From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):
El Paso County can’t do everything it would like to do to prevent flooding from the 2012 Waldo Canyon burn scar. There isn’t enough money.
Rain that is likely to fall on the 18,000-acre burn scar west of Colorado Springs this year will again cause disproportionate flooding because of the lack of vegetation. But the county, in cooperation with the Coalition for the Upper South Platte, Colorado Springs, the Forest Service, Manitou Springs and other agencies has taken some steps to decrease the damage from flooding.
“There is always more that can be done,” John Chavez, stormwater coordinator for El Paso County told the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District Friday.
About $40 million has been spent in fire recovery so far, but there are challenges ahead.
One of those is Williams Canyon above the Cave of the Winds. The canyon just east of Waldo Canyon, where the fire started, is so steep that remediation efforts would be too costly and any water retention could flood caves in the area.
“It’s Swiss cheese,” Chavez said.
Colorado Springs, which began some of its fire remediation projects last year, found they were overwhelmed by the runoff from rains in September.
On top of that, large masses of sediment are still perched on rocky slopes north of U.S. 24 and Upper Fountain Creek.
“The sandy bed hasn’t moved yet,” said Mark Shea, who is coordinating fire remediation for Colorado Springs Utilities. “When it does, that’s going to change the game.”
More Fountain Creek coverage here.
Here’s the release from the USDA:
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack today joined Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow to launch a new era in American conservation efforts with an historic focus on public-private partnership. Vilsack made the announcement in Bay City, Mich., which sits at the heart of the Saginaw Bay watershed in the center of the Great Lakes region, an area where agriculture is a leading industry.
Vilsack also praised Senator Stabenow for her leadership as Agriculture Committee Chair to improve conservation programs in Michigan and across the nation, and acknowledged her work to craft and secure passage of the 2014 Farm Bill, which authorized USDA to create the new conservation program.
“This is an entirely new approach to conservation,” said Vilsack. “We’re giving private companies, local communities, and other non-government partners a way to invest in what are essentially clean water start-up operations. By establishing new public-private partnerships, we can have an impact that’s well beyond what the Federal government could accomplish on its own. These efforts keep our land resilient and water clean, and promote tremendous economic growth in agriculture, construction, tourism and outdoor recreation, and other industries.”
Along the Saginaw Bay, intensive agricultural production, industrial pollution and other factors have created a need for enhanced water quality efforts. The new conservation program announced today, called the Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP), will benefit similar areas across the nation. RCPP streamlines conservation efforts by combining four programs (the Agricultural Water Enhancement Program, Cooperative Conservation Partnership Initiative, the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Initiative, and the Great Lakes Basin Program for Soil Erosion) into one.
The RCPP will competitively award funds to conservation projects designed by local partners specifically for their region. Eligible partners include private companies, universities, non-profit organizations, local and tribal governments and others joining with agricultural and conservation organizations and producers to invest money, manpower and materials to their proposed initiatives. With participating partners investing along with the Department, USDA’s $1.2 billion in funding over the life of the five-year program can leverage an additional $1.2 billion from partners for a total of $2.4 billion for conservation. $400 million in USDA funding is available in the first year. Through RCPP, partners propose conservation projects to improve soil health, water quality and water use efficiency, wildlife habitat, and other related natural resources on private lands.
This is an example of government at its best—streamlining multiple programs into one more effective effort, providing flexible tools, and connecting local citizens and organizations with resources that best address their priorities, protect and improve their quality of life, and propel economic growth.
In addition to supporting local conservation goals, clean land and water investments create jobs in local communities. Conservation work involves building and maintaining infrastructure—building terraces in fields or restoring wetlands, which requires the hiring of contractors, engineers, scientists, and others. A 2013 study commissioned by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation estimates that last year, conservation activities supported more than 660,000 jobs.
Conservation also provides an economic boost by spurring local tourism. Cleaner water and enhanced wildlife habitat provide additional opportunities for hunting, fishing, and outdoor recreation. The outdoor recreation economy supports 6.1 million direct jobs, $80 billion in federal, state, and local tax revenue, and $646 billion in spending each year.
