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

Upper Colorado River precipitation December 1 thru December 28, 2014
Upper Colorado River precipitation December 1 thru December 28, 2014

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

Drought news: Snowy Christmas week in the central Rockies

Click on a thumbnail graphic for a gallery of drought data.

Click here to go to the US Drought Monitor website. Here’s an excerpt:


Significant precipitation shifted into the Northwest, ending California’s period of favorably wet weather. During the 7-day monitoring period, precipitation totaled 4 inches or more in parts of the Pacific Northwest and ranged from 2 to 4 inches across portions of the northern Rockies. Lingering showers dotted northern and central California, but mostly dry weather prevailed in southern California and the Desert Southwest. Farther east, several disturbances crossing the Plains provided snow in advance of the strongest push of cold air in nearly a month. Snow was also reported as far south as Oklahoma and northern Texas, while generally light freezes were noted in California’s Central Valley. In late December, unusual warmth across the eastern half of the U.S. was replaced by cooler weather. Prior to the push of colder air, near- or above-normal temperatures had dominated the country for 3 weeks. Elsewhere, heavy rain soaked the Southeastern and Atlantic Coast States. The rain largely eased concerns about short-term dryness and drought development, but also caused local flooding. Rainfall was especially heavy, totaling 4 inches or more, from the central Gulf Coast into parts of the Carolinas. On December 23-24, a late-year tornado outbreak accompanied the heavy rain.

As the drought-monitoring period came to an end, a developing storm brought the promise of accumulating snowfall across the southwestern U.S. Any drought-related impacts will be covered next week, since nearly all of the precipitation associated with the storm fell after the cutoff time of 7 am EST (4 am PST) on December 30…

Central and Southern Plains

Rapidly changing conditions in late December—markedly cold weather, along with some light snow and freezing rain—followed a period of relative tranquility. By December 27, daily-record snowfall amounts included 3.5 inches in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, and 2.0 inches in Wichita Falls, Texas. Additional freezing and frozen precipitation arrived on December 29-30. Nevertheless, there were some small-scale changes (for the worse) introduced across the southern Plains, mostly related to an evaluation of long-term impacts of the multi-year drought on water supplies. For example, reservoirs in Texas were five-eighths (62.6 percent) full at the end of 2014, compared to 64.3 percent at the end of 2013. Historically, reservoirs in Texas are collectively about 80 percent full in late December…

Northern Plains and Upper Midwest

No changes were made across the northern Plains and upper Midwest, where the coldest weather in a month arrived in late December. Several periods of light precipitation preceded and accompanied the return to cold weather. Outside of area of abnormal dryness (D0), Sioux City, Iowa, received enough precipitation during the monitoring period to secure its wettest year on record. Through December 29, the total of 41.36 inches (149 percent of normal) in Sioux City surpassed its 1903 annual standard of 41.10 inches. Farther north, the Red River Valley and neighboring areas remained rather dry at time periods of 30 to 90 days or more, maintaining status quo for the broad area of D0 and the small area of D1…

The West, Including California

With the storm track shifting farther north, significant precipitation overspread the Northwest. December 25 became the snowiest Christmas Day on record in Wyoming locations such as Lander (9.6 inches) and Cheyenne (6.8 inches). With precipitation spilling across the High Plains, December 25-26 snowfall totals included 10.6 inches in Scottsbluff, Nebraska; 7.7 inches in Cheyenne, Wyoming; and 5.1 inches in Denver, Colorado. Across the western slopes of the northern Rockies, precipitation was heavy enough to result in some very slight trimming of dryness and drought. Closer to the Pacific Coast, and especially in the Cascades, an interesting winter continued to unfold. Since October 1, season-to-date precipitation in the Cascades has generally averaged 105 to 125 percent of normal. However, with an unusual amount of the precipitation falling as rain, the late-December snowpack contained only about one-third to one-half of its typical amount of water for this time of year—except closer to 75 percent of normal in the northern Cascades of Washington State. This discrepancy—overall wet conditions but meager snowpack—has led to some mixed drought indicators, such as favorable rangeland, pasture, and winter grain growth and improved soil moisture, while concerns persist with respect to the possibility of limited runoff into streams and reservoirs during the upcoming spring snow-melt season.

Many of the same concerns persisted in California, especially given the return of drier weather during the last one-third of December. According to the California Department of Water Resources, the high-elevation Sierra Nevada snowpack held only about one-half of its normal water (roughly 5 vs. the normal of 10 inches) for this time of year. At the same time, California’s December rainfall left winter wheat rated 80 percent in good to excellent condition on December 28, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. However, California’s rangeland and pastures still have a long recovery ahead of them; they were rated 70 percent poor to fair by USDA on December 28, up only slightly from 65 percent on November 23. Due to heavy rain in extreme northwestern California (and adjacent areas in southwestern Oregon), there was some slight trimming of drought coverage…

Looking Ahead

For the upcoming 5-day period (December 31, 2014 – January 4, 2015), a developing storm will produce an expanding area of precipitation across the southern U.S. On New Year’s Eve, snow will engulf the mountains of the Southwest. Some of the heaviest snow will fall in northern Arizona, although snow levels dropping below 2,000 feet could result in accumulations in some desert locations. Meanwhile, freezing rain may cause holiday travel disruptions in parts of western and central Texas. Later, the storm will shift eastward, bringing a return of heavy rain (1 to 3 inches) to the South and East. Some sleet and freezing rain may occur along the northern edge of the precipitation shield. Cold air will remain entrenched nearly nationwide, particularly across the western and central U.S., with freeze-protection measures required for sensitive crops, such as citrus, in parts of California.

The NWS 6- to 10-day outlook for January 5 – 9, 2015, calls for the likelihood of above-normal precipitation in southern Texas and from the Pacific Northwest to the Great Lakes region. Meanwhile, drier-than-normal conditions can be expected in much of the Southeast and from central and southern California eastward to the southern Plains. Cold conditions will persist from the Midwest into the Northeast, but warmer-than-normal weather will continue across southern Florida and return across much of the West.

The latest Middle Colorado Watershed Council newsletter is hot off the presses #ColoradoRiver

Sage Grouse in winter photo via Middle Colorado Watershed Council
Sage Grouse in winter photo via Middle Colorado Watershed Council

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

The Middle Colorado Watershed Council (MCWC) is working with a variety of stakeholders on plans to improve the quality of waters in the Rifle Creek watershed, including east, middle, and west Rifle Creek and Government Creek. Studies indicate that the voluntary installation of best management practices could provide a net environmental benefit for water users, downstream fisheries, and wildlife. If funded, the monies will be used in a cost-share arrangement with participating entities.

Post-flood master plans for three Boulder County creeks ready for review — Longmont Times-Call

From the Longmont Times-Call (Joe Rubino):

It’s been more than 15 months since Boulder County was wracked by historic rainfall that caused area creeks to jump their banks, and, in some cases, create new channels entirely, resulting in extensive damage to homes and infrastructure along the way.

Following an exhaustive public process, Boulder County officials announced earlier this month that they have finalized post-flood master plans for three local creeks: Fourmile, Left Hand and the St. Vrain.

The plans are meant to be comprehensive guides outlining how best to restore and stabilize the watersheds for each body of water, including recommendations for bank stabilization, debris removal, re-vegetation and even channel realignment on public and private properties.

While many of the individual projects contained in the plans are not funded, charting them out is expected to give stakeholders, especially municipalities, a leg up in securing the money needed.

“If we identify the improvements in the plans it makes it much more likely they will be funded by grants coming from the state and federal government,” Boulder County Transportation Director George Gerstle said.

Gerstle’s was among many county departments, including Land Use, Open Space, and Health and Environment, that contributed to drafting the master plans, but he credited the property owners and other groups concerned with the county’s environment with spurring the process forward.

“Though we lead the efforts it really was a coalition of all the property owners and all of the interest groups that really made this possible,” he said. “It was a pretty intensive effort by a lot of people to put together, but I think some pretty great documents have come out of it.”

The county also employed the services of engineering consulting firm Michael Baker for the process.

Naturally, there are many property owners who want to get to work on when the county’s various creeks and streams pass through their land, and Gerstle said the master plans are an important tool to make sure all work that is done has the entire watershed in mind.

