Durango: The parks department has released their draft management plan for the Animas River through town

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From The Durango Herald (Jim Haug):

“We will create amenities so they will behave more legally,” said Cathy Metz, the director of the city’s Parks and Recreation Department. “We’ll create changing rooms so they’re not changing (clothes) in the middle of the street.”

Metz unveiled a draft of the Animas River Corridor Management Plan during a public hearing at the Durango Community Recreation Center.

The proposed plan will also be discussed with citizen advisory boards this month before a revised version goes to the City Council for a vote.

City staff wrote the plan for managing recreation along 16 miles of river after soliciting input from interest groups as varied as homeowners, rafters, anglers and conservationists from a series of meetings held earlier this year.

More Animas River watershed coverage here and here.

Ouray: Crystal Lake Dam to get new outlook works over the summer

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From the Montrose Daily Press (Katharhynn Heidelberg):

A massive repair project is expected to interrupt summer fishing at Crystal Lake Dam above Ouray — there is no other way to make the critical safety augmentations but to close the structure for a few months, starting in early July. “Probably about 50 percent of the dam will be removed and taken off-site. They’ll install a new outlet works,” said Tom Condos, engineering and minerals staff officer with the U.S. Forest Service. The dam provides water storage for the Uncompahgre River headwaters. During an inspection two years ago, officials noticed a problem.

From Colorado Radio (James MacDonald):

The Crystal Lake Dam near Ouray is going to be getting some major repairs. The dam will be closed this summer and partially removed to make the proper repairs and upgrades. The $300,000 project will also include the installation of an emergency spillway for the dam. The closure is slated for July and the repairs will force fishermen to look elsewhere until the project is completed in October.

More Uncompahgre River watershed coverage here.

Denver: U.S. House Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources hearing about hydraulic fracturing today

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Update: Here’s a report from the Associated Press via WJTV.com. From the article:

The field hearing by the Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources was called in response to last month’s announcement by the Obama administration that it would seek coordinated federal oversight of natural gas production. The Interior Department, meanwhile, is expected to issue new rules in the next few weeks on natural gas drilling on public lands The federal oversight was denounced by officials from Colorado, Wyoming and Utah, all of which rely heavily on oil and gas production…

Shawn Reese, policy director for Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead, testified that 20 percent of the entire state workforce is tied to energy production. “The importance of natural gas to the state’s economic situation cannot be overstated,” said Reese, who said federal oversight would be “unnecessary and unreasonable.”

Colorado Rep. Doug Lamborn, a conservative Republican who heads the subcommittee, introduced the hearing by blasting the Obama administration and the U.S. Department of Interior for trying to “hijack” state oversight of drilling practices including hydraulic fracturing, also called fracking…

“Do Coloradans react differently to water pollution?” asked a skeptical Rep. Rush Holt, a New Jersey Democrat who attended the field hearing and questioned the state officials who argued against national safety regulation. Holt told a Utah official who testified that her state saw no water contamination in 50 years that perhaps that was because the state wasn’t looking…

Democratic Rep. Diane DeGette of Denver, who has sponsored unsuccessful bills seeking required disclosure of fracking fluids used by energy companies, argued that all levels of government, including municipalities, should have a say in how and where drilling is done. She pointed out that technological advances in direction drilling and fracking have brought the drilling procedure closer to populated areas, triggering a need for more governmental oversight.

Update: From The Denver Post (Mark Jaffe):

The Department of Interior is considering rules on disclosure of frack fluid ingredients, management of fluids and waste water. The Bureau of Land Management, which oversees oil and gas development on federal lands, however, has not yet issued any draft of rules…

There are also significant geological differences between oil and gas fields that are best addressed at the state level, said Colorado Rep. Jerry Sonnenberg, a Sterling Republican.

The states may be the right level for regulation but they have to prove they can do the job, said Bruce Baizel, an attorney for the environmental group Earthworks. Baizel said that a review by his group found that in Texas, Colorado, New Mexico and Pennsylvania the majority of operating wells are not annually inspected.

