Fountain Creek: Public prefers regional stormwater solution

Fountain Creek Watershed
Fountain Creek Watershed

From the Colorado Springs Business Journal (Marija B. Vader):

The 50 people who attended a public stormwater meeting Thursday unequivocally endorsed a regional–not city-wide–approach to the stormwater problem in El Paso County…

The next two public meetings will be held: Nov. 6, from 6:30-8:30 p.m. at Cheyenne Mountain High School Cafeteria, 1200 Cresta Road, and Nov. 19, from 6:30-8:30 p.m. at the Leon Young Service Center, 1521 S. Hancock Expressway.

The meetings include a focus-group discussion led by a moderator to ensure accurate and in-depth data from attendees. Representatives of all three city and county groups will be in attendance.

More stormwater coverage here.

DBJ Special Report: The fracking debate

The hydraulic fracturing water cycle via Western Resource Advocates
The hydraulic fracturing water cycle via Western Resource Advocates

Click here to go to the Denver Business Journal’s special report page for hydraulic fracturing. Here’s the introduction:

Hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking” — a practice widely used in the energy-rich West to extract natural gas from deep underground — has triggered controversy between the oil and gas industry and environmentalists.

Fracking refers to injecting a mixture of water, sand and chemicals into rock at high pressure, fracturing the rock and creating or extending channels for gas to escape that might otherwise remain trapped.

Some contend that the chemicals used in fracking can contaminate underground drinking-water supplies. The industry has long argued the practice is safe.

The Denver Business Journal has been covering the debate over fracking and efforts to increase regulation and disclosure of chemicals used.

Here are recent highlights of the DBJ’s coverage in print and online, most of it by DBJ energy and environment reporter Cathy Proctor.

Most recent articles appear first. (Articles that appeared in the last month in the print edition are accessible to subscribers only.)

More oil and gas coverage here and here.

Ed Quillen Anthology Event, November 10 in Salida, November 12 in Boulder

Don’t miss one of the events. I told Ed once that I loved his humorous approach to his column. He said, “I can’t tell you how I do it, it just comes.”

His funny side was never far from the surface. Earlier in the century he asked me to write a column for Colorado Central Magazine. I asked if it was a paying gig, he responded, “Colorado Central pays a nickel a word, often late.”

Here’s the announcement from EdQuillen.com:

Please join us at an event celebrating the life and career of Ed Quillen and the release of Deeper into the Heart of the Rockies

Salida

Sunday, November 10, 2013 7:00 p.m., back room of the Victoria Tavern.

A book release celebration honoring the late Ed Quillen.

Allen Best, Abby Quillen, George Sibley, Mike Rosso, Susan J. Tweit, Jeff Donlan, and Hal Walter will read favorite selections from the book.

Admission is free.

Boulder

Tuesday, November 12, 2013 6:30pm, Main Campus – Benson Earth Sciences, 2200 Colorado Ave., Boulder, CO, Room: 180.

The Center of the American West presents, Words to Stir the Soul: Deeper into the Heart of the Rockies. A book release event honoring the late Denver Post Contributor and Preeminent Western Public Intellectual, Ed Quillen.
Readers include:

Allen Best, Christopher Braider, Art Goodtimes, Patty Limerick, Ed Marston, Betsy Marston, Laura McCall, Tom Noel, Cohen Peart, Laura Pritchett, Abby Quillen, and Martha Quillen.

Thanks to Coyote Gulch reader Greg for the heads up.

Free online course shares CSU’s renowned expertise in water resources

spainsunflower

Here’s the release from Colorado State University:

Colorado State University’s newest free online course, popularly known as a MOOC, or massive open online course, is open for registration. “Water, Civilization, and Nature: Addressing Water Challenges of the 21st Century” begins Jan. 27, 2014 and runs through March 23.

“CSU OnlinePlus strives to deliver current and cutting-edge online programs to meet the changing needs of students and industry demand,” said Jordan Fritts, CSU OnlinePlus interim associate provost. “In support of Colorado State University’s land-grant charge to expand access to high quality education, we’re excited to offer this water MOOC as a relevant resource for our own campus community.”

Anyone can register for a MOOC. Students don’t have to be admitted to Colorado State University, don’t have to meet any prerequisites or have a certain GPA, and best of all, they don’t have to pay a dime.

The variety of student populations participating in MOOCs across the globe enriches the experience with perspectives from different backgrounds.

The University’s first two MOOCs offered this summer saw more than 1,000 students from nearly all 50 states, and 41 other countries around the world, including Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Ghana, Japan, India, Hungary, Sweden, and more.

Water, Civilization, and Nature: Addressing Water Challenges of the 21st Century

CSU showcases its nationally renowned reputation in the water industry in this free online course that addresses recent water issues.

