Wetlands Program awards $700,000 in grants for 2013

Hunter if fog at Prewitt Reservoir via Colorado Open Lands
Hunter in fog at Prewitt Reservoir via Colorado Open Lands

Here’s the release from Colorado Parks and Wildlife (Randy Hampton):

Colorado Parks and Wildlife has selected 18 wetland and riparian restoration projects that will share in $700,000 in grants for the 2013 Wetlands Program grant cycle.

Approved grant applications include a project to enhance the Shields Pit in Fort Collins to make it suitable for native fish introduction, water and infrastructure development for wetlands around Prewitt Reservoir, stream bank restoration along the Carpenter Ranch section of the Yampa River, and the removal of invasive tamarisk trees on Brown’s Park National Wildlife Refuge. The selected projects encompass 1,225 acres around the state.

“Wetland and riparian habitats cover only about two percent of the land in Colorado, but provide benefits to the majority of the wildlife species in the state,” said Brian Sullivan, Wetlands Program Coordinator for Colorado Parks and Wildlife. “The value of these habitats can’t be overstated. Clearly, conservation of wetland and riparian habitat is key to conserving wildlife diversity in Colorado.”

The species that will benefit from the projects funded during the 2013 cycle include eight priority waterfowl species and 15 priority non-game species. Those species include the bald eagle, northern leopard frog, American bittern, sandhill crane, piping plover, least tern, New Mexico meadow jumping mouse, river otter and brassy minnow.

The funded projects will receive a share of $700,000 that was available this grant cycle. Funds for the Wetlands Program come from lottery-funded Great Outdoors Colorado (GOCO) and sales of the Colorado waterfowl stamp.

“GOCO shares the commitment to wetland preservation and restoration and has been contributing to these efforts since 1997,” said Lise Aangeenbrug, GOCO Executive Director.

The Colorado waterfowl stamp program is designed to conserve wetlands for waterfowl and other wildlife. Hunters age 16 and older are required to purchase a $5 stamp validation to hunt waterfowl in Colorado.

Sixteen funding partners will contribute an additional $834,205 for these projects. Funding partners include private landowners, city, county, state and federal governments, and nonprofits such as Ducks Unlimited, The Nature Conservancy, and the Rocky Mountain Bird Observatory.

“These projects will improve wildlife habitats by restoring areas for native fish introduction, removing invasive species and improve public hunting opportunities for waterfowl,” said Steve Yamashita, acting director of Colorado Parks and Wildlife.

The complete list of 2013 wetland and riparian restoration projects can be found online at the Wetlands Project Funding webpage.

Buy and dry: ‘Agriculture has a big target on it’ — Jim Pokrandt

Grand Valley Irrigation Ditch
Grand Valley Irrigation Ditch

From KVNF.org (Maeve Conran):

Jim Pokrandt with the Colorado River District doesn’t mince words in describing where growing cities are finding new water supplies.

“Agriculture has a big target on it,” said Pokrandt. “There are willing ranchers and farmers who are willing to sell their water to the cities.”[…]

Agricultural water rights in some parts of Colorado can fetch thousands of dollars per acre-foot. As Jim Pokrandt explains, for some farmers struggling to make ends meet, it’s a bittersweet deal that’s often too good to pass up.

“It’s a double-edged sword,” said Pokrandt. “The rancher wants to be able to sell his or her water right but then there’s also the concern in the ranching and farming community that we need to keep land in production.”

It’s that long-term impact on farming that has many people concerned. Buy and dry has been more prevalent on the Front Range where most urban development is happening…

[Brian Werner] and others advocate for increasing water storage in the state as an alternative to buy and dry. But reservoir expansion in Colorado has prompted opposition by many environmental groups. Werner says if municipalities don’t get the water from storage, they’ll buy it from the farms, drying up the land.

“We’re not going to stop buy and dry, that isn’t going to happen, but what we hope to do is make sure that that’s not the only alternative for our future growth.”

Other alternatives include creating conservation easements, to help protect water supplies. Also, instead of selling outright, some farmers are leasing a portion of their water rights to local cities. But water suppliers contend owning the rights is really their only supply guarantee. Water managers and farming advocates throughout the state do agree that long-term solutions must be sought if the state’s farming industry is to be protected, and the state’s growing population is to have enough water.

