The BLM’s suitability analysis for Wild and Scenic designation for Deep Creek is nearing the end

Deep Creek via the Bureau of Land Management
Deep Creek via the Bureau of Land Management

From the Glenwood Springs Post Independent (John Stroud) via The Aspen Times:

A process that began nearly 19 years ago to have Deep Creek in far eastern Garfield County designated as a Wild and Scenic waterway is nearing the end of a formal suitability analysis as part of the BLM’s new Resource Management Plan.

“We are conducting our suitability analysis for Wild and Scenic Rivers through our RMP,” said David Boyd, spokesman for the U.S. Bureau of Land Management’s Northwest Colorado District. “We anticipate the proposed plan/alternative will be released late this fall or early next year,” he said.

In addition, the White River National Forest is working with the BLM to analyze eligible segments of Deep Creek as it passes through forest lands.

“The draft plan has identified both the BLM and Forest Service segments of Deep Creek as suitable for Wild and Scenic in two alternatives,” Boyd said, including a conservation alternative and a less-restrictive “preferred alternative.”[…]

One other area waterway, the Crystal River south of Carbondale, is in the preliminary stages of being proposed by conservation groups for Wild and Scenic designation as well.

More Wild and Scenic coverage here.

The Middle Colorado Watershed Council E-Newsletter for October 2013 is hot off the presses #ColoradoRiver

The Colorado River in Eagle County
The Colorado River in Eagle County

Click here to read the newsletter.

Aspinall Unit update: Gunnison Tunnel diversions off until spring

Aspinall Unit
Aspinall Unit via The Denver Post

From email from Reclamation (Erik Knight):

With the end of the irrigation season upon us, diversions to the Gunnison Tunnel have been shut down for the winter as of yesterday, October 30. Releases from Crystal Dam will be reduced to 300 cfs today, October 31, at 11 AM. This will leave 300 cfs in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon for the winter months.

More Aspinall Unit coverage here.

‘Piece by piece, we are getting things together, making progress’ — Jerre Stead #COflood

From The Denver Post (Monte Whaley):

Colorado’s flood-recovery chief says there are yawning gaps in the funding available and the funding needed to help home and business owners trying to rebound from the September deluges. As many as 26,000 flood victims have applied for individual assistance through the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which usually gives out about $6,000 in flood aid.

“But many people are getting much less,” said Jerre Stead, appointed by Gov. John Hickenlooper in September as the state’s chief recovery officer.

Stead said his most important job is to listen carefully to the victims of the flooding to make sure they get the resources, and money, to get back to their lives.

“They’ve got to know people care about them, that they are being heard,” said the 70-year-old.

Through the work of local, state and federal recovery teams, as well as the website http://ColoradoUnited.com, information about help is filtering out to people in 24 counties nearly washed away by floodwaters, Stead said.

That help includes raising nearly $12 million for housing for flood victims through groups such as United Way and Red Cross.

About $46 million has been approved for Small Business Administration low-interest disaster loans for about 1,000 homeowners and 121 business, primarily in Boulder, Weld and Larimer counties, he said.

Still, one the biggest problems facing recovery efforts is that officials are still assessing the damage, Stead said. For instance, the toll on the state’s farms and ranches is just now being tallied.

But it’s known that 1,200 farms were impacted by the floods, including 32,000 acres of cropland.

“Piece by piece, we are getting things together, making progress,” Stead said. “But these numbers change daily as we get further and further into the recovery.”

Stead, an Iowa native, has been the executive chairman at Englewood-based IHS since December 2000, a job he took shortly after retiring as the top executive at Ingram Micro. He also has held top jobs at AT&T, Honeywell, Square D and Legent. Stead took over as CEO of IHS in September 2006. The company is a Douglas County provider of information and analysis to businesses and governments across the globe.

In September, Hickenlooper praised Stead as one of the more talented executives in the state, saying “Jerre was really sent from heaven to do this task.”

Stead and his staff are not being paid for their work, which has included touring flood-ravaged areas of the state.

He found the cooperation among local, state and federal agencies heartening, which is helping speed the rebuilding. At least 78 percent of the state’s roadways are now open, and he’s confident the rest will be ready for use by Dec. 1.

“It’s amazing the work being done out there,” Stead said.

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

Upper Colorado River Basin Precipitation from October 21-27, 2013 via the Colorado Climate Center
Upper Colorado River Basin Precipitation from October 21-27, 2013 via the Colorado Climate Center

Click here the read the current assessment. Click here to go to the website hosted by the Colorado Climate Center.

The Roaring Fork Conservancy is studying the effects of drought on invertebrate populations #COdrought

Macro Invertebrates via Little Pend Oreille Wildlife Refuge Water Quality Research
Macro Invertebrates via Little Pend Oreille Wildlife Refuge Water Quality Research

From Aspen Public Radio (Marci Krivonen):

“We just started hearing a lot about it from local fishing guides that they just weren’t seeing the hatches on the river, from local anglers, and even from residents on the Fryingpan,” he says. The problem was the bugs weren’t hatching. The hatches are key to good fishing because the bugs are dinner for trout.

A winter-time phenomenon called anchor ice could be to blame. It’s ice that builds up on the riverbed instead of on the river’s surface and it happens in cold temperatures and shallow waters.

“The river ran at 39 cubic feet per second for almost four months last winter and you probably remember we had a pretty cold winter as well, so there was a lot of concern,” Lofaro says.

The Roaring Fork Conservancy is so concerned it decided to replicate a study done following the 2002 drought. This multi-year analysis will examine bugs in the river, take water temperatures throughout the winter and look at the economic impact of a slower fishing season.

Today a team is collecting bug samples from the Fryingpan River as part of the study. Bill Miller is a biologist from Fort Collins. He is carefully moving bugs and mud into a small container. The contents will be taken to a lab and examined under a microscope.

“In a sample like this, there’ll be hundreds of bugs, so we can’t really tell what the diversity is until we get it into the lab and then go through and sort the sample, and get all the identifications and put them in their classifications,” he says.

The more diversity and the higher amount of bugs mean the stream is healthy. The team is taking samples from three sites along the river and will compare the findings to previous years.

A few miles downriver, a separate team is decked in waders and spread across the width of the river. They’re slowly trudging upstream and catching fish in nets.

This is called “fish shocking” but the team isn’t really shocking the fish. They’re dipping long, metal poles into the river that send out an electrical current. The current attracts fish. For the team of ten, it’s hard work.

More Roaring Fork River Watershed coverage here and here.

US Bureau of Reclamation: Final Grand Lake Water clarity technical review now available #ColoradoRiver

Grand Lake via Cornell University
Grand Lake via Cornell University

Here’s the release from Reclamation (Kara Lamb/Mike Collins):

The Bureau of Reclamation has finalized its Grand Lake Water Clarity Technical Review and Work Plan that addresses concerns of water clarity at Colorado’s Grand Lake. The report is available at http://www.usbr.gov/gp/ecao.

“We appreciate the participation of our partners and stakeholders in this very important process,” said Eastern Colorado Area Manager, Mike Collins. “It has helped us streamline the process and take an important step forward.”

The purpose of the Technical Review is to provide a roadmap outlining the steps required to transition numerous proposed alternatives to improve the clarity of Grand Lake into a 30% engineering design. The Technical Review considers non-construction operational changes, as well as potential constructed alternatives.

To download the report in PDF, please visit http://www.usbr.gov/gp/ecao.

More Colorado River Basin coverage here and here.

NPR: How Much Water Actually Goes Into Making A Bottle Of Water?

Water Footprint via Water Paths
Water Footprint via Water Paths

From NPR (Thomas Anderson Gustafson):

The International Bottled Water Association, ever sensitive to criticism that it’s wasting precious resources, has commissioned its first ever study to figure out how much water goes into producing one liter. The results, released this month, show that for North American companies, it takes 1.39 liters to make one liter of water.

That’s less than the global averages of a liter of soda, which requires 2.02 liters of water. A liter of beer, meanwhile, needs 4 liters of water, wine demands 4.74 liters. Hard alcohol, it turns out, is the greediest, guzzling 34.55 liters of water for every liter.

This, the bottled water industry says, is evidence that its product isn’t so bad. “Bottled water products are extremely efficient in terms of water use compared to some other packaged beverages,” says Chris Hogan, spokesman for the International Bottled Water Association…

Bottled water companies (along with many other beverage companies) should include the water in their supply chain, says Ertug Ercin with the Water Footprint Network. Ercin says a true water footprint includes all freshwater used in production, including the water used for packaging.

“Packaging makes a significant footprint,” he says, adding that three liters of water might be used to make a half-liter bottle. In other words, the amount of water going into making the bottle could be up to six or seven times what’s inside the bottle.

Drilling for oil to make plastic, Ercin says, uses a substantial amount of groundwater. And you need water to make the paper, too, he adds.

Still, Ercin notes, bottled water packaging uses far less water than soda, which needs extra water to grow sugar and make dyes.

The Weld County Council says Weld County Commissioners are OK to advocate for 51st State Initiative

51st State Initiative Map via The Burlington Record
51st State Initiative Map via The Burlington Record

Update: The editorial board of The Greeley Tribune are blasting the Weld County Council over their decision:

If the members of the Weld County Council were trying to throw away their credibility and violate the public’s trust, they accomplished their goals when they voted in secret to table an inquiry into the Board of Weld County Commissioners’ secession efforts and then withheld that decision from the public for more than a week.

From the start three weeks ago, when a group of Greeley attorneys sent a letter to the council questioning the authority of the Weld County commissioners to initiate the 51st state movement and seeking a decision from an independent attorney, the council faced a minefield of potential conflicts of interest and questions about fairness.

» One member of the council, Jeffrey Hare, is a vocal supporter of secession who has played a key role in organizing the 51st state initiative.

» Two other members of the five-member council also have publicly voiced support for secession, the Greeley attorneys said.

» The council’s attorney, Bruce Barker, also represents the commissioners, which calls into question his ability to offer an impartial decision.

Late Wednesday, the council, which is charged with overseeing the commissioners, announced its decision to drop the inquiry in a news release, stating commissioners were acting within their authority. Council Chairman Don Mueller said the decision was made following executive session deliberations, which came at the end of an Oct. 21 public meeting.

However, by the time council members made their announcement about going into executive session — and made their decision — nearly all of the roughly 100 people who had turned up for the meeting were gone, including the council’s attorney. They were gone because Mueller said during the meeting that the council would not make a decision that night. Additionally, the agenda for the meeting made no reference to an executive decision or to a vote.

On Tuesday, Mueller told the Tribune that no decision had been made.

The next day, after announcing the decision, Mueller said council members had debated keeping the decision secret until after Tuesday’s election, when voters would make a decision on a secession-related ballot question.

The council’s behavior evokes the worst kind of back-room dealings and shady politics that have led many Americans to feel jaded about their government. But it’s worse than that. The council’s decision to go into executive session raises a host of questions about whether council members acted legally. According to Colorado open records law, local executive sessions are limited to discussions on security arrangements, property transactions, negotiations (such as with employee organizations), personnel or to seek the advice of legal counsel.

The council did not get legal advice — the only justification for an executive session in this context — because its attorney wasn’t there.

It’s easy, of course, to view these actions as a cynical, calculated and overt effort to keep the public from knowing what its elected representatives were doing. However, we know the members of the county council, and we know they are honest, hardworking public servants. That suggests simple incompetence is the most likely explanation for the council’s blatant breach of the public’s trust.

Still, that doesn’t excuse it.

The members of the council trampled upon the most basic tenant of democracy, which state’s that the people’s business must be conducted in public. In doing so, they stooped to the same kind of closed-door tactics that supporters of secession claim spurred them to seek a split from the state.