From the Fowler Tribune:

The U.S. House Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources will be in Denver this Wednesday, holding a field hearing on proposed federal regulations for hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. The testimony is by invitation only, and it’s expected to explore the economic impact of the Interior Department’s draft proposal, which would require public disclosure of chemicals used in fracking on public lands, as well as increased water and air protections.

More oil and gas coverage here and here.

Colorado Water 2012: As both an importing and exporting basin the Arkansas Basin’s history is interesting

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Here’s the latest installment of the Valley Courier’s Water 2012 series, written by Terry Scanga the General Manager of the Upper Arkansas Water Conservancy District. Here’s an excerpt:

…the Arkansas has some remarkable features that distinguish it from others in the state. By 1890 most of the basin’s reliable water was appropriated and decreed. One of the more distinguishing characteristics is the number of trans-basin diversions that import water into the Arkansas.

Further, a substantial amount of both native water, as well as trans-basin water previously imported into the basin, is diverted from the Arkansas to other Colorado basins. It is the largest in land area of all water basins in Colorado…

Early in the state’s history the major use of water was for mining and milling. As the state matured and mining became less significant agricultural uses of water for irrigation of crops became the dominate use of water. Today irrigation consumes nearly 80 percent of the water diverted within the basin.

Since the 1950’s population growth in the cities along the Front-Range of Colorado have exerted tremendous pressure for the change of the irrigation water rights to municipal uses. Farmers seeking water to supplement their native water supplies developed most of the major trans-mountain diversions by successfully capturing un-appropriated water supplies from the wetter Colorado River Basin. Many of these were open ditches that were dug from the Western side of the divide to the Eastern slope. Others were major diversions transiting the continental divide through tunnels bored through the mountains…

One of the benefits of the trans-mountain projects are the storage vessels built at the headwaters and lower downstream at critical terminal points such as Pueblo. In recent years Upper Arkansas River flows became contentious as recreational activities such as boating and fishing developed into a major economic force. Water entities became involved and agreed to a Voluntary Flow Program to provide consistent and dependable minimum river flows to sustain boating through August 15th and maintain even flow in the critical Fall period to assist the fishery with spawning. With reservoir storage at both the upper and lower ends of the Arkansas River, releases and exchanges can be timed to coincide with these recreational and environmental events.

More Colorado Water 2012 coverage here.

Snowpack/drought/runoff news: Arkansas River Basin snowpack is at 30% of average, statewide = 25%

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Click on the thumbnail graphics for the current statewide snowpack map, the Basin High/Low graph statewide and the Basin High/Low graph for the Arkansas River Basin. Things are generally better east of the Great Divide but snowpack is near 2002 levels everywhere.

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

“Some are planting as if they forgot a drought ever showed up,” said Dan Henrichs, superintendent of the High Line Canal. “I’m going to recommend we run more water at the next ditch board meeting, like I did last month.” Finding additional water to irrigate crops with could be tough this year. At last month’s Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District meeting, the possibility was raised that no agricultural water allocations may be available this year.

The Bureau of Reclamation has not completed its May 1 forecast, but water supplies are likely to be at 2002 levels or less. Statewide, snowpack is at 25 percent of average, and it has begun to melt at lower elevations. “The conditions we’re seeing are about five weeks ahead of normal,” [Steve Witte, Water Division 2 engineer] said. “It doesn’t look or feel like 2002, however. You can drive out on the plains and see green.”

Cities have more water in storage in 2012, but farmers could feel the pinch because the National Climate Prediction Center is predicting higher temperatures and average precipitation through October for this area. So far this year, Pueblo precipitation is half of normal.

From the Boulder Daily Camera (Laura Snider):

In April, Boulder got 1.32 inches of precipitation, compared to an average of 2.92 inches, according to local meteorologist Matt Kelsch. Taken together, it was the fourth-driest March and April on record in Boulder. Normally, the two months bring a total of 5.02 inches of water. But this year, only 0.01 inches of precipitation fell in March, making the total 1.33 inches for both months.