The RCPP has three funding pools:
35 percent of total program funding directed to critical conservation areas, chosen by the agriculture secretary;
40 percent directed to regional or multi-state projects through a national competitive process; and
25 percent directed to state-level projects through a competitive process established by NRCS state leaders.
The critical conservation areas Secretary Vilsack announced today are: the Great Lakes Region, Chesapeake Bay Watershed, Mississippi River Basin, Longleaf Pine Range, Columbia River Basin, California Bay Delta, Prairie Grasslands, and the Colorado River Basin [ed. emphasis mine].
USDA is now accepting proposals for this program. Pre-proposals are due July 14, and full proposals are due September 26. For more information on applying, visit the announcement for program funding.
To learn about technical and financial assistance available through conservation programs, visit http://www.nrcs.usda.gov/GetStarted or local USDA service center. For more on the 2014 Farm Bill, visit http://www.nrcs.usda.gov/FarmBill.
From The Durango Herald (Mary Bowerman):
The Colorado River basin is being listed as a critical conservation area under a new multi-billion dollar program that will fund conservation and soil-protection efforts, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture, Tom Vilsack announced Tuesday.
The new measure, called the Regional Conservation Partnership Program, facilitates public-private partnerships – a structure in which nonprofits, universities and local and tribal governments, among others, can apply for grant money to work with producers like the agricultural sector in implementing innovative environmental protection plans.
The Department of Agriculture will invest $1.2 billion over the five-year length of the farm bill, while participants will match those funds. With an expected $400 million in funding available during the first year, 35 percent of the total funding will go to eight critical areas, including the Colorado River basin, that covers parts of seven “basin” states and provides water for 30 million people.
That means the Animas River, a tributary of the San Juan River and part of the Colorado River basin, could see funding under the designation efforts.
“We have more and more pressure on the water supply,” said Bruce Whitehead, executive director of the Southwestern Water Conservation District in Durango. “We’re hoping this will provide incentives for people to implement some conservation practices that will help meet the demands on Colorado River basin.”
With Colorado’s growing population coupled with drought, the river basin has been strapped to meet agricultural and recreational demands.
In early May, Sens. Michael Bennet and Mark Udall, and Rep. Scott Tipton pushed for the river basin to be designated a critical conservation area.
Here’s a release “Tipton, Bennet, Udall Welcome USDA’s Conservation Designation for Colorado River Basin” from US Representative Scott Tipton’s office:
U.S. Senators Michael Bennet and Mark Udall and U.S. Representative Scott Tipton today welcomed Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack’s announcement that the Colorado River Basin is being designated a Critical Conservation Area (CCA) under the Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP).
The announcement follows a request from the lawmakers to make the designation in order to complete critical conservation projects throughout the river basin. Bennet also pressed Secretary Vilsack on the designation at a Senate Agriculture hearing earlier this month.
“The Critical Conservation Area designation for the Colorado River basin will provide resources requested by a broad coalition of regional stakeholders to help manage historic drought conditions and better ensure sustained agriculture production and economic health in the headwaters region,” said Tipton.
“Colorado is the headwaters state and the Colorado River is a precious source of water for not only our state, but also 19 other states downstream,” Bennet said. “With persistent drought conditions and a growing population across the West, the demands on the river are greater than ever. This designation is crucial to moving forward with projects that will help sustain the river for all of its uses into the future.”
“The Colorado River — from its headwaters in the Rocky Mountains through to the Pacific Ocean — sustains Colorado and the West. Despite this past winter’s snowfall, the river and every community and industry it touches is at risk due to rising temperatures and persistent drought,” Udall said. “Designating the Colorado River basin as a Critical Conservation Area through provisions in the 2014 Farm Bill, which I strongly supported, will help preserve this iconic waterway — and bolster local efforts to safeguard our water.”
The designation will provide producers in the Colorado River basin with necessary resources and funding to implement conservation projects and increase the sustainability of regional water, soil, wildlife, and related natural resources. In the face of hotter, drier conditions and the state’s growing population, it is becoming increasingly challenging for the river basin to meet agricultural, recreational, and municipal demands.
