Glenwood Springs: The next meeting of the Colorado Water Conservation Board is on for May 15-16


From email from the CWCB:

Notice is hereby given that a meeting of the CWCB will be held on Tuesday May 15th, 2012, commencing at 8:30 a.m. and continuing through Wednesday, May 16th, 2012. This meeting will be held at the Hotel Glenwood Springs located at 52000 Two Rivers Plaza Road, Glenwood Springs, CO 81601.

More CWCB coverage here.

El Paso County is in the second phase in assessing groundwater quality and supply resources


From the Colorado Springs Independent (Pam Zubeck):

From the release:

Committee members will share information on the recently-completed proposal and scope of work for Phase 2 of the Groundwater Quality Study, continuing the investigation that started in 2009 of the alluvial aquifer of the Upper Black Squirrel Creek Basin. Committee members will provide information on how the study would benefit the community and will present a multi-year funding proposal and work plan to the Board.

The Groundwater Quality Study Committee was established by the Board of County Commissioners in 2009 because of growing concerns about groundwater quality and potential land use impacts. The Committee consists of the County, special districts, the Upper Black Squirrel Creek Groundwater Management District, representatives from development and agricultural communities, nongovernmental organizations and at-large members. This diverse group, representing a broad cross section of the community, has worked collaboratively for several years to complete Phase 1 of the study, an evaluation of existing groundwater quality data (available HERE), and to prepare a scope of work and funding package for Phase 2. Phase 2 would be led by the U. S. Geological Survey in coordination with the Committee and will take several years to complete. Water quality sampling, testing and analysis are proposed.

The public is welcome to attend. For more information on the April 26 work session, contact Community Services Department Planning Manager Elaine Kleckner at 520-6999 or email

Fruita: The town formally opens the new $30 million wastewater treatment facility


From The Fruita Times (Ellen Miller):

The plant has been operational since January and can process, clean and recycle Fruita sewage well into the future. Designed with a capacity of 2.3 million gallons per day, the estimated annual load of about 800,000 gallons leaves plenty of room for Fruita to grow. The $30 million cost of the project covers land acquisition at the end of 15 Road at the Colorado River south of U.S. 6 & 50, engineering, sewer main interceptor lines, an operations building, headworks building and solids handling building…

Formally called the Fruita Wastewater Reclamation Facility, household sewage enters the plant at the headworks building, which removes all “deleterious” material and runs water through grit removal. It does next to an anaerobic/anoxic selector and then circulates in two giant oxidation ditches, each 18 feet deep. Other scientific processes clean the water to the point where it is sent on to the Colorado River.

The solids building, through a variety of steps and equipment, produces byproducts to be dried and eventually used as potting soil and other garden and agricultural uses.

More wastewater coverage here and here.

Arkansas Basin Roundtable recap: Storage ‘is the lost child in the process’ — Gary Barber


From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

“It’s [storage] the lost child in this process,” roundtable Chairman Gary Barber said at the April meeting of the roundtable on Wednesday. “The next Statewide Water Supply Initiative update is 2016, and that seems like a long way off for some of the things we need in this basin.”

The state is looking at a strategy that involves new and ongoing projects, conservation and agricultural-urban transfers that won’t permanently dry up farmland. The strategies grew out of discussions among roundtables and the Interbasin Compact Committee. “You need to have storage to make any of the strategies work,” said Jim Broderick, executive director of the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District.

More IBCC — basin roundtables coverage here.

Arkansas River basin: Josh Kasper named water commissioner for districts 66 and 67


From the Lamar Ledger:

Josh Kasper, a five year employee with the Division of Water Resources and formerly employed near Hotchkiss, Colo. has been named Water Commissioner for Districts 66 and 67. His new area of responsibility is the southeastern corner of Colo. which includes Bent, Prowers, Kiowa and Baca counties.

Josh’s father Pete Kasper is currently a Water Commissioner in the Pagosa Springs area. Josh brings the experience, skills and expertise to the Arkansas Valley that will ensure proper administration of the waters of the state of Colo. “Josh is his own man and has his own mind. He will bring transparency and accountability to the Division of Water Resources’ administration of the Lower Arkansas Valley by being able to answer the tough questions candidly and admit when he is wrong or doesn’t know the answer.” said Division Engineer Steve Witte.