To say that we’re bitterly disappointed is an understatement. We all deserve much better from our elected representatives.

From The Greeley Tribune (Analisa Romano):

The Weld County Council on Wednesday announced a decision that Weld County Commissioners can advocate for the 51st state question, bringing to light a legally questionable procedure before the council voted on the matter and misleading statements about when a decision would be made. Council members voted at an Oct. 21 hearing that county commissioners have legal authority to advocate for the 51st state movement, even though they said during the hearing and again this week that they had not yet made a decision on the matter. Don Mueller, chairman of the county council, said members called a short recess after the Oct. 21 hearing and then went into an executive session to discuss it. They then came out of the executive session and voted in favor of a statement that says the ballot initiative does not increase or expand Weld County commissioners’ power beyond what is statutorily allowed.

According to Colorado open meeting law, local governmental executive sessions are limited to discussions on security arrangements, property transactions, negotiations, such as with employee organizations, personnel, or to seek the advice of legal counsel, and entities must announce that they are going into a session and why.

Mueller said the county council did announce publicly that they would go into executive session. But the council had called a recess first and most people who attended the hearing had left by the time the executive session was announced. Council members only discussed the 51st state issue but did not seek any legal advice, he said.

Weld County Attorney Bruce Barker said he was not present for the discussion.

During the hearing on Oct. 21, Mueller said council members would digest the information presented to them and that they would not make a decision that night.

“Our function this evening is that of listeners,” Mueller said at the hearing.

In the agenda posted for that Weld County Council meeting, there is also no indication the council would go into an executive session.

Mueller said four members of the five-member council voted in favor of the action, with Bernard Kinnick voting against it because he wanted to wait to take any action until after Election Day. One member of the county council, Jeffrey Hare, helped organize the 51st state initiative and serves as its spokesman.

Mueller told The Tribune in an interview on Tuesday that members had still not taken any official action on the matter, and that council members would not hire an independent attorney or make any decision until sometime next week.

Mueller said on Wednesday the council was, in fact, waiting to announce its vote, and later decided the vote should be made public. He said the vote will not technically be final until recorded minutes are approved at the county council’s next meeting.

Bob Ruyle, one of three Greeley attorneys who called on the Weld County Council to review commissioners’ authority regarding the 51st state initiative, said they had recently submitted written responses to Barker’s arguments, so it’s a shame those arguments won’t ever be reviewed.

The three men argued that Weld commissioners can’t legally spend time and money exploring the 51st state and lobbying state lawmakers to push it forward. They said the state Constitution explicitly says only Colorado citizens have the authority to alter or dissolve their government, but the power of commissioners is limited to what is listed in state statute.

“All I can tell you is, we tried, and are disappointed in the results,” Ruyle said.

Barker said at the council meeting last week that there are ways for commissioners to legally express support for the 51st state to lawmakers if it passes, and he said the only official action commissioners have taken on the movement so far was a resolution to put it on the ballot, which is within their scope of power.

More 51st State Initiative coverage here.

Weld County environmental groups hope to influence tougher air pollution rules for oil and gas

DJ Basin Exploration via the Oil and Gas Journal
DJ Basin Exploration via the Oil and Gas Journal

From The Greeley Tribune (Sharon Dunn):

Some environmental groups are gearing up for a fight against proposed changes to emissions regulations on the oil and gas industry.

Weld Air and Water and the Colorado Progressive Coalition issued press releases this week citing concerns that the proposed changes to emissions regulations in the state don’t go far enough to regulate the oil and gas industry.

But state officials at the Colorado Air Pollution Control Division say no formal draft rules will be released until November and they will not comment on the draft until then. The division in the last few months has sought comment from those involved based on a loose draft set of rules forwarded to “stakeholders.”

The division will issue a formal draft, taking into account suggestions from those stakeholders, in November, with a rule-making process to begin in February, said Christopher Dann, spokesman for the Air Pollution Control Division at the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

The environmental groups, however, have already sharpened their pencils for a revamp.

“The new regulations (Gov. John) Hickenlooper’s team is recommending will continue to allow significant amounts of methane to escape into Coloradoan’s air,” Progress Now’s Joe Boven stated in a news release this week. “A recent study found that air pollution is a stronger environmental cause of cancer than second-hand smoke, yet while eliminating smoking from public facilities has gained momentum, this proposal would reduce many regulations for oil and gas emissions.”

Weld Air and Water members wrote they were “bitterly disappointed” at the proposed language in the rules.

“This proposal fails to solve any of our state’s pressing air quality problems,” said Matt Sura, an attorney who is representing communities in the rule-making process, in a news release. “These regulations do nothing to address the threat of toxic emissions of oil and gas facilities that are near homes. The proposed regulations will also be ineffective at bringing down dangerous levels of smog and ozone on the Front Range, and do little to reduce methane emissions that contribute to climate change.”

Current rules regarding emissions control are tailored around reducing emissions so that 90 percent are controlled; the rules contain extensive documentation of emissions control equipment. The new rules will implement new Environmental Protection Agency rules.

“State and federal air quality laws do not currently require formal self-inspections to the degree that the state is going to propose,” said Will Allison, director of the Air Pollution Control Division, in an e-mail response to questions. “For example, the use of infrared cameras is an emerging technology that improves upon existing inspection methods. The proposal will include a statewide leak inspection and repair program to further reduce emissions and complement the existing inspection framework. The proposal will be one of the first of its kind in the country, and will significantly strengthen existing rules.”

Doug Flanders, of the Colorado Oil and Gas Association, said Colorado has some of the toughest regulations on the industry throughout the country.

“Common sense and innovative standards are necessary to control air pollution, which is exactly why the new EPA rules, which CDPHE’s air rulemaking will implement, are based on Colorado existing rules and regulations,” Flanders wrote in an email. “As we have found in Colorado, there are positive aspects of the draft rule that promote conservation through the capture of natural gas and the resulting emissions reductions, and while methane is not considered an ozone precursor, it is captured by these devices as well.”

The environmental groups say the draft language would only weaken existing state law because they require inspections of tanks, based on their sizes, quarterly to annually. The groups say they will advocate for monthly inspections instead.

Emission controls on oil and gas companies have been in existence for the last decade in the state, updated every few years with more restrictions, but required storage tank inspections haven’t yet been a part of the mix. Operators are required to weekly inspect their emissions control equipment, according to the existing rules.

The environmental groups say they will seek more frequent inspections, quicker turnarounds on required repairs, and greater emissions control standards for wells within a quarter mile of homes and schools.

More oil and gas coverage here and here.

Durango Arts Center multimedia exhibit ‘Sentinels of Change: Drought in the West’ presentations Friday #COdrought

Drought Affected Lake Mead via the Mountain News
Drought Affected Lake Mead via the Mountain News

From The Durango Herald (Dale Rodebaugh):

The parallel presentations converge from 5 to 8 p.m. Friday at the center, 802 East Second Ave., to mark the second annual collaboration between the Southwestern Water Conservation District, DAC, Mountain Studies Institute and the Water Information Program, which is sponsored by 17 water agencies in the San Juan, Animas, Dolores and San Miguel river drainages…

The oral presentations run from 5 to 8 p.m. in the DAC theater. After opening remarks, presentations will made by:

Marcie Demy Bidwell of the Mountain Studies Institute will present research done by Imtiaz Rangwala from Western Water Assessment that covers a century of data from weather stations in Southwest Colorado.

Kristen Averyt, director of Western Water Assessment, at the University of Colorado, Boulder, will speak about the connection between energy demand and production, the availability of water and complications from changing climate.

Mike Nolan, owner of Mountain Roots Farm, in Mancos, will describe his efforts as a farmer to understand the limits and opportunities of water.

Taryn Finnessey from the water-supply planning section of the Colorado Water Conservation Board will analyze water variability and how it affects businesses that rely on water and snow.

Gregory J. Hobbs Jr., a Colorado Supreme Court justice, will talk about how current discussions of water shortages relate to state water law that is based on anti-speculation and actual need.

51st State Initiative: ‘…we’ve made huge progress’ — Sean Conway

51st State Initiative Map via The Burlington Record
51st State Initiative Map via The Burlington Record

From KUNC (Erin OToole):

Conway says the discussion has helped draw attention to important issues behind the movement, especially the sense of increasing alienation between rural counties and the state’s political center in Denver.

“Even if this vote is unsuccessful in some or all of the counties next Tuesday, we’ve made huge progress… in terms of pointing out what, essentially, started this,” Conway said. “We’re now at the point where everybody, including the governor – who previously didn’t acknowledge the problem – acknowledges the problem. Legislative leaders acknowledge the problem.”

If the vote does favor the effort, Conway says he expects more counties to join the breakaway movement.

“I think a lot of counties are sitting on the sidelines right now, saying ‘let’s see what happens Tuesday,’ ” Conway said. “So I think you’ll see additional counties decide to become part of this.”

If voters decline to approve the measure, Conway says they won’t press the issue. A few lawmakers are working on alternative ideas, including a plan to change the way rural, sparsely populated counties are represented at the capitol.

For Conway, the time and effort was worth it to get the message across to state leaders.

Meanwhile US Senate candidate Ken Buck is not on board with the movement. Here’s a report from Kurtis Lee writing for The Denver Post. Here’s an excerpt:

Weld County District Attorney Ken Buck said Wednesday he will vote in opposition to a rural effort to secede from Colorado and form a 51st state.

“I think the better strategy is to work to defeat the out-of-touch politicians causing this feel of separation,” said Buck, a GOP candidate in 2014 for U.S. Senate. Five Republicans have announced their candidacies and are vying to challenge incumbent Democratic U.S. Sen. Mark Udall…

“It’s a symbolic gesture,” he said of the secession plan. “But there are a lot of people who feel strongly they’re being ignored. My wife, Perry, and I are traveling around the state on weekends and that sentiment is wide spread.”

Jeffrey Hare, co-founder of 51st State Initiative, said told The Denver Post Monday many rural voters, especially in Weld County, have sent in their mail-in ballots — a good indicator they back the idea of breaking away from Colorado.

“Those early rural voters seem to us to be very motivated in getting in their ballots and supporting this initiative,” Hare told the Post. “But we’ll see on election night, of course.”

More 51st State Initiative coverage here.

South Platte Forum recap: Incentives for drip irrigation?

Typical Drip Irrigation System via Toro
Typical Drip Irrigation System via Toro

From The Greeley Tribune (Eric Brown):

Incentives for drip irrigation, addressing water-consuming vegetation along rivers and more water storage are all needed to protect the future of agriculture in Colorado. Those were among the main points stressed by Brighton-area vegetable grower Dave Petrocco, who was asked to present during the South Platte Forum last week. The two-day forum featured discussions on all aspects of water — agriculture, oil and gas production, municipal use, climate and the ski industry.

While the event included presentations from ag experts with Colorado State University Extension and other CSU ag faculty, Petrocco was the only full-time ag producer who presented at the event. He took the opportunity to hammer home a few messages widely shared with others in the ag industry — which uses 85 percent of the state’s water. Drip irrigation, he stressed, uses 40 percent less water than traditional irrigating methods, but the upfront cost of implementing a drip system is $2,000 to $3,000 per acre. Petrocco — who has 225 of his 2,600 acres of farm ground under drip irrigation, and plans to have another 100-plus acres under drip next year — said farmers in California and Arizona have been pioneers in making the switch to drip.

“But in their climate, they have two growing seasons,” Petrocco said, explaining that with such large production each year, California and Arizona farmers can more easily recoup the costs of making the move to drip.

