Restoration: #ColoradoRiver delta

Photo via the Los Angeles Times
Photo via the Los Angeles Times

New Miliken and Evans floodplain rules too costly #COflood

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

From The Greeley Tribune (Analisa Romano):

Although they may meet different fates in the end, the owners of flood-ravaged mobile home parks in Milliken and Evans face similar plights as they navigate new floodplain rules and regulations the park owners say make it impossible to continue doing business. Some suggest it’s an underhanded way to drive the parks out of their respective cities.

But local officials say it doesn’t make sense to build in an area that could again be flooded , and they are obligated to ensure homes and structures aren’t seriously damaged for the public’s health and safety.

In Milliken, town officials’ first priority was to house flood victims through the winter, said Jim Burack, Milliken town administrator and chief of police. The town allowed the two mobile home parks that sustained flood damage — Evergreen Mobile Home Park and Martin Family Trailer Park — to reopen immediately for that reason, he said.

Since then, Evergreen has continued redevelopment on the property, where 21 mobile homes were destroyed in the flood, said Jerrie Solomon, who owns the mobile home park with her husband. Per new floodplain standards implemented by Milliken, Solomon said they hired a geotechnical engineer, did a soil sample and installed backfill to raise the undamaged homes and bring in four new ones. But she said the park can’t keep up with the new rules.

“Every time we get one more thing done, they invent another set of rules and regulations,” Solomon said.

Burack said the town has been working cooperatively with both mobile home parks since the flood struck, and he said they have been transparent about all of the possible scenarios that could come out of redevelopment. Among other options, Burack said the town is looking into purchasing the damaged mobile home parks through a Federal Emergency Management Agency hazard mitigation grant, which would cover 75 percent of the cost of the parks at pre-flood prices.

Solomon said that isn’t welcome news, as she fears the purchase price would be too low. After paying for debris cleanup, down payments on the new homes and the cost to set them in the park, Solomon estimated she and her husband have invested more than $300,000 since the flood.

“If we had not gone in there and started work on that, Milliken would have the same kind of park as Evans,” Solomon said.

In Evans, city officials this week said they may seek to condemn Eastwood Village and Bella Vista mobile home parks to eliminate the health hazards posed by contaminated flood debris.

Keith Cowan, owner of Eastwood Village, filed a lawsuit against the city in February, saying the city’s new floodplain rules prevented him from reopening the park because it would be too costly to comply.

Perry Glantz, the attorney representing Cowan, said Cowan would need compensation not just for his property, but for the loss of his business, which together he said are worth several million dollars. Glantz said last week the whole situation places a financial burden solely on Cowan, which is unfair because his property — the land where the mobile homes sat — technically wasn’t destroyed in the flood.

In Milliken, much depends on a floodplain map the town board will consider Wednesday. The map, commissioned by the Colorado Water Conservation Board, is meant to provide a temporary resource for flood-ravaged communities as they attempt to redevelop, said Kevin Houck, chief of the Watershed and Flood Protection Section of the Colorado Water Conservation Board. After the flood, the Little Thompson and other rivers had erosion and, in some instances, changed course, meaning old floodplain maps may no longer be a trusty resource. Some communities were left with nothing to work with, he said.

Houck said Icon Engineering, a Centennial-based civil engineering firm, is using automated methods to at least provide communities with better data.

“What we are trading off here is quick information to localities at the expense of higher detail,” he said.

Milliken officials may adopt the floodplain temporarily because it could take years for the updated FEMA map to be approved, said Anne Best Johnson, Milliken’s community and economic development director. She said the town is currently working with a FEMA floodplain map crafted in 1978. But if the land where Evergreen Mobile Home Park sits is deemed unsuitable for homes, Solomon said she fears there will be little to no affordable housing left in Milliken.

Burack said the town is working on a housing needs assessment, which should be done in a few months. He said the town is working aggressively alongside the Milliken Housing Authority and Habitat for Humanity to find solutions.

Burack said he is also heartened by the announcement that more federal money will soon be available. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development last week announced $199.3 million more to be added to the $62.8 million pot of money for flood-ravaged Colorado communities.

The money will be doled out by the state through a competitive application process, and Burack said he expects Milliken will fare well once those funds are available.

Historic water pulses through the Colorado River delta for revival starting today

This is a big day for the Colorado River delta.

Your Water Colorado Blog

1ColoRi-R2-024-10A The dry Colorado River Delta will receive a resurrecting flow of water this spring, one that Scientific American calls “an unprecedented experiment in ecological engineering” thanks to a historic agreement between the United States and Mexico.

Starting today, the pulse will be released from Morelos Dam, which sits on the international boundary, and will travel 75 miles to the Gulf of California. Below the dam, the Colorado is usually completely dry. This pulse of water will mark the first time that the United States and Mexico have put water back into the parched riverbed for environmental purposes.

From Scientific American:

The mighty Colorado rises on the western slope of the Rocky Mountains and drains seven US and two Mexican states along its 2,300-kilometer course (see ‘River run’). Before the 1930s, when dams began to throttle the river, its water ran unfettered into the Gulf of California. But…

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The Pueblo Chieftain editorial staff comes out in support of H.R. 3189, ‘…important and reasonable bill’

Trail map for Powderhorn Ski Area via liftopia
Trail map for Powderhorn Ski Area via liftopia

From The Pueblo Chieftain:

THE U.S. House of Representatives has passed an important and reasonable bill that prohibits the transfer of private water rights to the federal government as a condition of permits it issues. But the bill’s future is in doubt, according to sponsor U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Colo., because a majority in the U.S. Senate and President Barack Obama appear opposed to the legislation.

