Middle Colorado Watershed Council: First Annual #ColoradoRiver Clean Up — South Canyon to Silt

New Castle back in the day via the Red Slipper Diary
New Castle back in the day via the Red Slipper Diary

Click here to read their April 2014 newsletter:

We need Volunteers! The Council is hosting its first annual Colorado River cleanup and needs help picking up litter along the public riverbanks from South Canyon to Silt on Saturday, April 26, 2014. Many areas will be accessible to volunteers on foot, but boaters are especially encouraged to participate.

The cleanup will be followed by a community barbecue and picnic for volunteers, with burgers and bratwursts and other fabulous food donated by local restaurants, starting at noon.

Anyone can volunteer. Please let us know you’re coming so we can plan for food and drinks. Sign up in advance here. If you are able to bring a suitable raft or boat, tell us when you pre-register. We can work out shuttles and rides.

Sign-in will start at 8:00 a.m. at Grand River Park (on the south side of the river) in New Castle. Walk or bike to the park if you live nearby — parking is limited.

Volunteers should wear sturdy shoes, sunscreen, a hat, and work gloves, and bring drinking water.

More Colorado River Basin coverage here.

Managing Lake Powell’s power pool, will it benefit from the current snowpack? #ColoradoRiver

Glen Canyon Dam -- Photo / Brad Udall
Glen Canyon Dam — Photo / Brad Udall

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Gary Harmon):

Federal officials fretted for a year that they might have to take action as the water level in Lake Powell fell perilously close to the point that Glen Canyon Dam couldn’t generate electricity. Those fears were staved off, but not eliminated, after a meeting on Friday that involved top officials from the Interior Department and Bureau of Reclamation, according to Colorado officials who attended the meeting.

“They’ve been concerned since last year” when federal officials began modeling flows into Lake Powell and concluded that two dry years similar to 2012 and 2013 could threaten the intakes into the electricity-generating turbines, said Upper Colorado River Basin Commissioner John McClow on Wednesday.

“They’re nervous now,” said Eric Kuhn, general manager of the Colorado River Water Conservation District, “Six months ago, they were more nervous.”

Snowpack of 110 percent of average or more so far this year in the Colorado mountains has alleviated much of the immediate concern, McClow said.

“We’ve gotten a reprieve this year, but we’re still working” on plans that would forestall any need for federal involvement in river management beyond the bureau’s existing role, McClow said.

What expanded federal involvement might mean is unclear, but Mesa County Commissioner Steve Acquafresca, who represents the county on the Colorado River Water Conservation District board, said it’s extensive.

The issue isn’t whether the upper Colorado River is delivering enough water to meet the requirements of a 1922 compact among the seven basin states, but whether the water level in Powell is high enough to allow electricity generation.

“They’re talking about taking over management of the river if the power intakes (in Lake Powell) start sucking air,” Acquafresca said. “They’re not going to let that happen. You can’t start to develop a vortex in the reservoir.”

That vastly overstates the authority of the Bureau of Reclamation, said Larry Walkoviak, director for the bureau’s upper Colorado region.

“Each state has its own set of laws and we have to comport with those states’ water laws,” Walkoviak said. As the federal manager of the bureau’s dams and other facilities upstream from Glen Canyon, “I don’t have the authority to do something like that.”

The secretary of the Interior is the water master for the river below Glen Canyon, he noted, but not above.

Even at 39 percent full, the level of Lake Powell remains about 85 feet above the penstocks that feed the turbines in Glen Canyon Dam, so it seems that for the coming summer and probably more, the issue of electricity generation is likely moot, Walkoviak said.

Walkoviak was present at the meeting on Friday in Washington, D.C., that included Mike Connor, deputy secretary of the Interior; Anne Castle, assistant secretary for water and science; McClow; Kuhn; and James Eklund, director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board.

Eklund, Kuhn and McClow all stressed the significance of Colorado officials having contingency plans for low water levels in Powell at the ready when they met with the federal officials.

A three-party, state-developed contingency plan allayed much of the federal fear, McClow said.

“The bureau has given us every indication that it intends to work with us,” Eklund said

That plan calls for releasing more water than would otherwise be the case from the Aspinall Unit of dams on the Gunnison River, as well as Navajo Lake and Flaming Gorge; voluntary, compensated release of water rights by some users; and continued work to augment existing supplies.

The plan includes provisions for endangered species and for recreation and other uses, McClow said.

More Colorado River Basin coverage here.

