Weld County: Replacing homes lost in the September flooding? #COflood

Evans Colorado September 2013 via TheDenverChannel.com
Evans Colorado September 2013 via TheDenverChannel.com

From The Greeley Tribune (Analisa Romano):

Leticia Rivera’s son has a birthday coming up this month and, this year, his birthday wish is simple. He wants a home to live in, Rivera said, as she stood in a semi-circle among her neighbors at Greeley West High School on Thursday, all of them past residents of Eastwood Village mobile home park, which was wiped out in the flood. “Pobrecito,” Rivera said. “Poor thing.” For the past two months, Rivera, her 8-year-old son and her husband have been living out of a suitcase, traveling from one friend’s home to the next each week so that they can stay in the Greeley area and keep their son in the same school, she said.

Rivera said after a community meeting at the high school that the family plans to move into a mobile home provided by FEMA as soon as the agency places them. That should be soon, but like the rest of those who lost their homes in the flood, FEMA has had a hard time finding any vacancies. It’s one of an array of challenges in Greeley and Evans, where apartment vacancies have hit an 18-year low, and in Milliken, where few affordable housing options exist. Continue reading

Allen Best: The risk is that water may not be there some years. Or a lot of years. #ColoradoRiver #COWaterPlan

Colorado River Basin including out of basin demands -- Graphic/USBR
Colorado River Basin including out of basin demands — Graphic/USBR

Here’s a guest column about the possible effects of low flow into Lake Powell, written by Allen Best that is running in The Denver Post:

Skimpy-clothed people splashing amid the red sandstone canyons of Utah define our images of Lake Powell. But six months ago, engineers and water officials from the seven states of the Colorado River Basin quietly met in Santa Fe to consider a more serious possibility: Continued drought could leave too little water in the reservoir for the eight giant turbines in Glen Canyon Dam to produce electricity.

The turbines can produce great amounts of electricity, 1,320 megawatts at full throttle, or roughly twice as much as the Cherokee power plants north of downtown Denver. In practice, the volume runs half that. Most rural electrical cooperatives in the Rocky Mountains states buy power from Glen Canyon through their wholesale supplier, Tri-State Generation and Transmission, as does Xcel Energy.

The average $150 million in revenues from this power generation are a federal cash cow. The money paid for construction of Glen Canyon and other dams authorized by Congress in 1958, but also funds salinity control such as in the Paradox Valley west of Telluride and the endangered fish recovery program, including the 15-mile segment of the Colorado River from Palisade into Grand Junction.

What if the Colorado River Basin has another bum year for snow? Inflows into Lake Powell during the last two years were 25 percent and then 47 percent as compared to the rolling 30-year average. If the years 2001-2003 were about as bad, here’s the difference: in 1999, Lake Powell was full. In recent years, despite a few big snow years, the reservoir has often displayed big “bathtub rings.” Right now, it’s 43 percent of capacity. Drought has been our more steady companion of the 21st century. This extended drought, in duration and depth, surpasses any since gauges were installed in the Colorado River Basin in 1906. However, extensive study of tree rings in the basin suggest worse and even longer drought sequences have occurred in the Southwest, especially 900 years ago. Whether this drought will also continue is anybody’s guess, but Colorado and other states decided it best to plan in case it does. On Thursday, at a meeting in Golden, officials for the first time shared some of their pending strategies.

John McClow of Gunnison, who is Colorado’s representative on the Upper Basin Compact Commission, said if snow lags again this winter, reservoirs on two tributary rivers — Flaming Gorge Reservoir on the Green and Navajo on the San Juan — can be tapped to allow the Glen Canyon generators to produce electricity. The trio of reservoirs near Gunnison — Blue Mesa, Curecanti and Morrow Point — are already too low to be of much value, he said. Other federal reservoirs — Ruedi near Basalt, Green Mountain near Kremmling, and Granby — are not part of the same system.

If the drought deepens, other small-gain strategies can be deployed: stepped-up cloud seeding and more aggressive efforts to remove water-gobbling salt cedar, i.e., tamarisk, an invasive species, from river banks. Still other strategies being weighed include idling of agriculture land —even crimping of some transmountain diversions, which normally divert 450,000 to 600,000 acre-feet of water each year in Colorado from the Colorado River Basin to the Front Range and eastern plains. But whatever strategies are adopted, McClow stressed, Colorado alone wouldn’t bear the burden.

Why not just forego the electricity? That remains an option, but it would invite the federal government to become a decision-maker in water matters. Almost fiercely, the states prefer to chart their own course.

