Colorado weather: Soggy September

Summit County Citizens Voice

Near-record rainfall at Dillon and Breckenridge

By Bob Berwyn

FRISCO — If September felt a little soggy, it wasn’t just your imagination. The official  stats from the two National Weather Service observation sites in Summit County show that it was a month for the record books.

At Dillon, there was measurable precipitation on two out of every three days, totaling to 3.86 inches of water in what is usually one of the driest months of the year. And in Breckenridge, longtime weather observer Rick Bly measured 3.35 inches of precipitation, tied with 1908 as the second-wettest September of all time based on records going back to the late 1800s. Only September 1961 was wetter, with 3.74 inches of water.

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Stormwater: Springs’ Mayor Bach has proposed a combination of debt and redirected general fund cash to fund needs

Fountain Creek Watershed
Fountain Creek Watershed

From KOAA.com (Steve Folsom):

Key facts of an independent study requested by Colorado Springs Mayor, Steve Bach were presented Wednesday. The independent engineering firm CH2M Hill was called in for a second opinion after a local storm water task force came back with storm estimates showing a jump from 500 to around $800 million regionally.

The independent audit looks only at the Colorado Springs portion of the storm water needs. It shows there are over 225 projects that need to happen totaling nearly $535 million. That is $152 million decrease from the report earlier in the year, but it also shows there are $162 million in projects that need to be treated with urgency, which is an $80 million increase. It is a total that is down, but also a need for more cash to quickly get moving on repairs and improvements.

Ideas on how to pay for it are causing debate. Mayor Bach unexpectedly presented and idea to combine borrowed money from bonds with funds redirected from the city’s general fund. There are many other elected leaders from the region who want to hold town meetings and discuss with voters the possibility of asking for a storm water property fee or tax on the ballot.

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Mayor Steve Bach’s proposal to roll stormwater into the city’s other capital needs got a cold shoulder Wednesday from members of a task force that has worked for more than a year — and from Pueblo County.

Bach laid out his plan for funding critical stormwater needs to City Council, county commissioners and nearby communities following the unveiling of a study that prioritizes projects. “We’ve already stubbed our toe once on stormwater,” Bach said. “The worst thing that can happen is that we get turned down again (by voters). We’ve got to get it right.”

He proposed spending $100 million over the next five years, lumping it into a $175 million plan that also would fund streets, roads, bridges, public safety vehicles and parks. It would take 20 years to pay off the bonds. While the bond issue would require a vote, there would not be a tax increase since payments would be similar to the current bond structure.

Bach also made an overture to create a regional stormwater authority, but said it should be funded through contributions from individual communities, funded proportionately and managed by Colorado Springs. He also said the city could review progress and determine if more funding would be needed at the end of the five-year period.

But other public officials criticized Bach’s plan for failing to address regional issues and providing a stable, sustainable source of funding. “I’m alarmed by the mayor’s proposal, which seems to be a stopgap way of funding the needs. It kicks the can down the road,” said Ray Petros, Pueblo County’s water attorney. He said it does not fulfill the promises of Colorado Springs Utilities to have a stormwater funding mechanism in place when it obtained a 1041 permit from Pueblo County for the Southern Delivery System.

“We are willing to listen to constituents and we want to hear from the community,” said Keith King, council president.

The council and El Paso County commissioners are planning three town hall meetings to discuss stormwater before finalizing funding plans. The intention is to allow county voters the chance to approve a tax, fee or some other way to fund stormwater by 2014.

But the task force members emphasized no method has been selected. No dollar figure or timetable for capital projects has been developed either. Commissioner Amy Lathen called Bach’s proposal “uninformed,” because the mayor has not been meeting with the task force.

Commissioner Dennis Hisey, who serves on the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District, said regional cooperation is needed rather than Bach’s approach. “Stormwater starts high in the watershed

More Fountain Creek coverage here and here.

‘We must have a plan that provides a secure water future for all Coloradans’ — Jay Gallagher

From Steamboat Today (Jay Gallagher):

As our state economy grows, our water needs will grow. However, in the coming decades, we now anticipate a substantial shortfall of water supplies to meet our needs. Unless we do something to manage our water future, more and more agricultural water, particularly in eastern Colorado, will be bought up to supply our growing cities, drying up hundreds of thousands of acres of productive farm land and jeopardizing our economy. Northeast Colorado alone is expected to lose approximately 20 percent of agricultural land currently under production.

This future is unacceptable. We must have a plan that provides a secure water future for all Coloradans.

This past May, the governor issued an executive order directing the Colorado Water Conservation Board to develop the Colorado Water Plan — a plan to support the aspirations of all Coloradans. The CWCB will submit a draft plan to the governor’s office by December 2014 and then will work with the governor’s office to complete the plan by the end of 2015. This is an unprecedented undertaking for Colorado, but fortunately, the citizen work groups to develop the plan are in place and their work is underway…

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 CWCB, the IBCC and the basin round tables.

More Colorado Water Plan coverage

Gunnison Basin Roundtable recap — What’s worth more: 50 houses in Lakewood or kayaking on Daisy Creek?

Big Wood Falls photo via American Whitewater (2011)
Big Wood Falls photo via American Whitewater (2011)

From the Glenwood Springs Post Independent (Hannah Holm):

That question, or something close to it (I wish I’d taken better notes), was posed on Oct. 7 following a presentation by American Whitewater staffer Chris Menges to the Gunnison Basin Roundtable on the results of a survey of flow needs for whitewater recreation in the Gunnison Basin. That’s the kind of values question that will be hovering in the background as Colorado’s water leaders struggle to develop a plan that can stretch the state’s limited water supplies to meet its growing needs…

Water managers have long been accustomed to assessing water needs for crop irrigation and household use and factored that into their long-term planning. It’s only in recent decades that flow needs to keep streams healthy have begun to be taken into consideration, and an even more recent development to consider the flows needed to keep boaters happy.

Whitewater recreation has become a big business in Colorado, as well as an icon of the “Colorado lifestyle.” In the Gunnison Basin, commercial float trips were estimated to have added more than $6 million to the economy in 2011. The Colorado River Outfitters Association estimated that statewide, whitewater boating accounted for $155 million tourist dollars spent in that same year.

And so whitewater recreation advocates are now taking their place among other stakeholders wrestling with how to guide Colorado’s water future. According to an American Whitewater announcement promoting participation in their survey, it was designed to “help American Whitewater inform future management of the Gunnison River Basin, and build support for healthy river flows threatened by drought, development, and management policies.”

Generally speaking, the survey found that the lowest flows survey respondents considered worth a repeat trip were in the range of 400-800 cubic feet per second (cfs), while flows considered “optimal” ranged between 500-10,000cfs. Respondents tended to prefer higher flows on stream segments farther downstream in the basin.

Menges pointed out that these “acceptable” flows do tend to be achieved seasonally on most of the segments considered in the survey, and that maintaining these seasonal flows also helps serve environmental needs on these streams.

Roundtable members expressed some irritation with how the whitewater boating community has interfered with other land and water users in certain instances, but also expressed appreciation for data that could help bolster the case for the need to keep adequate water on the Western Slope. They made no immediate decision on what to do with the data from the survey…

What remains to be seen is how Colorado’s water plan will make choices between consumptive and nonconsumptive demands when there’s not enough water to satisfy all of them.

More IBCC — basin roundtables coverage here.