“During the course students will have an opportunity to explore a wide variety of pressing challenges related to water, learn about innovative approaches to addressing these challenges, and see how the issues affect both the larger groups of people and individuals like themselves,” said Glenn Patterson, MOOC facilitator and CSU water faculty.

Climate change, water disasters, and agriculture and irrigation issues have impacted our water supply, creating questions and amplifying challenges we as a community continually face. Patterson and nine other expert Colorado State faculty with expertise in water resources tackle those questions and more in this free online course.

“This MOOC is a new way for our faculty to share the breadth and depth of their water research,” explained Reagan Waskom, director of the Colorado Water Institute and Colorado State University Water Center. “We hope this course inspires students to think more deeply about water and offers a fun and different way to learn more about water issues.”

Registration for “Water, Civilization, and Nature: Addressing Water Challenges of the 21st Century” is open now at the OnlinePlus website. Those interested in other MOOCs can visit the website for course details and registration information, or contact the CSU MOOC team with questions, (970) 491-5288

More education coverage here.

Climate Change Literature Synthesis Third Edition Now Available

literaturesynthesisonclimatechangereclamationnovember2013cover

Here’s the release from Reclamation (Peter Soeth):

The third edition of the Literature Synthesis on Climate Change Implications for Water and Environmental Resources from the Bureau of Reclamation is now available. The report offers a summary of recent literature on the current and projected effects of climate change on hydrology and water resources.

It is organized around the five Reclamation regions, which correspond roughly with the Columbia River basin, the Sacramento-San Joaquin River basin, the upper Colorado River basin, the lower Colorado River basin, and the Great Plains.

This report contains information surveyed through 2012. It was assembled by Reclamation and was subjected to external review by staff from each of the five National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Regional Integrated Sciences and Assessments centers located in the western United States.

The information in this report is meant for use in a range of planning studies including environmental impact statements, biological assessments, and feasibility studies. The need for the report was first identified by the multi-agency Climate Change and Water Working Group in 2008. Previous versions were published in 2011 and 2009.

Click here to read the report. Here’s the introduction:

The Bureau of Reclamation’s (Reclamation) mission involves managing water and power systems in an economically efficient and environmentally sensitive manner. Mission requirements often involve conducting planning studies for the longer term, potentially involving proposed system changes (e.g., changes in criteria that would govern operations for the long term, changes in physical system aspects). For these longer-term studies, questions arise on how consideration of climate change might affect the assessment of benefits and costs for the various planning alternatives under evaluation. Such questions may lead to the analytical treatment of climate change implications for the study. However, such analysis would be predicated on a documented understanding that chosen analytical methods and usage of climate change information are consistent with the scientific understanding of climate change and the published scientific and assessment literature.

This report aims to support longer-term planning processes by providing region- specific literature syntheses on what already has been studied regarding climate change implications for Reclamation operations and activities in the 17 Western States. These narratives are meant for potential use in planning documents (e.g., National Environmental Policy Act [NEPA] environmental impact statements, biological assessments under Federal/State Endangered Species Act [ESA], general planning feasibility studies). It is envisioned that this report would be a living document, with literature review and synthesis narratives updated annually to reflect ongoing research developments.

More Reclamation coverage here.

The winter forecast is still fuzzy for northern Colorado

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

From the Fort Collins Coloradoan (Ryan Maye Handy):

After two years of devastating drought — which the September rains alleviated for much of the state — snow in October might seem like a sign of good things to come, but it doesn’t guarantee a good ski season.

Unlike in previous years, Colorado will likely not fall into an El Nino or La Nina weather pattern this winter. The federal Climate Prediction Center recently released its snow forecast for the nation, and gave Colorado a “ neutral” prognosis — there will not be a warmer and wetter weather cycle passing over the state, known as El Nino, nor will there be a drier and colder cycle, known as La Nina.

“It’s a bad cop-out,” said National Weather Service forecaster Mike Baker of the state’s snow outlook. “There are equal chances of above or below or equal snowfall.”

For the past three years, Colorado has fallen into one of two weather patterns. During the 2010-11 winter season, the state was in an El Nino cycle, a system that pushes warm, moist air over the San Juan and Sangre De Cristo mountains in the south. In Colorado, El Nino cycles have a reputation for creating good snow years, Baker said.

Above-average snowfall made that winter particularly memorable, only to be followed by two remarkably dry and cold winters, memorable only for their lack of snow. Those were La Nina years, when cold, dry winters left much of the state without snow, Baker said.

But a “neutral” weather cycle this year will bring a mix of the two, Baker added.

“There is no set pattern. With the neutral storm track the weather can be all over the place. There is no rhyme or reason,” he said. “Well, we really don’t have a good handle on what might happen this winter.”