“A lot of property owners want to do something to stabilize the creek and this provides guidance on how to do it while maintaining the environmental integrity,” he said. “One thing we learned is we can look at (the creeks) bit by bit, we have to see how it all works together.”

A creek of particular importance is the St. Vrain.

Gerstle pointed out that the stream completely changed its traditional alignment just west of Longmont, leading to heavy damage in the city. The master plan outlines steps to put it back in its channel and keep it there in a way the respects the natural environment.

Dale Rademacher, Longmont’s general manager of public works and natural resources, said he appreciated the opportunity for collaboration presented by the master planning process and the way it looked at the St. Vrain as a whole from it origins near the Great Divide down to it confluence with Boulder Creek.

“We’re pretty happy with the outcome. This is a foundational document necessary to go forward for state and federal funding and we think it serves that purpose pretty well,” he said.

Rademacher highlighted one project in the St. Vrain plan that he said could be underway next month. It involves creation of an overflow channel for Heron Lake that would direct flood waters away from Airport Road, an important street that still has flood barriers sitting alongside it just in case.

Rademacher said the Heron Lake project is intended to “intercept flood flows that may come through the area again,” and protect property nearby. He said the project, which is the subject to an intergovernmental agreement between city and county officials, is expected to cost around $700,000 and is being put out to bid within the next week with construction hopefully beginning in January.

More South Platte River Basin coverage here.

South Platte Basin: Road de-icer and Cherry Creek

De-icer application via FreezGard
De-icer application via FreezGard

From 9News.com (Brandon Rittman):

Denver’s Cherry Creek got saltier over the past decades, with chloride levels on pace to pose a danger to fish in the city’s iconic tributary of the South Platte River…

Cherry Creek’s winter average rose closer to that threshold, measuring 174 mg/l between 2006 and 2010, which is up from a wintertime average of 122 mg/l during the 1990 to 1994 seasons – a jump of 43 percent.

The USGS says as more areas become urbanized, the use of rock salt on roads and sidewalks increases, making its way into streams.

More importantly, the data shows the problem compounding year over year because stream systems are not able to flush out all of the salt during the warm months.

The effect is a higher baseline of salt content each year, allowing the levels to inch upward each cold season in urban areas.

Salt compounds like magnesium chloride and rock salt are highly effective at decreasing the hazards of icy surfaces.

“Deicing operations help to provide safe winter transportation conditions, which is very important,” the study’s lead author Steve Corsi said in a press release. “Findings from this study emphasize the need to consider deicer management options that minimize the use of road salt while still maintaining safe conditions.”

There are few true alternatives to road salt, and other treatments can come with their own pollution problems. For instance, applying sand to roadways can cause air pollution when cars grind the material into dust.

The USGS study found similar increases over the time period in other areas of the country, with the most severe chloride pollution levels measured in midwestern cities like Milwaukee, Chicago, Detroit, and Cleveland.

Salt applied in winter is a concern year-round. The study concludes, “elevated chloride concentrations in these streams through all seasons have implications on long-term exposures to chloride for aquatic organisms.”

The average summertime chloride level in Cherry Creek rose from 62 to 101 mg/l during the time periods in the study.

By contrast, the study found streams in less-developed areas of Wisconsin and Oregon were able to maintain average chloride levels measurable in single digits.

More water pollution coverage here.

Biggest Cloud-Seeding Experiment Yet Only Sparks More Debate — Allen Best

Cloud-seeding graphic via Science Matters
Cloud-seeding graphic via Science Matters

From Live Science (Allen Best):

…the results of the most scientific study of cloud seeding done yet are in. Researchers found that seeding clouds with droplets of silver iodide does slightly increase precipitation, boosting levels by 5 to 15 percent. However, experts disagree about whether this small increase means cloud-seeding efforts should expand…

A 2003 National Research Council report called “Critical Issues in Weather Modification Research” sharply criticized the core idea. Although human activities can clearly affect weather, “there is still no convincing scientific proof of the efficacy of intentional weather-modifications efforts,” the committee wrote in the report. [Weirdo Weather: 7 Rare Weather Events]

The problem, the report added, was “the absence of adequate understanding of critical atmospheric processes that, in turn, leads to a failure in producing predictable, detectable and verifiable results.”

Researchers in Wyoming accepted the challenge of finding such verifiable results. They conducted a $14 million randomized blind statistical experiment that was designed and evaluated by the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR). The primary laboratory consisted of two parallel mountain ranges, the Sierra Madre and Medicine Bow. During six winters, from 2008 into 2014, the researchers seeded storms that blew over both mountain ranges.

During any particular storm, researchers seeded the clouds over one range, with the other range serving as the control. To be eligible for seeding, the storms had to bring mountaintop temperatures to lower than 17 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 8 degrees Celsius), and the clouds needed to have super-cooled liquid water. In less scientific terms, the storms had to be moist.

Researchers had expected 60 to 70 storms each winter would meet these criteria. But far fewer that did, according to an executive summary of the report distributed Dec. 17 to the Wyoming Water Development Commission. Altogether, 118 storms were seeded and generated usable data.

The results showed no significant increase in precipitation from storms that were seeded.

So, cloud seeding is a dud? The report said no. Lacking the desired number of storms needed for a better statistical analysis of precipitation, the researchers turned to measuring cloud seeding’s effect on variable infiltration capacity, which is a measure of snowmelt-driven streamflow. This modeling yielded a more optimistic takeaway of a 5- to 15-percent increase in precipitation, the researchers reported at the conference of the Colorado River Water Users Association on Dec. 18 in Las Vegas.

But the real bottom line is that this is cheap water. NCAR estimated it would cost $35 to $107 per acre-feet of water in the North Platte River Basin if a 10 percent seeding effect affected 60 percent of the basin. Water in the basin has been marketed on a temporary basis for $30 and $75 per acre-foot. At the headwaters of the Colorado River, near Vail and Breckenridge, water is valued at up to $40,000 per acre-foot. In water, as in real estate, location matters entirely.

The results seem to have changed few minds. In listening to the findings, cloud-seeding supporters heard evidence that the method works, and those who were skeptical before remained skeptical.

“It confirms what we already thought,” said Thomas Ryan, of the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, a consortium that delivers drinking water to 19 million people. Cloud seeding is just one tool for getting more water to a population, but an inexpensive one, he said.

Others also cited that low cost. Tom Buschatzke, assistant director for Arizona’s Water Planning Division, said Wyoming’s study may justify cloud seeding in the Gila River drainage in Arizona and New Mexico.

But Brad Udall, from the Colorado Water Institute, said he was unimpressed. “It’s in the modeling that they get these higher numbers of 10 to 15 percent,” he said. “These statistics still aren’t very good.” Like the other observers, though, he conceded that cloud seeding is a low-risk venture, producing inexpensive water if it has even a small effect. But he said the technique was unlikely to make much difference except on the margins.

Yet to be seen is whether the federal government jumps back into weather modification. The government funded a great deal of weather modification research and operations beginning in the 1950s, peaking in 1972 before budgets were slashed, a slide that continued into the 1980s. In 2005, the Bureau of Reclamation issued a letter announcing no funding was forthcoming for weather modification.

But the bureau conducted a meeting of Western water stakeholders in Denver this November to “get our arms around what constitutes good science at this point,” said Dan Raff, the bureau’s science advisor.

The meeting did not, he said, come in response to declining reservoirs on the Colorado River, but rather due to an “interest in having as much water supply as possible.” However, the agency did invest $200,000 in seeding clouds in the Wind River Range of Wyoming. To the extent the seeding succeeds, Las Vegas, Phoenix and Los Angeles will benefit.

More cloud seeding coverage here.

NWS Boulder: The latest temperature and precipitation outlooks for January thru March 2015

Snowpack news: Upper Colorado Basin = 115% of avg (best in state), Upper Rio Grande improves = 70%

Click on a thumbnail graphic for a gallery of snowpack data from the Natural Resources Conservation Service

Colorado Water Congress 2015 Annual Convention January 28-30

David Robbins and J.C. Ulrich (Greg Hobbs) at the 2013 Colorado Water Congress Annual Convention

Click here to register. From the website:

Our premier event draws more than 500 attendees from across Colorado, including legislators, representatives of state and federal agencies, leading water attorneys, water resource managers, engineers, scientists and a broad spectrum of water users. All share concerns about the legislation, management, protection and preservation of Colorado’s water.

