into the Rio Grande and contributes less than 50 percent of the river’s contaminated minerals.

More restoration coverage here.

The Northern Water board sets a 90% water quota, let’s hear it for a good water year last year, and for storage


From The Fort Morgan Times:

Their decision, which they based on low snowpack and precipitation conditions, bolsters this year’s supplemental water supplies with a 40 percent increase from the initial quota set earlier this water year.

The C-BT quota sets the percentage of an acre foot that a C-BT allottee will receive during the current water year for every unit of C-BT water the allottee owns. The 90 percent quota means that each unit will yield nine-tenths of an acre foot. This is the first year since 1977 that the board set an April quota of 90 percent or above.

Every year the directors base their April quota decision on updated snowpack, precipitation and reservoir storage information while striving to balance the overall needs within Northern Water’s district boundaries.

As of today, snowpack in watersheds integral to C-BT is significantly below average for this time of year, at 34 percent of average in the Upper Colorado River Basin and 53 percent in the South Platte River Basin. To add to that, the year’s precipitation within district boundaries is sitting at 59 percent of the historical average.

Northern Water is also forecasting below-average streamflows this season.

More coverage from the North Forty News (Kate Hawthorne):

The quota will make 279,000 acre feet of C-BT water available to agricultural, municipal and industrial users in the district — a 40 percent increase in supplemental supplies over the initial quota for the 2012 water year. This is the first time since 1977 that the April quota has been 90 percent or above…

“This is one of those years why we have the C-BT,” said Director Kenton Brunner from Weld County in a prepared statement announcing the April quota. “Farmers need to get their crops in and they need the water.” The board can make additional water available anytime through October if they see the need, according to the district.

More coverage from the Loveland Reporter-Herald:

It is the highest amount of water allowed to be released from reservoirs such as Carter Lake and Horsetooth Reservoir in several years…“This will allow the project to do what it is intended to do: Get us through the dry years,” said Director John Rusch, who represents Morgan and Washington counties, in a release from the agency.

More Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District coverage here and here.

Wiggins: The new town board is reviewing the new water supply project


From The Fort Morgan Times (Dan Barker):

The new members and remaining incumbents took a long, intense look at the status of the water project, focusing on the projected timeline and budget. They also set a date for a workshop on all the water issues for Wednesday, April 25 at 6 p.m. at the town hall. The public is invited.

Tim Holbrook of Industrial Facilities Engineering, the company overseeing the project, gave the board an overview of the project. Board members had a chance to look at some photos of construction and were invited to take tours of the various parts of the construction.

The augmentation ponds are completed and starting to fill up, said Wiggins Town Administrator Bill Rogers. That water is used to offset the effects on the South Platte River of drilling for water in its basin and sending it to Wiggins, Holbrook explained.

More Wiggins coverage here and here.

Snowpack/drought news: ‘Snowpacks [in March] were falling faster than a 3-year-old in high heels’ — Randy Julander



Click on the thumbnail graphics to the right for the current snowpack map for Colorado and the Basin High/Low graph for the Rio Grande Basin, from the Natural Resources Conservation Service.

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Matt Hildner):

“There are some water commissioners that think we could have a very, very dry season and possibly even worse than 2002 on some of the smaller creeks,” Division Engineer Craig Cotten said.

The biggest areas of concern are along the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, where snowpack stands at 43 percent of average, according to the Natural Resources Conservation Service…

The snowpack in the San Juans, which feed the valley’s two biggest and most heavily used rivers — the Rio Grande and the Conejos — stands at 45 percent of average. Before the warm and dry weather hit, snowpack in the San Juans was at 98 percent of average as of March 1…

As of now, water users on the Conejos are expected to face a 6 percent curtailment as the state is tasked with sending 12,100 acre-feet of water downstream during the irrigation season. On the Rio Grande, curtailment sits at 9 percent, while the expected delivery obligation downstream during irrigation season is 36,700 acre-feet.

From the Las Vegas Review Journal (Henry Brean):

One terrible month in the mountains that feed the Colorado River has erased almost 600 billion gallons from an already bleak outlook for Southern Nevada’s primary water source. Federal forecasters have slashed their projections for the river after an unusually warm, dry March sent mountain snow into full retreat. “Snowpacks were falling faster than a 3-year-old in high heels” last month, said Randy Julander, who supervises the federal snow survey program in Nevada, Utah and California. “They were tumbling left and right.” Julander said much of the range already looks like it usually does at the end of May. In places where snow should still be accumulating, there is barren ground and the threat of wildfires…

But there is a silver lining, according to Rose Davis, spokeswoman for the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation’s lower Colorado River regional office in Boulder City. Last year was so wet that Lake Mead won’t feel much immediate impact from this year’s sorry snowpack…

The surface of the reservoir is now expected to drop about 17 feet over the next year, according to a Bureau of Reclamation forecast released Tuesday. That’s not much worse than last month’s forecast, which predicted a 15-foot drop in Mead by next April.