Dick Wolfe to San Luis Valley pumpers — [Lacking sub-district plan or augmentation] ‘You are going to get shut off’

San Luis Valley Groundwater
San Luis Valley Groundwater

From the Valley Courier (Ruth Heide):

Wells will be shut down. Colorado Division of Water Resources State Engineer Dick Wolfe and Deputy State Engineer Michael Sullivan reminded the large crowd attending a well rules advisory committee meeting on Thursday they mean business about implementing groundwater regulations.

“You are going to get shut off,” Wolfe responded to a question on Thursday about what will happen to irrigators who neither have an augmentation plan in place nor belong to an organized water management sub-district after the grace period for the groundwater regulations is over.

“That’s the intent of the rules. We made it very clear. There are three options: groundwater management plan accepted by the court, like a sub-district; augmentation plan; or you get shut off.”

Sullivan reiterated, “You form a sub-district, get an augmentation plan or you turn the wells off and go to Hawaii or wherever you go and quit irrigating.”

Although it has been two and a half years since the well rules advisory committee met, the timeline for state regulations of groundwater use in the Rio Grande Basin is now moving rapidly forward.

Wolfe and Sullivan said they expect to have all the pieces of the rules in place in about six months. The rules would then be submitted to water court for approval. The groundwater rules will affect thousands of wells throughout the Rio Grande Basin, encompassing the San Luis Valley. Domestic wells are exempt, but most irrigation, commercial and municipal wells will be covered under the rules.

Whether or not there are protests to the rules and delays through the courts, the time clock for compliance with the rules starts ticking when they are submitted to the court, they said. That is when they are considered promulgated, Wolfe and Sullivan explained. Wolfe said the rules are effective 60 days after they are published with the water court. The state engineer has built in timelines for people to comply with the rules. For example, irrigations have one year following the promulgation of the rules to get an augmentation plan filed with the court or join a sub-district .

“We have built into this some realistic and achievable benchmarks people can meet,” Wolfe said. He recognized that many people are already making decisions about what they are going to do to comply with the state rules.

“These rules are coming. They are going to be put in place, and if you don’t meet these benchmarks, drastic things are going to happen.”

“You can start now,” Sullivan encouraged irrigators in regards to becoming a part of a sub-district or submitting their own augmentation plan. He said if someone gambled on court delays holding the rules in abeyance, that person would probably lose.

“If you don’t meet your benchmarks, you are basically done,” he said.

Wolfe said he hoped there would not be any protests to the rules because he has given the public every opportunity to be involved in the rule-making process. He added, “and the legislature told us this is what we have got to do. If this fails, something will happen. The legislature will have to step in. I am very confident we will get through this.”

He said it is possible the court could remand the rules back for corrections and refinement, but he was hopeful that all of the work upfront and all of the public involvement beforehand would result in success.

Wolfe also encouraged those who are forming subdistricts throughout the San Luis Valley to get them organized and not wait until the groundwater rules are promulgated. Data is available now, or will be in the next few months, for the remaining sub-districts to become organized and develop plans for water management.

One of the biggest factors for the delay in subdistrict and groundwater rules implementation has been the refinement of the Rio Grande Decision Support System, the computer model used to calculate depletions from well users to surface water rights, streams and the aquifers. The groundwater model now has most of the data available for the sub-districts to proceed.

Wolfe encouraged those attending Thursday’s meeting to email his office with suggestions on how the proposed regulations could be improved. He and his staff reviewed the proposed rules and the changes that had been made since the last advisory committee meeting more than two years ago.

Wolfe and his staff will return to the San Luis Valley the end of November or first part of December for another advisory committee meeting.

More San Luis Valley Groundwater coverage here and here.

Denver-area businessman gets jail sentence and fines for placing unauthorized structures in Sheep Creek

Sheep Creek via My eRanch
Sheep Creek via myEranch

From the Valley Courier (Ruth Heide):

In a rare court action yesterday, Chief District/Water Judge Pattie Swift sentenced Gregg Sease to 30 days jail and ordered $160,320 in fines and fees for contempt of court in a water case.

Sease is to report to the Saguache County Jail this evening to begin his sentence, which will be completed on work-release status under arrangements with Saguache County Sheriff Mike Norris.

Within 120 days, Sease must also pay: punitive sanction to the court, $50,000; fees for the state’s attorneys, $61,920.50; and remedial sanction to the court, $48,400, based on a $100-per-day fine from May 12, 2012 to Sept. 8 of this year.

The water case against Sease involved the illegal creation of 86 structures, obstructions or impoundments (ponds) in Sheep Creek, a tributary to Saguache Creek. Sease, a Denver-area businessman, owns a ranch on Sheep Creek.