That’s not the case in Colorado, Petrocco said, and in a state where water on farms is routinely being sold to growing cities, those still farming in the future are going to need to make the most of their limited resources. While farmers need to gravitate to drip, he said he’d like to see the state of Colorado provide incentives for farmers to do so because of the high costs. If farmers aren’t more resourceful with their water, farm ground will continue disappearing in Colorado, he said.

With limited water and Colorado’s semi-arid climate, rapidly growing cities here have routinely bought their needed water from farmers and ranchers, leaving behind the land ­— an ongoing trend known as “buy and dry.” At the current rate of buy and dry, 500,000 to 700,000 acres of irrigated farm ground could be out of production by 2050, according to the Statewide Water Supply Initiative study, released in 2010.

That’s why Petrocco said he’s pushing for the state to help farmers move toward drip irrigation systems — and why he also is pushing for more water-storage projects, which would capture excess snowmelt in abundant years instead of sending more water than legally necessary across the state line to Nebraska, which has occurred in recent years.

Petrocco also stressed the need for the state to address the wild vegetation along the rivers — known as phreatophytes. A cottonwood tree, for example, can consume 1,000 gallons of water each day, maybe more, he explained. And as the trees and other vegetation have grown thicker along the rivers and continue to do so, those plants are soaking up water and depleting surface flows and groundwater levels, which could be used by agricultural, industrial or municipal users. That vegetation needs to be better controlled, he said.

Petrocco said he also believes the state’s augmentation requirements are too stringent, and they need to be re-examined. Augmentation water is needed to make up for depletions to the aquifer caused by pumping water out of the ground. Under the state’s current requirements, some farmers have struggled to afford needed augmentation water and have had their groundwater wells curtailed or shut off. But, in recent years, groundwater levels in the South Platte have risen, causing basements to flood in some areas, among other problems. Some, including Petrocco, believe groundwater wells pumping less than they once did is responsible for the aquifer being too full. The issue is now being studied by scientists at CSU.

“I firmly believe we’re over-augmenting,” said Petrocco, who, in referring to the many water challenges Colorado faces, stressed that addressing the issues won’t be easy. “We grow crops in a great place … close to the people and the markets, so there’s less transportation needed … a lot of sunshine during the day and cool nights — perfect for certain crops.

“We just need water, and we’ve got some things to figure out to make sure we have enough.”

More South Platte Basin coverage here and here.

Drought news: Grand Valley’s Stage I Drought Status Lifted #COdrought

Meanwhile the current drought in the Colorado River Basin is one of the worst in 1,200 years. Here’s a report from Matt Jenkins writing for the High Country News. Here’s an excerpt:

The current drought began in 2000, and is now entering its 14th year. When matched up against every other 14-year period since 762 A.D., it falls in the driest 2 percent of all those periods.

That means the current 14-year period is, as federal Bureau of Reclamation head Michael Connor told a Senate committee this summer, “one of the lowest in the Basin in over 1,200 years.”

That’s true, says Jeff Lukas, with the Western Water Assessment at the University of Colorado, adding that the tree rings show a half-dozen decade-or-longer droughts that were likely more severe than the current one.

‘We wouldn’t be in business without water in the #ColoradoRiver’ — George Wendt

Cataract Canyon
Cataract Canyon

From Canoe and Kayak (Eugene Buchanan):

What was OARS founder and president George Wendt doing on the 38th floor of Denver’s Grand Hyatt the day after the government shutdown ended, and his company was scrambling to resume raft trips on the Grand Canyon and other closed waterways? He was doing his part to ensure something even more important than river access … water.

Wendt was a panelist at the first ever Business of Water summit, hosted by nonprofit Protect the Flows, a group of nearly 1,000 businesses focused on the issue of water sustainability and responsible water consumption policies. On hand to hear keynote talks from the likes of U.S. Senator Mark Udall (D-CO) were representatives from utility companies, outfitters, marina operators and more than 35 corporations, including PepsiCo, AT&T, MGM Resorts International and New Belgium Brewing Co. sharing practices aimed at sustainable water management…

The Colorado River was recently named the most endangered river in America. Participating businesses, said Protect the Flows co-director Craig Mackey, have a vital stake in solutions to best manage the river’s widening supply and demand gap.

“The purpose of the summit is threefold,” he said. “It’s to build a forum for business leaders to network and engage on water sustainability, share business best practices, case studies and tools to promote water efficiency and conservation, and create a strong business voice and platform to advance water policy to incentivize water innovation, efficiency and conservation.”

The Colorado River, he added, is a major economic driver which, if it were a company, would rank at number 155 on Fortune 500 list, ahead of General Mills, and be the country’s 19th largest employer. It supports nearly 250,000 jobs in six states, produces $26 billion in economic output, contributes $3.2 billion in annual taxes and creates $10.4 billion in annual earnings, salaries and wages. The recently completed Colorado River Basin Study shows that water conservation efforts can yield at least 3 million acre feet of water and is the most cost-effective and easily implementable way to bring water supply and demand on the Colorado back into balance…

“We wouldn’t be in business without water in the Colorado River,” adds Wendt, echoing the sentiments of all of those in attendance.

More Colorado River coverage here and here.

Many eyes are starting to watch the early season snowpack #COdrought

Experimental forecasts from Klaus Wolter via the Colorado Climate Center
Experimental forecasts from Klaus Wolter via the Colorado Climate Center

From the Glenwood Springs Post Independent (Hannah Holm):

So far this year, we’re getting off to a good start. On Oct. 29, all of western Colorado’s river basins registered at least 128% of the historical median amount of water held in the form of snow for that date. Underscoring the need to not take snowpack numbers too seriously at this time of year, however, is the fact that the same set of figures showed one river basin in southern Utah at over 2000% of the median for this date! Just one week before, the same basin showed no data.

As the water year wears on, the snow numbers will get less dramatic and start to tell us more about what to expect when next spring’s runoff begins. For now, you can learn more by looking at current hydrologic conditions and long-range weather forecasts.

October so far has been a good one for precipitation in the Upper Colorado River Basin. The only areas receiving significantly less than average are in southeastern Utah, but even that area received good moisture in September. These precipitation numbers are reflected in soil and vegetation moisture levels, which are normal-to-wet across most of the Upper Colorado River Basin.

Streamflows are not quite as good, with the Colorado River at 93% of normal near the Colorado-Utah state line, the Green River at 75% of normal at Green River, and the San Juan River near Bluff at 41% of normal for this time of year.

Reservoir levels continue to show the drought conditions the region experienced in 2012 and the first part of 2013. Blue Mesa Reservoir, Colorado’s largest, is 42% full; Lake Powell, the Upper Basin’s largest is 45% full, while Navajo and Flaming Gorge are doing a bit better at 56% full and 75% full, respectively. Reservoir levels in eastern Utah are significantly lower…

Klaus Wolter, a NOAA meteorologist based at the University of Colorado, has issued an experimental forecast showing above-average snowpack for most Colorado river basins on Jan. 1; but given that most of the region’s snow typically accumulates later on, even that doesn’t tell us much about what kind of water year to expect in 2014…

Two good websites for tracking a wide range of climate data are:

The National Integrated Drought Information System’s Upper Colorado Regional Drought Early Warning system, hosted by the Colorado Climate Center at http://climate.colostate.edu/~drought/

The Intermountain West Climate Dashboard maintained by Western Water Assessment at the University of Colorado http://wwa.colorado.edu/climate/dashboard.html.

AWWA updates costs of regulating perchlorate

Perchlorate Pollution by State
Perchlorate Pollution by State

Here’s the release from the American Water Works Association:

A new AWWA report updates estimated costs of an anticipated perchlorate standard being developed by the US Environmental Protection Agency.

The new cost-impact assessment updates a 2009 review by including additional treatment strategies and accounting for regulatory limits already in place in California and Massachusetts.

In addition to ion exchange, this assessment considers also costs associated with blending, source abandonment and development of new sources. In all, the estimated national compliance costs for a perchlorate maximum contaminant level ranging from 2 to 24 ppb is smaller than estimated compliance costs for other drinking water regulations.

Read the report and more about perchlorate regulation.

More water pollution coverage here.

Southern Delivery System: Construction starting up on the Juniper pump station

The new north outlet works at Pueblo Dam -- Photo/MWH Global
The new north outlet works at Pueblo Dam — Photo/MWH Global

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

There’s room in a $900 million water pipeline project for all sorts of businesses. Even brick-makers.

Joe Welte, whose grandfather founded Summit Brick and Tile in Pueblo in 1902, gave a brief account of his family’s business at Tuesday’s celebration for local contractors who have worked on the Southern Delivery System. The event also marked the beginning of work on the Juniper Pump Station, the final piece of SDS construction in Pueblo County. He concluded with a story about his brother Tom’s visit to an elementary school, where he asked students to build a wall using either klinkers — bricks deformed by heat — or straight bricks. The students chose straight bricks, saying the wall would tumble with klinkers on the foundation.

“Whether you are starting an education, planning your life or building for our water future, make sure that you use straight brick at the bottom,” Welte said.

Summit Brick is one of about 100 local companies that are benefiting from contracts for SDS, a water delivery pipeline from Pueblo Dam to Colorado Springs that also benefits Pueblo West. Its part is relatively small: 50,000 4-by-4-by-12-inch bricks for the facade of the Juniper Pump Station, which amounts to about two days’ production.

“With the downturn in the economy, this came at a good time,” Welte said.

The bricks played a symbolic role at Tuesday’s event, as representatives of local companies build a wall and received commemorative bricks — made in Pueblo County, of course.

The largest amount of local contracts went to ASI Constructors, which holds three contracts for $50 million. The company builds dams and other water projects all over the world.

“It’s not often that we get to participate in a project of this magnitude in our own backyard,” ASI President John Bowen said.

He touted the safety of the project, 68,000 man-hours without a lost-time accident, and economic benefit, $800,000 in wages, for his company alone.

Government officials from both El Paso and Pueblo counties, including newly elected state Sens. George Rivera of Pueblo and Bernie Herpin of Colorado Springs, attended the event as well.

From the Colorado Springs Independent (Pam Zubeck):

On Tuesday, the city kicked off construction of the Juniper pump station not far from the outlet from the dam that was built earlier as part of SDS. It’s one of three pump stations that, according to Colorado Springs Utilities, represent some of the largest components of the project; cumulatively, they’ll cost $76.5 million. A third of that will go to Colorado contractors. The prime contractor is Archer Western Constructors of Arlington, Texas.

To update, here are some notes on SDS’ progress, provided by Springs Utilities:

• The SDS pump stations will move water 1,500 feet in elevation from Pueblo Dam to the new water treatment plant under construction in El Paso County. At full capacity, SDS will be able to transport up to 96 million gallons of water per day (MGD) – 18 MGD to Pueblo West and the remaining 78 MGD to the El Paso County partner communities of Colorado Springs, Security and Fountain.

• Garney Construction of Kansas City, Mo., is installing a 0.3-mile, 90-inch-diameter pipeline that will link Pueblo Dam to the Pueblo West Metropolitan District and other project partners. After Colorado Springs, Pueblo West is the second leading beneficiary of the SDS project.

• Major SDS construction work commenced in Pueblo County in 2011 with the start of the new connection to Pueblo Dam. Since then 18 miles of pipe have been installed in Pueblo County and a total of 42 total miles installed project-wide. Recently, the SDS pipeline construction project through Pueblo West was recognized by Engineering News Record as the Best Water Project in 2013 for the mountain states region.

• Construction of the nearly $1 billion project is resulting in significant benefits to the local economy. To date, more than 300 companies and organizations in Colorado have helped plan and construct SDS, including 100 in Pueblo County. Of the more than $362 million spent to plan and build SDS, more than $289 million has gone to Colorado companies.

