River series: The state of the river — The Vail Daily #ColoradoRiver

From the Vail Daily (Randy Wyrick):

Lake Powell is being drained to fill Lake Mead, which is being drained by states downstream from it.

Ken Neubecker, executive director of the Western Rivers Institute, has often put it this way: “The West will always be a semi-arid environment, no matter how much we move the water around.”

However, how that water gets moved around is a constant matter of contention for those pulling it from the Colorado River — which is almost everyone who lives in this part of the country…


Delphus Emory Carpenter, an early Colorado attorney and rancher, was the first native-born Coloradan to serve in the Colorado state legislature. Carpenter litigated the early conflicts over Colorado River water and saw California developing much faster than Colorado.

“He could foresee a time when all the water would go to California,” said John McClow, general counsel of the Upper Gunnison River Water Conservancy District and one of the West’s foremost water experts.

Carpenter created the Colorado River Compact in 1922 to equitably divide the river’s water among seven Western states — split into the Upper Basin and Lower Basin — and Mexico. Everyone wants a share — and then some.

Sean Cronin and John McClow at the 2014 CFWE President's Award Reception
Sean Cronin and John McClow at the 2014 CFWE President’s Award Reception

“If you use more than your share, you have to pay it back before anyone puts in any more water,” McClow said. “The Compact has been tested but has proven to be pretty adaptable.”

It apportions Upper Basin and Lower Basin each 7.5 million acre feet per year. The dividing line between the Upper Basin and Lower Basin states is Lee Ferry, Arizona. Upper Division states cannot deplete flows at Lee Ferry below an aggregate of 75 million acre feet over any period of 10 consecutive years.

However, at their current rate of consumption, the Lower Basis states would be at 90 million acre feet over 10 years, McClow said.

That water has to come from somewhere, and it’s coming from Lake Powell. However, since 2000, inflows into Lake Powell have only hit the average for three years.

“The problem is that Lake Powell is emptying fast,” McClow said.

Lake Powell is full when its water surface is 3,700 feet above sea level. The last time that happened was 1999. Right now, it’s about 44 percent full…

“Efficiency is improving immensely and rapidly,” McClow said.

In 2000, California was using 5.6 million acre feet. Two years ago, Californians were forced to cut consumption to their allotted 4.4 million acre feet.

“There’s a lot of blood on the floor in California,” McClow said…

In May, forecasts said Lake Powell will fill to 3,610 feet above sea level by the end of this year. Right now, it’s at 3,491 feet, 44 percent full.

“We dodged the bullet,” McClow said.

More Colorado River Basin coverage here and here.

NOAA: Why care about the ocean? Here are just a few reasons.

Give your input on regional stormwater management. Starting 7/1, a regional task force will hold public meetings

Conservation: Big water savings in Aspen — Mountain Town News #ColoradoRiver

Smuggler Mine back in the day via GregRulon.com
Smuggler Mine back in the day via GregRulon.com

From the Mountain Town News (Allen Best):

In 1974, Aspen’s future seemed clear enough. The town was growing briskly, the ski industry booming, and by the 1990s the town would need to make major investments to provide water for the future.

With that in mind, town officials filed for storage rights on two upstream creeks, Castle and Maroon, where the municipality already had significant senior water rights. Had the town gone ahead with construction of those reservoirs, the cost today would be roughly $50 million.

Instead, in about 1994, Mayor John Bennett and council members chose a different approach. They would emphasize water savings.

Phil Overeynder, who was the city’s utility manager then, says he has calculated that today water rates would need to be quadrupled to pay for the reservoirs and other infrastructure.

But there was another reason for Aspen to pursue conservation beginning in the 1990s. Overeynder said improved efficiency bolstered the argument that Eastern Slope water providers needed to make do with what they had before expanding diversions. In his eyes, Eastern Slope water providers still have not done everything they can. “Not to the extent it was promised 40 years ago,” he says.

For Aspen, improving water efficiency has several components. The city couldn’t account for 55 percent of the water being sent to customers. There were leaks, lots of them. It was, says Overeynder, a third-world water system. But a lot of water was used to bleed pipes. Water mains were buried deep, but the service lines to individual houses were within the frost line. During winter, homeowners left their faucets running, to avoid freezing. It was city policy to overlook that use.

Over time, these inefficient uses have been eliminated. The rate structure was revised to strongly recommend efficiency.

From 450 gallons per capita daily in 1974, use peaked in 1993 at 516 gallons.

Last year, it was 164 gallons per capita daily.

Use still spikes in summer, but not as much. The water treatment plant expanded in the 1980s has surplus capacity.

More Roaring Fork River watershed coverage here.

“Local entities can also derail projects more readily now than in the past” — Candace Krebs #COWaterPlan


From the Bent County Democrat (Candace Krebs):

During the third annual Protein Producer Summit, a joint summer business meeting of the Colorado Cattlemen’s Association and the Colorado Livestock Association, four panelists shared a wish list of items they think could improve the state’s ability to fully capture and utilize its water resources…

Last fall’s historic northern Colorado flood sent water surging downstream to Nebraska and Kansas, much of it technically Colorado’s water, although the state could neither capture it nor use it for credit toward meeting compact obligations.

Developing storage to bank that water isn’t as straightforward as it was a generation ago. Conflicting definitions and rules between multiple state and federal agencies have made it increasingly costly and time-consuming to build new reservoirs or refurbish old ones.

Eric Wilkinson, general manager of the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District, has spent the last 14 years leading an effort to build two more reservoirs in Northern Colorado at a cost so far of at least $13 million. The Northern Integrated Supply Project has yet to move beyond the permitting stage. Wilkinson wants to see federal agencies grant permits on a parallel basis. He also said better communication is needed between federal agencies and between federal and state agencies.

Chris Treese, manager of external affairs for the Colorado River District — the oldest in the state — recalled that in the early 1980s a special division of state government existed solely to facilitate coordination between state and federal agencies.

“I think that was a real benefit,” he said. “I think that’s a role the state could assume again.”

Local entities can also derail projects more readily now than in the past. Several groups are currently gathering signatures for a local control ballot initiative that Wilkinson said would be like “1041 on steroids,” referring to the act passed in 1974 that gives local land use interests more say in the development of large-scale water projects. The ballot initiative is primarily targeted at oil and gas development but would likely stall future water projects as well, he said…

How to develop more water without overdeveloping is another issue. Joking that he hailed from the “wetter, better side of the mountains,” Treese said the recent compact calls along the Arkansas and Republican rivers had been a wake-up call for everyone. More water capture on the western slope would also lead to more demands on the system…

Farming directly downstream from 3 million hungry (and thirsty) consumers is both a blessing and a curse, said Robert Sakata, a produce farmer from Brighton who is active on water issues. Sakata is the only ag producer to serve on the Denver metro water roundtable but he called it a valuable experience at a time when farming’s long-term sustainability is pitted against the growth of municipalities.

Sakata said at one point he joked with Aurora officials that instead of buying his water, they should buy his farm and then hire him to farm it. That way the city could have locally grown produce with the option of growing less in dry years when the municipality needs more water. “I was only half-joking,” he said during the panel.

Better water conservation by cities won’t address shortages without causing new problems, he added. “As cities become more efficient, there’s less water downstream,” he said.

That puts pressure on water rights holders at the end of the line to sell now “while there’s still some value” in those rights, added Sakata, who is on the board of two ditch companies. His water rights only convey about a third of the water they once did.

Currier said he wrestled with whether it was possible to stem the “buy and dry” scenario that permanently transfers water from farms to cities without infringing on private property rights.

“Should we make it harder to sell ag water rights? Should there be incentives to keep water in agriculture?” he wondered aloud.

More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.

South Platte and Metro roundtables #COWaterPlan update

Basin roundtable boundaries
Basin roundtable boundaries

From The Fort Morgan Times (Marianne Goodland):

The Colorado Water Plan draws upon a decade of work by the state’s eight basin roundtables, the Interbasin Compact Committee and the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB). It also incorporates information from the 2010 Statewide Water Supply Initiative, which predicted the state will have a gap between water supply and demand of about 500,000 acre feet of water by 2050, with the largest gap projected for the South Platte River Basin.

During the past year, the basin roundtables and the CWCB have held dozens of town meetings on the water plan, seeking input from citizens and organizations interested in the state’s water future. Those meetings wrapped up in April, and then the basin roundtable members went to work to develop their basin implementation plans (BIPS), that will be submitted to the CWCB at the end of July. Those plans will be incorporated into the draft Colorado Water Plan, which is due to the Governor at the end of the year. The plan is to be finalized by December, 2015.

In addition to the basin implementation plans, the state water plan will include a “framework” document that outlines the issues to be addressed. The CWCB has already released eight draft chapters of this framework document this year, with four coming out in the last month. The most recent drafts covered water quality, conservation and re-use, and alternative agriculture to urban transfers. The drafts will be updated based on input from the BIPs.

The draft on agricultural transfers focused on alternative agricultural transfer methods (ATMS) and current efforts to develop more creative solutions to “buy and dry.” The draft noted several ATMs are already in place and more are on the way. These include deficit irrigation, water co-ops, water banks, water conservation easements; and flexible water markets, which was proposed in the 2014 legislative session but failed to clear the Senate. Another ATM, farrowing-leasing, which would allow for farrowing of irrigated farmland with temporary leasing of water to municipalities, is being studied under legislation passed in 2013.

More than 1,000 emails and documents have come in to the CWCB, addressing the draft chapters. Almost half of the responses came from stakeholders in the South Platte River and Metro Denver districts.

Most of the comments received by the CWCB have come either through emails to cowaterplan@state.co.us or through a webform on the water plan website, coloradowaterplan.com. CWCB staff responded to all of the comments, even those that might not be financially or technically feasible. One such comment said the state should cover its reservoirs with a thin membrane “similar to bubble wrap” to slow evaporation. Another suggested that the state halt all housing development along the Front Range.

A handful of comments addressed agricultural use, including responses that encourage more efficient irrigation systems and pointing out that agriculture is far and away the biggest user of water. But one commenter suggested a new form of “buy and dry.” Kristen Martinez of Metropolitan State University of Denver said the city of Denver could pay for businesses and residents to xeriscape their lawns, similar to a plan implemented by the city of Las Vegas. She also recommended the city of Denver invest in more efficient irrigation systems for farmers, as a trade-off for buying up agricultural water rights.

“…agriculture stands as the biggest water user, but farmers should not be the only ones to feel the pain of supply and demand,” Martinez wrote. “Most Denverites don’t give heed to the serious task of stewarding their water — not as a farmer must. Why aren’t local industries or municipal users being asked to sacrifice their lifestyle or adjust their operations?…can Colorado’s water plan please ask urban users to take ownership of their consumption, in addition to solving it by diverting farm water?”