Please email Meg Meyer below in the question box or call 303-837-0812 x2 with any questions.

Registration by fax or mail Click HERE.

From email from the Colorado Water Congress (Fiona Smith):

Registration is open to the public for the 2015 Colorado Water Congress Annual Convention. From January 28-30, 2014, the Hyatt Regency Denver Tech Center will host the premier water industry event in the state, attracting 500+ attendees who convene for networking and collaboration on the important water issues of the day.

Our population is increasing, our climate is constantly throwing curve balls, and our cities are growing taller. Whether we recognize it or not, we have already begun to rethink water both in terms of how we manage it professionally and interact with it personally. Now is the time to join water experts from across the state as we celebrate our successes in water management innovation and plan towards a future with new ideas and flexible philosophies.

A full day of workshops begins on Wednesday at 8:00am. Join us as we use case studies to define and understand our environmental values, and work with media experts to delve into the intricacies of storytelling. The Colorado Ditch and Reservoir Company Alliance will introduce a new model that hopes to aid in the implementation of Colorado’s Water Plan.

The primary Convention sessions will begin on Thursday. We are excited to announce that Dr. Wallace J. Nichols will be Thursday’s lunch speaker at the 2015 CWC Annual Convention. Dr. Nichols is the author of the New York Times Bestseller, Blue Mind, which explains, “the surprising science that shows how being near, in, on, or under water can make you happier, healthier, more connected, and better at what you do.” Dr. Nichols will offer a new perspective and a thought-provoking activity.

In conjunction with the Annual Convention, Colorado State University Water Resources Archive will host their annual Water Tables Event Thursday, January 29 from 6:15-9:15pm. The evening will feature a presentation by the Honorable Ken Salazar, former US Secretary of the Interior.

The CWC Annual Convention is open to the public. Learn more, view the agenda, and register at: http://www.cowatercongress.org

CSU Water Archives Water Tables 2015 — Partnering the Waters, January 29

From the Water Tables 2015 website:

Welcome to Water Tables 2015! We are excited to be working in conjunction with the Annual Convention of the Colorado Water Congress to host our annual fundraising dinner in Denver on Thursday, January 29, at the Hyatt Regency in Denver.

A fundraising dinner for the Water Resources Archive, Water Tables features hosted tables for an evening of conversation on specified topics. Guests have their choice of host on a first-come, first-served basis.

5:00 to 6:15 p.m.: Reception
6:15 to 7:45 p.m.: Dinner/Table Discussion
7:45 to 8:15 p.m.: Presentation
8:15 to 9:30 p.m.: Dessert/Table Discussion

Keynote Speaker: Ken Salazar

Topic: Partnering the Waters

Partnering to use, move and protect water in Colorado and the West has been occurring since the first humans set foot in these arid lands. Water partnerships may not have always been easy to form or smooth to maintain, but they make for some interesting stories. In modern times, partnerships prove essential to any watery endeavor, whether irrigating crops, saturating cities or protecting nature. At Water Tables 2015, more than twenty water leaders from Colorado and beyond will host table discussions on a mix of historical lessons, professional experiences and potential future needs, all related to partnerships. Come partner with the Water Resources Archive and join the discussion!

Click here to register (and register for the Colorado Water Congress Annual Convention at the same time).

Remembering an environmental science pioneer — High Country News

Theo Colburn via Power of One Woman
Theo Colburn via Power of One Woman

From the High Country News (Joshua Zaffos):

Theo, who died December 14 at age 87, lived a life rooted in commitment and boldness. After years as a small-town pharmacist and sheep farmer in western Colorado while raising her four children, she went through a divorce and decided to study watershed science and the environment. She earned her Ph.D at age 58, an unlikely third act in life.

“So many people – sometimes much younger – were in awe of what she accomplished and to realize that she began that work at the age of 58 is so inspiring,” says Carol Kwiatkowski, executive director of The Endocrine Disruption Exchange, the nonprofit research clearinghouse that grew out of Theo’s kitchen repository.

Theo’s Great Lakes doctoral research found manmade chemicals accumulating in female birds, fish and wildlife and, alarmingly, being passed along to their offspring and impacting early development. The findings introduced scientists and policymakers to the uncomfortable consequences of endocrine disruption.

She went on to work as a Congressional research fellow and then a scientist for World Wildlife Fund in D.C., and helped organize the first gathering of researchers studying endocrine-disrupting chemicals in 1991.

Her 1996 book, Our Stolen Future, coauthored with J. Pete Myers and journalist Dianne Dumanoski, told the story of how low-level yet chronic exposure to chemical compounds used as flame retardants, pharmaceuticals, softeners, and fragrances are stunting people’s development and fertility and increasing the probabilities of cognitive and behavioral disorders, developmental delays, thyroid problems and obesity, and cancers. In his foreword, Al Gore called the book a sequel to Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, and it’s no exaggeration to say Theo’s efforts triggered new laws and research around the world. The fact that people know what bisphenol-A is – and that many companies have removed the compound from water bottles and baby products – is part of her legacy.

The first time we met, Theo shared the bad news that I likely had lower sperm counts than men a generation ago due to the chemical burden accumulating in my body, saying, “You’re half the man your father is.” She warned everyone against microwaving plastics, because that increased the leaching of chemicals into foods and people’s bodies. While government research and regulations never lived up to her concerns, she never stopped advocating for greater oversight toward endocrine disruption. In 2012, Theo shared those concerns at a TEDx gathering, in the form of an open letter to President Obama.

Even as she got older, her memory remained razor sharp, and despite serving as a constant messenger of discomfiting news, she also maintained a delightful and animated demeanor. “She was twice the age of anybody who worked here, and we all had a hard time keeping up with her,” Kwiatkowski says.

Theo’s influence is far-flung. Remembrances shared by colleagues and friends speak to the energy and warmth that drove her work and also made her a superb science communicator. Young scientists and reporters grasped and explored the looming environmental health crisis thanks to her. Often reluctant to be quoted, she would instead direct reporters to researchers in the labs and field and to people suffering health ailments on the ground. In the last decade, Theo honed her attention on the human health effects of the oil and gas boom and the use of fracking chemicals in western Colorado and beyond.

“She was a visionary – she jumped on the whole natural gas and fracking issues before anyone was thinking about them,” Kwiatkowski says. “Her drive and tireless energy, her passion and commitment to uncovering the truth and sharing that information were really some of her defining features.”

That Goethe poem is taped to a wall at The Endocrine Disruption Exchange’s office, Kwiatkowski told me. It’s been taped to my office wall ever since, too.

Southern Delivery System: “Stormwater is a terrific concern in Pueblo” — Nick Gradisar

Fountain Creek Watershed
Fountain Creek Watershed

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Pueblo water board members [Tuesday, December 16] made it clear to Colorado Springs Utilities that they expect full compliance with all permits for the Southern Delivery System.

SDS Project Director John Fredell made it clear that Utilities has been spending millions to make sure that happens.

After Fredell’s update of progress on the SDS pipeline, water board members had a couple of pointed questions about the details.

“Stormwater is a terrific concern in Pueblo,” said board member Nick Gradisar. “What I hear in the community is that Colorado Springs had a stormwater enterprise in place when the 1041 permit was granted. I would think county commissioners would say there should be at least the same amount of money before SDS is allowed to be turned on.”

Gradisar said he and City Council member Dennis Flores are among those discussing Pueblo community options following the failure of a vote in November to establish a drainage district.

Fredell agreed stormwater funding is needed, not only to satisfy Pueblo, but to benefit Colorado Springs. That said, he also pointed out that both Pueblo County and Utilities knew the enterprise could be threatened by voters during SDS negotiations.

“In 2008, Doug Bruce took his first run at the stormwater enterprise,” Fredell said. “We could not control the vote.”

So, the negotiations for the 1041 permit focused on achieving standards for new development that would not exacerbate flood conditions, Fredell said.

“It doesn’t matter how you do it, you just have to do it,” he added.