Swift had scheduled a four-day contempt of court trial to begin this week, but the parties reached an agreement that was filed on Friday, Oct. 25.

More Rio Grande River Basin coverage here.

Grand Junction: Water and sewer rates to increase in January

Water infrastructure as sidewalk art
Water infrastructure as sidewalk art

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Amy Hamilton):

Grand Junction residents will have to soak it up as water rates are slated to increase in January. Costs for several city services are expected to rise, but residential water service will be the sharpest increase at about $3.60 a month more for regular water users. Sewer rates are expected to rise $2.50 per home next year, while rates for trash are expected to rise 55 cents a month. Total costs for water, sewer and trash collections for an average Grand Junction user will go up $6.65 in 2014. Grand Junction city councilors are expected to ratify all city services increases during a hearing on Nov. 6.

Last year, average water users in Grand Junction saw an increase of $2.56 a month on water bills and a combined $2.29 increase on wastewater and solid waste, for a total increase of $4.85. Grand Junction residents will pay an average $11.50 increase on bills for water, trash and sewer over a two-year span.

Next year’s increases are needed to pay for infrastructure like fixing antiquated water and sewer lines and saving money to pay for an expected $11 million to comply with new water standard regulations.

“For years and years we had small rate increases but those don’t go far and we have to catch up,” said Greg Trainor, director of public works.

Kannah Creek’s water system users will see similar increases on their water bills — about $3.60 extra per month for average water users.

Users of Ridges irrigation water will see water rate hikes, too. Single-family homes with average water usage can expect an increase of 73 cents a month on bills and those in multi-family homes will see increases of 60 cents a month.

More infrastructure coverage here.

Tipton: Water Storage Vital for Colorado

Glen Canyon Dam Construction
Glen Canyon Dam Construction
Here’s the release from US Representative Scott Tipton’s office:

Congressman Scott Tipton (R-CO) stressed the importance of surface water storage in Colorado and other Western states today during a Natural Resources Subcommittee on Water and Power hearing entitled, A Roadmap for Increasing our Water and Hydropower Supplies: The Need for New and Expanded Multi-Purpose Surface Storage Facilities. The purpose of today’s hearing was to examine the multi-track, often conflicting and outdated regulatory framework that creates process-related hurdles inhibiting water storage projects from moving forward and making them unviable for private investment.

Tipton noted that the natural cycle of rivers in the West is one of boom and bust, surplus and drought, and underscored the importance of a stable water supply for western economies, environmental protection efforts, flood mitigation, jobs and food security. The uncertainties of annual water availability (such is the case in Colorado during low snowpack years) can imperil communities which are hindered by a cumbersome and outdated regulatory framework that impedes the ability to store water for vital purposes.

“Water is one of the most important natural resources in Colorado and a main driver of economic growth,” said Tipton. “Prudent supply management and the ability to store much needed water will allow communities to support jobs that depend on the availability of water, protect food security, control flooding, ensure continued recreational opportunities, provide water for the development of hydropower, and meet environmental protection needs.”

With the exception of the Animas-La Plata project in Southwestern Colorado, the Bureau of Reclamation has not built any large multi-purpose dams or reservoirs over the last generation.

“Without the ability to store water that falls on Colorado’s slopes, the West as we know it would not exist. The Colorado Water Conservation Board has estimated that by 2050 Colorado will need an additional 1 million acre feet of water to meet projected demands. This figure accounts for water saved through conservation. Water conservation is something all westerners know the importance of but conservation alone is not enough,” said Tipton. “New water storage will play a role in meeting future demands. Without new water storage and continued conservation we could see as many as 700,000 acres of agriculture land dry up in Colorado by 2050 due to urbanization and urban water transfers. The dry up of this agricultural land has the potential to harm rural economies and the environment.”

In his questioning of Dr. Robert Shibatani, CEO & Principal Hydrologist of the SHIBATANI GROUP, Tipton asked about the various beneficial impacts of increased surface storage for flood mitigation, hydropower development, and other uses, as well as discussed the need to update the outdated and cumbersome regulatory process.

Video of their exchange is available here.

“[Water storage] facilities in my view, can serve as an effective new platform to directly meet the challenges posed by a growing population, refocus attention on retaining a larger portion of a valuable public trust resource for a wide variety of beneficial uses, encourage a broader commitment to improving the nation’s aging water infrastructure, and provide direct climate change adaptation,” said Shibatani in his testimony. “Ensuring water security can provide a vital foundational basis for robust national economic recovery.”[…]

Tipton’s full opening statement is available here.

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Gary Harmon):

Unnecessary federal regulations are choking off development of needed water projects, U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Colo., said Tuesday.

“The growing West needs new water projects,” Tipton said at a subcommittee hearing addressing water and hydropower supplies.

