Snowpack news: Northern Colorado doing OK, San Miguel, Dolores, Animas and San Juan = 3% of average #COSnowpack

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Click on the thumbnail graphics for the current statewide map and the statewide map from last year on November 1. Remember, at this time of year one good storm can send the percent of average way up.

From the Summit County Citizens Voice (Bob Berwyn):

The October dustings did help alleviate drought conditions in the northern part of the state, where snowpack as of Oct. 26 was close to average, but along and south of I-70, the snowpack is barely limping along at 60 percent of average in the Colorado River Basin, 70 percent of normal in the Arkansas River Basin and just 20 percent of normal in the Gunnison Basin. In the southwestern and south-central mountains, the snowpack is only at 3 percent of normal in the San Miguel, Dolores, Animas and San Juan Basin, and 4 percent in the Upper Rio Grande Basin. Some SNOTEL sites are already reporting a settled snowpack ranging from a couple of inches to as high as 13 inches at the Deadman Hill SNOTEL site, at 10,220 feet in northern Larimer County. The Copper Mountain SNOTEL site is reporting 3 inches, Grizzly Peak (near A-Basin), 6 inches, and Loveland Basin, 8 inches.

The CWCB approves a $500,000 grant for the La Plata Archuleta Water District pipeline project

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From The Durango Herald (Dale Rodebaugh):

A Colorado Water Conservation Board grant will cover $475,000, with the remainder coming from the Southwest Basin Roundtable’s share of the Water Supply Reserve Account. Ground breaking is scheduled Nov. 13. Water will be available for the district’s first customers next year, Steve Harris, the district’s engineer, said Friday. Long­range plans envision serving 400 square miles, first in southeast La Plata County and later southwest Archuleta County…

The pipeline will follow Bayfield Parkway from the roundabout on County Road 501 to County Road 509, then south along County Road 509 to County Road 510, where it will turn west…

The district’s water will come from the city of Bayfield treatment plant, the capacity of which is to be expanded from 1.5 million gallons a day to 2.5 mgd. The plant currently treats 900,000 gallons a day…

The first two miles of pipeline will be 14 inches in diameter to accommodate several laterals, Harris said.
“Once we get into the rural area, we’ll use 8­inch pipe,” Harris said.

More infrastructure coverage here.

USFS is undertaking a study of the Bear Creek Watershed near Colorado Springs — comments sought

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From the Colorado Springs Independent (J. Adrian Stanley):

The Indy ran an extensive article on the greenback, its fascinating history, and the current controversy over its preservation here.

The Forest Service study is the first step in offering better protection to the fish. The study will look at the current condition of the watershed, and how current activities — such as motorcycling — are affecting the health of the area.

When the study is complete, the Forest Service will use it to make recommendations for changes to the area that could include, for instance, moving trails further from the creek.

Next, the Forest Service will do a National Environmental Policy Act study, which will determine if proposed changes are, indeed, the best move for the watershed and what effects they will have. The NEPA will ultimately determine if the changes will happen and how they will take place.

The two studies could take years to complete, and there are plenty of opportunities for public comment along the way.

More endangered/threatened species coverage here.

Conservation groups raise issues with fast-tracking the Moffat Collection System Project

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Here’s the text of a letter from the Colorado Environmental Coalition, et. al., to the EPA and Army Corps of Engineers:

We write to express our serious concerns with the permitting process for the Moffat Collection System Expansion Project proposed by Denver Water. Governor Hickenlooper has submitted a letter calling for the permitting process to be expedited, and our understanding is that finalizing the Environmental Impact Statement has been put on a fast track for completion. While we certainly support the agencies in working promptly and efficiently on this project – indeed on any of their permitting work – the desire for speedy completion should not come at the expense of completing the studies and analyses needed to accurately assess and disclose impacts, and to honestly determine the “Least Environmentally Damaging Practicable Alternative” pursuant to the Clean Water Act.

