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 Fox21News.com (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

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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.

Drought news: ‘Free river’ at this time of the year is fairly unusual — Dave Nettles #COdrought #COflood

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From The Greeley Tribune (Eric Brown):

There will be more water for farmers next growing season because of flood waters being captured in the region’s reservoirs, but also headaches that could outweigh the benefits, local farmers and water experts say.

As assessments continued this week, a number of representatives from irrigation ditch companies, particularly to the south of Greeley, are reporting more and more “significant” damage along their irrigation systems — ditches, dykes, gravel pits, head gates and other diversion structures that need repairs, or even to be rebuilt.

The irrigating season is over for farmers, who are now concentrated on harvesting their crops as soon as their fields dry.

The bigger concern, they say, is the ability to deliver water to their fields next year. “In some spots of the river … where we have structures on the banks to divert water … the river is now moved,” said Bill Bailey, the owner of P Diamond Irrigation, an irrigation supply company in Kersey, who sits on the board for the Farmers Reservoir and Irrigation Co., also known as FRICO. “How do you begin to deal with things like that?”

Farmers and water experts say the silver lining in the flood — in addition to storing some of the overflow, and the needed moisture in the soil — is the timing. Had the destruction to the irrigation ditches occurred in the middle of the growing season, water wouldn’t have been deliverable to many fields, and crops could have failed under the hot summer sun, they say. Ditch companies at least have the winter months to try and get the repairs done, before farmers start planting a new round of crops next spring.

“We still have a lot of assessing to do, but it could be upwards of about $1 million in repairs that we need to do,” said Randy Ray, executive director with the Central Colorado Water Conservancy District in Greeley, an entity with subdistricts that provide water augmentation and decree administration for over 1,100 irrigation wells in Weld, Morgan and Adams counties, covering 56,900 acres. “Not only is it a lot of work, but then you have to start asking yourself, ‘How do we pay for it?’” Water officials and ditch representatives said ditch companies often don’t have insurance that covers damages to their infrastructure.

As it stands, many crop growers — even ones with fields in standing water — believe much of their crops this year could be salvageable, as long as it warms up soon and stays dry, so they can get everything harvested before the killing frosts of fall set in.

There are concerns, though, about the many roads impacted by the floods — 122 bridges were wiped out in Weld County and about 650 miles of lanes destroyed — that are expected to make transportation of harvested crops, livestock and other ag products longer, more complicated and expensive.

Destruction aside, local farmers — among the agricultural industry that uses about 85 percent of the state’s water — said any abundance of water for next year’s crops would certainly be welcome. During last year’s drought, farmers, as well as cities, relied heavily on water stored in reservoirs to get through the growing season, and this year, those supplies were limited. In most years, many farmers lease extra water from cities to maximize production, but this year, cities — concerned about re-filling their depleted reservoirs — leased far less water than normal to farmers, forcing some crop growers to plant less acres, or plant crops that require less water.

Before the flood, the Greeley-Loveland Irrigation System — which, in addition to providing the city of Greeley with some of its drinking water, also delivers water to about 14,000 farm acres between Greeley and Loveland — was only about 30 percent full, according to Ron Brinkman, general manager of the system. That’s about the same as it was a year ago, during the 2012 drought, Brinkman noted. But diverting flood waters this past week had helped the system get back up to about 45 percent full by Tuesday, Brinkman said, and water was still flowing into the system, pushing it closer to its historic range of being 50 to 60 percent full heading into winter.

Brian Werner — spokesman for the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District in Berthoud, which oversees operations of the region’s largest water-supply project, the Colorado-Big Thompson Project — said their water levels “unfortunately” were basically unchanged. He explained that most of the system’s 12 reservoirs in the mountains and foothills — many of which are on the West Slope — didn’t receive a lot of rain. And, for places like Lake Estes, where there was a lot of rain, there wasn’t enough capacity to store and divert all of that water into other reservoirs, like Horsetooth Reservoir and Carter Lake. Most of it just flowed down into the Big Thompson River Canyon.

Meanwhile, operators of other ditch companies — including FRICO, which delivers water to about 65,000 acres of farmground, along with municipalities, between Boulder and Kersey — are filling their reservoirs.

The historically high water levels in recent days have caused a “free river” — meaning ditch companies and other water providers for now can divert water off the river regardless of how senior or how junior their water rights are. Dave Nettles, division engineer for the Colorado Division of Water Resources office in Greeley, said, going back the last 10 years, a “free river” at this time of the year is fairly unusual.

Still, concerns remain for next year, with major repairs needed in order to deliver that water.

From The Durango Herald (Brandon Mathis):

Paul Frisbie, a forecaster with the National Weather Service in Grand Junction, said the recent local moisture is significant. “The departure from normal is very high,” Frisbie said comparing rainfall to past years. “It’s a very high number.”[…]

While tremendous flooding has affected thousands of residents on Colorado’s Front Range, killing four and prompting mass evacuations, Southwest Colorado has seen minimal damage…

Elisa Sands, who works at Turtle Lake Refuge, a sustainable farm near Falls Creek, said the rain is fueling a bumper crop of tomatoes, mint, squash, corn, beans, strawberries and other produce. “The farm is really happy,” she said. “Everything is soaking up the water really well. It looks like a jungle out there.”[…]

The Animas River was running at less than 300 cubic feet per second on Sept. 8, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. On Sunday, it was recorded gushing at 2,070 cfs. Lemon Reservoir, northeast of town, is currently up nearly 13 acre feet.

‘Last week was a wild week of water’ — Alan Ward #COdrought #COfloods

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Things turned around in a hurry for Arkansas Valley water users. “Last week was a wild week of water,” Alan Ward, water resources manager for the Pueblo Board of Water Works said Tuesday. During his report to the water board, he explained that at the beginning of the week, exchanges into Lake Pueblo were curtailed because of low flows in the Arkansas River through the city. By the end of the week, Pueblo was able to store some water under its flood rights.

“Our storage is about 7,000 acre-feet ahead of last year,” Ward said. Pueblo’s storage is at about 38,000 acre-feet, which is more than enough to supply basic needs for a year. The water board’s goal this year is to rebuild storage levels lost in 2012, the second-driest on record.

Recent rains have been a mixed blessing for Pueblo. While they provide needed moisture after three years of drought, much of it has come too late in the season to benefit farmers in the Arkansas Valley. It’s been spotty, so not everyone has enjoyed the monsoon weather.

On Friday, Fountain Creek at Pinon passed flood stage for about 12 hours. Later, the Arkansas River at Avondale crested at 9.5 feet, about 2.5 feet above flood stage, and remained high for nearly a full day. It briefly reached flood stage again on Monday afternoon, but quickly dropped. [Click on the thumbnail graphic for the Arkansas River at Avondale hydrograph.]

The worst part is total rainfall for the year — 8.82 inches, officially, remains about 2 inches below average because of the dry winter and spring. “We’ll be watching the snowpack closely this year,” Ward said.

From the Associated Press (Ivan Moreno) via the Laramie Boomerang:

“There is a silver lining if we look down the road,” said Ron Carleton, the deputy commissioner of agriculture for the state. “We just have to get past these near-term impacts.”

The damage to Colorado’s multibillion agriculture industry _ the state’s third-largest at $8.5 billion last year _ is vast: Aerial footage shows broad swaths of inundated farmland. Rows of crops up and down the South Platte River were submerged, everything from corn, lettuce, onions and soybeans.

“We’ve seen these rivers come up before. We’ve never seen it like this,” said Ron Kline Jr., whose family runs Kline Farms in the region.

Carleton, who has been touring the flooded areas, said officials won’t have a full picture of the damage until water recedes. However, they’ve begun to identify potential areas of concern. The corn harvest had just begun, and there could be losses there, as well as in produce farms in Weld County, Carleton said…

Troy Seaworth, whose family owns Seaworth Farms in Wellington, on the northern edge of the flooding, is one of the farmers who will be looking to see how much water was captured in reservoirs. It will take time for that to become evident. “If we capture this year for next year, that’s a good thing _ that’s a great thing,” he said…

Officials are also assessing the extent of damage to irrigation ditches that some crops depend on. With hay and alfalfa underwater, it’s also likely that feed prices will increase because of limited availability. Most of the livestock in the area is safe on higher ground, said Carleton, the deputy agriculture commissioner…

“Large areas of the state will see some agricultural benefits from this storm system,” said Nolan Doesken, Colorado’s climatologist. “Then comes the flood corridors. The flood corridors – wow.”

From CNN.com (Kyung Lah/Faith Karimi):

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Runoff from Colorado flooding is coursing into neighboring Nebraska, forecasters said. “The exact crest stages are still uncertain as the waters are just moving into Nebraska,” the National Weather Service said. “It is possible that upcoming forecasts could change so those along the river should stay tuned for updated information.”

From the Omaha World-Herald (Nancy Gaarder):

Floodwaters from Colorado entered Nebraska on Tuesday night, filling in the drought-deprived South Platte River at Big Springs and moving eastward.

Even though communities have had several days to prepare, there has not been enough time to fully protect them from possibly record flooding along a river that rarely floods. Flood protection systems such as levees and reservoirs simply don’t exist on the South Platte. As a result, local officials are focused on protecting critical infrastructure and telling residents to take responsibility for their own property. Farmers are bringing in their harvest early, and homeowners are hauling out possessions or moving them to higher ground.

Up and down the river, emergency dikes and sandbags are being used to shore up wastewater treatment plants, sewer lift stations, telecommunications equipment, water supplies and other systems that make a community livable. “Continuity of government is what we need to make sure happens,” said Dan Guenther, emergency manager in Lincoln County.

Communities along the stretch of the river immediately in the path of flooding are, from west to east: Big Springs, Brule, Ogallala, Roscoe, Paxton, Sutherland, Hershey, North Platte, Maxwell and Brady.

Broken river gauges have prevented officials from getting a good idea of how much floodwater is headed to Nebraska. A much-anticipated Tuesday reading at Julesburg, Colo., fell through because the gauge stopped working. That will change today. A crew from Nebraska’s Department of Natural Resources has gone to Julesburg to assist with taking manual readings there, said Brian Dunnigan, head of the department.

From The Denver Post (Scott Willoughby):

Flooding rivers that broached banks, inundated ponds and blown-out dams have changed the game for anglers along northern portions of the South Platte River drainage. Gushing tributaries such as the St. Vrain, Big Thompson, Little Thompson, Coal Creek and various stems of Boulder Creek are altered beyond recognition. But unlike many of those living along the river banks, the fish will still have a home when the water recedes. The neighborhood — and likely some of the neighbors — will just look a lot different.

“I don’t think we’re anticipating a big fish kill,” said Ken Kehmeier, senior aquatic biologist for Colorado Parks and Wildlife in the region. “It’s a matter of what habitat is left when the rivers drop. There will be some pollution coming down the river, but those fish are pretty resilient, and the amount of water probably diluted it out, so it’s not so toxic to fish. We’ll just have to let the water drop and assess what we have left. After that, we can form a game plan and begin to prioritize our next move.”

Among the immediate concerns for CPW fish managers will be the Bellvue-Watson Fish Hatchery along the Cache la Poudre River and Watson Lake State Wildlife Area. The Watson Lake Rearing Unit, which raises about 300,000 catchable trout every year, was inundated when the lake breached, Kehmeier said, and a water line was damaged.

From The Denver Post (Joey Bunch):

Stories of daring evacuations and selfless courage ripple across Colorado’s waterlogged landscape this week. Hundreds of rescue-team members and firefighters — who train relentlessly to battle blazes, find lost people in the snow and recover fallen bodies from treacherous cliffs — were instead building rope bridges across rushing waters, digging trails in the mud, bracing themselves on uncertain mountainsides and calming rattled evacuees from Colorado’s epic flood.

Darian Shaw saw it firsthand. “The level of their skill and dedication is something to really be recognized,” she said Tuesday. “I can’t say enough.” Before dawn Friday, a world made of mud, rocks, trees and water crashed down on Salina, her Boulder County mountain community of about 80 people. Four Mile Creek, which usually dries up by the end of summer, roared in a pitch of churning water, tumbling boulders and cracking trees. Mudslides rumbled down like thunder, crushing vehicles and homes. Shaw feared the mountain would come plowing through a wall at any moment. “Definitely, it was frightening,” Shaw said. Gold Run Road was washed away, so help for Salina would have to come from above, down the same terrain that was giving way.

Volunteers stepped forward. They carried in ropes, pulleys and a human-sized basket through the deep mud. With four members on each side of the rushing water, they cautiously moved people across in the basket. They worked into the night, at one spot and then another. Members of the Four Mile Canyon Fire Department and the Alpine Rescue Team lifted out her and three other people, two dogs and a canary. Above them, Aspen Mountain Rescue members built stable trails to get people out.

Boulder County Emergency Management said more than 1,500 people were evacuated with assistance between last Wednesday night and Tuesday afternoon. Although most of the evacuees were physically fine, they had gone days without electricity, phone service and information. Also, some were low on food, water and hope.

In Boulder County alone, there were more than 900 rescuers — most of them Army National Guard members and everyday Coloradans who work with volunteer fire departments and search-and-rescue teams.

Many of Colorado’s rescue teams consist of high-country specialists recognized as some of the most skilled in the world. The Alpine Rescue Team, for example, was recruited to help recover pieces of the space shuttle Columbia in 2003, and it has traveled to Israel to train rescuers there.

Each week, its members study in a classroom on weeknights and train in the mountains on weekends. Petrilli said it’s common for members to leave home in the middle of the night for a mission, then go to their jobs the next morning. Members buy their own gear, and they pay the cost when they’re injured, including Band-Aids.

Steve Wilson said the Evergreen-based team averages 110 missions a year, but saving people from their imperiled homes was something unforgettable. “The people we normally see are those who chose to go out in the mountains and got into trouble,” he said. “Sometimes it’s their fault, but not always. These were people trapped in their homes, where they should expect to be safe. “They didn’t do anything to get in their predicament. They lost so much, their homes in some cases, their communities. It’s just different, and it was an honor for us to be there to help any way we could.”

Wilson said he is at his best as a person among passionately caring people. “I get to be around the very best people in the world,” he said. “These are people who spend their own money and risk their lives to help people they don’t know and they’re never going to see again. And they don’t want anything in return.”

Alpine Rescue president Jerry Petrilliand other members of his team stressed they were only part of a large effort. “Colorado has no shortage of good people,” he said.

And when the Rocky Mountain Rescue Group in Boulder asked for help from outsiders, the response was immediate from across the state, said Dixon Hutchinson, the group’s mission coordinator. Petrilli, who had asked for 10 volunteers from his team, heard from at least 30 wanting to go each day. Some of those not picked for the mission waited back at headquarters to clean the rescuers’ gear as late as 1 a.m.

The team’s leader said members’ commitment is something money can’t buy. “We don’t get paid in money; you couldn’t pay me enough to do this,” Petrilli said.”But you look at people who say, ‘Thank you,’ and that’s enough. That’s all I need.”

From the Associated Press via CBSDenver.com:

The official measure of how much water flowed down northern Colorado’s canyons into the South Platte River has been hampered a bit by river gauges that have been swamped by all the water or swept away. Bob Kimbrough, a hydrologist for the U.S. Geological Survey, says crews will have to measure high water marks in those areas to get the official measurements. The agency expects to release its findings on the magnitude of the flooding for a few weeks. Crews attempted to install a replacement gauge in the St. Vrain River near Longmont on Tuesday but the water was still flowing too high.

From the Glenwood Springs Post Independent (Hannah Holm):

The silver lining in this disaster is that it has ended the drought over a good chunk of northeastern Colorado. State Climatologist Nolan Doesken told the Denver Post that “drought as we know it will be ended at a number of locations.” Areas recommended for removal from drought classification include Larimer, Boulder, Gilpin, Jefferson, Lake, western Weld, Northern Park, western Arapahoe, western Adams, Douglas, western Elbert, northern El Paso, central Teller and central Fremont counties.