Kasper, being a second-generation Water Commissioner, a rancher and farmer, knows what it takes to get things done while understanding the trials and tribulations of the profession. “I am happy to be selected as Water Commissioner in this community,” said Kasper. “This position provides a challenge for me and I feel that I am up for the task. Learning about Colorado’s obligations under the Arkansas River Compact is a new experience, and I am excited to be working closely with the farmers, ranchers, ditch companies and the local communities to provide quality water administration.”

More Arkansas River basin coverage here.

Colorado Foundation for Water Education tenth anniversary celebration April 20


Here’s the announcement from the CFWE website:

It promises to be a fun and interesting evening featuring a special keynote address from U.S. Senator Mark Udall! Join us to celebrate the achievements of the Foundation and its founders– we’ve worked hard to help Colorado Speak Fluent Water and couldn’t have done it without your help. Join us as we look forward to another successful decade.

More Colorado Foundation for Water Education coverage here and here.

Aurora: Peter D. Binney water treatment plant receives national award


From the Aurora Sentinel:

Aurora’s Peter Binney Water Purification Facility received the Marvin B. Black Excellence in Partnering Award last month for representing exemplary partnership and collaboration in construction projects like the Prairie Waters Project. The national honor was awarded by The Associated General Contractors of America.

More Prairie Waters coverage here and here.

State releases NRC letter confirming federal government will not intervene in Piñon Ridge radioactive materials license decision


Here’s the release from the Colorado Department of Health and Environment (Warren Smith):

The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment yesterday filed in Denver District Court its reply to Sheep Mountain Alliance in the alliance’s ongoing litigation challenging the state’s approval of a radioactive materials license for the Piñon Ridge Uranium Mill in western Montrose County. The state’s filing included a letter from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to the department’s Executive Director Dr. Chris Urbina, dated April 4, confirming the federal government has neither the authority nor the intention to intervene in the state’s licensing decision.

Mark Satorius, director of the Office of Federal and State Materials and Environmental Management Programs at NRC stated in the April 4 letter, “The NRC’s February 27, 2012, letter [to the department] was intended to further a dialogue between the NRC staff and CDPHE staff regarding the compatibility of certain Colorado regulations. In retrospect, our letter was not clear, as it was not the NRC staff’s intent to intercede in the pending litigation related to the Piñon Ridge uranium license issued by the CDPHE.”

Satorius’s April 4 letter also noted the commission’s Feb. 27 letter “should not be taken to mean that the NRC has formed a conclusion with respect to the validity of any individual Colorado licensing action.”

Dr. Urbina said, “We are grateful the NRC has clarified its position and confirmed the commission did not intend to involve itself in litigation in Denver District Court regarding the radioactive materials license.

“We stand by our Piñon Ridge decision, which was based on a thorough and rigorous technical review featuring an open public process that far exceeded the requirements of Colorado law,” Dr. Urbina said. “We are eager to work with the NRC through the Integrated Materials Performance Evaluation Program, which is the appropriate forum in which to resolve any programmatic concerns.”

More coverage from Bruce Finley writing for The Denver Post. From the article:

U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission officials on Tuesday still questioned whether Colorado’s regulations go far enough to give the public the right to request an adjudicatory hearing on major licensing decisions.

“This issue will be addressed in our normal agreement-state consultations scheduled for this month,” NRC spokesman David McIntyre said.

The NRC had said a proper public hearing should be held on the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment’s decision last year to grant a permit for the proposed Piñon Ridge uranium mill. However, in an April 4 letter, NRC officials clarified their position, saying it “was not the NRC staff’s intent to intercede in the pending litigation” related to the permit.

CDPHE officials say the NRC would not have the authority to overturn the state permit — issued for what would be the first uranium-processing facility in the U.S. since the Cold War.

More nuclear coverage here and here.

Salida: The Greater Arkansas River Nature Association presents ‘Overallocated – Water of the Upper Arkansas River’ April 18


From The Salida Citizen:

Are you curious about the allocation and management of the water in the Upper Arkansas River? If so, please join the Greater Arkansas River Nature Association (GARNA) for a discussion of the sources, history, and administration of water in our valley. Bruce Smith, Water Commissioner for Chaffee and Lake Counties, will discuss his role in enforcing water decrees that affect our area. Terry Scanga, General Manager of the Upper Arkansas Water Conservancy District, will present historical information on water use, law, and compacts and will describe augmentation plans that his agency oversees. Both Bruce and Terry will describe how they interface with Colorado state officials and institutions involved in water use and management.