Surviving Lyons After the Colorado Floods

Your Water Colorado Blog

Whether or not you experienced the Colorado floods, this essay, Dispatch from Twiggly Island,  published in High Country News, is worth a full read…it was nearly impossible to cut any of it. Public radio reporter Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock describes how the people of Lyons came together, and lived together to survive last month’s floods as the St. Vrain overtook homes, roads, cars and more:

…The rivers were no longer civilized, but the people of Lyons were. When the South St. Vrain went ballistic at 2 a.m., our neighbor knocked to tell us that people were evacuating. “I couldn’t leave without you guys,” he said. He was new to the neighborhood, and I’d only met him twice. Within minutes, our phone was ringing with offers of places to stay. We scrambled four blocks uphill to the house of our friends Dave and Alison, who were smart enough to build on high…

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Drought news: Wet across much of Colorado and Wyoming the past week #COdrought

US Drought Monitor October 15, 2013
US Drought Monitor October 15, 2013

Click here to visit the US Drought Monitor website. Here’s an excerpt:

The Rockies Westward to the Pacific

The Rockies Westward to The Pacific Coast: The wet week that affected much of Wyoming, Colorado, and adjacent areas continued a generally wet pattern dating back several weeks. Since mid-August, large swaths across south-central Montana, northern and central Wyoming, southeastern Wyoming, and much of northeastern Colorado have received 2 to locally 5 times their normal amount of precipitation. As a result, additional improvements were made in central and eastern portions of both states. Through the rest of the dry areas in the West, only light precipitation fell, if any, keeping dryness and drought unchanged from last week. So far this year, less than half of normal precipitation has been reported in the southwestern half of Nevada and all but the southern and northern extremes of California, along with isolated sections of the Intermountain West. Only about 25% of normal has been reported for the last 9 1/2 months in much of central and western California.

The Northern and Central Plains and the Midwest

Heavy to excessive precipitation in the region, reaching as far east as northwestern Iowa and central Minnesota, prompted another round of broad-scale improvements in areas of dryness and drought. One-category improvements were widespread through all but the northeasternmost sections of the Dakotas and sizeable areas across the rest of the region. Most locations from the northern and western tiers of Iowa to the north and west now report surplus precipitation on time scales dating back at least 60 days. East of these area, precipitation was light at best, and short-term precipitation deficits persisted from interior Iowa and parts of southern Minnesota southward and eastward through the dry areas in the middle Mississippi Valley and Great Lakes region.

Slow recovery for Glen Haven, Drake #COflood

Glen Haven October 2013 via NBC News
Glen Haven October 2013 via NBC News

From NBCNews.com (Tony Dokoupil):

…while the bigger cities of central Colorado — from Boulder to Loveland to Fort Collins — are bustling again, at least two once-gleaming villages in the foothills are virtual ghost towns, isolated by gaps in the asphalt and rivers that undid a century of civilization in a week of heavy rain. In Glen Haven, a 400-person jewel box on the road to Rocky Mountain National Park, an estimated 80 percent of the homes are empty and every business downtown is closed or totally gone — swept seven miles into the town of Drake, a thousand-person tourist draw that’s also now obliterated and empty except for a handful of holdouts who refused to be evacuated…

The water that cascaded out of the Rockies last month ripped through 24 counties, killing nine people and dampening 2,500 square miles in the heart of Colorado. But the communities of Glen Haven and Drake may be the most devastated, deserted areas left — as well as the most at risk of becoming genuine ghost towns before the “spirit of recovery” finds them too.

“There’s been a lot of talk and a lot of meetings but not much action,” said Steve Childs, owner of the Glen Haven General Store, which was knocked sideways in the flood by a Ford Bronco and the remnants of Town Hall.

Though still officially closed by the county, with roads blockaded to discourage mischief and buildings nailed with red signs reading “UNSAFE,” NBC toured Glen Haven and Drake this week with a pass from the sheriff and the good will of locals. The result, coupled with interviews with more than a dozen residents, was a tour of two map-dots that feel forgotten by the relief effort — and the locals are fighting to make sure they aren’t forgotten by history…

As winter approaches it’s only going to get worse for both towns. Many homes in the area are considered seasonal or secondary, which federal assistance won’t cover, and while a Federal Emergency Management Agency representative says that requests for public assistance through firehouses and homeowners associations should be approved, they haven’t been yet in Glen Haven — the kind of paperwork delay Gov. Hickenlooper has blamed on furloughs at FEMA’s Washington office during the government shutdown.

But who should clean up the destroyed downtowns and private roads chewed through by water? That’s easy to answer in a tax center like Boulder or Fort Collins, which has its own heavy equipment and a staff of skilled operators. Small towns rely on the county, in this case Larimer, which so far hasn’t found the funds to help with the “community needs” list on the fire house wall in Glen Haven. It includes dump trucks, dumpsters, chainsaws, a wood chipper, barricades and traffic cones…

In Drake, according to Sgt. Gerald Baker, a first responder in the county sheriff’s office, “a whole mountain came down” in a mudslide so loud that people covered their ears. They “believed the earth was coming to an end,” he said, and after debris temporarily dammed up the river, it almost did for some people. The blockage released a “tsunami” of water into the canyon. Or as a member of the road crew rebuilding Highway 34 put it: “Goodbye, Drake.”

