Colorado has some dough to kick in for flood relief #COflood

Storm pattern over Colorado September 2013: Graphic/NWS via USA Today
Storm pattern over Colorado September 2013 — Graphic/NWS via USA Today

From the Denver Business Journal (Ed Sealover):

The state has about $400 million in its general fund reserve — an undesignated fund set aside for unexpected expenses. Gov. John Hickenlooper accessed it to help in the fighting and clean-up of the wildfires that devastated Colorado in 2012. And the governor pushed successfully for the Legislature to grow the fund from 4 percent to 5 percent of the state’s budget over the past two years, saying it would buffer the government against events outside of the state’s control.

Meanwhile, Colorado also has $32 million in its TABOR reserves — money required by the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights to be set aside specifically for emergencies such as this flooding, said Sen. Pat Steadman, a Denver Democrat and chairman of the Joint Budget Committee. At times over the past 10 years, the state set aside the value of buildings to cover its required TABOR reserves, meaning it would have had to sell off property to access any of the funds. However, the Legislature has refilled most of that fund with cash in recent years, meaning it can be tapped if needed, Steadman said.

Questions remain, however, on how much the state’s general fund will have to pay toward the clean-up, noted Steadman, who was on a tour of state prisons with other JBC members Monday. Officials are expecting a lot of help from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and much of the money for repairing roads washed away by the flooding will come through the federal government directly to the Colorado Department of Transportation.

Meanwhile, the flooding caused a shutdown of Aurora’s Prairie Waters well field near Brighton. Here’s a report from The Denver Post (Carlos Illescas):

Four of the facility’s 17 wells where water is siphoned from the South Platte River in Brighton were flooded, said [Greg Baker].

With good weather and temperatures in the 80s, Aurora Water crews were busy Tuesday inspecting the system. Baker said the wells that were underwater will have to be disinfected, but that is not uncommon when heavy rainfall has the potential to contaminate the water supply.

The facility was shut down mainly as a precautionary measure, to ensure that any contamination that spilled into the South Platte would not reach Aurora’s water supply, Baker said. He didn’t know when the facility, which pipes water from the north to a treatment facility near Aurora Reservoir, will be back up and running.

It’s a matter of need, and right now, people aren’t watering their lawns and the demand for water isn’t high either, he said. It is turned off during the winter, he said.

From The Denver Post (David Olinger):

The Colorado Department of Transportation’s immediate goal is winter survival in towns built along roads curling beside canyon rivers and creeks.

Last week’s deluge left little time this year to rebuild 18 state and federal highways partly closed by flooding. Asphalt and concrete become hard to pour below about 40 to 50 degrees, and snow often reaches the northern foothills in October.

With winter coming, “our goal is to get to where people can go from A to Z” on a patchwork of roads, said Tim Harris, the department’s chief engineer…

Harris listed six canyon highways in Boulder and Larimer counties as highest priorities: U.S. 34 and 36, and Colorado 7, 14, 72 and 119. But “out east, we certainly can’t ignore those either,” he said…

The long list of Colorado highways closed by flooding ranges from Sterling on the Eastern Plains to Walden west of the Continental Divide.
As a result, the permanent repair projects “could even extend beyond 2014,” said Mindy Crane, a transportation department spokeswoman…

The epicenter of flood damage lies along a triangle of highways — U.S. 34 and 36 and Colorado 7 — linking Boulder, Loveland and Lyons to Estes Park and Rocky Mountain National Park. Those roads carry an average of 24,000 to 39,000 cars per day. All are extensively damaged with closed stretches, leaving people in mountain towns no easy way out.

Drought news: Big improvement in drought conditions for parts of Colorado #COdrought

US Drought Monitor map for September 17, 2013 after "biblical" flooding in Colorado
US Drought Monitor map for September 17, 2013 after “biblical” flooding in Colorado

Below are excerpts from the September 17, 2013 National Drought Summary from the US Drought Monitor:

Weather Summary: The combination of ample Gulf and Pacific tropical moisture (in part from Tropical Storms Manuel (Pacific) and Ingrid (Gulf) which inundated Mexico), stalled frontal systems, and upsloping conditions produced widespread heavy to copious rainfall (widespread 2 to 6 inches, locally 12 to 18 inches especially near Boulder, CO) and severe flash flooding in parts of New Mexico and Colorado. Moderate to heavy rains (1.5 to 4 inches) also drenched portions of Arizona, eastern Nevada, Utah, Wyoming, south-central Montana, western sections of Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, and northern and southern Texas. September monsoonal rains have generated welcome relief from the drought in the Southwest, central Rockies, and High Plains, but unfortunately have been accompanied by flash flooding…</p<