A headwaters state, Colorado sends some 10 million acre feet of water downstream to other states every year, Tipton said at the hearing of the subcommittee on water and power.

Increasing water storage in the West is critical because of the surplus-drought cycle, Tipton said, calling for streamlining the federal regulatory permitting process.

The state of Colorado estimates that it will need to capture an additional 1 million acre feet of water annually by 2050 to accommodate a growing population, Tipton said.

Anywhere from 500,000 to 700,000 acres of farmland could be dried up by that same year, in transfers to cities, Tipton noted.

The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation has completed only one large, multiple-use impoundment — the Animas-La Plata project near Durango — in a decade.

Additional storage could be used for a variety of purposes, from meeting the demands of growth as well as the goals of protecting the environment and endangered species, Tipton said.

Regulations and lawsuit threats have prevented private investment in reservoir development,

Robert Shibatani, CEO and principal hydrologist of the California-based Shibatani Group, testified at the hearing.

“I know private sector investors who are chomping at the bit” to invest in water projects, Shibatani said. If projects can win approval, Shibatani said, “They’ll sign checks fast.”

The hearing was called to draw attention to what the subcommittee described as “a conflicting and outdated regulatory framework that creates process-related hurdles inhibiting water storage projects from moving forward and making them unviable for private investment.”

More infrastructure coverage here.

‘It’s really a referendum on how the state Legislature has been running over rural Colorado’ — John Kinkaid

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

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):

For a motorist approaching Craig from the south on Colorado Highway 13 on a snowy October morning, Moffat County’s economic engines are well-displayed. Signs indicate the turnoffs to the Colowyo and Trapper coal mines. The towers of the Tri-State Generation and Transmission Craig Station coal-generated power plant loom just south of Craig. Pronghorn and mule deer — two prime targets of hunting in the county — share a field just before reaching the city.

Mess with such industries, and you’re threatening the livelihood of communities like Craig, where many businesses sport signs saying, “Coal — It keeps our lights on.” It was local concern about perceived over-regulation of coal-fired power that led to Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney visiting Craig during his campaign and presenting himself as a more coal-friendly alternative to President Barack Obama. Now that continuing concern is behind the county commissioners’ decision to ask voters whether Moffat should join counties in eastern Colorado in pursuing creation of a 51st state.

“Energy is our economy. If energy goes away, we will be a ghost town,” said Moffat Commissioner John Kinkaid.

The county’s list of top 10 taxpayers reads like a who’s-who of locally operating energy companies, with Tri-State alone accounting for nearly $6 million of the $17.4 million the 10 paid last year.

Kinkaid first brought up the idea of secession to his fellow commissioners.

“I was getting called by constituents here in our county asking for us to pursue it and so it didn’t really come from us as commissioners, it came from citizens contacting us,” Kinkaid said.

“Finally they bugged me enough that I said alright, I’d bring it up in a meeting, and I did and it just took off from there.”

“… It’s really a referendum on how the state Legislature has been running over rural Colorado. Many of us in Moffat County feel disenfranchised and that the Denver-Boulder power corridor is just running us over repeatedly,” Kinkaid said.

For Kinkaid it started with the 2010 passage of legislation aimed at converting some Front Range Xcel Energy power plant generation from coal to cleaner-burning fuels such as natural gas.

“We feel like we were just ignored over here and that it was a done deal before it was even introduced.

“… They were buying their coal from us. That’s why we were so involved and concerned about what was going on,” he said.

Then, this year the state Legislature passed a bill requiring rural energy cooperatives to obtain 20 percent of their power from renewable sources by 2020, up from a previous target of 10 percent. The requirement takes aim at Tri-State Generation and Transmission and is viewed by some as a threat to plants like the one near Craig.

“They didn’t take really any input from Tri-State as to whether it was even feasible to do it,” said Kinkaid, who retired as a control room operator at the plant after winning election as a county commissioner last fall as an unaffiliated, but conservative, candidate.

“And then throw in the gun legislation and I think that was the straw that broke the camel’s back,” Kinkaid said.

That’s a reference to bills passed this year banning gun magazines with more than 15 rounds and requiring universal background checks before sales or transfers of guns.

Said Moffat Commissioner Chuck Grobe, “They’re just passing laws that affect us and they don’t care what we say or what our feelings or thoughts are.

“… When the hunters decided to stay away because of our gun laws, that affects rural Colorado and not so much the Front Range. So that’s where the frustration comes in.”

IDEA NOT THOUGHT OUT?

While Grobe shares in that frustration, he voted against putting the secession question on the ballot, with Commissioner Tom Mathers siding with Kinkaid.