From the Northern Colorado Business Journal (Steve Lynn):

Cities and water districts are on the hook for at least $13.5 million to repair water and sewage systems ripped apart by floods that struck Northern Colorado in September. The city of Evans was among the hardest hit: The cost of a new wastewater treatment plant to replace the badly damaged plant will cost as much as $7 million, Evans spokeswoman Kristan Williams said…

Cities in Northern Colorado are grappling with how to deal with the flood-battered wastewater treatment infrastructure. While water infrastructure in some cities such as Fort Collins escaped unscathed, Loveland, Greeley, the Left Hand Water Conservancy District and others saw heavy damage…

The Left Hand Water Conservancy District estimates $2.5 million in repairs to its damaged water infrastructure, General manager Chris Smith said. Flooding redirected Left Hand Creek so that the district’s main water intake no longer collects water. The water district also saw damage to multiple treated water lines on Boulder Creek and the St. Vrain River…

In Loveland, city officials estimate repairs will cost between $3 million and $4 million. Damage to wastewater lines will hundreds of thousands of dollars more to repair. The city’s water treatment plant on the Big Thompson River was not damaged, but flooding along the Big Thompson destroyed sections of two other important water lines, including a 20-inch water line and another 36-inch water line. The city disconnected service in those lines and patched in service to the 48-inch water line that city and construction contracting crews were able to save. The city has stopped getting water from the Big Thompson, instead drawing its supply from Green Ridge Glade Reservoir because of river water quality concerns…

The city of Greeley suffered damage to a portion of one of five treated water lines, cutting service to more than 50 customers, said Jon Monson, director of Greeley Water and Sewer. The city has rerouted clean water from other sources to those customers.

From The Denver Post (Mark Jaffe):

As floodwater started to rise Sept. 11, some oil and gas operators began shutting wells and securing facilities. It would be five days before state regulators announced their own plans.
“Did the state have a disaster plan for the oil and gas fields?” asked Bruce Baziel, energy program director of the environmental group Earthworks. “It was hard to tell.”

From the start, state oil and gas regulators were gathering information and passing it on to the incident commander overseeing disaster response, said Alan Gilbert, a Colorado Department of Natural Resources official.

“That’s our role as a technical agency,” Gilbert said.

Throughout the first flood weekend, oil companies provided information on their own operations to the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission.

“Demands on us to be transparent were high,” said Tisha Schuller, president of the Colorado Oil and Gas Association, an industry group.

Yet as pictures of bubbling pipes, spouting wells and floating tanks began to appear on social media, fears rose about what was happening in the flooded oil fields. On Sept. 16, as the flood covered parts of the oil-rich Denver-Julesburg Basin, more steps to assess impacts were announced by the oil and gas commission staff.

“We intend to compile an ongoing spreadsheet with the status of operations,” said Matt Lepore, executive director of the commission.

Regulations require operators to report spills. Lepore asked for the industry’s voluntary cooperation in assessing the status of all wells.

“In the middle of a disaster, it strikes me that this ought to have been required,” said Peter May-smith, executive director of Conservation Colorado. “If it wasn’t required by regulation, the governor should have issued an executive order.”

The steps announced were “ad hoc,” but the commission was monitoring the situation, DNR’s Gilbert said.

“We are going to have a formal review,” Gilbert said. “We’ll look at what worked and what didn’t work.”

Within days, the commission had about 18 inspectors in the field checking sites. It used its mapping capabilities to identify wells and facilities in floodplains and focus on those. About 1,500 wells were identified in the floodplains of the South Platte and other Front Range rivers, Gilbert said.

“For years, conservation groups have pressed for limited drilling in floodplains, and the state and the industry have fought it,” said Gary Wockner, Colorado program director for Clean Water Action. “Part of this wasn’t a natural disaster but a man-made disaster.”

The industry estimated that at the height of the flooding, 1,900 wells were shut in. There are more than 20,000 wells in the basin. State inspectors counted 14 “notable releases” primarily from overturned or damaged tanks, totaling 1,042 barrels (43,764 gallons) of petroleum products. There were 13 releases of produced water—which contains well impurities—totaling 430 barrels (18,060 gallons), according to the state.

“That’s thousands of gallons of pollutants poisoning our waterways,” Wockner said. “It isn’t something to be dismissed.”

By Thursday, inspectors had covered 90 percent of the wells and facilities in the floodplains, Gilbert said.

“When you have an industrial activity of this scale, you need clear contingency plans,” said Conservation Colorado’s May-smith. “A clear plan in advance.”

State officials will review how effective regulations were in preventing flood spills and whether reporting and emergency plans were adequate, Gilbert said.

Could that lead to new rules or plans?

“That is what we are going to look at,” Gilbert said.

State and industry officials insist their performance was good.