The flood affected the balance between water supply and demand in two ways: Not only did it bring more supply, but it also decreased demand. Farmers don’t need to, or can’t anyway, irrigate flooded fields. Front Range water managers are banking the extra water in reservoirs, which are filling up at a time when they are normally being drawn down.

Since the Western Slope shares Colorado River water with the Front Range, reduced demands there mean less water diverted across the Continental Divide. As the storms got underway Sept. 12, the Bureau of Reclamation stopped diversions of Western Slope water through the Colorado-Big Thompson Project, which takes water through the Adams Tunnel from Grand Lake to the Eastern Slope.

Although we’ve been spared the floods, the Western Slope has also been pretty wet lately — wet enough that the experts have recommended that the US Drought Monitor reclassify most of the region from “moderate drought” to “abnormally dry” conditions. Between Aug. 18 and Sept. 16, most of western Colorado has received at least 150% of average levels of precipitation for this period.

Going into the fall with nice, moist soils means that more of next year’s snowmelt is likely to run off and help refill reservoirs, instead of being absorbed into the ground. Those reservoirs still need filling. As of Sept. 16, Lake Powell was only 45% full, and Blue Mesa Reservoir, Colorado’s largest, was just 41% full.

From The Denver Post (Jordan Steffen):

For the first time since Colorado’s historic flooding began last week, nature gave residents and rescuers a rain-free day, allowing emergency crews to bring help to stranded people and helicopters to ferry the willing to safety. Thousands of people across a broad swath of the Front Range were still kept out of their homes — or trapped in them — by floodwaters. State officials estimate about 600 people are still stranded in isolated areas. Some of them remained behind even when they were offered escape.

At least 100 people have hunkered down in Pinewood Springs, telling rescuers they will rely on gas-powered generators and trips to Estes Park to resupply as they protect their deluged community from vandals and looters. Frustrated rescue workers showed holdouts pictures of flood-damaged roads to reinforce that this could be their last chance to catch a flight out. “Larimer County doesn’t own any helicopters and won’t be able to do any food and water drops,” Larimer County Sheriff spokesman Nick Christensen said. “If they don’t take this opportunity now, they may be there for a very long time.”

Alaska bush pilot Steve Novakovich, 75, said he was prepared for the aftermath of the rains and flooding that pounded his house in Pinewood Springs, but the days leading up to the dry-out were harrowing. He and his wife, Roma, 70, heeded the emergency flash-flood warnings that went out early Thursday and drove to a high point on their road outside town at 2 a.m. For two hours, they listened as “trees snapped like toothpicks” under the weight of vehicle-sized boulders rolling down the roaring river that had been just a trickle the week before. “I was afraid it was going to take the house,” he said. By Friday, his neighbor’s home had washed into the creek. All utilities were cut. During the several days they were stranded, the Novakoviches kept busy winterizing their house. They had regular visits from volunteer firefighters who kept the community up to date. Each day, they hiked up the hill behind their home to use a cellphone to talk to family and friends for a few minutes. Their pantry was stocked, and their generator fueled, but with the main road to civilization knocked out, Novakovich said the decision to leave was easy — once he figured out what to do with a $700 shipment of salmon and halibut that arrived from Alaska just before the flooding started. Firefighters and rescue workers had a fish cookout Tuesday night — Novakovich’s treat.

That some stayed behind to keep watch made the decision to flee Pinewood Springs a bit easier for others, said a man who would only give his first name, Gary. “Everybody hated to leave their homes,” he said. “But you start thinking about it, and you realize you can’t stick around there.”

The scale of the destruction and losses already tolled had state officials looking to history in search of comparison. In terms of property, the flooding has been the most destructive natural disaster to hit Colorado since at least 1965, when the South Platte jumped its banks and roared through downtown Denver and the Eastern Plains, said Tom Noel, professor of history at the University of Colorado Denver. Recovery will be agonizingly slow.

In Evans on Tuesday, frustration spilled out for a few hundred residents attending a town meeting. About 200 mobile homes and at least 60 houses will be uninhabitable after waters recede, town officials said. “My 2-year-old wants to know when she can go home, and here 90 percent of the people just want to know when they can take a shower,” said Selina Merkt, whose family is living with friends. Their home on the east side of Evans has waist-deep water in the basement and may be condemned. Larimer County alone estimated that flooding has destroyed at least 1,500 homes. Boulder, Weld and other counties were still assessing the damage.

In many areas, the only way to do that was from the air. On Tuesday, the number of National Guard helicopter rescue missions in Boulder County had slowed, and crews shifted their focus to surveying the flooded areas to check on residents who decided to stay in their homes.

Sgt. 1st Class Keith Bart and Staff Sgt. Jose Pantoja leaned out the open sides of a Black Hawk as it flew out of Boulder Municipal Airport and toward the foothills. The crew, based at Fort Carson, has been plucking stranded people from mountain towns for almost a week. As the helicopter moved deeper into the canyons, it passed over ruined roads. In some areas, slabs of pavement piled up against the canyon wall as murky floodwaters continued to wash over them. In other parts, there was no evidence a road ever existed.

The landscape in the foothills west of Boulder was almost unrecognizable. Narrow streets and storefronts that marked the mountain towns — such as Jamestown and Lyons — had been reduced to mudslides and piles of wood and siding. Mud cemented tumbled cars into place. Below, residents shoveled muck and rubble from their driveways. Others hauled boxes and bags out of homes and buildings. Some simply stared at the brown, churning water still rushing through their towns. All looked up, waved and went about their business.

Bart then noticed two red scarves being waved in circles from the deck of a home near Jamestown. The helicopter slowed and hovered low over the home while Bart and Pantoja went into action. They swiftly navigated the complex winch system, clipping into one harness, letting go of another. Within minutes, Pantoja was on his way down. Bart watched and slowly lowered Pantoja until the line went slack. On the ground, Pantoja helped secure two women, each carrying two heavy backpacks, into a harness. As Bart slowly brought the pair up, the weight steadied the helicopter and the winch slowly turned until Bart pulled the women into the cabin. Dazed and exhausted, the women were strapped into their seats. They appeared uninjured. The women waved and smiled at Pantoja when he crawled back into the helicopter and gave thumbs-up as the Black Hawk sped toward Boulder. The thump of the heavy blades drowned the women’s laughter, but their relief was obvious. Within minutes of dropping off the women, the crew returned to the foothills.

Deeper into the canyons, the sunshine revealed the overwhelming devastation. Splintered homes were scattered at the edge of the river that ripped them apart. A shingled roof sprawled out across the bank. Its foundation was nowhere in sight. The walls of one home had been torn away. The dining room was an eerie shadowbox, with the table still in place. Some homes appeared untouched. Colorful flowers bloomed on the doorstep of one home. Across the street, a couch had been washed into the front yard.

In most towns, the roads were filled with drying mud. In Salina, the Little Church in the Pines, which survived the Fourmile fire in 2010, dangled precariously over the edge of a steep bank, where the floodwaters had washed away the earth beneath it.

From the Fort Collins Coloradoan (Sarah Jane Kyle):

During his hourly water check at 3 a.m., [Wesley Sladek] heard a lady screaming.

“I took a really crappy flashlight and walked down our 15-foot hill to the edge of the water,” he said. “Her screams became louder. It was as if she was saying ‘These are my last moments, if you’re going to help me, do it.’ ”

Sladek ran back to his house to grab a rope so he could tie himself to a bush, but by the time he got to the water, the woman was screaming louder. He abandoned the rope and rushed into the river, holding onto bushes and trees to steady himself.

“She was belly up in the water and her leg was sticking out,” Sladek said. “There was so much silt on her face it looked like a horror movie. Every wrinkle in her face was augmented.”

He waded through the silt and water and tried to bring her to the house. The newly formed shore was too unstable, so he moved closer to the river to find solid ground and carried the woman step by step along the water.

“What do I do? We were both sitting ducks,” he said.

His cousins, also stranded in the area, helped Sladek carry the woman, who he only knew as “Florence,” further up the hill. Her leg was broken beyond their ability to repair it. She screamed “as if she had witnessed a bomb going of.” As they tended to Florence, Sladek heard a man screaming for help. Using a flashlight, he and his cousins found a man 15-feet up a tree and stark naked. The river had taken his clothes.

After finding out the man, from Cedar Cove, was in most respects OK and looking at a formidable, deadly river surrounding the tree, Sladek made the tough decision to leave the man until he could better care for Florence.

Fountain Creek: ‘People who have never thought about stormwater are thinking about it now’ — Mark Pifher

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

After a week of rain, the time seems right. “People who have never thought about stormwater are thinking about it now,” Mark Pifher, Colorado Springs Utilities point man for the Southern Delivery System, told the Pueblo Board of Water Works Tuesday. Rainy days, coupled with mudslides off forest lands that burned in the 2012 Waldo Canyon Fire have made stormwater an in-your-face reality for El Paso County communities in the Fountain Creek watershed.

Meanwhile, there is a lingering concern about whether enough is being done from Pueblo’s point of view. “This is a vital concern to Pueblo and downstream communities,” said Mike Cafasso, chairman of the Pueblo water board.

“This community has been waiting,” added board member Tom Autobee. “It’s kind of come to a head with what we’ve seen in the last few days.”

A ballot issue asking for a stormwater tax or fee is headed for the 2014 ballot, Pifher told the water board. A final recommendation about the specifics of the proposal, form of payment and amount of funding is expected by January. “What happens if it doesn’t pass?” board member Nick Gradisar asked.

“There’s the possibility that some funds can be shifted,” Pifher said.

Colorado Springs has spent or pledged to spend more than $300 million on stormwaterrelated activities since 2000, including $173 million for sewer line fortification after damage from flooding in 1999 and more than $130 million for mitigation related to SDS.

Pifher detailed the progress of an El Paso County stormwater task force that formed last year, explaining that the Waldo Canyon and Black Forest fires have added to a backlog of projects that totals $900 million. He also touched on the internal politics between Colorado Springs Mayor Steve Bach, City Council and El Paso County commissioners. Bach chose not to participate in the task force.

Pifher disputed charges by the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District that water quality in Fountain Creek has worsened and flows have increased because of inaction on stormwater. He plans to address those issues with the Lower Ark board today.

Colorado Springs is not required under SDS permits to spend a certain amount on stormwater or have an enterprise in place, although other communities seeking to use SDS are required to have stormwater controls similar to Colorado Springs in place, Pifher said.

He touted the city’s drainage criteria manual as a unifying document that should improve regional storm controls. “We know we need to address stormwater issues in order to make regional alliances,” Pifher said.

More Fountain Creek coverage here and here.

What exactly was the weather that caused the Colorado floods? — Brendan Heberton

Drought news: All that %$^&! rain helped in some areas #COdrought #COflood

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From The Denver Post (John Ingold/Bruce Finley):

Colorado’s recent flooding rains have made significant inroads into the state’s persistent drought, in some cases eliminating concerns about water shortages. State climatologist Nolan Doesken said a new drought forecast will show “markedly better conditions for all of the state.” His report will be finalized Tuesday. “Drought as we know it will be ended at a number of locations,” said Doesken, who is based at Colorado State University.

For many water managers, that is welcome news, although not something they are cheering too heartily, given the destruction that came with the quenching rains.

Denver Water spokesman Travis Thompson said higher stream flows and lower irrigation water use by customers means the utility has been able to bank water in its reservoirs at a time when supplies usually are being drained. Denver Water’s reservoirs are now at 94 percent capacity — compared with 90 percent capacity in a typical September. “We’re now heading into the fall and winter with higher reservoir levels than we did last season, putting us in a better position for filling our reservoirs next year,” Thompson wrote in an e-mail.

Steve Berry, a spokesman for Colorado Springs Utilities, said its reservoirs also have been helped by the rain, although it will be a few weeks before the utility can quantify the benefit. More than anything, Berry said, the rains have sated the soil’s thirst, meaning more spring snowmelt likely will flow into reservoirs. In recent years, Berry said, “the ground was so parched that it would just draw in any moisture that fell.”

But the rains’ benefits don’t appear to have applied evenly across the state.

The speed of the floodwaters coursing down the South Platte — along with the amount of debris and sediment being pulled along — means irrigators in northeast Colorado are forced to keep their [headgates] closed. Reservoirs along the South Platte in northeast Colorado, such as Julesburg Reservoir near Sedgwick, are still far from full, with no new water flowing in. When water in the river slows down, irrigators may be able to open their gates. But until then, farmers and ranchers are left frustrated by all the water they must fight but not touch.

Cattleman Vance McCormick filled sandbags Monday to protect his home near Sedgwick from the raging river. Earlier this year, he cut his cattle operation by 25 percent because drought parched his pastures. “It’d be nice” to be able to top off reservoirs, McCormick said.

Colorado Springs and other points south are digging out from the #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 Colorado Springs Gazette (Wayne Heilman/Andrea Sinclair):

A nearly 10-hour power outage affected 3,700 customers in Security-Widefield, and officials are certain it was water-related, Colorado Springs Utilities spokesman Steve Berry said Monday. According to reports, the thousands of customers lost power at 4:32 p.m. Sunday and Utilities fully restored service by 2 a.m. Monday. “We’ve been dealing with electric vaults getting water infiltration and areas where debris has washed up against a pole, causing damage to the equipment,” Berry said.

Another concern for Utilities crews has been the exposure of gas lines because of road erosion. A 40-foot-wide and 25-foot-deep sinkhole opened underneath a driveway on the 2700 block of Flintridge Drive on Sunday night, Berry said.

A nearby gas line was exposed, and gas was temporarily shut off to the residence while Utilities assessed damage. “As of 8 a.m. Monday, there was no word of any damage to the gas line, so the gas was restored,” Berry said. “But if the sinkhole continues to cave in, there’s no telling what could happen.”

A silver lining, if there is one, he said, has been the performance of the city’s wastewater system in the face of the massive walls of water that have roared down creeks and waterways. Berry said $165 million was invested on improvements to the system, and they worked. “There are lots of places where our utility services cross creeks, and the system has held up tremendously well.”

Colorado Springs got off relatively easy in other areas, too. The Denver Post reported that coal deliveries to and from Colorado are suffering delays of up to 72 hours due to washouts over railways between Denver and Boulder County. “We have not faced this problem, as we’ve been fortunate that the disaster hit us when the demand for coal isn’t quite high; it’s not the height of summer or winter, and customers aren’t cranking their air conditioning or their central heat,” Berry said. “We’re able to meet demands without problems now. If the floods keep up, then it will become a problem.”

Reservoir levels also are up from the excess rainfall. “We’re not in a position to say the drought is over, but this will help us long term, going into winter,” Berry said. “The soil moisture is saturated and in the coming winter, snow will build up on the ground, giving us a better chance for runoff. That will certainly help keep the reservoir levels up.”

First person: Estes Park woman records intense flooding on Main Street (via Fort Collins Coloradoan) #COflood

Here’s an Estes Park photo gallery from the Fort Collins Coloradoan.

Surge of water moving downstream to Nebraska, some Denver-Julesberg oil and gas operations washed-out #COflood

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From The Denver Post (Mark Jaffe):

Colorado’s richest oil field — the Denver-Julesburg Basin — is buried in floodwaters, raising operational and environmental concerns, as state and industry officials work to get a handle on the problem. Thousands of wells and operating sites have been affected — some remain in rushing waters, officials said. “The scale is unprecedented,” said Mike King, executive director of the Colorado Department of Natural Resources. “We will have to deal with environmental contamination from whatever source.”