The Governor’s letter touts the benefits of the Colorado River Cooperative Agreement between Denver Water and west slope interests as an important factor in moving Moffat permits forward. We agree that the Cooperative Agreement takes many important steps in addressing the current challenges facing the Upper Colorado River watershed. What it does not do is address the impacts of the new Moffat Collection System Expansion Project. Any suggestion that the Cooperative Agreement has somehow reduced or eliminated concerns about the Moffat Collection System Expansion Project or the need to rigorously evaluate its impacts and design mitigation is simply wrong. Our constituencies are not satisfied with Moffat Collection System Expansion Project moving forward without significant further environmental disclosure and mitigation requirements.

Our organizations remain gravely concerned with the potential impacts on the Fraser and Williams Fork watersheds and the Upper Colorado River due to the depletions proposed under the Moffat Collection System Expansion Project. Specific concerns which have been raised previously in the public process surrounding this project include:

Temperature. Already sections of Ranch Creek, the Fraser River, and the Upper Colorado exceed water quality standards for temperature and are listed on the Colorado 303(d) list of impaired waters. Further flow depletions during the summer months, as proposed under the Moffat Collection System Expansion, cannot help but extend and worsen these problems absent operational restrictions (such as curtailment of diversions during periods of elevated temperature) or strong mitigation (channel reconfiguration, riparian restoration). The Draft EIS can, at best, be said to have given short shrift to this issue – particularly since it is a water quality issue where the affected environment is already experiencing water quality standard violations.

Sedimentation. This issue was similarly given a dismissive treatment in the Draft EIS. However, as evidenced by a sediment transport study completed by Dr Brian Bledsoe (previously submitted to you and shared with us by Trout Unlimited) – and as is obvious to all of us who have spent time in the Fraser River and seen the evidence of excessive sediment building up with our own eyes – sedimentation is a significant issue and one that will be worsened by the loss of flushing flows under the Moffat Collection System Expansion. As with temperature, operating requirements (such as mandatory flushing flows) or mitigation measures (such as channel reconfiguration to promote sediment transport at a lower flow) are needed.

Impacts to Recreation and Tourism. The river-based recreation and tourism economy of Grand County and the Colorado River basin are highly dependent on predictable and sufficient streamflows to attract visitors to the area seeking world-class rafting, kayaking, and float-fishing opportunities. In the Upper Colorado River, commercial rafting alone contributes nearly $10 Million dollars in economic benefit, and is enjoyed by over 32,000 visitors a year. Our concern is that not enough analysis has been made of how the Moffat Collection System Expansion will reduce streamflows that support this important industry. The impacts from additional depletions out of the Fraser and Colorado River Systems on existing river-based recreation have not been adequately disclosed, nor have the project proponents made available to the public the models of how future streamflow conditions are likely to change – attributable to the Moffat Collection system solely. Changes in streamflow, and the potential loss of a sustainable recreation economy in Colorado is very concerning to us, and we feel deserves a more substantive review.

Adaptive management. Even if the Corps and EPA were able to complete thorough impact studies that gave adequate guidance to disclose impacts and design mitigation for temperature and sedimentation – a premise that we fear may in itself be flawed given the rush to move forward a Final EIS – there will still be major uncertainty about the impacts associated with Moffat Collection System Expansion. Simply put, there is a real risk that diversions at the level proposed for the Fraser – with a cumulative total of 75% of water being removed from the environment – may cause unanticipated adverse effects. Scientists call these “nonlinear” responses, points where passing a certain threshold can lead to dramatically increased impacts.

Front Range Impacts. In addition we remain seriously concerned about impacts that would occur on the Front Range, namely in Boulder County where Gross Reservoir and dam would be dramatically increased in size. These impacts—and the concerns of County property owners— have not be adequately addressed yet either.

