Colorado Water 2012: ‘The Rio Grande starts as a small spring’ — Steve Vandiver

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Here’s the latest installment of the Valley Courier’s Colorado Water 2012 series. Here’s an excerpt:

The Rio Grande starts as a small spring and as it proceeds downstream it picks up a number of small tributaries and soon is a large stream and then a small river as it flows into the only main stem reservoir on the river in Colorado, Rio Grande Reservoir. This is a private reservoir which is used for irrigation and other uses.

The river then runs downstream and joins the South Fork of the Rio Grande and then towards to the San Luis Valley. On its way through the Valley, there are a number of diversions into irrigation ditches which divert the allocation of the Compact dedicated to Colorado. There are limits to how much Colorado can use and the remainder has to go on downstream to New Mexico which creates a portion of their water supply under their allocation from the Compact.

After running through the Rio Grande Gorge for a number of miles and joining a number of small tributaries in northern New Mexico, it runs into a large flood control reservoir above Cochiti Dam. The largest tributary to the river in New Mexico is the Chama River which enters the river just below that dam, delivers about one-third of the supplies for New Mexico. New Mexico then uses their allocation of Compact water for agriculture and municipal supplies through the central portion of the state. The cities of Santa Fe, Albuquerque, Socorro and others rely on the river as a source of supply.

The river then enters the largest reservoir on the Rio Grande in the Upper Rio Grande reach, the Elephant Butte dam and Reservoir. This reservoir is critical to the entire Rio Grande Basin as it holds and regulates southern New Mexico and West Texas allocation under of the Compact, generates hydroelectric power and provides protection for all three states’ water supplies.

Immediately below the Elephant Butte dam is Cabello Reservoir which serves as a regulating reservoir from the water running through the power generation station in Elephant Butte Dam. There are three large diversions from the River between Cabello Dam and El Paso that provide irrigation water to several tens of thousands of acres of highly productive land. El Paso uses a portion of Texas’s water allocation for municipal supplies. The American Dam diversion just upstream of El Paso serves many thousands of irrigated acres downstream of El Paso before the river gets to Ft. Quitman. The water allocated from the river to the Juarez, Mexico area by treaty with the US, is diverted at the International Dam just below the American Dam. The river is effectively dry below this point except for the water produced by several drains from both the US and Mexico sides of the river.

Drought news: Horses are suffering and dying across the West

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From The Bend Bulletin (Mark Holm):

While precise figures are hard to come by, rough estimates from the Unwanted Horse Coalition, an alliance of equine organizations based in Washington, puts the number of unwanted horses — those given up on by their owners for whatever reasons — at 170,000 to 180,000 nationwide, said Ericka Caslin, the group’s director.

Many more could be out there, though. The Navajos, for instance, have no tally on the number of feral horses on their land; a $2 million effort to count and round them up was vetoed by the tribe’s president because of the cost.

Here, in this speck of a city in northern New Mexico, just outside Navajo territory, Debbie Coburn has been scrambling to enlist volunteers and raise money to feed, clean and care for three times as many abandoned horses as she had in her rescue farm, Four Corners Equine Rescue, through all of last year.

She gets up almost every day to find messages in her computer from people whose horses are in desperate need of help. One recent morning, a woman writing on behalf of her elderly parents who live just east of Albuquerque said, “They have scraped by every week to purchase a bale of hay for their horse, but they just can’t do it anymore.”

At $8 to $12 for a bale of roughly 60 pounds, enough to feed a riding horse for maybe three days, hay costs five times what it did 10 years ago, Coburn said. This summer’s anemic harvest has spurred competition for a limited supply among ranchers big and small, from nearby cities and also from out of state. And as a rule, the price of hay goes up in the cold months; it doubled last winter, when the drought’s devastating effects first began to sprout.

“This winter, to be quite blunt, scares the hell out of me,” Coburn said as she walked across the corrals where the horses are kept, some of them in improvised pens enclosed not by steel barriers, but by electric fence. (The horses have arrived faster than she has been able to make room for them.)

“At this point,” she added, “it’s just too late for rain alone to solve our problems.”

Drought Response Information Project (DRIP) recognizes the City of Grand Junction for conservation

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From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Richie Ann Ashcraft):

The Drought Response Information Project (DRIP) noted that the city had used 30 percent less water in the past six years. In appreciation, the city was awarded a 2012 Drought Recognition plaque at Hawthorne Park from representatives from the Clifton Water District, Ute Water Conservancy District and other DRIP committee members.

Rob Schoeber, director of Parks and Recreation for the city, attributed the low water usage to the Maxicom centralized computer control system which measures the amount of water each field needs to remain lush.

If it rains at midnight and there is enough water, then the sprinklers won’t come on in the morning, explained Schoeber. The system also monitors the evapo-transpiration rate, adjusting the watering schedule accordingly, he said.

The high tech system was installed at most of the city operated parks and fields in 2006. Other components have been added through the years as the budget allows. “The cost really comes out in savings of water over the long term,” Schoeber said.

More conservation coverage here.

