— Laura Paskus (@LauraPaskus) May 27, 2014
From the Associated Press via The Columbus Republic:
Flooding from the Poudre (POO’-dur) River has closed several streets in Greeley. A section of a hiking and bicycling trail that runs along the river was also closed Tuesday because of the high water.
Melting snow has caused the river to rise to 8.9 feet, nearly a foot above flood stage. The river isn’t expected to drop below flood stage until Thursday morning.
From the Cañon City Daily Record (Brandon Hopper):
Friday afternoon, the water levels were flowing at 1,770 cubic feet per second at Parkdale on the Arkansas River. With the way it had been trending Friday, passing 1,800 through the night seemed like a sure thing with the possibility of even hitting 1,900 today [May 25].
The mean average for May 23 over the past 59 years is 1,440, but last year on the same day it was only about 525. After May 23, 2013, the water levels quickly rose before peeking for the 10-day stretch at about 1,550 on May 28, 2013.
“It is incredibly encouraging,” said Will Colon, who owns Raft Masters, a company that’s been rafting this year since mid-March. “It looks like it’s going to be … an average (water level) year, and that equates to be great (rafting). … It’s shaping up to be the perfect season.
“From everything we have right now as far as information, it’s looking like we couldn’t ask for anything better.”
The key, Colon said, is to have the snow pack gradually melt, feeding a steady amount of water into the Arkansas River. He said the cool weather during the last couple days has been great for that reason. If the snow melts too quickly, boaters will see a surge of water but it won’t last until Labor Day in September, which, for the most part, typically marks the end of the commercial rafting season.
The Voluntary Flow Management Program also helps keep steady waters for rafters to enjoy.
From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Andrea Sinclair):
The Cache la Poudre River in northern Colorado threatened to spill over its banks on Sunday, reaching 7.9 feet – just shy of the 8-foot flood stage, the National Weather Service in Boulder said. Greeley police closed 71st Avenue at the river because of some flooding, and parks and trails near the river also were closed, the City of Greeley said in a release.
The weather service said the river could rise to nearly 8.5 feet by early Tuesday, but is expected fall below flood stage by Wednesday. Other creeks and rivers also were running high, but flooding was not expected.
But what happens all depends on whether there’s more rain, and how fast snowmelt runoff flows into the river.
The rise in river levels is common during May, Colorado’s wettest month, according to weather service meteorologist Kyle Fredin in Boulder.
“Snowmelt runoff during begins in May like clockwork around here,” Fredin said. “We haven’t observed any overflowing of river banks at this time, but we’re paying close attention to any areas where the river levels may be higher than normal to keep the public informed.”
The weather service is also watching areas that got a significant amount of rain, because saturated ground plus additional excess rain could prompt flood warnings, Fredin said. In west Loveland, for example, up to 4 inches of rain fell Friday night and although flooding was reported only at some intersections, meteorologists will watch the area closely if another storm hits, Fredin explained.
From The Greeley Tribune (Eric Brown):
The Cache La Poudre River height near Greeley reached 8.85 feet at 9:30 a.m. today, topping its flood stage of 8 feet, according to the National Weather Service.
The National Weather Service forecasts are calling for the river to peak at 9 feet this afternoon or this evening, and then gradually fall to below the 8-foot flood stage by late Wednesday or early Thursday morning.
In addition to having high levels, the river is also moving fast.
Flows at the Greeley gauge at 10:30 a.m. were at about 2,800 cubic feet per second. The historic average is at that measuring point is about 300 cfs.
The recent high waters on the Poudre River have already taken two lives.
Authorities recovered two bodies, believed to be a 14-year-oold Greeley boy and his 38-year-old uncle, from the Poudre River on Monday after witnesses said the boy fell into the river while fishing and his uncle jumped in after him. They’d been fishing in the Poudre Canyon, about 12 miles west of Ted’s Place.
The sheriff’s office hasn’t released the names.
Due to high water and debris on the Poudre River, city of Greeley officials announced that 6th Avenue from the Poudre bridge to 3rd Street is closed this morning.
Other closures that remain in place include:
• 83rd Avenue at the Poudre River
• 95th Avenue at the Poudre River
• 71st Avenue at the Poudre River
Trail and open space closures include:
• Poudre Trail from Rover Run Dog Park east to 35th Avenue. The Trail is now closed from 35th Avenue west to Windsor.