Northern and Central Great Plains: The Dakotas observed opposite conditions as decent rains (2-4 inches) the past two weeks fell on most of North Dakota, easing drought conditions along the western edge and southeastern section as 60-day deficits were reduced while 90-day surpluses were found. In contrast, most of South Dakota was dry, with only half an inch of rain measured in the extreme northeastern part of the state. Although near to surplus rains have fallen across western and southern South Dakota the past 60-days, the northeastern corner has measured less than 25% of normal precipitation. For example, Aberdeen (1.02”), Webster (1.20”), Clear Lake (1.12”), Watertown (0.96”), and Bryant (1.62”) totals since August 1 are at near-record dry levels. This dryness, plus the recent heat that caused loss of potential crop yields (especially soybeans) justified a return of D2 in this area. In Nebraska, rains were limited to the southern half and far western portions of the state. Weekly totals generally ranged around an inch, keeping conditions status-quo. An exception was along the Kansas border and in the extreme southwestern and far western areas where amounts exceeded 2 inches, allowing for some slight drought reductions to be made. In Kansas, heavy rains (more than 2 inches) fell across the northern half of the state, with up to 7 inches falling in the northwestern corner, while decent rains also occurred in western and southern sections. As a result, D4 was eliminated from Kansas (to D3) while a reduction in the eastern D0-D3 edges were made. The D0 edge in eastern and southern Kansas was also pared back. Some small 2-category improvements were done in northwestern Kansas in association with the heaviest rains.

Southern Great Plains: In Oklahoma and Texas, general improvements were made in western sections while eastern portions deteriorated. In the Oklahoma Panhandle, copious monsoonal rains that inundated parts of the Southwest and central Rockies and caused flash flooding also soaked the extreme western Panhandle (and southeastern Colorado) with over 5 inches of rain, enough for a 2-category improvement to D1. With lesser totals (1.5 to 3 inches) just to the east, a 1-category improvement was made to the rest of the Oklahoma Panhandle and in northwestern Oklahoma. Similarly, 2 to 4 inches of rain along the KS-OK border was enough to erase D0 in Kay and Osage counties. However, little or no rain along the Red River Valley continued the dry trend in southern sections of the state as D2 and D3 expanded in extreme southern Oklahoma and across much of eastern Texas (and Louisiana). 30-day rainfall was under 25%, while 60- and 90-day precipitation hovered around 50%, creating 3-6 and 4-8 inch deficits, respectively. In contrast, tropical moisture from Tropical Storm Ingrid in the western Gulf pushed enough moisture northward to dump 2 to 7 inches of rain on southern Texas. Frequent tropical showers have brought Brownsville, TX, 11.29 inches of rain so far this month, with Harlingen at 8.14 inches and McAllen at 5.99 inches. Accordingly, drought was reduced a category where the heaviest rains fell.

The Southwest: The robust southwestern summer monsoon exploded with copious rainfall (6 to 12 inches, locally over 18 inches near Boulder, CO) across portions of New Mexico and Colorado, producing severe flash flooding, loss of lives, and the destruction of property and infrastructure. The combination of ample Gulf and Pacific tropical moisture (in part from Tropical Storms Manuel (Pacific) and Ingrid (Gulf) which inundated Mexico), stalled frontal systems, and upsloping conditions produced the widespread rainfall. Other states in the surrounding region (Arizona, Nevada, Utah, southern Idaho, Wyoming, south-central Montana) and the High Plains also received beneficial moisture from the monsoon, not only this week but in weeks past. In Colorado, widespread flooding was realized from these rains on the Cache la Poudre, South Platte, Big Thompson, and St. Vrain Rivers where communities were stranded as roads collapsed. This was a historic flood (estimates are currently a 100 year flood) for the Front Range, and as such, many improvements are warranted. In some cases, 2-3 category improvements were recommended as 3 inches of rain is approximately 20% of the normal ANNUAL total at many locations. This event was not convective activity, but more tropical in nature, falling for several days in succession. This time of the year is also a huge consideration for improvement as it allows for excellent soil moisture storage going into the fall when evapotranspiration rates are much less as compared to the height of the growing season. In New Mexico, similar 4-10 inch totals (minus the excessive 18 inches) fell, also leading to a widespread 1-category improvement statewide, but due to the prolonged 3-year drought, 2-category improvements were very limited. It will be interesting to see how quickly and how much the major reservoirs in New Mexico react to these rains. Similar 1-category improvements were made in Arizona, Utah, Wyoming, and south-central Montana where 2-4 inches of rain diminished long-term deficits. Numerous flood warnings were issued by the NWS in these states, and with no surprise, most USGS stream flow levels were currently at near or record high flows. Although Arizona saw less rain this week, last week’s downpours were enough to increase flows on the Gila River that raised water levels at the Coolidge Dam by 7 feet, with a few more feet still expected.

