Moffat Collection System Project Final EIS available for public review #ColoradoRiver

Here’s the release from the US Army Corps of Engineers (Rena Brand/Eileen Williamson):

The Final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for Denver Water’s Moffat Collection System Project is available for public review. The Colorado Front Range water supply project proposes to enlarge the existing Gross Reservoir in Boulder County, using existing infrastructure to divert water from the Fraser River, Williams Fork River, Blue River and South Platte River to Denver’s existing water treatment system during average and wet years.

The purpose of the Final EIS is to provide decision-makers and the public with information pertaining to the proposed project and alternatives, and to disclose impacts and identify mitigation measures to reduce impacts. The Corps is charged with the responsibility of impartially reviewing Denver Water’s proposal in light of environmental and other Federal laws.

In 2009, a Draft EIS was released by the Corps, public hearings were held and thousands of comments were received. The Final EIS was updated in response to comments received on the Draft EIS. The comments and the Corps’ responses to these comments are included in Appendix N of the Final EIS.

The Final EIS will serve as a basis for the Corps’ decision on whether to issue or deny a Section 404 Permit for the enlargement of Gross Reservoir. The Corps’ decision will be in the form of a record of decision, which will conclude the National Environmental Policy Act evaluation process. The record of decision will not be issued for several months.

The public is encouraged to review the Final EIS during an open comment period from April 25, 2014 to June 9, 2014.

The Final EIS is available online for viewing or download at: or printed copies are

available for viewing at the following Colorado locations:

Grand County

Fraser Valley Library, 421 Norgren Road, Fraser, CO 80442

Granby Library, 55 Zero Street, Granby, CO 80446

Kremmling Library, 300 South 8th Street, Kremmling, CO 80459

Adams County
Anythink York Street Library, 8990 York Street, Thornton, CO 80229

Denver County
Denver Central Library, 10 West 14th Avenue Parkway, Denver, CO 80204

Boulder County
Boulder Main Library, 1001 Arapahoe Avenue, Boulder, CO 80302

Jefferson County
Arvada Library, 7525 West 57th Avenue, Arvada, CO 80002
Golden Library, 1019 10th Street, Golden, CO 80401

Summit County
Summit County Library North Branch, 651 Center Circle, Silverthorne, CO 80498
Summit County Library South Branch, 504 Airport Road, Breckenridge, CO 80424

Denver Water
1600 West 12th Avenue, Denver, CO 80204

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
Omaha District, Denver Regulatory Office, 9307 South Wadsworth Boulevard, Littleton, CO 80128

Written comments should be sent to: U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Omaha District, Denver Regulatory Office, Attention: Rena Brand, Moffat EIS Project Manager; 9307 S. Wadsworth Blvd, Littleton, CO 80128. Comments can also be emailed to: Comments must be postmarked or received no later than June 9, 2014.

More information on the Final EIS and where to submit comments can be found at:

From Colorado Trout Unlimited (Randy Scholfield):

Trout Unlimited today responded to the release of the Final EIS for Denver Water’s Moffat Collection System project, calling on the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to incorporate into the final permit the provisions of an agreement on Fraser River protections forged by Trout Unlimited, Denver Water and Grand County.

“Trout Unlimited will be reviewing the Final Environmental Impact Statement closely and cannot yet comment on its contents, but in light of the potential impacts we know an unmitigated Moffat Project creates in the Fraser River basin-including loss of an outstanding wild trout fishery-we call on the Corps to recognize the impacts and incorporate into permits the mitigation and enhancement commitments agreed upon by Denver Water, Grand County, and Trout Unlimited and announced in March 2014,” said David Nickum, executive director of Colorado Trout Unlimited.

Denver Water’s 2011 Cooperative Agreement with West Slope water users was a great step forward in addressing current impacts on the Fraser caused by diversions-but as TU, Grand County officials and others noted
at the time, the agreement did not address the future impacts of the Moffat expansion on the Fraser.

The recent multiparty agreement offers several protections that TU has said need to be included with
this project. The key features include:

* Water is made available to address elevated stream temperatures on the Fraser and Ranch Creek.
* Denver uses its operating flexibility to provide flushing flows to cleanse streams.
* Ongoing monitoring of stream health, and adaptive management using water and financial resources provided by Denver Water – and leveraged by other partners.
* Commitment to this monitoring and management program-called “Learning by Doing”-through the project’s federal permit.