In light of these unpredictable impacts, coupled with the apparent desire to quickly complete analysis of even more predictable impacts, we urge you to include strong monitoring and adaptive management requirements in any permit for Moffat Collection System Expansion. These should include monitoring of the physical, chemical and biologic conditions of the streams affected by the project and require implementation of measures to prevent degradation of aquatic and riparian ecosystems, to be paid for by the project beneficiary—Denver Water. Monitoring must be broad and thorough enough to determine changes in fish, aquatic invertebrate, and plant populations, as well as assessing water quality, and particularly water temperature as indicators of degradation.

While these efforts should be coordinated with the “Learning by Doing” effort from the Cooperative Agreement, they must be a specific and separate requirement of the permit. Learning by Doing – like the rest of the Cooperative Agreement – was not designed to address the impacts of the new Moffat Collection System Expansion, indeed by its own terms it does not address mitigation. It is the job of the Corps and EPA to ensure mitigation as a condition of any approved permit, and a robust adaptive management plan should be required. Given the inherent difficulty of predicting impacts at such high levels of diversion from a river, and in light of the Governor’s stated desire to expedite permitting for Moffat Collection System Expansion, a program by which river health continues to be monitored and Denver Water remains responsible for mitigating the actual effects of their project – not just those that can be accurately predicted in the current EIS process – offers the best opportunity for moving the project forward while ensuring that water quality and ecosystem health can be protected for the future.

In short “fast tracking” this process will only undercut the good work that has been done to date. Any assurances you have heard that “everyone” is on board with the Moffat Collection System Expansion proceeding without the required review and mitigation are simply not true. Our organizations and the more than 180,000 members we represent remain deeply concerned about what the Moffat Collection System Expansion will mean for the health of the Fraser, Williams Fork and Upper Colorado watersheds. We support the permitting process moving forward only if it includes thorough assessment and mitigation to address temperature and sedimentation concerns, and a robust monitoring and adaptive management requirement.

As Colorado moves forward in planning for our water supply future we must ensure that we “do it right”. This is both an enormous opportunity as well as an incredible responsibility. Let’s work together to ensure that the river, our communities and our state are not short-changed in an effort to move quickly.

The letter was signed by: Becky Long, Colorado Environmental Coalition; Bart Miller, Western Resource Advocates; Steve Glazer, Rocky Mountain Chapter of the Sierra Club; Nathan Fey, American Whitewater.

Update: A thousand pardons. I left three signatures off in the list above: Gary Wockner, Clean Water Action; Jen Bock, High Country Citizens Alliance; Matt Rice, American Rivers.

Thanks to Coyote Gulch reader Doug Pflugh for the heads up.

More coverage from Bob Berwyn writing for the Summit Daily Voice. Here’s an excerpt:

“We’re worried that that we’re going to hit fast forward and miss some things,” said Becky Long, water caucus coordinator with the Colorado Environmental Coalition, explaining why several groups recently wrote a letter to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the EPA, reiterating their concerns about water temperatures and sediment loading in the Colorado River and its tributaries.

The fast-tracking was requested by Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper back in June. In a June 5 letter to President Barack Obama, Hickenlooper touted a far-reaching water agreement as “removing” West Slope opposition to the Moffat project, and urged the Corps to release a final Environmental Impact Statement by the end of 2012, followed by a formal decision in early 2013.

The letter illustrates the governor’s fundamental misunderstanding of the NEPA process, which requires agencies to take a “hard look” at impacts and alternatives. It shows that, despite claims to the contrary, the Colorado water establishment is still focused on the folly of more water development and storage as the primary answer to the state’s drought woes. It also shows that state leaders still don’t understand that Colorado could easily — and much less expensively — use basic conservation measures to save as much or more water than would be stored by the Moffat project.

And while it’s true that institutional West Slope water users agreed to not oppose the Moffat Project — a devil’s bargain to some — the environmental community still has serious concerns about the increased diversions.

On top of all that, Long said rumors have circulated that the conservation community is OK with the Moffat project and the mitigation measures that have been proposed during the early phases of the review process. The letter to EPA regional director Jim Martin and Corps of Engineers regional commander Joel Cross was sent partially to refute those rumors.