This discussion will take place on Wednesday, April 18, 2012, from 6:30 p.m. until 8:30 p.m. in the conference room of the Upper Arkansas Water Conservancy District office at 339 E. Hwy 50 in Salida. The event is free, but pre-registration is requested. Please contact GARNA at 539-5106 or email by Tuesday, April 17 if you plan to attend.

More Arkansas River basin coverage here.

La Plata River: Long Hollow Reservoir will help with compact deliveries


From the Cortez Journal (J. Paul Brown):

A water storage project, on the La Plata drainage, that has been on the drawing board since 1945, the Long Hollow project, finally is about to become a reality. This is a project located in the mouth of the Long Hollow Drainage about 3 miles from the New Mexico state line. It will allow Colorado to store winter runoff and floodwater in the off irrigation season to be used to satisfy the New Mexico water right at critical times.

One of the big problems in managing the delivery of water to New Mexico under the compact is when there is very little water at Hesperus, all of it can be released and because of seepage and evaporation nothing is delivered to the state line. The idea of the Long Hollow project is to store water so that New Mexico’s portion can be delivered out of the dam and Colorado can use more water that is in the river. It is a great project, and it is too bad that it has taken 67 years to become a reality.

More La Plata River coverage here.

Pagosa Area Water and Sanitation District board election May 8


From the Pagosa Daily Post:

The Pagosa Area Water and Sanitation District, a special district in Archuleta County that provides treated drinking water and sewer treatment services for the area around Pagosa Springs, will hold an election of board officers on May 8, 2012.

More San Juan River basin coverage here and here.

Leadville: Arkansas River Basin Water Forum set for April 25-26


Click here to go to the website.

From email from the Interbasin Compact Committee:

Get ready for the 2012 Arkansas River Basin Water Forum taking place at the Climax-Molybdenum Leadership Center at Colorado Mountain College in Leadville, CO! See the attached program and check out the website ( for details on special lodging and registration rates

Register here for the Forum at our early rate of $45.00. Mail-in registration is also accepted and exhibitors are also welcome at the same registration rate.

Our Keynote Speaker this year will be Mr. Richard Bratton – a Salida native with state wide experience in water law, agriculture, higher education, and public service. A member of Bratton-Hill LLC, he has practiced law in Gunnison since 1958 after discharge from the Army and a stint in Denver. He was counsel to the Upper Gunnison River Water Conservancy District (1961-2006). Mr. Bratton is a former Chairman of Colorado Water Resources and Power Development Authority and founder of the Western State Water Workshop, recipient of the Colorado Water Congress Aspinall Leadership award and outstanding alumnus from CU (Law) and Western State College.

We also have interesting panels planned on the Effects of River Compact Calls, Restoration Innovations to Improve Water Quality, Source Water Planning, Advancements in the Mining Industry to Protect the River, and Trends in Agriculture.

Finally, join us for an evening on April 25 with Gillian Klucas, author of Leadville: The Struggle to Revive an American Town at the City on a Hill Coffee Shop in downtown Leadville.

Questions may be directed to Chairperson Melissa Wolfe (Colorado Mountain College) at (719) 486-4239 or the Southern Region Extension Office at (719) 545-2045.

From The Mountain Mail (Joe Stone):

Salida native Richard Bratton will deliver the keynote address at the 2012 Arkansas River Basin Water Forum April 25-26 at Colorado Mountain College in Leadville. A member of Bratton-Hill law firm, Bratton has practiced law in Gunnison since 1958. Bratton’s credentials include statewide experience in water law, agriculture, higher education and public service. Bratton served as counsel to the Upper Gunnison River Water Conservancy District from 1961 to 2006. He is a former chairman of Colorado Water Resources and Power Development Authority and founder of the Western State Water Workshop. Bratton also received the Colorado Water Congress Aspinall Leadership award and was named an outstanding alumnus of both Western State College and the University of Colorado, where he earned his law degree.

Additionally, State Climatologist Nolan Doesken will provide an assessment of the upcoming year.

