The state is working on repairing a projected $2 billion damage to infrastructure caused by flooding in September. While roads, homes and other buildings were lost to raging waters, mainly in the northern part of the state, there was also severe damage to water structures.
“A lot of the focus is on the recovery of water structures,” Alan Hamel, chairman of the Colorado Water Conservation Board, told the Arkansas Basin Roundtable Wednesday. “The CWCB is spending a lot of time there.”
Structures were damaged both in the South Platte and Arkansas River basins and low-interest loans are available from the CWCB in both areas, said Rebecca Mitchell, of the CWCB staff. The storms lasted for several days and damaged at least 27 dams, 25 stream gauges and 220 diversion structures, Hamel said.
“Many of those diversion structures are owned by private ditch companies and are not covered by any federal funding,” Hamel said.
In some cases, stream courses changed, making diversion structures useless, he added.
From the Estes Park Trail-Gazette (David Persons):
If you see a group of people in blue shirts or vests walking through your neighborhood from time to time, don’t be alarmed. These people – part of the Colorado Spirit Mountain Outreach Team – are just checking up on you and your neighbors to see if you’re OK or having any difficulty related to September’s flood. Their task is to offer flood survivors whatever counseling or guidance they might require. Their effort isn’t going to be short-lived either. They plan to keep on checking on you and your neighbors for up to a year…
Gaarder and his four-person counseling team have been assigned to the mountain region which includes Estes Park, Drake, Glen Haven, Allenspark, Pinewood Springs, Big Elk Meadows and other area communities. Currently, the team headquarters in the Disaster Recovery Center in the Rocky Mountain Park Inn, 101 S. St. Vrain Ave., in the same room with FEMA representatives. Gaarder said the team is averaging about 110 contacts a week…
The emotional side of the flood event is another area where the outreach team can help survivors.
“Some people just need to talk about the experience,” said team member George Desjardins. “Some had no damage but just the magnitude of what happened can be emotionally overwhelming.”[…]
If you would like to contact the outreach team, you can call 970-494-4245 or e-mail the team at COFloodRecovery13@gmail.com.
Farmers and ranchers are tallying just how expensive September’s flooding will be for Colorado’s agriculture economy. Estimates are quickly adding up to tens of millions of dollars. It’ll be a drop in the bucket for the state’s overall farm economy. But for the individual farmers pushed out of their homes and kept out of their fields, the flood’s effects are still very real and costly…
This year was a challenge even before the flood. Hail in August stripped ears of corn and pummeled vegetable farms. Crippling summer heat didn’t help either. Then debris carried by the high water littered fields throughout the South Platte River Basin. In two months time, [Glenn Werning], along with his family and friends, have managed to tear out the floors from inside their decades-old homestead. Soaked insulation is piled up outside and his chimney is sinking into the ground…
On their farm situated at the confluence of the South Platte and Big Thompson Rivers, Werning and his sons lost about 25 acres of corn, a relatively small amount. A recent report from Colorado State University estimates 7,500 acres lost in the South Platte River basin, including corn, hay and sugar beets. That could cost Colorado farmers upwards of $5.5 million. That figure doesn’t count the cost to fix miles of fencing, track down missing livestock and to clear sand bars that materialized in fields…
Expensive irrigation systems were also damaged in the flooding. Without reliable water, many farmers can’t grow profitable crops. Closer to the foothills, streams like the St. Vrain River and Left Hand Creek rerouted themselves leaving some irrigation systems without a connection to the flowing water…
The price tag to fix just the irrigation lines along the St. Vrain and Left Hand Creek alone will approach $16 million…
Glenn Werning and his neighbors received a grant to fix up their tattered water delivery system. Those fixes will need to be finished before next spring’s planting.
he rainfall that led to September’s floods in Colorado has been described as “biblical.” State Climatologist Nolan Doesken is trying to quantify that description. Flooded watersheds were dotted with rain gauges. Now that the preliminary deadline has passed for the Colorado Climate Center’s efforts to gather rainfall totals, scientists have precise estimates of rainfall totals…
Inside places the like Four Mile Canyon and the High Park Fire burn zones, Doesken says it was a happy accident that researchers had installed instruments and stream gauges.
Right now one key question is how the storm could have been better predicted. At the National Weather Service in Boulder, forecasters like Chad Gimmestad knew large amounts of rain were coming, but pinpointing exact locations was challenging.
“We didn’t really know until a few hours in advance when the thunderstorms were starting to develop,” he Gimmestad said.
Two months after September’s historic flooding, scientists are evaluating computer forecast models against what happened to see why some of their models failed.