From The Colorado Springs Gazette:

When complete, the Juniper water pump station in Pueblo will have many motors and one of them will have the horsepower of four Formula 1 racing cars.

It will need it to pump water 1,500 feet in elevation from Pueblo Reservoir to Pueblo West, Fountain, Security and Colorado Springs. Juniper station at Lake Pueblo State Park will be one of three water pump stations needed to move up to 96 million gallons of water up hill 53 miles in the Colorado Springs Utilities’ Southern Delivery System pipeline…

The entire $1 billion project is expected to be completed by April 2016 and could pump 5 million gallons daily at first but with eventual capacity to pump up to 96 million gallons daily.

From the Colorado Springs Business Journal (Rebecca Tonn):

The Southern Delivery System starts construction of the Juniper Pump Station at Lake Pueblo State Park and the last remaining section of pipeline in Pueblo County on [October 29, 2013]. Area businesses that will perform work or provide materials to build SDS components in the county will participate in a brick-laying ceremony, from 2 – 3 p.m.

More Southern Delivery System coverage here and here.

‘Without the ability to store…water…the West as we know it would not exist’ — Scott Tipton

Barker Meadows Dam Construction
Barker Meadows Dam Construction

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

More storage is needed to prevent flooding and provide certainty for Western agriculture during droughts, U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton said Tuesday.

“Without the ability to store the water that falls on Colorado’s slopes, the West as we know it would not exist,” Tipton said during a House water and power subcommittee hearing.

The committee heard testimony from water experts, including a hydrologist, a state regulator from Oregon, a Trout Unlimited lawyer and a farmer on how federal red tape in water projects could be reduced.

“There has never been a more prescient time for development of water projects,” said hydrologist Robert Shibatani of Sacramento, Calif. He made the case for storing excess flows of water in any basin where they exist.

Witnesses urged more multi-purpose projects that meet environmental, flood control and supply for cities and farms.

Committee members agreed on the need for more storage, but differed in approach. Democrats said other approaches such as conservation or market approaches that don’t increase federal spending to be developed more fully. Tipton and other Republicans said federal regulations have hindered water development that could have benefited Colorado.

“Unfortunately, radical groups have failed to realize the potential environmental benefits from increased storage and have held up the development of new projects with endless litigation and a variety of other tactics,” Tipton said.

Tipton said more storage is needed to avoid continued dry-up of agriculture.

“Colorado farmers and ranchers have been enticed to sell over 191,000 acre-feet of water for municipal and industrial use since 1987,” Tipton said, adding that farmers who now rely on leases from cities found their supplies cut back this year as cities sought to replenish their storage.

“The growing West needs new water projects and the federal government should be fostering a regulatory environment that encourages new surface storage production rather than stifling these efforts,” Tipton said.

More infrastructure coverage here.

Bad ass picture of the lightning over the Grand Canyon via @SciencePorn

September flooding changed the Cache la Poudre and Big Thompson River channels #COflood

Ash and silt pollute the Cache la Poudre River after the High Park Fire September 2012
Ash and silt pollute the Cache la Poudre River after the High Park Fire September 2012

Here’s an in-depth look at the Cache la Poudre and Big Thompson Rivers in the aftermath of the September floods, from Ryan Maye Handy writing for the Fort Collins Coloradoan. Click through and read the whole article: Here’s an excerpt:

Record water levels churned the river’s bottom, washing a year’s worth of ash from its banks and stream bed. Residents of Fort Collins and Poudre Canyon say the iconic river looks “magnificent,” a stark contrast to the black sludge that choked it after the 2012 High Park Fire…

The flood also changed the Big Thompson’s course through Loveland, swallowing golf courses, bike paths and front yards. In many places, the river chose its natural path, from which it was diverted a century ago. This presents a struggle for city officials: Do they change the river, again, or let it run its chosen course?

Letting rivers be rivers is best, whether they are the pristine Poudre or the fetid Big Thompson, said professor Ellen Wohl, a geomorphologist at Colorado State University. While the September floods were devastating for cities along the Front Range, their high waters can reset a river’s cycle, encouraging everything from new trout habitat to new cottonwood saplings.

“There is no question that they are really good for rivers,” Wohl said of catastrophic floods.

Although Whol said there’s value in letting the rivers pick their own courses, Colorado residents are too dependent on the rivers’ dammed and diverted waters. In some places, both rivers will be rerouted to spare costly sewage and utilities systems that their new courses threaten…

Poudre Canyon resident Bill Sears has marveled at the river’s transformation since the floods. After 28 years of watching the river, he had never seen anything like the black water that coursed in it after the High Park Fire.

“It was like a slug,” he said of the river’s movement through the canyon. “It was more like asphalt — fresh black stuff. It coated everything.”

But after several days of September rains, the churning water — so powerful that it gnawed away roads and consumed bridges — scrubbed the river cleaner than it had ever been in Sears’ memory.

“In the long run, the flood is probably a pretty good thing,” said John Stokes with the Fort Collins Natural Resources Department. “It tends to turn the riverbed over, which cleans the river up. The bottom of the river is quite stable. It takes a big flood to turn rocks around.”[…]

On Sept. 11, the Big Thompson was not an idyllic trickle winding groggily through the hill country west of Loveland. Normally, the Big Thompson runs at 15 cubic feet per second (cfs) — like watching 15 basketballs float by every second. During the flood it pushed 19,000 cfs of water down the Big Thompson Canyon, more than the Poudre at its highest peak.

The river ruptured 6 miles of sewage lines in Estes Park, leaving about 2,000 residents without sewer service, Gunderson said. Since September, when Gunderson last sampled the river water, human waste has been dumped into the river, giving it high levels of E. coli.

Carlson’s Big Thompson “trickle” erupted in Loveland during the flood, flowing over 11 bridges and covering some of the city’s most important sewer pipes.

The river also dramatically changed its course.

Loveland Water Utilities Manager Chris Matkins had spent many years working along the Big Thompson and said he knew it as well as anyone could know a landscape. But when he saw the swollen river crash through Home Supply Dam, near the water treatment plant on County Road 29, he recognized nothing…

“It’s really unbelievable. I couldn’t get my bearing where I was,” he said. “I was standing in these river corridors, and it was like standing on the moon.”

The quiet creeklike trickle became a Poudre-sized river. It tore away rock cliffs and cracked portions of the nearby highway into splinters. Carlson remembered listening to the surging water and hearing a grinding, the sound of boulders rolling on the river bottom.

Worst of all, Loveland’s three main sewer lines were now stuck beneath the river’s new course — one had survived intact, two others were destroyed. The river had to be moved.

“You can’t just move a river,” Carlson said. “You have to train the river to move.”

The old channel had been all but obliterated, filled with “so much sediment you couldn’t even tell there was an old channel,” Carlson said. Using 18-inch pink limestone boulders — called “riprap” — city officials coaxed the river back to its former channel, nearly 300 feet away.

It was a colossal effort that cost $700,000. And it’s not something the city will do for the numerous other spots where the river left its old course. All told, Matkins thinks it will cost Loveland about $2.5 million to repair all the damages to its water treatment facilities.

Sea level rise, warming upper ocean temperatures, Arctic sea ice melt contributed to the damage from Sandy

Hurricane Sandy via NOAA
Here’s a report from NOAA. Here’s the preface:

On October 22-29, 2012, Hurricane/Post-Tropical Cyclone Sandy moved from the Caribbean to the U.S. Eastern Seaboard, ultimately making landfall near Brigantine, NJ, around 7:30 p.m. on October 29. The storm resulted in an enormous impact to life and property in both the Caribbean and continental United States. The National Hurricane Center’s Tropical Cyclone Report estimated the death count from Hurricane Sandy at 147 direct deaths. Sandy damaged or destroyed at least 650,000 houses and left approximately 8.5 million customers without power during the storm and its aftermath. The effects of Sandy extended as far west as Wisconsin. This late season storm also generated blizzard conditions in western North Carolina and West Virginia, resulting in snowfall totals as high as 3 feet.

Storm surge created some of the most devastating impacts, including flooding in New York City’s subway tunnels, water overtopping runways at La Guardia (Figure 1) and Kennedy airports, and damage to the New Jersey Transit System estimated at approximately $400 million.

In light of the Sandy’s significance, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) formed a Service Assessment Team to document and evaluate the agency’s performance and effectiveness. The Team focused on three key points: first, the National Weather Service’s forecast, watch, and warning products, including its underlying philosophies and policies and its dissemination/communication tools. Second, the Team reviewed the NWS web presence as a tool for communicating with the public. Finally, the Team looked at NWS’s production and issuance of storm-surge related products.

NOAA will use the findings and recommendations in this assessment to increase awareness of critical needs during future extreme weather events and improve products and services to further protect life and property. Given the relationship of this assessment to the agency’s broader portfolio, NOAA will also improve integration and collaboration across mission lines to ensure ongoing responsiveness to partner needs in light of Sandy’s impacts.

Thanks to CBSNews.com (Danielle Elliot) for the heads up:

Dr. Radley Horton, a climate scientist at Columbia University and NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, says three environmental factors — sea level rise, warming upper ocean temperatures, and arctic sea ice melt — contributed to the level of damage .

“Sea levels were higher when Sandy hit then they were say 100 years ago,” Horton explained to CBSNews.com. “As a result of that, the damage, the water piling up, was higher than it would’ve been before we had that sea level rise.”

In understanding why sea levels are rising, Horton says we need look no further than greenhouse gas emissions.

“We’ve got about 40 percent more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere now than we did at the start of the Industrial Revolution. That’s almost entirely due to human activities, the burning of fossil fuels, land use changes, cutting of forests,” he said.

“As a result, we’ve got more of these heat-trapping gases in the atmosphere. Some of that heat warms the atmosphere, some of it goes down into the ocean, and a warming liquid expands. Additionally, some of that ice that was trapped on land before is starting to melt, making its way into the water where it can cause sea level rise.”

Climate models predict that sea level will rise an additional two to three feet in the New York area over the next century. “That alone could lead to three times as frequent coastal flooding events for New York even if storms like Sandy don’t change at all,” Horton said.

Warmer upper ocean temperatures, which have also come as a result of greenhouse gas emissions, are providing more fuel for the hurricanes. So, while the region might see the same types of storms, they may be more frequent and more powerful than before.

Rising temperatures in the Arctic are also playing a role, according to a preliminary study that Horton is currently completing.

“The idea is that as we lose sea ice in the Arctic, the Arctic warms dramatically… We now have a lower temperature gradient between the warm tropics and those now-warmer polar regions,” he explained. “That changes the jet streams, which changes the steering patterns that affect storms like Sandy.”

If the jet stream continues to weaken, storms will be more likely to follow a track similar to Sandy’s, because the jet stream won’t be strong enough to push them east over the Atlantic as it has in the past.

‘I do not expect entire populations of trout to be wiped clean in any of the flooded rivers’ — Ben Swigle

New Saint Vrain River channel after the September 2013 floods -- photo via the Longmont Times-Call
New Saint Vrain River channel after the September 2013 floods — photo via the Longmont Times-Call

From the Loveland Reporter-Herald (Scott Rochat):

State wildlife biologist Ben Swigle said that most of the Longmont-area fish population rode out September’s floods just fine, according to a recent survey.

For that, he said, fisherman can thank the trees along the St. Vrain River and its nearby ponds.

“Areas (that) held their own in the midst of the rampage were densely vegetated with mature tree stands,” Swigle said. Trout and other fish found shelter in those areas while the flood raged through the main channel, he said.