More coverage from the Summit Daily News (Janice Kurbjun):

The conference also includes panel discussions on innovation in water quality protection, the effects of a Colorado River compact call, mining advancements for river protection, source water protection planning and healthy agriculture from the High Country to the grasslands. Presentations include an Arkansas Basin weather update, information on the economic value of water use in the headwaters areas and updates on the Arkansas Basin Roundtable and the Interbasin Compact Committee.

More Arkansas River basin coverage here.

Governor Hickenlooper’s oil and gas task force lays out recommendations


From the Summit County Citizens Voice (Bob Berwyn):

Some of the recommendations in the draft summary:

COGCC, Colorado Counties, Inc., Colorado Municipal League, and the Colorado Department of Local Affairs (DOLA) will work with local governments to promote and encourage participation in the LGD program.

The Colorado Oil and Gas Association (COGA) and Colorado Petroleum Association (CPA) will communicate strong encouragement for early operator engagement with local governments through the LGD program.

COGCC rules provide an opportunity for local governments to engage with operators and COGCC prior to the decision-making process for oil and gas permitting. Meetings and work sessions, as appropriate, may enhance this engagement. COGCC and DOLA will develop a guidebook for the work sessions.

COGA, CPA, and DOLA will develop local government best practice recommendations, including those relevant to engagement prior to operators’ filing of the application for the permit to drill.

COGCC will hire two new positions to serve as LGD liaisons.

COGCC will develop a training curriculum for new LGDs and schedule LGD/local
government annual work sessions and trainings beginning in 2012.

COGCC, DOLA, and CDPHE will develop and distribute informational materials and presentations for the public on the LGD program, as well as opportunities for LGD input into permitting.
LGDs will provide COGCC with information on local processes or requirements, as appropriate, and COGCC will, in turn, create links on its website to information on local government processes and requirements.

COGCC will develop minimum qualifications for delegated inspectors and will develop curriculum for certifications, consistent with both COGCC inspector requirements and the scope of inspection assignments.

COGCC will develop a program to train delegated inspectors and establish thresholds and frequency parameters for routine inspections.

On a case by case basis, COGCC and the local jurisdiction will communicate the assignment of inspection authority to surface owners and operators and will provide a copy of the IGA memorializing the relationship between COGCC and the local jurisdiction, as appropriate.

Communicating enforcement matters to local jurisdictions and providing user friendly information to the public on responses to complaints:

COGCC will develop protocols for communicating Notices of Alleged Violations or related enforcement documents to LGDs.

COGCC will update its website and publications, where necessary, according to feedback received by LGDs, industry, the public, and other entities and provide a new area on the homepage that will facilitate ease of use by members of the public.

COGCC will develop a brochure, fact sheet, and public outreach materials to explain its enforcement and compliance process, as well as histories of past enforcement activities and provide contact information so that the public can follow-up in an appropriate way.

More oil and gas coverage here and here.

Roaring Fork Valley: Friends of Rivers and Renewables forms to promote ‘civil discussion’ the proposed hydroelectric generation station


From The Aspen Times (Andre Salvail):

The organization, Friends of Rivers and Renewables, is an offshoot of Old Snowmass resident Tim McFlynn’s nonprofit Public Counsel of the Rockies. McFlynn served as a mediator last year in negotiations between city officials and Castle Creek project critics, a process that led to the city’s “slow start” concept for the plant and other compromises.

Old Snowmass resident Chelsea Congdon Brundige, a documentary filmmaker and conservationist, will serve as director of the new organization. The group is seeking to provide a “grassroots educational effort to engender a more collaborative, less confrontational discussion of the important issues raised by the city’s proposed hydropower project,” according to a statement.

In a phone interview on Thursday, Brundige said she understands that city officials and other project supporters likely will look upon her group as another gadfly organization that hopes to cast the Castle Creek Energy Center in a negative light and eventually stop the project. But that’s far from the case, she said.

“This is a project that we would like to pursue for at least the next 10 years,” Brundige said. “The nexus between what we do in western Colorado about energy and what we do about water are going to be the two most important subjects for the next 50 years. All you have to do is look at the drought that we’re going to have this summer and realize how important it is for us to dig really deep and develop a good understanding and community dialogue about what our clean energy choices are and what we should be doing to protect our rivers and streams.”