• The Poudre Trail parking lot, trail head and open space at 71st Avenue are closed.
City of Greeley officials also urge using caution when traveling along the Larson Ditch and Sheep Draw Trail corridors, including the McCloskey Natural Area, Pumpkin Ridge Natural Area and Hunters Cove West Natural Area.
Additionally, Greeley officials are asking that residents stay clear of all river banks, as the banks can become unstable as water levels rise. If motorists see water over roads, they are advised to not drive through that water.
In addition to the high waters on the Poudre River, flows in other rivers in the Greeley area — the Big Thompson, St. Vrain and others — have been above average as well.
That being the case, the height of the South Platte River at Kersey — at which point all tributary rivers to the South Platte, including the Poudre, Big Thompson and St Vrain, among others, have dumped into the river — had climbed to 8.8 feet this morning, inching toward its flood stage of 10 feet.
However, National Weather Service forecasts called for the river to gradually fall from its current height of 8.8 feet all the way through Friday, but hadn’t predicted river levels beyond that.
From the Snowmass Sun (Steve Alldredge) via the Aspen Times:
Since the last ice age receded, water in Snowmass Creek has flowed from the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness, carving out what’s known as Old Snowmass Valley. The water irrigates ranches and supports wells for a few subdivisions and scattered homes before joining the Roaring Fork River in Old Snowmass.
Over time, additional demands for water to support the development of Snowmass Village and snowmaking at the Snowmass ski area added to the pressures on Snowmass Creek, giving rise to concerns over the preservation of sustainable flows in the creek. But the inevitable conflict, which first existed between users in Snowmass Valley and those in the Brush Creek drainage over the water in Snowmass Creek, is now developing into a novel and promising partnership to manage and protect water that people in both valleys depend on.
The centerpiece in this partnership is Ziegler Reservoir.
The creation of this off-stream reservoir provides the flexibility and water security to support a 21st century approach to sustainable water management where water is shared between agriculture and a municipality, and across two basins.
When the resort of Snowmass Village was created in 1967, senior water rights from Snowmass Creek pertaining to the underlying ranch lands were converted to serve the newly planned community, the tourist condominiums and hotels, and, eventually, snowmaking at the ski area. The Snowmass Water and Sanitation District was created to provide clean water and treat wastewater for a growing base of Snowmass customers at the new resort.
Over 96 percent of the district’s water flows from the Snowmass Creek basin. East Snowmass Creek provides most of that water, with the rest coming from Snowmass Creek. Less than 5 percent of the sanitation district’s water comes from Brush Creek. All of the water from East Snowmass Creek is gravity fed down to the water treatment plant at the bottom of the Snowmass ski area.
Over the years, the shared use of Snowmass Creek water became a contentious issue between residents in Old Snowmass and the Snowmass Water and Sanitation District — particularly in the winter. The town of Snowmass Village needs the most water in winter around the holiday season, when the cold temperatures of December and January cause the lowest flows in the creek. When the need for water for snowmaking was added in the ‘90s, the pressure on Snowmass Creek increased.
Worried about the health of Snowmass Creek, the Snowmass-Capitol Creek Caucus challenged the Snowmass Water and Sanitation District and the Aspen Skiing Co. over minimum stream flows in Snowmass Creek. In 1996, the Colorado Water Conservation Board established a stair-step minimum stream flow baseline for Snowmass Creek in an attempt to balance human and environmental demands for the water. But tensions remained between the Snowmass Water and Sanitation District, the Snowmass-Capitol Creek Caucus and Skico because the minimum in-stream flow rights set by the state are not binding on more senior water right holders like the sanitation District
Chelsea Congdon is a member of the Snowmass-Capitol Creek Caucus and a leader in their efforts to protect Snowmass Creek.
“Snowmass Creek has shaped and defined the Snowmass Creek Valley, and it is literally the lifeblood of all the ecosystems of this valley,” Congdon said. “That creek is shared by people in two watersheds and the caucus spent a lot of time and a lot of money trying to find a way to compel or convince SWSD to join in the effort to protect that creek.”
Sharon Clarke is the watershed action director for Roaring Fork Conservancy, a local environmental organization dedicated to water.