Say hello to The Water Values Podcast with David McGimpsey

PalisadePeachOrchardClick here to listen. From email from David McGimpsey:

I thought I’d let you know about a project I’ve been working on. I launched a podcast about water this week. I posted the first three sessions of The Water Values Podcast to http://thewatervalues.com. The episodes are also available on the website and a number of podcast directories, including iTunes (https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/the-water-values-podcast/id843026539) and Stitcher (http://www.stitcher.com/s?fid=46602&refid=stpr).

I’ve had some great guests from all over the country so far – Matt Klein, a former Indiana enviro regulator and former water utility exec; Jack Wittman, a hydrogeologist who’s worked all over the country; John Entsminger, the new GM of the Southern Nevada Water Authority; Jim Salzman, a Duke University professor; Jenn Vervier, the Director of Sustainability and Strategic Development for New Belgium Brewery; Mike McGuire, the California-based engineer, author, and water blogger; and Ellen Wohl, a Colorado State University professor. (As indicated above, only 3 of these episodes have been released to date). I have some great guests lined up, too.

More education coverage here.

Mountain system monitoring at Senator Beck Basin, San Juan Mountains, Colorado

Senator Beck Basin via the National Center for Snow and Avalanche Studies
Senator Beck Basin via the National Center for Snow and Avalanche Studies

Click here to read the abstract and access the report:

A hydrologic modeling data set is presented for water years 2006 through 2012 from the Senator Beck Basin (SBB) study area. SBB is a high altitude, 291 ha catchment in southwest Colorado exhibiting a continental, radiation-driven, alpine snow climate. Elevations range from 3362 m at the SBB pour point to 4118 m. Two study plots provide hourly forcing data including precipitation, wind speed, air temperature and humidity, global solar radiation, downwelling thermal radiation, and pressure. Validation data include snow depth, reflected solar radiation, snow surface infrared temperature, soil moisture, temperatures and heat flux, and stream discharge. Snow water equivalence and other snowpack properties are captured in snowpack profiles. An example of snow cover model testing using SBB data is discussed. Serially complete data sets are published including both measured data as well as alternative, corrected data and, in conjunction with validation data, expand the physiographic scope of published mountain system hydrologic data sets in support of advancements in snow hydrology modeling and understanding.

Cotter and the CPDHE are still trying to work out a de-commissioning agreement for the Lincoln Park/Cotter Mill superfund site

Lincoln Park/Cotter Mill Site via The Denver Post
Lincoln Park/Cotter Mill Site via The Denver Post

From The Denver Post (Bruce Finley):

A broken pipe at Cotter Corp.’s dismantled mill in central Colorado spewed 20,000 gallons of uranium-laced waste — just as Cotter is negotiating with state and federal authorities to end one of the nation’s longest-running Superfund cleanups.

Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment officials said last weekend’s spill stayed on Cotter property.

In addition, uranium and molybdenum contamination, apparently from other sources on the Cotter property, has spiked at a monitoring well in adjacent Cañon City. A Feb. 20 report by Cotter’s consultant said groundwater uranium levels at the well in the Lincoln Park neighborhood “were the highest recorded for this location,” slightly exceeding the health standard of 30 parts per billion. State health data show uranium levels are consistently above health limits at other wells throughout the neighborhood but haven’t recently spiked.

“This isn’t acceptable,” Fremont County Commissioner Tim Payne said of the spill – the fourth since 2010. “(CDPHE officials) told us it is staying on Cotter’s property. But 20,000 gallons? You have to worry about that getting into groundwater.”

Environmental Protection Agency and CDPHE officials are negotiating an agreement with Cotter to guide cleanup, data-gathering, remediation and what to do with 15 million tons of radioactive uranium tailings. Options range from removal — Cotter estimates that cost at more than $895 million — or burial in existing or new impoundment ponds.

Gov. John Hickenlooper intervened last year to hear residents’ concerns and try to speed final cleanup.

Cotter vice president John Hamrick said the agreement will lay out timetables for the company to propose options with cost estimates.

The spill happened when a coupler sleeve split on a 6-inch plastic pipe, part of a 30-year-old system that was pumping back toxic groundwater from a 300-foot barrier at the low end of Cotter’s 2,538-acre property, Hamrick said.

Lab analysis provided by Cotter showed the spilled waste contained uranium about 94 times higher than the health standard, and molybdenum at 3,740 ppb, well above the 100-ppb standard for that metal, said Jennifer Opila, leader of the state’s radioactive materials unit.

She said Cotter’s system for pumping back toxic groundwater is designed so that groundwater does not leave the site, preventing any risk to the public.

In November, Cotter reported a spill of 4,000 to 9,000 gallons. That was five times more than the amount spilled in November 2012. Another spill happened in 2010.