“The Fraser watershed has been a system in decline, and it won’t be protected by simply blocking the Moffat Firming Project and walking away,” said Nickum. “Trout Unlimited realized that protecting this river was going to require a new way of doing business, a collaboration among those who influence and rely upon the Fraser so that everyone has a shared stake in conserving the river for the long term. That is the idea behind the Learning by Doing program.”

“There is no question that the Moffat Project, unmitigated, will further impact an already-depleted watershed,” said Mely Whiting, TU’s Colorado Water Project Counsel. “This is why Grand County, Denver Water, and Trout Unlimited worked in good faith to develop a mitigation and enhancement plan that addresses the impacts and puts the Fraser River back on a path toward a healthy future. We now need the Corps to ensure that those protections are fully incorporated into project permits.

“We look forward to reviewing the Final EIS carefully and working with the Corps, Grand County, and Denver Water to ensure that the responsible protections we have proposed become part of the final project mitigation package.”

“The Fraser is the lifeblood of our community and a vital part of our natural and cultural heritage,” said Kirk Klancke, president of TU’s Colorado River Headwaters chapter in Fraser and a longtime advocate for the river. “Now it is time for the Corps to step up and make sure that the waters that once drew President Eisenhower to our valley are protected for future generations.”

Read the Moffat mitigation and enhancement agreement

More Moffat Collection System Project coverage here and here.

Green Mountain Reservoir operations update #ColoradoRiver

Colorado River Basin in Colorado via the Colorado Geological Survey
Colorado River Basin in Colorado via the Colorado Geological Survey

From email from Reclamation (Kara Lamb):

Work at Green Mountain Dam has wrapped up and it is time to start increasing releases again. Here is the schedule for bumping up over the weekend and Monday. By Monday afternoon, we should be releasing about 900 cfs to the Lower Blue River.

Saturday, April 26, 2014
5:00 p.m. – Increase the reservoir release from 550 cfs to 600 cfs.
10:00 p.m. – Increase the reservoir release from 600 cfs to 650 cfs.

Sunday, April 27, 2014
5:00 p.m – Increase the reservoir release from 650 cfs to 700 cfs.
10:00 p.m. – Increase the reservoir release from 700 cfs to 750 cfs.

Monday, April 28, 2014
7:00 a.m. – Increase the reservoir release from 750 cfs to 800 cfs.
11:00 .m. – Increase the reservoir release from 800 cfs to 850 cfs.
4:00 p.m. – Increase the reservoir release from 850 cfs to 900 cfs.

Snowpack/runoff news: Race is on to beat snowmelt in areas pummeled by fall’s #COflood — The Denver Post

Flood damage Big Thompson Canyon September 2013 -- photo via Northern Water
Flood damage Big Thompson Canyon September 2013 — photo via Northern Water

From The Denver Post (Joey Bunch):

Swollen streams are running faster than normal in northern Colorado while an enormous snowpack begins to melt in the mountains above. With reservoirs too full to help absorb the expected rush, municipal, county and state crews are scrambling to strengthen improvements in the same areas wrecked by last fall’s flooding.

A snowpack that the National Weather Service ranks among the highest in the past 35 years is poised to melt and cause flooding in normal conditions. Instead, snowmelt will rake across a landscape left fragile by September’s historic floods.

Crews hope spring flooding doesn’t endanger the millions of dollars in repairs that already have been made.

Whether the crews have done enough in time is a question that can be answered only by Mother Nature.

“Nobody is quite sure how things are going to respond,” said Bill McCormick, Colorado’s chief of dam safety.

September’s floods plowed through this region, obliterating the stream banks, dams and ditches that help funnel water from the mountains to the plains. In Larimer County, the flood damaged or destroyed 65 culverts and bridges.

Still about three weeks from the typical peak of the northern Colorado snowmelt, creeks and rivers are already being tested.