Water board member Tom Autobee expressed concern that Lake Pueblo will drop 6 feet when SDS reaches its full capacity.

Fredell said that would not be for many years. During its first year, probably starting in 2016, SDS will pump about 5 million gallons per day. At full tilt, it would pump 78 million gallons per day.

Fredell walked the board through a laundry list of multimillion dollar commitments and benefits to Pueblo County, Fountain Creek, Lake Pueblo and the Arkansas River that Colorado Springs is paying for as a result of SDS.

They total $400 million.

Included in the list are $150 million toward wastewater system improvements since 2000 to prevent sewer lines from breaking as they cross drainages. Colorado Springs had numerous breaks in its sewer system after the 1999 flood and faced state and federal fines. There have not been any breaks for several years.

Utilities has spent $37.5 million in additional sewer line fortification toward meeting a $75 million commitment to fortify more sewer lines by 2024.

Colorado Springs also is partially funding and providing technical support for a study of water rights protection if flood-control structures are built on Fountain Creek, Fredell said.

Meanwhile, Colorado Springs Utilities is appealing a judge’s ruling that would compensate the Walker Ranches with $500,000 for mitigation along the pipeline route. Here’s a report from Chris Woodka writing for The Pueblo Chieftain:

The city of Colorado Springs is appealing a decision by Pueblo District Judge Victor Reyes that would require it to pay Pueblo County rancher Gary Walker more than $500,000 in costs in a legal dispute over value of the Southern Delivery System easement across Walker Ranches.

Reyes issued an order last week that Colorado Springs pay costs of $387,000 dating back to May 2011, plus 8 percent annual interest.

Reyes on Thursday issued another order saying the first order is binding because Colorado Springs signed an intergovernmental agreement with Pueblo County that it would cover Walker’s costs.

A condition in the 1041 permit for the SDS pipeline tates: “Private property owners shall be treated fairly by (Colorado Springs) and the SDS project shall not create undue financial burdens on existing or future residents of Pueblo County. No landowner should have out-of-pocket expenses from the project.”

Reyes went on to cite Colorado Springs’ actions in paying for second appraisals for some Pueblo West homeowners affected by the pipeline showed that the 1041 permit is binding.

Walker’s attorneys asked for the payment because a condemnation trial on the value of the 5.5-mile SDS easement has been continued several times. The trial was supposed to begin in November, but has been pushed back to April.

According to court documents, Walker’s attorneys intend to prove at trial that the value of the 97 acres involved in the easement and the damage to the rest of Walker Ranches amounts to $25 million.

Colorado Springs appraisers valued the property at less than $100,000.

“By the time of trial, this case will have been pending for approximately four years. Given the extended duration of this case, and considering that the sheer size and scope of the taking has required numerous experts, Walker Ranches requests reimbursement for its reasonable costs incurred through September 2014,” Walker Ranch’s motion for costs says.

“Granting Walker Ranches its reasonable costs now would prevent (Colorado Springs) from gaining an unfair advantage through the granting of the trial continuance. (Colorado Springs) should not be allowed to bleed Walker Ranches dry by dragging this case out even further.”

In a petition filed Wednesday with the Colorado Supreme Court, Colorado Springs argued that the payment of costs was ordered without a hearing or specific findings. Interest was included for years before any actual costs were incurred, the appeal said. It also argues that court costs can’t be granted before a trial has started.

“(Reyes’) order has ignored the controlling law on costs in at least five substantial areas, and this court should protect the citizens and ratepayers of Colorado Springs from paying $509,713.52 based on such an exceptional and unjustified order,” the appeal stated.

More Southern Delivery System coverage here.

Denver: 24th Annual Governor’s Forum on Colorado Agriculture February 25-26, 2015

Denver City Park sunrise
Denver City Park sunrise

Click here to go to the website for all the inside skinny. Here’s an excerpt:

Water, Colorado’s Treasure

At the 2015 Governor’s Forum on Agriculture, participants will hear from leading water experts about the challenges facing Colorado in meeting the water demands of a diverse state with competing needs. The program, “Water, Colorado’s Treasure” is intended to provide agriculture producers and agriculture professionals a greater insight into the challenges we face as a state in meeting increased water demands, balancing competing interests and agriculture’s role in today’s “water wars.”

NISP: Northern Water officials looking to 2019 to turn dirt for Glade Reservoir

Aerial view of the roposed Glade Reservoir site -- photo via Northern Water
Aerial view of the roposed Glade Reservoir site — photo via Northern Water

From the Loveland Reporter-Herald (Pamela Johnson):

When the Northern Integrated Supply Project was first proposed, Northern Water hoped to have Glade Reservoir complete and filled by 2013.

Now as the permitting process has stretched over a decade, the earliest date that construction could begin is 2019, with water flowing in by 2021.

“In this process, we learned a long time ago that there is no set date of when it’s going to be done,” said Brian Werner, spokesman for Northern Water, which is spearheading the project on behalf of four water districts and 11 cities and towns…

Despite delays, Northern Water is convinced that NISP and its two reservoirs, Glade and Galeton, will be built and are the answer to a growing population’s needs by storing water from the Poudre and South Platte rivers.

“Those 15 participants, their resolve is even stronger than ever,” said Werner. “The more time that goes by, the more important it is to have that water supply.”

However, an environmental group that opposes the project is just as convinced that construction will never begin and that participants are beginning to look to alternative options…

The Northern Integrated Supply Project is intended to provide additional water to the 15 Front Range providers by pulling excess water from the Poudre and South Platte rivers during plentiful years to fill two new reservoirs.

The water from the Poudre would be stored in a 5-mile-long reservoir northwest of Fort Collins. Glade Reservoir, which would be slightly larger in capacity than Horsetooth Reservoir, would hold 170,000 acre-feet of water and require relocation of seven miles of U.S. 287.

The second reservoir, Galeton, would hold 40,000 acre-feet northeast of Greeley and would be filled from the South Platte River downstream from Greeley. This water would be delivered to two irrigation companies in exchange for their Poudre River water.

Save the Poudre and other groups that oppose NISP say that science shows this project would drain the river to a mere trickle through Fort Collins, impacting habitat, wildlife, fishing, tubing, kayaking and trails that span the river corridor…

Northern Water says say this scenario will never happen. With required minimum flows in the river, Werner has said the water would be pulled only in years when there is excess.

And as soon as a supplemental environmental impact statement is released, Northern Water will begin working with Colorado Parks and Wildlife to mitigate any habitat or wildlife concerns, Werner said.

“Once the supplemental is out, we will start moving on some of these areas that have been stuck in molasses,” Werner said.

What is the process?

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineer is the lead federal agency on the permitting process for the proposed water project.

The first step of creating an environmental impact statement began more than a decade ago — in August 2004.

Four years later, the first draft EIS was opened to public comment. During that time, supporters and opponents rallied at several public hearings and community events.

The federal agency then announced in 2009 that a supplemental draft EIS was necessary to include additional studies.

The supplemental report was anticipated to be released this year but instead was pushed back to sometime in 2015. If that does indeed happen, a final decision could come in 2016. If it’s approved, design would take place in 2017-2018, then construction in 2019…

How much does it cost?

As the project timeline has stretched out over the years, the cost too has stretched.

Northern Water and the participating water providers are paying for the studies and costs associated with permitting. So far they have spent about $14 million just for permitting, and Werner estimates that each additional year adds $1 million to $1.5 million to the tally.

Once a final decision is issued, and if that decision allows the project, construction is estimated at $500 million. That, too, could change depending on the final design, the year it is built and the economy.

“We’re at the mercy of the process and the federal government on this one,” said Werner. “It’s been an interesting ride.”

More Northern Integrated Supply Project coverage here and here.

Cloud seeding study boosts hopes in parched West — WyoFile

Cloud-seeding graphic via Science Matters
Cloud-seeding graphic via Science Matters

From Environment & Energy Daily (Annie Snider) via WyoFile:

As a painful reckoning sets in throughout the West, where the Colorado River Basin is in its 15th straight year of drought, desperate water managers are welcoming a new cloud-seeding study as rare good news.

The concept of cloud seeding — using aircraft or ground-based generators to inject microscopic particles of silver iodide into clouds around which ice crystals can form and fall as snow — dates back to the 1940s.