Sean Cronin, director of the St. Vrain & Left Hand Water Conservancy District, chairs the South Platte River Basin roundtable, and pointed out that the South Platte and Metro Denver basin are collaborating on a joint BIP.

Cronin noted that although they are submitting a joint BIP, the two districts are quite diverse and one size will not fit all. “Water is very local!” he said recently. Feedback in the town meetings has been very different throughout the two districts. In Sterling, for example, he said the focus was on agriculture. In Longmont, people spoke about groundwater because of the well issues in the area. Denver’s focus was more on municipal conservation and recreational/environmental concerns.

So how will the two roundtables come up with one BIP, given the divergent views? Cronin said that they knew going into the process it would be difficult to address all of the different interests and cultures surrounding water. “It’s incredibly challenging to par it down to one solution that will make everyone happy,” he said. Cronin believes the draft BIP will instead reflect the diverse interests of the basin districts…

A recent presentation on the BIP by the roundtable to Colorado Counties Inc. laid out the plan’s major premise: “You can’t have conservation without storage, and you can’t have storage without conservation.” Even with the “Identified Projects and Processes” already in discussion (which came out of the 2010 SWSI), the gap in the South Platte would at best be reduced to about 100,000 acre feet of water, and many of those solutions are years, and maybe decades, away.

And that raised red flags for environmental groups, with one warning Coloradans that the BIP will further endanger the rivers of the South Platte basin…

Cronin encourages people to continue to submit comments through the South Platte Basin Roundtable website (http://cwcb.state.co.us/water-management/basin-roundtables). Public comments also will be accepted on draft versions of the plan through September, 2015, and can be submitted through the Colorado Water Plan website noted earlier.

More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.

SDS: There is no Plan B — Colorado Springs Business Journal

The new north outlet works at Pueblo Dam -- Photo/MWH Global
The new north outlet works at Pueblo Dam — Photo/MWH Global

From The Colorado Springs Business Journal (John Hazlehurst):

CSU’s ongoing billion-dollar bet is the Southern Delivery System. Scheduled to go online in 2016, SDS will convey water from Pueblo Reservoir via a 66-inch-diameter underground pipeline to Colorado Springs. It will expand the city’s raw water delivery capacity by an eventual 55 million gallons per day (MGD), a nearly 50-percent increase in system capacity…

“What we’re hoping for is a record snowpack,” CSU Chief Financial Officer Bill Cherrier said in late March, “followed by a hot, dry summer.”

Cherrier said it with a smile, but he had neatly summarized CSU’s dilemma. Water in the reservoirs must both be replenished and sold. The sell side of the equation is driven by fixed costs, including system maintenance and replacement, energy costs and continuing capital investment. But buyers don’t care about CSU’s problems; they prefer to water their lawns with free water from the skies.

Per-capita water use has dropped sharply in the past 20 years, leading to corresponding reductions in the city’s long-term consumption estimates.

“The Base (i.e. revenue) forecast is for an estimated service area population (city, suburban, Green Mountain Falls, military) of about 608,552 and about 106,000 AF/yr for demand,” wrote CSU spokesperson Janet Rummel in an email. “The ‘hot and dry’ scenario uses the same service area population and estimates about 120,000 AF/yr demand. This particular ‘hot and dry’ scenario equates to an 80 percent confidence interval and adds about 13 percent to annual demands.”

That’s a precipitous drop from the high-side estimate of the 1996 water resources plan, which forecast a population in 2040 as high as 900,000 and water demand of 168,150 acre-feet. The base forecast, at 106,000 acre-feet annually, is only 1,800 acre-feet more than the community used in 2000, 40 years previously.

Does that mean CSU’s water managers dropped $841 million into a new water delivery system that we may not need until 2016? Does this prove that the project, originally conceived to furnish water for the Banning-Lewis Ranch development, is now entirely unnecessary?

Perhaps not…

“SDS is not a short-term solution,” Rummel said in a 2010 email. “The time to build a major water project is not when you have run short of water … [we need] to better prepare our community for drought, climate change and water supply uncertainty on the Colorado River.”

Many factors entered into the decision to build SDS. In 1996, there was no discussion of system redundancy, of having an additional water pipeline that could serve the city in case one of the existing conduits needed emergency repair. But 18 years later, the pipelines are that much more vulnerable to accident or malfunction.

In 1996, population growth and per capita water use were expected to continue indefinitely at historic levels. But they didn’t. Commercial and industrial use declined, and price-sensitive residents used less water. Indoor use declined as well as outdoor, thanks to restricted-flow shower heads and low-flush toilets.

SDS stayed on track. In the eyes of the water survivalists who conceived and created the project, the city’s rights on the Arkansas River had to be developed. They saw long, hot summers in the city and dry winters in the mountains. Opponents could make any arguments they liked, but these five words trumped them all.

Use it or lose it.

Undeveloped water rights are like $100 bills blowing down the street — someone will grab them and use them for their own benefit…

“This will be our last pipeline,” said CSU water resources manager Gary Bostrom. “We will never be able to develop a new water delivery system. When SDS is finished, that’s it.”

Bostrom’s peers in Las Vegas, Phoenix, San Diego and Los Angeles have reason to envy him. Colorado Springs has won the water wars. We’ve bought ourselves decades of time. Whether we save or squander this liquid bounty is up to us.

In 2040, the city may have 30,000 to 50,000 acre-feet a year of unneeded delivery capacity. That cushion will allow for decades of population growth and for the introduction of sophisticated irrigation techniques that will preserve our green city and minimize water use.

In years to come, members of the Colorado Springs City Council will decide how to preserve the city’s future. Will they heed Bostrom’s warning and encourage radical conservation? Will new developments be required to xeriscape, and preserve trees with drip irrigation devices?

More Southern Delivery System coverage here and here.

Summer Monsoon Watch 2014


Click here to go to the CWCB’s Colorado Flood Threat website. Here’s an excerpt from the June 26 update:

An area of cloudiness and disorganized showers and thunderstorms extends for several hundred miles offshore of the coast of southern Mexico and Central America. An area of low pressure is expected to form in a couple of days within this region of disturbed weather south of the coast of Mexico. According to the National Hurricane Center, conditions appear favorable for this system to become a tropical cyclone by late this weekend or early next week while it moves west-northwestward. As it does it’ll set off a chain of events that will culminate with the emergence of the 2014 summer monsoon in Colorado.

The figure [above] shows the NOAA GFS model forecast for ~10,000 ft over the United States and bordering areas. The blue arrows show the Pacific storms track moving into a more northerly location. The black arrows highlight flow of monsoon moisture into the Southwestern states ahead of a tropical disturbance near the Gulf of California. Based on this forecast expect a weak surge of monsoon moisture into the West Slope for July 3-4 followed by a stronger surge July 10-15. This latter surge will likely enhance the threat of flooding statewide and begin a new summer storms season statewide.

Collbran mudslide remains under watchful eye of experts — The Denver Post

Grand Mesa mudslide before and after via The Denver Post
Grand Mesa mudslide before and after via The Denver Post

From The Denver Post (Nancy Lofholm):

Trash trucks are once again picking up the garbage on West Salt Creek Road near Collbran — one of the best signs, residents say, that some sense of normalcy is returning to those living under the threat of more movement from a giant mudslide.

“We feel very comfortable now. We feel like there is so much intelligence coming in now and that they are really watching that mountain,” said Celia Eklund, who lives along lower West Salt Creek Road.

The residents there are still on alert from the Mesa County Sheriff’s Office since the mountain above them slid on May 25 and buried three local men who had gone up to check on a smaller slide that occurred earlier that day…

Dozens of experts from local, state and federal agencies have studied the slide that is now being called a “debris avalanche” or a “rapid earthflow” by geologists. They have used high-tech aerial imaging, GPS and water flow meters and have installed monitors that can detect even slight movements in the slide.

They now have a more accurate size on the slide, which is smaller than originally estimated.

The latest information from the U.S. Geological Survey shows that the slide stretches for 2.5 miles and covers 550 acres…

The slide contains a pool of water at the top behind a large block of earth that broke off from the Grand Mesa where the slide originated. Geologists now estimate that pool will hold about 245 acre feet of water before it could reach an outlet and spill over. A gauge has been installed by the USGS Colorado Water Science Center just below the toe of the landslide to measure any flow from the slide.

Heather Benjamin with the Mesa County Sheriff’s Office said the Army Corps of Engineers joined the geologists from the USGS and the Colorado Geological Survey this week. The entire group of geologists and emergency management personnel from the Colorado Department of Public Safety have been holding nightly briefings since the slide occurred.

Water Lines: What can local governments do to protect & conserve water?


From the Glenwood Springs Post Independent (Hannah Holm):

As people around the state debate how to make Colorado’s limited water supplies stretch to accommodate nearly twice as many people by 2050, the topic of growth surfaces repeatedly. Some call for outright limits on population growth, while others point out that how communities grow can have as big an impact on their water use as how much they grow. For example, smaller lots equal smaller lawns, resulting in less water consumed per household.

In May, the Northwest Colorado Council of Governments (NWCCOG) held a workshop to explore how land-use planning practices and regulations can be employed to achieve water conservation and water-quality goals. According to the workshop report prepared by Torie Jarvis, staff to NWCCOG’s Water Quality & Quantity Committee, some communities are already taking substantial action in these areas. The full workshop report is available here: http://www.nwccog.org/index.php/programs/water-qualityquantity-committee. Key points are highlighted below.

For some communities in Colorado’s High Country, conservation measures serve the dual purpose of ensuring that new developments have reliable water supplies and protecting streams. The Town of Winter Park places a high value on the Fraser River, which runs right through town, despite the fact that 65 percent of its natural flow is diverted to the Front Range before it reaches the town. The Town limits the issuance of development permits to maintain 10 cubic feet per second in the Fraser River, and does not allow outside irrigation in the town limits. The Town of Eagle requires that water rights attached to developments annexed by the Town to be donated to the Town. The rights are then leased back for use by the development, but the Town retains ultimate control.

Tools to regulate the pace and location of growth are also tools to limit pressure on water supplies. Pitkin County has a growth management quota system, which establishes a set number of development permits on a competitive basis, while the Town of Eagle uses an urban growth boundary to control density and the location of new growth.

