“…I’ve worked for American Rivers now for a while” — Ken Neubecker #ColoradoRiver

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

Ken Neubecker posted the comment below in response to this post:

I can forgive Chris Treese for perhaps not knowing that I’ve worked for American Rivers now for a while. I have been on the Basin Roundtable and very involved in the discussions for a very long time and Western Slope water issues for over 20 years. [Gary Harmon, Grand Junction Daily Sentinel], who has my contact info from the MER release, should have given any one of us a call and could have found that out.

More Colorado River Basin coverage here. More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.

Loveland crews are racing to complete repairs ahead of runoff #COflood

Plume of subtropical moisture streaming into Colorado September 2013 via Weather5280
Plume of subtropical moisture streaming into Colorado September 2013 via Weather5280

From the Loveland Reporter-Herald Jessica Maher:

When floodwaters poured across South Lincoln Avenue last September, damaging businesses and closing the street for a week, the culprit was the Big Thompson River at the fire training grounds.

That’s where the flood caused an avulsion, or the creation of a new river channel by rapid erosion, that cut southeast across a private pond and spilled out onto Lincoln Avenue.

Now, emergency repairs are underway at the fire training grounds to make sure it doesn’t happen all over again.

“This was one of our top four priority projects to beat spring runoff,” said public works engineer Chris Carlson, who heads river restoration work for the city.

The $226,000 project started earlier this month, with crews from Wheat Ridge-based RMC Consultants removing debris, pumping water from the new channel and then backfilling it. When complete, there will be about 7 feet of fill — much of it hauled in from repair work under the Lincoln Avenue bridge — where the land had been washed out.

The entire area is in the floodway, so Carlson said there’s no doubt it will flood again. But the restoration was designed in attempt to reduce the cost of any future damages and the effort required to make future repairs.

“One of the themes of all the recovery work is resiliency,” Carlson said. “We want to try to do everything we can to prevent it from having as much damage as it did before.”[…]

Crews are expected to be complete with the spring runoff preparation river work by the end of this week, designed to withstand a 50-year flood event, or about 14,000 cubic feet per second.

While snowpack levels remain far above average with anyone’s guess as to peak river flows during spring runoff, Carlson is confident that the emergency work will hold up.

“Everything we’re doing now will easily handle spring runoff. The only thing that put this at risk is if we get a major rain event,” he said.

The city’s other top priority spring runoff preparation projects — the waterline replacement project at the Water Treatment Plant, repairs to the Lincoln Avenue bridge and work at Morey Wildlife Reserve — are all wrapping up or on schedule to be completed before peak river levels.

“We’re starting to see these things come together,” Carlson said. “There’s still years of work ahead, but I think we’ll get to catch our breath.”

Snowpack news: “It’s Mother Nature’s way of thinning” — Manny Colon

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

A wet, heavy snow Sunday provided more relief from persistent drought in parts of the Arkansas River basin, but could cause some damage to blossoming fruit trees.

“It will take about four days to know for sure, but I’m sure there is some damage,” said Manny Colon, a Canon City fruit grower.

He explained that while some buds were open, the snow in the trees also could have an insulating effect, protecting the unopened buds. The length of time for freezing temperatures and humidity also are factors.

“It’s Mother Nature’s way of thinning,” he laughed. “All the moisture in the snow is wonderful and will help the trees, grass and hay.”

The heavy snow also could cause damage to young trees, but overall its impact should be positive for this parched portion of Colorado.

Pueblo, Fremont, Custer, Huerfano and Las Animas counties received the most moisture from a storm that started as rain, then quickly turned to snow as it hovered over the area all day Sunday. In places, it dropped about a foot of snow, although 6-8 inches was more common, according to readings from the Community Collaborative Rain Hail & Snow network.

Moisture content of 0.75 inches was recorded in Pueblo, while an inch was listed in the Rye area. One site in western Custer County listed 1.18 inches of moisture from the snow.

Moisture and snowfall was far less on the Eastern Plains and in the Rio Grande valley, where snow measured 1-3 inches, and moisture content was .02-0.25 inches.