At the neighborhood in Cañon City, the spike in uranium contamination probably reflects slow migration of toxic material from Cold War-era unlined waste ponds finally reaching the front of an underground plume, Hamrick said.

“It is a blip. It does not appear to be an upward trend. If it was, we would be looking at it,” Hamrick said. “We will be working with state and EPA experts to look at the whole groundwater monitoring and remediation system.”

An EPA spokeswoman agreed the spike does not appear to be part of an upward trend, based on monitoring at other wells, but she said the agency does take any elevated uranium levels seriously.

The Cotter mill, now owned by defense contractor General Atomics, opened in 1958, processing uranium for nuclear weapons and fuel. Cotter discharged liquid waste, including radioactive material and heavy metals, into 11 unlined ponds until 1978. The ponds were replaced in 1982 with two lined waste ponds. Well tests in Cañon City found contamination, and in 1984, federal authorities declared a Superfund environmental disaster.

Colorado officials let Cotter keep operating until 2011, and mill workers periodically processed ore until 2006.

A community group, Colorado Citizens Against Toxic Waste, has been pressing for details and expressing concerns about the Cotter site. Energy Minerals Law Center attorney Travis Stills, representing residents, said the data show “the likely expansion of the uranium plume, following the path of a more mobile molybdenum plume” into Cañon City toward the Arkansas River.

The residents deserve independent fact-gathering and a proper cleanup, Stills said.

“There’s an official, decades-old indifference to groundwater protection and cleanup of groundwater contamination at the Cotter site — even though sustainable and clean groundwater for drinking, orchards, gardens and livestock remains important to present and future Lincoln Park residents,” he said. “This community is profoundly committed to reclaiming and protecting its groundwater.

More Lincoln Park/Cotter Mill superfund coverage here.

Water summit drew large crowd — Fort Morgan Times

Map of the South Platte River alluvial aquifer subregions -- Colorado Water Conservation Board via the Colorado Water Institute
Map of the South Platte River alluvial aquifer subregions — Colorado Water Conservation Board via the Colorado Water Institute

From The Fort Morgan Times (Jenni Grubbs):

The large crowd at Progressive 15’s Water Summit had their fill of water-related information March 28 at the Country Steak-Out in Fort Morgan, but it seemed they were still thirsty for more, asking nearly every speaker lots of questions and seeking more resources.

The speakers addressed a number of different topics, including: potential and currently pending legislation and ballot issues that could affect water law, and weather forecasts and the plan the state is forming for dealing with water for the future.

After Progressive 15 Chairman Barry Gore explained the nonprofit group’s mission as an advocacy agency for its members, Joe Frank from the Lower South Platte Water Conservancy District spoke about the history of public trust doctrine and how it could affect Colorado if adopted here…

After a break for lunch, the crowd heard from National Weather Service Senior Hydrologist Treste Huse about weather and flood forecasts for Colorado.

She said that while Morgan County received 300 percent of normal precipitation in 2013, “it’s drying up this year.”

Northeast Colorado could see higher risks of flooding this spring and summer due to higher water tables, reservoirs already at capacity and the melting of a high snow pack. Landslides also could be possible with that flooding.

Huse also said that it was possible that 2014 would have El Nino weather patterns in Colorado, which could lead to wetter than average conditions in the south and far east parts of the state.

Later, former Colorado Agriculture Commissioner John Stulp, who now is an advisor in Gov. John Hickenlooper’s Water Office, spoke about the Colorado Water Plan.

He said that while drought was growing in southeast Colorado, most of the state was not in a drought.

Yet, he recognized that flooding could become an issue again.

“We’re hopeful that the snowpack comes down in an orderly manner,” he said.

More South Platte River Basin coverage here.

Water Hazards: From Risk to Recovery — AWRA Colorado Section Annual Symposium (May 2)

September 2013 flooding
September 2013 flooding

Click here to go to the symposium page for the pitch and to register.

Managing water resources in Colorado requires managing risk. This year’s symposium will feature discussions on the various types of risks to our water resources, with special consideration given to the impacts and implications of the September 2013 floods.

We are pleased to have an outstanding and diverse group of speakers, including our Keynote Speaker, James Eklund who will discuss the relationship between the State Water Plan and managing risk. Presenters in our morning session will help us better understand the types of risks to water resources. The afternoon break-out sessions will feature experts from a variety of disciplines who will discuss the on-the-ground impacts of the September 2013 floods. The day will conclude with insights from Jamestown Mayor Tara Schoedinger and CSU Sociology Professor Stephanie Malin, who will help us understand how risk impacts our communities.

To raise money for the Scholarship Fund, we are holding our fourth annual silent auction at the symposium.