Today, ski resorts, water districts and farmers across the West swear by the practice to produce both snow and water, spending millions of dollars a year on machines and flights.

But proving that money is well-spent has been tricky. Because, while it might snow or rain after a cloud’s been seeded, it’s hard to know whether the seeding actually caused the precipitation…

Wyoming’s Legislature took the challenge and, buoyed by coffers filled from oil and gas severance taxes, poured $14 million into a major study over the past 10 years that employs the latest scientific techniques recommended by the NRC panel, as well as an independent evaluation team.

The topline findings, recently unveiled to the Legislature: Seeding the right storms the right way can produce 5 to 15 percent more precipitation. That could increase streamflows by as much as 3.7 percent, the researchers’ initial findings indicate.

The study also found seeding to have next to no downwind impact, suggesting seeding storms to get precipitation in one place is not decreasing precipitation elsewhere.

“We know that silver iodide produces ice crystals, so really it ends up being an engineering problem: Can the ice crystals get into the right cloud at the right place and can we do all this?” said Roy Rasmussen, a senior scientist with the National Center for Atmospheric Research who led the study’s outside evaluation team.

“That’s what the Wyoming program demonstrated: That, yes, they can do it,” he said. “With modern technologies — through satellite-controlled silver iodide generators, and with good forecasting, with good real-time modeling — we can figure out when the storms are right for seeding and apply the seeding, and there is a measurable effect.”

More cloud seeding coverage here.

Cooperation keys latest pact to protect Lake Mead — Las Vegas Review Journal

Arizona Navy photo via California State University
Arizona Navy photo via California State University

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

Eighty years ago, Arizona sent national guard troops in commandeered ferryboats to try to stop California from diverting more water from the Colorado River.

A lot has changed since the days of the “Arizona Navy.”

Now the two states have joined with Nevada on yet another cooperative effort aimed at saving drought-stricken Lake Mead by giving up some of their own hard-fought water resources.

The latest pact calls for the three states and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation to set aside 740,000 acre-feet of water over the next three years and up to 3 million acre-feet by 2020 to slow the decline of the shrinking reservoir.

If successful, the series of “pilot drought response actions” could keep the reservoir from dipping below a critical shortage line that would require Nevada and Arizona to cut their Colorado River use.

But the effort is about more than staving off the first-ever shortage declaration on the river, said John Entsminger, general manager of the Southern Nevada Water Authority. It’s part of what he called a “major evolution on the river,” which was once governed by bitter infighting and self-interest. Today, he said, water users seem to recognize “everybody’s stake in maintaining a healthy river system.”

“We’re all in this together,” Entsminger said, and keeping Lake Mead from shrinking too far “is good for everyone.”

“That mindset has been building over the past decade, in my opinion,” he said.

The new agreement was signed in Las Vegas late last week during the annual meeting of the Colorado River Water Users Association. Entsminger said it provides a basic road map for more specific plans that will be developed and negotiated starting early next year.

Arizona has committed to leaving 345,000 acre-feet of water in Lake Mead over the next three years, while California would leave 300,000 acre-feet and Nevada would leave 45,000 acre-feet. Another 50,000 acre-feet will come from the Bureau of Reclamation through efficiency improvements, mostly at the southern end of the river where much of its flow is diverted for agriculture near the U.S.-Mexico border.

That initial 740,000 acre-feet of so-called “protection volumes” represents enough water to supply the Las Vegas Valley for more than three years. The larger goal of the new pilot program is to sock away 1.5 million to 3 million acre feet in Lake Mead over the next five years.

One acre-foot is enough to supply two average valley homes for more than a year. As a general rule, the surface of Lake Mead rises about one foot for every 100,000 acre-feet of additional water, so the program could restore 30 feet or more to a reservoir that has seen its surface drop by 130 feet since record drought took hold on the Colorado River in 2000…

Entsminger said Nevada can meet its 45,000 acre-foot commitment under the agreement without pumping a drop, since the Las Vegas Valley only consumes about 220,000 acre-feet of the state’s annual river allotment of 300,000 acre-feet. The authority also could pump some of its groundwater holdings in Coyote Springs Valley or use its surface water rights on the Virgin and Muddy rivers to help meet Nevada’s 45,000 acre-foot share.

The authority has left a portion of its unused Colorado River water behind to help boost Lake Mead for the past several years, he said.

Keeping Lake Mead from dropping is of particular concern in the Las Vegas Valley, which draws 90 percent of its water from the reservoir through two intake pipes that will stop working should the lake level fall below 1,000 feet above sea level.

The water authority is on track to finish a new, $817 million deep-water intake at Lake Mead by next summer. Authority board members signed off last week on plans to build a $650 million pumping station that will allow the new intake to continue working even if the lake drops more than 200 feet from where it is now.

The new agreement comes on the heels of another water-saving pact struck in July by the four largest communities fed by the river. The Colorado River System Conservation Program will pay farmers, cities and power plant operators to conserve, keeping the unused water in Lake Mead.

That program was seeded with $11 million from the Southern Nevada Water Authority, the Central Arizona Water Conservation District, the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, Denver Water and the Bureau of Reclamation.

More Colorado River Basin coverage here.

Lake Mead water levels via NOAA
Lake Mead water levels via NOAA

Snowpack news: Thanks Ullr, keep it coming, all basins up since last week

Westwide SNOTEL snow water equivalent as a percent of normal December 29, 2014
Westwide SNOTEL snow water equivalent as a percent of normal December 29, 2014

Small Hyrdo Is Renewable Energy The New Congress Might Just Get Behind — KUNC

Micro-hydroelectric plant
Micro-hydroelectric plant

From KUNC (Dan Boyce):

In the rugged peaks outside Silverton, Colorado sits a prime example of the future of hydropower. It’s not a behemoth new dam blocking one of America’s rivers, it’s a humming generator no bigger than a wheelbarrow, pulling in water from a mountain stream and making enough power for about two hot water heaters.

A fledgling industry is taking shape, focused on putting small electricity generation on already existing water infrastructure – known as small hydro. It’s a flurry of new economic activity Congress can take a lot of credit for and it’s an issue with opportunity for further political compromise as Republicans take control in the U.S. Senate.

The San Juan County Historical Society operates that small generator in Silverton. It’s attached to a water pipeline at a historic mill that the group was given about 15 years ago. Mill workers used the pipeline in the early 20th century to help process gold and silver ore mined in the neighboring mountains. When Society Chair Beverly Rich wanted to use the pipeline to generate electricity, the project originally stalled when she was told her generator would have to go through a federal licensing process akin to what would be required to build a new Hoover Dam.

Back in summer 2013, the Silverton mill project was a poster child in hearings on legislation meant to showcase an overly-burdensome federal regulatory process for small hydropower. It turned out to be persuasive to lawmakers.

“Incredibly enough, in this horrible time of gridlock, it passed unanimously,” Rich said of the bill.

President Obama went on to sign that and another major reform bill for small hydro. These laws dramatically streamlined the federal licensing process for projects like the mill. Cameron Brooks, a Boulder-based energy analyst, said the package of legislation hit a rare bipartisan sweet spot. For lawmakers on the right, the legislation shrank federal bureaucracy. On the left, it meant a win for renewable energy without building new dams on America’s rivers.

Fans of small hydropower are actually happy with Congress right now. Still, they are looking for more. Kurt Johnson, a Colorado-based hydropower consultant who testified at a congressional hearing for the 2013 bills, agrees that the bills have been very helpful in spurring more development of small hydro. Yet, he describes them as a kitchen knife gently cutting the government’s red tape, when what is really needed is a machete.

“If the projects are tiny and noncontroversial,” he said, “why is the federal government involved at all?”[…]

At the base of Button Rock Dam near Longmont, Colorado, there’s a surging jet of water launching from an outlet at least 50 feet into North St. Vrain Creek. Kurt Johnson, the hydro consultant, points to that as a “great example of an enormous amount of mechanical energy which is currently being completely wasted.”

There is no generator hooked up at the outlet of Button Rock Dam. If there was, it could power 500 homes. Ironically, a project of that size is still considered small hydro; in fact, a project more than double that size would be still be labeled as such. Johnson said a developer for Button Rock is in the early stages of the federal application process set out under the 2013 bills.