Any pollution from oil fields likely will be mixed with a stew of agricultural pesticides, sewage, gasoline from service stations and other contaminants, King said. “As far as we know, all wells affected by flooding have been shut,” said Tisha Schuller, president of the Colorado Oil and Gas Association, a trade group.

The basin, one of the most promising onshore oil plays, has been the target of an estimated $4 billion of oil industry investment, with about 48 rigs operating when the flood hit.

Companies are using boats and helicopters to check sites not accessible by road, Schuller said. “As water levels recede, operators are assessing any damage and addressing it,” she said.

The major public health risks will come from contaminated water and sediments, said Miriam Rotkin-Ellman, a Natural Resources Defense Council staff scientist. “The aim is to find where there may be significant pollutants and where they are heading,” said Rotkin-Ellman, who studied industrial contamination in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.

The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission is setting up a clearinghouse to log the status of every well and operation, said Matt Lepore, the commission’s executive director. The commission also is using its mapping technology to identify well sites along the South Platte River for inspection. “Mapping is a really good first step — it locates where the problem could be,” said NRDC’s Rotkin-Ellman.

The commission is forming teams — including inspectors, engineers and environmental specialists — to focus on locations north and south of the South Platte.

Still, the specter of pollution has raised concerns among environmentalist and community groups. “With the Texas Gulf Coast, they know in advance a hurricane is coming,” said Irene Fortune, a retired chemist who worked for British Petroleum and is now running the Loveland City Council. “To have something this inland, this level of flooding in an area with high oil and gas development, it’s new territory,” Fortune said.

Gary Wockner, executive director of Save Our Colorado, said, “Every flooded well needs to get inspected. “The COGCC needs to pass new regulations for drilling in floodplains to better protect people and the environment.”

There are more than 20,000 wells in th e DJ-Basin and surrounding areas and 3,200 permits for open pits in Weld County, according to state data. A review of the pit permits, however, found a significant number are old permits that may not be operating — most were to hold produced water that contains salts and metals from wells.

Major operators in the basin said they were able to shut all the wells hit by the flood. Encana Oil & Gas (USA) has shut about one-third of its 1,241 wells, the company said. “We have plans in place to inspect all of our facilities,” Doug Hock, an Encana spokesman, said in an e-mail. “We’re using (geographic information systems) to help prioritize lower-lying facilities that may likely have greater impacts.”

Anadarko Petroleum Corp., the second-largest operator in the basin, shut wells and stopped drilling activity. “The majority of our drilling, completions and workover activities in the affected areas of the field have been shut down,” the company said on its website. “Restarting the activities is expected to be significantly delayed due to road and location conditions,” the company said.

The well sites are designed to withstand harsh weather, said William Fleckenstein, a professor of petroleum engineering at the Colorado School of Mines. “The actual wells are meant to hold pressure on the inside. They’re designed to be fluid-tight,” Fleckenstein said. Concern arises when tanks are knocked over or damaged, Fleckenstein said. The “worst-case scenario,” however, would be damage to a high-pressure gas line, which would leak hydrocarbons in the air and be “very explosive,” Fleckenstein said.

The impact of the flood waters has been uneven in the basin, said the oil and gas association’s Schuller. Some areas are untouched, and some facilities are still surrounded by flowing water, Schuller said. “It may take some operations a week to get back up,” Schuller said. “It may take a year for others.”

Pictures of flooded well and drilling sites and damaged or floating tanks have been appearing on several social-media sites. “We’ve seen the pictures but don’t know the locations,” Schuller said. “If people provide the locations, we will check them.”

From the Omaha World-Herald (Nancy Gaarder):

Nebraskans are collecting sandbags, building levees and plugging culverts as they prepare for floodwaters pushing down the South Platte River from Colorado. Uncertainty surrounds the flood threat because of a lack of accurate information and the unpredictable consequences of floodwaters in a drought-depleted but debris-choked river. “The magnitude of flooding could be unprecedented,” Earl Imler of the Nebraska Emergency Management Agency said in a statement released Monday.

Factors creating the uncertainty:

» Lack of accurate information. The power and volume of the flooding in Colorado has broken or exceeded the capacity of flood gauges, so officials don’t know how much water is headed east.

The first useful assessment of South Platte River levels occurred Sunday in Fort Morgan, Colo., said Bob Swanson of the U.S. Geological Survey in Nebraska. But even that reading was inadequate because the river had already dropped at least 2 feet, he said.

Fresh readings Monday night at Julesburg, Colo., were expected to better assess the threat to Nebraska.

» Drought. Severe and extended drought has left the South Platte River virtually devoid of water, so there is plenty of room to accommodate floodwaters. In some areas of Nebraska, the river isn’t expected to overflow its banks, the National Weather Service said.

» Debris. This is the big wild card. As drought depleted the river, trees and shrubs grew, and debris piled up. As the surge of water moves through, it will probably dislodge the vegetation and debris, piling it against choke points in the channel, such as bridges. If that happens, the choke points could send water spilling across the valley.

“When that water hits bridges along the South Platte, it will be difficult for it to stay in the channels,” said Brian Dunnigan, director of the Nebraska Department of Natural Resources. “Debris in the water is going to be the biggest issue and could contribute to additional flooding.”

Here’s one thing officials do know: At Fort Morgan on Saturday evening, the river rose about 9 feet in two hours as the bulk of a roughly 15-foot surge came through.

From The Denver Post (Tom McGhee/Ryan Parker):

The toll going into Monday was six presumed dead. But on Monday the Colorado Office of Emergency Management said a body recovered from El Paso County raised the total to seven. The body was found by Colorado Springs authorities about noon Monday in the West Fork of Sand Creek on the east side of 4600 Town Center Drive, said Barbara Miller, spokeswoman for Colorado Springs police. She did not release any more details except to say foul play was not suspected.

Hours later, Idaho Springs police said an eighth victim had been claimed by the floods. An 83-year-old man was killed Monday afternoon when the ground collapsed beneath him and he was swept away by Clear Creek, Idaho Springs police spokesman Jim Vogt said. The man’s body was recovered 3 miles downstream. The man is considered a victim of the flood because the water level of Clear Creek is well above normal, Vogt said.
The grim statistics: three dead in Boulder County, two in El Paso County, one in Clear Creek County and two missing and presumed dead in Larimer County.

The weather favored rescue crews Monday, and helicopters began carrying people stranded in remote parts of Boulder and Larimer counties to safety. “We were really hampered (Sunday) due to weather,” said Carrie Haverfield, spokeswoman for the Boulder Office of Emergency Management.

Monday morning about 1,000 residents were stranded in Larimer County. By early afternoon, 110 people had been evacuated, and officials expected to take 300 to 400 more people to Fort Collins from communities cut off by floodwaters since Thursday.

As of Monday afternoon, the total number of residents unaccounted for in Boulder County was 183, according to the Boulder OEM. In Larimer County, 260 are unaccounted for, meaning they have not checked in with friends, family or authorities, according to the sheriff’s office.

According to early state emergency management office estimates, 17,994 homes have been damaged and 1,502 were destroyed along a 200-mile stretch of the Front Range, but the numbers could change as the waters recede and emergency workers reach more isolated areas.

For example, in Larimer County, it’s estimated that 1,500 homes have been destroyed and 4,500 damaged. An additional 200 places of business are destroyed, and 500 are damaged.

Monday night, the Boulder Office of Emergency Management reported 111 homes had been damaged and 119 had been destroyed. In addition, 28 commercial properties had been damaged, and one had been destroyed.

Damage assessments in Weld County are continuing, but as of Sunday night an estimated 2,910 homes had suffered at least some damage, and some have been destroyed. In Milliken, at least 45 people lost their homes. In Evans 200 mobile homes and 60 houses were destroyed or totaled. An estimated 2,377 agricultural properties also were affected. As of noon Monday, more than 210 miles of roads remain closed in Weld County. A total of 654 lane-miles of roadway have been flooded and in some cases, destroyed, as have 122 bridges and 64 irrigation canals, spokeswoman Jennifer Finch said.

There was new flooding reported in Logan County, in the northeast part of the state, as water flowing out of the state passes through, said Micki Trost, spokeswoman for the Colorado Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency has five search-and-rescue teams helping local emergency workers, Trost said.

West Metro Fire Rescue has been “federalized” and is one of the teams working with FEMA, said FEMA spokesman Jerry DeFelice.

Gov. John Hickenlooper said at a noon news conference with FEMA administrator Craig Fugate that 21 helicopters were engaged Monday with search-and-rescue missions. The governor said damage analysis has begun. A fuller picture of the costs of the flood could take up to three weeks, Hickenlooper said. Fugate said it could take 30 days.

The FEMA administrator said lessons learned in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy showed that most of those whose homes are damaged or destroyed can be helped with rental assistance. Where possible, “expedient repairs” are the solution. Fugate said in some cases, FEMA-supplied manufactured housing might be needed.

Boulder, Larimer, Weld and Adams counties have been added to the Federal Emergency Management Agency individual assistance declaration.

In Weld County, sheriff’s deputies are making sure that looters don’t victimize those who have been hurt by the raging floodwaters, and assuring the safety of others, said Steve Reams, spokesman for the sheriff’s office. In Milliken, where the Little Thompson River spilled over its banks, seven freight cars could be seen lying on their side where the tracks ran along the river. In the nearby Evergreen Mobile Park, 32 of 35 trailer homes were destroyed. Tim Solomon, owner of the park, said he has no flood insurance because the property is outside the floodplain. A 6-foot-high wall of water rolled through the trailer park Friday morning. John Vega, a resident, was there Monday salvaging what he could from his home. “There is water in my whole house,” he said. “We don’t know what we can save.”

Flood conditions are spread across 200 miles running north to south along the Front Range. Fifteen counties are in that swath of territory: Boulder, El Paso, Larimer, Adams, Arapahoe, Broomfield, Clear Creek, Denver, Fremont, Jefferson, Logan, Morgan, Pueblo, Washington and Weld.

As flooding along the South Platte River moved downstream into northeast Colorado, communities braced for unprecedented rising water levels. Officials believe the river crested at Sterling at 1:44 a.m. Monday. The bridge into Sterling from Interstate 76 was closed as the South Platte River washed over the roadway, inundating Sterling’s Overland Trail Museum, a hotel and a gas station. U.S. 6 was closed between Sterling and Fort Morgan. A hospital and downtown buildings were sand-bagged late Sunday. Hundreds of people in low-lying areas were evacuated.

From The Greeley Tribune (Analisa Romano):

The floating mobile homes, washed out highways and submerged cars that embodied the devastating portrait of Weld County’s floods over the weekend were put into numbers on Monday, with Weld County commissioners estimating at least $230 million in damages to properties and infrastructure countywide. “That’s just the preliminary number,” said Weld County Commissioner Sean Conway at a briefing with Colorado Gov. Hickenlooper on Monday afternoon.

As waters continued to recede throughout the day and roads gradually reopened, emergency officials began to transition out of “emergency” mode and into “recovery” mode, sending out 10 crews to do preliminary damage assessments.

County officials estimate more than 7,000 parcels of land were impacted by floodwaters, 2,900 of them residential. Another 2,300 are agricultural parcels, said Jennifer Finch, spokeswoman for Weld County commissioners. She said 355 commercial and 62 industrial properties were also damaged. A total of 140 roads in the county were closed at some point, with 654 lane miles of Weld’s roadways impacted by the flood. That doesn’t count the damage done to some state corridors, namely the section of U.S. 34 midway between Greeley and Kersey that was literally dissolved by the flood. Sixty-four irrigation canals were damaged in the flood, Finch said.

The Poudre River hovered around 7 feet high on Monday, with Greeley officials suggesting a voluntary evacuation along the river until those levels drop over the next few days. After peaking at nearly 19 feet on Friday night, the South Platte River is expected to rise to 17 feet on Monday night and then steadily drop to normal levels, according to the National Weather Service.

Roy Rudisill, emergency operations manager for Weld County, said the county would probably have to wait until Wednesday to wholly assess the damage, especially in the hard-hit areas of east Greeley, Evans and Milliken.

Commissioners told Hickenlooper their biggest concern at this point is where those displaced from the flood will stay during the coming weeks and months they don’t have a home. With a vacancy rate of less than 1.5 percent in the Greeley area and a similarly tight lodging market, many have nowhere to turn for shelter. “These are people that are not likely to have flood insurance,” Conway told Hickenlooper. County officials have estimated 400 people were housed at the evacuation centers in Greeley, Milliken, Johnstown, LaSalle, Longmont, Erie, Fort Lupton and Niwot at any given time. “They are not likely to have any insurance. And they have lost everything,” he said.

Weld County Commissioner Barbara Kirkmeyer suggested the Governor’s Office use funding from the Community Development Block Grant program, which the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development announced is available to use in counties where there has been a disaster declaration. HUD will also offer foreclosure relief and other assistance in Weld. Residents and business owners impacted by the flood are eligible for federal aid, but Kirkmeyer said she fears it will take too long for FEMA money to come through.

Roxane White, Hickenlooper’s chief of staff, said the Governor’s Office must first assess the need statewide, but that could be an option.

The county has also experienced a furor of issues with water and wastewater plants due to flooding. In Evans, thousands of residents have been told not to flush their toilets or shower, thanks to damage to the 1st Avenue wastewater plant, prompting Greeley-Evans School District 6 to close schools on Monday. Evans is in the process of placing port a-potties in schools and configuring temporary infrastructure to get some sewage pumped by Greeley’s wastewater plant.

In LaSalle, too, residents have been asked not to run any water down their drains until 5 p.m. on Wednesday because their wastewater system was damaged, and portable toilets were set up in the community center. Left Hand Water District in southwest Weld County can not reach a portion of residents on its system, and Firestone issued a boil order to its residents as a precaution against residuals of chlorine detected in the water.

Rudisill said there are no reports of missing people that have come through any law enforcement agencies in Weld County. He said the Emergency Operations Center has been forwarding calls for inquiries of missing family members and friends to the Red Cross, but Weld is reporting zero unaccounted people. In the midst of the disarray over the weekend, Rudisill said the county ran out of barricades to keep people from driving down so many endangered roads, and Weld lost three patrol cars doing search and rescue.

First responders received a total of 2,603 calls for service.

In one instance, a family near Kersey was forced to stay in their home Friday night because there was no way for first responders to reach them, Rudisill said.

Weld County Sheriff John Cooke said he’s since had to reorganize his manpower to ensure deputies can get to calls despite the crippling effects the floodwaters have had on roads. “Our biggest challenge will be getting to the locations we need to be,” Cooke said.

He got a bird’s-eye view of damage in the central part of the county on Monday, thanks to a courtesy flight provided by TYJ Global in Platteville. Cooke said he’s been on the ground in many of the hardest-hit areas, but seeing the devastation from above put things into a different perspective. “You can be just a few yards away and everything’s fine, and just a few yards another way and everything’s ruined,” Cooke said.

From the Fort Collins Coloradoan (Ryan Maye Handy):

Northern Colorado activists have been circulating photos of completely submerged wells in Weld County and tanks that were knocked loose by rushing water. The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission said in a written statement Monday that “many oil and gas locations have been affected by the flood,” but it is too early to tell the extent of the damage.

“As this event is still unfolding, especially as flood waters continue to move northeast, access is limited and emergency responders are focused on lives and property,” wrote Todd Hartman, the commission’s spokesman, in an email. “It’s too soon to provide specific information about impacts or particular locations.”

Although many well sites are still flooded, some progress has been made on shutting them down, Hartman said.

“In many cases operators have added additional security to tanks, such as chaining, to reduce chances they will float with the flood waters,” Hartman wrote. “They have also been shutting in wells to stop production and prevent overfilling storage tanks.”

Much of the concern is centered around wells east of Larimer County. Prospect Energy, which operates the only oil and gas wells in Fort Collins, was left unscathed by the floods, said Scott Hall, CEO of Denver-based parent company Black Diamond Minerals. The area is wet, but none of the drilling infrastructure was submerged, he added.