“There’s more water running in the streams this year than I’ve seen in 35 years of doing this,” said Randy Gustafson, water resource administrator for Greeley who has worked his entire career at the filter plant that the city operates in Bellvue at the mouth of Poudre Canyon.

Wednesday morning, he and Kallie Bauer, a state dam-safety engineer, inspected and gave the A-OK to the Milton Seaman Reservoir. The dam there is continuously rated “high risk” because if it fails, “people in Fort Collins will die,” Gustafson said.

The dam, however, survived last fall’s flood in good shape and is capable of handling much more than even that historic flood, Bauer said.

Historic snowmelt

How high the water rises depends partly on how warm the temperature gets at higher elevations, where the snow awaits. Areas above the flood zones have a snowpack of about 150 percent of its 30-year average, and some areas are closer to 250 percent, according to water managers.

The agency already is telling people in Jefferson, Boulder and Larimer counties to brace for flooding.

Complicating matters, reservoirs that normally empty out in the fall and make room for the snowmelt in the spring refilled in September, McCormick said.

Water storage statewide was already at 89 percent of average at the end of March, when only a fraction of the snowpack had melted, according to the Colorado Water Conservation Board. In other words, reservoirs will provide little or no harbor for the massive snowmelt still to come. The rest will travel downriver.

“They’re going to spill a lot sooner this year, there’s no doubt about that,” McCormick said.

Residents in the area hit hardest last fall are worried about any level of flooding and the further damage it could do.

“I don’t even want to think about the creek rising,” said Ben Huff, whose home near the Big Thompson River outside Drake is one of the few that can still be inhabited after the last flood. “And the ground under our house is so soft; I don’t want any more water underneath it, or it might slip on down the hill.

Under threat

The recurrence of washed-out canyon roads is a disaster the Colorado Department of Transportation is hurriedly trying to avert this spring. The highway department made emergency repairs to reopen major roads last fall, but the fixes were temporary. The plan was to make more durable repairs when the weather improved in the spring.

The work to fix the problems that ruined the fall-tourism season is now complicating travel in the spring.

On Wednesday — a sunny, dry afternoon — the 20-mile drive on U.S. 36 from Estes Park to Lyons took more than an hour. The route narrowed to one lane of bumpy, dusty dirt road in several locations, and 10- to 20-minute stops were common, as road crews and heavy equipment worked nearby.

“We’re kind of in a race against time to beat the snowmelt,” said CDOT spokeswoman Amy Ford. “We’re certainly hoping (flooding will be manageable), but we can’t leave that to chance.”

Crews were blasting away the hillside this week to move U.S. 36 as far from the water as possible, she said.

Boulder County officials are concerned the snowmelt could lead to landslides and could create artificial dams made of debris lifted by the higher water levels. Crews hope to have 85 percent of the debris removed and sediment dredged by Thursday, said county spokeswoman Gabi Boerkircher.

The county is urging those who see tilting trees and utility poles — possible signs of an impending landslide — to call 911. Besides unusually high water, people should also report unusually low water, because it could indicate the water is dammed by debris upstream. A collapse could trigger a flash flood, Boerkircher said.

On the Eastern Plains, dozens of irrigation ditches are still under repair from the floods, so the abundant water will be of little use to thousands of acres of farmland.

“The runoff this year is shaping up to be a good year for water — but whether we’re able to take advantage of it, we don’t know yet,” said Sean Cronin, executive director of the St. Vrain and Left Hand Water Conservancy District, which lost 44 of its 94 ditches in the fall flood. Ten had been repaired as of April 1, and another 21 could be completed by Thursday.

For a lot of the major growers, the pace of federal help proved too slow, so they raised the money for repairs among those who share the water in the ditches to help get the work going sooner.

“They said, ‘We have no choice; this is our livelihood,’ ” Cronin said.

Brian Werner, spokesman for the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District, said the combination of last fall’s floods, the snowpack and the potential wet spring — on the back of several years of drought — show the need for more reservoirs.

More storage would provide a rainy-day account for water providers to draw from in drier times, he said.

On top of about 1 million acre-feet from the Colorado-Big Thompson water system, the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District already has projects on the board to store another 300,000 acre-feet. An acre-foot is generally enough to serve the needs of two families of four for a year.