The Department of Energy estimates that if generators were put on all existing non-powered dams in the U.S., like Button Rock, it would create about as much power as a dozen large coal-fired power plants – or, put another way, enough electricity for at least four million homes.

More hydroelectric/hydropower coverage here.

New Mexico to add national park: Valles Caldera — the Associated Press

East Fork Jemez River Valles Caldera New Mexico via the Associated Press
East Fork Jemez River Valles Caldera New Mexico via the Associated Press

From the Associated Press (Susan Montoya Bryan) via The Pueblo Chieftain:

The management experiment at Valles Caldera National Preserve is coming to an end as the National Park Service prepares to take over the 140-square-mile property in northern New Mexico.

The transition is among dozens of public land measures squeezed into the half-trillion-dollar defense bill signed by President Barack Obama on Friday, but details about how things will change at the preserve remain unclear.

The Park Service is taking on Valles Caldera and numerous other properties at a time when the agency is struggling with more than $11 billion in deferred maintenance at existing parks and monuments and is looking to boost entrance fees at parks across the nation to generate more revenue in advance of the agency’s centennial.

Can the agency afford what amounts to its largest expansion in nearly four decades?

U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn says no. The Oklahoma Republican said on the Senate floor that expanding the park system was “a disastrous idea” and that the nation’s existing parks were falling apart.

Since Congress already authorized the new parks, Park Service spokesman Jeff Olson said last week the agency’s job now is to find money within its existing budget as it investigates what resources will be needed to get the parks up and running. Those needs will be reflected in next year’s budget request.

Olson said the challenge of adding seven new parks in eight states is “part of what we do. We’re in the business of preserving special places for people to enjoy.”

At Valles Caldera, the transition is expected to take six months.

The preserve is home to vast grasslands, the remnants of one of North America’s few super volcanoes and one of New Mexico’s most famous elk herds. It’s also held sacred by Jemez Pueblo, a Native American community fighting in federal court to reclaim the land.

While Park Service officials say their job is to protect Valles Caldera and the new parks for future generations, the agency has acknowledged it’s facing a large backlog of maintenance projects and equipment shortages.

About 90 percent of all paved roads in the park system are in fair to poor condition, 28 bridges are considered structurally deficient and more than one-third of trails — about 6,700 miles — are in poor or seriously deficient condition.

At the same time, visits are up and the agency is dealing with more traffic and congestion.

Valles Caldera Executive Director Jorge Silva-Banuelos had his first meeting with regional park officials last week to discuss a master plan for trails at the preserve. Opening the property to more hiking, biking, snowshoeing, hunting and fishing was already in the works and Silva-Banuelos hopes that continues under the new management.

“It really is to me one of the most impressive landscapes in the Southwest, something that almost looks out of place,” he said. “It’s awe-inspiring.”

Southern Delivery System: 1 mile bore under I-25, Fountain Creek, and the railroad should be completed 1st quarter

Southern Delivery System route map -- Graphic / Reclamation
Southern Delivery System route map — Graphic / Reclamation

From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Monica Mendoza):

A giant teeth-gnashing machine is boring its way 85 feet under Interstate 25, two sets of railroad tracks and Fountain Creek. The machine is cutting a 1-mile long tunnel about 20 miles south of downtown Colorado Springs for a section of a massive pipeline project that will carry millions of gallons of water from the Pueblo Reservoir to Colorado Springs. It is the most complicated and dangerous part of the 50-mile stretch of the Southern Delivery System project, said Brian Whitehead, Colorado Springs Utilities project manager. If all goes as planned the tunnel should be completed in the first quarter of 2015.

“This is the last section of the pipe to be constructed and the most complex part,” Whitehead said. “There are risks – it’s not something anyone can do.”

Construction on the biggest Utilities project in its history began in 2010. The Southern Delivery System project was envisioned as the way for the city to handle future growth, said Jay Hardison, Colorado Springs Utilities water treatment plant project manager. It took years to plan and receive the proper permits from federal, state and county officials. The plan also was reviewed and approved by the Federal Aviation Administration because the new water treatment plant and holding tank off Colorado 94 are in the flight line near Colorado Springs Airport.

SDS cost, water rates

– Project cost: $841 million.

– Utilities customers’ water rate increased by 12 percent in 2011 and 2012 to cover cost of project.

– Utilities customers’ water rate increase by 10 percent in 2013 and 2014.

Southern delivery system timeline

2009: Final approvals and permits secured.

2010: Construction started.

2011: Construction began at Pueblo Dam and on the raw water pipeline.

2012: Pueblo Dam connection complete.

2014: Raw water pipeline construction complete.

2015: Raw water pump stations expected to be complete.

2016: Water treatment plant and finished water pump stations expected to be completed and SDS delivers water to Colorado Springs, Fountain, Security and Pueblo West.

2020-2025: Phase 2 could begin to expand capacity at the water treatment plant

Source: http://www.sdswater.org

More coverage from Monica Mendoza writing for The Colorado Springs Gazette:

At the start of the economic recession in 2008-09 work slowed at the Northwest Pipe company, which manufactures pipe in Denver. Then in 2010, the contracts for the massive $841 million Southern Delivery System project started dropping, said John Moore, Northwest Pipe operations manager. Colorado Springs Utilities was building a 50-mile pipeline from Pueblo Reservoir to Colorado Springs.

“When it dropped, we went from hanging on, hibernation mode, to Pueblo and production,” Moore said. “At the apex, we had 235 people employed working two shifts. For us it meant business was up.”

Utilities has hired 380 businesses in Colorado to plan and build the pipeline and water treatment plant, spending an estimated $489 million on contracts in the state. Of that, Northwest Pipe won $110 million in work.

The company made four to five pipes a day. In all it manufactured 7,000 pieces of pipe for the project. Beyond the direct contracts, there was a ripple effect, Moore said.

“Anytime you have a project this size, you are coordinating with suppliers and trucking companies,” Moore said. For example, during peak production, as many as 25 trucks a day left Northwest Pipe’s manufacturing facility. “We used local suppliers – the truck company was local.”

“The other thing that might be missed in the number is that most of the people who work on these crews putting the pipe in, there is a lot of inspection required, people making sure they are doing things right,” Moore said. “We have reps coming in, there is a huge travel industry associated with this project in rental cars, hotels and air travel.”

There is about one mile of pipeline left to complete in the project. Then Northwest Pipe will be done and moving on to water projects in Texas and other states, Moore said. The company has nine manufacturing plants across the country.

“Across the country, water infrastructure is getting old – water pipes are getting old,” Moore said.

More Southern Delivery System coverage here and here.

Wow! Pope Francis to issue edict mandating action on climate change — @stevesilberman

Colorado River to get new whitewater play park at Pumphouse — Steamboat Pilot & Today

Pumphouse, Radium campgrounds via the Bureau of Land Management
Pumphouse, Radium campgrounds via the Bureau of Land Management

From the Steamboat Pilot & Today (Eugene Buchanan):

While kayaking play parks have sprouted up across the West in recent decades — including the C and D Holes on the Yampa River in downtown Steamboat Springs — the region’s biggest waterway, the Colorado River, only has one engineered kayaking (and board surfing) park: the remarkably popular “wave” in Glenwood Springs.

That’s slated to change this spring, however, with construction of the Colorado’s second river park near the Pumphouse put-in just downstream of Kremmling and Class V Gore Canyon, an hour’s drive away from Steamboat.

In late November, officials from Bureau of Land Management, the Colorado Water Conservation Board, Grand County, local landowners and paddlers gathered to announce the construction of the Gore Canyon Whitewater Park right where the Colorado emerges from the Gore Canyon and enters the meandering flats of the Pumphouse Recreation Area.

The park will be located between the top two already established put-in zones.

With the stretch boasting year-round flows, the new site will create a park-and-play venue usable from early spring through fall for Colorado paddlers.

The park also is integral to protecting future flows on the heavily diverted Colorado River.

Since 2010, river conservation group American Whitewater has worked with Grand County on the park’s concept and design as well as helped secure political and financial support for the project. With input from hundreds of volunteers, American Whitewater also has defined flow ranges that sustain good paddling opportunities along that section of the Colorado River.