Sterling Ranch update: The Chatfield Community Association has filed an appeal of the project approval

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From the Denver Business Journal (Dennis Huspeni):

The Chatfield Community Association last month filed an appeal under Rule 106 of the Colorado Rules of Civil Procedures, asking a district judge to review the commissioners’ July decision to approve the development plan…

The new challenge, filed by Denver attorney James Kreutz, alleges that Sterling Ranch application couldn’t be changed to the “pending status” after 18th Judicial District Judge Paul King ruled in the first case that Douglas County commissioners erred when they agreed to rezone the 3,400-acre site in 2011. Chatfield’s new challenge echoes King’s language in his order, stating the commissioners acted “arbitrarily, capriciously and with an abuse of discretion” when approving the application in July…

The 106 challenge also alleges commissioners “failed to act in an unbiased manner” by “engaging paid lobbyist to enact legislative changes intended to aid the Applicant.”

Commissioners, through County Attorney Lance Ingalls, denied they acted improperly and asked the court to dismiss the complaint “for lack of subject matter jurisdiction.” They asked the judge to not only rule in favor of Douglas County, but also order the association to pay the county’s attorneys fees and costs.

District Judge Richard Brewster Caschette has allowed Sterling Ranch to intervene in the case, according to a Sept. 11 order.

Harold Smethills, president and CEO of Sterling Ranch, said the appeal won’t stop the development. “They want a do-over,” Smethills said. “They’re hopeful that by suing the county, they might get lucky and get a do-over. … We’re just going ahead.”

More Sterling Ranch coverage here.

Colorado Climate Center compiling final data on the Great September Storm of 2013 #COflood

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From Colorado State University (Kate Hawthorne Jeracki):

How much rain fell on Colorado this week? And where? Colorado residents can help the weather experts at Colorado State University answer these questions.

In response to the incredible recent rains and flooding in parts of the state, the Colorado Climate Center will be mapping rainfall totals and graphing hourly intensities for the entire state for the period beginning Sunday, Sept. 8 (as storms first developed over southern Colorado) through the end of the storm later this weekend

“As is typical of Colorado storms, some parts of the state were hard hit and others were untouched. Still, this storm is ranking in the top ten extreme flooding events since Colorado statehood,” said Nolan Doesken, State Climatologist at CSU. “It isn’t yet as extreme or widespread as the June 1965 floods or as dramatic as the 1935 floods but it ranks right up there among some of the worst.”

Among the worst, according to Climate Center data, occurred in May 1904, October 1911, June 1921, May 1935, September 1938, May 1955, June 1965, May 1969, October 1970, July 1976, July 1981, and, of course, the Spring Creek Flood of July 1997 that ravaged Fort Collins and the CSU campus. “Every flood event in Colorado has its own unique characteristics,” said Doesken. “But the topography of the Colorado Front Range makes this area particularly vulnerable when the necessary meteorological conditions come together as they did this week.”

Data from automated rain gauges maintained by several federal and local agencies will be combined with data from the National Weather Service’s weather radar system and their volunteer Cooperative Observer and storm spotter networks. This will be compiled with rain gauge reports from over 1,000 volunteers who are active participants in the Community Collaborative Rain Hail and Snow Network (CoCoRaHS), which was formed in response to the Spring Creek Flood.

“While this may be the most thoroughly documented storm in our history with so much technology and observational data available, we still have many parts of our state where we don’t know how much rain has fallen,” Doesken said. “We realize that many people have weather stations and cameras, and sharing that data could help fill in the gaps to better document the timing of rainfall and its intensity and the patterns of subsequent flooding. Even just a measurement from a bucket that was left outdoors could be helpful — provided you tell us the dimensions of the bucket.”

Rain gauge measurements, personal anecdotes about this storm and unique photos that will help to document this storm should be sent to coflood2013@gmail.com. “This type of information is incredibly important for future construction, engineering, transportation, communication as well as energy and water infrastructure for Colorado,” Doesken added. Floods have happened before and they will happen again, but the more we know about them the better we can prepare for the next one.”

Daily and storm total rainfall patterns will be available on the Colorado Climate Center website http://ccc.atmos.colostate.edu. Rainfall maps for the entire U.S. and parts of Canada are updated daily at http://www.cocorahs.org.

From The Denver Post (William Porter):

The torrential rain and floods swamping vast swaths of Colorado have been described as “biblical” and bona fide a 100-year storms. The numbers are staggering. Consider:

• Boulder’s 25 square miles were awash in an estimated 4.5 billion gallons of water as of Friday morning, according to reports in The Denver Post.

• An acre-foot of water — the amount of water covering 1 acre with a foot of water — equals 326,000 gallons. The equivalent of 13,803 acre-feet of water fell in the Boulder area.

A football field is roughly 1 acre.

• Boulder Creek hit a flow rate of 4,500 cubic feet per second, more than doubling the previous high flow recorded during the last quarter century, according to the U.S. Geological Survey gauging station. The river usually runs at 100 to 300 cfs.
A cubic foot of water weighs 62.4 pounds. That means that at one point Boulder Creek was roaring with 280,800 pounds of water a second, or just over 140 tons. The standard railroad locomotive weighs 120 to 240 tons, depending on the model.

• The velocity and churn of the water in Boulder Creek was the equivalent of a Class IV rapid, an “expert” level typically encountered on the Arkansas and Colorado rivers during runoff season.

• During flash floods, 2 feet of water can move with enough force to wash away a car. Just 6 inches of water can knock a Denver Bronco-sized adult off his or her feet.

• Converting an inch of rainwater into the equivalent amount of snow is a bit tricky, given the variables. One inch of rain will produce 3½ to 4 inches of wet snow, but potentially 10 to 12 inches of light powder. With the amount of rain in Boulder, a powdery snow could have been up to the eaves of single-story homes.

• Car engines will generally flood if water reaches halfway up the wheels — less than that if the vehicle is in motion, because of surging water.

• Flood stage in the Big Thompson River is 6 feet. Water in the Big Thompson crested at 10.55 feet at 6:30 a.m. Friday. That’s more than the 9.31-foot peak in the 1976 flood that killed 144 people.

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Here’s the latest Denver Post map of rainfall totals.

#COflood: Some drying out forecast for today as is more rain, 6 dead and 1,253 unaccounted for

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From The Denver Post (Kirk Mitchell/Tom McGhee/Electa Draper):

Colorado towns already crumbling under the weight of historic flooding got pounded again Sunday with sometimes torrential downpours as the flood death toll and the number of people still unaccounted for continued to rise. Up to 4 inches of rain fell in parts of Larimer County, where authorities said an 80-year-old woman went missing and is presumed dead, bringing the total of people killed to six since flooding began Wednesday evening. The forecast called for more rain Monday.

As flooding along the South Platte River moved downstream into northeast Colorado, communities braced for unprecedented rising water levels.

Emergency management officials said 17,494 homes were damaged, 1,502 homes were destroyed and 11,700 people were ordered evacuated.

As of Sunday, rescuers had evacuated more than 2,100 people and more than 500 pets, most by helicopter. “The situation has deteriorated,” Boulder County Emergency Management spokesman Andrew Barth said Sunday. “There’s a heavy, heavy fog, and rain is coming down hard.”

The flooding has been catastrophic for dozens of Front Range and Eastern Plains towns and cities.

Hundreds of local and federal rescuers crisscrossed remote slopes on foot and in ATVs trying to find people who have not been heard from in days. Even as rescuers found stranded people and crossed them off the list of “the unaccounted for,” that list continued to grow as more people called police asking for welfare checks on friends and relatives they couldn’t reach. The list across the state now tallies 1,253 people unaccounted for. The fear is that some of them are dead, Barth said.

On Sunday, federal aid continued flowing into the state. The Federal Emergency Management Agency deployed two Incident Management Assistance Teams and staff for Colorado emergency operations centers.

Three federal urban search-and-rescue teams — Colorado Task Force 1, Utah Task Force 1 and Nebraska Task Force 1 — also were rescuing people in storm-damaged areas. Two more teams are expected Monday.

FEMA is providing more than 65,000 liters of water and 22,000 meals. A FEMA communications vehicle is assisting in operations in Lyons.

President Barack Obama called Gov. John Hickenlooper on Sunday to reiterate his commitment to providing federal support, according to a White House news release. Obama declared a major disaster in Colorado on Saturday, authorizing federal funds for flood victims. FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate will travel to Colorado on Monday to help coordinate the federal response.

Nevertheless, Sunday saw another day of drenching rain and heart-wrenching stories. In the Cedar Cove area of Big Thompson Canyon, an injured 80-year-old woman could not leave her house, said Larimer County sheriff’s spokesman John Schulz. “When people came back to help her, the house was gone,” he said. It was the second day in a row that a woman was reported missing and presumed dead in the Cedar Cove area. A 60-year-old woman was reported missing Saturday.

Overflowing streams and rivers forced the state Department of Transportation to shut down Interstate 25 from Colorado 7 to Colorado 52 in both directions.

Municipal officials issued new evacuation orders to residents in Longmont, Greeley, Weld County and Estes Park. Pouring rain west of Longmont triggered re-evacuations of the Greens, Champion Greens and the Valley neighborhoods. Neighborhoods south of Colorado 119 near I-25 also were ordered to leave as Mountain View Fire and Rescue reported the St. Vrain River was rising 7 inches every 15 minutes Sunday morning.

Flooding has wiped away large sections of roads, making it risky or impossible to reach people in dangerous areas and slowing rescue efforts, Barth said.

Fifteen helicopters in Boulder County that evacuated 1,200 people from Lyons and 295 people from Jamestown were grounded Sunday because of low visibility, Barth said. Sixteen helicopters in Larimer County were grounded Sunday.

Authorities across the flooded areas warned that it could take many months before infrastructure, including new roads, will be completed. Xcel Energy officials said Sunday they will have to replace thousands of natural-gas meters and up to 20 miles of natural-gas pipeline. More than 4,000 customers are without gas in Boulder County, according to the utility.

National Guard and Boulder County heavy-equipment operators began to rebuild creek and river banks after floodwaters created new waterways that have swamped several communities. “We’re going to try to divert the St. Vrain River back into its original channel,” Barth said. It could take several months to rebuild the banks so that the river flows down its original channel, Barth said.

Crews also have been repairing and rebuilding roads to reach isolated mountain communities, including Lyons and James-town. “We did punch a hole getting to Jamestown, but its still pretty slippery,” Barth said.

Near Hillrose in northeast Colorado, BNSF Railway workers were dumping loads of gravel in an attempt to reinforce the railroad bed as the South Platte River widened to within 6 feet of the track. The line is used to move coal from Wyoming to a power plant near Brush. Some residents in the area said the river’s surge is bigger than what they saw in 1965, when flooding along the Front Range and Eastern Plains left 21 dead and 250,000 acres inundated. Flooding in the Denver metro area was severe in 1965. A storm surge destroyed 120 houses and damaged 935 in Littleton, Englewood and Denver. Also, 280 mobile homes were lost, and 16 bridges in Denver were demolished. After the flood, Chatfield and Bear Creek reservoirs were built to control storm waters.

Connecting the Drops: The Mighty Colorado Statewide Call-In Radio Show today, 5 to 6 PM #ColoradoRiver

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Click here for the pitch. Good luck if the Broncos game runs long.

Take a helicopter tour of the Cache la Poudre River #COflood

Very cool video from the City of Fort Collins. You get a view of Milton Seaman Reservoir spilling.

‘Forecast is not in our favor today. Be prepared, informed & SAFE!’ — Denver Police #COflood

From the Associated Press (Hannah Drier/Ben Neary) via The Pueblo Chieftain:

Special education teacher Brian Shultz, 38, was torn about leaving his Jamestown home. “I was thinking about staying. I could have lasted at least a year. I have a lot of training in wilderness survival,” he said, adding that he probably had enough beer to last the whole time.

As he sat outside a makeshift shelter at a high school, Shultz floated the idea of walking back into the funky mountain town. “If we hike back, I would stay there and just live. I’d rather be at our own house than staying at some other people’s houses,” he said.

His wife, Meagan Harrington, gave him a wry smile. About 10 of their neighbors declined to evacuate, she said. “They said they wouldn’t force you, but it was strongly encouraged,” she said.

Shultz teared up behind his sunglasses as he compared his situation to that of his neighbors. “At least all of our stuff’s there and will be there when we get back. The people right by the river, their houses were washed away. Other people thought their houses were going to be OK, and then they started to go. It’s just really devastating.”

From The Denver Post (Kirk Mitchell/Tom McGhee):

As the number of presumed dead from the Colorado floods rose to six on Sunday, the monumental task of rechanneling swollen creeks and rivers and rebuilding roads swept away by flash flooding was well underway.

An 80-year-old woman’s home in the Cedar Cove area was almost completely obliterated and she is missing, according to John Schulz, spokesman for the Larimer County Sheriff’ Office.

A 60-year-old woman disappeared Saturday in the Cedar Cove area.

The 80-year-old woman “was injured and couldn’t get out of her home. When people came back to help her, the house was gone,” Schulz said.

Hundreds of National Guard, sheriff’s deputies and firefighters from across the west are searching for more than 700 people still for in Boulder and Larimer counties.
“We have no idea if there are more victims,” said Andrew Barth, spokesman for Boulder County Emergency Management.

Flooding has wiped away large sections of roads, making it risky to reach people in dangerous areas and slowing rescue efforts, Barth said.

Fifteen helicopters in Boulder County that evacuated 1,200 people from Lyons and 295 people from Jamestown were grounded Sunday because of low visibility because of clouds, Barth said.

It is also unclear whether seven helicopters in Larimer County will get off the ground Sunday morning.

Meantime, National Guard heavy equipment operators have begun to rebuild creek and river banks after floodwaters created new waterways that have swamped several Boulder and Larimer county communities.

“We’re going to try to divert the St. Vrain River back into its original channel,” Barth said. “It actually took a large turn to the north. It inundated areas where we never expected water to go. It’s crazy.”

It could take several months to rebuild the banks so that the river flows down its original channel, he said.

Still, even as the work crews rebuild waterways, forecasters predict another 1 to 2 inches of rain Sunday. Rain was falling again Sunday morning.

Crews have also been repairing and rebuilding roads to reach isolated mountain communities including Lyons and Jamestown.

“We did punch a hole getting to Jamestown but its still pretty slippery,” Barth said.

Jefferson County Sheriff’s deputies have been trying to coax 50 residents staying in their homes in Jamestown to evacuate because the slopes are unstable and new mud slides put them at risk, Barth said.

In Fort Morgan, where the South Platte River divides the city, every road crossing the river is closed due to flooding. “There is no access between the north and south sides of the river,” said City Clerk John Brennan.

A 300 acre park that straddles Interstate 76 is under water, and a number of hotels and a Walmart were evacuated and closed due to flooding, but the high waters have so far not inundated the city, Brennan said.

The river could, however, still spill into the town when it crests this evening, he added.

Estes Park residents were warned Sunday that they could be evacuated from their homes for months.

“Residents should prepare to evacuate for what may be an extended period of time, as road and infrastructure repairs could take several months,” according to a city news release. “Residents must understand that with winter weather impending, staying at home in this area is an extremely dangerous decision and emergency services will not be available to them after evacuation.

Low-lying Estes Park properties along Fish Creek Road were evacuated late Saturday. City officials are checking other neighborhoods for possible evacuations on Sunday.

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

From USA Today (Doyle Rice):

This week’s rains and floods in Colorado were the result of a strong, slow-moving storm at upper levels of the atmosphere located to the west of the state, according to meteorologist Jeff Masters with the Weather Underground. The storm got trapped to the south of an unusually strong ridge of high pressure parked over Western Canada, he says.