Meanwhile, Aspen’s report to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission contained errors. Here’s a report from Brent Gardner-Smith writing for the Aspen Daily News. From the article:

City officials say once the mistakes in the report are corrected, the estimate of net power to be produced by both the new Castle Creek hydro plant, and the existing Maroon Creek plant, will likely be shown to be 6.1 million kilowatt hours a year, down from a previously estimated 6.4 million hours.

The report, as it was submitted to the federal government, indicated that the net power generated by both plants would be 5.4 million kilowatt hours.

The report, an “assessment of project operation, stream flow and power generation” relating to the proposed Castle Creek Energy Center, was dated Wednesday, April 4 and submitted to FERC the same day.

It was prepared by Kerry Sundeen, a hydrologist and president of Grand River Consulting in Glenwood Springs, who has been advising the city on its proposed hydro project for several years.

At least some of the information in the report was specifically requested by officials at the FERC, which is in the process of reviewing the city’s license application for the new hydro project.

Mitzi Rapkin, the city’s communications director, said that Aspen City Manager Steve Barwick noticed some of the mistakes over the weekend while reading the report, and that a story in Monday’s Aspen Daily News prompted other city officials to take a closer look at the report.

Here’s a report about FERC’s visit to Aspen this week, from Curtis Wackerle writing for the Aspen Daily News. From the article:

But Jim Fargo, a project manager with the FERC based in Washington, D.C., said the city of Aspen’s proposal is on the agency’s radar to a greater extent than other small projects. For one, he said he’s seen in submitted public comments, and in the local press, sufficient confusion about the federal licensing process the city is entering. So he gave a presentation at Tuesday’s public meeting to the 50 or so gathered on the “traditional licensing process,” explaining how it requires a vetting of all studies presented and a review under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). At best, the remainder of the licensing process will take another two-and-a-half to three years, he said.

Later in the process, people can formally contest information and file protests. However, “because of the level of controversy on this project, it’s being treated like it’s already a contested proceeding,” Fargo said.

Anyone is welcome to contact him at his office with process questions — (202) 502-6095 or — but he said he can’t debate the merits of the project due to the formal nature of the proceedings.

At this stage in the game, the city is still in the pre-application phase. Within 12 to 18 months, it will officially submit its license application and go through a NEPA process, requiring either an environmental assessment document or an environmental impact statement. But at this point, the feds are interested in public and stakeholder comments on what else still needs to be done — as far as studies conducted or data collected — to fully understand the project’s environmental impacts, said meeting facilitator Pamela Britton of Community Engagement Associates, who was hired by the city.

More hydroelectric coverage here and here.

Four-state Launch for Latino Effort to Save Colorado River


Here’s the release from Nuestro Rio via The Public News Service:

A new advocacy group is raising concerns about the growing imbalance of water use and supply from the Colorado River. Made up of of 13,000 Latinos in Southwestern states, Nuestro Rio (Spanish for “our river”) supports actions to sustain the river’s flow.

Its Arizona coordinator, Sal Rivera, suggests a variety of what he calls “practical” measures, including water banking, agricultural efficiency and urban conservation.

“I can’t remember how many hundreds of thousands of pools we have in Phoenix, but the simple use of pool covers would prevent the large amounts of evaporation. You know, use of more efficient irrigation techniques and watering techniques; using appropriate plants.”

Nuestro Rio held kickoff events Thursday in four Southwestern states, emphasizing historical connections between the Latino community and the river. Rivera says many people don’t realize how crucial a healthy Colorado River is to the region’s economy.

“Eighty-five percent of all the irrigated agriculture acreage in Arizona is fed by the Colorado River. Six-point-six million Arizonans drink their water from the Colorado River. The river supports at least 82,000 jobs, just in Arizona.”

Latinos have a special connection to this river, adds Rivera, as part of their history in the Southwestern states.

“Something as simple as Cesar Chavez, who was born in Yuma and died in San Luis, near the river basin. Some of the first Spanish explorers that came up and explored up through the Colorado River. The fact that our community for so long has been involved in the agricultural industry.”

A highlight of the four events was the public debut of a new corrido or ballad, remembering Cesar Chavez and urging policies that promote a healthy Colorado River for future generations.