The designation has the support of the Colorado River District, Mesa County Commissioners, Dolores Water Conservancy District, Denver Water, the Colorado Water Conservation Board, the Southwest Water Conservation District, and other groups around the state.
The RCPP was created under the new conservation title of the 2014 Farm Bill, which Bennet and Tipton helped craft as respective members of the Senate and House Agriculture Committees. Bennet was also a member of the conference committee convened to work out the differences between the Senate and House versions of the Farm Bill, and he is the Chairman of the Agriculture Subcommittee on Conservation, which has jurisdiction over the RCPP Program.
From the Deseret News (Amy Joi O’Donoghue):
Authorized with the passage of the farm bill of 2014 in February, the Regional Conservation Partnership Program directs money to boost soil health and bolster water quality in a program that now brings together businesses, nonprofits and government agencies.
In Utah, money could go toward improving riparian habitat along the Jordan River, improving rangelands as a fire suppression management tool, or addressing the aftermath of wildfire destroying a watershed, such as the 2012 Seeley Fire that impacted Emery County’s Huntington Creek…
Vilsack said conservation initiatives go beyond helping the land, the water and wildlife but ultimately put “boots on the ground,” by providing jobs. He noted a 2013 study by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation that said conservation projects supported more than 600,000 jobs.
Sean McMahon with The Nature Conservancy joined Vilsack on the conference call and stressed that the new program allows projects to expand from field and farm to a watershed and landscape level.
“This truly is a historic day for conservation,” he said. “It really will usher in new era in terms of public/private partnerships.”
The new program was also hailed by a conservation coalition of sportsmen.
“One of the outstanding fruits of the 2014 Farm Bill is being harvested today,” said Whit Fosburgh of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership.
“The RCPP program, combined with the Conservation Reserve Program, will produce huge benefits throughout the agricultural landscape. It is a chance for sportsmen to step up and engage effectively in the new Farm Bill – and in conservation efforts that will directly benefit important fish and wildlife habitat.”
More Colorado River Basin coverage here.
Click on a thumbnail graphic for a gallery of snowpack data from the Natural Resources Conservation Service.
From the Laramie Boomerang (Chilton Tippin):
The Laramie River reached 6.3 feet Tuesday in Laramie, entering “moderate-flood” stage. With warming temperatures and rain in the forecast, it could reach 6.7 feet by June 1, according to the National Weather Service. The “major-flooding” threshold is 7 feet.
Nearly 200 volunteers checked in at Woods Landing and Big Laramie Valley Volunteer Fire Department stations Tuesday to pile thousands of sandbags near the rising river…
The Snowy and Sierra Madre ranges got between 3 and 4 feet of snow on Mother’s Day, followed by temperatures warming to above 70 degrees and rainstorms over the weekend, Binning said.
From The Denver Post (Scott Willoughby):
Even in land-locked Colorado, Memorial Day served as a day at the beach for folks across the state.
High water in rivers statewide brought out the adventurous and encouraged others to take a more cautious approach and enjoy the views from dry land as the potential hazards of swift and surging currents began to reveal themselves at the start of what is expected to be a banner year for snowmelt runoff.
“It’s a blessing in that our overall season ends up being really, really good,” said Antony McCoy, head boatman and operations manager for Vail-based Timberline Tours whitewater rafting company. “But during the early season in a year like this, we often have to reroute and run trips differently than normal in the name of safety. Out decisions are always based on safety first and fun second, and we make those decisions day by day.”
With warm temperatures and weekend precipitation boosting flows, Timberline Tours and other established commercial rafting companies were forced to make reroute Memorial Day trips away from the raucous Dowd Chute section of the Eagle River between Minturn and EagleVail. The company institutes a cutoff for commercial trips through the Class IV-plus run when the river broaches 4½ feet on the gauge installed atop Dowd Chute, launching just below the most severe whitewater rapids instead.
“That’s a fun level for expert kayakers, but it gets tricky in a raft,” McCoy said. “And with water this high, most clients don’t really notice the difference. They still love it.”