More Moffat Collection System coverage here and here.

Commerce City: Aquakleen ordered to pay $927,000 to family for improper installation of water softener

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From The Denver Post (Jason Pohl):

California-based Aquakleen Products, Inc. notified the city of the potential problem in the middle of September, Commerce City spokeswoman Michelle Halstead said. She said the city then informed the company that it had 30 days to correct the issue. The South Adams County Water and Sanitation District manages water in Commerce City but was unavailable for comment Saturday.

Aquakleen last week was ruled to pay a total of $927,000 to Nick and Roxanne Cattaneo, for claims of emotional distress and injuries sustained after drinking tainted water, according to court records. The connection for their home’s clean water was connected to the sewage line, which was then allowed to back up into the drinking water system.

Halstead said homeowners should examine their system if they are at all concerned. Additional inspections from the building safety division will available as the city and company address the issue in the coming weeks, she said.

More infrastructure coverage here.

Weld County: Free well testing available for county residents concerned with oil and gas development

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From the Fort Lupton Press:

County residents concerned about the impact from oil and gas drilling on their wells are now able to get free ground-water testing from the county’s Department of Public Health and Environment laboratory.

The lab, according to a Weld County news release, has a new gas chromatograph and mass spectrometer instrument to conduct testing. Chemist Mark Thomas said it’s an exciting addition to the lab. “We are talking about testing parts per billion,” Thomas said. “That is like saying we can measure something that is as small as one eyedropper drop of water in an Olympic-sized swimming pool.”

Thomas said water samples will be analyzed for volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and a report will tell how prominent they are — if at all — in the water. “We anticipate that individuals in the county who use well-water will want to take advantage of this test so they can have base-line information to which they can compare future tests.”

Before the chromatograph and spectrometer was acquired, residents had to pay private labs or the state for VOC testing. Weld County received a grant from the Federal Mineral Lease Board last spring that made the purchase possible. “Weld County chose to use that grant funding for the purchase of this instrument in order to provide a water-testing service for our residents” said Commissioner Dave Long. The cost of the instrument was approximately $145,000.

More water pollution coverage here.

‘I don’t think we’ll ever have enough climate data to where we’ll know all of the answers to our water issues’ — Brad Udall

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Here’s a recap of last week’s South Platte Forum from Eric Brown writing for The Greeley Tribune:

Multiple rounds of drought caused South Platte River flows from 2000 to 2012 to be lower than any other 13­ year period in the previous century, while 2012 saw more water lost to evaporation than any other year on record due to increased wind and record heat. A panel of climate experts shared those figures during a presentation this week at the two­day 2012 South Platte Forum. The experts said Colorado, like other areas, is likely to see more of these extreme conditions down the road — so water providers and users should plan accordingly.

Colorado State climatologist Nolan Doesken, Jack Morgan with USDA’s Agricultural Research Services and Jeff Lukas with Western Water Assessment served as a panel of experts during the climate discussions. They told the engineers, municipal and agricultural water providers and others attending that evidence suggests a future with increased temperatures, which, among other things, will affect the amount of water available to cities and agriculture.

During his presentation, Doesken recapped the “wild” weather of the past year and a half, and, in looking ahead to this winter, said temperatures are expected to be above­average once again. But he said predicting precipitation amounts is still a guessing game.

On a broader and longer­range scale, Morgan said the future is predicted to be decidedly warmer across the globe. He referred to climate data that forecast Colorado’s temperatures to increase by about 5 degrees by the end of the century, with the most extreme change in the U.S. taking place in the northern part of Alaska — predicted to be as much as 10 degrees warmer. That rise in temperatures is likely to result in more extreme rainfall events, as well as more frequent droughts, a change in the timing of the world’s climate and longer growing season, among other effects.

The climate models to which he referred also predict that Colorado at the end of the century could see a 5 percent to 15 percent decrease in precipitation during the winter, spring and fall months, while areas farther north, like Canada and Alaska, will experience large increases in rain.