“It’s not necessarily that I was against it. It was that there was no discussion beforehand. This just came out of the clear blue a week before it had to be on the ballot. There wasn’t any discussion with the city of Craig,” he said.

He said the commissioners hadn’t looked into the idea first to see what the implications of secession might be, particularly as it pertains to what might happen regarding water rights in the county if it left the state. (See related story, “Water a big question mark for secession.”)

Grobe said he’s spoken to a water attorney, and “finding out that we’ll lose our water rights, that’s a pretty key issue on my mind moving forward.”

He said Tri-State is concerned about water rights for its plant if secession happens, and he worries what the water implications for coal mines could be as well.

As it turns out, the City Council of Craig, the county seat, voted unanimously against the secession idea, due to water and other worries.

“We were completely against it because we don’t think it was thought out as far as the ramifications it could have,” said council member Joe Bird.

He cited not just water but concerns about loss of state funding for highways, other infrastructure and schools.

That said, Bird sympathizes with the motives behind the secession movement.

“I understand them wanting to make a statement and their frustration and the Legislature not listening to them,” said Bird, who additionally said coal mines and the power plant provide jobs, a tax base and long-term stability for Craig.

CONSIDERABLE OBSTACLES

As far as making a statement goes, Moffat’s secession vote may indeed end up being more symbolic than anything else, as the obstacles against it are many, which Kinkaid acknowledged.

“It’s sending a message, but we need to change the political calculus at the state Capitol,” he said.

Moffat’s problems are compounded by the fact that it’s not contiguous with the eastern Colorado counties also talking about secession. And Kinkaid concedes the chances are slim of counties between Moffat and the eastern counties pursuing secession as well. Some of those counties hold political views distinctly different from Moffat’s.

Other options include trying to join Wyoming or Utah. Renny MacKay, a spokesman for Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead, has been quoted in the media as saying Moffat’s secession discussion “does not move us forward” at a time when the country and Wyoming face significant challenges.

“I guess they’re not interested in Baja Wyoming,” Kinkaid said with a grin.

A statement from Mead’s office released by MacKay on Thursday noted, “The ballot language is specific to Moffat County creating a 51st state. Given that — this is a matter for voters in Moffat County to decide. We in Wyoming will follow the election results as will many others around the region.”

STUPID, OR NOT?

Views vary widely in the Craig area about the secession idea.

“That’s the stupidest thing I ever heard. We have a perfectly good state. What are we messing around for?” said Ellen Johnson.

But Van Piland said he voted for the measure.

“I think most of the people in northwest Colorado would like to have more appropriate representation in Denver or else go to Wyoming,” he said.

Amy Updike said that while it doesn’t necessarily mean she supports secession, she voted in support of at least looking into it.

“Why not? The governor (John Hickenlooper) is not looking out for communities like ours,” she said.

Maurits De Blank, who lives in Miami but runs apartments in Craig, said the proposal “makes no sense” and just reflects local frustrations with Denver.

“There’s just no chance whatsoever in my view” that secession would occur, said De Blank, who shares in the desire to protect Craig’s coal-based economy.

Garfield County Commissioner John Martin said Garfield commissioners haven’t considered the secession idea, but understand Moffat’s frustration.

“A lot of people see a war against rural Colorado from the Front Range and that’s what’s really stirring it up,” he said.

Garfield Commissioner Mike Samson is chairman of Associated Governments of Northwest Colorado, which includes Garfield, Mesa, Routt, Moffat and Rio Blanco counties. He said he thinks everyone in the association is sympathetic to the 51st-state cause. He doesn’t think the secession idea has much chance of succeeding, but hopes Front Range lawmakers will show more consideration for northwest Colorado, a big source of state revenue thanks to its natural resources.

“I feel like we’ve been ignored in a lot of instances,” he said.

More 51st State Initiative coverage here.

Highline Lake to be drawn down and dredged, waterfowl hunters advised

Highline Lake via Colorado Parks and Wildlife
Highline Lake via Colorado Parks and Wildlife

Here’s the release from Colorado Parks and Wildlife:

Waterfowl hunters are advised that Highline Lake will be drawn down and temporarily closed beginning Nov. 3 as Colorado Parks and Wildlife will begin dredging to remove a significant build-up of debris and sediment from the lake bed, including deep sediment near the outlet structure and east boat ramp. The drawdown will bring water levels down to approximately 20 feet below the dam spillway while the project is underway.

Waterfowl blinds at Highline Lake State Park will not be available through the remainder of the 2013 season. Hunters can find alternative hunting areas throughout the Grand Valley by calling Colorado Parks and Wildlife’s Pacific Flyway reservation system at 970-255-6161.

