Snowpack news (% of avg): South Platte best in state = 148%, Rio Grande climbing = 87%

Mage at the NRCS has been busy. Click on the thumbnail graphic for your favorite basin and enjoy a gallery of good news from across the state.

Trout Unlimited, Denver Water, Grand County reach agreement on river protections for Moffat Project #ColoradoRiver

Denver Water's collection system via the USACE EIS
Denver Water’s collection system via the USACE EIS

Here’s the release via Denver Water, Grand County, and Colorado Trout Unlimited (Stacy Chesney/Lurline Curran/Mely Whiting):

Denver Water, Trout Unlimited and Grand County today announced agreement on a package of river protections designed to keep the Fraser River and its trout populations healthy.

The Mitigation and Enhancement Coordination Plan brings to a close several years of discussions over the proposed Moffat Collection System Project and its potential impacts on the Fraser River. All sides hailed the stakeholder agreement as a breakthrough that balances municipal needs and environmental health.

Trout Unlimited called the agreement “a victory for the river.”

“This package of protections and enhancements, if adopted in the final permit, gives us the best opportunity to keep the Fraser River and its outstanding trout fishery healthy far into the future,” said Mely Whiting, counsel for Trout Unlimited. “This pragmatic agreement underscores the value of a collaborative approach to water planning — one that recognizes the value of healthy rivers. It shows that, working together, we can meet our water needs while protecting our fisheries and outdoor quality of life.”

“In an effort to move past a disagreement on impacts from the Moffat Project, Grand County reached out to Denver Water and Trout Unlimited to propose additional environmental mitigations,” said Lurline Curran, Grand County manager. “To all parties’ credit, this effort has succeeded.”

“The Fraser is a river beloved by generations of anglers, boaters and other outdoor enthusiasts — it’s the lifeblood of our community,” said Kirk Klancke, president of TU’s Colorado River Headwaters chapter in Fraser and a longtime advocate for the river. “As an angler and Fraser Valley resident, I’m gratified that this agreement keeps our home waters healthy and flowing.”

The package includes environmental enhancements and protections to ensure the Fraser River will be better off with the Moffat Project than without it, said Denver Water. The Moffat Project will improve the reliability of Denver Water’s system, which serves 1.3 million people in the Denver-metro area.

The centerpiece of the agreement is Learning by Doing, a monitoring and adaptive management program overseen by a management team that includes Denver Water, Grand County, Trout Unlimited, Colorado Parks and Wildlife, the Colorado River District and the Middle Park Water Conservancy District. Upon the project permit being issued, the management team will implement an extensive monitoring program to assess stream health based on specific parameters including stream temperature, aquatic life and riparian vegetation health. Water, financial and other resources committed by Denver Water through project mitigation, the Colorado River Cooperative Agreement and other agreements will be deployed to prevent declines and improve conditions where needed.

Learning by Doing is a unique and groundbreaking effort to manage an aquatic environment on a permanent, cooperative basis. Notably, the program will not seek a culprit for changes in the condition of the stream, but will provide a mechanism to identify issues of concern and focus available resources to address those issues. Mitigation measures to prevent impacts of the Moffat Project on stream temperature and aquatic habitat will also be implemented through Learning by Doing.

“Like the Colorado River Cooperative Agreement, this plan represents a new, collaborative way of doing business together when dealing with complex water issues,” said Jim Lochhead, CEO/manager of Denver Water. “Since the beginning of our planning for the Moffat Project, we set out to do the right thing for the environment, and we believe coming together with Trout Unlimited and Grand County on the Mitigation and Enhancement Coordination Plan demonstrates a monumental step in making the river better. It’s satisfying that after more than 10 years of study and discussion, Trout Unlimited and Grand County have stayed at the table with us in good faith.”

Denver Water, Grand County and Trout Unlimited have submitted the Grand County Mitigation and Enhancement Coordination Plan to federal and state agencies charged with permitting the Moffat Project and have requested that it be made part of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ permit.

The Final Environmental Impact Statement for the Moffat Project is expected by the end of April, and a final permitting decision by the Army Corps of Engineers is expected in early 2015.

For more information about the Mitigation and Enhancement Coordination Plan, see the full agreement here.

More Moffat Collection System Project coverage here and here.

Ask Questions About Colorado’s Water Plan #COWaterPlan

Your Water Colorado Blog

Colorado’s Water Plan will provide a path forward for providing Coloradans with the water we need while supporting healthy watersheds and the environment, robust recreation and tourism economies, vibrant and sustainable cities, and viable and productive agriculture.

So it says on the homepage of the Colorado’s Water Plan website, and so many across the state are working to achieve. This Wednesday 3/5,  listen to Denver and Boulder’s community radio station KGNU (or tune in online) from 8:35-9:30 am for a panel discussion and call-in show on Colorado’s Water Plan. Listen to and ask questions of the Colorado Water Conservation Board Director James Eklund, Sean Cronin Chair of the South Platte Basin Roundtable, and Abby Burk Colorado Western Rivers Action Network Coordinator for the National Audubon Society.

Have a question for the experts? Call in at 303-442-4242 this Wednesday morning!