In addition to ensuring the long-term reliability of their water supplies, local governments use various tools to protect habitat along stream banks and water quality in streams. The Town of Eagle’s Brush Creek Management Plan identifies values that should be protected in the stream corridor and then requires any new development to protect those values in order to receive permits. Pitkin County limits which portions of a property can be developed and landscaped in order to protect its stream banks, while annexation to the Town of Winter Park generally requires Town ownership of the river corridor. Several local governments have also invested substantial funds in stream restoration projects.

Ultimately, the workshop participants agreed that local governments have the tools to ensure that new growth doesn’t outstrip water supplies. They also agreed that water conservation targets should be incorporated into land-use plans, but were wary of any state mandate regarding what such targets should be or how they should be reached. The report states that all workshop participants agreed that the dialogue on the intersection between land-use planning and water conservation should continue.

What do you think? To communicate your opinion to the Water Center at Colorado Mesa University and water planners at the state and local levels, take a brief survey here: http://www.surveymonkey.com/s/Water-land.

More conservation coverage here.

“Western Views” — news from Western Resource Advocates is hot off the presses

Yampa/White/Green/North Platte river basins via the Colorado Geological Survey
Yampa/White/Green/North Platte river basins via the Colorado Geological Survey

Click here to read the newsletter. Here’s an excerpt:

Earlier this month, Bart Miller, Water Program Director, joined a group of more than 20 national and local conservationists, water policy stakeholders, and other river advocates on a four-day raft trip through Yampa Canyon and Dinosaur National Monument as part of the Yampa River Awareness Project (YRAP).

Some YRAP participants did a fly-over of the Yampa Valley and Yampa Canyon to see the river and landscape from the air. Then the entire group spent the next four days floating down the 71-mile stretch of river from Deerlodge Park (west of the town of Maybell) to the Split Mountain Boat Ramp in Utah.

The trip was fun and informative. Rafts and kayaks crashed through waves at a whopping 20,000 cubic feet per second while the group learned about the Canyon’s geology, history, recreation, and habitat value for endangered fish. Discussions took place on potential threats to the river and how best to preserve the flows and integrity of the river’s bio-diversity and many other values. Each participant left with a better understanding of what needs to be done to preserve the Yampa and his/her personal role in that effort.

Bart’s take-homes included the benefits of: better aligning recreational and agricultural interests at the local level; creating an update to the management plan for the Yampa’s resource values; and spreading the word on the Yampa River’s unique and irreplaceable bio-diversity.

More Yampa River Basin coverage here.

Reducing the Impact of Stormwater Challenges — Nancy Stoner

From the Environmental Protection Agency (Nancy Stoner):

Stormwater pollution is a dilemma all across the country – even in beautiful mountain towns like Aspen, Colorado. Pollutants such as oils, fertilizer, and sediment from the steep mountains that tower over the town, can be carried via stormwater and snowmelt and deposited into waterways like the Roaring Fork River. This has a huge impact on the ecosystem.

Last month, I toured the Jennie Adair wetlands, a bio-engineered detention area designed to passively treat stormwater runoff in Aspen. I saw firsthand how the city is working to deal with its stormwater challenges. Before this project, stormwater did not drain to a water treatment facility. It used to flow directly into the Roaring Fork River and other water bodies within the city limits, having significant impacts on the water quality.

To reduce this impact, Aspen designed a passive stormwater treatment facility that also serves as an attractive and natural looking feature in a beautiful park that is dedicated to the memory of John Denver. The innovative and beautiful design uses boulders and large rocks that were naturally present on site, to shape the channel that carries runoff from the roads and from a vault into the detention pond where sediment and other pollutants settle out. On the other side of the pond, the water comes out crystal clear and drains right into the Roaring Fork River.

I was impressed by the use of green infrastructure to improve water quality and that they made such a beautiful public park out of it and did so voluntarily. This is a town that is dedicated to clean water. The people of Aspen should be proud.

Green infrastructure, similar to what is being built in Aspen and many other cities across the country, can be a cost-effective approach for improving water quality and can help communities to stretch their infrastructure investments further. Green infrastructure reduces and treats the water at its source, often delaying the time it takes to clear the structure. Therefore green infrastructure often reduces flooding within the area the project is constructed.

Since 2007, the EPA has supported the idea of green infrastructure to control storm events. The Agency has formulated strategic agendas, built community partnerships, and provided technical assistance to many communities seeking to implement green infrastructure practices.

Aspen has shown us that with a little innovation we can reduce our impact on the environment while enhancing its beauty.

More stormwater coverage here.

Runoff/snowpack news: Ruedi pretty much full #ColoradoRiver


From email from Reclamation (Kara Lamb):

It looks like Ruedi Reservoir is inches from completely full. Last night at midnight, the reservoir’s total content was about 98.8%. Tonight’s reading will likely be around 99% full. As a result, tomorrow, Sunday, releases from the dam to the Fryingpan River will bump up another 50 cfs. We will make the change around 8:00 a.m. After that, flows past the Ruedi Dam gage will be closer to 321 cfs.

Lake Nighthorse: No recreation plan yet, no recreation this season

Lake Nighthorse via the USBR
Lake Nighthorse via the USBR

From The Durango Herald (Sarah Mueller):

Kathleen Ozga, resource manager with the bureau’s Western Colorado area, gave an update at a public meeting at the Durango Community Recreation Center. About 100 residents attended the meeting, and some asked questions that Ozga either couldn’t answer or declined to answer. However, some residents said they felt Ozga provided the information she could, and it was new to them.

Opening Lake Nighthorse is not an option this year, and no timetable was presented. Ozga said a May 31 letter to the editor in The Durango Herald by Ed Warner, Western Colorado area manager for the bureau, that said the agency was committed to working with stakeholders and hoped to reach a consensus by early 2015 was a “little presumptuous.”

“We would love to put a date up there, we would, but we can’t because we don’t know,” she said. “There’s too much uncertainty, for lack of a better word and too much level of detail we still need to work out.”

More Animas-La Plata Project coverage here.

Water Pollution: Conservationists tally 849,610 pounds of pollutants released to surface water in 2012


From The Denver Post (Bruce Finley):

Industrial polluters released 849,610 pounds of toxic chemicals into Colorado waterways in 2012, according to a report drawn from federal data. The most prevalent chemical — nitrates — causes algae growth that leads to dead zones in rivers and streams.

“If we suck all the oxygen out of rivers, then there are no fish and our rivers become lifeless,” said John Rumpler, senior attorney for Environment America, who conducted the analysis. “This toxic pollution is a reminder of why we need the strongest protection we can get under the Clean Water Act.”

The data presented Thursday by Environment America’s affiliates in Colorado and other states comes from disclosures by industrial facilities to the Environmental Protection Agency.

Among the leading polluters in Colorado, according to the report:

• Cargill Meat Solutions Corp. at Fort Morgan — 462,608 pounds of nitrate compounds and ammonia released into the South Platte River.

• Army at Fort Carson south of Colorado Springs — 143,419 pounds of nitrate compounds released into Fountain Creek.

• Suncor Energy in Commerce City — 78,280 ponds of nitrates, dioxins and other compounds released into Sand Creek.

• MillerCoors’ brewery in Golden — 71,000 ponds of nitrates and ammonia released into Clear Creek.

• Climax Molybdenum Co. in Empire and Climax — nitrates, manganese, zinc and other compounds released into the West Fork of Clear Creek and Tenmile Creek.

• Leprino Foods’ plant at Fort Morgan — 19,534 pounds of nitrates released into the South Platte.

• The Western Sugar Cooperative in Greeley — 12,394 pounds of nitrates released into the Cache la Poudre River.

Environmental groups rolled out the report as EPA officials consider extending Clean Water Act protection to thousands of miles of streams and rivers and millions of acres of wetlands around the nation. They contend restoration of federal protection to these intermittent waterways — which had protection before 2006 — will help control the growth of dead zones.

More Environmental Protection Agency coverage here.

“Coors and skiing commercials worked. People came and some of them stayed.” — Jim Pokrandt #ColoradoRiver #COWaterPlan

The Glenwood Wave
The Glenwood Wave

From the Vail Daily (Randy Wyrick):

We live in a semi-arid environment, but we love to play in the water.

Take the massive wave park in Glenwood Springs. Surfers love it, but it hasn’t run like this for a few years, says Jim Pokrandt, communications and education director with the Colorado River District.

“The bigger the snowpack the bigger the runoff and the bigger the wave at Glenwood Springs. It gets this big when the river is running 20,000 cfs,” Pokrandt said, pointing to the picture with this story.

Pokrandt chairs the Colorado River Basin Roundtable. Every month, 50 to 60 people come together from Summit and Grand counties where the river begins, down to the state line below Grand Junction. The roundtable has been meeting for eight years.

Here’s what they know: There’s already not enough water to do everything that everyone wants to do, and some people want more.

“Coors and skiing commercials worked. People came and some of them stayed,” Pokrandt said.

They get together and have kids, and the population grows. By 2050 Colorado’s population could hit 10 million people, Pokrandt said. It’s around 5 million people right now…

Much of that growth will remain along the Front Range, where officials euphemistically talk about “new supply,” which basically means transmountain diversions, said John McClow, general counsel of the Upper Gunnison River Water Conservancy District and one of the West’s foremost water experts.

“How can that be when the river is so dangerously close to being overdeveloped?” McClow asked.

The Front Range already pulls 650,000 acre feet every year from the Colorado River, McClow said.

Another 150,000 acre foot diversion is already planned, Pokrandt said.

“We don’t think there’s enough water for another big diversion project,” Pokrandt said.

Transmountain diversions to the Front Range would be a junior water right. That means if there’s not enough water to go around, they’re the first to go without.

“Denver and Aurora are acutely aware of all that,” McClow said.

Douglas County, however, is a “black hole,” McClow said.

“They say water must be provided for farms and that it has to come from somewhere,” McClow said.

More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.

Cleanup of debris that washes down Fountain Creek a concern for Pueblo Councilor

Fountain Creek Watershed
Fountain Creek Watershed

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Pueblo City Councilwoman Eva Montoya wants less talk and more action on removing logs and other debris from Fountain Creek.

“We need to talk about how we’re going to take care of it, and get a dialogue among the cities on Fountain Creek,” said Montoya, chairwoman of the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District.

She made her comments during the directors portion of Friday’s board meeting at Pueblo City Hall. The board has discussed the debris left from last fall’s flooding at several meetings, but most of the large trees, logs and debris have not been removed.

Officials fear another heavy flood will pick up the logs within Pueblo and upstream, potentially clogging structures such as bridges and creating worse flooding problems.

“There are a lot of senior citizens (on Pueblo’s East Side) in the pathway if it comes over the levee,” Montoya said. “We have to get something done. We can’t wait for a disaster. We need to be prepared.”