Ironically, it’s just about the time that many commercial rafting companies begin to take more extreme precautions when many of the most daring decide that conditions are optimal.
A few miles below the Eagle River’s confluence with the Colorado River, the state’s growing cadre of river surfers arrived en masse at the increasingly renowned Glenwood Springs Whitewater Park on Monday. There they were greeted by river flows unseen on the Colorado since the high-water year of 2011, measuring in the neighborhood of 16,000 cubic feet per second below the confluence with the Roaring Fork River.
“I drive up here from Boulder just about every weekend this time of year,” said Ben Smith, a stand-up paddle (SUP) surfer of two years who had never ridden the river at flows above 5,000 cfs before this spring. “This season, I’m going to surf it as much as I can, and every weekend is like a new experience for me. It’s a different wave each time. Better and better.”
Surfers on Monday’s unofficial launch of summer were lined up as many as 10 deep on both sides of the Colorado River at West Glenwood, some with paddles and others with traditional surfboards diving headlong into the raging currents before popping to their feet for rides lasting several minutes. They alternated with — and largely outnumbered — skilled whitewater kayakers performing tricks in the frothy whitewater as spectators on the banks took in the show. One photographer launched a drone above the surfers to capture the action on video.
“This wave is by far my favorite,” Smith added. “A lot of kayak play holes have a big foam pile that’s designed to hold the kayaks in the play spot, whereas this wave is so steep that it’s gravity that’s pulling you down the face of it, which is what an ocean wave does. Plus it’s so clean. You can make these nice big turns on a clean, green wave. It’s the closest thing to ocean surfing I think that you are going to get in Colorado.”
In a state renowned for its paddlesports offerings and participation, it comes as no surprise that Smith and several others have adapted a paddle to the surfing equation. Credit for SUP’s origin goes back to Honolulu, where it was known as “beach boy” surfing by the Hawaiians who used paddles while standing to photograph tourists taking surfing lessons more than 50 years ago. The sport’s recent resurgence on the ocean has rapidly crept inland during the past decade, where it has established a home on and around the beaches of Colorado.
From the Colorado Daily (Sarah Kuta):
The heavy rains and scattered thunderstorms in Boulder County over the weekend gave emergency officials a taste of what may be coming during flash flood season this summer. With the ground still heavily saturated from September’s floods, the rain that fell off and on for multiple days last week pooled in underpasses, streets and drainage areas, and it gave residents of the area burned in the Fourmile Fire of 2010 a short-lived scare. Ultimately, emergency officials said the storms didn’t cause any significant destruction and allowed them to test their plans ahead of what’s sure to be another busy flash flood season in Colorado…
Flash flood season officially began April 1 and ends Sept. 1, though it’s not just local rains and thunderstorms that can cause flooding, Chard said.
Thunderstorms high up in the mountains can cause the snow to melt quickly, prompting spring runoff to accelerate and fill the creeks within the county. Chard added that extra runoff may also occur because the ground is still saturated with water from September’s floods. The water table can stay elevated for a year to 18 months after such a major rain event, Chard said.
All of those factors have led emergency officials to ask residents to be extra vigilant this flash flood season.
“Make sure you’re signed up for emergency warnings, have a plan, have a weather radio,” Chard said. “Pay attention to the skies; pay attention to the forecast.”
From Steamboat Today (Tom Ross):
With 20 inches of water still stacked up in the snow on Rabbit Ears Pass and forecasts of daily high temperatures pushing into the low 80s Wednesday before tapering off to the mid-70s later in the week, the Yampa River in Steamboat Springs has a chance to reach the bank-full stage at the Fifth Street Bridge June 4 to 5. But the current outlook does not foresee it exceeding flood stage of 7.5 feet in the next 11 days.
The Yampa was flowing harmlessly over its banks and bypassing its meanders in the vicinity of Rotary Park as of late Sunday afternoon.