“We’re still trying to build reservoirs so we can spread that water out from the wet years to the dry ones,” Werner said.

For Lyons resident Connie Starnes, getting through the spring is the highest priority for government work.

“We can’t live like this,” she said. “Nobody wants to go through anything like that ever again, and having to worry about it again isn’t any fun.”

From the Longmont Times-Call:

Cleanups of flood-deposited debris and sediment in unincorporated Boulder County’s stream corridors will resume this coming week.

The county has targeted specific debris locations identified as posing potential hazards and public-safety threats during spring runoff.

Ongoing cleanup projects include such areas as: Lefthand Creek west of U.S. Highway 36; the Apple Valley Road area; Fourmile Creek; Fourmile Canyon Creek; the Little Thompson Creek; the Longmont Dam Road area; North St. Vrain Creek; the St. Vrain River corridor through the county’s plains; the South St. Vrain as it crosses Boulder County open space; and the Streamcrest area.

Cleanup projects set to begin this week include: Gold Run Creek; the Middle St. Vrain Creek; the Raymond-Riverside area; the Salina area; and other parts of the South St. Vrain Creek.

From Steamboat Today (Tom Ross):

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration released a drought summary Friday showing that the Park and Elkhead mountain ranges that wrap around Steamboat Springs and Craig are among a few pockets in the West enjoying above-average moisture and snowpack during the water year that began Oct. 1, 2013…

Based on snowpack, moisture in Routt and Moffat counties ranges from 113 percent to 132 percent of the median for April 25. And that positive trend extends to Wyoming and particularly the northwest corner of that state, where snowpack is near 150 percent of average near Jackson, Wyo.

Moisture is even higher in west central and northern Montana where snowpack is as much as 164 percent of the median. Northern Washington’s snowpack also is more than 100 percent, but central Oregon is in the 50th percentile and some places in southern Oregon are just 20 percent of median.

There are portions of north Texas and Oklahoma’s panhandle that have not seen rain in 140 days.

Conditions in Moffat County are “abnormally dry,” according to NOAA’s drought monitor, but do not meet the standard for moderate drought conditions. Routt, Jackson, Grand, Summit, Eagle and many of the counties straddling the Continental Divide in Colorado are free of any drought listing.

In spite of the abundant snowpack here, Steamboat has seen below-average April precipitation through Friday morning.

“Normal” precipitation in the city of Steamboat for the month of April is 2.41 inches, according to NOAA. As of 7 a.m. Friday, April precipitation had totaled 1.72 inches. The 6 inches that had fallen as of the end of the week compares to a “normal” monthly average in town of 13.1 inches. You can find that data at the National Weather Service by clicking on “nowdata” and searching for Steamboat Springs.

Just to the west of Colorado, the snowpack in far eastern Utah that includes the La Sal, Abajo and Henry mountain ranges is just 4 percent of what is typical this time of year.

Across the West, 61.6 percent of the land mass is reported as being under moderate to exceptional drought conditions, up from 58.9 percent at the start of the water year. Some of the worst conditions are in southeastern Colorado, far eastern New Mexico, central Nevada and southern Colorado…

The National Weather Service is predicting that an entrenched ridge of high pressure will bring colder than normal temperatures east of the Rockies from Thursday to May 7, but warmer than normal temperatures to the West.

NOAA sees the drought persisting or intensifying in most of the West between now and July 31, excluding Montana, Wyoming and all of Colorado but the southeastern portion of the state.

Western New Mexico, however, could catch a break in July from a summer monsoon that would improve drought conditions and even remove them in an isolated area of the state.

From (Russell Haythorn):

On Highway 72 up Coal Creek Canyon, many of the culverts damaged by last September’s catastrophic floods remain collapsed, damaged or clogged…

The Colorado Department of Transportation and Denver Water are working with residents to fix problems even though many of the culverts lead to private driveways and are privately owned, like the one on Crescent Lake Road.

“We recognize that that canyon has been through a lot,” said CDOT engineer Stephen Harelson. “So we’re just trying to keep another issue from happening.”

“Access culverts are the responsibility of the property owner rather than CDOT, but CDOT is attempting to find ways to keep them clean and be a good neighbor,” Harelson added.