The U.S. Geological Survey is also crunching data that could be used to regulate development and design of future infrastructure in flood plains. The USGS Colorado Water Science Center expects to release this data in the next few weeks.
A project that will take longer is replacing about 24 stream gauges that were damaged in the flooding…
Perhaps the most difficult question will be determining what role climate change played in the September floods. Doesken says he can’t finish a presentation on Colorado’s flooding without an audience member asking about it.
“Mostly it’s not related to climate change,” he said. “[It’s] possibly an incremental enhancement, but a small increment.”
Meanwhile, Reclamation’s operation of Olympus Dam on the Big Thompson was a damned if you do, damned if you don’t situation for the dam which was not designed for flood control. Here’s a report from Patrick Malone writing for the Fort Collins Coloradoan Here’s an excerpt:
Man stood by, mostly powerless, while nature imposed its will by flooding the Big Thompson Canyon for two days in September. The Olympus Dam at Estes Park was the lone exception. The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation controlled its flows into the rising waters of the Big Thompson River. At its peak, the release rate from the dam was 66 times greater than normal for mid-September. Residents of the flood-ravaged canyon wonder how releases from the dam affected the magnitude of the flood…
In hindsight, people whose business is water say the dam releases were a negligible factor in the river’s rise, although emergency communications during peak flooding told a different story.
“I don’t really think the releases had a huge impact on the flows,” said David Nettles, an engineer with the Colorado Department of Natural Resources’ water division. “I think it may have had a small, positive impact. But overall, I think its impact one way or the other was probably pretty minimal.”
The Bureau of Reclamation released water from Olympus Dam at about the same rate that Lake Estes was filling with rain, according to spokeswoman Kara Lamb…
Essentially, Nettles said, that strategy resulted in a neutral relationship between dam releases and downstream flows in the Big Thompson River.
“Once the reservoir is full and you’re passing inflows, it’s pretty much like the reservoir is not there,” Nettles said. “If you’re passing the inflows, the reservoir has no impact.”[…]
Now that the floodwaters have subsided, Brunner said she and others who own property or live in the Big Thompson Canyon want a formal, scientific assessment of the dam’s role in the magnitude of the flood…
The Bureau of Reclamation has questions of its own, and plans to assess how the disaster was managed at the Olympus Dam.
Here’s the release from Northern Water via The Greeley Tribune:
A meeting in Greeley next week will focus on water-reporting procedures for users providing water to oil and gas operations. The Northern Colorado Water Conservancy is hosting the meeting, which will take place at 1:30 p.m. Monday in Columbine Room A at the University of Northern Colorado’s University Center, 2045 10th Ave.
As Northern Water officials explained in a press release, the significant increase in oil and gas activity in northern Colorado requires a portion of the region’s water supply. In response to the water needs, the Northern Water board adopted rules governing the use of its Colorado-Big Thompson Project water and Windy Gap Project water for such purposes.
The rules require water users providing project water to oil and gas development to periodically report usage information to Northern Water.
To further describe the reporting requirements, Northern Water officials developed water-use reporting and accounting procedures that became effective June 1, 2012. Northern Water officials are now proposing modifications to those procedures. The purpose of Monday’s meeting is to discuss the proposed modifications.
The monsoon rains in August and September still are boosting flows in the Arkansas River. The winter water storage program began Friday with Arkansas River flows that are above average — an unusual development in a year marked by drought.
“The flows are still good at Canon City,” said Bill Tyner, assistant division engineer for the Colorado Division of Water Resources. “We’re still benefitting from the late monsoons, even though we haven’t had any rain for a while.”
There should not be a noticeable drop in Arkansas River readings as the program begins, largely because of the still vigorous flows.
The winter water program allows ditches to store water from Nov. 15-March 15 rather than forcing farmers to irrigate outside the growing season. Water can be stored either in Lake Pueblo, John Martin or reservoirs owned by ditch companies. The amount of water stored depends on weather conditions and can’t be accurately predicted.
On the other hand, releases from upper reservoirs in Lake County will be temporarily cut back slightly during the next week to allow Colorado Parks and Wildlife to work on a project to improve the Helena Ditch diversion structure near Buena Vista. The structure has resulted in rafting deaths in the past, and the state wants to modify it to make a fish passage as well, said Rob White, manager of the Arkansas Headwaters Recreation Area. Meanwhile, the Bureau of Reclamation is projecting that there will be about 45,000 acre-feet of storage space in Turquoise Lake for Fryingpan-Arkansas Project diversions from the West Slope next spring.