The Elk River at its confluence with the Yampa west of Steamboat is another story. The Colorado Basin River Forecast Center in Salt Lake City, Utah, updated its projected streamflows for the Elk Tuesday morning and reported that the river shot beyond bank-full over the holiday weekend and could nudge flood stage overnight Wednesday and Thursday before dipping just under flood stage again during the daylight hours. A tentative forecast for the Elk, which is weather dependent, anticipates the river will go higher June 1 to 3 but continue to bounce above and below flood stage during its diurnal cycle, which sees peak flows at night…The Elk was flowing at 4,090 cubic feet per second at 4 p.m. Tuesday, and to put that in perspective, it peaked at 6,860 cfs on June 6, 2011. The Yampa, which was flowing at 3,360 cfs Tuesday afternoon, peaked at 5,200 on June 7, 2011.
The snowpack on Rabbit Ears is 175 percent of the median for the date, and some of that snowmelt will inevitably flow down Walton Creek, which passes through the city’s southern suburbs near Whistler Park before running beneath U.S. Highway 40 and quickly into the Yampa.
Soda Creek is another tributary of the Yampa that can create minor flooding in Old Town Steamboat. #City of Steamboat Springs Public Works Department Streets and Fleet Superintendent Ron Berig said Tuesday the creeks become a problem when the Yampa gets so high it backs up its tributaries.
From the Sky-Hi Daily News (Hank Shell):
With rivers already running high and temperatures expected to rise, the National Weather Service has extended a small-stream flood advisory for Grand County until 9:30 p.m. on Thursday, May 29. Nowell Curran with Grand County’s Office of Emergency Management said her office gave the go ahead to extend the advisory due to a possible increase of runoff into the already swollen Upper Colorado River and its tributaries…
Snowpack in the Upper Colorado River Basin was over 140 percent of its normal level in April, according to a Natural Resources Conservation Service snow survey. Officials said earlier this year that they were preparing for a run-off season comparable to 2011, but Curran said that the worst case scenario could now surpass the destructive flooding Grand County saw that year.
From KUNC (Jackie Fortier):
Northern Colorado’s water storage is nearing capacity headed into the peak season for farm and residential users due to mountain snow melt and rains. Horsetooth Reservoir and Carter Lake are already full.
“We haven’t been this full for a couple years at the two reservoirs,” said Brian Werner, spokesman for Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District.
“We’re anticipating that we’re going to fill our west slope storage as well. Lake Granby the second largest reservoir in the state, we anticipate, that if we don’t fill it up completely we’re going to get very close,” Werner said…
High mountain snow melt and recent rains caused the Big Thompson River to peak at 11 hundred cubic feet per second over the weekend, well above its usual peak of 900 cubic feet per second. The Cache La Poudre peaked at 4700 cubic feet per second over the Memorial Day weekend, it’s normal peak is 3,000 cubic feet per second…
“What it means is we can’t capture much of that water. And most of the local storage, the reservoirs, that people see when they drive around Northern Colorado are full for the most part, so what’s going to happen unless ditches are opened and are ready to take as much of that water as they can, we’re going to see a lot of that water just pass downstream into Nebraska,” he said.
From The Denver Post (Tom McGhee) via the Loveland Reporter-Herald:
The National Weather Service has placed the Cache La Poudre River near Greeley under a flood warning and numerous roads are closed in the area.
“For the most part, the flooding today is snowmelt in the high country,” Evan Kalina, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Boulder, said Tuesday afternoon.
The river was overflowing its banks, with water rising 8.9 feet from the riverbed at 10:30 a.m. Tuesday. It is expected to reach 9 feet by Tuesday evening.
“Once you reach 8 feet, you start to see the water spilling into low-lying areas,” Kalina said.
By 9 a.m. Thursday, water is expected to fall below flood level and the flood warning is expected to be lifted, Kalina said.
Flood advisories — which signal that stream and river levels are higher than normal, but not at flood level — were in effect along the Cache La Poudre, Big Thompson and St. Vrain Rivers in Larimer and Weld counties until 7:15 p.m. Tuesday evening.
Jackson and Grand counties are under flood advisories until 9:30 a.m. Thursday. The area has been hit by thunder and hail storms, and even tornadoes, during the past week or so.
