The Forest Service closes Bear Creek to motorized vehicles, greenbacks were seen doing backflips of joy at the news


From the Summit County Citizens Voice (Bob Berwyn):

Colorado’s only population of native greenback cutthroat trout got a measure of protection this week, as the U.S. Forest Service agreed to ban motorized use on several trails near Bear Creek to protect the small stream near Colorado Springs from sediment…

“We’re so glad the Forest Service agreed to do the right thing and protect the only place in the world where greenback cutthroat trout still live in the wild,” said attorney Tim Ream. “This endangered fish has been hanging on by a thread for decades. The last thing it needs is motorcycles tearing through its only home and filling the creek with sediment.”

A DNA study earlier this year determined that Bear Creek hosted the last pure and wild population of the fish. For years, though, off-road vehicles have been severely eroding Bear Creek Canyon’s steep slopes. The runoff harms water quality and is filling in deep pools that the fish use to hide from predators and survive winters and droughts.

From the Associated Press via The Denver Post:

The Forest Service will close the trails around Bear Creek in the Pike National Forest to settle a lawsuit filed by the Center for Biological Diversity. The suit said erosion from motorcycles damages fish habitat.

More restoration/reclamation coverage here.

Drought news: ‘…conditions certainly aren’t encouraging that it will be wet’ — Nolan Doesken



From The Durango Herald (Dale Rodebaugh):

In its latest report that covers December through February, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said the absence of El Niño conditions has thrown forecasters for a loop…

El Niño, which usually peaks in December, was starting to form but stopped, Nolan Doesken, director of the Colorado Climate Center at Colorado State University, said Tuesday. It’s in one of its rare neutral positions, he said.

As a result, NOAA maps available online show that there are equal chances that precipitation from December through March in Southwest Colorado will be normal, above-normal or below-normal.

As for temperatures in the region, NOAA maps predict December will have a 40 percent chance that temperatures will be above-average. The chances for above-average temperatures rise to 50 percent from December through February. Looking further out, the outlook for January through March is again a 40 percent chance of above-average temperatures…

Farmers and ranchers in La Plata and Archuleta counties face a grim future if the weather outlook proves accurate, Ronnie Posey, executive director of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Farm Service Agency in Durango, said Tuesday…

Closer to home, the snow level in the Animas, San Juan, Dolores and San Miguel basins is 45 percent of average for this time of year.

Doesken heard a report Tuesday from Klaus Wolter, a University of Colorado climatologist.

Wolter, who sits on the State Water Availability Task Force, said the climate outlook is highly uncertain, but he is leaning in the direction of a dry winter, Doesken said.

From Steamboat Today (Edith Lynn Beer):

109 million gallons of water in its snowmaking operations, which translates to 2,500 acre-feet of snow (1 foot of snow over an acre). “We’re not limited on how much water we take from the river, only the rate at which we can take it, which is 4,200 gallons per minute,” Allen says.

Of the water they use for snowmaking, 22 percent is considered sublimation or evaporation and 78 percent returns to the watershed. To lower the evaporation rate, the nozzles often are placed higher, which requires less compressed air and reduces the rate to 18 percent.

As for the duration crews can make snow, Mother Nature calls the shots. To make snow, the temperature has to be 26 degrees or below. Once started, the guns can continue to make snow up to 30 degrees. The biggest enemy is wind, which can blow it away from the needed area.

“If we’re lacking snow in February and temperatures are favorable, we’d make it,” Allen says. “But last February, we had made as much snow on our snowmaking trails as necessary, and it actually snowed, as well.”

They’ve made snow in March before with disappointing results, Allen says. Melted natural snow mixed with fine-particle man-made snow forms large, frozen granular particles, known as corn, which inhibit consistent sliding. In layman’s terms, it puts the brakes on your skis or board as soon as you hit the man-made snow. “It’s not a great surface to ski on,” Allen says.

Durango is set to double sewer rates over 2013


From The Durango Herald (Jim Haug):

The plan is to double residential and commercial rates by the end of next year. Based on usage of 2,000 gallons of water, the monthly residential rate would double to $15.64 and the commercial rate would similarly increase to $21.84. Beginning in January 2013, consumers would have to pay for only a 50 percent increase because the full implementation of the rate increases would be delayed until December. So residential consumers in January would start out paying a fee of $11.75 while commercial consumers would pay $16.40 a month.