“As a result,” Swigle said, “I do not expect entire populations of trout to be wiped clean in any of the flooded rivers, and the fall survey we’ve completed thus far has proven this assumption.”

The Fall 2013 newsletter from the Water Information Program is hot off the presses

La Plata Mountains from the Great Sage Plain
La Plata Mountains from the Great Sage Plain

Click here to go to the website for the newsletter.

More education coverage here.

51st State Initiative: ‘Secession simply isn’t going to happen’ — Daniel Farber

51st State Initiative Map via The Burlington Record
51st State Initiative Map via The Burlington Record

Here’s a roundup of the issues around the 51st State Initiative (secession) from Alan Greenblatt writing for NPR.org. Click through and read the whole article. Here’s an excerpt:

“We’re rarely listened to when it comes to legislation,” says Butch White, the mayor of Ault. “I’m sure the vote will pass in Weld County quite easily.”

The Colorado counties aren’t alone. There’s been occasional talk of secession at various times in recent decades, but now the idea is showing signs of taking root across the map.

There is talk about and sometimes movement toward secession in several states. These are locally motivated startups, but they share some themes in common.

People in mostly conservative areas feel isolated living in states controlled by Democrats. Rural residents, in particular, believe their values are given no respect in capitols now completely dominated by urban and suburban interests.

Secession may be part of the same impulse that leads states to sue or otherwise try to block or nullify federal laws they don’t like. People are losing respect for institutions that don’t reflect their preferences and would prefer, to the extent possible, to extricate themselves from them.

“What we would like to do is gain representation for the northern people of the state,” says Mark Baird, spokesman for a committee seeking to split off part of California. “The only way to do that is to have our own state.”[…]

“You have issues that go way beyond gun rights,” says Anthony Navarro, owner of Colorado Shooting Sports, a gun shop in Greeley. “You have people in Boulder and Denver who have mostly come in from California and are dictating to the rest of the state.”[…]

“Greater Los Angeles has something like 34 representatives” in the California Assembly, says Baird, the spokesman for the Jefferson Declaration Committee. “The northern third of California has three.”[…]

Secession simply isn’t going to happen, says Daniel Farber, a law professor at the University of California, Berkeley, who has studied the issue. Creation of a new state would require the blessing of the state being spurned, as well as congressional approval.

It’s a Catch-22: People who want to secede because they lost influence don’t have the influence to make it happen.

“You’d have to persuade the U.S. Senate to add two more senators, but why would they do that, since that would dilute their own state’s influence and might well add votes to the opposing party?” Farber says.

From Bloomberg (Michael Tackett):

The shifting U.S. populations that are changing political outcomes have converged in Colorado. Just as in Virginia, young professionals who support gay rights are flooding into the state; like Texas and Arizona, Colorado’s surge in Hispanic population gives Democrats a shot at reversing statewide election results. And suburban women who support abortion rights and gun restrictions are turning away from a party advancing legislation hostile to both views.

“Colorado is a perfect example of demographic change leading to political change,” said Seth Masket, a professor of political science at the University of Denver.

A wave of young professionals who now live in Denver and its suburbs, drawn by jobs in technology, health care and energy, coupled with a 40 percent increase in the Hispanic population since 2000, has brought almost 2 million new residents to the state since 1990, transforming alliances and reversing political course…

Republicans in Colorado and elsewhere are feeling the brunt of the change. President Barack Obama in his 2012 re-election won almost 60 percent of the vote among 18 to 39 year olds, exit polls showed, and 55 percent of women. Nationally, young voters, who by 7 in 10 support same-sex marriage, have caused politicians of both parties to reconsider their positions…

Nearby Jefferson County has gone from a place where Republicans racked up large margins to one that strategists in the White House now see as predictive in presidential elections because of its swing-vote character.

“We have different trends than other places,” said Governor John Hickenlooper. “There’s been a large influx of young, generally well-educated people that drives not just political change but also cultural change. Metropolitan Denver now has more live music venues than Nashville or Austin.

That’s the kind of thing that is changing the energy.”

The youth vanguard, Hickenlooper said, also makes the state a “great magnet to attract entrepreneurs and business headquarters.”[…]

Hickenlooper and U.S. Senator Michael Bennet, also a Democrat, have won statewide office with centrist economic policies, while Republicans have a growing subset aligned with the limited-government Tea Party movement, Wadhams said. It isn’t a recipe for his party’s revival.

Wadhams, whose family arrived in the state in 1890, said Republicans are on the wrong side of the demographic divide, and its potential nominees for high office, former Representative Tom Tancredo, who briefly sought the Republican nomination for president in 2012, and Ken Buck, who lost to Bennet, aren’t likely to help…

Republicans started to overreach in the late 1990s, said Floyd Ciruli, who has been polling in the state for 30 years. The Denver area, his data show, received 62 percent of new voters in the state, an increase of 263,000 in the metro area, and those voters tend to vote Democratic. He said Republicans spent too much time talking about “gays and God and guns.”

More 51st State Initiative (North Colorado Secession) coverage here.

The October edition of ‘Preserving the Source’ is hot off the presses via the Water Resources Archive

bigfishlittlefish
Click here to read the newsletter. Here’s an excerpt:

Archive Update: New Collections and Professional Development

This fall, the Water Resources Archive acquired one new donation and finished organizing another. The Archive’s newest collection is all about fish! The Papers of William J. Wiltzius contains the research scrapbooks of author, fishery biologist for the Colorado Game and Fish Department, and expert on early private fish culture in the state Bill Wiltzius. Wiltzius, who recently passed away, decided years ago to give his papers to the Archive when his good friend and fellow Archive donor, Jim Meiman, suggested doing so. He worked on his research up until the end. The updated Papers of Frederic A. Eidsness, Jr. now includes 12 more boxes of speeches, congressional testimony, correspondence, reports, journal articles, and newspaper clippings related to Eidsness’ work on water quality for the Environmental Protection Agency. Eidsness plants to write a book about his time at the EPA using these materials.

More education coverage here.

The Atlantic: A 200,000-mile ‘canyon of fire’ erupts through the atmosphere of the sun

Recreation In-Channel Diversions help local economies

Blanca Wetlands via the National Park Service
Blanca Wetlands via the National Park Service

From the Valley Courier (Lauren Krizansky):

Without water, Colorado wouldn’t be nearly as fun. Throughout the state, water provides thousands locals and visitors alike with year round outdoor activities. Besides offering lakes and rivers to boat and fish in the summer and snow packed mountains to ski in the winter, it gives life to Colorado’s unique ecosystems that attract many to trails, parks and wetland areas in search of the purity of nature.

Water makes Colorado outdoor recreation possible, and it is a protected value, ensuring the adventurous traditions of the Rocky Mountains will last far into the future.

Outdoor, water-based recreation was recognized among the state’s top water priorities in the ’90s. The Colorado Supreme Court heard the argument to make recreation a “beneficial use” of water, which became a reason to secure a state-protected water right. Since the nineteenth century, a “beneficial use” of water in the west was defined as removing water from a source for economic gain. The court’s decision to include recreation in such guidelines started a 20-year legislative battle between historical water users and those fighting to support what would become a million dollar economy. In 2011 alone, according to reports, the Colorado whitewater rafting industry generated $61 million, and contributed an additional $155 million in economic impact.

Although the Valley is home to many water recreation opportunities, it has yet to invoke Colorado water laws finally established in 2001 and amended in 2006 to protect its own outdoor treasures. The state can award a Recreational In-Channel Diversions (RICDs) “to human-made structures designed for non-motorized boating… claimed only by cer- tain governmental bodies .”

According to recent reports , “An RICD helps to protect the investment. Colorado communities make in whitewater parks and the economic benefits associated with those parks. The unique attributes of RICDs are that they keep water in the river channel, they are nonconsumptive and they approximate the fluctuation of the natural hydrograph. These attributes also have the incidental benefit of keeping rivers healthy with flow.”

So far, recreation water rights in Colorado have been claimed up to 2,500 cubic square feet, and, according to the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB), the RICD application review team for the state, “many of the RICD water rights to date have the potential to restrict future upstream development potential and may reduce the flexibility that Colorado has to manage its water resources” and “may be subject to further legislation and court challenges .”

Today, there are seven Colorado communities that have a RICD decreed: Avon, Chaffee County, Durango, Longmont, Pueblo, Silverthorne , Steamboat Springs and Upper Gunnison River Water Conservancy District, according to the CWCB. RICD water rights application are pending for Grand County, Pitkin County and Carbondale. Prior to the legislation, Aspen, Breckenridge, Fort Collins, Golden, Littleton and Vail secured recreation water rights. In the Valley, a number of factors keep recreation in the water. For example, the Rio Grande Natural Area (RGNA) was established on October 12, 2006 to conserve, restore and protect the natural, historic, cultural, scientific, scenic, wildlife and recreational resources of the 33-mile stretch of the Rio Grande between the southern end of the Alamosa National Wildlife Refuge and the Colorado-New Mexico state border. In the area, the Rio Grande meanders through canyons, providing excellent fishing opportunities in the scenic canyon, and the shallow gradient of the river is “ideal” for those who prefer flatwater rafting.

Another example is the ongoing work to protect and restore the Valley’s web of wetlands. Sitting below 14,000-foot peaks, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and a number of supporters are resurrecting the Blanca Wetlands. The projects is focused on restoring and researching the ponds, marshes, playas, wet meadows and uplands with the boundary that could grow to over 120,000 should pending plans be approved. The expected outcome is to “provide rich and diverse habitats for wildlife and a haven for people.”

Man’s efforts, however, can only go so far to protect water recreation. The harsh realities of drought require water managers to make challenging decisions to meet the many water needs of a community, and the shortage is leaving some places dry. The San Luis State Park and Wildlife Area in Mosca is one, and its legendary lakes are becoming piece of modern history since today they hold no water.

More water law coverage here.

SLV drip irrigation trial: ‘You’re not going to have to use a lot of chemicals’ — Roger Christensen #RioGrande

Typical Drip Irrigation System via Toro
Typical Drip Irrigation System via Toro

From the Valley Courier (Lauren Krizansky):

Once upon a time, no one thought the center pivot would work, mentioned an old Valley farmer leaving the Drip Irrigation Field Day earlier this month.

Produces gathered in both Roger Christensen and Dennis Beiriger’s experimental drip irrigation potato fields to see what happens when a tuber is watered under a controlled irrigation system installed underground. The Colorado Potato Administrative Committee (CPAC) and Rio Grande Roundtable sponsored trial proved Valley crops will grow using the system that delivers water and nutrients directly to the crop’s root and is used in many forms on an international scale, but it still needs a bit of tinkering.

Beiriger and his brothers have turned a small portion their fourth-generation family farm in Hooper into a drip tape demonstration project to prove the benefits of a drip system over a pivot system in a drought-stricken environment . The system is deliberately over-sized at their location to send the water across the road to the center-pivot sprinkler system to compare the amount of water the drip tape uses versus what the center pivot uses to water the crop. He is growing 35 acres divided between the Norkotah Selection 3 and Tabena varieties, and favors the temporary drip tape and the latter potato’s production in his sandy soil.

First runs with the drip tape turned up a few problems like installation depth and leaks, but after readjusting, the system has maintained itself throughout the growing season. There have been no sand-clogging issues due to the system’s filtration system, decreased phosphate levels are noticeable and, after some trial and error, Beiriger and Maya Ter Kuile-Miller, Cactus Hill Ag Consulting, developed a daily watering schedule meeting the crop’s basic needs, not necessarily fulfilling the entire field. The permanent drip tape struggled to irrigate the entire potato mound, which lends to an idea to combine drip tape with center pivots to ensure the field is wet enough when the tubers are planted.