More coverage from Troy Hooper writing for the Colorado Independent. From the article:

Over the centuries, the river has lost much of its might. It no longer spills into the Gulf of California but instead dries up in a dusty wasteland in Mexico. Climate change, drought, unrelenting urban demand and stepped-up oil and gas exploration are all contributing to the Colorado River’s decline.

Nuestro Rio is calling on lawmakers and utility companies to raise the river’s water flows.

“The Latino voice, heritage and economic component of the Colorado River are a big part of [its] story,” U.S. Department of the Interior Assistant Secretary for Water and Science Anne Castle said at a Denver event Thursday. “The river provides millions of jobs from the headwaters to the delta. There is more demand than supply right now. We are analyzing the best solutions to correct the imbalance.”

The United States and Mexico are in negotiations over a new allocation agreement for the river. A coalition of conservation groups in the Southwest delivered more than 5,000 signatures to the U.S. Department of State this week, also urging officials to restore flows to the Colorado River Delta.

More Colorado River basin coverage here.

NRDC: Colorado could do more hardening of water supplies to mitigate climate change effects


Not everyone was smitten with the methodology in the recent NRDC report on climate change preparedness. Here’s a post from Emily Green on the Chance of Rain blog. Thanks to the High Country News for the link. Ms. Green writes:

If a state that turned Owens Lake into a salt bed, that led the West in destroying the Colorado River estuary and is well on its way to finishing off the Sacramento-San Joaquin Bay Delta gets a top ranking for water management in the face of climate change, it must be asked: What merits a fail?

The NRDC’s enthusiasm for California water security policy amounts in many ways to a pat on its own back. It lobbied hard for the legislation that the new report congratulates for, among other things, mandating reduction of urban water use by 20% by 2020. What the report doesn’t mention is that lobbying by urban water authorities ensured that the reduction could be set against such a high use point that it’s not really 20% from the date of the bill.

Rio Grande River basin: Subdistrict No. 1 public hearing April 19, come by and see the latest groundwater model run results


Click here for a copy of the letter from State Engineer Dick Wolf to the SLV Advisory Committee.

More coverage from Ruth Heide writing for the Valley Courier. From the article:

Groundwater users will begin to pay back surface water users for the harm they have caused them on May 1, at least in the closed basin area north of the Rio Grande where the San Luis Valley’s first water management sub-district was formed.

Before that happens, however, area residents will have an opportunity to comment on the sub-district’s annual replacement plan detailing how it will begin to replace depletions this year.

The state engineer’s office plans a formal public hearing on the replacement plan next Thursday, April 19, at 10 a.m. at the Ramada Inn (formerly Inn of the Rio Grande) in Alamosa.

Colorado Division of Water Resources Division Engineer for Division 3 Craig Cotten said the sub-district board at its meeting on April 3 took comments on its replacement plan and voted to send the plan on to the state engineer’s office with some minor modifications and additions. The sub-district has to have its final annual replacement plan to the state engineer by April 15.

The state engineer will then hold a formal public hearing on April 19. People may sign up that morning to speak, and comments will be recorded. State Engineer Dick Wolfe will likely make a decision soon afterward and must make a decision prior to May 1, when the replacements must begin.

Here’s the link for the Rio Grande Water Conservation District Annual Replacement Plan from the Division of Water Resources.

More San Luis Valley Groundwater coverage here and here.

Southern Delivery System: Colorado Springs Utilities is, ‘disappointed that the Court disregarded several years of studies and evaluation’


From (Rana Novini):

A Pueblo County judge ruled Friday that the Southern Delivery System (SDS) would further degrade water quality and violates water quality standards in Pueblo County. The SDS water project would divert water from Pueblo Dam to Colorado Springs.

District Attorney Bill Thiebaut says he is pleased with the court’s decision. Thiebaut says he filed the lawsuit because the State of Colorado “failed to protect the citizens of Pueblo.”

Despite the ruling, Colorado Springs Utilities announced they will continue construction of the SDS project while they evaluate their appeal rights. Utilities says it is “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.”

More Southern Delivery System coverage here and here.