Officials say that dredging will improve water quality and enhance water-related recreation by removing silt and debris that has accumulated over the past forty years. One of the project’s primary goals is upgrading dam safety by removing up to 10 feet of sediment from the Highline Dam outlet gate, allowing access for a thorough inspection and repairs of its mechanism, if needed.

While dredging operations are ongoing, the park will remain open to camping, fishing, hiking, biking and other outdoor recreation other than hunting.

For their own safety, park visitors are asked to avoid work areas and heavy machinery and follow all posted construction signs.

The lake will be refilled once the project is completed and Colorado Parks and Wildlife anticipates the lake will be ready for summer recreation by late April or early May, 2014.

For more information, including park hours and the project’s progress, contact Highline Lake State Park at 970-858-7208, or visit http://www.parks.state.co.us/Parks/highlinelake/Pages/HighlineLakeHome.aspx

Colorado Parks and Wildlife manages 42 state parks, all of Colorado’s wildlife, more than 300 state wildlife areas and a host of recreational programs. To learn more, please visit http://cpw.state.co.us.

More Colorado River Basin coverage here.

Drought watch cancelled for the Grand Valley #COdrought

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Gary Harmon):

For the first time in 16 months, Grand Valley residents are no longer under a drought watch. Grand Valley water agencies lifted the Stage I drought status on Wednesday, but still asked that consumers limit their water use.

After remaining under Stage I drought precautions through last winter and this summer, “We are lifting the status because we feel comfortable with where our water levels are,” Ute Water Conservancy District spokesman Joe Burtard said.

The drought warning could be reinstated after water agencies evaluate snowpack in the high country. For that, only time will tell, Burtard said. “There is no clear forecast on what our water season will look like in 2014,” Burtard said.

The Stage 1 drought advisory was issued by the Drought Response Information Project, a joint project of the Grand Valley’s four water providers, Clifton Water District, the municipalities of Grand Junction and Palisade, and Ute.

Over the summer, the project, known as DRIP, launched a conservation campaign based on “Flo the Pink Flamingo.” Hundreds of pink flamingos were handed out at Grand Valley events to encourage outdoor water conservation.

From The Greeley Tribune (Eric Brown):

In recent years, local wheat farmers watched their seeds struggle to emerge in parched soil in the fall, then later depend on just-in-the-nick-of-time moisture to keep the crop alive until the summer, culminating in what was below-average production in many fields. This year’s winter wheat planting is just wrapping up, but so far, it’s looking to be far less suspenseful. During the last three months, the Greeley area has experienced more than 2 1/2 times its normal amount of moisture, and farmers say that has the local winter wheat crop off to its best start in a long time.

“It’s looking good … a lot better than it has in a while,” said Rich Huwa, a Keenesburg-area farmer.

Colorado State University Extension crop specialist Bruce Bosley agreed that winter wheat across northeast Colorado looks to be off to a great start. Natural moisture is critical for wheat, which, because of its tolerance for drought, is often planted on dryland acres, instead of being irrigated, like corn, onions or sugar beets.

And Bosley stressed that moisture at planting time is especially important for wheat, referring to a study that showed in six out of seven years, wheat yields were determined more so by the soil moisture at planting time than by the moisture it received later in the growing season. That being the case, the abundance of recent moisture is a godsend for Weld County’s winter wheat growers, who plant about 130,000 acres of the crop each year, and whose production in 2012 was valued at about $27 million, according to the National Agricultural Statistic Services office in Colorado. However, local farmers expressed their condolences in that the abundance of rains this fall brought with it destructive flooding.

The last time Weld County farmers remember seeing a winter wheat crop get off to a good start was in 2009, when moisture in the Greeley area from August through October amounted to 6.18 inches — almost 75 percent above the average of 3.65 inches for those three months. That crop went on to produce yields of 45.8 bushels per acre on average in Weld County in the summer of 2010. That was a good summer for all Colorado wheat farmers, who produced yields of 45.5 bushels per acre on average, which still stands as the state record.

However, in the growing seasons between then and now, Mother Nature wasn’t as generous with her moisture. In 2010, precipitation amounts in the Greeley area were about 40 percent below average from August until October, and that crop struggled until significant rains finally came in May to revive it, and — in what many farmers described as a miracle — produced yields of 42.8 bushels per acre on average in Weld County. In fall 2011, rainfall was again well below average, and that crop went on to produce yields of only 35.8 bushels per acre on average in Weld the following summer.

Planting for winter wheat typically begins around Sept. 1, and on that day in 2012, the Greeley area was coming off its driest August on record, and through the end of August 2012 as a whole stood as the area’s driest year. Official numbers aren’t yet available for this summer’s harvest of the crop that was planted last fall, but many individual farmers reported below-average yields.

Asked if the recent moisture would help him relax more this winter compared to the previous dry years, Huwa said he wasn’t sure he’d quite go that far.