More Fountain Creek coverage here and here.

Roundtable meeting Tuesday at Pueblo Community College for comments on the basin implementation plan #COWaterPlan

Arkansas River Basin -- Graphic via the Colorado Geological Survey
Arkansas River Basin — Graphic via the Colorado Geological Survey

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Pueblo-area residents will have the opportunity to offer their comments on the Arkansas River basin’s portion of the state water plan next week.

The Arkansas Basin Roundtable will host the meeting at 5 p.m. Tuesday in the Fortino Ballroom at Pueblo Community College. The roundtable has been discussing how to stretch limited water supplies for municipal, industrial, agricultural, recreational and environmental uses since 2005. Its primary purpose is to identify ways to meet the water resources gap identified in the Statewide Water Supply Initiative, which originally was completed in 2004, and updated in 2010.

Gov. John Hickenlooper has asked the Colorado Water Conservation Board to develop a draft state water plan by the end of 2014. As part of that, nine basin roundtables throughout Colorado are developing basin implementation plans.

To learn more about the plan and the process, go to the roundtable’s website (http://arkansasbasin.com).

More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.

Runoff/snowpack news

Statewide Basin High/Low graph June 26, 2014 via the NRCS
Statewide Basin High/Low graph June 26, 2014 via the NRCS

From email from Reclamation (Kara Lamb):

The warm weather is starting to bring down that high elevation snow. We have seen snowmelt inflows to the Big Thompson River start to tick back up again.

As a result, we’ve once again curtailed Colorado-Big Thompson Project diversions from the West Slope through the Adams Tunnel. We are running some of that Big Thompson River water through Olympus Tunnel, through power generation, Pinewood Reservoir, and then pumping it up to Carter Lake.

However, Carter Lake is about to hit full for the second time this season tomorrow, Saturday. Consequently, this means we will be turning the pump to Carter off tomorrow afternoon or evening.

Meanwhile, Horsetooth Reservoir is still full. So, the water that was going to Carter will now be coming back to the Big Thompson River at the mouth of the canyon via the concrete chute. Flows down the chute have been steadily increasing since yesterday. They will continue to go up all weekend. By late Sunday night or early Monday morning, they should be around 320 cfs.

Pinewood Reservoir, which has been dropping as the pump to Carter has been running, will see water levels start coming back up late Saturday night.

Despite all these changes elsewhere on the C-BT, outflow from the Big Thompson River and Lake Estes through Olympus Dam to the top of the canyon will remain around 125 cfs.

From email from Reclamation (Kara Lamb):

We are nearing full at Ruedi Reservoir, but, as we all know, we still have snowmelt coming down from the high country. We are working to finish filling the reservoir while also balancing its rate of rise against snowmelt inflows and the resulting outflow released through the dam and power plant.

As a result, we’ll be increasing releases tomorrow morning at 8 a.m., by 50 cfs. This will bring the total flow past the Ruedi Dam gage in the Fryingpan River to about 282 cfs. The 282 cfs also includes the Rocky Fork’s contributions.

Attached you will find a graph marking our progress so far this year against the projection we presented at the May State of the River runoff meeting in Glenwood Springs. We are actually tracking pretty well, following the projected operations per the snowpack at that time. Our projections were based on our modeling and, as you can see from the graph, the model shows that releases from the dam might continue to go up some in July. We had anticipated that we would see runoff continue for a while, as we have seen in other good snowcap years.

From email from Reclamation (Kara Lamb)

We’re still seeing snowmelt runoff come down. Denver is increasing releases slightly from Dillon Reservoir and, consequently, we’re seeing inflows to Green Mountain pick up.

As a result, tomorrow morning, Saturday, we’ll be increasing releases from Green Mountain Dam to the Lower Blue by 100 cfs. This will put the Lower Blue at about 1100 cfs for the weekend.

Allen Best on the evolution of FIBArk

Hooligan Race 2009
Hooligan Race 2009

Click through for Allen’s photos. From The Mountain Town News (Allen Best):

FIBArk, which calls itself America’s oldest and boldest whitewater festival, was held in mid-June in the central-Colorado river town of Salida. The festival name consists of the acronym, first in boating, as well as the short-hand name for the river: the Arkansas.

It was launched in 1949 as a contest to see who among the 23 entrants could boat the runoff-swollen Arkansas from Salida through the frothy, sharp-edged Royal Gorge. Just two entrants, both from Switzerland, completed the 50-mile journey.

Since then, much has changed. FIBArk has grown to include 10 different river events, including one to test the retrieving abilities of dogs in water. There are also land events, including a parade. It calls itself America’s oldest and boldest whitewater festival.

Equipment and skills have changed. In 2004, a Salida boater named Brad Goettemoeller explained the changes in kayaks and competition for Colorado Central Magazine. Despite increasing competition from other whitewater festivals, he noted, FIBArk at that time was still rated No. 2 among the nation’s boating festivals by Kayak Magazine.

The river has changed, too. It has more water, courtesy of diversions from the Aspen area delivered via tunnels from under the Continental Divide.

The bed of the river has also been altered. In 1966, a bulldozer pushed boulders around to create a more difficult slalom course. In 1988, more tinkering yielded a kayak playhole near downtown Salida. There is also a standing wave used to much merriment by stand-up surfers and stand-up paddleboarders.

A railroad town, streets were predicated not on an east-west grid, but instead a perpendicular layout from the depot. The depot is gone now, and trains stopped running over the transcontinental route through Salida, Leadville, and Avon in 1997.

Instead, like so many of the old mining towns of the Rockies, Salida is a place for Tevas, GoPro, and Patagonia. You might be able to buy steel-toed work boots at the Wal-Mart, but don’t count on it. This is no longer a blue-collar town. If you like organic food, it’s a good place to be.

More whitewater coverage here.

USGS: Dissolved-Solids Sources, Loads, Yields, and Concentrations in Streams of the Conterminous United States

Flood irrigation -- photo via the CSU Water Center
Flood irrigation — photo via the CSU Water Center

Here’s the abstract from the United States Geological Survey (David W. Anning and Marilyn E. Flynn):

Recent studies have shown that excessive dissolved-solids concentrations in water can have adverse effects on the environment and on agricultural, domestic, municipal, and industrial water users. Such effects motivated the U.S. Geological Survey’s National Water Quality Assessment Program to develop a SPAtially-Referenced Regression on Watershed Attributes (SPARROW) model that has improved the understanding of sources, loads, yields, and concentrations of dissolved solids in streams of the conterminous United States.

Using the SPARROW model, long-term mean annual dissolved-solids loads from 2,560 water-quality monitoring stations were statistically related to several spatial datasets that are surrogates for dissolved-solids sources and land-to-water delivery processes. Specifically, sources in the model included variables representing geologic materials, road deicers, urban lands, cultivated lands, and pasture lands. Transport of dissolved solids from these sources was modulated by land-to-water delivery variables that represent precipitation, streamflow, soil, vegetation, terrain, population, irrigation, and artificial drainage characteristics. Where appropriate, the load estimates, source variables, and transport variables were statistically adjusted to represent conditions for the base year 2000. The nonlinear least-squares estimated SPARROW model was used to predict long-term mean annual conditions for dissolved-solids sources, loads, yields, and concentrations in a digital hydrologic network representing nearly 66,000 stream reaches and their corresponding incremental catchments that drain the Nation.

Nationwide, the predominant source of dissolved solids yielded from incremental catchments and delivered to local streams is geologic materials in 89 percent of the catchments, road deicers in 5 percent of the catchments, pasture lands in 3 percent of the catchments, urban lands in 2 percent of the catchments, and cultivated lands in 1 percent of the catchments. Whereas incremental catchments with dissolved solids that originated predominantly from geologic sources or from urban lands are found across much of the Nation, incremental catchments with dissolved solids yields that originated predominantly from road deicers are largely found in the Northeast, and incremental catchments with dissolved solids that originated predominantly from cultivated or pasture lands are largely found in the West. The total amount of dissolved solids delivered to the Nation’s streams is 271.9 million metric tons (Mt) annually, of which 194.2 million Mt (71.4%) come from geologic sources, 37.7 million Mt (13.9%) come from road deicers, 18.2 million Mt (6.7%) come from pasture lands, 13.9 million Mt (5.1%) come from urban lands, and 7.9 million Mt (2.9%) come from cultivated lands.

Nationwide, the median incremental-catchment yield delivered to local streams is 26 metric tons per year per square kilometer [(Mt/yr)/km2]. Ten percent of the incremental catchments yield less than 4 (Mt/yr)/km2, and 10 percent yield more than 90 (Mt/yr)/km2. Incremental-catchment yields greater than 50 (Mt/yr)/km2 mostly occur along the northern part of the West Coast and in a crescent shaped band south of the Great Lakes. For example, the median incremental-catchment yield is 81 (Mt/yr)/km2 for the Great Lakes, 78 (Mt/yr)/km2 for the Ohio, and 74 (Mt/yr)/km2 for the Upper Mississippi water-resources regions. Incremental-catchment yields less than 10 (Mt/yr)/km2 mostly occur in a wide band across the arid lowland of the interior West that excludes areas along the coast and the extensive, higher mountain ranges. For example, the median incremental-catchment yield is 3 (Mt/yr)/km2 for the Lower Colorado, 5 (Mt/yr)/km2 for the Rio Grande, and 8 (Mt/yr)/km2 for the Great Basin water-resources regions.

Predicted incremental loads were cascaded down through the reach network, with loads accumulating from reach to reach. For most stream reaches, the entire incremental load of dissolved solids delivered to the reach was transported to either the ocean or to one of the large streams flowing along the U.S. international boundary without losses occurring along the way. The exceptions to this include streams in the southwestern part of the country, such as the Colorado River, Rio Grande, and streams of internally drained drainages in the Great Basin, where dissolved-solids loads decreased through streamflow diversion for off-stream use, or by infiltration through the streambed.

Long-term mean annual flow-weighted concentrations were derived from the predicted accumulated-load and stream-discharge data. Widespread low concentrations, generally less than 100 milligrams per liter (mg/L), occur in many reaches of the New England, South Atlantic-Gulf, and Pacific Northwest water-resources regions as a result of moderate dissolved-solids yields and high runoff rates. Widespread moderate concentrations, generally between 100 and 500 mg/L, occur in many reaches of the Great Lakes, Ohio, and Upper Mississippi River water-resources regions. Whereas dissolved-solids yields are generally high in these regions, runoff rates are also high, which helps moderate concentrations in these regions. Widespread higher concentrations, generally greater than 500 mg/L, occur across a belt of reaches that extends almost continuously from Canada to Mexico in the Midwest, cutting through the Souris-Red-Rainy, Missouri, Arkansas-White-Red, Texas-Gulf, and Rio Grande water-resources regions. Although dissolved-solids yields are moderate to low in these areas, low runoff rates result in the high concentrations for these areas.