Mountain areas fared better, with 5-7 inches of snow containing up to half an inch or more of water.

Snowpack in the mountains already has passed the median peak and continues to grow. The typical peak at higher elevations usually comes during the first week of May.

Basinwide, snowpack is at 108 percent of average, according to the Natural Resources Conservation Service. The Upper Colorado River basin, which supplies supplemental water for the Arkansas River, is about 121 percent of average.

The Arkansas River this week is flowing 25 percent higher than last week, but still is below average for this time of year. About half of the water in the river above Lake Pueblo consists of releases by the Bureau of Reclamation to make room for transmountain imports. About one-third of the releases from Lake Pueblo consists of stored water being released for irrigation.

Pueblo’s year-to-date precipitation was 2.4 inches Monday, 17 percent above normal, according to the National Weather Service.

Piedra River: Say hello to Chimney Rock Farms #ColoradoRiver

Chimney Rock Farms photo via the Cortez Journal
Chimney Rock Farms photo via the Cortez Journal

From the Cortez Journal (Mary Shinn):

At Chimney Rock Farms on the Piedra River, Brewer has built two commercial-scale aquaponic greenhouses that house fish tanks and thousands of square feet of troughs where kale, lettuce and tot soy float on a foot of water in rafts from seed to harvest.

“We’re pioneering this, no doubt,” said Brewer. He said that the operation, located 6,600 feet above sea level, is the largest commercial aquaponics farm venture in Colorado.

Brewer plans to supply new Southwest Farm Fresh, A Farm and Ranch Cooperative, which was started in Montezuma County. He also plans to supply the Pagosa Springs farmers market, his Community Supported Agriculture membership, organic grocery stores and restaurants.

In March, the operation had already been supplying a grocery store for three weeks.

In the aquaponic environment, the greens mature in six weeks, which allows him to provide custom mixes of greens and meet demand quickly.

“It’s revolutionary for us,” he said.

In addition to greens, his tilapia – the “aquaponic” aspect of the hydroponic system – can also be sold. Brewer may sell the fish whole on ice at farmers markets, but they are not his main focus.

How it works

In the most basic terms, fish poop feeds plants. In technical terms, the tilapia excrete ammonia. Bacteria break the ammonia down into nitrites and then into nitrates, which feed the plants. The plant roots filter the water, and the water is pumped back to the fish.

The tilapia can’t be kept with the plants because they’d eat the roots. But very small mosquito fish clean the roots and fend off potential mosquitoes.

The seeds are germinated in soil, and the fish-fertilized water flows beneath. As the plants mature, they are transferred into rafts that allow for more space and push down the trough. This system reduces man hours and eliminates all weeds.

“We were spending 60 percent of the time to produce a leafy green, weeding our beds,” he said. To harvest, the roots just need to be trimmed off.

It is also very efficient in terms of water. Aquaponic systems use less than 5 percent of the water of traditional agriculture, Brewer said.

“This is a good fit for us in the desert Southwest,” Brewer said.

As green as possible

Brewer was looking for ways to grow year round, but the inefficiencies of a greenhouse held him back.

“Heating traditional greenhouses with fossil fuels – propane and natural gas – is a very, very tough way to make a living,” he said.

In his newly built greenhouses, the water is heated by solar panels, and a wood boiler. This allows him to grow when temperatures are below freezing outside. He also uses solar panels to power air and water pumps, and grow lights. The solar panels allow him to put electricity back into the grid, and his monthly electricity bill has dropped from more than $600 to just $16.

In the new greenhouses, he hopes to grow from mid-February through Thanksgiving.

He expects that he will make back his investment in his capital improvements in five to six years.

It was important to him to reduce his use of fossil fuels because they are limited resource and their ballooning costs can cut into thin farm profit margins.

“As a farmer, your margins are too thin to rely on fossil fuel costs as a line item,” Brewer said…

“Hopefully, we can prove the economic viability of this such that other people are willing to take the capital intensive risk to build a system like this to grow local food,” he said.

More San Juan Basin coverage here.