Interdependence Days 2014 — Greg Hobbs

Greg Hobbs sent this picture poem in email yesterday. He’s inspired by family, country, and Colorado this 4th of July.

Interdependence Days 2014

The Columbine

our flags salute

colorful communities loved by peoples who came before

going on foot to see, preserve, and persevere

public places

to stride, and gain within

the close up


the great

hands of a mother


pink and gold puppies

through private windows, free wild nurtured

no monopoly but precious grandmother

grandfather wizard time

with the Alleluia chorus.

at the cabin and Staunton State Park, Jefferson County, Colorado
daughter Emily, granddaughters Ella and Grace, son-in-law Mark,
Bobbie and Greg Hobbs and Strider, 7/4/2014

Runoff/snowpack news: Whitewater recreation buoyed by streamflow


From The Denver Post (Jason Blevins):

Colorado rafting outfitters are relishing a surge in visitation after two years of business-sinking drought and wildfire. As river flows become less intimidating, trips are selling out. Guests are spending more. Snowpack lingers in the high country, promising a paddling season that could push into fall.

“All the indicators are super positive right now,” said Alex Mickel, who has all 90 of his employees working this week as guests flock to his Mild To Wild rafting and tour company in Durango. “We are definitely benefiting from the economic rebound, too. People are looking at longer trips, stepping up to longer days, adding Jeep tours.”

Signs are good that Colorado’s rafting industry could host more than 500,000 user days, returning to the heydays of 2006, 2007 and 2008. Even if the visits don’t reach record levels, tourists are opening wallets wider, with resort towns across the state reporting record sales tax revenue last summer and this past winter. Last year, more than 461,000 rafters riding Colorado’s rivers and streams spent $56.7 million, creating an economic impact of $145.3 million. That was a step toward recovery from the drought- and wildfire-plagued 2012 season, which ranks as the second-worst year for Colorado rafting since 1995. But 2013, too, was haunted by wildfire.

Fires around Durango pinched traffic on the popular Animas River. The Royal Gorge fire near Cañon City deterred rafters on the Arkansas River, the most trafficked river in the country. The heavily publicized Black Forest fire in Colorado Springs kept more rafters at bay.

“We will suffer more from a fire up by Colorado Springs or Denver than we will from a fire down here because those are the ones who get the big press,” said Durango’s Mickel, noting how wildfire coverage tends to deter vacationers.

This year — knock wood — lasting snowpacks and spring storms have dampened the wildfire scene, giving outfitters a head start on what could be the best season in five years.

As river flows recede from the initial gush of spring snowmelt, rafters are flocking. Last week, Ryan Barwick’s MAD Adventures and Rocky Mountain Adventures rafts filled to capacity on the Colorado and Cache la Poudre rivers and Clear Creek.

“My gut feeling is that we are seeing some pent-up demand, but it’s hard to quantify,” said Barwick, who had all 75 of his employees on deck as he reached capacity for tours on the Poudre and Clear Creek. “The economy has stabilized and people are traveling. We had our best preseason bookings in five years. Now that we are past the high-water phase, the floodgates are open.”

High flows and stormy afternoons delayed the start of the rafting season, which hits its peak this holiday weekend. But the winter’s healthy snowfall has built a lasting snowpack up high, translating to consistent flows in rivers down low. Flowing rivers have sated agricultural users farther east, and those users have yet to place widespread calls for irrigation water from reservoirs. That means rafters could enjoy sustained, buoyant flows when those calls do happen in the next two months.

The river riding season is shaping up to last well into September, maybe even October, said David Costlow, president of the Colorado River Outfitters Association, which represents 44 outfitters operating on 19 rivers and creeks in the state. That promise of consistent flows allows outfitters to book trips into the shoulder months.

“When you are not sure what the water flows are going to be, you tend not to book. But when you are going to have flows, you are more positive and people are more inclined to book trips,” said Costlow, who predicts the season user tally could top the half-million mark last seen in 2008. “Let’s hope things stay strong for a while.”

Meanwhile, the runoff was pretty well-behaved keeping flooding losses down. Here’s a report from Ryan Maye Handy writing for the Fort Collins Coloradon. Here’s an excerpt:

The snowmelt season is over in Northern Colorado and it was far less damaging than state officials initially feared.

Although state highway officials were bracing for catastrophic spring flooding in areas weakened by the September 2013 flood, there was little severe flood damage along the Front Range as the state’s snowpack melted…

Water flow in parts of the canyon almost broke records this year, according to measurements taken at the canyon’s mouth. There the river hit its peak on May 31, when it hit 6,000 cubic feet per second — equal to about 6,000 basketballs floating by each second.

That’s the second-highest peak flow recorded at the canyon mouth since 1957, according to records kept by the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District.

“The only other time it went higher was in 1983, when it was 6,725 cfs,” said Brian Werner, a spokesman for the district.

The Poudre’s levels can be fickle — subject to rain, snowmelt and water use — and rafter Ryan Barwick, owner of Rocky Mountain Adventures, cautioned against letting one gauge speak for the rest of the river.

“We can have great flows up there for rafting, but have a trickle at the canyon mouth,” he said.

The 6,000 cfs level didn’t strike him as unusually high.

“If you talk to most boaters, they remember most years when over 5,000 in the canyon was commonplace,” he added.

The mountains west of Fort Collins have been emptied of most of their water, said Treste Huse, a hydrologist with the National Weather Service in Boulder. Snowpack measurement gauges at Joe Wright Reservoir are down to 1.7 inches of snow water equivalent — the amount of water the snow contains. The reservoir gauge had 32 inches of snow water equivalent at its peak.