From the Aspen Daily News (Dorothy Atkins):

Two documents that provide guidelines for what the community should do to manage the water supply during times of drought were released to the public on Thursday. The Roaring Fork Watershed Plan and a Water Conservation Report were presented by the Roaring Fork Watershed Collaborative at a meeting in Carbondale that drew about 65 people…

From The Aspen Times (Scott Condon):

About 60 people in water-conservation groups as well as local, state and federal government agencies gathered in Carbondale on Thursday as part of a loose-knit effort called the Roaring Fork Watershed Collaborative. They discussed a variety of topics, but garnering the most attention were the short- and long-term prospects for drought and what can be done to protect rivers. “Last spring I was talking to you about flooding and flood risk,” Sharon Clarke, of the Basalt-based Roaring Fork Conservancy, told the crowd. “What a difference a year makes. We’re in a short-term drought right now.”

The lower reaches of the Crystal River could go dry this summer if dry conditions persist, she said, as could the Roaring Fork River through Aspen. Hunter Creek, Woody Creek and East Snowmass Creek also are facing critically low streamflows, she said…

Pitkin County has already applied to work within Colorado’s water-rights laws to provide water to troubled reaches of the Roaring Fork River. The goal is to allow some landowners to forgo irrigating temporarily and essentially parking their water rights for a beneficial use. “There are quite a few folks that are willing and even anxious to talk to us about that prospect,” Ely said. If a legal path can be cleared, a section of the Roaring Fork River above the confluence with the Fryingpan River would be targeted for aid. Ely stressed Colorado water law is designed to remove surface water for beneficial uses. To reverse that is “bucking a trend,” he said.

Colorado Water 2012: An exhibit detailing the water history in the Arkansas Valley to be showcased starting tomorrow in Pueblo


From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

“In conjunction with Colorado Water 2012 (a statewide celebration of water projects) we wanted something that tied in with our new schedule of exhibits,” said Maria Tucker, director of the InfoZone News Museum at the Robert Hoag Rawlings Public Library. The exhibit opens Saturday, when the InfoZone will have a grand reopening celebration, and be on display until May 20.

Printed on 6-foot-tall cloth panels, the exhibit details the history of water in Pueblo that led up to the creation of the Fry-Ark Project, which Kennedy signed into law on Aug. 16, 1962. The next day, Kennedy came to Pueblo and delivered a speech at Dutch Clark Stadium. Many Puebloans still remember the motorcade to the stadium or the address itself. For those who don’t, a digital version film of Kennedy’s speech will be shown on a monitor near the display.

Included in the exhibit are old photos, newspaper articles and memorabilia of water history. The settlement of Pueblo, the catastrophic flood of 1921 and the Dust Bowl of the 1930s are all depicted…

Rare photos from the Bureau of Reclamation show how Pueblo Dam was constructed and how Lake Pueblo filled in the early 1970s.

More Colorado Water 2012 coverage here.

Southern Delivery System: ‘District Judge Victor Reyes set aside the Colorado Water Quality Control Commission’s decision to issue a water quality permit to Colorado Springs’ — Chieftain


From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

District Judge Victor Reyes set aside the Colorado Water Quality Control Commission’s decision to issue a water quality permit to Colorado Springs and ordered new hearings by the commission. The lawsuit was brought by Pueblo District Attorney Bill Thiebaut and joined by the Rocky Mountain Environmental and Labor Coalition against the commission and Colorado Springs.

The commission approved a Section 401 permit under the federal Clean Water Act that was approved by the Water Quality Control Division in April 2010. However, in upholding the staff decision to grant the permit, the commission failed to consider scientific evidence and instead relied on “gut feeling” and “best professional judgment” in approving the permit, Reyes said in a 57-page ruling. Under deposition, a staff member admitted that no scientific measurement was used in reaching a decision. Reyes also chided the state for not documenting its findings, not evaluating the impacts of growth and failing to use its own methodology.

Thiebaut and the environmental groups argued that the impact of 800,000 people living in El Paso County by 2030 had not been fully considered, and that water quality in Fountain Creek and the Arkansas River would be significantly degraded…

Ross Vincent of the Sierra Club praised the decision as well. “Clean water is really important, and the agencies we rely on to keep it clean are not getting the job done,” Vincent said. “The decision shows Colorado Springs Utilities is not above the law. Urban growth and water quality are unavoidably linked and the state must consider those links when evaluating big projects like SDS.”