The circulation around the storm tapped a plume of extremely moist, monsoonal air from Mexico that pushed up against the mountains and fell as rain on the already saturated ground, soaked from rain earlier in the week, Masters adds.

How much rain? From the afternoon of Sept. 9 through midday on Sept. 13, 14.62 inches of rain fell in Boulder. Average September rainfall in Boulder is only 1.63 inches, according to Weather Channel meteorologist Jon Erdman, adding that Boulder picked up almost nine times its average September monthly rainfall in almost four days.

Finally, winds 15,000 feet above the ground were generally blowing from southeast to northwest and were light, Erdman says. This allowed the rain and thunderstorms to linger over the foothills and Front Range urban corridor.

“This is a classic scenario for major flooding in northern Colorado,” he says.

Click here to read The Greeley Tribune’s coverage. They’re updating the article every few minutes.

From The Fort Collins Coloradoan (Ryan Maye Handy):

…on Sept. 9, a Monday, it was hard to believe the big storm would bring anything but cool drizzle to Colorado. By Wednesday, the air mass was rapidly becoming a statewide deluge that within hours would sweep away roads, people and homes along the Front Range. What had started as a meteorological oddity had become something deadly, something historic.

Fort Collins, a city accustomed to flash floods, went about its normal business in a Wednesday morning drizzle. Residents might have been blissfully unaware, but local forecasters had already flagged the storm sitting over Larimer County as something unusual, containing almost unbelievable amounts of water. If the storm hit the Front Range, it would be bigger than the worst Colorado floods, covering more ground than the Big Thompson Flood of 1976 and the floods of 1965.

On Wednesday morning, a storm that big was just hard to believe.

Twelve hours later, the unbelievable happened: Walls of water washed through Colorado’s foothills, disintegrating bridges and roads, marooning mountain residents and killing at least four people.

“This is worse than Big Thompson, and I never thought I’d say that,” said Erick Nielsson, the emergency manager for Larimer County. Nielsson was an EMT in 1976 when the Big Thompson River flood killed 143 people in Larimer County.

Last weekend, the wet air mass soon to hit Colorado was swirling over Arizona and New Mexico. It looked like an average summer monsoon, a rapidly moving system of wet air that triggers well-known short downpours in Colorado.

“But this was better than average,” said Nolan Doesken, a state climatologist, of the epic storm. “This was a particularly concentrated moist air mass, and the kind you associate with the remnants of a tropical storm. (But), I don’t recall this being the remnants of a tropical storm.”

Once the storm reached Colorado, light winds and the mountains pushed it up high — and there it stuck, dumping for hours over Colorado Springs, Boulder and throughout Larimer County. In a matter of days, it dumped a year’s worth of rain in parts of Colorado. The rain fell onto burn scars, into dams and rivers; unlike a wildfire, it could not be mitigated or stopped, only endured. Days later, the damage it wrought is still being tallied, and if history is any precedent, it could take Colorado months to rebuild the roads and communities that were washed away…

Big wet air masses such as these don’t just hit, they need to be set up by wind, heat and geography. On Monday, Doesken and his colleagues wondered if all the right ingredients would come into play to make this storm as big — and possibly as dangerous — as it seemed.

Everything, it turns out, fell into place. Although temperatures in Fort Collins, and around the state, dropped rapidly Monday, a cold front with easterly winds had pushed the storm against the Front Range. Once there, the steep hillsides lifted the storm in what’s called an upslope flow.

“It wasn’t really a strong wind but enough to keep putting moist air against the foothills,” Doesken said. “There was obviously a regional updraft that really accentuated the precipitation.”[…]

That Wednesday morning Doesken read the detailed weather reports put out by NWS — stuff “only us nerds read,” he said — and saw that computer models were pointing to much more moisture than was predicted.

Weather models were “going nuts with precipitation for Wednesday,” but the Boulder National Weather Service forecaster essentially said, “ ‘I’m not sure I can buy that,’ ” Doesken recalled.

Weather service forecasters weren’t the only ones who doubted the measurements. Russ Schumacher, an assistant professor of atmospheric science at Colorado State University, couldn’t believe the weather models either.

“It’s one of those things where, when the models are telling you that there’s the chance that something might happen that has never happened before, you tend not to believe that it is going to happen,” he said.

Click here go to Brendan’s Weather Blog for the cool graphics and photos of the storm.

Great round up of pictures in this photo gallery–some are stunning #COflood

Rain totals in Northern Colorado

Tropical moisture responsible for ‘biblical’ Colorado floods #COflood

Boulder County rain this week is truly beyond belief #COflood

Truly historic rain being reported with this storm #COflood

Colorado River District’s annual water seminar — ‘Shrinking in Supply – Growing in Demand’ #ColoradoRiver

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I’m in Grand Junction for the Colorado River District’s annual water seminar. I plan to live tweet the shindig @CoyoteGulch if I have connectivity and power.

More Colorado River Basin coverage here and here.

Phenomenal rain reports coming in from all over Boulder County

Weekly Climate, Water and Drought Assessment of the Upper Colorado River Basin #COdrought #ColoradoRiver

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Click on the thumbnail graphic for the water year to date precipitation map for the Upper Colorado River Basin from the Colorado Climate Center. Click here to read the current assessment.

More Colorado River Basin coverage here and here.

Arkansas Basin Roundtable meeting recap

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

The Arkansas Basin Roundtable is pondering whether to endorse its chairman as a state contractor in order to finish its piece of the state water plan. After sending Chairman Gary Barber away from the table Wednesday, the roundtable deliberated over whether Barber could spend the next year leading the group while being paid to put the finishing touches on a basin implementation plan. The $35,000 contract would be funded through the Colorado Water Conservation Board, possibly as a subcontract under CDM Smith consultants that is already held by the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District.

While that made some in the room uncomfortable — state laws prevent board members of special districts from profiting — they were willing to let Barber do both jobs if the state gives its approval. “Gary could be asked to step down, but nobody understands all the moving parts of the roundtable better than he does,” said Alan Hamel, who is the vice chairman of the roundtable and a CWCB member.

Hamel said the Arkansas Basin Roundtable is ahead of others in the state because of Barber’s leadership. Everyone at the table agreed. “Gary has taken us a very long way,” added Jay Winner, manager of the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District. “And there is the question, ‘Who else is willing to be chair?’ ”

The roundtable has members appointed by counties, cities and districts within the Arkansas River basin, but it does not issue contracts, collect fees or pay employees. Members serve in a volunteer capacity.

Barber was appointed in 2005 to represent El Paso County, where he works for a water consulting firm.

The roundtable delayed its decision until next month, when its elections for officers will be held as well.

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Water projects are notorious for taking years to complete and creating controversy in communities. But a 15-mile line to the Ordway Feedyard from nearby wells was completed in less than six months and in the nick of time to save one of Crowley County’s leading businesses. It was completed with rare cooperation from water interests throughout the Arkansas Valley.

Tyler Karney explained the importance of the pipeline Wednesday to the Arkansas Basin Roundtable, which recommended state approval for the project. He thanked the roundtable, Crowley County commissioners and the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District, among others for their help. “We came to the roundtable in January seeking approval for the project. Construction began May 1,” said Karney, manager of the 65,000-head cattle operation. “The first water arrived from the pipeline June 28. On July 2, Lake Henry went dry.”

The $3.2 million pipeline project was promoted as an alternative to taking water from Lake Henry to supply the feedlot. Water flowed by gravity from Lake Henry, but is pumped uphill through the new pipeline. Traditionally, the feed yard was able to buy water on the spot market and run it down the Colorado Canal into Lake Henry. But the uncertainty of supply during drought precipitated a change of plans.

Last year, the feedlot signed a 15-year lease to purchase 700 acre-feet of raw water annually from the Pueblo Board of Water Works at more than $250,000 per year. The company also put $600,000 of its own money into the pipeline project, which was matched with a loan of $2.3 million and grant of $275,000 from the Colorado Water Conservation Board, which were approved in March.

The feedlot needs as much water as a city of 5,500 people would require for its 65,000 head of cattle. It’s the third-largest employer in Crowley County and has a $50 million impact annually on the local economy. It was built in 1972, but the owners subsequently sold off most of the water rights to large cities.

More IBCC — basin roundtables coverage here.

Colorado Water Plan: Is there any water left on the west slope to send across the Great Divide? #ColoradoRiver

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As the IBCC and basin roundtables along with the CWCB gear up to produce Colorado’s first statewide water plan the question is how much water is left to develop? Here’s a report about the early west slope efforts from Hannah Holm writing for the Glenwood Springs Post Independent. Here’s an excerpt:

According to the “Grand Valley’s Principles for the Colorado State Water Plan,” any statewide water plan that fails to bring in new water will simply shift the burden of an anticipated urban water shortage to farms and streams – both of which, arguably, are already facing shortages of their own.

This document is being submitted to the governing bodies of each of the water providers, including the City of Grand Junction, City of Fruita, Clifton Water District, Town of Palisade, Ute Water Conservancy District, and all of the valley’s irrigation providers, for official approval.

Hickenlooper’s Executive Order directing the CWCB to develop a statewide water plan has set off a flurry of activity by water stakeholders across the state. Under the framework developed by the CWCB, basin roundtables of stakeholders in each of the state’s major river basins plus the Denver metropolitan area are supposed to develop plans to meet their own needs, which will then feed into a statewide plan.

While each basin roundtable is supposed to focus on meeting their internal needs, all are aware that long-running conflicts are likely to heat up as roundtables on the Eastern Slope, home to the most of the demand, look to the Western Slope, home to most of the water, to help meet those needs. As a result, multiple efforts are underway to develop regional alliances around core goals in preparation for what are expected to be intense negotiations.

In addition to the Grand Valley “Principles” document, these include proposed “West Slope Principles” developed by the Water Quality/Quantity Committee of the Northwest Council of Governments (NWCOG) and a draft joint white paper seeking to articulate perspectives shared by basin roundtables on the Eastern Slope.

The “West Slope Principles” proposed by NWCOG, like the Grand Valley document, emphasize the need to ensure that the Colorado Water Plan does not threaten the Western Slope’s water-dependent economic cornerstones: agriculture, resource extraction, recreation and tourism.

Both documents also demand respect for local plans and regulations, environmental protections and measures to limit the risk of a “compact call,” which could result from failing to allow sufficient water to flow down the Colorado River to Arizona, Nevada and California, as required by a 1922 compact between the states that share the river. The NWCOG document, however, focuses on conservation and reuse as measures to reduce Eastern Slope demands on Western Slope water, rather than imports from elsewhere.

Not surprisingly, the draft East Slope Basin Roundtables joint statement, discussed by the South Platte, Arkansas and Metro Roundtables in July, has a different perspective. This draft statement emphasizes the risk of large-scale drying up of Eastern Slope irrigated agriculture if other approaches to meeting Eastern Slope municipal needs are not developed.

It includes many of the approaches called for in the Western Slope documents, including demand management through reuse, aggressive conservation and increased residential densities. The statement also, however, calls for, “when it is needed, development of state water project(s) using Colorado River water for municipal uses on the East and West slopes.”

It’s worth noting that none of these documents are 100% final. However, they do outline persistent areas of regional disagreement about how to best stretch the state’s limited water supplies going forward, as well as some areas of agreement.

More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.

Pueblo places second to Erie at the taste test at the RMSAWWA/RMWEA shindig in Keystone

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

The news might not rank up there with the ThunderWolves’ victory over the Bears, but Pueblo came out on top in a head-to-head matchup against Denver on Tuesday.

However, the city is just No. 2 in the state when it comes to water quality. Pueblo’s water placed second in an annual taste test conducted by the Rocky Mountain Section of the American Water Works Association. The group met this week in Keystone. The contest, judged by a panel of journalists, engineers and public health officials, was staged among 11 municipalities from throughout the state.

Erie, a city of 21,000 in Boulder County, won the competition. Denver Water placed third.

When you ask Don Colalancia, Pueblo’s water quality and treatment manager, about it, he’ll start rattling off chemicals such as powder-activated carbon, potassium permanganate and chloramine as the secret ingredients to Pueblo’s water.

But there’s a simpler explanation: “The big thing is that we have some really good operators at the plant,” Colalancia said. “Any water plant can have taste and odor issues 24 hours a day. We’re constantly testing to catch things on the fly and adjust the chemicals if needed.”

Pueblo’s annual water quality testing shows that the water meets all federal water quality guidelines as well.

There was some grumbling among other contestants after the results were announced. “Fort Collins says they will bring a growler of Fat Tire next year, as it is an example of their ‘finished water,’ ” one observer joked.

More coverage from Cathy Proctor writing for the Denver Business Journal:

I had the honor to be a taste-testing judge at the association’s annual conference in Denver in June, and learned a lot about water taste tests — namely that while it’s fun to sample water, and that water officials are pretty competitive, it’s also a pretty serious aspect of the water-supply business. “It’s the way that people judge the safety of their water,” Pinar Omur-Ozbek told me in June.

She’s an assistant professor at Colorado State University’s department of civil and environmental engineering in Fort Collins — and one of three professional taste testers on the national judging panel. (And she’s far more of an expert than me.) “If it doesn’t smell or taste the way people expect, then they think there’s something wrong,” she said.

More water treatment coverage here.

Salida: Water treatment plant will require $2-3 million in improvements to meet CDPHE standards

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From The Mountain Mail (Casey Kelley):

Because the water treatment plant cannot meet current water-quality regulations, the city of Salida will need to spend $2-3 million on a project to improve the plant. City staff presented details about proposed improvements during a recent city council work session.

The city has three supplies for water: the water treatment plant on CR 120, the galleries system off the South Arkansas River and the seasonal Pasquale Springs, across the Arkansas River from Marvin Park.
Water filtration only occurs at the treatment plant, City Administrator Dara MacDonald told council members. Water from the galleries and Pasquale Springs is chlorinated and sent into the system, she said.
The city constructed the current water treatment plant in 1959. MacDonald said the plant cannot meet water-quality regulations and also produce the 4 million gallons per day (MGD) of water it is designed to produce. She said the filter media and underdrains, which collect the water intake into the plant, are both at the end of their useful lives.

Currently, the plant is permitted to produce 4 MGD but is only utilized for up to 1 MGD, according to MacDonald. She said peak summer demand on the water system is about 2.7 to 2.8 MGD and is generally balanced among the city’s three water sources. “The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment has required either significant upgrades or a new backwash system to eliminate what they see as potential cross-contamination of the potable water entering the system,” MacDonald said. “We live with the potable water and wastewater treatment plants in an increasing world of regulations. Even though the system has worked well for the last 60 years, new inspections breed new suspicion (and) things that need to be changed,” she said.

The project would replace the more than 20-year-old filter media and media troughs in the plant and the more than 50-year-old underdrain system, according to MacDonald. Other upgrades include replacing the flocculation and sedimentation equipment, enclosing the flocculation basin and clarifier, providing an “air scour” backwash system and upgrading the existing supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) computer. “The basic system of how we treat and filter the water that we use today would largely remain in place, and we would reuse a lot of the existing plant,” MacDonald said. “We have been working on the design and engineering for the project, and as we’ve gotten further into this, we’ve determined that the only way to accomplish it is to break it into two phases.”

Phase 1 would include work on the filter media, underdrains and air scour to be completed by May. Phase 2 would include work on flocculation and the SCADA system to be constructed by March 2015.
MacDonald said the city plans to begin prepurchasing equipment in October, because the Phase 1 equipment will take between 16 and 18 weeks to arrive.

The total projected cost of the Phase 1 improvements is $1,099,000. Phase 2 estimates range from $1,113,000 to $2,087,000, depending on the capacity and building type that council chooses for the project.
City staff presented three options for Phase 2, depending on how much money council chooses to spend and how much production capacity it wants to secure for the plant.