While there’s belief that the climate change is caused by C02 emissions, Morgan explained the benefits that increased CO2 levels have had on plant life. He also said those benefits could help mitigate some of the future effects of climate change. He said eventual temperature increases and extreme drought will likely get to a point where they overcome any potential positive CO2 effects. Lukas pointed out during his presentation that undepleted annual flows in the South Platte River in 2002 were estimated to be the lowest among Western Water Assessment’s 378 years of data.

Western Water Assessment examines trees in order to attain river flow data that dates back to 1634, measuring the plants’ tree rings to determine its annual growth and what the river flows would have been each year. Western Water Assessment has nine data points in the South Platte River Basin. Using that method, Western Water Assessment estimates that undepleted South Platte River river flows this year are the 10th lowest since 1634.

The panel of experts and others agreed Thursday that using this historic data in combination with predictions of future climate change could help in knowing how later droughts and other weather events could affect the region’s river flows and availability of water, “reducing the element of surprise,” as Lukas put it.

“I don’t think we’ll ever have enough climate data to where we’ll know all of the answers to our water issues,” Bradley Udall with Western Water Assessment said during his keynote speech at lunch. “But the more we know, the better.”

More coverage of the forum from Eric Brown writing for The Greeley Tribune:

Finding ways to recycle water used in fracking and reducing truck traffic on roadways should be top priorities in the region’s oil and gas operations, a diverse panel of experts said during a forum Thursday. Addressing the crowd at the 2012 South Platte Forum, Weld County Commissioner and farmer Doug Rademacher, Ken Carlson with the Colorado Energy Water Consortium, Sarah Landry of the Colorado Oil and Gas Association and Laura Belanger of Western Resource Advocates all agreed the efficiency of water use and other aspects in the state’s petroleum production could improve, but also noted that Colorado has been a leader so far in regulation and oversight of its oil and gas exploration. The two ­day forum drew about 150 water experts and providers, among others, and covered the history of water use in the region, how existing systems work, the area’s changing climate and other issues.

Weld County dominated much of the oil and gas discussion Thursday, since Weld has about 19,000 total oil and gas wells, more than Saudi Arabia, Rademacher said, and accounts for 53 percent of the state’s 2,992 wells constructed in 2011, according to Belanger.

Rademacher explained to the crowd how Weld County has benefited from the petroleum industry, bringing in about $52 million last year in tax revenue from oil and gas companies alone. Those dollars have helped the county continue to lower its mill levy for taxpayers, keep Weld debt­free and assist financially with needed infrastructure upgrades. Rademacher said one of the biggest concerns that has come with the increased oil and gas production has been increased truck traffic on county roads, specifically large rigs hauling water to drill sites.

However, he added that some of the 32 companies operating in Weld are looking at piping water to where it’s needed, along with taking other measures that “will eventually take thousands of trucks of the roads,” he said. “We’re seeing that companies in Weld County are being very proactive in addressing the issues at hand,” he said.

The panel acknowledged that the 2.8 million gallons of water used for each horizontal fracking well sounds like a lot, but further explained to those in attendance that oil and gas operations still only accounts for 0.08 percent of the state’s total water use.

Agriculture remains the largest water user in Colorado, using 86 percent of the state’s water, they added.
Carlson, an engineer who has been researching how water is used in oil and gas production, pointed out that drillers can produce much more energy per gallon of water through horizontal drilling than with vertical drilling, even though the latter method requires less water.

The panel also explained the standards to which oil and gas companies in Colorado are held, such as having to use layers of steel and cement casing with each fracking well to keep it from interacting with underground aquifers. Additionally, each well’s casing is tested before fracking fluids are used in operations.

They added that no reports of contamination in fracking have been reported in the state — although they agreed that more data is needed going forward, and they are in favor of more oversight to make sure that all companies are following all regulations.

More South Platte River Basin coverage here and here.