“It was dry here when we started,” Miller said. “This is a true drip project. No sprinklers were used to improve the soil profile.” There was also little organic matter in the soil to act as a wicking agent, she said. If grain would have been grown last season instead of potatoes, the soil might have been more prepared to handle the new system.

Next year, Beiriger will use the system again, but in a barley trial. Miller said she believed the grain quality would improve based on the relationship between barely, irrigation and potential plant discoloration.

“Adjust your thinking,” said Jim Beirgier. “It’s a worthwhile project. I think it should expand from here.”

Christensen installed both permanent and temporary drip lines on 15 acres near Center, half of which is in permanent drip, buried 13 inches underground, and the other temporary, buried two to three inches under the soil. He is growing five acres of Norkotah potatoes, five acres of Yukon Gold, four acres of CO99 100s and one acre of Classics. The Norkotah and Yukon Gold varieties are performing the best; and he has salvaged 20 percent of his water, using less than 17 inches; applied only one fungicidal treatment versus three or four and applied only 105 units of nitrogen versus upwards of 200 on land fallowed for the last 20 years.

“You’re not going to have to use a lot of chemicals,” Christensen said.

The smaller trial experienced many of the same problems as Beiriger’s , which also included weed management. The problem inspired plans to create a rod weeder that can lift the drip tape to suppress the unwanted growth.

Although the Valley producers are experiencing water savings, drip tape is not particularly marketed for its water saving capabilities.

“It’s a production tool, not a water conservation tool,” said Netafim USA agronomist Danny Sosebee, another project sponsor. “It is the tool we are producing the crop with.”

Missed irrigations, he added , add up quick and could theoretically put a field using the system costing between $12,000 and $15,000 per 120 acres in a drought-like situation in a few days.

“Drip gives you a lot more knobs to turn,” Sosebee said. “And, it is a learning process.”

More Rio Grande River Basin coverage here and here.

The definition of a ‘wow’ photo. A nighttime photographer @ArchesNPS takes it all in

Lyons: Water and natural gas were restored in some areas Saturday, residents heading back home #COflood

Flooding St. Vrain River September, 2013 via Voice of America
Flooding St. Vrain River September, 2013 via Voice of America

From the Longmont Times-Call (John Fryar):

Hundreds of Lyons families were able to begin moving back into their homes this weekend as utility crews circulated through several of the town’s neighborhoods to restore flood-interrupted natural gas, water and sewer service. And starting Monday, visitors from outside Lyons can once again get into town during daytime hours to resume patronizing the town’s businesses and visiting the town’s residents, according to town administrator Victoria Simonsen…

Power, gas, water and sewer service is back on in about half of Lyons’ neighborhoods now — most of them north of Main Street — and other residents of the area are expected to be returning in phases as their neighborhoods’ utilities are back working in the weeks ahead.

Colorado water supply gap: ‘The entire state is threatened by this scenario’ — Alan Hamel

SWSI II Baseline Water Demand via the Colorado Water Conservation Board
SWSI II Baseline Water Demand via the Colorado Water Conservation Board

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Alan Hamel):

In the Arkansas Basin, we are well aware that water is an essential ingredient in what makes Colorado special. Here in our basin, on the Western Slope and along the Front Range, water is what supports Colorado’s productive farms and ranches, our thriving recreational industry, our beautiful environment, and our vibrant cities and industries.

Water also is in short supply. In the coming decades, there could be a gap between water supply and demand of a half a million acre-feet or more per year. The entire state is threatened by this scenario, and it is particularly threatening to Colorado’s rural communities. Unless we do something to manage our water future, more and more agricultural water will be bought to supply our growing cities, drying up hundreds of thousands of acres of productive farm and ranch land and jeopardizing the economy and livelihoods of rural Colorado.

Northeastern Colorado alone is expected to lose approximately 20 percent of agricultural land currently under production from purchase agreements already in place. Here, closer to home in the Arkansas Basin, it is projected that, without a plan of action, we could lose an additional 73,000 acres of our valued irrigated agricultural land. This would be devastating to our economy, our rural way of life, open space, wetlands and wildlife habitat. This water supply future is unacceptable. We must have a plan that provides a secure water future for all Coloradans.

In May of this year, the governor issued an executive order directing the Colorado Water Conservation Board to develop Colorado’s Water Plan. This is an unprecedented undertaking for Colorado, but fortunately much of the work that is needed to develop the plan is already done.

During the drought of 2002-03, the state commissioned the most comprehensive study ever done of Colorado’s current and future water demands and supplies — the Statewide Water Supply Initiative. The SWSI study is continually being updated so it includes the most current information available. In addition, in 2005 the state Legislature created nine Basin Roundtables, groups of water leaders in each major river basin that have been taking an in-depth look at their basin’s water challenges. It also created the Interbasin Compact Committee, a group of 27 water leaders representing every major river basin and water constituency, including two representatives from each roundtable. For the last several years, these groups have been engaged in thoughtful dialogue while working hard to understand Colorado’s water challenges and ways they could be addressed.

The CWCB, IBCC and Basin Roundtables have reached consensus on a variety of actions that will lead to a better water future, including support for alternatives to permanent buy-and-dry of agriculture, conservation, projects that meet certain criteria and more. Colorado’s Water Plan will not be a top-down plan full of state mandates and requirements. Instead, it will be built on the foundation of the work of the Basin Roundtables and the IBCC. That is a strong foundation.

To create the foundation, each basin roundtable is developing a water plan for its region. And this includes the Arkansas Basin. At the same time, the IBCC is developing no- and low-regrets strategies for meeting future water needs that could be applied statewide.

Because these efforts are underway, we don’t yet know all that Colorado’s Water Plan will include. What we do know is that Colorado’s Water Plan will be a balanced one and will reflect Colorado’s values.

The governor’s executive order specifies that Colorado’s Water Plan must promote “a productive economy that supports vibrant and sustainable cities, viable and productive agriculture, and a robust skiing, recreation and tourism industry; efficient and effective water infrastructure promoting smart land use; and a strong environment that includes healthy watersheds, rivers and streams and wildlife.”

Utilizing the basin plans and the work of the IBCC, the CWCB will deliver a draft of Colorado’s Water Plan to the governor’s office by Dec. 10, 2014.

The CWCB will then work with the governor’s office to finalize Colorado’s Water Plan no later than December 2015.

To provide your insights and perspectives, participate in the next meeting of the Arkansas Basin Roundtable at 12:30 p.m. Nov. 13 at Colorado State University-Pueblo’s Occhiato Center.

To learn who the members of the roundtable are and other times when they meet, visit cwcb.state.co.us and go to the IBCC and Basin Roundtable link. You can also submit your comments to the CWCB by emailing cowaterplan@state.co.us.

For more information, visit Colorado’s Water Plan online at coloradowaterplan.com. A new website is planned for release on Nov. 1.

Alan Hamel is the Arkansas River Basin representative and chair of the Colorado Water Conservation Board.

More CWCB coverage here.

Gov. Hickenlooper appoints new justice to Colorado Supreme Court

William Hood III via the Denver Bar Association
William Hood III via the Denver Bar Association

Bump and update: Matt Arnold (Denver Examiner) has been looking into Mr. Hood’s political connections. Of course, it is not unusual for a political appointee to have been active in their party’s efforts. Here’s his report. Here’s an excerpt:

Hood also has close ties to Democrat Party attorney (and frequent Colorado Supreme Court litigator) Mark Grueskin, dating from their time as colleagues in the politically connected (and politically active) Isaacson Rosenbaum P.C. law firm – associations that may have been related to his removal from the 2011 Congressional redistricting lawsuits, before the case was reassigned to Denver District Court Chief Judge Robert Hyatt…

Given Hood’s close associations with Democrat party attorney and frequent Colorado Supreme Court litigant Mark Grueskin, this pick could lead to a number of recusals in some high-profile, politically-charged cases that might come before the Colorado Supreme Court.

From Law Week Colorado:

Before his appointment to the Denver bench in 2007, Hood worked at Isaacson Rosenbaum, the firm that until recently employed Democratic Party lawyer Mark Grueskin.

Asked about a possible conflict between himself and the judge, Grueskin said, “Even before you get to the issue that he and I were formerly colleagues, he may have a docket that’s full.”

Here’s the release from Governor Hickenlooper’s office:

Gov. John Hickenlooper announced today the appointment of Judge William Hood III to the Colorado Supreme Court. Hood will replace Supreme Court Chief Justice Michael L.Bender, who is retiring Jan. 7, 2014, after serving on the Supreme Court since 1997 and as chief since 2010.

“William Hood has consistently demonstrated an ability to fairly apply the law while effectively administering justice,” Hickenlooper said. “He has broad experience as a prosecutor, criminal defense attorney and civil litigator. Hood’s reputation for collaboration will make him an effective member of the Colorado Supreme Court.”

Hood, 50, is the 103rd person in the state’s history to be appointed to the Colorado Supreme Court.

Hood is currently a District Court Judge in the 2nd Judicial District in the City and County of Denver, a position he has held since 2007. He is also an adjunct professor at the University of Denver Sturm College of Law.

Prior to becoming a judge, Hood was in private practice at Isaacson Rosenbaum P.C. He previously worked for the Office of the District Attorney for the 18th Judicial District serving Arapahoe, Douglas, Elbert and Lincoln counties, where he served different times as the Chief Appellate Deputy, a Chief Trial Deputy and Violent Crimes Unit Deputy. Hood also practiced as an associate at McKenna & Cuneo and Holme Roberts & Owen in commercial litigation.

Hood earned a bachelor’s degree from Syracuse University and a J.D. from University of Virginia School of Law.

Hood’s nomination was supported by the Colorado Women’s Bar Association, the Colorado GLBT Bar Association, the Asian Pacific American Bar Association, the Sam Cary Bar Association, the Colorado Civil Justice League and the Colorado Criminal Defense Bar, among others.

The next Colorado Supreme Court Chief Justice, which was decided by the court, will be Justice Nancy E. Rice. Hood will serve a provisional term of two years. If retained by voters, he will then serve a 10-year term.

Kansas and the Corps of Engineers are taking another look at the Kansas Aqueduct

Kansas Aqueduct route via Circle of Blue
Kansas Aqueduct route via Circle of Blue

From Circle of Blue (Brett Walton):

The new analysis, to be started this year and completed in 2015, will reassess the Kansas Aqueduct, one of four projects evaluated 31 years ago to provide water to high plains farms in Kansas and reduce the draw on the Ogallala aquifer, the region’s primary source of water for irrigation. None of the water transport projects that were evaluated in the 1982 study were built.

But one project, the Kansas Aqueduct, which would draw water from a turn in the Missouri River about 145 kilometers (90 miles) upstream of Kansas City, and drop it into a reservoir roughly 600 kilometers (375 miles) away in western Kansas, attracted significant attention.

The cost of the new $US 300,000 study will be shared equally by the state and the federal government, said Mark Rude, executive director of the Southwest Kansas Groundwater Management District. Rude added that the region’s strong farm economy and the urgency of extending the Ogallala’s life as a source of water to agriculture make this a useful period to reconsider the Kansas Aqueduct.

“The Kansas Aqueduct Project must be pursued while production income, property values and the economic system are in place to support the project,” Rude wrote in a June letter to state water officials…

Because of high plains geology and climate, water percolates into the aquifer each year in inches; but in order to sustain a thriving grain-and-cattle industry, water is pumped out in feet.

The farmers and cattlemen in Rude’s district in southwest Kansas know this fact all too well. Rude told Circle of Blue that current rates of groundwater extraction – mining, really – are about nine percent sustainable. In other words, the amount of water pumped out of that part of the aquifer would have to be cut by 90 percent to find a balance. Such a reduction would decimate the region’s towns.