More coverage from Pam Zubeck writing for the Colorado Springs Independent. From the article:

The decision is a blow to Colorado Springs Utilities’ SDS pipeline project, now under construction, that will bring water here from Pueblo Reservoir. Utilities’ spokeswoman Janet Rummel explains in an e-mail to the Indy:

The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment’s (CDPHE) Water Quality Control Division (Division) issued a 401 water quality certification under the Clean Water Act for the SDS project in April 2010, certifying that SDS would comply with all applicable state water quality requirements. The Rocky Mountain Environmental Labor Coalition (RMELC) and Pueblo County District Attorney, Bill Thiebaut, then appealed the CDPHE 401 certification for SDS.

Following extensive review, including testimony from experts at a hearing in December 2010, the Colorado Water Quality Control Commission voted unanimously in January 2011 to confirm the SDS 401 Certification issued by the Water Quality Control Division.

Today, we received Pueblo County Judge Reyes’ ruling regarding the RMELC and District Attorney Thiebaut’s request for a judicial review of the Commission’s affirmation of the Division’s certification. The judge reversed the Commission’s ruling and sent the case back to the Division to revise the 401 Certification.

We are disappointed that the Court disregarded several years of studies and evaluation by federal and state environmental agencies and the extensive mitigation already required of the project.

We are currently evaluating our appeal rights and coordinating with the appropriate state and federal agencies.

Construction of the SDS project is proceeding — providing hundreds of regional jobs and infusing tens of millions of dollars in the southern Colorado economy — while we work to resolve this issue in the courts.

Meanwhile, Colorado Springs has filed an application in water court to build a terminal reservoir for SDS on Williams Creek (same site planned for the Flaming Gorge pipeline), according to Chris Woodka writing for The Pueblo Chieftain. From the article:

The Utilities reservoir is part of a future phase of the Southern Delivery System. The first phase of SDS is a 50-mile long, 66-inch diameter pipeline, new outlet works at Pueblo Dam, three pump stations and a treatment plant now under construction. Completion is expected in 2016. To fully use the pipeline’s entire capacity, the reservoir would be built to provide terminal storage before water is treated. It would be developed in the 2020-25 timeframe. A March filing in Division 2 Water Court indicates a 129-foot high dam, spanning 8,100 feet would detain about 30,500 acre-feet of water. Water would come through the Williams Creek drainage, exchanges from other sources and direct deliveries from SDS…

It’s no secret that Colorado Springs has had designs on the site for years. The site was part of a water court exchange application Colorado Springs filed in 2007, when it was listed as an alternative site in the SDS study. After problems with Colorado Springs’ first choice for SDS terminal storage at Jimmy Camp Creek, to the north of Williams Creek, surfaced in 2008, the Bureau of Reclamation identified Williams Creek as the preferred location. In 2010, the El Paso County planning commission approved the site for location of a reservoir. In 2011, under state legislation adopted the previous year (HB1165), the State Land Board approved sale of land for the reservoir.

But much of the site is on private land owned by the Norris family, which has filed to create the Marlborough Metropolitan District…

The Marlborough district would be to construct a 30,000 acre-foot reservoir for regional use as well as recreation. Located south of the Colorado Springs site, it could be expanded with a higher earthen dam, according to engineering reports. The site also is identified as terminal storage for Aaron Million’s Flaming Gorge pipeline proposal…

There are major differences in approach. Utilities plan would require relocating part of Bradley Road, while the Norris plan does not. The Norris family also has discussed sharing revenue from storage fees with the State Land Board as an alternative to buying that portion of the land, Duncan said.

More coverage from Ryan Maye Handy writing for The Colorado Springs Gazette. From the article:

The crucial 401 certification, which has been battled over for two years, is headed back to the Colorado Public Health and Environment’s Water Quality Control Division. The division granted the certification for Utilities’ Southern Delivery System, a 62-mile-long pipeline, in April 2010. Pueblo County Judge Victor Reyes upheld concerns about the project and reversed a January 2011 decision by the Colorado Water Quality Control Commission to confirm the certification, according to Janet Rummel, a spokeswoman for the project. The 401 certification is a prerequisite for the only remaining obstacle in the project’s completion — a 404 permit issued by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers…

Since 2010, the SDS project has battled with the Rocky Mountain Environmental Labor Coalition and Thiebaut over its 401 certification. Thiebaut and the coalition challenged the project’s certification when it was granted two years ago.

More Southern Delivery System coverage here and here.