In 12.6 percent of the Nation’s stream reaches, predicted concentrations of dissolved solids exceed 500 mg/L, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s secondary, nonenforceable drinking water standard. While this standard provides a metric for evaluating predicted concentrations in the context of drinking-water supplies, it should be noted that it only applies to drinking water actually served to customers by water utilities, and it does not apply to all stream reaches in the Nation nor does it apply during times when water is not being withdrawn for use. Exceedance of 500 mg/L is more pronounced in certain water-resources regions than others. For example, about half of the reaches in the Souris-Red-Rainy region have concentrations predicted to exceed 500 mg/L, and between 25 and 37 percent of the reaches in the Missouri, Arkansas-White-Red, Texas-Gulf, Rio Grande, and Lower Colorado regions are predicted to exceed 500 mg/L.

Development of stream-load data for use in the SPARROW model also provided long-term temporal trend information in dissolved-solids concentrations at the monitoring stations for their period of record, which was constrained between 1980 and 2009. For the 2,560 monitoring stations used in this study, long-term trends in flow-adjusted dissolved-solids concentrations increased over time at 23 percent of the stations, decreased at 18 percent of the stations, and did not change over time at 59 percent of the stations. Long-term trends show a strong regional spatial pattern where from the western parts of the Great Plains to the West Coast, concentrations mostly either did not change or decreased over time, and from the eastern parts of the Great Plains to the East Coast, concentrations mostly either did not change or increased over time.

Results from the trend analysis and from the SPARROW model indicate that, compared to monitoring stations with no trends or decreasing trends, stations with increasing trends are associated with a smaller percentage of the predicted dissolved-solids load originating from geologic sources, and a larger percentage originating from urban lands and road deicers. Conversely, compared to stations with increasing trends or no trends, stations with decreasing trends have a larger percentage of the predicted dissolved-solids load originating from geologic sources and a smaller percentage originating from urban lands and road deicers. Stations with decreasing trends also have larger percentages of predicted dissolved-solids load originating from cultivated lands and pasture lands, compared to stations with increasing trends or no trends.

More water pollution coverage here.

Mesa County wants explanation of stormwater charges billed by the Grand Valley Drainage District


From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Emily Shockley):

A $13,250 bill to Mesa County from the Grand Valley Drainage District will go unpaid for now as county personnel seek an explanation for the charge.

The district’s board of directors decided in April to begin charging the county, the town of Palisade and the cities of Grand Junction and Fruita a monthly fee starting in June for using the district’s equipment by allowing water that drains off local government-owned buildings, streets, roads, alleys and other land to spill into the district drainage system rather than building and using their own storm water drains.

The fee may be impossible to enforce, though, according to Acting Mesa County Attorney David Frankel.

A letter Frankel drafted to Mesa County commissioners explains that the district can assess taxes and fees, but not on exempt properties. The county is exempt from taxation on real property under state statute. Frankel added that he does not believe county roadways can be charged the same way as property is by the district and, since it would take taxpayer money to pay the bill, Frankel added the fee may violate Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights prohibitions against creating or raising taxes without voter approval.

“I think we have some strong arguments against this charge,” Frankel told commissioners Monday during a discussion of the bill’s validity.

Drainage istrict staff wrote in a rationale for the “urban storm water fee” that local government bodies are unwilling to fund engineering studies to determine how the district can handle an influx of runoff from urban land, including roadways.

The board decided to charge local government entities to raise money for water quality monitoring, operating and maintenance costs in urban parts of the valley, and to study regulations associated with non-agricultural water, among other costs.

The district plans to charge the county $13,250 per month, the city of Grand Junction $11,911 per month, the city of Fruita $4,278 per month and the town of Palisade $354 per month.

Fruita and Grand Junction have notified the district that they do not plan to pay the fee. Palisade Town Administrator Rich Sales said Monday that he plans to discuss the bill with town trustees to decide what to do.

County commissioners on Monday directed Frankel and Julie Constan, an engineer with the Mesa County Public Works Department, to draft a letter to the district asking why it believes it has the authority to bill local governments and how the district determined how much to charge each entity.

District documents show the rate for each entity is based on square footage of “impervious areas” those entities are responsible for, but does not specify which land and roadways are involved in the calculation or whether all of those roads and properties touch parts of the drainage system.

Drainage District Manager Kevin Williams did not return a call for comment Monday afternoon [June 23].

More stormwater coverage here.

Denver Water: An Awesome Water Management Checklist

Colorado River District glossary of water terms


Click here for their list from “absolute water right” to “xeriscape.”

Runoff/snowpack news: Colorado has pretty much melted out

Click on a thumbnail graphic to view a gallery of snowpack data from the Natural Resources Conservation Service. There was a little snowpack showing in the northern basins yesterday, otherwise Colorado is pretty much melted out for the water year. Bring on the North American Monsoon.

From email from Reclamation (Kara Lamb):

We are getting close to full at Ruedi Reservoir. As a result, we will be bumping up the release from the dam to the Fryingpan River by 50 cfs tomorrow evening before the weekend. That will put the flow past the Ruedi Dam gage at about 232 cfs. This includes the contributions of the Rocky Fork. The reason for the change is we are slowing the rate of rise in the reservoir as we continue to balance inflows and outflows.

From email from Reclamation (Kara Lamb):

Last weekend, releases from Green Mountain Dam dropped to 700 cfs due to some work at the power plant. That work has completed and this week we have seen releases from the dam to the Lower Blue River start to go back up. Changes [June 27] will bump releases up some more. The first change will be at 8:00 a.m. upping releases from 850 cfs to 925 cfs. The second change will be at 10:00 a.m. upping releases from 925 to 1000 cfs. As always, please let me know if you have any related questions.

From email from Reclamation (Kara Lamb):

Just a quick update before the morning [June 26]: due to the recent rain, we’ve seen rain inflows to the Big Thompson River come up slightly. As a result, the outflow through Olympus Dam to the canyon has also come up a bit.

That means flows through the dam to the canyon will go up about 45 cfs, bringing total outflows to just 170 cfs by midnight tonight. The 170 cfs will likely stay in place through tomorrow, maybe a little longer.

We have also seen a shift in water demands off of the Charles Hansen Feeder Canal, which flows from Flatiron to Horsetooth Reservoir, serving water users along the way. This means a little more water will be returned to the Big Thompson River, after generating power on the Colorado-Big Thompson Project’s southern power arm. As a result, the water down the concrete chute will bump up from around 100 cfs to about 160 cfs.

We are making these changes late tonight so they will be noticeable to those watching the river closely by morning [June 26].

New York Times: The easiest places to live in the U.S.

Nine Projects Receive $1.29 Million from Reclamation for Title XVI Water Reclamation and Reuse Feasibility Studies

Wastewater Treatment Process
Wastewater Treatment Process

Here’s the release from the Bureau of Reclamation (Peter Soeth):

Bureau of Reclamation Acting Commissioner Lowell Pimley announced that Reclamation will provide $1.29 million to nine projects for Title XVI Water Reclamation and Reuse Feasibility Studies. These nine projects are located in California, Colorado, New Mexico and Texas.
“Planning and preparation are essential for communities looking to meet their growing water needs,” Pimley said. “This funding will help communities gather critical information in assessing whether these water recycling and reuse projects can meet their future water needs.”

The first funding group will receive up to $150,000 and studies must be completed within 18 months. The six selected projects in this group are:

  • Pitkin County Clean Water Effluent Re-Use Feasibility Study, Pitkin County (Colorado), $149,500 [ed. emphasis mine]
  • Providing for Santa Fe Basin’s Future Water Supply Needs: A Feasibility Study to Optimize the use of Regional Reclaimed Wastewater, City of Santa Fe (New Mexico), $132,000
  • Port Isabel Water Reclamation Facility, Laguna Madre Water District (Texas), $150,000
  • Feasibility Study of Augmenting Regional Water Supply System for Tarrant Regional Water District and Wichita Falls with Impaired Groundwater Supplies, Tarrant Regional Water District (Texas), $150,000
  • Feasibility Study of Industrial Water Management and Reclamation for the Permian Basin, Gulf Coast Waste Disposal Authority (Texas), $150,000
  • Collection, Storage, Recharge and Recovery of Conserved Source Waters for Advanced Purified Treatment of Reclaimed Water, El Paso Water Utilities-Public Service Board (Texas), $150,000
  • The second funding group will receive up to $450,000 (up to $150,000 per year) and studies must be completed within 36 months. The three selected projects in this group are:

  • San Juan Groundwater Basin Recharge, Reclamation and Reuse Feasibility Study, Santa Margarita Water District (California), $225,000
  • Indirect Potable Reuse Project Feasibility Study, Eastern Municipal Water District (California), $450,000
  • The Integrated Water and Power Project: A Drought-Proof Water Supply for Texas, Guadalupe Blanco River Authority (Texas), $450,000
  • Applicants must provide at least 50 percent non-federal cost-shared funding for the feasibility study. To view a complete description of all the projects, please visit: http://www.usbr.gov/WaterSMART/title.

    The Title XVI Water Reclamation and Reuse Program focuses on identifying and investigating opportunities to reclaim and reuse wastewater and naturally impaired ground and surface water in the 17 Western states and Hawaii. It has the potential to provide communities with a new source of clean water while promoting water and energy efficiency and environmental stewardship. Through Title XVI projects, Reclamation has conserved nearly 390,000 acre-feet of water in 2013 – enough to supply 1.5 million people with water for one year.

    WaterSMART is the U.S. Department of the Interior’s sustainable water initiative that uses the best available science to improve water conservation and help water resource managers identify strategies to narrow the gap between supply and demand. Since its establishment in 2010, WaterSMART has provided about $200 million in competitively awarded funding to non-federal partners, including tribes, water districts, municipalities and universities through WaterSMART Grants and the Title XVI Program. Learn more at http://www.usbr.gov/WaterSMART.

    More infrastructure coverage here.

    Take a boat tour on the first National Water Trail in the Southwest — Black Canyon Water Trail #ColoradoRiver

    Colorado River, Black Canyon back in the day, site of Hoover Dam
    Colorado River, Black Canyon back in the day, site of Hoover Dam

    From the Las Vegas Review-Journal (Henry Brean):

    The Black Canyon Water Trail, as it is now known, takes in a 30-mile stretch of the Colorado from the downstream side of Hoover Dam to the mouth of Eldorado Canyon, south of Boulder City.