More Animas River Watershed coverage here.

Idarado and Telluride find their way to a settlement agreement


From The Telluride Watch (Samantha Wright):

If council approves the settlement agreement, which it anticipates doing at its next meeting on Tuesday, Dec. 11, it will put an end to a decades-long legal battle between the town and Idarado (Idarado’s parent company is the Newmont Mining Corporation) over the town’s water supply, and streamline the path toward constructing the new Pandora Water Treatment Plant, ensuring Telluride a plentiful municipal water supply well into the future…

Telluride Town Attorney Kevin Geiger described the process of reaching the settlement agreement as “one of the more intensive engineering and legal efforts the town has ever undertaken…

The agreement addresses ways in which the Bridal Veil Water System can be improved and enhanced so that yield can be increased for the benefit of the Town of Telluride and Idarado.

One of the key issues it resolves is the timing of how the town can operate its projected Pandora Water Treatment Plant to meet the its demands and still be sensitive to environmental concerns Idarado continues to address with the State of Colorado, including keeping zinc levels in the San Miguel River at acceptable levels.

Basically, the town has agreed to take less water (.8 cubic feet per second, or about a half-million gallons per day) from Bridal Veil Basin in the winter months. This amount of water can be supplemented with water from its current municipal water treatment plant at Mill Creek, which has a maximum capacity of 1.5 cfs.

If the town’s demand is still not met, it retains the right to go back to Bridal Veil Basin to satisfy the rest of its demand. In the winter months, peak demand in Telluride currently spikes at about 1.1 cfs so the town would still be drawing 70 to 80 percent of its water out of Bridal Veil Basin…

Idarado, meanwhile, has given the town greater flexibility to draw basically as much water as it needs out of Bridal Veil Basin to meet its summer demand which currently peaks at 1.9 cfs.

One of the benefits Idarado is offering the town in exchange for the timing restrictions is a million dollars’ worth of infrastructure improvements to maximize the efficiency of the historic Bridal Veil Water System, some components of which date back to the 1880s. Idarado has also agreed to assume full responsibility for maintenance of upper reaches of the system above the Bridal Veil Powerhouse.

Idarado is also allowing the town to incorporate a hydroelectric element into its new Pandora Water Treatment Project. Previously, the company did not consent to the proposed hydro design. Now, under the terms of the settlement agreement, Idarado has given a thumbs-up to hydro as a permitted use, and has also given authorization to combine its own water with the town’s, to double the amount of water going through the system and generate more electricity at no cost to the town.

The term of the agreement is 20 years, but after year 10, there are mechanisms in the settlement agreement to increase the town’s draw on water if it experiences a spike in demand. These mechanisms are not tied to Idarado’s zinc compliance issues…

The crown jewel of the Bridal Veil Water System is Blue Lake, a pristine mountain lake that is 330 feet deep and holds 6,000 acre feet of water. The water flows into the Bridal Veil Hydroelectric Plant via a network of historic pipelines, diversion and conveyance structures associated with the senior water rights that Idarado and the town now share at a ratio of about 60/40.

Telluride obtained extensive water rights in Bridal Veil Basin from the Idarado Mining Co. in the 1992 settlement of a lawsuit arising out of the contamination of wells in Town Park. Over the course of a decade of legal wrangling, the town won the approval to convert these historic industrial water rights to municipal use. These senior water rights, which include a portion of the tremendous water storage capacity of Blue Lake, enabled Telluride to eventually develop the Pandora Water Treatment System now under construction which is capable of delivering pristine mountain water to its citizenry.

More coverage from Katie Klingsporn writing for The Telluride Daily Planet. Here’s and excerpt:

The water dispute is rooted in a long history of settlements, environmental mandates, water rights and expansion plans.

In the late ‘80s, the state of Colorado brought a lawsuit against Idarado related to environmental issues left from its past mining activities. In a settlement reached in that case, Idarado was required to perform certain environmental remediation activities and keep the water in the San Miguel River to certain standards.

Around the same time, the town noticed pollution in Town Park wells and also asserted claims against Idarado. In 1992, the town and Idarado entered into a settlement agreement. In an effort to put to bed the potential town lawsuit and to seek the town’s approval of the settlement with the state, Idarado offered to provide the town water rights and water structures in Bridal Veil basin as an alternative municipal water supply.