The Water Rights Protection Act (HR3189) is designed to protect Colorado water rights from federal encroachment. The proposal was developed in response to U.S. Forest Service contracts with Colorado ski areas that require the transfer of water rights as a condition of permit approval.

Most ski areas in the state operate on federally owned land, which requires them to secure permits and pay an annual fee. To make snow, however, the ski areas must secure water leases or rights through the state.

Federal authorities claim the management of water resources used by ski areas is important so that rivers and lakes can be protected for their recreational and environmental value. Bill backers suggest that the federal government’s attempt to collect water rights is a serious threat to long-standing water law that puts states in charge of regulating their own available resources.

The concern about making water right transfers a condition of federal permits goes well beyond ski areas. Grazers and other agricultural producers who lease federal land are worried that the surrender of water rights might apply to them as well.

That’s why passage of HR3189 makes sense. Colorado water law has worked well for more than a century and we don’t need the federal government to get involved.

We urge our U.S. senators — Mark Udall, D-Colo., and Mike Bennet, D-Colo. — to jump on board and help guide the bill through the Senate. It will take a bit of work to educate congressional members from other parts of the country about the importance of state water laws and about the impact of having large tracts of federal land in your state.

But if given the opportunity to debate the matter on the floor of the Senate, we’re confident that a majority of those elected officials will recognize the need to approve this simple measure.

More water law coverage here.

NWS Boulder office: March 23rd is World Meteorological Day #COwx

From the World Meteorological Organization website:

World Meteorological Day 2014

Weather and climate: engaging youth

World Meteorological Day is celebrated every year on 23 March to commemorate the entry into force in 1950 of the convention that created the World Meteorological Organization. The day also highlights the huge contribution that National Meteorological and Hydrological Services make to the safety and well-being of society.

This year’s World Meteorological Day theme is “Weather and climate: engaging youth.” Today’s youth will benefit from the dramatic advances being made in our ability to understand and forecast the Earth’s weather and climate. At the same time, most of them will live into the second half of this century and experience the increasing impacts of global warming. WMO encourages young people to learn more about our weather and climate system and to contribute to action on climate change.

More education coverage here.

Flows in the Arkansas River above Lake Pueblo = 270 cfs, Reclamation realeasing water from Turquoise and Twin Lakes #ColoradoRiver

Pueblo dam spilling
Pueblo dam spilling

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Flows in the Arkansas River below Pueblo Dam increased slightly with the end of winter water storage this week, but not significantly. The reason is that water continues to be released for the Pueblo flow management program and much of the winter water was stored in downstream reservoirs, including on the Colorado Canal, the Fort Lyon and in John Martin Reservoir.

“The movement of the agricultural water is a side benefit to the Arkansas River flows through Pueblo,” said Steve Witte, Water Division 2 engineer.

Winter water stored about 101,000 acrefeet this year, but only about 27,000 acre-feet were stored in Lake Pueblo. An acre-foot is 325,851 gallons.

Flows in the Arkansas River at Avondale were about 320 cubic feet per second this week, about the same as during the two weeks preceding the end of the winter water program. One cubic foot of water is about the same volume as a basketball.

Meanwhile, flows above Lake Pueblo in the Arkansas River have increased in recent weeks because the Bureau of Reclamation is making room in Turquoise and Twin Lakes for Fryingpan-Arkansas Project water. The March 1 forecast predicts about 73,000 acre-feet will be moved across the Continental Divide this year. But that can increase or decrease, depending on snowpack, said Roy Vaughan, Fry-Ark manager for the Bureau of Reclamation.

Repairs have been completed on the Mt. Elbert hydropower plant, allowing for full operation of Fry-Ark systems.

Releases from the upper reservoirs are adding about 270 cfs to the Arkansas River above Pueblo, which is running at twice the rate it was three weeks ago.

John Martin Reservoir back in the day nearly full
John Martin Reservoir back in the day nearly full

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Flows into John Martin Reservoir have not been reduced by the winter water storage program on the Arkansas River, according to an analysis by the Colorado Division of Water Resources. The issue is of concern because of questions raised by Kansas during court cases against Colorado over the Arkansas River Compact. John Martin Reservoir, completed in 1948, regulates flows between the two states under the compact.

“We’ve never showed them evidence that they’ll buy into about the winter water program, but we keep trying,” division engineer Steve Witte told the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District board Thursday.

The winter water storage program allows irrigation flows to be stored from Nov. 15 to March 15, and ended last week. This year, about 101,000 acre-feet were stored at various locations and will be divided among ditch companies east of Pueblo.

The analysis looked at diversions by ditches in Colorado from 1950-1975 and from 1976-2013. Winter water began as a voluntary program in 1976 and was later formalized in a water court decree.

“There hasn’t been any significant change as a result of winter water,” Witte said.

Diversions above John Martin totaled 72 percent to 77 percent in the 1950-1975 period, and were about 75 percent in the 1976-2013 period. Past analysis of the water levels in John Martin showed little difference in pre-winter water and post-winter water years. But those types of studies don’t explain changes because of operational changes or drought. The new study also looked at potential differences in wet, dry and average years, but found none, Witte said.

More Arkansas River Basin coverage here.