    It is the first such designation of a boating trail in the Southwest and the first to traverse a desert.

    In announcing the designation Tuesday, Jewell said the scenic route through Black Canyon joins “a distinctive national network of exemplary water trails” that have won recognition since 2012 as part of a federal initiative to encourage tourism and stewardship.

    The stretch of river is already managed by the National Park Service as part of Lake Mead National Recreation Area.

    More Colorado River Basin coverage here.

    Jackson Gulch Reservoir: “The bureau used to be a friend. Not anymore.” — Dee Graf

    Jackson Gulch Dam photo via USBR
    Jackson Gulch Dam photo via USBR

    From The Mancos Times (Mary Shinn):

    The Mancos Water Conservancy District board on Thursday weighed the consequences of taking ownership of Jackson Gulch Reservoir, the dam, the canal system and the land it sits on from the federal government.

    If the district worked with the Bureau of Reclamation to take ownership, the district would have to take over all the contracting and inspections…

    The Bureau of Reclamation currently budgets $160,000 a year to manage the irrigation project, and and $150,000 a year for recreational use of the lake.

    Kennedy estimates that if the district did all the work the bureau does for irrigation and water management, it would cost $20,000 to $40,000 because the district wouldn’t have as much administrative overhead. The district doesn’t plan to cover any of Mancos’ state parks expenses if the board pursues the transfer of ownership.

    A major question the board members tried to address at the Thursday workshop was: What value does the Bureau of Reclamation add to the project?

    They determined it isn’t a reliable source of funding…

    If the district took ownership of the project, it would still be subject to some state inspections for dam safety.

    Currently, the Bureau of Reclamation does regular inspections, but the district is responsible for maintenance or replacement. For example, the district paid $3 million for the recent rehabilitation project.

    There is one exception to the maintenance rule. The Bureau of Reclamation would step in if the dam started to experience a failure. But the agency would also send the district a bill for half the cost, and it would be due in three years…

    At an initial meeting about the transfer with James Hess, a bureau representative from Washington, Hess said the transfer process can take years.

    Only 27 other water projects in the nation have been fully transferred from the federal government to a local organization.

    More Jackson Gulch Reservoir coverage here.

    COGCC halts activity at injection well; seeks additional review

    Deep injection well
    Deep injection well

    Here’s the release from the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (Todd Hartman/Matt Lepore):

    The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission this week directed High Sierra Water Services to stop disposing wastewater into one of its Weld County injection wells.

    The company agreed to a 20-day halt to wastewater injection as a cautionary step the COGCC believes necessary to gather and further analyze more information to determine whether injection at the site is tied to recent seismic activity recorded within the general vicinity of the well.

    Ongoing monitoring by a team of University of Colorado seismologists has picked up additional evidence of low-level seismic activity near the injection site, including a 2.6-magnitude event Monday afternoon. The additional data comes after a 3.4 magnitude earthquake shook the Greeley area May 31.

    “In light of the findings of CU’s team, we think it’s important we review additional data, bring in additional expertise and closely review the history of injection at this site in order to more fully understand any potential link to seismicity and use of this disposal well,” said COGCC director Matt Lepore.

    The COGCC will undertake several actions over the shutdown period to include: evaluation of baseline, historical seismic activity; continued coordination with the CU team; coordination with the U.S. Geological Survey and Colorado Geological Survey; evaluation of other disposal wells in the area; and a detailed review of data associated with the well in question, including further examination of injection rates, pressures and volumes.

    The company immediately agreed to COGCC’s request, and shut the well down on Monday.

    From The Greeley Tribune:

    Noble Energy continued on Monday to clean up the oil spill it located Friday along the Poudre River near Windsor, according to a news release from the Colorado Department of Natural Resources.

    Noble began to dismantle a damaged tank battery Monday in preparation for soil removal, according to the release, after about 173 barrels — or about 7,500 gallons — of crude oil were found to have spilled from the tank while the Poudre River was flooding.

    On Saturday, Noble established site security, repaired the access road and had a crew of approximately 30 people using absorbent pads to clean up visible residual oil, according to the release. Soil samples were collected along the path of the release and submitted for laboratory analysis, according to the release, and the results of that analysis are still pending.

    Visual observations by Noble along the flow path indicated the oil did not seep deep into the soil, so removal of the soil was ruled out as the main way to clean up the spill, according to the release.

    Instead, a product known as Petro Green was applied to help enhance the degradation of any remaining hydrocarbons, according to the release.

    Noble also had a consultant perform a biological study on the area, according to the release, and it was determined no wildlife were impacted by the spill.

    Drought news #COdrought

    Click on a thumbnail graphic to view a gallery of drought data from the US Drought Monitor. Click here to go to the US Drought Monitor website. Here’s an excerpt:


    For the second consecutive week, moderate to heavy rainfall brought additional drought relief from the Midwest southward across the central Plains into Texas. Meanwhile, drought conditions prevailed from California into the central and southern Rockies.

    Central Plains

    Conditions remained largely unchanged on the central High Plains during the monitoring period, as hot weather (readings as high as 100°F) offset the light to moderate showers (0.1 to 1 inch) which dotted western portions of the region. A small expansion of Extreme Drought (D3) in southwestern Kansas reflected increasingly poor vegetation health as indicated by satellite, with potential for additional degradations in this area if rain fails to materialize soon. Farther east, however, locally heavy downpours — with totals averaging 2 to locally more than 4 inches — resulted in some removal of Moderate (D1) and Severe (D2) Drought in central and southwestern Nebraska. In these areas, precipitation over the past 30 days has averaged 150 to 260 percent of normal. In Kansas, showers were mostly too light to warrant any additional improvement on top of last week’s drought reduction, though locally heavy downpours (2 to 4 inches) allowed for minor decrease of Extreme Drought (D3) in southern portions of the state.


    Moderate to heavy rainfall further reduced or eradicated drought but submerged low-lying fields and caused additional river flooding in western and central portions of the region. Persistent showers and thunderstorms doused areas from central Nebraska into Iowa and northern Illinois with 2 to 4 inches of rainfall, with locally higher amounts. The rain was more than sufficient to warrant additional 1-category improvements over the western half of the Corn Belt. Despite the additional heavy downpours, long-term precipitation deficits linger (less than 70 percent of normal over the past 12 months) in west-central and southeastern Iowa; consequently, a small area of Moderate Drought (with a Long Term, or “L”, designation) remained where shortfalls are most pronounced. In contrast, short-term dryness (90-day rainfall averaging 50 to 70 percent of normal) led to a small increase of Abnormal Dryness (D0) in southeastern South Dakota.

    Southern Plains and Texas

    Despite temperatures in the 90s, rainfall during the week was sufficient to warrant modest to significant reductions in drought from northern and central Oklahoma southward into Texas. Showers and thunderstorms dropped 2 to locally more than 4 inches of rain from the eastern Oklahoma panhandle southeastward into central Oklahoma and east-central Texas. In particular, there were numerous reports of more than 3 inches west of Oklahoma City, and several totals in excess of 7 inches southwest of Dallas-Fort Worth. Consequently, drought intensity declined in areas where the heaviest rain fell, although long-term impacts continue (i.e. reservoir storage and ground water supplies). Farther south, a slow-moving disturbance drifted north from northeastern Mexico along the Rio Grande River Valley, dropping moderate to excessive rainfall (2 to 5 inches, with localized amounts in excess of 8 inches) from Laredo to the western Edwards Plateau. Likewise, a separate area of showers and thunderstorms (1 to 3 inches) swept across Texas’ Trans-Pecos region later in the week. These two areas of rain resulted in notable decreases in drought intensity and coverage across southern and western Texas.

    Western U.S.

    Variable conditions in the north contrasted with ongoing drought elsewhere. In addition, the return of hot weather in California and the Southwest accelerated moisture losses and increased irrigation requirements.

    In northern portions of the region, a slow-moving Pacific storm generated locally heavy rain and mountain snow across the northern Rockies, with showers from this system (locally more than inch) spilling into northeastern drought areas of Washington. Consequently, modest reductions were made to drought intensity and coverage in the mountains and foothills of northeast Washington, where Water Year precipitation was mostly near normal (80-95 percent of normal). Appreciable rainfall bypassed southwestern portions of Columbia River Valley, where Moderate (D1) and Severe (D2) Drought were expanded to reflect poor crop conditions and much-below-normal Water Year precipitation (40-50 percent of normal). To further illustrate the drought’s impacts, the USDA-NASS reported Washington’s winter wheat slipped 1 percentage point to 27 percent poor to very poor as of June 22, with only 30 percent rated good to excellent.

    Farther south, California and the Great Basin will most likely have to wait until the 2014-15 Water Year for drought relief. In northern and central California, Exceptional Drought (D4) reflected abysmal 2013-14 Water Year precipitation totals; from northern portions of the Coastal Range to Mt. Shasta, precipitation since October 1 totaled 30 to 50 percent of normal (deficits of 16 to 32 inches). The corresponding Standardized Precipitation Indices (SPI), which helps quantify precipitation in terms of drought and historical probability, are well into the Extreme (D3) to Exceptional (D4) categories. Similar precipitation rankings (D3 or D4 equivalent) are prominent for the past Water Year from San Francisco south to Santa Barbara and east to the Sierra Nevada, including most of the San Joaquin Valley.

    In the central Rockies and Four Corners, there were no changes to this week’s drought depiction. Extreme Drought (D3) remains entrenched across west-central Arizona and along the Arizona-New Mexico border, with Water-Year precipitation in these locales totaling less than half of normal (locally below 30 percent of normal).

    Looking Ahead

    Warm, humid, and unsettled conditions will persist from the central and southern Plains to the Mid-Atlantic and Southeast Coast. Embedded within this large area of unsettled weather, the greatest potential for heavy rain will be over the Upper Midwest and northern Plains as well as the central and western Gulf Coast region. Showers are also expected across the Northwest — though the rain is expected to once again bypass primary Northwestern drought areas — and in the Northeast. The NWS 6-10 day outlook for July 1-5 calls for wetter-than-normal conditions east of the Mississippi and from the Four Corners into the central Plains as well as southern Texas. Conversely, drier-than-normal weather is expected from the Northwest east to the northern Plains. Above-normal temperatures are anticipated across much of the nation, with cooler-than-normal conditions confined to the Upper Midwest, Texas, and the coastal Pacific Northwest.