Interested in getting involved in Colorado’s Water Future? Check…

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Cranes make annual return to San Luis Valley

Sandhill crane
Sandhill crane

Here’s the release from Colorado Parks and Wildlife:

In the San Luis Valley nature is now putting on one of its most memorable annual displays: the spring migration of greater sandhill cranes. In appreciation of this wildlife spectacle, area organizations, businesses and wildlife agencies are holding the 30th Annual Monte Vista Crane Festival, March 8-10.

“Everyone who lives in Colorado should see this migration stopover at least once,” said Rick Basagoitia, area wildlife manager for Colorado Parks and Wildlife in the San Luis Valley. “The sights and sounds are truly amazing.”

The cranes start arriving in mid-February, flying from their winter nesting ground in Socorro, New Mexico. Large wetland areas and grain fields in the San Luis Valley draw in about 25,000 birds every year. The cranes stop in the valley to rest-up and fuel-up for their trip north to their summer nesting and breeding grounds in northern Idaho, western Wyoming and northwest Colorado.

Cranes are among the oldest living species on the planet: Fossil records for cranes date back 9 million years.

The birds that migrate through Colorado are the largest of the North American sandhill subspecies standing 4-feet tall, having a wing-span of up to 7 feet and weighing in at 11 pounds. Besides their imposing size, the birds issue a continuous, distinctive and haunting call. At this time of year cranes are engaged in their mating ritual and the birds perform an elegant hopping dance as they attempt to gain the attention of other birds.

The birds are abundant in areas near the town of Monte Vista and are easy to spot. Wildlife watchers can see the birds most readily in the Monte Vista National Wildlife Refuge and in the Rio Grande, Higel and Russell Lakes state wildlife areas.

During the three days of the festival, free tours are offered at 7 a.m. and 4 p.m. when the birds are most active. Visitors take buses to various spots on the wildlife refuge, and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service staffers talk about the migration and the refuge.

The number of cranes in the valley peaks in mid-March and many linger through the month. So, even if you can’t go the weekend of the festival there’s still plenty of time to see the birds.

Birdwatchers who travel on their own should be cautious when parking, getting out of vehicles and walking along roads. People are also asked to view birds from a distance with binoculars and spotting scopes, and to observe trail signs and closure notices.

Many other bird species – including eagles, turkeys and a variety of waterfowl – can also be seen in the area.

The festival headquarters and starting point for the tours is the Ski Hi Park building located near U.S. Highway 160 on Sherman Avenue on the east side of Monte Vista. Visitors can pick up maps, schedules and information at the headquarters. Besides the tours, a variety of workshops are put on by bird, wildlife and photography experts. An arts and crafts fair continues through the weekend at the headquarters building.

The crane festival is organized by the local crane festival committee, with help from the Colorado Parks and Wildlife, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Rio Grande County, SLV Ski Hi Stampede, Monte Vista school district, and the city of Monte Vista.

Approximate distances to Monte Vista: Denver, 220 miles; Colorado Springs, 182 miles; Salida, 85 miles; Vail, 175 miles; Durango, 135 miles; Grand Junction, 230 miles.

For more information on the Monte Vista Crane Festival, see: http://www.cranefest.com.

To learn more about sandhill cranes, go to:
http://wildlife.state.co.us/WildlifeSpecies/Profiles/Birds/Pages/SandhillCrane.aspx.

For more information on State Wildlife Areas in the San Luis Valley, go to: http://wildlife.state.co.us/LandWater/StateWildlifeAreas/Pages/swa.aspx.

More Rio Grande River Basin coverage here.

NWS Pueblo office: The 2014 Winter Review across South Central and Southeast Colorado

Aspen: Both sides in the city’s hydropower abandonment case have engaged experts to determine streamflow needs

Pelton wheel
Pelton wheel

From Aspen Journalism (Brent Gardner-Smith) via the Aspen Daily News:

A collaborative committee, formed by opposing parties in a lawsuit claiming the city of Aspen has abandoned its rights to divert water from Castle and Maroon creeks for a proposed hydro plant, is making slow progress toward its goals.

When the settlement effort was announced last year after a “stay” was filed in the case, there were hopes that a stream ecologist could be agreed upon and hired early this year to study the proposed hydro plant and the streams and make recommendations about “stream health goals.”

Steve Wickes, a local facilitator guiding the committee and working for both parties in the case, said the committee’s goals were narrowly defined: Can the two sides, with the help of a mutually trusted expert, agree on how much water can be taken out of the creeks?

But before a “request for proposals” can be written to attract a third-party stream ecologist, the committee has agreed that two experts who are working for either side should first review the list of prior studies done on the two rivers to determine where there are information gaps…

To help review the existing studies and draft the request for proposal, the city has hired Bill Miller, the president of Miller Ecological Consultants of Fort Collins, who has been working for the city on river issues since 2009.

And the plaintiffs have hired Richard Hauer, a professor of limnology (freshwater science) at the University of Montana and the director of the Montana Institute on Ecosystems. Hauer appeared at an event in Aspen in 2012 to discuss the importance of keeping water flowing naturally through a river’s ecosystem…

On the committee from the city are Steve Barwick, Aspen’s city manager, Jim True, the city attorney, and David Hornbacher, the head of the city’s utilities and environmental initiatives.