Northern Integrated Supply Project: Supplemental Draft EIS due Fall 2013

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Here’s an excerpt from a recent Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District eNews email:

Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper wrote a letter to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in May requesting an expeditious conclusion to the National Environmental Policy Act study being conducted by the Army Corps for the Northern Integrated Supply Project.

In a response to the governor, Corps of Engineers Colonel Robert Ruch, responded that his agency anticipates the Supplemental Draft EIS for NISP will be released to the public in the Fall of 2013. “The size of the proposals, types of analyses, and the amount of interest they have generated has resulted in substantial reviews,” Colonel Ruch wrote. “Please be assured that I have made the review of all ongoing water supply actions in the Omaha District’s purview a high priority for my Regulatory staff.”

This was positive news on many fronts. First, is that a definite date for the release of the SDEIS has been given. The SDEIS process began in February 2009. Second, having Gov. Hickenlooper weigh in on the project is enormous. While not an endorsement, his insistence that the studies be brought to conclusion and his affirmation that wise water development, including projects like NISP, are a necessity in Colorado, was welcome indeed.

The Governor also referenced the ongoing drought in Colorado and the pressing need for water for NISP water providers. He also committed the State to moving through their approval process in a timely manner.

Governor Hickenlooper also wrote a letter to President Obama where he addressed Denver Water’s Moffat Enlargement Project and its ongoing permitting process.

In the letter he states, “Colorado is at a critical juncture in forging a more secure future for the development and management of water supplies critical to both our economy and the natural environment that makes our state so great.” Governor Hickenlooper added, “Therefore, we urge you to exercise your authority to coordinate your agencies and bring an expeditious conclusion to the federal permitting processes for this essential project, in order that we can have certainty moving forward as a state.”

More Northern Integrated Supply Project coverage here and here

‘We wanted to understand what had driven past extinctions of sea life’ — John Pandolfi

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Here’s a look at a recent study by scientists from Australia, the US, Canada, Germany, Panama, Norway and the UK, from Bob Berwyn writing for the Summit County Citizens Voice. Click through and read the whole thing. Here’s an excerpt:

Three of the five largest extinctions of the past 500 million years were associated with global warming and acidification of the oceans — trends which also apply today, the scientists wrote in the journal Trends in Ecology and Evolution.

Other extinctions were driven by loss of oxygen from seawaters, pollution, habitat loss and pressure from human hunting and fishing – or a combination of these factors. “Currently, the Earth is again in a period of increased extinctions and extinction risks, this time mainly caused by human factors,” the scientists wrote. While the data is harder to collect at sea than on land, the evidence points strongly to similar pressures now being felt by sea life as for land animals and plants.”

An extensive search of historical fossil records has established the main causes of previous marine extinctions — and gives some clues as to the risk of a recurrence. “We wanted to understand what had driven past extinctions of sea life and see how much of those conditions prevailed today,” said co-author John Pandolfi, of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies and The University of Queensland.

“It is very useful to look back in time – because if you forget your history, you’re liable to repeat it,” said Pandolfi, an authority on the fate of coral reefs in previous mass extinction events.

Marine extinction events vary greatly. In the ‘Great Death’ of the Permian 250 million years ago, for example, an estimated 95 per cent of marine species died out due to a combination of warming, acidification, loss of oxygen and habitat. Scientists have traced the tragedy in the chemistry of ocean sediments laid down at the time, and abrupt loss of many sea animals from the fossil record.

More Climate Change coverage here and here.

Alan Hamel ends his run with the Pueblo Board of Water Works

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

The Pueblo Board of Water Works Tuesday voted to rename its headquarters the Alan C. Hamel Administration Building at 319 W. Fourth St. Hamel, the executive director since 1982, officially ended his 52-year career the same day at the water board…

Far from speechless, Hamel then proceeded to talk about his career at the water board, giving credit to the employees who worked for him and the board. He also praised present and past boards for allowing him to serve outside roles in state government and professional groups. “The board has been farsighted in letting us look on the outside to form partnerships,” Hamel said.

A reception recognizing Hamel’s career is scheduled from 1 to 4 p.m. Aug. 29 at the Olde Towne Carriage House at the Riverwalk, 102 S. Victoria Ave.

More Pueblo Board of Water Works coverage here and here.

It turns out that Colorado Springs did need a stormwater enterprise after all: The search for $millions continues

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Chris Melcher, city attorney for Colorado Springs, reiterated Tuesday that he believes the city needs to fund $13 million-$15 million annually in stormwater maintenance or improvements to meet the conditions of 2009 SDS agreements with Pueblo County and the federal Bureau of Reclamation. Those agreements are embodied in the 2010 SDS contract. Since March, when Melcher first gave that opinion, the Pueblo County commissioners have asked for at least $15 million in next year’s budget, and the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District suggested $18 million$20 million is needed…

Mayor Steve Bach has asked Utilities to find $15 million in its budget for stormwater next year. Utilities, which answers to City Council, not the mayor, does not operate a stormwater utility, but maintains that some of its budget goes to stormwater projects.

More stormwater coverage here and here.