The West: The heavy monsoonal rains that inundated the Southwest and central Rockies bypassed the West, leaving warm and dry weather instead. As this is the normally dry summer and early fall season, no changes were made to much of the region. An exception was made in extreme southern California where isolated heavy showers (1 to 2.5 inches) fell west of the Salton Sea last week, and that was enough to reduce Water Year-To-Date (WYTD) deficits and change D2 to D1. Similarly in eastern Nevada, additional showers (1 to 2.5 inches) continued to diminish the long-term deficits in the region, allowing for some minor improvements to D2 and D3 areas. In contrast, along the coast near San Diego, CA, D2 was expanded as the WYTD percentages were similar to areas just to the north (between 25-50%). In California, the 154 reservoirs are at 79% of average; last year at this time it was 90%. The reservoirs are not at critical levels yet as they need to be in the 30-40% range to be critical. However, the Department of Water Resources were informing water agencies to prepare for a dry 2014 as water deliveries will be less than normal so the reservoir storage can recover. In Nevada, drought declarations continued for a majority of the state, with agriculture the hardest hit from irrigation restrictions and cattle ranchers selling off more of their herd due to lack of grazing land.

Colorado Springs Utilities is still conducting damage assessments from last week’s floods #COflood

Storm pattern over Colorado September 2013: Graphic/NWS via USA Today
Storm pattern over Colorado September 2013 — Graphic/NWS via USA Today

From (Sam Baranowski):

Manitou Springs’ Hydro plant flooded, shorting circuits, access to high voltage lines is cut off and flumes meant to divert water are overwhelmed with debris. Millions of dollars worth of work will soon begin and will likely continue into 2013. CSU managers said they will all have to reallocate much of their budgets, and will feel the pinch from these repairs for years. But, their biggest challenge right now is getting to the damage to finish their assessments. There are still dozens of locations including pipelines that need to be checked out, but that can’t happen until the flood waters recede…

Allison and other managers showed the Utilities Board before and after pictures their staff took in accessible locations. Photos of a sediment basin created to catch debris running down from the Waldo Canyon burn scar showed the most dramatic difference. “We thought that it’d be 6-8 years before it was full, and this storm brought it all in in one shot so it’s full to the top now,” [Tyler Allison, General Manager of Water Systems Operations at CSU] said…

Currently, the city is missing out on 8 to 10 million gallons of water each day intakes including those at South Cheyenne Cañon and Manitou Springs are down. Colorado Springs is still technically in a drought, despite more saturated grounds and significant rains. That’s because our water storage is still just at 56%, which is 1.8 years’ worth.

From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Monica Mendoza):

Mud and water made its way into one hydroelectric plant, shutting it down. Pickup truck-size boulders landed, and remain, on top of utility pipelines. And the $4.5 million in drainage control projects built in recent months in the Waldo Canyon burn scar were tested and in some cases destroyed. It’s too soon to estimate the cost of the damage caused by the recent flooding, but it will be in the millions, said Tyler Allison, general manager of Colorado Springs Utilities water systems operations. In some cases, Utilities managers can’t get close enough to assess the damage because of wiped out roads or flooded buildings, he said…

Eight feet of mud and moisture seeped into the Manitou 3 hydroelectric system and forced an outage. There was an outage at Drake 5 too, said George Luke, general manager of energy supply. There was some wet coal and crews had to dig deep into the coal piles to get to the dry stuff for use. A maintenance shop was flooded, Luke said. “But fortunately the equipment is up on pedal stools,” he said. “It was basically a clean up job.”

Drainage control projects in the Waldo Canyon burn scar were close to being completed, Allison said. Both logs and rebar were used to make a series of steps and basins in hopes of catching sediment and slowing water from gushing down into the city. But a week of rain filled the basins and water ran right over the control points. “Another two months and we would not have suffered as much damage that caused the issues,” he said. Overall, the wastewater system held up well, said Leah Ash, general manager of distribution, collection and treatment. She recalled the 1999 storm that busted pipes filled living rooms with raw sewage. Some of the pipes were more than 100 years old at that time, she said. When the ground got soaked, it dislodged the pipes and the movement busted them wide open.

Allison said at least 10 major pipelines – including Cheyenne Creek structures, Homestake pipeline and Fountain Valley Authority pipeline – still must be inspected for damage. “We are just at the beginning of the assessment,” he said. “Some areas we just can’t get to and there are some (areas) we don’t know about it.”