“For a lot of years, it was very contentious between the SWSD and the Snowmass Creek Caucus,” said Clarke. “Now they are working together to figure out how to best get water for the district and help the creek at the same time.”
A significant factor in that transition was the staff and board changes at Snowmass Water and Sanitation District in the early 2000s when Kit Hamby was hired as district manager. Doug Throm was a member of the Snowmass Water and Sanitation District board from 2004 until 2014.
Since he was hired by the Snowmass Water and Sanitation District, Hamby has initiated a series of operational changes to increase water conservation programs and manage water more efficiently. After instituting a study on the district’s water assets and future needs, Hamby led an effort to expand raw water storage to mitigate the catastrophic effects of a natural disaster or drought. This effort led to the district purchasing a small pond in 2008 located on top of a hill overlooking Snowmass Village for $3.5 million from the Peter Ziegler family.
In October 2008, construction of Ziegler Reservoir began and then quickly came to a stop: During excavation, bulldozer operator Jesse Steel unearthed bones from a 16-year-old female mammoth. Two extensive digs by the Denver Museum of Natural History uncovered bones from a wide variety of animals that lived over 45,000 years ago. They also discovered one of North America’s premiere locations to study climate science.
After the digs, Ziegler Reservoir was completed and put into service by the Snowmass Water and Sanitation District. The reservoir holds roughly 82 million gallons of water and is about 252 acre-feet in size.
The original plan for the reservoir was to hold water for an emergency. But Hamby led an effort to develop a plan to use Ziegler Reservoir to do more — to serve as the linchpin in a state-of-the-art municipal water system, with conservation at its core.
“Using Ziegler is a balancing act,” said Hamby. “We fill the reservoir when water flows in the creek are high and then use that water when flows are low. And it’s an extraordinary water-management tool. We can take out 104 million gallons for snowmaking and then take another 100 million gallons out over the next three months for municipal use and still not drop the reservoir below 50 percent.”
Frank White is the snowmaking manager for Skico. After Ziegler Reservoir came online, Skico concluded a multi-year agreement to use the water from Ziegler Reservoir for snowmaking. In an average year, the Skico uses about 80 million gallons of water for snowmaking at the Snowmass ski area over a 60-day period.
White recalls how snow made at the Snowmass ski area by pumping water out of Snowmass Creek and up the hill to snow guns that roared to life and spit out snow when temperatures were low enough. Those same low temperatures are often the times when Snowmass Creek was at its lowest flow, stressing the health of the Snowmass Creek ecosystem. With the construction of Ziegler Reservoir, the company takes water for snowmaking out of the reservoir, without impacting the creek, and also saves the expensive cost of using energy to pump the water uphill.
Auden Schendler is the Skico’s vice president of Sustainability. “If you are going to make snow, it’s more efficient to make it all at once,” explained Schendler. “In the past we couldn’t do that because we were limited on how much water we could take out of the stream when temperatures were the lowest. Now, we can fire on all cylinders and pump out as much snow as efficiently as possible during a cold snap. Using Ziegler saves energy and therefore money. And using Ziegler buffers Snowmass Creek because not as much water is withdrawn when the flow of the creek is at its lowest.”
Using Ziegler Reservoir for snowmaking and municipal demand during the winter so that Snowmass Creek is protected from diversions is one benefit most everyone agrees on.
Dave Nixa is on the board of the Pitkin County nonprofit Healthy Rivers and Streams.
“I think the most significant aspect of Ziegler Reservoir is that it is a tremendous resource for storage in case of landslides, fires and other catastrophes,” said Nixa. “But we need to maintain the riparian life of (that) creek and the animals that use it, and the biggest animal that uses that creek is Man, for domestic water and irrigation. Having that kind of resource in our valley is pretty important in protecting the long-term health of Snowmass Creek.”
In the ‘90s and ‘00s, the focus of the Snowmass-Capitol Creek Caucus was on maintaining a minimum stream flow in Snowmass Creek in order to maintaining healthy flows to protect river ecology — and most people measure river health by the health of fish populations. In this case, the fish is trout.