“There’s still a long way to go until next summer,” he said. “But we’re awfully grateful for how things are looking so far.”

Digging out and rebuilding, US 36 to open today #COflood

US 36 West of Lyons September 2013 via the Longmont Times-Call
US 36 West of Lyons September 2013 via the Longmont Times-Call

From USA Today (Trevor Hughes):

Electricity and land-line phone service have been restored [ed. in Glen Haven] with the help of crews from surrounding communities. But massive piles of debris torn from trees and soaked out of homes still line the hamlet’s single road, which dead-ends just past the general store now instead of continuing down the canyon…

A few miles up the road, in the relatively bigger town of Estes Park, success sounds a lot like the flushing of toilets. On Oct. 25, the town reconnected 400 customers to the flood-damaged sewer system. That means 400 homes that can now use their toilets, taking them out of the town’s “no flush” zone and providing a much-needed sense of normalcy…

That energy got another major jump when contractors and state transportation officials announced they’d have U.S. Highway 36 open by Monday, nearly a month ahead of schedule. Only four roads connect Estes Park to the rest of the world. Three were damaged by floodwaters, and the fourth, through Rocky Mountain National Park, is already closed for the winter because of heavy snowfall at its top elevation of nearly 12,000 feet.

Opening U.S. 36 will double the number of open roads into town and shave about 45 minutes off what today is a three-hour drive from Estes to the nearest city, Loveland. Estes Park is due west and uphill of Loveland, and the raging Big Thompson River ripped out large sections of U.S. Highway 34 through the canyon connecting the two. U.S. 34 is slated to reopen by Dec. 1 thanks to National Guard soldiers and contractors.

From Live Science (Stephanie Pappas):

Landslides spanned the gamut of northern Colorado geology and environments, Godt said. There were slides in Boulder and Golden, both towns in the foothills at elevations around 5,500 feet (1,676 meters). Far above, slides scar Rocky Mountain National Park near the continental divide at about 12,000 feet (3,658 m). The widespread nature of the rain and flooding meant that nothing was safe from slope failures: Sedimentary rocks slid, as did crystalline rocks immediately west of the foothills. Hillsides turned into landslides in residential areas among grasslands and in alpine environments along the treeline.

Many of these landslides started off small and gained momentum as they rolled down slopes, Godt said. Some left behind rivers of debris about 6 .5 feet (2 m) thick. Some slides moved boulders 6.5 to 10 feet (2 to 3 m) long as if they were pebbles. Among the most impressive slides was one on the east flank of Twin Sisters Peak in Rocky Mountain National Park. That slide measured between 2.5 to 3 miles (4 to 5 km) long…

Landslides aren’t an uncommon result of mixing steep slopes with heavy rain, particularly in areas scarred by wildfires, as parts of northern Colorado have been in recent years. But the September storm was unusual nonetheless, Godt said.

“In terms of the geographic extinct and the intensity of activity, this event is without well-documented historical precedent,” he said.

From The Estes Park Trail (Estes Valley Land Trust):

For conservationists, the disaster presents a unique challenge. EVLT, along with its 160 public and private owners of conserved land, works to protect open space, valleys, wildlife habitat, wetlands, and streams. Having set aside almost 10,000 acres in the Estes Valley, EVLT’s mission is to guard those lands “in perpetuity” from development and change.

But after a natural disaster, what once was a pristine mountainside now must have access for a public road. What once was lovely meadow and wildlife habitat is now a lake or a new riverbed. The riverbed has broadened, carelessly depositing rock and debris at random on the forest floor. The gorgeous private nook, where fish always lingered and time stood still, is gone forever.

The dilemma of preservation goes even further than a parcel of land. It goes to the heart of who we are as Coloradoans…

This can be seen through a closer look at our mountains. For those who have recently traveled Colorado Highway 7, two new spectacular mudslides are now visible near the boundary of Boulder and Larimer Counties. One is behind Aspen Lodge and the other is behind Saint Malo’s Retreat Center and Chapel on the Rock. EVLT Director Art French and a friend, both retired geologists, hiked up the side of Mount Meeker to view the devastation caused by the miles-long mudslide behind the chapel. What they discovered is not surprising. This is not the first time there has been a mudslide. In fact, there is clear evidence of at least two other larger mudslides in the same area in the past few millennia. And of course, these are the mudslides that built the lush meadows and gorgeous resort areas that have been enjoyed during the last century.

As conservationists who love the untouched wilderness, recent floods remind us of the broader view. Nature’s timetable and agenda are different than our own. The need for change, flushing the meadow, sending the river to a clear, cobblestone-lined state of grace in a new location, bringing the mountains’ rich sediment to the valley, are all part of the “natural” process.