Colorado Water 2012: It’s the twentieth anniversary of the Summitville Mine disaster

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Here’s the latest installment of the Valley Courier’s Colorado Water 2012 series written by Cindy Medina with Alamosa Riverkeeper. Click through and read the whole thing, here’s an excerpt:

In 1992, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) emergency response unit found a mountain decimated with a massive open scar, pools of murky green water, and snake-like black pipes lying throughout the site. In contrast, the untouched snow-capped San Juan Mountains surrounded the catastrophe. Later, downstream fishermen and farmers reported fish, victims of the cyanide spill at the mine site, floating in the Alamosa River and in their private reservoirs. How would the governmental agencies and the local residents respond to such an environmental catastrophe with a remediation cost that eventually would exceed $220 million?

The degree of environmental irresponsibility displayed by a Canadian mining company was counterbalanced by the degree of commitment and dedication by local residents, federal and state agencies to this environmental tragedy. In 2002, a settlement was reached with Robert Friedland for $28.5 million, with $5 million exclusively designated for the use “to restore, replace, or acquire the equivalent of” the injured natural resources. This natural resource damage settlement looks small compared to Friedland’s current status of a billionaire who works out of Vancouver, Singapore, and Magnolia as reported by author Walter Isaacson.

But the settlement proved significant to agencies and organizations for its leverage potency for additional monies for projects designed to restore the watershed.

More Summitville Superfund site coverage here and here.

Green Mountain Reservoir operations update: 540 cfs in the Blue River below the dam

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From email from Reclamation (Kara Lamb):

After yesterday’s Colorado River coordination call, we made adjustments to the release from Green Mountain Dam to the Lower Blue River. We are now releasing about 540 cfs.

As you all likely are aware, flows in the Colorado River continue to decline. In response, we have bumped our releases up another 50 cfs from 490 to 540 cfs.

The reservoir is currently at a water level elevation of 7920 feet above sea level, about 30 vertical feet down, or roughly 65% full.

It’s likely the 540 cfs will remain in place through the weekend.

More Blue River watershed coverage here.

Drought news: Keep up on the drought in your area using Water Watch from the USGS #CODrought

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Here’s the link to the Colorado Map. Click on the thumbnail graphic for today’s map.

More USGS coverage here.

Senator Bennet sponsors bill that would set up protection for the Hermosa Creek watershed

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Here’s the release from Senator Bennet’s office:

Colorado U.S. Senator Michael Bennet today introduced a bill to protect more than 100,000 acres of the Hermosa Creek Watershed, an area in the San Juan National Forest north of Durango. The bill would establish a long-term management plan for the land based on recommendations from the Hermosa Creek River Protection Workgroup, which includes local water officials, conservationists, sportsmen, mountain bikers, off-road-vehicle users, outfitters, property owners, grazing permit holders and other interested citizens.

“The Hermosa Creek Watershed represents some of the best Colorado has to offer. It deserves to be protected for our outdoor recreation economy, and for future generations of Coloradans and Americans to enjoy,” Bennet said. “This bill originated from a local effort that took into account the varied interests of the community. Their collaborative approach set the tone early for a public process that led to a strong bill.”

The bill, which is cosponsored by Senator Mark Udall, would designate roughly 108,000 acres of San Juan National Forest land as the Hermosa Creek Watershed Protection Area. Much of the land would remain open to all historic uses of the forest under the bill, including mountain biking, motorized recreation, selective timber harvesting and grazing.

In accordance with the consensus recommendations of the Hermosa Creek Workgroup, roughly 38,000 acres of the watershed would be set aside as wilderness, to be managed in accordance with The Wilderness Act of 1964. No roads or mineral development are permitted in wilderness areas; while hunting, fishing, horseback riding and non-mechanized recreation are allowed. The Wilderness Act also contains several provisions to provide for active land management in wilderness areas as necessary to control wildfires, insect infestations and disease outbreaks.

Finally, per request of the Durango City Council, the bill would protect Animas Mountain and Perins Peak near Durango from future federal mineral leasing.

Supporters of the bill include the La Plata County Commission, the San Juan County Commission, the International Mountain Biking Association, and the Durango Herald editorial board among others.

“We commend you for respecting the hard work of the Hermosa Creek Workgroup. We support the legislation, and stand ready to help in whatever way to see it enacted into law,” said the La Plata County Commissioners.