Trout spawn at different times of the year. They lay their eggs in nests in the gravels of the stream and the nests are called redds. The eggs laid in the fall are susceptible to low winter stream flows. If the water gets too low, the redds become exposed and freeze. If the water gets too low and anchor ice forms on the bottom of the stream, the ice starts moving and it destroys the redds.
“Before Ziegler was built, the creek’s flow was the lowest at the same time of the year that beds in Snowmass Village were filled and snowmaking was needed,” Congdon said. “Now, the district is using Ziegler as a bucket, and they use that off-stream storage of Ziegler as part of a water-management system, filling the reservoir back up when the creek has excess water and using the reservoir to buffer the creek.”
In addition to using Ziegler as a water-management tool, the sanitation district has earned high praise from the caucus and others because of additional investments in sustainability they have made the last few years.
“Other than building Ziegler, we have focused in on water loss,” explained Hamby. “We probably have the most aggressive leak detection system in the state of Colorado. We perform leak detection on about 60 to 80 percent of our 45 miles of water line each spring, and then we retest about 40 to 45 percent of those lines again each fall. Each year, we’re retesting 100 percent of our lines.”
“The district has a keen awareness in how to manage their resources in the most effective way,” said Nixa. “One good example is their leak-detection program. It was probably in the upper percentile of poor, and is now in the lower percentiles of outstanding. I would venture that the SWSD is in the top 1 percent of all water districts in the state. It’s a formal program and inherent in how they run their business now.”
In fact, the conservation and leak detection programs of the sanitation district have reduced overall water usage in the district from 642 million gallons in 1998 to about 480 million gallons a year now.
“The district has made huge investments in storage, conservation and leak detection and their current low water loss rate makes them a state-of-the-art water district,” Congdon said. “They are protecting their rate payers and delivering water without wasting money. And they are operating with an awareness that we all depend upon this one little creek. We should manage it efficiently.”
As a testament to the commitment to conservation, in December, the Snowmass Water and Sanitation District Board passed resolution No. 9 to operate their water system to adhere to the state minimum in-stream flow standard for Snowmass Creek to the maximum extent possible.
The district’s commitment to use Ziegler Reservoir to manage water more efficiently and protect the Creek has helped motivate the Snowmass Creek Caucus to lead a water conservation and education effort in Snowmass Creek Valley.
While the Snowmass Water and Sanitation District is the largest user of Snowmass Creek water in the winter, the irrigators of the ranches and farms in Snowmass Creek Valley use the most water in summer. Even though they use their water at the time of the creek’s highest flows, their cumulative demand, coupled with the pressures of climate change, threaten the health of Snowmass Creek in the summer.
Under the most accepted assumptions of climate change, the historic diversions in the Snowmass Creek Valley are predicted to begin to drive late summer flows below the summer in-stream flow level of 15 cfs. The Snowmass Capitol Creek Caucus has initiated an outreach effort to work with local irrigators to find ways to increase water efficiency. Some irrigators in the valley, including the McBrides and Wildcat Ranch, have installed sprinkler systems that use less water and use it more efficiently than traditional flood irrigation systems.
“One of the biggest thing the Caucus is doing now is education,” explained Congdon. “We’re developing information materials and meeting with irrigators to help them understand the issues, and we’re getting their commitment to conserving water in times of low flows, which is huge commitment for them to make, and it’s voluntary.”
In order to conserve and manage water the most efficiently, the water has to be gauged and measured. Both the Snowmass Water and Sanitation District and the Snowmass Creek Caucus are currently leading efforts to construct small barriers or weirs to more effectively measure stream flows on Snowmass Creek and its tributaries.
Today, the disputes between Snowmass Water and Sanitation District and the Snowmass Capitol Creek Caucus seem like a thing of the past. The construction of Ziegler Reservoir was something water users in both Brush Creek and Snowmass Creek drainages could agree on. And it has proved to be the keystone in an unlikely partnership between municipal and agricultural water users in 2 basins to protect a shared stream.
It is not unusual for rivers or streams in Colorado to be diverted from one basin to another, but it is rare to find such a promising collaboration across such a divide. If the predictions for climate change in this region are accurate, and demands for water continue to grow as they surely will, then the story of conservation and cooperation around Snowmass Creek could be a model for other water users in the West.
More Roaring Fork River watershed coverage here.