In 2005, the two parties entered into another agreement. This time, Idarado offered to convey a two-acre site near the Pandora Mill to the town, which the town is planning to use for the site of its new water treatment plant. The plant is part of a years-long plan to ensure that the town has a enough water to meet its future needs.

But around 2007, Idarado began expressing concerns about how the town’s proposed water draws for the treatment plant would impact its ability to comply with the state’s water quality standards. The water draw, according to Idarado, could adversely impact its compliance, triggering significant and costly obligations for the company.

That issue has been at the center of the town’s negotiations with Idarado. And after two years of extensive talks, the two parties have chiseled out a settlement…

“It basically sets up a priority system,” [Town Attorney Kevin Geiger] said.

More San Miguel River Watershed coverage here.

Poudre River: The High Park Fire has caused Fort Collins’ treatment costs to escalate by $1 million


From the Fort Collins Coloradoan (Bobby Magill):

After the summer’s fires incinerated large swathes of the Poudre River watershed, tons of ash and debris washed into the river during rainstorms, wreaking havoc with one of Fort Collins’ main sources of drinking water.

Standing on a layer of ash caked on the pebbly shore of the Poudre River, Lisa Voytko, city water production manager, said the High Park Fire could cost Fort Collins Utilities $1 million a year for the next two years just to keep the additional sediment out of the city’s tap water.

The city has a major water diversion operation in Poudre Canyon, the source of about half of the city’s water in most years.

At the Fort Collins-Loveland, North Weld County and East Larimer County water districts’ water intake and diversion dam a few miles upstream of Gateway Natural Area, it’s not hard to understand why the fire might cost the city so much.

A massive layer of ash and debris several feet thick has accumulated behind the dam since the fire. Once it reaches the river, the sediment becomes suspended in the water and ends up in the city’s water intake at Gateway Natural Area…

It’s unknown both how much water will be flowing down the Poudre next spring and, as the drought continues, how much water the city will be allowed to take from the Colorado-Big Thompson Project, or C-BT, and Horsetooth Reservoir, Fort Collins water resources engineer Donnie Dustin told City Council on Tuesday.

The city, he said, is looking for ways to increase the amount of C-BT water it has access to, and that means the city may decide not to rent water to farmers, reducing Fort Collins Utilities’ revenue by $700,000 in 2013.

“Restrictions are likely to be implemented early in the spring as a precaution,” he said, adding that farmers that rely on Fort Collins for water are going to hurt next year.

“These conditions could persist for a few years,” he said.

From the Fort Collins Coloradoan (Steven Meyers):

Like a farmer devoted to his crops, Robert Breckenridge is hoping and praying for precipitation. The owner of A1 Wildwater in Fort Collins for the past 31 years, Breckenridge prays for heavy snow to fall in the high country through April. Because, like the ski industry, rafting is a fickle business…

Combine a low snowpack year, a severe drought, and the worst fire Northern Colorado has ever seen, and you wind up with a disaster recipe for the Fort Collins rafting business.

More Poudre River Watershed coverage here.

Drought news: A Very Dry November and Year So Far — NWS/Pueblo

From their release:

November has been a generally warm and dry month, so far, across south central and southeast Colorado. With little in the way of measurable precipitation in the forecast for the next 7 days, November of 2012 looks to be one of the driest on record for south central and southeast Colorado. Pueblo has recorded a trace of precipitation for the month, thus far, which will likely make November of 2012 tied as the driest November on record in Pueblo. Colorado Springs has recorded 0.02 inches of precipitation through the month, thus far, which will likely make November of 2012 tied as the 9th driest November on record in Colorado Springs. Alamosa has received 0.08 inches of precipitation, thus far, which will likely make November of 2012 tied as the 20th driest on record in Alamosa…

In addition, Pueblo, Colorado Springs and Alamosa have only tallied 4.70, 7.85 and 4.77 inches of precipitation, respectfully, since January 1st. If there is no more precipitaion recorded through the end of the year (38 days), 2012 would be the second driest year on record in Pueblo, the 4th driest year on record in Colorado Springs and the 13th driest year on record in Alamosa.