Snowpack/runoff/drought news: The Eagle River is melting out early, statewide snowpack slumps to 39% of the thirty year average



Direct irrigators operations can become a casualty of drought when the snowpack melts out before they need water. Click on the thumbnail graphic to the right for the latest snowpack map from the Natural Resources Conservation Service along with the April 10, 2012 drought map from the U.S. Drought Monitor.

From the Vail Daily (Lauren Glendenning):

The Eagle River basin is melting four to eight weeks earlier than normal this year because of below average snowfall, warm spring temperatures and wind, according to the Eagle River Water and Sanitation District, presenting what could be the worst water supply year in Eagle County history…

“2002 was the worst thing we had seen,” said Water District General Manager Linn Brooks. “It was the worst drought Colorado had seen since like the 1750s, according to tree ring data, and this one is so much worse, or at least shaping up to be much worse.”

While Front Range water supplies rely heavily on reservoirs that are currently full or near-full because of an above average snowpack in 2010-11, Eagle County relies on streamflows for its water supply, Brooks said. “The Front Range is worried about next year, but that’s not true for us — we’re worried about this year,” Brooks said…

A lot of the outlook still depends on the weather, though. Water district spokeswoman Diane Johnson said the snowpack story is essentially over — we know what we’ve got in terms of the snowpack, and the answer is bad news.

Click through to the website. They’ve got all the links you need, streamflow, SNOTEL, etc.

From The Durango Herald (Seth Borenstein):

Temperatures in the lower 48 states were 8.6 degrees above normal for March and 6 degrees higher than average for the first three months of the year, according to calculations by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. That far exceeds the old records.

The magnitude of how unusual the year has been in the U.S. has alarmed some meteorologists who have warned about global warming. One climate scientist said it’s the weather equivalent of a baseball player on steroids, with old records obliterated.

From the Fort Collins Coloradoan (Bobby Magill):

The snow is sparse this year, but rafting companies are optimistic that won’t mute the roar of the Poudre…

…rafting companies are counting on late-season irrigation releases from brimming mountain reservoirs to sustain the rafting season through what is expected to be a tepid mountain runoff this spring. The mountain snowpack this week has reached low levels not seen in years, with the Upper Colorado River Basin 63 percent below normal for snowpack water content and the South Platte River Basin at 47 percent below normal. The snowpack levels could mean decent flows for rafting early in the season as rivers and streams swell with a brief shot of snowmelt, but all bets are off for later in the summer.

“It’s going to affect our late season, our late July and August, to the effect that we’ll probably only be rafting on irrigation water by then,” Rothwell said. The good news for the rafting industry is that the reservoirs are full of water leftover from 2011’s above-average snow season, much of which will be sent down the Poudre to farmers on the plains.

From The Denver Post (Jason Blevins) via The Durango Herald. From the article:

U.S. ski resorts posted record visitation in the last few years, reaching more than 60 million nationally and more than 12 million in Colorado. Diversified resort operations – from real estate to lodging to lessons to dining – buoyed bottom lines, and aggressive snowmaking pushed resorts away from a live-or-die reliance on bountiful snow. Then came this season, with snowfall so weak that Colorado’s snowpack is half its normal level. Skier visits were down around 7 percent before a record dry March effectively killed the season. “This year certainly puts the perspective back on how much we really do rely on snow,” said Ethan Mueller, general manager of Crested Butte Mountain Resort, which expects to see visits fall 10 percent. “Maybe the industry can trump the economy, but snow is king.”[…]

Michael Berry, president of the 321-resort National Ski Areas Association, said the nearly 10 million-visit drop nationwide mirrors the season of 1980-81, when a dearth of snow in the Northeast, California and central Rockies rocked the industry. “Usually, it’s just one or two (regions),” Berry said. “This is the first time in what, 30 years, that we’ve seen a line through all three. Our fundamental strengths remain strong, but this certainly was a weather-impacted year.”[…]

In Colorado, the Front Range’s Echo Mountain and Eldora saw strong gains in part because of heavy upslope storms that missed every other hill in the state. Still, Echo closed for the season last weekend because of warm weather. “As our owner says, it’s better to be lucky than good. I don’t think it’s anything special we did. The snow came at the right time,” said Rob Linde with Eldora, which saw huge storms in February that forced the ski area to turn away visitors for lack of parking. “We know it can be feast or famine. It might be the reverse next year.”