    Water Lines: Hydropower kicks off at nearby Ridgway Dam #ColoradoRiver

    Ridgway Dam
    Ridgway Dam

    From the Glenwood Springs Post Independent (Hannah Holm):

    When Ridgway Dam was constructed on the Uncompahgre River back in the 1970s and 1980s, hydropower was anticipated to be one of its uses — along with providing irrigation water, drinking water and flood control.

    Mike Berry, general manager of Tri-County Water (company operating the dam), continues to look for opportunities to start generating hydropower since 2002.

    It wasn’t until this month, however, this vision was finally realized.

    In June, Tri-County Water officially commissioned a new eight-megawatt generating station powered by water flowing through the dam.

    Finding a customer to buy the power at the right price was the key allowing the project to go forward.

    The $18 million project is financed through the City of Aspen. The agreement includes payment of a premium for the power generated by Ridgeway Dam for a few years of the 20-year contract in exchange for better rates later.

    Tri-County will also sell power to Tri-State Generation & Transmission and the Town of Telluride.

    The power generated by Ridgway Dam will vary seasonally, with peak generation coinciding with large summer releases of water to downstream irrigators. The Grand Junction Sentinel reported last week the plant will produce a total of about 24,000 megawatt hours of electricity in an average year — enough to supply 2,500 average homes and eliminate 50 million pounds of carbon dioxide emissions.

    The Ridgway Dam generating station was commissioned just one year after the completion of a 7.5-megawatt power generation project on the South Canal — carrying water from the Gunnison Tunnel near Montrose to the irrigators of the Uncompahgre Valley.

    Both the Ridgway Dam and South Canal projects avoid the opposition previous hydropower projects faced because it’s installed on existing infrastructure and harvesting power from the regular operations of the facilities. As a result, irrigation deliveries are uninterrupted and no additional disruptions to river flows.

    Interest in retrofitting existing water infrastructure to add power generation capability has surged in recent years. Both the State of Colorado and the federal government have made moves to support the trend with new laws to streamline the permitting process.

    Finding customers for the power generated at affordable prices for construction is one of the key challenges faced by those interested in developing such facilities. Low prices for natural gas and the irregular supplies generated by such projects are complicating factors in working out power purchase agreements.

    On the other side of the equation, renewable energy standards passed by Colorado and other states have created new opportunities.

    From The Watch (Samantha Wright):

    A decades-long quest to convert the power represented by the 84,600 acre feet of water pent up behind the dam into clean, green hydropower came to fruition at a commissioning ceremony hosted by Tri-County Water Conservancy District [June 6].

    Tri-County’s new 8 megawatt hydroelectric plant will produce approximately 24,000 megawatt-hours of electricity in a typical water year, enough energy to supply about 2,500 homes, on average. The emissions reduction benefit from the new plant is equivalent to removing approximately 50 million pounds of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere (the same effect as taking about 4,400 cars off the road each year).

    Federal officials including Larry Walkoviak, the Upper Colorado Regional Director of the Bureau of Reclamation, and U.S. Congressman Scott Tipton were on hand at the commissioning ceremony on Friday to praise the project’s merits.

    But the folks who are really celebrating this historic moment are those who have steered the hydro project through choppy waters toward its completion including officials from Tri-County and the City of Aspen, which helped fund the project and is purchasing a significant portion of the energy it produces.

    From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Gary Harmon):

    Green and grassy, Ridgway Dam looms high 15 miles southeast of Montrose, holding back Ridgway Reservoir. It’s flanked by a rocky ridge and U.S. Highway 550, with the Uncompahgre River bubbling up from the base of the dam to a prized stretch of trout water running through Ridgway State Park.

    There is more to Ridgway Dam, though, than appearance.

    “It’s not just a beautiful pile of dirt,” said Ion Spor, who has managed the dam for decades for the Tri-County Water Conservancy District.

    Ridgway Dam is now generating electricity, eight megawatts worth during the height of the water year.

    Tri-County — referring to Montrose, Delta and Ouray counties — commissioned the generating station earlier this month, marking the culmination of a project that was anticipated well before construction of Ridgway Dam, begun in 1978 and completed in 1987. Ridgway Reservoir filled in 1990.

    The dam was built with hydropower in mind. Pipes were run through the dam in anticipation of someday being hooked up to generators, said Mike Berry, Tri-County general manager.

    After years of debate, Tri-County opted to move ahead with the $18 million project. It reached agreements with Aspen, Telluride and Tri-State Generation and Transmission to get enough money for the project.

    The station also generates power for the Delta-Montrose Electric Association and the San Miguel Power Association.

    As part of its agreement to purchase power, Aspen is buying renewable-energy credits created by the project during winter months. Telluride is purchasing the credits that are created by the project during summer months.

    Renewable-energy credits represent the added value and environmental benefits of the electricity produced by the generating station.

    Tri-County will use the revenues generated from the sale of the electricity and renewable-energy credits to repay loans on the project for the first 30 years and then to offset its operating expenses, Berry said.

    Tri-County’s generating station contains two turbines and generators.

    The smaller is a 0.8-megawatt system, which will operate solo during the winter when flows are low, in the range of 30 to 60 cubic feet per second. The larger, 7.2-megawatt system will operate on flows of 500 cfs during the summer.

    Both generators are in a powerhouse at the base of the dam.

    The plant will produce about 24,000 megawatt-hours of electricity in an average water year, enough energy to supply about 2,500 average homes and eliminate the equivalent of 50 million pounds of carbon dioxide emissions.

    Now, Tri-County needs one thing to make the system work, Berry said.

    “We’re counting on Mother Nature,” Berry said, “To bless us with enough water to repay the notes.”

    More hydroelectric/hydropower coverage here.

    Hydropower used to replace flood irrigation and to lessen ag runoff and salinity

    Hydropower sprinkler system via Homelink Magazine
    Hydropower sprinkler system via Homelink Magazine

    From ColoradoBiz Magazine (Allen Best):

    And now come new efforts across Colorado to further yoke the power of falling water. One such example is near Yampa, a town between Vail and Steamboat Springs. The site is just a few miles from where the Bear River takes a sharp turn and becomes the Yampa River. On his ranch, Gary Clyncke decided three years ago to use the 126-foot drop in elevation of his irrigation water to power a new center-pivot irrigation system.

    Clyncke’s hydro-mechanical center-pivot doesn’t produce electricity. It does, however, preclude the need for stringing up power lines to operate the center-pivot sprinklers. The sprinkling system, in turn, saves water — which is worth money. The 90 acres were previously irrigated with flood irrigation from ditches spread across the field of timothy, brome and clover several inches thick. Center-pivot irrigation requires just one-sixth the water.

    That savings motivated Clyncke to invest in center-pivot. This hydro-mechanical system cost $13,000, of which $6,000 came from the Natural Resources Conservation Service, a federal agency. That left Clyncke a cost of $7,000. Payback on that investment is achieved in three years.

    Federal aid is motivation, at least in part, because of concerns about salinity. When large volumes of water are applied to fields in flood irrigation, the water picks up salts that are then returned to creeks and then rivers. It’s a major problem on the Western Slope, where water can be used two times for flood irrigation before it enters Utah. Downstream in California’s Imperial Valley, an important source of food for the nation, some fields have become so salty they have been abandoned.

    One of the most saline areas is in the Uncompahgre Valley, where Delta, Montrose and Paonia are located. An ancient sea left salts and the element of selenium in unusually large quantities in the Mancos shale. Both are harmful to endangered fish downstream in the Colorado River. “Anything that you can do that helps with salinity also helps with selenium, and vice versa,” says “Dev” Carey, manager of the Delta Conservation District.

    Saving money is a strong argument by itself. Farmers spend an average of $33,000 each year on electricity, more than half of that to power irrigation pumps, according to the Colorado Energy Office. Using hydropower to operate these pumps doesn’t work everywhere. Farms near Sterling, for example, tend toward flatness. Still, the state agency estimates Colorado has untapped capacity in pressurized irrigation systems to deliver 30 megawatts in direct production of electricity or avoided electricity. To put that into context, it’s enough electricity for 12,125 homes, says Kurt Johnson, president of the Colorado Small Hydro Association.

    More potential exists in irrigation ditches. Not just any irrigation ditch will do. It must have flows of more than 100 cubic feet per second, a relatively large volume. And there must be drops of at least 150 feet. When falls of that steepness occur, various devices are used to contain the force.

    One such canal is located east of Montrose, where water from the Gunnison River is diverted through a tunnel that emerges near U.S. Highway 50. From there, the water flows through South Canal toward the head of the Uncompahgre Valley. In 2012, the Delta-Montrose Electric Association completed a project that had been talked about for more than 100 years. The two powerhouses generate electricity equal to what is needed for 3,000 homes.

    In nearby Delta County, the state has identified nine sites on irrigation ditches where it would be economical to install small hydro systems, collectively producing 0.8 megawatts. That’s given current prices of electricity. Should electricity prices go up, as they have steadily, more potential would exist near Delta and many other locations.

    More hydroelectric/hydropower coverage here.

    Weekly Climate, Water and Drought Assessment of the Upper #ColoradoRiver Basin

    Upper Colorado River Basin month to date precipitation May 22, 2014 via the Colorado Climate Center
    Upper Colorado River Basin month to date precipitation May 22, 2014 via the Colorado Climate Center

    Click here to read the current assessment. Click here to go to the NIDIS website hosted by the Colorado Climate Center.

    More Colorado River Basin coverage here.

    National Weather Service: Forecast models did not accurately predict September flood

    Wednesday June 25, 2014 is Bike to Work Day. Be careful and share the road Colorado.

    Clear Comfort CEO Steve Berens talks WaterTech and #water disinfection on The Water Values Podcast

    Survey of Latinos in Colorado, Florida, Illinois and New Mexico shows majority support for water protections

    Acequia cleaning prior to running the first water of the season
    Acequia cleaning prior to running the first water of the season

    From Kansas City Infozine:

    The survey of Latinos in Colorado, Florida, Illinois and New Mexico, conducted last month, showed that large majorities in each state support nationwide rules to protect wetlands and small streams, including ones that don’t flow year-round, which feed into the drinking water supplies of one in three Americans.

    The federal government this spring proposed to restore anti-pollution protections to these small streams and nearby wetlands, whose status had been in legal limbo for more than a decade. But now there is a strong move by Senate Republicans to bar the EPA from completing work on the safeguards and implementing them.

    “This poll shows that clean water is important to Latinos, as it is to most other Americans,” said Adrianna Quintero, director of Latino outreach for the Natural Resources Defense Council, which commissioned the poll. “The Senate should take notice. We all want the federal government to make sure that polluters don’t threaten the health and safety of our families by fouling the water they drink, bathe with, swim in, or use for fishing and boating. It’s part of Latino heritage.”