The first option calls for using the existing flocculation basin to house the new equipment, which MacDonald said would save significant expense. The project would include enclosing the flocculation basin and, if needed, the clarifier to eliminate the freezing, algae and wear the areas currently experience, MacDonald said.

The second option calls for using the clarifier to house the new equipment and planning for a 2 MGD production rate, but with the option of expanding to 4 MGD in the future, if needed.
The third option calls for using the clarifier to house the new equipment and planning for a 4 MGD production rate.

MacDonald said if Phase 2 costs are kept in the range of $1.2 million, the city can complete the project without incurring any debt or increasing rates. With a $4.7 million debt in the water fund and 25 percent of the fund’s revenue obligated to annual debt service, MacDonald said the city is unable to take on additional debt at this time to finance any of the improvements.

The city was awarded a Department of Local Affairs grant for the project, totaling $969,900. “Without the DOLA grant, we probably wouldn’t even be thinking about doing Phase 2 for several years,” MacDonald said. She said with the addition of the $1 million DOLA grant, staff thinks it’s possible to pursue the full project at this time.

MacDonald said the planned project would fully address the needs of the water treatment plant, and improvements wouldn’t be needed for many years to come.

Council gave direction to staff that they liked the second option, which would allow them to expand production at a later date if they felt it is needed. MacDonald said she would bring back revised estimates on the options after talking with the engineers.

More…

Financial breakout

• Phase 1 total cost = $1,099,000 (project cost estimate = $950,000, design costs = $74,000 and bidding/management = $75,000)
• Phase 2 estimates range from $1,113,000 to $2,087,000, depending on the capacity and building type that council chooses for the project.

Three options for Phase 2:
1) 2 MGD production – use existing flocculation basin.
2) 2 MGD production, expandable to 4 MGD – use clarifier.
3) 4 MGD production – use clarifyer.

Financing:

The city received a grant of $969,900 from DOLA, which would cover the majority of Phase 1 of the project, which has a projected cost of $1,099,000. Phase 2, depending on which option council decides upon, could cost an additional $1 million to $2 million.

City Administrator Dara MacDonald told council members they still have substantial reserves built up in the sewer fund, due to delays in the timing of the sewer plant, which would cover the cost of the proposed improvements.

MacDonald told council members at their Sept. 3 work session that financing the project would “pretty much eliminate the reserves that we’ve been building up over the last few years in the water fund to accomplish this project.”

More water treatment coverage here.

Energy Fuels plans to permit the proposed Piñon Ridge uranium mill and then shelve the project for better times

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From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Gary Harmon):

Montrose County officials took heart in Energy Fuels Inc.‘s plans to proceed with permitting its proposed Naturita mill, which it acknowledged to investors won’t go forward until the market improves. “There was no way at the current market price that they could possibly consider” building the $150 million mill, Dianna Reams of Naturita said. “It would be foolhardy at best.”

Energy Fuels leaders told investors last week that construction of the mill would depend on an increase in the price of uranium oxide, currently languishing at $34 a pound. “We are continuing to move the Piñon Ridge Mill forward in permitting,” Energy Fuels spokesman Curtis Moore said. “However, we do not intend to build it until market conditions warrant, and the price of uranium recovers.”

The question on prices “is ‘when,’ not ‘if,’ ” Moore said.

The Telluride-based Sheep Mountain Alliance, which has opposed Energy Fuels in court, said it’s clear that Energy Fuels has no intention of building the mill. “It is time for elected officials and community leaders to work towards real and achievable economic opportunities for the West End communities,” Sheep Mountain Alliance Director Hilary Cooper said. “These could include the development of clean, renewable energy, small-scale agriculture and cultural and recreational opportunities which would all provide long-term growth benefits.”

Energy Fuels has been telling county officials for the last six months that building the mill was untenable at current prices. “It’s all economics,” White said, noting that the price of uranium still could rise. “What we have to remember is that the U.S. does import 94 percent of the uranium it uses” and a breakdown in the foreign supply could force prices back up, White said.

Global uranium prices have been hit with the double-whammy of the rise of natural gas and the 2011 earthquake and tsunami that caused a meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant.

Montrose County is considering helping to fund an economic development office for what is known as the West End of the county, including the towns of Naturita, Norwood and Nucla, White said. West End residents are familiar with the market constraints on Energy Fuels, White said. “Mining has been a part of their heritage for 100 years and so they know the ups and downs of the mining industry,” White said.

Energy Fuels has submitted construction plans for the mill, which would occupy an 800-acre site near Naturita, said Reams, whose family is involved in construction and mining. “It does clear way for construction as soon as they are ready to go.”

More nuclear coverage here and here.

The secession winds are blowing across the US

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From the Washington Post (Michael S. Rosenwald) via the Loveland Reporter-Herald:

West Virginia was the last state to break off from another. Now, 150 years later, a 49-year-old information technology consultant wants to apply the knife to Maryland’s five western counties. “The people are the sovereign,” says Scott Strzelczyk, leader of the fledgling Western Maryland Initiative, and the western sovereigns are fed up with Annapolis’s liberal majority, elected by the state’s other sovereigns.

“If you think you have a long list of grievances and it’s been going on for decades, and you can’t get it resolved, ultimately this is what you have to do,” says Strzelczyk, who lives in New Windsor, a historic town of 1,400 people in Carroll County. “Otherwise you are trapped.”

Strzelczyk’s effort is one of several across the country to separate significant portions of states from, as he puts it, “the dominant ruling class.” Nearly a dozen northern Colorado counties are the furthest along, with nonbinding referendums set for November ballots. The Upper Peninsula of Michigan is making a move to join with parts of Wisconsin. Northern California counties want to form a state called Jefferson.

Historians, political scientists and the leaders of the movements say secession efforts are being fueled by irreconcilable differences on issues such as gun control, taxes, energy policy, gay marriage and immigration — all subjects of recent legislative efforts at state and federal levels. The notion of compromise is a non-starter. With secessionists, the term “final straw” comes up a lot…

What’s different now is how the secession efforts illuminate a hard truth about the country: The rural-urban divide is increasingly a point of political conflict. The population boom in urban areas such as Baltimore and the Maryland suburbs near the District of Columbia, the Boulder-Denver areas in Colorado, and in Detroit have filled state legislatures with liberal policymakers pushing progressive agendas out of sync with rural residents, who feel increasingly isolated and marginalized.

In Maryland, the five western counties — Garrett, Allegany, Washington, Frederick and Carroll — represent just 11 percent of Maryland’s population, according to 2010 Census figures. They earn less than the people who live in more urban areas. They vote overwhelmingly for Republicans in a deeply Democratic state. Nearly 90 percent of the residents are white, compared with 51 percent elsewhere. About 60 percent were born in Maryland vs. 46 percent in other parts of the state…

Olden’s views are generally not the same as those that dominate Maryland’s urban centers. She is against gay marriage. She is against what she describes as “the horrible encroachment on Second Amendment rights.” She opposes abortion.

She is fed up with taxes, and was particularly galled by the “rain tax” — a stormwater management fee — approved during the last legislative session.

“Taxing the friggin’ rain?” she says. “The next thing they tax will be the air we breathe.”[…]

The best case scenario, experts say, is that the threat of walking out somehow gets people back to the table. (Comparisons to marriage counseling come to mind.) In Colorado, Gov. John Hickenlooper, D, has said that he doesn’t agree with the secession movement there, but his public comments on the issue suggest that the efforts are at least seen as real.

And in the end, just having their voices heard could, perhaps, soothe the situation for frustrated voters like Olden.

“Best case scenario: It works. Worst case: Nothing changes,” she says. “But if it doesn’t work, maybe they will finally see that the populous really is fed up.”

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Charles Ashby):

State Sen. Greg Brophy is pretty certain he wants to be governor of Colorado. But if some people in several of the counties in his expansive northeast Colorado Senate district have their way, the Wray Republican who’s seeking the GOP nomination to challenge Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper soon could live in another state. The state of North Colorado.

Brophy, who’s in town to attend this weekend’s Club 20 fall meeting, said that while he encouraged commissioners in numerous counties in his district to place a 51st state initiative on their November ballots, he isn’t necessarily in favor of the idea.

Officials in such northeast Colorado counties as Weld, Morgan and Logan have pushed the idea of creating their own state because they don’t feel the Legislature is listening to them.

But while Brophy said he understands that sentiment, the longtime state legislator said the issue puts him in an awkward position. “I encouraged my county commissioners to move forward with this to catch the governor’s attention and the state Legislature’s attention,” Brophy said. “I think that most of the counties will vote to secede, but it won’t pass through the state Legislature.”

If such a vote passed, though, Brophy said he would be obligated to introduce a measure into the Legislature if his constituents demanded it of him, even though he’s not sure how he would vote on it. That’s because Brophy is hoping to persuade GOP voters in that district and elsewhere in the state that he should be their pick for governor when Hickenlooper comes up for re-election next year, and not one of the five other Republicans in the race.

That group includes former congressman Tom Tancredo and current Secretary of State Scott Gessler, who has created a gubernatorial campaign and is set to announce next week whether he plans officially to enter the race. “If we run a Republican with a fresh face — but with the experience to immediately be effective and have the ability to appeal to the center of Colorado as a guy who’s interested in the things that they’re interested in, and someone they could trust — then the Republicans could win this gubernatorial election probably easier than anyone thinks,” Brophy said. 
“I think I’m that guy.”

When it comes to creating a new state, though, even Brophy doesn’t believe the effort is all that serious, saying that most of his neighbors see it as a protest more than anything else.

But would Brophy carry a bill in the 2014 legislative session allowing some northern Colorado counties to leave the state? “I have been obviously wrestling with that one,” he said. “Let’s wait to see the outcome of the vote before I decide what it is I have to do.”

From WYOFile.com (Kerry Drake):

Wyoming was granted statehood in 1890, but it took Republicans in the northern half of the state 49 years to decide that things just weren’t working out for them. Like their counterparts today in northern Colorado, they were fed up with the Democrats in the rest of the state having control of state government. They particularly despised Union Pacific and union workers.

But Swickard and his associates didn’t bother with petitions to get the secession issue on the ballot. Instead, they simply did what made sense and started acting like a state. After getting some like-minded residents in neighboring South Dakota and Montana to join the effort, Absaroka began issuing its own license plates. Swickard and his fellow rebels hosted the king of Norway, billing it as an official state visit that proved Absaroka was being recognized by world leaders, even though the king had just happened to be passing through southeastern Montana.

The new state even had a contest to crown its first beauty queen, Miss Absaroka, who turned out to also be the last Miss Absaroka when the movement faded into obscurity later in 1939.

Most of what has been recorded about the history of Absaroka is from the Federal Writers’ Project, which helped document New Deal life throughout the country. The primary motivation behind the new state was apparently dissatisfaction with how little money from the federal government was being doled out to northern agricultural interests that had been plagued for years by drought and grasshopper infestations…

What caught my attention, though, was that because the secession movement’s leaders recognize that fact, they are already looking at alternate plans, and one of them is for the northeastern Colorado counties to be annexed by Wyoming. No one seems to know exactly how this might be accomplished, but several county commissioners said they are studying the issue to determine if it’s viable. Some suggested that it could require only a state constitutional amendment instead of state and federal legislative approval.

At this point we Wyomingites need to call a time-out and yell, “Wait a minute — don’t we have a say in this?” Just because they may want to become residents of Wyoming doesn’t mean we have to let them. Do they know nothing about our historic, incredibly strong independent spirit, or the fact that many of our residents see Colorado license plates and have nothing but disdain for the people driving through the state? They’re certainly welcome to stop, eat, gas up, look around for a while and even stay a night or two, but after they’ve bought their souvenirs and seen Yellowstone or the Frontier Days rodeo, it’s time for them to go home.

From The Greeley Tribune (Analisa Romano):

Weld County commissioners on Tuesday announced they will publish a series of editorials in support of the 51st state initiative, with plans to release the series before early voting begins and Weld County residents voice whether they wish to secede from Colorado. The string of articles will answer specific questions that commissioners said have been asked since they proposed the initiative, and will outline their frustrations with the Colorado Legislature and Gov. John Hickenlooper that led them to suggest secession. “For too long we have endured the arrogance and, yes, elitism of the state Legislature and the Governor’s Office. They mock us, they refuse to listen and they dismiss our concerns,” commissioners said in a news release. “As your Board of County Commissioners, we have been ridiculed for having the audacity to even suggest we pursue separating from the rest of Colorado. The fact is, the state many of us grew up in, the state we love, is slipping away into something many Colorado residents no longer recognize.”

Commissioners said they will address a number of topics over the next six weeks, including water, energy, education and agriculture, highlighting the tensions between rural and urban needs and responding to some questions about how those things would be handled in a new state. Weld County Commissioner Sean Conway said commissioners would write editorials about any other questions that constituents have about county government, and that many residents have asked him and his fellow commissioners if they were going to disseminate any information before the vote in November.

Commissioners said it doesn’t cost the county any money to place the initiative on the ballot because counties must pay for elections anyway. “We do not believe it is a waste of time to go out into the community and provide an opportunity for residents to be heard. We do not think it is a waste of energy to discuss your concerns and listen to your frustrations. We do not think it is a waste of money to exercise one of our fundamental rights under the constitution — the right to vote. We do not think it is audacious to stand up to a government that has failed to live up to our expectations,” commissioners said in the release.

Jennifer Finch, spokeswoman for the Board of Weld County Commissioners, said four county employees have spent time on the 51st state initiative: Finch, the county attorney and two people in the finance department. She said the county attorney has spent about four hours working on the ballot language and other issues, she has spent about 10 hours answering press calls, writing press releases and updating the commissioners’ web page and the finance employees have spent about 3.5 hours responding to the board’s questions.

Commissioners have also spent time answering questions, participating in interviews and providing information to the public, but that is what they are elected to do, Finch said — talk to their constituents and try to answer their questions. “I certainly don’t think it’s a waste of energy ever to discuss concerns, listen to concerns from constituents,” said Weld County Commissioner Barbara Kirkmeyer.

She said the ultimate way for Weld residents to show their support or distaste for the measure is to vote this November, which is why commissioners chose to put it on the ballot.

Weld County Commissioner Doug Rademacher has said he expects the initiative to pass in Weld County by a 60-40 margin. Commissioners said out of more than 400 people who spoke at the four public meetings they held to hear residents’ opinions on the proposal, about 60 people, or 15 percent, spoke flatly against it.

More 51st state initiative coverage here.

Erie wins the taste test at the RMSAWWA/RMWEA shindig in Keystone

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From The Denver Post:

So who has the best tasting water in the Rocky Mountain region?

Why the town of Erie, of course.

The Boulder County community placed in the top spot at the annual water-tasting competition in Keystone on Tuesday, according to Aurora Water spokesman Greg Baker.

Coming home with the second-place ribbon was the Pueblo Board of Water Works. Denver Water finished third.

Some 11 municipalities competed for the title of best water in the region. The water is rating for taste, odor and appearance. Erie will now go onto the national “Best of the Best” taste test at the annual American Water Works Association conference in Boston in June.

From the City of Aurora via email:

Keystone, Colorado (September 10, 2013) – Who has the tastiest water in the Rocky Mountain states? According to the judges at a taste test at the 2013 Rocky Mountain Section of the American Water Works (RMSAWWA) annual conference in Keystone, Erie, Colorado has the best water in the region. 11 municipalities competed for the title of water in the region, taste, odor and appearance. The winner of this competition will represent the RMSAWWA at the national “Best of the Best” taste test at the AWWA Conference in Boston next June.

The winners of today’s competition were Town of Erie taking first place, the Pueblo Board of Water Works in second and Denver Water coming in third place. Accepting the award for the Erie Water Department was Jon Mays, Water & Wastewater Supervisor for the town of Erie.