If the winter snowpack is greater than average, more space can be created in Turquoise Lake by running water to Lake Pueblo over the winter months. However, there are no plans to do that as long as river levels stay robust, said Roy Vaughan, manager of the Fry-Ark Project.
FromThe Durango Herald (Joe Hanel) via the Cortez Journal:
The state spent more than $49,000 to stabilize mercury-tainted material at an illegal gold mill in Mancos. Now the state mining board wants Red Arrow Gold Corp. to repay the money, and it moved Wednesday to revoke the company’s mining permit.
Red Arrow owner Craig Liukko did not attend Wednesday’s hearing in Denver, but in letters to regulators, he blamed the problems on a former business partner and a receiver appointed by a bankruptcy court, who has controlled access to Red Arrow’s property since April.
The state excavated and isolated soil at the mill, and it isn’t currently presenting a hazard, said Loretta Pineda, director of the Division of Reclamation, Mining and Safety…
More mercury remains to be removed from the Out West mine north of U.S. Highway 160, mining inspectors said. Pineda’s division is working with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on a permanent cleanup. And she still does not know the degree of pollution the mill produced in the past. The EPA is testing samples to figure out if there was a past risk, Pineda said…
On Wednesday, the Mined Land Reclamation Board found Red Arrow in violation of its order from August to clean up the site and pay a $100,000 fine. The board increased the fine to $285,000, increased Red Arrow’s bond and started the procedure to revoke Red Arrow’s mining permit in the next two months.
As part of the cleanup, the state removed mill tailings from a nearby pasture and the Western Excelsior aspen mill, across the street from the Red Arrow operation. Western Excelsior officials thought they were getting sand to patch holes in their lot, said Kyle Hanson, a manager at the aspen mill. The state did a good job of removing the mill tailings, he said…
The mining division spent its entire emergency fund on the initial cleanup, Pineda said. State officials want Red Arrow to repay them…
The Mined Land Reclamation Board also cracked down Wednesday on another Red Arrow property, the Freda mine west of Silverton. Both portals at the mine have collapsed, and stormwater berms have failed, allowing tainted water an tailings to flow off the site toward Ruby Creek, said Wally Erickson, an inspector for the Division of Reclamation, Mining and Safety. The board fined Red Arrow $2,500 for the violations at the Silverton mine.
FromThe Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Charles Ashby):
Steve Acquafresca will run for the Colorado House seat being vacated by Rep. Ray Scott, the Mesa County commissioner told fellow Republicans on Friday.
Unlike other candidates who have vied for the seat in recent years, Acquafresca is unique in that he’s already served in the Colorado House. When the now Grand Junction 62-year-old peach grower lived in Cedaredge, where he ran an apple orchard, he represented House District 58, which at the time stretched from eastern Delta County to the Four Corners. He served three terms, getting elected in 1990 and leaving in 1997.
Acquafresca, who’s served on the county commission since 2007 but can’t run again because of term limits, said he has lots of options that he could do after his time on the board ends next year.
But because of several pressing issues, including fears of more water grabs by the Front Range, Acquafresca said he decided the time was right to return to the Colorado Legislature.
“One of the most compelling issues that causes me to announce my candidacy is the fact that the governor has ordered a state water plan to be developed,” he said of Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper’s May announcement that he wants that plan completed by December 2014.
“When we’ve heard that in the past, it’s generally not a good thing for the West Slope, where 80 percent of the water originates yet the Front Range has 80 percent of the population,” Acquafresca said at the monthly Mesa County Republican Party luncheon at Two Rivers Convention Center. “It is anticipated that legislation will result from that plan in the 2015 session. I want to be over in the 2015 session defending West Slope water rights.” [ed. emphasis mine]
Acquafresca said there aren’t enough people currently serving in the statehouse who worked in local government, saying state legislators could learn a thing or two about drafting budgets, cutting spending and serving the needs of Coloradans without making more demands on them, such as increasing their taxes.
He said the General Assembly needs to adopt a “downsizing spirit” to accomplish its goals.
“We’re really losing the ability to determine our own future over there,” Acquafresca said. “The fact that us Republicans have lost the majority in the Colorado House of Representatives is a big part of the reason why we’re losing the ability to determine our own future, and that’s what I want to turn around.”
Currently, the Democrats control the 65-member House 37-28 and the Senate 18-17. Scott’s seat will become vacant because the two-term representative announced in the summer that he will run for the seat being vacated by Sen. Steve King, R-Grand Junction, who is running for Mesa County Sheriff.
Current Sheriff Stan Hilkey is term-limited and cannot run again.
To date, no Democrat has announced plans to run for the House seat, which primarily encompasses the city of Grand Junction.
More 2014 Colorado November Election coverage here.