    These small streams and wetlands provide crucial water quality benefits for fishing, boating and swimming, which are important for tourism in many of the states surveyed. In each poll, eight-five percent or more of the Latinos surveyed said it was important that strong clean water safety standards be set at the national level, rather than left up mostly to the states. The telephone and Internet poll was conducted by Public Policy Polling, a national firm based in North Carolina, and surveyed about 500 Latinos in each state.

    Noting that these small streams and wetlands also capture floodwater, filter pollutants, and help feed groundwater that is used for drinking, farming and other businesses, the polls found that most respondents said that these waters should have protection from industry pollution. Additionally, large majorities said they had “very serious” or “somewhat serious” concerns that the uncertain legal status has endangered these waters by allowing companies to avoid preparing oil spill prevention and response plans or by allowing them to bury streams and wetlands under mining or other industrial waste.

    More Environmental Protection Agency coverage here.

    Westminster piloting native grasses to replace Kentucky bluegrass in some parks


    From The Denver Post (Austin Briggs):

    The new grass coming up on the west side of Kensington Park isn’t replacing a die-off — it’s replacing grass that was killed off.

    Parks officials this year used an herbicide to kill the Kentucky bluegrass that had been there prior to planting native seeds — including fescue, rye and Canadian bluegrass.

    The new ground cover will conserve water and save the city money, said Jessica Stauffer, the community outreach coordinator for the city’s Parks, Recreation and Library department.

    “We went $200,000 over budget last year in watering costs for our parks,” Stauffer said. “The native grass being seeded stays greener longer and means fewer taxpayer dollars used for maintenance.”

    In addition to Kensington, England and Oakhurst Park II are also being re-seeded in select spots totaling 8.4 acres away from playgrounds and high-traffic areas.

    The new blend, which will grow between eight to 10 inches tall, won’t need to be mowed because it will follow a natural cycle of dormancy and growth, said parks supervisor Jerry Magnetti.

    “We’ll do a second seeding this fall,” Magnetti said. “It’s a low-grow, low-maintenance seed mix that will fill in and look beautiful, especially in the fall and cooler months.”

    While it’ll take another year or two for the grasses to establish, the goal is to see how this experiment works and perhaps apply it to a citywide program amid a long-term drought and rising water costs.

    In 2005 the Department of Parks, Recreation and Libraries used 216 million gallons of water at a cost of $863,675 and in 2012 this grew to 319 million gallons and $1,362,975.

    An acre of established native grass with trees and shrub beds costs about $500 a year to maintain, compared to $2,100 for Kentucky bluegrass.

    More conservation coverage here.

    Runoff/snowpack news: South Platte Basin snowpack 6th highest in period of record

    Statewide Basin High/Low graph June 19, 2014 via the NRCS
    Statewide Basin High/Low graph June 19, 2014 via the NRCS

    From KUNC (Nathan Heffel):

    According to the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, peak snowpack across some of the state’s major basins was in the top 10 of the last 34 years.

    Brian Domonkos, NRCS hydrologist and survey supervisor for the Colorado Snow Survey Program, said some areas of the state had exceptional snowpack this year.

    “Say the North Platte, South Platte, Yampa and White; some of those snowpacks in terms of peak snowpack were in the top seven of the last 34 years,” he said.

    According to NRCS data:

  • The Yampa and White saw the 8th highest peak snowpack of the last 29 years.
  • The North Platte saw the 7th highest peak snowpack of the last 34 years.
  • The South Platte saw the 6th highest peak snowpack of the last 34 years.
  • “I will say that on an average year, between 50 and 80 percent of stream flows and the water we see in our rivers and reservoirs comes from snowmelt,” Domonkos said. “Having an idea of that snowpack and what we have is kind of a reservoir, so to speak, of what we have from snowpack alone since precipitation beyond that can be very difficult to predict.”

    From KRCC (Andrea Chalfin):

    A two-mile stretch of the Arkansas River near Salida has reopened to boaters. It closed at the beginning of June due high waters that caused a hazard at a recently constructed boat chute. The portage trail used to bypass the chute had also become impassable.

    In a statement, Rob White, Park Manager at the Arkansas Headwaters Recreation Area, said they’re still working on the diversion structure, but that the portage trail has been repaired. White added they’re working with the engineering firm that designed the chute to explore potential ways to prevent issues in high water in the future.

    Colorado Parks and Wildlife says it’s mandatory for rafters to portage at the Silver Bullet Rapid or Helena Diversion. Caution is advised for whitewater canoes and kayaks.

    From email from Reclamation (Erik Knight):

    Despite full powerplant & bypass releases from Morrow Pt dam, flows in the lower Gunnison River at the Whitewater gage have dropped below the half bankfull target of 8,070 cfs. The forecast projects that these flows will continue to drop as tributary contributions trend toward baseflow levels. Therefore releases from Aspinall will begin to ramp down starting today, Tuesday June 24th. Releases will ramp down over the next 9 days before flows settle out at something around 1,000 cfs in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon. Releases from Aspinall will then be dependent on the amount of water needed to sustain the baseflow target of 1,500 cfs as measured at the Whitewater gage.

    Poudre oil spill cleanup update

    Cache la Poudre River
    Cache la Poudre River

    From the Associated Press via 9News.com:

    Environmental officials and work crews are dismantling a flood-damaged storage tank so they can remove oil-stained soil from an area where about 7,200 gallons of crude leaked into a northern Colorado river.

    Todd Hartman, a spokesman for the Colorado Department of Natural Resources, says Noble Energy, which operates the tank, has been cleaning up the site on the Poudre River near Windsor since the leak was discovered Friday. The bank next to the storage tank was undercut by the high spring river flows, causing it to drop and break a valve.

    From the Fort Collins Coloradoan (Ryan Maye Handy):

    “We consider this a significant spill,” wrote Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission spokesman Todd Hartman in an email Monday. “The vast majority of spills are far smaller. We’ve had larger spills, but those are true anomalies.”

    Colorado hasn’t seen a spill this big since September 2013, when a deluge of floodwaters in multiple rivers spilled 48,250 gallons of oil.

    The September flooding, along with spills like the one discovered Friday near Windsor, have prompted state regulators and environmental groups to consider increasing the distance between wells and Colorado’s waterways. Today, state law governing the distance between oil wells and water along Colorado’s Front Range does not take into account seasonal flooding, Hartman said.

    COGCC has one law that adjusts setbacks for high water marks that applies only to gold medal fisheries or cutthroat trout habitats. The fisheries predominately operate on the Western Slope.

    Following the floods, environmental advocates are pushing more than a dozen new oil and gas regulations toward ballots in the November election. One proposal suggests moving setbacks to 2,000 feet from bodies of water. Some experts say that would cripple oil and gas development in places like Weld County, where more than 21,000 wells operate today.

    There are about 5,900 oil and gas wells within 500 feet of a Colorado “waterway that is significant enough to be named” and more than 20,000 wells within 500 feet of water of some kind.

    The practice of drilling near water originates from “longstanding practical pressures” by mineral rights owners to confine wells to their least productive sections of land, according to a special report on oil and gas development commissioned after the September 2013 floods. It’s also easier to drill for oil in more accessible areas, particularly along waterways.

    In the post-flood report, the COGCC recommended that tank batteries “be located as far from waterways as possible,” and that all wells near an ordinary high water mark should have remote shut-in equipment, allowing them to be shut down automatically when waters are high. The report also suggested that regulations should “apply within a designated distance from the ordinary high water mark of all waterways in Colorado.”

    Since Friday, Noble Energy crews have been cleaning up after the Windsor-area spill. As of Monday, they have yet to identify any wildlife impacted by the spill, and drinking water has not been polluted, said Hartman. On Friday, Noble Energy, owners of the well, began a biological study of the spill’s impacts. Soil samples were also taken, but the results of those are pending.

    The river flooded two tanks off Weld County Road 23, an area surrounded by a cattle ranch and farm land. As crews continued work Monday, bikers sped by along the Poudre River Trail, which winds just on the opposite side of the river from the spill.

    The well feeding the tanks was shut May 24 due to spring runoff flooding. Although Noble discovered the spill June 20, the company can’t be sure exactly when the damage was done to the tank.

    Each tank can hold 300 barrels of crude oil, with about 42 gallons per barrel. Flood waters had undercut the bank below one battery, releasing the contents of 178 barrels.

    Noble has since drained the second tank, which was undamaged, said Hartman. Most of the spill was washed away in the floodwaters, which left a few stagnant polluted pools behind. Clean-up crews used absorbent pads to remove oil from vegetation and water pools. On Monday, crews began to excavate a shallow layer of soil.

    More oil and gas coverage here.

    Arkansas Basin Roundtable is soliciting public input for their basin implementation plan #COWaterPlan

    Arkansas River Basin -- Graphic via the Colorado Geological Survey
    Arkansas River Basin — Graphic via the Colorado Geological Survey

    From the Cañon City Daily Record (Carie Canterbury):

    Each of Colorado’s nine roundtables, including the Arkansas Basin Roundtable, is working to develop its own plan that identifies challenges to a secure water future, strategies to address those challenges and projects and methods the basin may implement to meet its water needs. The Basin Implementation Plans will be incorporated into the CWP.

    The Arkansas Basin Roundtable is seeking public input to add to the Basin Implementation Plan .

    Kyle Hamilton, principal project manager for CH2M HILL, consulting, design, and program management company, said one of the constraints on the water plan is the Colorado/Kansas Compact, which places constraints on moving water down the Arkansas River.

    “The state of Colorado has to deliver to the State of Kansas at certain times, in certain volumes, based on this compact,” he said. “There are similar compacts for all the major rivers leaving Colorado.”

    Hamilton said John Martin Reservoir was constructed to provide a pool of water to help Colorado comply with those compact requirements.

    “As we develop the basin implementation plan, and those roll up to the state water plan, the plans will have to comply with all these compacts that we have with adjoining states,” he said. The compacts date back to the 1940s.

    He said Colorado must work together to manage its water, because other states are trying to position to get their water, too.

    “Colorado needs to protect its water as a a whole, against Arizona and New Mexico and others who are competing for that same water that comes down the Colorado River,” he said. “We take a lot of that water from the west slope to the east slope.”[…]

    A draft plan is due to the CWCB on July 31 and to the governor’s office December 2014. The final is due December 2015, after public comment periods and input.

    For more information, or to download an offer input, visit http://arkansasbasin.com

    More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.