Denver Water spokesman Travis Thompson said the utility met with residents on Crescent Lake Road on Thursday. And even though the collapsed culvert is privately owned, Denver Water plans to make the repairs to the culvert as a good faith measure.

Dust streaming across Four Corners April 29, 2009 via MODIS
Dust streaming across Four Corners April 29, 2009 via MODIS

From The Denver Post (Scott Willoughby):

For longtime locals, the final day on the Vail Mountain ski slopes is a customary ritual, the last chance to make use of the nearby network of chairlifts and cruise spring snow before the so-called “mud season” transition to summer. While the mountain attracted its fair share of disciples on the Easter Sunday closing last weekend, some of the region’s most dedicated skiers went the opposite direction, recognizing that the best snow to be found was already in the Colorado River.

“The brown frown is bringing me down,” said Mike Wertz, a 23-year resident of Vail whose ski days regularly approach triple digits. “I’d much rather be doing this.”

Despite above-average snowpack on his home hill, Wertz had joined a throng of stand-up paddle (SUP) surfers and kayakers making the most of an unseasonably early spike in the spring runoff at the Glenwood Springs Whitewater Park. Mud season, it seems, has turned to dust season, and impacts of the gritty layers of dirt covering the mountain snowpack — Wertz’s “brown frown” — have been revealed twice over: both as bad skiing conditions and increasingly early runoff.

Make no mistake, the dust-on-snow phenomenon is real. And it’s making a mess of things in the Colorado Rockies. During recent years, desert dust carried by strong winds has been settling thick and dark on the snowpack in the Rocky Mountain headwaters of the Colorado River. Snow dusted with dark particles absorbs more of the sun’s rays and melts faster than clean snow. According to researchers at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences (CIRES) at the University of Colorado in Boulder, the snowpack is melting out some six weeks earlier than it did in the 1800s. And the problem appears to be getting worse.

It’s not an issue to be underestimated. Studies dating to the moderately dusty years of 2005-08 show that the dusty snowpack robbed the Colorado River of 5 percent of its flow before it reaches the Grand Canyon, equating to about 750,000 acre-feet annually, or about twice what the city of Denver uses. During 2009, 2010 and 2013, scientists observed unprecedented amounts of desert dust falling on Colorado snowpacks, about five times more than observed from 2005-08. Those extra layers of dirt resulted in an extra percentage point of water loss as snowmelt creeps earlier into the spring, and less water is left for later in the year. Never mind the future exacerbation of climate change models. It’s a phenomenon that already has been observed this spring as the Colorado River surged to more than 8,000 cubic feet per second (cfs) in Glenwood and 14,000 cfs at the Utah state line last week.

“The surging being logged on streams throughout the Colorado mountains is likely to be sustained until at least (this past) weekend,” reported Chris Landry, who heads up the Colorado Dust-on-Snow program as director of the Silverton-based Center for Snow and Avalanche Studies. “Several watersheds experienced flows (Tuesday) that approached their median peak flow levels.”

In other words, the water is rising, and fast. Landry only capped the stream surge this weekend because of a forecast for more snow that should temporarily cover the dust — and potentially add to it. The thing is, dust doesn’t melt. It merely grows darker and more concentrated as the snow beneath it melts, exponentially increasing the rate of runoff as the sun’s intensity grows with the approach of summer.

The research suggests that we can keep the snow on our mountains longer if we can figure out a way to adopt dust-reducing land management strategies and rehabilitate major dust sources in the Southwest. Meanwhile, we are forced to adapt.

“In the Upper Colorado River Basin, the snowpack is our most important reservoir,” said dust-on-snow research pioneer Thomas Painter of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. “With continued dusty years and greater warming, water managers will have to make their decisions very early in the season. No longer will they have the nice long snowmelt season, shortened as it already has been, to see how snowmelt runoff is going.”

And neither, apparently, will the skiers and river runners.

Hermosa Creek: Durango Mountain Resort is lawyering up to fight the USFS

Hermosa Park
Hermosa Park

From The Durango Herald (Joe Hanel):

Durango Mountain Resort is getting ready to sue the U.S. Forest Service over access to its water rights – rights it needs for future development on the mountain.