“The residents of Durango support Senator Bennet’s legislation to protect Hermosa Creek in a way that respects the variety of interests in our community. We especially appreciate the inclusion in this bill of a provision the City of Durango formally requested to put our cherished local icons Animas Mountain and Perins Peak off limits to oil and gas development,” said Durango City Council Member Christina Rinderle.

Last year, Bennet wrote an op-ed in the Durango Herald, outlining his plans to seek feedback from interested Coloradans to build on the framework the workgroup set for the bill.

Thanks to those rabble-rousers at the Colorado Environmental Coalition (@CoEnviroCo) for the heads up.

More Animas River watershed coverage here and here.

Fraser River: ‘Eisenhower Reach’ dedicated July 14

Eisenhower fishing “little boy falls” in 1955 in Maine.
Eisenhower fishing “little boy falls” in 1955 in Maine.

From the Sky-Hi Daily News (Reid Tulley):

President Dwight “Ike” Eisenhower, who vacationed and fished in the Fraser Valley, will receive recognition across the state and this will help to preserve the history of the valley, [Fraser Mayor Peggy Smith] said.

Thanks were given by the speakers at the event to the sponsors of the state resolution which created the Eisenhower Reach, state Rep. Randy Baumgardner and state Sen. Jeanne Nicholson. The resolution passed through both the Senate and House of Representatives without a single nay vote, according to Kirk Klancke, president of the Colorado River Headwaters Chapter of Trout Unlimited…

The dedication was lighthearted and fun, but the elephant in the room seemed to be the Moffat Firming Project. Denver Water’s Moffat Firming Project has been in the works since 2003, and the approval process is nearing completion, according to Klancke…

Trout Unlimited is not totally opposed to supplying more water to the Denver area; however, they are asking for certain mitigation efforts to be undertaken if the Moffat Project is approved…

The proposed mitigations Trout Unlimited wants to see as part of the deal include:

• Management of water supply to ensure adequate flows with seasonal flushing to clear out sediment and to keep the temperature of the river cool;

• Funding to deepen the river channels and add streamside plants for shade;

• Intensive monitoring of the river and aquatic life in order to prevent and respond to negative changes in trout and other aquatic species;

• And a bypass around Windy Gap Reservoir to help restore the Colorado River’s flow and overall health below the Windy Gap Dam (to offset reduced flows from Windy Gap diversions).

More Fraser River coverage here and here.

Forecast news: El Niño on the horizon?

From the Summit County Citizens Voice (Bob Berwyn):

A classic El Niño may be developing across the eastern Pacific, with warmer-than-average water temperatures starting to spread westward from the coast of South America, according to NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center.

For the month of June, the pattern of sea surface temperatures overall remained in a neutral phase, but with growing positive (warmer than average) equatorial Pacific sea surface temperature anomalies, NOAA has issued an El Niño watch, reflecting a likely emergence of of El Niño in the late summer or fall.

Ocean-wide, the warming off the coast of South America is consistent with patterns associated with the development of previous El Niños, including a weakening of low-level trade winds across the east-central equatorial Pacific. Those winds, blowing east to west, normally push the warmer waters to the west. Another sign is the weakening of the persistent pattern of enhanced convection near Papua New Guinea.

Fountain Creek: Lower Ark board declines opportunity to fund study of Waldo Canyon Fire effects on water quality

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

The Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District board voted unanimously not to fund the request by Colorado State University-Pueblo scientists, saying it’s time for other agencies to step up on water quality studies. “The biggest problem is that there need to be more funding partners,” said Lynden Gill, acting chairman of the board. “We have limited resources and are in a situation where we feel uncomfortable.”[…]

[Scott Herrmann] said the water in Upper Monument Creek, near Cascade where the fire started, was as black as charcoal, turning grayer downstream. Further analysis also could detect whether there are higher levels of phosphorus in the water, a byproduct of ammonia phosphate and sulfate ions, the chief ingredients of the slurry dumped on wildfires. The researchers previously told the Lower Ark board they would like to expand the Fountain Creek study to the reach of the Arkansas River from Pueblo Dam to Baxter.

However, the Waldo Canyon Fire presented unique opportunities to study Fountain Creek, [Del Nimmo] said. “The fire has already had a profound impact,” Nimmo said. “There have been incredible changes on the Upper Fountain.”

More Fountain Creek coverage here and here.