Representing the plaintiffs on the committee are Paul Noto, a water attorney with Patrick, Miller, Kropf and Noto of Aspen, and Maureen Hirsch, a plaintiff in the suit who lives along Castle Creek.

The other plaintiffs include Richard Butera, Bruce Carlson, Christopher Goldsbury, Jr. and four LLCs controlled by Bill Koch. All of the plaintiffs own land and water rights along either Castle or Maroon creeks.

Wickes said the members of the committee have agreed with his suggestion that they not discuss their ongoing work with the media, and instead refer questions to him.

The claim of abandonment against the city was filed in 2011 water court, in case number 11CW130, “Richard T. Butera et al v. the city of Aspen.”

The case was poised to go to trial on Oct. 28, 2013 and both sides filed trial briefs on Oct. 14.

On Oct. 18, however, the parties filed a stay request with the court so they could “cooperate in engaging a qualified independent, neutral, stream ecology expert.”

The ecologist is to study the rivers and the proposed plant and then “determine a bypass amount of water, to be left in the stream by Aspen.”

The opposing parties are then supposed to “use their best efforts to define the stream health goals to be achieved by said amount of water.”

That could mean, as one example, that a flow regime is agreed upon, with varying levels of water being left in the rivers below the city’s diversions at different times of year, depending in part on the natural amount of water in the rivers during any given year.

Such a protocol exists today on Snowmass Creek as it relates to diverting water for snowmaking at the Snowmass Ski Area.

The city is currently proposing to divert up to 27 cubic feet per second of water from Maroon Creek and 25 cfs of water from Castle Creek for the proposed hydro plant, on top of the water it currently diverts from both streams for municipal uses and the existing Maroon Creek hydro plant.

The city also has a policy to keep at least 13.3 cfs in Castle Creek and 14 cfs in Maroon Creek below its diversion dams in order to help protect the rivers’ ecosystems…

The plaintiffs in the suit against the city have told the court they are concerned that if the city diverts more water for hydropower, it could hurt their ability to use their junior water rights on Castle or Maroon creeks. They also claim the city intended to abandon its hydro rights connected to an old hydro plant on Castle Creek, which the city concedes it has not used since 1961.

But the city has denied it ever intended to abandon its water rights and has challenged the plaintiffs’ standing to bring the suit.

Whether the September court dates are needed likely depends on whether the two sides can agree to hire a third-party stream consultant, and then agree to follow their recommendations.

If so, Wickes thinks such an exercise could influence how rivers and streams around the West are managed.

“I’m actually hopeful that when the study is completed, not only will it inform future conversations about the hydroelectric plant, it will inform a wide number of decisions about stream ecology, how we treat our streams, and how things are interconnected,” Wickes said.

More hydroelectric coverage here.

Snowpack news: Officials are wary of this spring’s runoff #COflood

Statewide Snow Water Equivalent as a percent of normal March 3, 2014
Statewide Snow Water Equivalent as a percent of normal March 3, 2014

From the Estes Park Trail-Gazette (David Persons):

With above average snow conditions, there is the very real possibility that a couple warm days in the spring could trigger a sudden runoff that could evolve into a flash flood occurrence for a community still recovering from last September’s floods. This hasn’t gone unnoticed by town officials. “We’ve been doing a lot of public outreach to prepare the community for runoff,” said Estes Park Town Administrator Frank Lancaster. “While 2014 may or may not end up being a significant runoff year, our floodplains have changed, and so runoff will certainly have different effects this year…

Will Birchfield, the town’s floodplain manager, is another official who is keenly aware of what the spring runoff could mean. He attended the 2013 Colorado Flood Forum hosted by the Colorado Association of Stormwater and Floodplain Managers and Colorado State University on Feb. 27. This forum included presentations by experts and discussions among public agencies of the 2013 flood and preparation for spring runoff.

“At this time, it’s too early to predict what runoff will bring, so we will constantly monitor, reevaluate conditions, and keep the community informed,” Birchfield said. “If current weather patterns persist, it’s possible we could see an event equal to at least a 25-year event.

“Variables include how much snowfall comes in March and April, how quickly temperatures rise in the spring, how much rain falls during snow melt, and how the new floodplains in the Estes Valley handle the melt.”

From The Greeley Tribune:

Good news for local farmers, ranchers and other water users: Greeley is receiving about 50 percent more than its normal precipitation so far in 2014, according to numbers provided by the Colorado Climate Center.

During January and February, Greeley saw 18.5 inches of snow — 7.8 inches above normal — that brought with it 2.48 inches of precipitation, surpassing the 1.6 inches of precipitation the city typically receives over the course of those two months.

It’s been colder than normal as well so far in 2014. The mean temperature was 29.6 degrees through the first two months of the year — 3.6 degrees below normal.

For February alone, snowfall amounted to 4.7 inches (0.3 inches above the normal), precipitation was 0.96 inches (0.56 inches above normal), and the mean temperature was 27.2 degrees (7.8 degrees below normal).