The dispute comes at the same time the Forest Service is under fire nationally for its attempts to force ski resorts to turn over their water rights as a condition for getting their permits renewed.

Meanwhile at the state Legislature, a bill by Sen. Ellen Roberts, R-Durango, to curb the Forest Service’s water-rights policy appears to be dead as Democratic leaders defer to the federal agency for the second consecutive year.

Roberts’ bill would not help Durango Mountain Resort, which has a slightly different dispute with the Forest Service. But the resort’s CEO, Gary Derck, sees a pattern of the Forest Service trying to get control of ski resorts’ water rights…

The ski resort owns conditional water rights to six wells on the back side of the mountain, on land its previous owners traded to the Forest Service in the 1990s. The trade did not include water rights, but the agency now says it will not allow Durango Mountain Resort to access the wells.

Lawyers for the Forest Service have asked a local water judge to deny Durango Mountain Resort’s rights to the wells. The resort’s rights are conditional, and it needs to prove to a water judge every six years that it is working toward making the rights absolute and putting the water to use.

But starting in 2010, the Forest Service began opposing the ski area in water court.

“Any additional proposals to divert and convey water from the upper East Hermosa Creek will not be accepted by the San Juan National Forest and authorization will not be granted,” former Forest Supervisor Mark Stiles wrote in a June 2012 legal filing.

The ski area’s owners say they have legal rights to access their water rights, and after several years of wrangling with the Forest Service, they are getting ready to sue.

“We’re trying to find a way not to go to court because it would be expensive, and we’re just a little old ski area down here in Southwest Colorado,” Derck said.

Stormwater fee for El Paso County?

Fountain Creek during monsoon July 2012 via The Pueblo Chieftain
Fountain Creek during monsoon July 2012 via The Pueblo Chieftain

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

New polling shows voter support for a stormwater fee in El Paso County, and even more as voters become educated about the need. The fee is important to Pueblo County because it could raise $1 billion over the next 20 years to reduce the impacts of floods on Fountain Creek. Last November, 50 percent in El Paso County opposed the fee, while 44 percent were in favor. In March, 53 percent favored the fee, with only 35 percent opposed, said Dave Munger, co-chairman of a citizens task force on stormwater control.

“We’re very encouraged by that, especially because we have not gotten an educational program going,” Munger told the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District Friday.

The polling showed that by building certain provisions into the proposal, support could increase to more than 60 percent as the task force moves to convince El Paso County commissioners to put a stormwater proposal on the November ballot.

If the average homeowner paid $9 per month, the fee would raise $50 million per year in the Pikes Peak region. That’s three times the amount generated by a stormwater fee sunk by the Colorado Springs City Council in 2009.

That money would address projects envisioned in earlier stormwater studies as well as new concerns caused by the Waldo Canyon and Black Forest fires, Munger said.

The proposal would limit the administrative fee to just 1 percent — about $500,000 per year. It also would return the money to communities proportionately and include a 20-year sunset period for capital projects. A 13-member board weighted toward Colorado Springs would develop a master plan that would prioritize projects.

While the money would be redistributed on a pro rata basis, it still could be used for retention ponds or dams as envisioned by the Fountain Creek board.

“This will make El Paso County’s stormwater control efforts greater than it has ever been before,” Munger said.

Pueblo County Commissioner Terry Hart asked Munger to explain why the Fountain Creek district could not administer the plan.

“What I would like to know is if you see a role for the district,” Hart said. “A lot has gone into forming this district, including trying to navigate the politics and differences between the two counties.”

Munger replied that the proposal is built on agreements that would be signed by Colorado Springs, El Paso County, Fountain, Manitou Springs, Green Mountain Falls, Monument and Palmer Lake.

“We’re focused on getting voter approval,” he said.

Once the stormwater authority is formed, it could contract with the Fountain Creek district for projects. It might also accept new members, including Pueblo County, city of Pueblo and Teller County areas within the watershed.

“I don’t know why we couldn’t take advantage of this structure,” Munger said.

Recent estimates show a backlog of $740 million in El Paso County stormwater projects, but more could develop. At the end of 20 years, voters could be asked to renew the fee, Munger said.

More stormwater coverage here.