Town Marshal Adam Appelhanz normally makes sure his patrol car is clean and buffed for the annual Memorial Day procession down Main Street of this town of 400.
But this Memorial Day, Appelhanz’s vehicle was coated and spattered with mud, all the way to the windshields, as he followed behind a small cadre of flag-waving, rifle-carrying veterans on their slow walk through town from the Collbran Servicewomen’s Memorial.
Appelhanz, like many folks in this ranching community located high on the Grand Mesa above Grand Junction, had been out on Salt Creek Road helping with a search for three local men missing in a nearby mudslide. That mudslide isn’t spoken of around here without the adjective “massive” attached.
The slide was more than 3 miles long, a half-mile wide and as deep as 250 feet. It dwarfs the mudslide that buried a subdivision and killed 41 people in Oso, Wash., in March.
But this mudslide occurred in a remote, rugged area that is partially on U.S. Forest Service land and partially on private ground. Three gas wells were in the slide’s path, but no structures. No other people were believed to be in an area that is fenced off to the public.
The three men who are missing and feared caught in the slide went out on West Salt Creek Road on Sunday afternoon to check on reports the mountainside was cracking and slipping and that irrigation water to ranches below had been affected.
The missing men were identified as Wes Hawkins, Danny Nichols and his father, Clancy Nichols, all well-known locals whose families homesteaded in the Plateau Valley area of the Mesa where Collbran is located. The Hawkins family owns much of the private land below the slide area on Salt Creek. The Nicholses have ranches down the road near the even smaller community of Molina.
Their large extended families are related through generations by marriage and are well known in the valley.
“This is a very tight-knit area. Everybody’s lives touch everybody else’s lives,” said Susie Nichols, a longtime resident who was helping to keep the Memorial Day observance on track Monday morning.
There was only a scattering of observers this year because so many residents were involved in the search or are related to the missing men. Tables were mostly empty at a community pancake breakfast.
Once the bugling and drumming died out and the small procession was over, a new procession began with friends taking boxes of food from the Twisted Sisters Grub Box restaurant to the rescuers and to the families of the missing men.
The ceremony had taken place under an unbroken blue sky. But Sunday, the area had been pounded with ¾ of an inch of rain that didn’t let up all day.
It is believed that so much moisture saturated the mountainside that it let loose and collapsed into the valley below, snapping off large trees, tumbling massive boulders and moving with such force that it roared over the top of a hill and down the other side.
A few people had called the Mesa County Sheriff’s Office to report hearing the slide or seeing its aftermath, but many residents of Collbran didn’t know what had happened until they heard the sirens on search- and-rescue and law enforcement vehicles speeding through the town Sunday evening.
Collbran may be tight-knit in terms of interpersonal relationships, but connectivity is so poor in the area that it was not easy to spread the word.
“I didn’t know what happened until I got here for the festivities,” said Tilda Evans, a resident of Collbran who worked with Dan Nichols at Olsson Associates engineering firm in Grand Junction.
After the procession, some residents gathered on a bluff on Colorado 330 overlooking the mudslide area where they could look through binoculars and a telescope to see the broken trees that looked like matchsticks and a waterfall formed by runoff rushing from the top of the mountain above the slide area.
That kind of heavy moisture made search efforts very dangerous, said Mesa County Sheriff Stan Hilkey. Ground searchers were only able to probe along the edges of the very bottom of the slide. Even there, the mud and debris is 20 to 30 feet deep.
Hilkey called the slide so large and so deep that “it’s an understatement to say it is massive.”
Hilkey had called the ground searchers, along with two drones and a helicopter, to the area Monday. He said searchers and family members of the missing men still held out some hope that the men could be trapped out in an area with no cellphone coverage. But an aerial search Monday turned up no sign of the pickup truck and all-terrain vehicle the men were on at the site of the slide.
Hilkey also contacted the sheriff in Oso, Wash., to ask for advice on how to search a massive mudslide. The Oso slide was about 1,500 feet wide, 4,400 feet long and 30 to 70 feet deep.
Hilkey said the U.S. Geological Survey and the National Weather Service are sending a hydrologist and a geologist to aid in the search Tuesday.
About 40 people were involved in the search Monday, and many of them personally know the missing men. Clancy Nichols was a volunteer firefighter with the Plateau Valley Fire Protection District, and teams of his fellow firefighters were helping in the search.