Judging this event were Matt Renoux, with 9News in Denver, Lauren Glendenning, reporter with the Colorado Mountain News Media, Tyson Ingels, Lead Drinking Water Engineer with the Water Quality Control Division from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, John Alston, Vice-President for the American Water Works Association, and Jamie Eichenberger with the engineering firm of Brown and Caldwell.

The RMSAWWA is the regional section for the AWWA, which is the largest non-profit, science-based organization for drinking water professionals in the world. The RMSAWWA covers Wyoming, Colorado and New Mexico and has over 2,200 members, representing water utilities, engineering consultants and water treatment specialty firms.

More water treatment coverage here.

Aurora: City Council moves to drop tap fees

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From the Aurora Sentinel (Aaron Cole):

The Aurora City Council on Monday gave initial approval to a measure that would lower tap fees, or the cost to connect new homes to the city’s water system, for most builders in the city. Water officials said the new rates reflect a recalculated formula that anticipates each home’s demand on the system for the next 20 years based on data they’ve analyzed. An average new home in Aurora could cost nearly $8,000 less to connect if the measure passes Sept. 30.

Pieter Van Ry, manager of water engineering for the city’s water department, told the city council that the new formula would result in lower fees for most homebuilders. Currently new homebuilders pay $24,460 for a single-family detached home, regardless of size, to connect to the city’s water system. The new rate, if approved in September that would take effect Nov. 16, would be $16,428 for a 3- or 4-bathroom, single-family home on an 8,000 sq.-ft. lot. That fee would be further reduced by $1,000 if the home’s front yard is xeriscaped.

“The new rates equitably assess a fee based on their projected usage,” Van Ry said. “Every user under this proposal is responsible to pay for their own demand.”

In addition to single-family detached homes, Van Ry said the tap fees would be reduced for most commercial, single-family attached and multifamily homes as well. Mixed-use developments and industrial developments could see tap fee increases based on their usage. Parks and irrigated open spaces for HOAs could see an increase in tap fees for those areas, depending on the type of landscaping.

Van Ry and other city officials said the proposed decrease in tap fees would not affect the city’s water rates.

More Aurora coverage here and here.

Drought news: Parts of Denver Metro got some great moisture yesterday #COdrought

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Click on the thumbnail graphic for the 24 hour precipitation map from the Urban Drainage and Flood Control District. 1.61 inches at the rain gauge nearest Coyote Gulch Manor.

A cold front moved off the Great Divide yesterday and areas of Metro Denver got pounded. Clear Creek was roiling at 5:00 PM — the bike trail underpass at federal was under water. Trees along the creek were flooded as the waters climbed. Hail took down Mrs. Gulch’s heirloom pinto beans in the garden.

Chaffee County commissioners continue 1041 hearings for geothermal regulations

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From The Mountain Mail (James Redmond):

Chaffee County commissioners instructed staff Tuesday to incorporate most of the Chaffee County Planning Commission’s recommendations for the county’s draft geothermal 1041 regulations. During their Tuesday regular meeting, county commissioners also voted to continue hearings on the 1041 regulations for “Use of Geothermal Resources for the Commercial Production of Electricity.”

Commissioners continued the hearing so staff could gather more information about existing use of geothermal resources and to allow time for the League of Women Voters of Chaffee County to review the recommendations.

The commissioners did not make a decision on a recommendation to add the words “legal uses” before “geothermal resources” in the environmental impact analysis section of the application process.

With a domestic well, the owner has no legal right to the water’s heat – only the water itself, Fred Henderson, chief scientific officer for Mt. Princeton Geothermal, said. People using the hot water illegally can change their permits to define and allow use of the heat, he said.

Some businesses, such as bed and breakfasts or vacation rentals, may have used the hot water from their wells for years not knowing they need to change their permit to authorize their use, Don Reimer, Chaffee County development director, said.

The original language of the draft 1041 regulations did not specify “legal” geothermal resources because its vagueness could offer more protection to county residents who use a geothermal resource, Jenny Davis, county attorney, said.

In some cases people may have used the resource before a process to define and authorize the use existed, she said. If people who rely on the hot water can change their well permits and make their use legal “without breaking their backs,” Chaffee County Commissioner Frank Holman said he would “like to place some onus” on the users to do so.

He asked staff to get more information, such as what is involved in the process, how much it costs and how long it takes.

Of the Planning Commission’s more than 20 recommended changes, most consisted of small changes such as correcting errors and clarifying language, Reimer said.

The substantial change recommendations the commissioners instructed staff to add to the draft include:

• Making all surface use go through a county land-use change permit, instead of addressing the uses in the 1041 process.
• Making exploration going less than 2,500 feet deep require only a notice to the county and no decision.
• Allowing for the appeal of decisions made by the director on activity notices to the board of commissioners.

County commissioners told staff not to incorporate a recommendation allowing for a discharging system. County commissioners started public hearings on the geothermal 1041 regulations in May. During a July 30 public hearing on the proposed new land-use code, planning commissioners decided to ask county commissioners to hold any decisions on the 1041 regulations until the Planning Commission could review and comment on them. The county commissioners agreed Aug. 6 to hold any decision on the regulations and continued their public hearing. The county commissioners will hold their next hearing on the draft regulations Oct. 1. “We’re really close,” Commissioner Dave Potts said.

More geothermal coverage here and here.

NSAA vs. USFS: US Rep. Scott Tipton hopes to thwart any new federal water grabs by codifying western water law

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From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Gary Harmon):

Legislation recognizing the water laws of Colorado and other western states could discourage federal efforts to claim water, said U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Colo. Tipton will introduce legislation aimed at codifying western water law to deter federal pre-emption of water rights, he said. “The West is under assault at this time,” Tipton said Saturday at the fall meeting of Club 20, the Western Slope advocacy organization.

The most recent battleground over water is a demand that ski areas surrender water rights to the U.S. Forest Service as a condition of obtaining their permits to operate on lands administered by the Forest Service.

Forest Service officials said the requirement was necessary to assure the continued use of the water for skiing. Many ski areas use their water rights to make snow.

Ski areas, and others, sued the Forest Service and gained a temporary victory when a federal judge ruled that the agency hadn’t followed federal procedures when it applied the directive in 2011 to the new owners of Powderhorn Mountain Resort near Grand Junction. The new owners were required to agree to the directive before they could open the mountain that ski season. The National Ski Areas Association said the demand amounted to a federal taking of private property.

Tipton said he will unveil the legislation, which will amount to a simple, two-page bill, in September.

More water law coverage here and here.

CWCB: The next Water Availability Task Force meeting is September 12

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From email from the Colorado Water Conservation Board (Ben Wade):

The next Water Availability Task Force meeting is scheduled for Wednesday, September 18 from 9:30-11:45am & will be held at the Colorado Parks & Wildlife Headquarters, 6060 Broadway, Denver in the Bighorn Room.

More CWCB coverage here.

US Representative Cory Gardner plans legislation ‘that fixes the broken permitting system’

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From The Greeley Tribune (Eric Brown):

Many water providers and users in Weld County say they’re elated that one of their representatives in Washington is trying to fix the “cumbersome” and “inefficient” federal permitting process for new water-storage projects. Rep. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., has proposed legislation that would require federal regulators to approve or deny permits for reservoir projects within 270 days after a state’s governor endorses a water project. If a decision isn’t made within 365 days of the governor’s endorsement, the project would be automatically approved, according to Gardner’s proposed legislation, which also looks to create a federal “Office of Water Storage.”

“We’re thrilled that there are efforts in place to address this,” said Jon Monson, water and sewer director for the city of Greeley.

He noted that one of the city’s planned projects — a 30-mile pipeline that would transport more drinking water from its Bellvue Water Treatment Plant northwest of Fort Collins to Greeley — has been in the federal permitting process for about five years, and the city’s planned Milton-Seaman Reservoir has been in the federal permitting stage for nearly 10 years. “(The federal permitting process) we have just doesn’t work in meeting the challenges we face,” he said.

While touring Weld County on Aug. 30, Gardner said he plans to introduce his water-storage legislation in Washington this month.

Monson added that he and others with the city of Greeley are eager to learn more specific details of Gardner’s proposed legislation, and hope to take part in discussions with him. Many water users and experts — particularly in the South Platte River basin, where Greeley and other rapidly growing communities try to coexist with large, water-dependent agriculture and oil and gas industries — stress the need for building more reservoirs, and building them in a timely manner.

According to the 2010 Statewide Water Supply Initiative report, Colorado could face as much as a 600,000 acre-foot supply gap by 2050.

Most water experts, like Monson, agree that a variety of efforts, including water-conversation measures, will be needed to address the issue.

But many also say building new water-storage projects will be as critical as any other efforts.

Water has been in tight supply for many Front Range users recently, largely due to the widespread drought of 2012.

Many users, particularly farmers, have expressed frustration that during the above-average snowpack years of 2009, 2010 and 2011, the South Platte River basin watched about 1.4 million acre-feet of water above what’s legally required flow into Nebraska, according to numbers provided by the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District in Berthoud. That much extra water was flowing into Nebraska because there weren’t enough reservoirs in the basin to capture the abundant snowmelt, they say, and having more reservoirs would have made a huge difference in enduring the 2012 drought.

But because the federal permitting process can take several years, if not longer, many needed projects aren’t in place yet, farmers and others say.

While many in Weld County are in favor of Gardner’s efforts to speed up the federal permitting process, some have raised concerns. Environmentalists, including the Fort Collins-based Save the Poudre organization, said last week that Gardner’s bill would “gut” the National Environmental Policy Act and create a new bureaucracy within the Army Corps of Engineers.

To the disappointment of many water users and officials in Weld County, Gardner’s proposed legislation wouldn’t impact the Northern Integrated Supply Project, which calls for building two new reservoirs — one northwest of Fort Collins, and one in northern Weld County — to supply 15 providers with 40,000 acre feet of new water each year. Gov. John Hickenlooper has not endorsed the project. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has been reviewing the project since 2004, when the Northern Water officials first submitted an application for the project.

“It wouldn’t solve everything, but we certainly need something to speed up this process,” said Frank Eckhardt, a LaSalle-area farmer. Eckhardt, a board member for the Central Colorado Water Conservancy District in Greeley and for local irrigation-ditch companies, has long been involved in discussions regarding water-storage endeavors, like the Chatfield Reservoir Reallocation Project.

Despite its support from Gov. Hickenlooper and other state water officials, the Chatfield project — which would nearly double the size of the reservoir south of Denver, and deliver more water downstream to local farmers in the Central district and other water users — has been in the federal permitting process for more than a decade, Eckhardt said. Eckhardt is grateful that Chatfield’s federal permitting process is reportedly nearing the finish line, but said the additional water provided by the project was already needed in recent years. Central Water, which provides augmentation water to more than 100,000 acres of irrigated farm ground in the area, is one of 11 water-providers participating in the proposed Chatfield project. The $184 million endeavor would raise the Denver-area lake by as much as 12 feet, and, in doing so, would provide an additional 2,849 acre-feet of water annually to some of Central’s users.

Local farmers, like Eckhardt, say they need to secure such water supplies, and quickly, because the cities around them are growing and are increasing their own water needs. Central Water and the farmers within its boundaries have long been dependent on leasing excess water from local cities, but those supplies are becoming more limited, and expensive. “We’re running out of time,” Eckhardt said. “We need more storage quickly.”

Keystone: 2013 RMSAWWA/RMWEA Joint Annual Conference September 8 to 11

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Click here to go to the website. Here’s the pitch:

The 2013 Joint Annual Conference of the Rocky Mountain Section of the American Water Works Association (RMSAWWA) and the Rocky Mountain Water Environment Association (RMWEA) will be held in Keystone, Colorado, from September 8 to 11.

Join over 800 of your peers and colleagues in the water industry for 4 days of exhibits, technical presentations and networking opportunities. Dedicated volunteers from the RMSAWWA and RMWEA have worked countless hours to make this years conference a tremendous success. From the Exhibit Hall featuring more than 100 booths to the technical sessions jam-packed with the most up-to-date information, you’ll join over 800 representatives of the Rocky Mountain water industry who have concluded…if you’re only going to attend one conference this year, the 2013 RMSAWWA/RMWEA Joint Annual Conference is the place to be.

From the Summit Daily News (Breeana Laughlin):

Water utility workers and engineers from Colorado, New Mexico and Wyoming are gathering in Keystone this weekend to brush up on their skills and compete in a water taste test. Members of the Rocky Mountain American Water Works Association and the Rocky Mountain Water Environment Association are holding the competition at a joint regional conference Sept. 8-11. Large and small municipal water utilities will put their tap water to the test on Tuesday. Each sample will be judged on its appearance, smell, taste and overall impression…

The taste test is only one component of the annual event for water- and waste-treatment workers. The conference is held to broaden the pool of knowledge, give utility workers access to resources and gain certifications to become compliant with rules and regulations.

More water treatment coverage here.

‘Most states don’t do a comprehensive qualitative and quantitative analysis on vulnerability’ — Taryn Finnessey

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From the High Country News (Tay Wiles):

“(That summer, 2002,) was hellacious,” remembers Reagan Waskom, co-chair of the state’s drought task force agricultural team. “So hot, so windy, so dry. It was all just kind of exploding.” The 2002 drought, scientists later reported in the state drought plan, was, “based on studies of tree rings and archaeological evidence from aboriginal cultures… arguably the most severe in the recorded history of the state.” And the state was caught off-guard, scrambling to respond to a severe emergency.

Since then, Waskom says, Colorado has learned some lessons. This month, the state’s drought task force will finish revising its Drought Mitigation and Response Plan, which aims to reduce short- and long-term impacts of water shortages by planning ahead in all sectors. Beginning with the first major overhaul, which was in 2010, the massive plan has increasingly focused on proactive mitigation rather than just response. That means more weather forecasting and assessing which state assets and which counties are most vulnerable to future drought. Though there’s still plenty of work to be done, Colorado’s plan has become a model for other states in the region.

“Most states don’t do a comprehensive qualitative and quantitative analysis on vulnerability. They focus on the response plan, but they don’t tie all the pieces together,” says Taryn Finnessy, climate change specialist with the Colorado Water Conservation Board and lead coordinator of the plan. Filling gaps in climate data for various regions in the state, partnering with NOAA to create new tools to measure precipitation, and plans to name a drought “impact czar” are just a few examples of how Colorado has distinguished itself in the drought planning world. The state now also has a “toolbox” of guidelines and resources for municipalities and local water providers to draft their own plans, and a website where individuals can monitor water restrictions in their area.

NWS Pueblo: Some Relief in the Drought with the Active Monsoon #COdrought

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From the National Weather Service Pueblo office:

SYNOPSIS…

THE ACTIVE SUMMER MONSOON OF 2013 BROUGHT MUCH NEEDED RAINFALL TO MUCH OF SOUTH CENTRAL AND SOUTHEAST COLORADO…PROVIDING SOME SHORT TERM RELIEF TO THE DROUGHT ACROSS THE AREA. HOWEVER…MUCH MORE PRECIPITATION WILL BE NEEDED…ESPECIALLY OVER THE SOUTHEAST PLAINS…TO ERASE PRECIPITATION DEFICITS ACCUMULATED OVER THE PAST TWO YEARS OF DROUGHT.

THE CURRENT US DROUGHT MONITOR CONTINUES TO SHOW IMPROVEMENT IN THE DROUGHT ACROSS SOUTH CENTRAL AND SOUTHEAST COLORADO…ESPECIALLY FOR THE PIKES PEAK REGION AND PORTIONS OF EASTERN MOUNTAINS AND ADJACENT PLAINS…WHICH SAW SUMMER PRECIPITATION TOTALS OF 150 TO 200 PERCENT OF NORMAL.