Farther south, where La Niña delivered some of Colorado’s healthiest storms, Wolf Creek is expecting to be up 17 percent. Silverton Mountain will be up and Durango Mountain Resort also is expecting visits to climb.

From the Cortez Journal (Reid Wright):

Last month, water officials were anticipating a modest whitewater boating release based on 85 percent of average snowpack levels and a favorable forecast. Now they say it will be fortunate if McPhee Reservoir even fills.

“It kind of goes to show you how quickly a forecast can go south,” said Mike Preston, manager of the Dolores Water Conservancy District. “Something that looked like a promising year can take a turn for the worst.”

The good news, Preston said, is that due to reserves left over from last year, there should be enough water for drinking and irrigation for the coming year. Only if it is dry for several years in a row, will there be shortages.

There is also enough water to sustain fish populations on the Lower Dolores. An early ramp-up trickle release was initially planned to cool waters on the river to postpone the spawning of native fish species until after the rafting spill. However, now that a rafting spill is unlikely, the cooling waters are no longer needed, Preston said.

From USA Today (Doyle Rice/Julie Snider):

A mostly dry, mild winter has put nearly 61% of the lower 48 states in “abnormally dry” or drought conditions, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor, a weekly federal tracking of drought. That’s the highest percentage of dry or drought conditions since September 2007, when 61.5% of the country was listed in those categories. Only two states — Ohio and Alaska — are entirely free of abnormally dry or drought conditions, according to the Drought Monitor.

San Miguel River: 48 feet of the historic hanging flume has been restored


Click on the thumbnail graphic to the right for an aerial shot of the San Miguel River canyon. The hanging flume, before the restoration, is along the cliff wall in the middle of the photo. Here’s a report from Dann Cianca writing for Click through for his video report with shots of the reconstruction. Here’s an excerpt:

“It’s a work of art, it really is,” said Kent Diebolt, team leader from Vertical Access, a company working to reconstruct part of the flume.

The Hanging Flume was built between 1889-1891 to assist in gold mining operations. Located in the canyon carved by the San Miguel River just before it meets the Dolores River, the flume was a canal of sorts to transfer water to the gold mining operations. The miners used the the water, assisted by gravity to separate gold from other minerals. The waterway stretched for ten miles along the San Miguel River and existed in part as a ditch but also as a hanging wooden trough, known as a flume. While the miners found gold, after a few years of mining, it was realized that the operation was not economical. Eventually, the flume was no longer being used and its pieces were scavenged.

“The flume was built with about 1.8 million board feet of timber and people would walk through the flume box and dismantle the side boards and the floor boards and that ended up in some of the communities around this area,” said project manager Ron Anthony.

For years afterward, the flume sat untouched, slowly being weathered by the environment until people realized that it should be preserved. Since then, groups have come together to discover the history of the flume and protect it. Thanks to private donations by the JM Kaplan Fund, the Hendricks Foundation and more along with the support of the BLM and Western Colorado Interpretive Association, part of the original flume is being reconstructed.

“This effort on this project is to reconstruct a segment about forty eight feet long that has the flume box, (the floor boards and side boards) that will allow people to see from below what was here when the flume was operational,” Anthony said.

Builders are using the same type of timber to reconstruct the flume as well as some of the original methods. But it takes a special type of worker to take part in the project. The flume is suspended half-way up a two hundred foot cliff! Builders have to repel into work, not to mention the effort it takes to make sure building supplies can get to where they need to be.

Click here for a photo gallery from


More coverage from The Denver Post (Nancy Lofholm):

Those who keep returning to measure, survey, photograph and examine the mysterious structure known as the Hanging Flume call it “flume fever.” The afflicted wake in the middle of the night to puzzle over how enterprising but misguided gold seekers pinned a 10-mile-long wooden water chute to a sheer cliff to create a hydraulic gold separator.

They spend years in faraway city offices calculating angles and load factors and building mini models.
Finally, on this blustery week, about a dozen of them — engineers, scientists, archaeologists, industrial riggers, carpenters and historians — gathered at a cliff edge that locals like to say is “50 miles from nowhere” to remake history.

“The fascination with this thing is beyond belief. It’s a window into the way people thought in those days,” said Bureau of Land Management archaeologist Glade Hadden.

More San Miguel watershed coverage here and here.