This newest twist at Lake Powell is different from a curtailment under the 1922 Colorado River Water Compact. Colorado and other upper-basin states are in no imminent danger of failing to deliver the water specified for delivery at Lee’s Ferry, at the head of the Grand Canyon, as required by the compact, said McClow, nor is that likely to occur at any time soon. For that matter, the prospect of a Lake Powell “dead pool”- too little water to generate power – isn’t high probability next summer. Computer modeling suggets a 5 to 7 percent chance.

Yet this sharpening razor’s edge at between water supply and demand may be instructive. At one level it represents the intersection of water and energy. In California, one-fifth of all energy is devoted to moving around water. In Colorado, it’s lower. But everywhere, particularly the West, water is dependent on energy, and producing energy is dependent on water.

More immediately, this reminds us of risk. Some people think that Colorado’s growing urban areas need to develop the state’s remaining raw water supplies from the Colorado River Basin. The risk is that water may not be there some years. Or a lot of years. We just don’t know.

Allen Best of Arvada publishes Mountain Town News (http://http://mountaintownnews.net/).

More Colorado River Basin coverage here and here.

September’s flooding leaves the question, ‘What if it comes at the wrong time?’: Chris Woodka #COflood

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

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

What can the Arkansas River basin learn from flooding in Northern Colorado in September?

Some impacts of the historic floods on ditches will take years to sort out, said Sean Cronin, executive director of the St. Vrain and Left Hand Water Conservancy District in Longmont. He spoke at an American Ground Water Trust conference last week. More than half of the 95 ditches and reservoirs within the district reported damage from the flood.

Damage totals are still unknown, but could easily absorb the $2.3 million in grants and $40 million in loans made available by the Colorado Water Conservation Board. Many ditches already have made quick repairs, but some reservoirs and diversions could take years to repair. In some cases streams shifted from their historic channels.

“We got the message out early that nobody’s riding in on a white horse,” Cronin said. “We told our ditch companies ‘you need to do this.’ ”

The district is helping ditch companies navigate through processes to obtain permits or relief through state and federal agencies.

While Cronin described the impacts on areas in Boulder County, implications for the Arkansas River basin could be gleaned from his presentation.

Before the flood

Numerous small gravel-pit reservoirs are in the St. Vrain River watershed between Lyons and Longmont.

“They’re attractive because no permits are required, but they became unzipped from Lyons to Longmont,” Cronin said.

In the Arkansas River basin, a series of small retention ponds has been suggested as a way to reduce peak flows from a large,100-year flood on Fountain Creek, the Arkansas River’s largest tributary. The last 100-year flood on Fountain Creek occurred in 1965, but would be much heavier now because of growth in Colorado Springs. A demonstration pond in Pueblo, similar to the type proposed, suffered some damage to its outer wall from a much smaller flood during September. A U.S. Geological Survey study shows that 10 ponds between Colorado Springs and Pueblo would reduce the peak flow by 47.7 percent, but would have little impact on huge loads of sediment that would be expected in a 100-year flood.

During the flood

There was some capacity in ditches in the St. Vrain watershed to redirect some of the flows as flooding occurred, until reservoirs in the system were completely overwhelmed during five days of rain.

During the same period, in the Arkansas Basin, ditches in the La Junta area cooperatively moved water from a “wave” from El Paso County that migrated down Fountain Creek and into the Arkansas River. Coupled with tamarisk removal from the river channel through La Junta, the peak was reduced to avoid the type of damage North La Junta incurred during 1999 floods.

The historic 1965 Fountain Creek flood in the Arkansas River basin caused $37.5 million in damage, much of it to cities and farms east of Pueblo, as well as Pueblo’s East Side.

Diverting some of the water on Fountain Creek, either to Chico Creek or to an off-channel reservoir, has been suggested and modeled in the USGS study. The alternative would not be as effective as either a large dam or a series of smaller ponds.

After the flood

Protection of junior water rights often is mentioned during discussion of detention of water on Fountain Creek.

After the September flooding in the South Platte basin, the Colorado Division of Water Resources measured the impact of groundwater interception of increased flows during the flood. While groundwater levels rose rapidly during flooding, they decreased quickly as the river level dropped. The net gain to the system after the majority of water rushed past was about 7.8 percent.

“The question comes up, ‘does that erase the depletions from past well pumping?’ ” said Kevin Rein, deputy state engineer.

The state’s answer was “no.” The additional water was not allocated to junior water rights, but divvied up through the same priority system that satisfies senior rights first.

Of course the most devastating impact of a flood is damage to infrastructure. The state has reconstructed the roads destroyed by the September flooding on a temporary basis, and it will be years before they are completely rebuilt. For ditch companies, the questions of rebuilding become more complicated and problematic.

While any ditch would welcome more water, September’s flooding leaves the question, “What if it comes at the wrong time?”