From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Amy Hamilton):
Residents here were aghast Monday, buzzing about the enormous mudslide that slid off a northern flank of Grand Mesa, snapping trees and lobbing boulders, and likely burying three locals in its wake.
As Mesa County search and rescue teams prodded into the sea of mud searching for the three victims, residents in the town of about 700 eyed the ridges that surround three sides of the town. Then they got to work, opening their homes, churches and hotels and providing food, a shower or even a place to sit and watch television for a spell to the number of workers and volunteers who arrived on the scene.
“The whole back of Grand Mesa is gone,” Collbran resident Ron Jensen said at the town’s Ace Hardware store. “It’s the most amazing thing I’ve ever seen.”
Jensen, like others in Collbran, traveled up Colorado Highway 330 to Clover Cemetery to peer through binoculars at the slide located about six miles to the south. Authorities pegged current estimates of damage at two to three miles long and up to 250 feet deep in the center, a debris pile that spilled onto private property.
“We’re hoping we can hear some good news, that those people are alive, but I don’t think we are,” said an Ace Hardware employee who didn’t want to be named. “It is just so upsetting. I used to live up Salt Creek Road.”
Residents reported enduring a hail storm Sunday so severe that “it hurt” to be outside. Some estimated an inch of rain fell in a brief but powerful downpour. The area also was smothered in a soggy, wet spring snow in April. The slide was reported at about 6:15 p.m., with a noise that a witness said sounded “like a freight train.” The three missing Collbran residents haven’t been seen since the slide.
Roots run deep in the rural area with pastoral ranches and hillsides that lead up to the sides of the mesa.
Colorado State Patrol trooper Dan Chermok, who was able to get close to the slide area, noted that the debris from the mountainside spilled out onto private ranch land.
“They’re all very closely related,” Chermok said of families who live in the rural, rugged area. “They look out their window up at the mesa.”
Media was staging at the Hawkins ranch on Sunday. Wes Hawkins was one of the men thought to have been checking his irrigation when he got caught in the slide. Clancy Nichols and his son, Dan, also are believed to be missing in the slide. The Hawkins and Nichols families are longtime ranching families on the mesa.
Word spread quickly among residents about the victims, with most people not wanting to talk yet about the missing men in respect for their families.
Ninety-four-year-old Helen Hyde was at Clover Cemetery on Memorial Day, placing flowers on her husband’s grave.
The day before, she traveled to nearby Vega State Park with some friends and noted the saturated ground and some rocks on the road. Motorists with campers were seen heading home Monday, away from Vega State Park.
“There could have been other places where it could have slid,” Hyde said. “If it was going to be at Vega … there was so much traffic there.”
From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):
Faced with silence so far from Colorado Springs City Council, the Fountain Creek district will seek another direction on funding an evaluation of flood-control strategies. The Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District board Friday voted to seek $135,000 in state funds to launch the $205,000 study.
Other funds would be: $30,000 from Colorado Springs Utilities and its partners in the Southern Delivery System; $25,000 in district money redirected from another grant; and $15,000 in in-kind engineering services from Utilities.
The board wants to look at whether it makes more sense to build a large dam on Fountain Creek or several detention ponds. The money being sought would be sufficient to both identify and evaluate sites along Fountain Creek where structures could be built.
“This gets us started, but one of the drawbacks is timing,” said Pueblo County Commissioner Terry Hart, a Fountain Creek board member.
The commissioners last month approved a resolution to use interest money from Colorado Springs’ upcoming $50 million payment to the district under Pueblo County’s 1041 agreement on SDS.
The commissioners sent a letter to Colorado Springs Council President Keith King, who has not brought up the issue with other council members.
“It’s council’s decision,” Hart said.
The state money could take longer to arrive because the $135,000 is being sought through the Water Supply Reserve Account. The application would be heard by the Arkansas Basin Roundtable as soon as June, then forwarded to the Colorado Water Conservation Board for consideration in September. After that, it could take several months to get a contract in place, meaning nothing will happen before the end of the year.
“I think Utilities is saying, ‘Try it this way,’ ” Hart said. “But we’ve lost all of 2014.”
More Fountain Creek coverage here.