“It was chaos—11,000 homes, 200 miles of road, destroyed,” the Oil and Gas Association’s Schuller said. “You can’t plan for that. You just have to be flexible and responsive.”

From The Denver Post (Joey Bunch):

Nearly a month in steps are being taken on the long road to Colorado’s recovery from September’s floods that tore through roads, towns, homes and lives. In response, the Colorado legislature announced a 12-member bipartisan Flood Disaster Study Committee Wednesday.

Senate Democrats appointed Sen. Jeanne Nicholson of Gilpin County, Sen. John Kefalas of Fort Collins and Sen. Matt Jones of Louisville. The Republicans named Sen. Kent Lambert of Colorado Springs, Sen. Scott Renfroe and Sen. Kevin Lundberg of Berthoud.

Republicans in the House are represented by minority leader Brian DelGrosso of Loveland, Rep. Stephen Humphrey of Severance and Rep. Jerry Sonnenberg (of Sterling. The Democrats appointed Rep. Mike Foote of Lafayette, Rep.Jonathan Singer of Longmont and Rep. Dave Young of Greeley.

House Speaker Mark Ferrandino, D-Denver, stated, “We’re doing this in a strictly bipartisan way because politics has no place in disaster relief. Unlike Washington, we’re coming together to address a difficult issue facing our state.”

The group will meet five times before and during the next legislative session to review short-term relief and long-term planning for flood recovery.

State and FEMA analysts are still collecting information about the losses. Eventually they will tell us how costly the storm was. The preliminary numbers have been grim, and the toll is expected to rise as FEMA continues to collect damage assessments and calculates more specific estimates on how much repairs will cost.

“It’s abundantly clear that we need to get to work on policy that helps victims and proactively mitigates future disaster,” Nicholson said in a press release from the Senate Democrats. “We have a nonpartisan, urgent charge, and I welcome the help of anyone in fulfilling it.”

Kefalas added in his statement: “In the days following the flood, I spent time with displaced families, and I witnessed how our community pulled together. Collaboration between the public and private sectors was critical for effective, timely and humane responses.”

DelGrosso’s statement called helping flood victims a top priority for the special committee. “I am hopeful the committee will find consensus on ways we can assist flood victims, better equip Colorado to respond to future flood disasters and rebuild the infrastructure impacted by the floods as soon as possible.” he said.

From the Colorado Springs Business Journal (Cameron Moix):

While the north-central section of the state received the brunt of damage caused by the summer flooding — which the governor’s office has estimated at $300 million to $500 million — Colorado Springs and its surrounding communities also sustained severe damage to parks and infrastructure…

The majority of work on or pertaining to state roadways in the Pikes Peak region should be completed by early spring and will produce a bill of approximately $15 million, according to estimates by the Colorado Department of Transportation.

Doug Lollar, the north program engineer for CDOT’s Region 2, said that the majority of El Paso County’s damage is concentrated around the Waldo Canyon burn scar near Manitou Springs, which covered U.S. Highway 24 with feet of floodwater, scattered debris and left much roadway in disrepair…

El Paso County sustained initial damages to its roads estimated at $1.85 million from late-summer floods, according to a Sept. 18 news release…

While the city of Colorado Springs has experienced an estimated $13 million in damage as a result of the floods, Senior Communications Specialist Krithika Prashant said that damage assessments are ongoing to determine specific areas of focus and a concise breakdown of that estimate.

Colorado Water Plan: ‘We’ve got ample crises’ — James Eklund

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Colorado has suffered through drought, wildfires and floods in the six months since Gov. John Hickenlooper ordered up a state water plan. While simply having a plan would not have prevented any of it, state response might have improved if a plan were in hand.

“We know the plan isn’t a silver bullet. I’m reminded of that quote by the great water philosopher Mike Tyson: ‘Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face. We’ve been punched in the face,” said James Eklund, director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board.

Eklund addressed the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District Board Thursday, explaining the progress CWCB has made so far in developing the plan. The plan will be on the governor’s desk after the 2014 election, even if a new governor would be coming on board. That’s a parallel situation to 2010, when the Interbasin Compact Committee wrote a letter to outgoing Gov. Bill Ritter and Hickenlooper detailing its progress toward addressing a looming municipal supply water gap. That laid the groundwork for Hickenlooper to step up the effort of statewide water planning and his vow to develop a state plan before 2016. The planning process needs to continue regardless of whether Hickenlooper wins reelection, Eklund said.

“We’ve got ample crises, and we need to respond in a way to address the problems,” he said.

The plan would address the needs of agriculture, cities, recreation and environment in a way that avoids further dry-up of farms to support urban needs. To do so, the state will have to find new ways to cooperate in water projects, improve forest health in watersheds, protect property rights, preserve water systems and remove regulatory barriers to new projects, Eklund said.

More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.