WITH THIS IN MIND…MODERATE (D1) DROUGHT CONDITIONS ARE NOW INDICATED ACROSS MUCH OF EL PASO COUNTY.

EXCEPTIONAL (D4) DROUGHT CONDITIONS ARE NOW LIMITED TO CROWLEY AND OTERO COUNTIES…AS WELL AS WESTERN KIOWA COUNTY AND EXTREME WESTERN PORTIONS OF BENT COUNTY.

EXTREME DROUGHT (D3) CONDITIONS ARE NOW INDICATED ACROSS EXTREME SOUTHEASTERN EL PASO COUNTY…CENTRAL PORTIONS AND EXTREME EASTERN PUEBLO COUNTY…THE EASTERN TWO THIRDS OF LAS ANIMAS COUNTY…AS WELL AS BACA COUNTY…PROWERS COUNTY AND THE REST OF KIOWA AND BENT COUNTIES. EXTREME DROUGHT (D3) CONDITIONS ALSO REMAIN DEPICTED ACROSS EXTREME SOUTHWESTERN MINERAL COUNTY.

SEVERE DROUGHT (D2) CONDITIONS ARE NOW INDICATED ACROSS WESTERN AND EASTERN PORTIONS OF PUEBLO COUNTY…AS WELL AS EXTREME SOUTHERN AND EXTREME WESTERN PORTIONS OF EL PASO COUNTY. SEVERE DROUGHT (D2) CONDITIONS REMAIN ACROSS TELLER COUNTY…FREMONT COUNTY…CUSTER COUNTY…HUERFANO COUNTY AND THE REST OF LAS ANIMAS COUNTY. SEVERE DROUGHT (D2) CONDITIONS ALSO REMAIN DEPICTED ACROSS THE REST OF MINERAL COUNTY AND MOST OF SAGUACHE COUNTY…AS WELL AS ALL OF RIO GRANDE…CONEJOS…ALAMOSA AND COSTILLA COUNTIES.

MODERATE DROUGHT (D1) CONDITIONS REMAIN INDICATED ACROSS EXTREME NORTHERN SAGUACHE COUNTY…CHAFFEE COUNTY AND EXTREME WESTERN LAKE COUNTY…WITH ABNORMALLY DRY (D0) CONDITIONS REMAINING ACROSS THE REST OF LAKE COUNTY.

MORE INFORMATION ON THE US DROUGHT MONITOR CLASSIFICATION SCHEME CAN BE FOUND AT: WWW.DROUGHTMONITOR.UNL.EDU/CLASSIFY.HTM

SUMMARY OF IMPACTS…

THE BENEFICIAL MONSOONAL RAINS OVER THE PAST FEW MONTHS HAVE PROVIDED SOME SHORT TERM RELIEF IN THE DROUGHT TO MUCH OF THE AREA…INCLUDING IMPROVEMENT IN CROPS AND VEGETATION…DECREASING THE FIRE DANGER AND THE LIFTING OR EASING OF WATER RESTRICTIONS.

THE SUMMER MONSOON…HOWEVER…HAS ALSO CREATED ITS OWN IMPACT WITH INCREASED FLASH FLOODING DANGERS FOR AREAS IN AND AROUND RECENT BURN SCARS. SEVERAL DESTRUCTIVE FLASH FLOODS HAVE BEEN RECORDED SINCE JULY 1ST…ESPECIALLY ACROSS TELLER AND EL PASO COUNTIES…DUE TO THE LOSS OF VEGETATION AND THE DEVELOPMENT OF HYDROPHOBIC SOILS CAUSED BY THE RECENT WILDFIRES.

Dillon Reservoir: Happy fiftieth birthday #ColoradoRiver

Denver Water employees Rick Geise and Nate Hurlbut assisted in setting the plug, which helps prevent chunks of ice and snow from falling into the spillway. Photo credit: Denver Water

Here’s the announcement from Denver Water (Stacy Chesney/Travis Thompson):

Summit County residents and visitors are invited to the Dillon Reservoir 50th Anniversary celebration this weekend. This free event will feature Dillon Reservoir’s high-quality recreation activities, including pontoon boat tours, canoeing, kayaking and stand-up paddleboarding, as well as a preview of the 2014 air and water show, a free performance by the band Eyes Wide Open, balloon sculptures and tasty treats from local vendors.

The event is sponsored by the Dillon Reservoir Recreation Committee, an interagency committee comprised of Denver Water, Summit County government, Town of Dillon, Town of Frisco and the U.S. Forest Service.

Dillon Reservoir was completed in 1963 and is Denver Water’s largest reservoir. With 3,300 acres of surface and 27 miles of shoreline, it also is an important recreational amenity, with two marinas and countless activities for residents and visitors to enjoy.

Here’s an guest commentary about the reservoir written by Allen Best that is running in The Denver Post:

Recreational activities on Sunday will be the lion’s share of activities on Sunday when the 50th anniversary of the completion of Dillon Reservoir is marked. That’s proper, in that locals long ago took to calling it “Lake Dillon,” emphasizing its role as a tourism amenity rather than as a vital storage vessel for metropolitan Denver.

But if history were to be properly commemorated, there should be a shouting match as well.

As recent books by both George Sibley and Patty Limerick make clear, there was no small amount of arguing about the water to store behind the dam.

Denver representatives began studying Summit County as a future source for water in 1907. Several other loosely sketched proposals were assembled for tunnels under the Continental Divide to export water. Instead of pursing them, Denver made use of the Moffat Tunnel, which opened for railroad traffic in 1928. After modifying the pioneer bore, Denver in 1936 used it to deliver water from the Fraser Valley and, a few years later, the Williams Fork Valley. The latter is located just north of today’s Eisenhower Tunnel. That water gave Denver and its suburbs the ability to sustain rapid growth after World War II.

But the drought of the mid-1950s demanded additional supply. Denver set out to develop its water rights in Summit County.

Summit County after World War II was “receding into the wilderness,” in the words of the late Ed Quillen, who remembered visiting Breckenridge in the 1950s. Arapahoe Basin started skiing operations in 1946, but Breckenridge didn’t come until 1961, and Keystone and Copper much later yet.

The Western Slope, however, remained wary of water heists. That first significant protest came in the 1930s, when northern Colorado farmers proposed the Colorado-Big Thompson Project. The project, built between 1938 and 1957, was later described by historian David Lavender as a “massive violation of geography.” He referred to the staggering scope of the diversion of waters naturally headed west, but instead steered through a tunnel under Rocky Mountain National Park to the Boulder, Greeley and Fort Collins area.

But in the congressional horse-trading before federal authorization, the Western Slope did get a major benefit: construction by the federal government of Green Mountain Reservoir. This impoundment on the Blue River hold water for late-summer use on farms and orchards in the Grand Junction area and, more recently, for ski area snowmaking.

The Glenwood Springs-based Colorado River Water Conservation District commissioned Sibley to write a history of the district’s 75th anniversary. In researching his 2012 book, “Water Wranglers,” Sibley arrived at a low opinion what was then called the Denver Water Board. “There was not a sense of rational to what Denver did in those years,” says Sibley, mirroring criticism from the Grand Junction Sentinel and other Western Slope opinion leaders of the time.

Central to Denver’s efforts was Glenn Saunders, who refused to accept the senior of the Green Mountain water rights of 1935. Denver could do no better at Dillon than a 1948 decree. It angered Saunders so much, Sibley says, that “he could not be rational about it.”

Denver’s investment at Dillon was instead salvaged by another of its lawyers, Harold Roberts. The 23.3-mile tunnel that delivers water from Dillon to the North Fork of the South Platte River near Grant, 40 miles southwest of Denver, carries Roberts’ name. As for Saunders, very likely Denver’s most forceful and colorful water figure of the 20th century, his name is absent from maps.

In her book, “A Ditch in Time,” which was commissioned by Denver Water, Limerick devotes a full chapter to Saunders, finding him a “fluent speaker of the language of 19th century westward expansion.” In this language, Denver had a right to carve up available natural resources, and in the context of water, had no need to consult the Western Slope.

Denver Water, under the late Chips Barry and now continued by Jim Lochhead, a long-time resident of the Western Slope, have taken a very different tack, seeking collaboration instead of defiance. This attitude is evident in the city’s willingness for lengthy negotiation outside the courtrooms. Lochhead, speaking at a Colorado Oil & Gas Association conference, advised drilling companies to adopt a similar process of up-front community collaboration.

Will the result be any different? Vulnerabilities of the existing water supply in places like Arvada, where I live, became evident in the 2002 drought. Denver, as the water provider for 1.3 million in the metropolitan area, is seeking to haul yet more water from the Fraser Valley. But the trout fishermen I know in Fraser and Granby say there’s just not much water left to take, and warmer, longer summers just may make the problem worse.

More Denver Water coverage here and here.

Havey Productions plans documentary revealing how the destiny of the west is written in the headwaters of Colorado

Diagram depicting average streamflow leaving Colorado -- graphic/State Engineer
Diagram depicting average streamflow leaving Colorado — Graphic/State Engineer

Here’s the release from Havey Productions via the Sterling Journal Advocate:

Emmy Award winning Havey Productions, a Colorado historical documentary film house, announces its next documentary film project: “The Great Divide,” revealing how the destiny of the west is written in the headwaters of Colorado.

“The Great Divide” will take on one of the most pressing and critical issues of our time in order to raise public understanding and appreciation of Colorado’s water heritage while inspiring informed discussion about this vital resource critical to a sustainable future.

“Tens of millions of people, billions of dollars of agricultural production, and an enormous amount of economic activity across a vast swath of America from California to the Mississippi River are all dependent on rivers born in the mountains of Colorado. We hope to help the public better understand the issues impacting water use and policy in the arid west in order to encourage a more informed approach to the subject, moving from a past of conflict to a future of cooperation,” said Producer and Director Jim Havey.

In association with Managing Sponsor Colorado Humanities, The Great Divide will be a feature length documentary film that illustrates the timeless influence of water in both connecting and dividing an arid state and region.

Colorado Humanities Executive Director Maggie Coval says “Having partnered with Havey Productions in bringing a wide range of historical subjects to the screen, I have experienced first hand the impact of these films in raising the level of discussion and debate throughout the state. The Great Divide comes to us at a critical time in planning for our water future in the West.”

In addition to Colorado Humanities, The Great Divide has earned early support from top influencers in the worlds of public policy, conservation, education, law, and science including the Colorado Foundation for Water Education, the One World One Water Center, the Colorado Water Institute and the Center of the American West.

“I have worked in the field of water resources in Colorado for more than 30 years, and now is a perfect time for this film project,” says Tom Cech, Director, One World One Water Center for Urban Water Education and Stewardship at Metropolitan State University of Denver. “Coloradoans generally are aware that we live in a semi-arid environment, but are typically unaware of where their water comes from, why we have a rigid system of water allocation law, or why the Western Slope and the Eastern Slope water interests often have conflict over limited water supplies.

Patty Limerick, Faculty Director and Chair of the Board for the Center of the American West added, “This film offers a very promising way to restore or create an appropriate sense of wonder over the arrangements that support human settlement in this state.”

Colorado Humanities is currently seeking sponsorships and grants from business and nonprofit organizations with an interest in Colorado and western water issues. For more information about Colorado Humanities contact Maggie Coval, Executive Director at (303) 894-7951, Ext. 14, or visit coloradohumanities.org.

Distribution plans for The Great Divide include local and regional PBS, municipal and cable channels. DVDs will be distributed to 2,000 schools and libraries throughout the state for class curriculum and public viewing. Sponsors and interest groups will have the opportunity to screen the film for education and discussion among their networks and constituents. Additional outreach will seek distribution on the regional and national level.

The target completion date for the film is March of 2015.

Energy Fuels plans to permit the proposed Piñon Ridge uranium mill and then shelve the project for better times

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From The Durango Herald (Joe Hanel):

Energy Fuels Resources Inc. will keep holding its license to build the Piñon Ridge uranium mill in the Paradox Valley of Montrose County, but it has no plans to act on the license, said President and CEO Stephen Antony.

“We intend to keep that license in a current, valid form, but not move on construction of the mill until market conditions support it,” Antony said.

The statement is old news to uranium experts, but it comes as a surprise to some Coloradans.

The company’s Piñon Ridge website says, “Energy Fuels anticipates starting construction in late 2012 or 2013.” And its plan on file with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment calls for the mill west of Naturita to be operational by early 2017, with construction beginning in 2015.

Warren Smith, a community involvement manager for the state health department, said Energy Fuels has not contacted his department with any plans to deviate from the schedule it has submitted. The license is valid for five years.

But uranium market analysts have known since Energy Fuels bought the White Mesa uranium mill in Utah that the company has put Piñon Ridge on the back burner. In fact, the company said so itself in a little-noticed statement in December 2012. It came in an annual report filed with financial regulators in Canada, where Energy Fuels is incorporated.

“With the recent acquisition by the Company of the White Mesa Mill, the Company no longer needs to construct the Piñon Ridge Mill in order to meet its planned production for the foreseeable future. Therefore, the Company does not intend to proceed with construction of the mill at this time,” the report said.

More nuclear coverage here and here.

Western Water Assessment’s latest climate briefing

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Click here to go to their climate dashboard. Scroll down for the latest briefings.

Throughout August, the monsoon continued to bring subtropical moisture into the region, but the results were more spotty than in July. Much of Colorado, southern Utah, and far northeastern Wyoming were wetter than average, but northern Utah and the rest of Wyoming were drier than averageWestern US Seasonal Precipitation. The southern Front Range including Colorado Springs saw 5–8″ of rainfall for the month, with some locations seeing about half of their annual average. Conversely, parts of far northern Utah and central and northern Wyoming had less than 25% of average precipitation, and these same areas were also very dry in July. With one month left in the water year, the HPRCC Water Year Precipitation map Western US Seasonal Precipitation still shows only isolated parts of the region with above-average precipitation since October 1.

As in July, the temperatures in AugustWestern US Seasonal Precipitationwere warmer than average across most of the region, except in parts of southern Utah and western Colorado. Most areas were 1–4°F above monthly average temperatures for August. Salt Lake City was again the hot spot, capping off its hottest summer (June–August) ever with a record-hot August 2013 which averaged 82.7°F (5.7°F above average).

Many of the areas that were wetter-than-average during August have improved by one or two categories in the latest US Drought Monitor Modeled Soil Saturation Indexrepresenting conditions as of September 3. The largest areas of improvement are in northeastern Colorado (to D1) and southeastern Colorado (to D2/D3) Modeled Soil Saturation Index. In Wyoming there were smaller areas of improvement in the northeastern and southeastern corners, while D1 expanded slightly in the northwestern corner. In Utah, there was an expansion of D2 in the northwestern part of the state. Overall, drought conditions across the region are similar to where they were at the beginning of June, with improvement in Colorado balanced by drying in Utah and Wyoming.

New federal hydroelectric permitting laws would have helped Ouray with their project

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Here’s a report from Allen Best writing for The Mountain Town News. Click through and read the whole thing. Here’s an excerpt:

[Ouray] Mayor Bob Risch wishes that the two new federal laws signed by President Barack Obama in August had been adopted before he set out to get his project approved.

Those two new laws simplify the federal government’s process for small hydroelectric projects involving pre-existing infrastructure. Promoters say the laws will make it easier to harness the power of flowing water in existing irrigation canals, small dams, and even municipal water lines. Neither of the new laws will result in new dams or diversions. They apply only to existing infrastructure and to installations of 5 megawatts or less.

The previous process was cumbersome. “It was unbelievable,” says Risch, of requirements for the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission permit. “They sent you a list of all the steps you have to go through. For example, it included a list of 55 organizations to which we had to send letters, informing them that we were going to start this process and invite comment from them.”

More hydroelectric coverage here and here.

Durango Herald: ‘Check out this awesome video about how a burnt forest recovers!’