But the chance of rain in the next few days is low, at about 20 percent, Kalina said. Heavier moisture will move in during the weekend, but “at this point it is unlikely that the weather will be as active as it was last week,” Kalina said.
Temperatures are expected to hover in the low to mid-80s for the rest of the week, Kalina said.
From email from Wyoming Governor Matt Mead:
Governor Matt Mead is sending three more Wyoming National Guard teams to Carbon County today. The North Platte River in Saratoga is expected to rise to record levels this week. In total there will be 150 National Guard personnel in Carbon County today. They have been assisting local efforts since this weekend by filling thousands of sandbags.
“This is a tense time for Saratoga and several other communities in Wyoming. I know the local officials, the Wyoming National Guard, the Office of Homeland Security, the Smokebusters and volunteers are working very hard to protect the people and homes. It is a team effort,” Governor Mead said.
There will be 150 National Guard soldiers and airmen, more than 80 volunteers and 24 members of the Smokebusters team, which assists with forest fire fighting and flooding, in Carbon and Albany Counties today. The Wyoming Office of Homeland Security also has personnel across Wyoming working with emergency managers from counties and municipalities.
“This is a comprehensive state response,” said Guy Cameron, Wyoming Office of Homeland Security Director. “Governor Mead has told us to protect Wyoming communities from flooding and we are doing everything possible to make that happen.”
Governor Mead increased the numbers of Guard personnel deployed to Saratoga today due to warmer temperatures and increased rainfall.
“It’s an important mission for us to keep Wyoming residents safe during flood season and to support local prevention efforts,” said Maj. Gen. Luke Reiner, Wyoming’s Adjutant General.
Photos of Guard operations can be found at http://www.flickr.com/photos/wyoguard.
From the La Junta Tribune-Democrat (Bette McFarren):
Two of the most important issues to this region are control of selenium and radionuclides in rural drinking water without driving municipal and private water companies out of business or sending water prices sky high and how to import water to serve a booming population growth and agriculture needs in Colorado. The apparent solution to the first problem is the Arkansas Valley Conduit, which Stulp assured the group is coming along nicely. John Knapp commented that the cost of meeting state regulations is prohibitive, and may we hope the conduit will be in time. Nicole Rowan, the water quality expert on the panel, gave hope the cost of regulation problem is being heard at the state level.
Otero County Commissioner Kevin Karney was in charge of telling about water storage, an essential component to fulfill all of Colorado’s consumptive and nonconsumptive water needs. Pueblo Reservoir and Turquoise Lake have been valuable contributors to helping with the water shortage in the Arkansas Basin. In order to prevent the effect of a call on the water in the upper storage areas, it will be necessary to increase the height of the Pueblo Dam and store more water in Turquoise Lake. He is also looking to Blue Mesa for storage of an additional 100,000 acre feet to counteract a call on the water (imminent from drought-stricken California). Also, attention should be paid to the dam infrastructure in the state, which in some cases, such as Two Buttes, is dangerous at the present time. “We need to be able to store excess water to be used when we need it.”
Better use of agricultural water was commented upon by Dan Henrich, lower Arkansas Valley farmer. He sees conversion to sprinklers a no-brainer, in that it provides better coverage for the farmer and a more efficient use of water resources.
John Tonko of the Colorado State Parks and Wildlife Department had interesting comments on how the storage of water for the benefit of tourism and wildlife has the effect of also helping agriculture. He pointed out several helpful projects for wildlife and fishing which have been created with the cooperation of gravel pit owners in Lamar and other locations in the lower Arkansas Valley. He pointed out that no project can succeed without a united effort from local stakeholders, but it is possible: fishermen and rafters have come to a compromise agreement concerning water flow in the Arkansas River.
Winner summed up the water quality issue: “The Colorado Water Plan is not a Blackhawk helicopter landing and taking control. … We want a cooperative effort to try to address the selenium problem. … Here and in Grand Junction, we have made no significant headway and it is beyond our economic ability to do much about it. … We are tired of studies and want action.”
Comments and suggestions for action are welcomed. For further information, Stulp suggests going to http://www.coloradowaterplan.com, which has the draft of the plan so far on display.
More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.