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Recent rains have made a mess of the Southern Delivery System pipeline route through Pueblo County on Walker Ranches.

Gary Walker might feel vindicated, since the problems with the route that he pointed out over years of SDS hearings are coming to pass.

But he’s more likely miserable, because the damages are becoming more costly with each new storm as hillsides crossed by the pipeline erode.

“They still haven’t hit the gully washer of twoplus inches,” Walker said. “When that happens, part of Walker Ranches will be in Pueblo West and there will be a few new public attractions: the Walker Gorge and the Pueblo West Mud Flats.”

Walker is hoping for action Friday from the Pueblo County commissioners that will hold Colorado Springs Utilities to its commitments under a 1041 land-use permit issued in 2009. A public meeting on the 1041 conditions will be at 9 a.m. Friday at the Pueblo County Courthouse.

Those conditions require the disturbed property to be restored to the condition it was prior to pipeline construction.

For its part, Utilities says it is working on the issues raised by Walker.

“We’ve already agreed to do 18 mitigations,” said Mark Pifher, Utilities point man for SDS permit issues. “After the storms in August, we flew the entire pipeline route and came up with 20 more.”

Walker said that shouldn’t have been necessary if proper actions would have been taken along the way. He did not want to elaborate on the specific suggestions because he still is involved in condemnation hearings in district court, but said less costly fixes would have been possible before pipe was put into the ground.

“Colorado Springs Utilities has met with us umpteen times in the last 15 months since I discovered the first problem in June of last year,” Walker said. “They have been great at talking to us, but have done nothing but give us lip service. There has not been one thing done to fix the problem.”

The 66-inch diameter pipeline runs from Pueblo Dam through Pueblo West and Walker Ranches along a 50-mile route to Colorado Springs. The $940 million first phase of the SDS project is expected to be completed in 2016, and will deliver water to Colorado Springs, Security, Fountain and Pueblo West.

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

With water gushing from all directions after weekend flooding elsewhere, La Junta stayed mostly high and dry thanks to regional cooperation from water officials and ditch companies.

“La Junta dodged a bullet,” Otero County Commissioner Keith Goodwin told the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District board Wednesday.

While there was minor flooding in North La Junta on Monday, it could have been much worse. The area has experienced devastating flooding in the past, most recently in 1999.

The problem was the surge of water down Fountain Creek from earlier storms, high water on the Arkansas River, a raging Apishapa River and 4 inches of rain near Fowler. A storm cloud hovered over the Chico Creek basin east of Pueblo, but there are no stream gauges to measure how much was contributed from that area.

The solution was to run water into every available canal to reduce the peak flow on the Arkansas River through La Junta, coordinated by Lonnie Spady, the head water commissioner for the Division of Water Resources in Districts 17 and 67.

“Those ditches upstream played a significant role in peeling off the flows,” said Steve Witte, Division 2 engineer.

Water filled the Fort Lyon, Fort Lyon storage, Catlin, High Line, Otero and Holbrook canals, essentially cutting the volume of water in half.

Goodwin also credited the North La Junta Conservation District for removing tamarisk trees in the Arkansas River channel over the past two years. This improved the river’s ability to pass water downstream.

The Bureau of Reclamation also cut flows from Pueblo Dam during the peak of Fountain Creek flooding, although inflows to the reservoir were very high over the weekend as well.

The Pueblo Board of Water Works approves agreement with CPW for the management of Clear Creek Reservoir


From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

For nearly 50 years, the state has managed public recreation at Clear Creek Reservoir under an agreement with the Pueblo Board of Water Works. A new license and agreement through 2024 that reflects changing needs was approved by the water board Tuesday. Some changes will be made in an agreement with the state that dates back to 1965.

The water board purchased the reservoir in 1954 from the Otero Canal Co. Located in northern Chaffee County just west of the Arkansas River, the reservoir stores about one-sixth of Pueblo’s water supply. It’s also a nice place to boat, fish or view wildlife.

The new license will still allow Colorado Parks and Wildlife to manage Clear Creek Reservoir, but preserves options the water board is considering, said Alan Ward, water resources manager.

The board wants to swap land it owns along the Arkansas River east of U.S. 24 with the Bureau of Land Management for BLM land on the north and south embankments of the Clear Creek Dam. It also wants to preserve the ability to enlarge the dam in the future, so more flexibility is required in the licensing agreement. Access to some areas, including the caretaker’s house, spillway, dam, outlet works and shops will be restricted.

The state also will continue a boat inspection program to prevent invasive species.

More Arkansas River Basin coverage here and here.