Over the years, all that water has created a more prosperous life on the plains than the early pioneers could ever have imagined. The economic structure, formidable for the time being, collapses without water.

“Everything we need is here already,” Rude says, talking about the grain elevators, equipment dealers and related agricultural infrastructure in western Kansas. “But new investment needs water-confidence. How do we provide that when we are cutting water use? It’s ideal to have both cuts and new supplies and manage the aquifer more like a reservoir.”

Farmers in northwest Kansas, in Sheridan County, have agreed to self-imposed restrictions on the amount of water they draw from the Ogallala. It is an experiment that has yet to catch on elsewhere in the state.

Economics are foremost in Rude’s mind because the aqueduct would be a whopper of a project, at least double the estimated $US 3.6 billion price tag three decades ago, and comparable in scale to massive water diversions like the 540-kilometer (360-mile) Central Arizona Project that was approved before the Carter administration and built mostly with federal money.

Rude scoffs at the suggestion that a Kansas aqueduct is a relic of a by-gone age. “I’m comfortable if you say it’s a Roman project in the 21st century,” he said, recalling the channels that satiated Caesar’s capital more than two millennia ago. “The aquifer is a question that has to be dealt with.”

Nitrogen fertilizer remains in soils, leaks towards groundwater for decades @AWRACO

Colorado State University Utilizing $4.9 Million Grant to Lead Team Assessing Risk of Extreme Weather Events

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

Here’s the release from Colorado State University (Tony Phifer):

Scientists can’t predict when disasters like the massive Colorado flooding in September or recent wildfires will occur, but a new study hopes to assess risks that could alert officials of the potential for disasters in specific areas. The $4.9 million, five-year study, sponsored by the National Science Foundation and the Department of Energy, will be led by Dan Cooley, associate professor in the Department of Statistics at Colorado State University. He will work with scientists from the University of California-Berkeley, the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, and Lawrence Berkeley National Labs.

Cooley hopes to use statistical models to help determine the risk of extreme events like flooding, wildfires and droughts in certain areas. He said data will be mined from satellite images, climate models and other sources to assess the risk of natural disasters.

“These events take place because of the right combination of events, such as heat, wind and lack of moisture,” he said, referring to the large number of highly destructive Colorado wildfires over the past two years. “This is all about risk assessment, not weather prediction. We hope to improve, from a statistical point of view, our ability to determine risks associated with extreme events.”

Cooley said Colorado’s recent floods, which killed eight and caused hundreds of millions of dollars in damage across the state, were far different from the 1976 Big Thompson Flood near Loveland, which claimed 143 lives and caused more than $30 million in damage. The recent floods were spread over several days and an area that included hundreds of square miles. The Big Thompson Flood was contained to a relatively small area.

“When assessing risks we want to look at both types of events and create a model that approximately tracks the true risk of each type of event occurring,” he said. “The recent floods in Colorado were quite different from anything on record because they were so widespread. The Big Thompson flood and the 1997 Spring Creek flood in Fort Collins flood (that killed five and severely damaged the CSU campus) were much more intense, concentrated events. The difference shows the need to understand the spatial and temporal aspects of these events.”

Complicating the process, Cooley said, is our ever-changing climate, which complicates the way past data is analyzed. As a result, “100-year events” may occur more or less frequently than researchers have come to believe.

“We will develop probability-based measures of risk that take account of the fact that extreme weather events cannot be predicted with certainty,” he said. “Was the recent flooding in Boulder caused by climate change? That can’t be answered with a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no,’ but we can assess the probability of that event taking place in a changed climate.”

Another aspect of the study will be working with social scientists to determine the potential impact of extreme weather events on people across a broad range of socio-economic circumstances.

Postwildfire Debris-Flow Hazard Assessment of the Area Burned by the 2013 West Fork Fire Complex, Southwestern Colorado

West Fork Fire June 20, 2013 photo from the Pike Hot Shots via Wildfire Today
West Fork Fire June 20, 2013 photo from the Pike Hot Shots via Wildfire Today

Click here to read the abstract and download the report. Here’s the abstract (Kristine L. Verdin/Jean A. Dupree/Michael R. Stevens):

This report presents a preliminary emergency assessment of the debris-flow hazards from drainage basins burned by the 2013 West Fork Fire Complex near South Fork in southwestern Colorado. Empirical models derived from statistical evaluation of data collected from recently burned basins throughout the intermountain western United States were used to estimate the probability of debris-flow occurrence, potential volume of debris flows, and the combined debris-flow hazard ranking along the drainage network within and just downstream from the burned area, and to estimate the same for 54 drainage basins of interest within the perimeter of the burned area. Input data for the debris-flow models included topographic variables, soil characteristics, burn severity, and rainfall totals and intensities for a (1) 2-year-recurrence, 1-hour-duration rainfall, referred to as a 2-year storm; (2) 10-year-recurrence, 1-hour-duration rainfall, referred to as a 10-year storm; and (3) 25-year-recurrence, 1-hour-duration rainfall, referred to as a 25-year storm.

Estimated debris-flow probabilities at the pour points of the 54 drainage basins of interest ranged from less than 1 to 65 percent in response to the 2-year storm; from 1 to 77 percent in response to the 10-year storm; and from 1 to 83 percent in response to the 25-year storm. Twelve of the 54 drainage basins of interest have a 30-percent probability or greater of producing a debris flow in response to the 25-year storm. Estimated debris-flow volumes for all rainfalls modeled range from a low of 2,400 cubic meters to a high of greater than 100,000 cubic meters. Estimated debris-flow volumes increase with basin size and distance along the drainage network, but some smaller drainages also were predicted to produce substantial debris flows. One of the 54 drainage basins of interest had the highest combined hazard ranking, while 9 other basins had the second highest combined hazard ranking. Of these 10 basins with the 2 highest combined hazard rankings, 7 basins had predicted debris-flow volumes exceeding 100,000 cubic meters, while 3 had predicted probabilities of debris flows exceeding 60 percent. The 10 basins with high combined hazard ranking include 3 tributaries in the headwaters of Trout Creek, four tributaries to the West Fork San Juan River, Hope Creek draining toward a county road on the eastern edge of the burn, Lake Fork draining to U.S. Highway 160, and Leopard Creek on the northern edge of the burn. The probabilities and volumes for the modeled storms indicate a potential for debris-flow impacts on structures, reservoirs, roads, bridges, and culverts located within and immediately downstream from the burned area. U.S. Highway 160, on the eastern edge of the burn area, also is susceptible to impacts from debris flows.

More USGS coverage here.

Lyons: ‘The river just tore the guts out of parts of the center of the town’ — G. Robert Brakenridge

Flooding St. Vrain River September, 2013 via Voice of America
Flooding St. Vrain River September, 2013 via Voice of America

From LiveScience.com (Stephanie Pappas):

G. Robert Brakenridge has spent his career researching floods. But a lifetime’s worth of knowledge didn’t make it any easier when his own life was upended by rushing water.

Brakenridge, the director of the Dartmouth Flood Observatory and a senior scientist at the University of Colorado, Boulder, was among the hundreds of people cut off from the world in Lyons, Colo., in September, when days of heavy rain unleashed torrential floods along the Colorado foothills.

“You could hardly see the bridges anymore,” Brakenridge told LiveScience. “They were almost invisible inside the river.”[…]

Lyons remains unlivable. Town officials now say utilities may be restored by Thanksgiving. Many of the older homes in the town’s downtown area were destroyed, and a popular park along the St. Vrain was wiped away.

“The river just tore the guts out of parts of the center of the town,” Brakenridge said.

The CWCB is, ‘taking…steps to get irrigators, farmers and water suppliers back on their feet’ — James Eklund

New Saint Vrain River channel after the September 2013 floods -- photo via the Longmont Times-Call
New Saint Vrain River channel after the September 2013 floods — photo via the Longmont Times-Call

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

The Colorado Water Conservation Board this week increased to $40 million the funds available for low-interest loans to help irrigators start repairing flood-damaged systems in Northern Colorado.

The amount represents an increase from the $15 million it had designated earlier this month.

The CWCB also has approved the first round of loans, for a total of $12 million. The loans carry a 30-year term with no interest and no payments the first three years.

The loans were distributed to 10 irrigation and ditch companies for emergency repairs of diversion structures and ditch systems, and ranged in amount from $202,000 to the Boulder and Larimer County Irrigating and Manufacturing Ditch Company to $3.3 million for the Left Hand Ditch Co.

“These repairs are a critical part of recovery from the September floods and the CWCB will continue providing loans and taking other proactive steps to get irrigators, farmers and water suppliers back on their feet,” said CWCB Director James Eklund.

From The Greeley Tribune (Eric Brown):

Tens of millions more dollars have been freed up to help water providers repair the many systems damaged in last month’s historic flooding. The Colorado Water Conservation Board this week increased its available funds for low-interest loans to $40 million — up from the $15 million it originally had designated.

After announcing the $15 million for loans earlier this month, the CWCB within days received applications for about $12 million in loans from water providers. CWCB officials had announced the initial $15 million in loans at the South Platte Roundtable meeting on Oct. 8 and, at the time, said they were hoping to make available more dollars for loans, predicting a huge influx of requests. This week, they made that happen.

During last month’s flooding in northeast Colorado, nearly all agricultural irrigation ditches, reservoir companies and other water providers in the region experienced damage along their systems — ditches, dykes, gravel pits, canals, head gates and other diversion structures along the rivers that were washed out or destroyed and now need to be repaired, or even rebuilt. More than a month later, water providers still are assessing the widespread damage, but some are reporting damages have added up into the hundreds of thousands of dollars, even millions of dollars.

Officials with the Central Colorado Water Conservancy District in Greeley have reported their district alone has about $1 million in needed repairs.

State and local water officials have stressed that, with the loans, they’re wanting to free up dollars quickly so water providers can get started on the repairs, which need to be done before next spring, when water providers will need to capture mountain snowmelt in their reservoirs and then deliver water to farmers starting to grow crops.

In addition to increasing the amount of loan dollars available, the CWCB this week also approved the $12 million in loan applications it had already received. Those loans were distributed to 10 irrigation and ditch companies for emergency repairs of diversion structures and ditch systems, and ranged in amount from $202,000 to the Boulder and Larimer County Irrigating and Manufacturing Ditch Company to $3.3 million for the Left Hand Ditch Company.

Other loans approved as part of the $12 million package included the Highland Ditch Company ($2 million), Rough and Ready Irrigating Ditch Company ($1.8 million), Oligarchy Irrigation Company ($1.3 million), Big Thompson and Platte River Ditch Company ($800,000), Ish Reservoir Company ($207,000), Consolidated Home Supply Ditch and Reservoir Company ($1.6 million), Church Ditch Water Authority ($606,000) and the North Poudre Irrigation Company ($482,000).

With its emergency loan program, the CWCB is offering 30-year loans, which for three years will carry zero percent interest with no payments required. The following 27 years of the loan payments will include interest based on current rates. The CWCB’s loans typically require a 10 percent down payment but that’s not required for the $40 million the CWCB recently freed up.

In addition to the $40 million in loans, Colorado water officials have put up another $1.8 million in grants to help water providers.

Officials with the CWCB — an organization created about 75 years ago to provide policy direction on water issues in the state — is providing $1.5 million of $1.8 million available in grants.

The South Platte and Denver Metro roundtables — each consisting of experts from those respective basins who meet every other month, sometimes more frequently, to discuss water issues in the region — agreed at their meetings this month to each contribute another $150,000 to the grant pot, bringing the total in grant dollars available to $1.8 million.

The Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District in Berthoud is serving as the “financial agent” for the grants.Eric Wilkinson, general manger at Northern Water, explained that the grants distributed wouldn’t exceed $25,000, although each water provider could receive up to five grants. He further noted that, with $25,000 being the maximum, the grants ideally would go toward technical assistance, such as consulting with engineers and other experts, rather than going toward the actual construction work.

From the Boulder Daily Camera (Mitchell Byars):

…said board director James Eklund in a statement. “We thank the board for its far-sighted and quick action in directing these loans to these important projects.”[…]

Among those getting loans were several ditch companies in Boulder County, with Left Hand Ditch Company receiving $3.3 million, Rough and Ready Irrigating Ditch Company in Longmont receiving $1.8 million and Oligarchy Irrigation Company receiving $1.3 million.

An approach to stormwater management is the talk of the town in Colorado Springs

Channel erosion Colorado Springs July 2012 via The Pueblo Chieftain
Channel erosion Colorado Springs July 2012 via The Pueblo Chieftain

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Colorado Springs City Council and Mayor Steve Bach continue to wrangle over how stormwater funding will be handled. Council president Keith King on Friday said council does not want to expand city government, after Bach chastised council earlier in the week.

Colorado Springs Utilities committed to mitigation of floodwater on Fountain Creek in 2009 as part of its conditions when it obtained a 1041 land-use permit from Pueblo County for Southern Delivery System.

“We’d like to clarify that council is not endorsing the creation of a physical department nor do we have plans to expand city government. We are advocating for the creation of a virtual department, or more accurately, a stormwater appropriations or dedicated funding source,” King said. “This virtual department is strictly an accounting mechanism to inform citizens of how much revenue we are allocating to stormwater and ensures that the funds are solely dedicated to stormwater.”

Council has proposed using $2 million from this year’s fund balance to begin work immediately.

Earlier this week, Bach told council he does not favor creating a new department after the council sent him a letter Oct. 14 saying it would propose a stormwater appropriation department. A “virtual” department would assure the public that stormwater needs are being considered, King said.

“We must commit money from of our general fund for operation and maintenance. We must show our citizens we are serious about addressing the stormwater drainage issues. We must show our friends in Pueblo that we are resolute about how much we are spending,” King said. “Most importantly, we must make sure, as council, that we can audit the numbers and prove our expenditures to the citizens.”

Bach claims $25 million for stormwater, including wildfire mitigation, is included in his budget proposal for next year. The mayor wants to extend current bonds to pay for $100 million in the most critical stormwater needs over five years. Colorado Springs stormwater needs are estimated at about $535 million.

Council is working with an El Paso County stormwater task force to develop a sustainable funding source for projects, as well as a regional approach.

From KRDO (Jonathan Petramala):

Thursday, a couple dozen residents showed up to the first “Stormwater Solutions Town Hall” at the Conservation and Environment Center. Officials sat back and let residents pick through possible solutions to come up with what they believe is most feasible.

“The solution is a regional approach,” said homeowner Sharon Owen.

A regional approach and a willingness to invest in stormwater infrastructure were shared by those in attendance.

“This is what happens when you don’t invest,” said homeowner Bruce Fogarty. “It’s going to be expensive but it’s something that absolutely needs to be done.”

After nearly an hour of residents brainstorming and presenting their ideas, task force members say they plan on taking the ideas brought forward here and at two more town halls to come up with what they hope is a final solution.

“If you don’t plan it, if you don’t do it right you’re wasting your time and energy,” [El Paso County Commission Chairman Dennis Hisey] said.

From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Monica Mendoza):

“We don’t want to grow government,” Bach said in his remarks to City Council this week.

Bach was reacting to a letter the nine council members sent him earlier this month outlining their plan to create a Stormwater Department and take $2 million from the city’s 2013 rainy day fund to start it.

The idea, said council president Keith King, is to get moving immediately on stormwater projects. He said it would show residents that the city is spending money from its general fund on stormwater projects. And it could be viewed as a good faith commitment should the city council ask residents to approve a fee or tax to pay for stormwater projects, he said.

Bach said his plan to pay for stormwater projects does not require a new tax or fee.

“The prior city council imposed a fee,” Bach said. “It was well meaning, but it didn’t resonate well.”

A short-lived Stormwater Enterprise and its fee was rescinded four years ago and left the city without a dedicated funding source to pay for millions in stormwater and drainage needs, which has been the focus of nearly two years of meetings and discussions. Colorado Springs sits in the northern section of the Fountain Creek Watershed – a 927-square mile watershed that includes three counties and eight municipalities. Legally, the city is responsible to keep the community safe and move stormwater through the city to avoid flooding, keep a safe environment and ensure water quality.

Bach wants residents to extend the voter-approved Springs Community Improvement Program, which was the sale of $88 million in municipal bonds and paid for 29 capital improvement projects. The projects were completed in 2004 and the debt, paid for from the general fund, is scheduled to be paid off in 2016. If voters extended the bond program, the city could spend $175 million on projects in five years and pay back the debt in 20.

The money also could be spent on other city capital improvement projects that have been on hold, Bach said. Road improvement, bridge repair and building repair and renovations have gone untouched for years. Bach’s idea about renewing the SCIP bond program would spend $20 million a year for five years on stormwater projects, $11.5 million on roads and bridges and set aside $1 million a year for city park improvement, he said. And instead of a new city department, all of the projects would be handled by the city’s public works department.

But City Council said the mayor’s plan does not address regional stormwater concerns. A regional stormwater task force, for nearly two years, has described stormwater issues as regional saying that if money is spent north of the city, in the county limits, it benefits entities downstream. The taskforce envisioned a regional tax or fee that would be a permanent source of money for the stormwater and drainage projects, which by some estimates is nearly $700 million. This approach would be a pay-as-you-go method and a fee or tax also would cover the estimated $11 million in ongoing maintenance needs to keep the existing stormwater channels, drainage ponds and other systems in good shape.

“One of the things we need to look at is the entire watershed, from the top of El Paso County to Pueblo,” King said.

From the Colorado Springs Independent (Pam Zubeck):

The dust-up between City Council and Mayor Steve Bach over stormwater took another turn today when Council President Keith King issued a statement disputing remarks Bach has made in recent days.

As reported on the Independent’s blog on Oct. 16, Council issued a letter to Bach seeking more detail on the 2014 budget and declaring it wanted to create a stormwater department.

More stormwater coverage here.

Northern Integrated Supply Project survey shows 72% support for the project

Northern Integrated Supply Project via The Denver Post
Northern Integrated Supply Project via The Denver Post

Update: Here’s the release from Northern Water about the Ciruli poll showing strong support for NISP in Weld, Larimer and Morgan counties. Here’s an excerpt:

After five years of extended Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) studies, public support for the Northern Integrated Supply Project (NISP) remains steady. A survey conducted in July 2013 with 900 voters in Larimer, Weld and Morgan counties shows voter support for the project at 72 percent. The 2013 survey follows a survey conducted in August 2008 with 800 Larimer and Weld county voters that showed NISP had combined county support of 70 percent.

From Northern Water via The Greeley Tribune:

Public support for the Northern Integrated Supply Project remains steady after five years of extended Environmental Impact Statement studies, according to a recent survey. The survey was conducted in July 2013 with 900 voters in Larimer, Weld and Morgan counties, and shows voter support for the project at 72 percent. The 2013 survey follows a survey conducted in August 2008 with 800 Larimer and Weld county voters that showed NISP had combined county support of 70 percent.

The NISP project would build two new reservoirs, along with necessary pump stations and pipelines in Larimer and Weld counties. The project would store runoff from the Poudre River.

A draft supplemental Environmental Impact Statement is due in 2014.

Ciruli Associates conducted both surveys for the consortium of water providers proposing the Northern Integrated Supply Project.

The latest telephone survey, conducted in July 2013 with 900 registered voters in Larimer (400), Weld (300) and Morgan (200) counties, has a statistical range of accuracy of plus or minus 3.3 percentage points for the entire sample.

More coverage from Ryan Maye Handy writing for the Fort Collins Coloradoan. Here’s an excerpt:

The recently completed survey is the second the company has commissioned since 2008. The first survey was released when the first Environmental Impact Statement — a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers examination of the project’s potential environmental damage — was finished. Although 70 percent of Larimer and Weld county participants in the first survey said they were in favor of the NISP project, outcry at the environmental study’s results convinced the Corps of Engineers to do a supplement study, to be completed in 2014.

The second survey, completed in July, showed participants slightly more in favor of NISP — 72 percent said they support the project, according to Denver-based polling and consulting company Ciruli Associates.

Cirulli, which also did the 2008 survey, called 900 registered voters in Larimer, Weld and Morgan counties and asked them two questions. One asked if residents were basically in favor of the project, while the second asked if the decade spent studying the environmental impacts of the project is sufficient time…

The project still has several hurdles to clear before it can become a reality. Once the new EIS is released, Northern Water must settle legal disputes.

More Northern Integrated Supply Project coverage here and here.

The Snowmass Water and Sanitation District is proposing a 2.135 mill property tax increase

Water infrastructure as sidewalk art
Water infrastructure as sidewalk art

From The Aspen Times (Jill Beathard):

Pitkin County residents should receive their mail-in ballots for the Nov. 5 election starting this week. In addition to some statewide measures, Snowmass Village residents will be asked to approve a mill levy of 2.135 mills that would fund the replacement of aging water and sewer infrastructure, much of which is 30 to 50 years old, according to the district.

Emergency repairs are becoming more commonplace and taking away funding from proactive replacement projects. They also cost more than scheduled repairs, said Kit Hamby, director of the Snowmass Water and Sanitation District…

Dave Spence, former president of the water board, said no one wants to see property taxes go up. However, most residents would probably “rather do it and be sure that the pipes are still working” than not have a replacement program, he said. Spence joined the board after pipes running to his building broke during the holiday season many years ago…

The only naysayers of district projects in the past were members of the Snowmass Capitol Creek Caucus, Spence said. Most of those individuals are supportive of measure 5A because it will conserve more of the precious water that the district diverts from Snowmass Creek.

More infrastructure coverage here.

Fountain Creek: CH2M’s stormwater assessment ready

Colorado Springs circa 1910 via GhostDepot.com
Colorado Springs circa 1910 via GhostDepot.com

From the Colorado Springs Business Journal (Rebecca Tonn):

Earlier this year, the Regional Storm Water Task Force presented details of the area’s stormwater mitigation needs.

On Oct. 9, engineering firm CH2M Hill released its comprehensive City of Colorado Springs Stormwater Needs Assessment to Mayor Steve Bach and City Council. CH2M Hill was contracted by the city to give a third-party overview on the scope and depth of the task force’s stormwater assessment. The city released the report Tuesday, Oct. 15.

The full report can be viewed online at the city’s website.

More stormwater coverage here.

WRA report — Conservation Synergy: The Case for Integrating Water and Energy Efficiency Programs

conservationsynergycoverwra

Click here to download the report. Click here for the executive summary. Here’s an excerpt:

The nexus between water and energy has been understood for several years, yet only a handful of utilities have fully capitalized on this knowledge by combining their efficiency programs.

There are many inter-connections between water, electricity, and natural gas: Significant amounts of water are used for cooling during electricity gen- eration, and significant amounts of electricity and natural gas are used to pump, treat, and heat water for use in homes and businesses. Thus, when one resource is conserved, so is another.

Utilities that have collaborated — a few of which are profiled here — have overwhelmingly found such programs to be a good business decision. The benefits are manifold: higher participation rates, increased customer satisfaction, coordinated and complementary program design, and an improved reputation from working smarter — not harder.

More energy policy coverage here.