The situation hasn’t been better in the mountains. A lack of spring snowfall and above-average temperatures have conspired to shrink the already-small snowpack. The snowpack in the South Platte River Basin is 32 percent of what it normally is on May 1, and statewide, the snowpack has shrunk to just 25 percent of average.

On Tuesday, Boulder water managers met to discuss whether the city should declare drought conditions and enact water restrictions. City officials are expected next week to announce their decision, which will be based on snowpack measurements in the mountains where Boulder draws some of its water, the amount of water stored in the city’s reservoirs, the amount of water Boulder can expect to draw from the Colorado River through the Colorado-Big Thompson project, and the amount of expected demand for water…

The snowpack on May 1 was similarly low during the 2002 drought, when the snowpack in the South Platte River Basin was 31 percent of normal…

“Boulder’s storage situation is currently good, which will help get us through the summer,” Wilson wrote. “The worry is really whether we have low snowpack next winter. That could be very serious.”[…]

The low snowpack — and correspondingly low creek flows — isn’t bad news for everyone. It could make for good fishing on Boulder Creek, according to Randy Hicks, manager of Rocky Mountain Anglers in Boulder. Normally, fishing on Boulder Creek is nearly impossible in June, and last year, the creek wasn’t especially fishable until even later in the summer.

From the Summit County Citizens Voice (Bob Berwyn):

March inflow into [Lake Powell] was about 10,000 acre feet higher than forecast, mainly due to the early snow-melt season, but still only 84 percent of average. Through July, the inflow is only expected to be 49 percent of average. For the water year, the inflow is now projected to be about 63 percent of average. That marks a setback in regional water storage, which saw improvement since 2005, following a string of dry years. Between 2005 and 2011, Lake Powell’s inflow was 101 percent of average, thanks in particular to the 2011 water year, when inflow peaked for the period at 147 percent of average.

Sand Creek: So far Suncor Energy has not been able to stanch the flow of polluted groundwater

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From The Denver Post (Bruce Finley):

Neither state regulators nor Suncor has calculated how much cancer-causing benzene and other contaminants have entered the waterways from an underground plume spreading from the refinery under the adjacent Metro Wastewater Treatment Plant. But interceptor trenches, vapor-extraction systems and recovery wells over the past five months have removed about 697,200 gallons of material from the ground, Suncor officials said Tuesday in a response to Denver Post queries.

A fountain aeration system designed to separate benzene from water, before the creek reaches the river, has been shut down. Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment regulators ordered the shutdown April 24. Health department spokesman Warren Smith said this was done to evaluate the effectiveness of Suncor’s underground walls and extraction systems installed on Metro Wastewater property near Sand Creek. Smith acknowledged “fluctuations” in benzene levels in the creek and river but disputed any overall upward trend…

“We believe that the permanent solutions being installed and operated — trenching systems and treatment systems on both Suncor and Metro’s property — will effectively isolate and manage the plume and dramatically lower the dissolved benzene level in Sand Creek,” company vice president John Gallagher said in a prepared response. The latest water-test data show benzene levels at 400 parts per billion or higher in the South Platte and at two monitoring wells along Sand Creek. The federal drinking-water standard for benzene is 5 ppb. At the South Platte location (about 50 feet downriver from the confluence with Sand Creek), the 400 ppb detected April 25 was more than double the 180 ppb recorded April 6 and 73 percent higher than the 230 ppb recorded Dec. 2 — when EPA overseers launched an emergency response. Three monitoring sites along Sand Creek were tested April 2-4 and again April 9. During that period, benzene levels at the sites increased — to 150 ppb from 12 ppb; to 490 ppb from 89 ppb; and then to 510 ppb from 73 ppb. On April 25, the two sites nearest the creek bank, where black goo began oozing into the creek in November, still showed benzene concentrations of 410 ppb and 450 ppb.

More Sand Creek coverage here. More oil and gas coverage here and here.