Many of the northern Front Range’s snow gauges are “all melted out,” Huse said.

Spring rains in May and snowpack levels have left most of Northern Water’s reservoirs full — Horsetooth Reservoir has been full at least twice this spring, and Lake Granby is just 3 feet from spilling over, Werner said.

“We are as full as we have ever been,” he said. “We may have been this full in 1962.

The Summer 2014 Water Information Program newsletter is hot off the presses

Geothermal Electrical Generation concept -- via the British Geological Survey
Geothermal Electrical Generation concept — via the British Geological Survey

Click here to read the newsletter.

More education coverage here.

US Senate candidate Cory Gardner gets an earful about the federal role for water in the West #COpolitics

From The Greeley Tribune (Eric Brown):

Proposed rules could place “basically every drop of Colorado water” under the federal government’s jurisdiction, increasing permitting requirements, mitigation and costs for projects needed to ensure future water supplies in a state that’s expecting big shortages.

That was the general consensus among the several water officials, representatives of the agriculture industry and others who traveled from across the state to voice their concerns to Rep. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., at his Greeley office on Thursday.

Gardner encouraged those at the table and others who are concerned to continue raising their voices to the Environmental Protection Agency, which will take comments on its proposed rule through Oct. 20.

The EPA has long stressed that its proposed “Waters of the U.S.” rule is simply an effort to clarify protection under the Clean Water Act for streams and wetlands, since determining Clean Water Act protection became confusing and complex following Supreme Court decisions in 2001 and 2006.

But many are stressing now that the EPA’s attempted clarification would instead expand the federal government’s reach, with much more water and area falling under the EPA’s “Waters of the U.S.” rules, according to their interpretations of the proposed rules.

New projects and certain maintenance on “Waters of the U.S.” requires federal permitting and, depending on the circumstances, possibly environmental mitigation efforts, which can mean a lot of time and money for the municipality, ditch company or whoever is overseeing the effort.

As an example, Mark Pifher with Colorado Springs Utilities compared the permitting and mitigation costs of Aurora’s Prairie Water Project — which was only $1.5 million, because it didn’t fall under “Waters of the U.S.” rules — to the $150 million in permitting and mitigation it took for the Colorado Springs Southern Delivery System, which did fall under “Waters of the U.S.” rules.

Along with more projects and maintenance facing increased permitting and costs, some on Thursday even expressed concerns of the EPA eventually taking control of water in Colorado, because the state’s individual water-rights holders wouldn’t be able to put them to use.

Water officials from across Colorado stressed that the EPA’s rules are a one-size-fits-all approach, and don’t take into account how differently water works in the semi-arid or arid West — where water storage, reuse, groundwater recharge and other efforts are needed to get by —­ compared to the much wetter eastern U.S.

The “connectivity” language in the proposed rules — which places areas and waters that are merely “connected” to “Waters of the U.S.” under the federal government’s jurisdiction — is particularly concerning to those who were at Gardner’s table Thursday.

The group said the fact that the EPA still believes it’s only clarifying its rules and not expanding its reach only reveals a big misunderstanding of how water works in the West and in Colorado.

Some at the table Thursday said that perhaps Congress — with representation of all states — is better equipped than the EPA to take charge of the rule-making.

Ag groups — like the Colorado Farm Bureau, which was represented at the table by Don Shawcroft, the organization’s president — are pushing their “Ditch the Rule” campaign.

Among other points, Shawcroft noted that the EPA’s existing “agriculture exemptions,” which would still apply under the new rules, wouldn’t do much good for farmers and ranchers, since those exemptions only apply to operations that are still under the same ownership and under the exact same practices as they were in 1977.

“Agriculture has changed a lot since then,” he added.

Impacts on NISP?

Eric Wilkinson — general manager of the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District in Berthoud, which oversees the largest water-supply project in the region, the Colorado-Big Thompson Project — said “basically every ditch” and “every drop of Colorado water” could fall under the EPA’s jurisdiction under the new rules.

Because of that, he and everyone else at the table stressed, that the future costs and time to permit water projects or maintenance might detour officials, water providers or others from pursuing certain needed actions.

And in a state that, according to the 2010 Statewide Water Supply Initiative study, is expected to see a municipal and industrial water-supply gap of as many as 1 million acre-feet by 2050, and also see as many as 700,000 acres of irrigated farm ground dry up by that same year, many water projects are needed, they say.

Under the proposed rule, Wilkinson said one of the “needed projects” that Northern Water is overseeing — the Northern Integrated Supply Project, or NISP, which would build a new reservoir near Fort Collins and another one near Ault — could possibly have to “go back to the drawing board” on some its federal permitting efforts, which have already been in the works by Northern Water for more than a decade.

Wilkinson and others said the complications resulting from more area and water in Colorado falling under “Waters of the U.S.” rules could also detour collaborative water efforts between cities and farmers. As many retiring farmers over the years have sold their valuable water rights to growing cities, many are now pushing for alternative water transfers between farmers and cities that would reduce the amount of water permanently leaving the state’s farms.

Improvements to irrigation ditches and other irrigation systems, too, could require more permitting and more costs under the new rules.

“There’s certainly more questions than answers,” noted West Slope rancher and Colorado Farm Bureau Vice President Carlyle Currier.

More 2014 Colorado November election coverage here.