“The project provides important benefits to river recreation and river health, in Grand County and for many miles downstream,” American Whitewater’s Colorado Director Nathan Fey said. “This project provides certainty for downstream water users, creates new opportunities for paddlers and anglers and complements many other river management actions currently being developed across the Colorado River Basin.”

The Gore Canyon Whitewater Park is being built in association with Grand County’s Recreational In-Channel Diversion water right.

The RICD, which was filed in 2010, will protect 2,500 cubic feet per second from being taken out of the river, consistent with Colorado Water Law. Similar to the RICD obtained by the city of Steamboat Springs for the Charlie’s Hole structure downtown on the Yampa River, the new RICD for Grand County consists of a new in-channel “feature” that is required by state statute to control and measure the flow in the Colorado River at Pumphouse.

The control feature was designed by Jason Carey, of River Restoration Engineers, which also built the wave in Glenwood Springs downstream.

Consisting of engineer-designed boulders placed across the stream channel that will not be visible at normal flows and will allow for fish passage at all flow rates, the feature is being built just upstream of the second Pumphouse boat ramp.

“By building this project and securing important water rights, our communities can enjoy long-term protections for our river and for its many uses,” Fey said.

The park will enhance river-based recreational opportunities in the region; help grow the sport by providing a location for people to develop new skills; and strengthen the local economies. The groundbreaking ceremony kicked off the construction phase of the project, which is scheduled to be complete by April 2015.

More whitewater coverage here.

Oil and gas exploration with liquefied petroleum gas gel for hydraulic fracturing to reduce dependence on water

Advantages of liquid propane hydraulic fracturing via FracWire.com
Advantages of liquid propane hydraulic fracturing via FracWire.com

Conventional vs liquid propane hydraulic fracturing via FracWire.com
Conventional vs liquid propane hydraulic fracturing via FracWire.com

From The Greeley Tribune (Allison Dyer Bluemel):

Companies in drought areas have begun looking at liquefied petroleum gas gel for hydraulic fracturing as a way to reduce dependence on already-scarce water supplies.

Gas gel presents a potentially viable replacement to the millions of gallons of water used in the fracking process at each well site, said John McLennen, an associate professor of chemical engineering at the University of Utah.

Also referred to as dry fracking, the process does not involve water. Instead, highly pressurized gas is injected directly into a formation to crack the rock.

“Conceptually it’s a great idea. People are definitely looking for water substitutes,” he said.

While the gel reduces the use of water dramatically and can benefit both producers and operators, many companies have not incorporated the gel into their operations due to the explosive and flammable nature of propane, McLennen said.

Under the Colorado Oil and Gas Association, companies have the autonomy to make individual technology related decisions, spokesperson Dan Haley said.

“There are a number of different techniques that Colorado companies use in oil and gas development,” said Doug Flanders, COGA director of policy and external affairs. “The most important factor when deciding which technique works best is the type of formation where you’re trying to extract oil or gas.”

McLennen said that the advantages to gel use have yet to be fully researched or substantiated. However, it has the potential to drastically reduce water use in areas were the resource is expensive because of drought or high transportation costs.

On average, each well requires between 1 million and 5 million gallons of water during fracking operations.

In Colorado, hydraulic fracturing operations account for approximately .08 percent of water consumed statewide, with companies working on ways to re-use and recycle water annually, Haley said.

The gel would help to solve the challenge of recycling flow-back water from wells, said Jason Munro, president of GASFRAC based in Calgary, Alberta.

Oil and gas companies dispose of water that cannot be recycled, using Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission guidelines where approximately 60 percent goes into underground injection wells, 20 percent is managed in evaporation ponds, and the remaining 20 percent goes into surface waters under permits by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

The injection of water through an underground injection control well requires certain casing and cementing, monthly reporting on materials and volumes injected and pressure tests to ensure the waste stays in the designated area.

The majority of evaporation pits sit in the Raton Basin in southern Colorado, and some water is used on roads for dust suppression if it does not meet the necessary parameters for disposal in streams or rivers that are drinking sources.

Companies reuse recycled water most if the surrounding area has high demand for it in other operations; otherwise they dispose of the production water.

In the average mixture, water and sand make up roughly 99.5 percent of the mix with the additional 0.5 percent consisting of chemicals that assist the flow of sand into the formation, according to COGA.

In addition to water and sand, COGA reports that hydraulic fracturing mixtures include gelling agents to make fluids thicker cross linkers to continue to thicken fluids, breakers to thin fluids to ensure production after time, surfactants to improve production and recovery, biocides to control bacteria, and additional additives to address other challenges.

Liquefied petroleum’s lower specific gravity decreases the volume necessary in operations by half which can reduce truck traffic by up to 90 percent and eliminates the need for post stimulation transport, Munro said.

GASFRAC’s system is primarily propane due to its presence as a natural, non-damaging hydrocarbon, he said.

The liquefied petroleum gas gel alternative involves injecting petroleum gel combined with sand under high pressure into the shale at similar ratios to hydraulic fracturing, he said.

GASFRAC has worked with liquefied petroleum gas technologies since the company became operational in 2008 and provides consultation to companies in Canada and rural Texas.

The company lauds liquefied petroleum gas gel as a “rare technology breakthrough in the oil and gas industry that can deliver both economic and environmental benefits for its producers.”

GASFRAC utilizes three major components in the use of the gel: storage tanks, a sand blender and specialized high pressure pumping units.

The company’s storage tanks involve a boost pump and nitrogen pressurization which feed the gel into the sand blender. Tanks are coated with a pressurized nitrogen blanket as a safety measure, Munro said.

Proppant, such as sand, is preloaded, purged and pressurized with the nitrogen to create a sand laden mix that stimulates the reservoir.

The process ensures the even distribution of sand in the mixture, which prevents it from settling in formations.

Munro said that the gel offers fewer restrictions than water in that more sand can be added to the mix to increase down-hole pressure and that the mixture can be altered to each well more efficiently.

As a formation friendly substance, the gel reduces the damage to surrounding environment as it occurs naturally down hole and is within a closed pressurized system. On average, more than 75 percent of the propane can be recovered and sold again compared to water operations, were recycling and reusing water can present a challenge, Munro said.

Additionally, he said the presence of hydrocarbons already in production eliminates the presence of biocides found in conventional fracking operations.

“It’s way more environmentally friendly and less likely to cause seismic events such as earthquakes,” he said.

Compared to the price of water recovery, he said the gel has a minimal cost after companies resell or repurpose recovered propane.

Additionally, the lower surface tension of liquefied petroleum gas gel can also produce a higher yield from wells when used properly, Munro said.

Due to the substance acting as an energized gel, petroleum gel helps to push fracking fluid in the well which has the potential to increase the natural gas yield in the wells, McLennen said.

“There is a pretty dramatic curve,” Munro said. “If used properly there can be a dramatic uplift in production.”

Munro said that they have seen the most dramatic increase in production at their Texas sites.

Additionally, McLennen said the higher availability of propane on site allows to easier access for oil and gas companies.

Another benefit of the gel comes through the use of butane which helps performance under high-temperature surface conditions, he said.

However, McLennen said the use of gel petroleum presents safety considerations which would require new expenditures and precautions to avoid injury.

“They are very expensive and because of the explosive properties of the substances used, they can be very dangerous,” said Encana’s Media Relations Manager Doug Hock.

Hock said that due to the gel’s relatively recent appearance in the oil and gas world, very few companies know about its definite benefits and disadvantages or have done research into its applications on individual formations.

“In speaking with our chief of completions, he tells me that completely waterless fracs are seldom done,” Hock said.

Alternatively, Hock said Encana has utilized nitrogen gas in its San Juan Basin operations in New Mexico which reduces, but does not fully eliminate, water use.

“The reason for using a nitrogen (fracture) is low reservoir pressure,” he said. “While it does reduce the amount of freshwater used, that’s not why it’s used.” Nitrogen, which makes up between 30 and 70 percent of the mixture with water, is added at the wellhead in a mixture with the water and pumped down hole. The nitrogen additive appears as foam similar to shaving cream, Hock said.

Both nitrogen and CO2 do not have the same volatile properties and risk of explosion, he said.

“The main problem with propane is that it is explosive, that’s been the big challenge with it,” he said. “Of course, we’re always looking for new ways to be efficient.”

Other options, such as non-flammable hexaflouropropane used in inhalers, stand as viable options to decrease water use in hydraulic fracturing operations. Hexaflouropropane solutions virtually eliminates the flammability risk at the surface and replaces water in the fracking process, McLennen said.

In order to ensure the safety of on-site employees, GASFRAC implemented remote control shut-offs, automatic shutdowns if propane leaks are detected and thermal monitors. In addition to these precautions, no physical workers are present on site, Munro said.

Thermal cameras are used to monitor all high-pressure lines while crews monitor pressure transducers throughout the system remotely from vans offsite, according to the company’s safety statement.

“We’re the safest operations in the world,” he said. “These are the safest operations I’ve ever observed during my time in the industry.”

However, the necessary safety precautions to monitor the highly explosive propane can provide high overhead costs that can deter companies from implementing the use of gel to replace water.

“It’s not something we are exploring here for several operational and effectiveness issues,” Noble Energy Corporate Communications Manager Steve Silvers said.

While many companies, such as Noble Energy and Halliburton, do not currently use liquefied petroleum gel technology, Munro said that the growing popularity of hydrocarbon technology will lead to more widespread use of the substance in the future.

“For us it’s a game-changing technology,” he said. “It allows us to recapture and reuse (the gas) effectively.”

More oil and gas coverage here.

Greeley water conservation plan under review — The Greeley Tribune

Greeley Irrigation Ditch No. 3 construction via Greeley Water
Greeley Irrigation Ditch No. 3 construction via Greeley Water

From The Greeley Tribune (Kayla Young):

Sixty thousand is the Greeley Water and Sewer Board’s magic number. That’s how many acre feet of water the planning body expects will be needed by 2060 to sustain a population more than double its current level.

“Right now, we have about 31,000 acre feet in supplies and our demand is about 26,000 to 28,000. So we’re ahead of our demand at this point,” said Eric Reckentine, Greeley’s deputy director of water resources.

While Reckentine said Greeley sits in a much better spot than many other municipalities regarding water resources, the city will need to remain active is securing additional supplies to keep pace with growth.

“Ninety percent of our job is getting ready for what happens in the future,” he said. “What we’re doing right now is preparing supplies for future growth. We’re seeing 2 to 2-and-a-half percent growth right now.”

In October, the city released a revised version of the Greeley Water Conservation Plan to outline its supply strategy for the public.

In broad terms, the proposal identifies four key focus areas: strengthening infrastructure, continuing water acquisition, expanding storage and continuing water conservation.

The revised plan is open to public comment until Dec. 15.

A final draft will be submitted to the Greeley Water and Sewer Board for approval Jan. 21.

Broken down specifically, the water department has identified several critical projects to make 60,000 acre feet of firm, guaranteed water a reality for Greeley.

Expansion of the Milton Seaman Reservoir from 5,000 acre feet to 53,000 is among the city’s top priorities.

“Storage is critical because of the way Colorado water law works. You have to store your water in times of drought. That’s why we’re in some storage projects that we’re doing,” Reckentine said.

The first environmental impact statement for the project is expected in early 2016, and groundbreaking is slated for 2025 or 2030.

To fill the reservoir, the city will invest $90 million over the next 15 years to acquire agricultural water rights, Reckentine said.

“These are prime agricultural supplies we want to acquire. We want to store those supplies, exchange them up and store them in Milton Seaman Reservoir and then retime those supplies in times of drought,” he said. “That will give us about 10,000 acre feet of supplies once that’s completed. I have acquired about 2,100 of the 10,000 right now that we need in this program.”

Reckentine pointed to the city’s leasing program to dismiss concern that purchases by the city could limit water availability for agriculture.

In 2014, the board said 20,000 acre feet of water went to serve businesses and homes in Greeley.

An additional 24,000 acre feet of water was leased, primarily for agricultural uses. Just 300 acre feet were leased to oil and gas.

Water and sewer director Burt Knight said oil and gas needs represent a small portion of Greeley’s water use.

Regarding agricultural uses, Reckentine said that while spot leases could be restricted in drought years, he did not expect the industry to suffer from acquisitions by the city.

“There are some areas that are going to dry up but it’s not going to eliminate agriculture from our economy,” he said.

“It might be more of a cultural thing too, that people don’t want to farm as much. People have been moving to cities … that’s just the way the world is. It’s more urban and less agricultural.”

Regarding infrastructure improvements, Knight pointed to efforts over the last decade to reline piping with cement mortar lining.

He said this process has reduced system water loses from 20 percent to 5 percent.

More controversial has been completion of a 30-mile pipeline to connect the Bellvue Water Treatment Plant, located northwest of Fort Collins, to Greeley’s infrastructure.

While a majority of the pipeline has been finished, the final portion of the project has been met with opposition by property owners not satisfied to allow the pipeline to pass through their land.

“There are three property owners that we are going to need some court assistance with to acquire the easements,” Knight said. “We try very hard to work with property owners to acquire needed easements.”

Greeley water attorney Jim Witwer said condemnation, or eminent domain, is a last resort, but with far-reaching projects like this one, it is sometimes a necessary step to finish construction.

One property, owned by Brinks Trust, took Larimer County to court over its approval of Greeley’s Bellvue development plans, although the case was dismissed.

For the remaining two properties in question, one came to an easement agreement with Greeley before heading to court last week.

The third property dispute is scheduled for court review Dec. 22.

More Greeley coverage here.

Water Diversions, Part Five — Pagosa Daily Post

George Washington addresses the Continental Congress via Son of the South
George Washington addresses the Continental Congress via Son of the South

From the Pagosa Daily Post (Bill Hudson):

About halfway through the public portion of the November 25 meeting of the Pagosa Area Water and Sanitation District (PAWSD) board of directors, board member Burt Adams was pleading with the other four directors — Mike Church, Glenn Walsh, Paul Hansen and Gordon McIver — to conduct their discussion openly, in public session.

“In this public offer that CWCB has made here — this public proposal — there are at least ten items in the offer that I believe would be detrimental to PAWSD. … So we have this public document here, and I believe our discussion should be held in public.”

Director Glenn Walsh responded to Mr. Adams.

“Well, I have maybe 15 points that I’m real pessimistic on. So, going into executive session is by no means a ratification of the deal that’s on the table.”

The PAWSD meeting had been publicized as an “executive session” .. meaning that the press and the public would be excluded from the meeting. A discussion of “the deal that’s on the table” would be held in secret, in other words.

The issue itself, however, was anything but secret. The current PAWSD board has publicly rejected the idea of building a $357 million reservoir in Dry Gulch — a project that had been approved by a previous PAWSD board of directors. PAWSD had signed an Letter of Intent to cooperate with San Juan Water Conservancy District (SJWCD) president Rod Proffitt, in offering PAWSD’s 90-percent ownership of the Running Iron Ranch to the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) in exchange for some kind of “loan forgiveness” on the $9 million loan made to PAWSD by CWCB.

The CWCB staff had responded with a publicly-issued outline of a completely different agreement, seemingly aimed at getting Dry Gulch build anyway, even though — to my knowledge — no one anywhere has quantified a
the need for such a reservoir, ever since the bogus Steve Harris projections were rejected by the Colorado Supreme Court.

If you haven’t yet read the CWCB offer, you can download it here.

The Colorado Sunshine Law prohibits government boards from making decisions in secret. But the same law allows an executive session for the purpose of “instructing negotiators.” Is it possible for a board to give confidential directions to a negotiator… without making some decisions secretly? It’s a good question. In the end, four of the five PAWSD board members voted to make certain negotiating decisions in secret.

I have to give the PAWSD board a lot of credit for their lengthy discussion on November 25. I’ve witnessed a lot of local government boards go into executive session to argue very important public issues, without so much as a howdy-do. On November 25, the PAWSD board publicly argued at length — with one another and with the audience — the wisdom and ethics of discussing the CWCB offer in closed session. I’ve never witnessed a government board take an executive session vote so seriously.

However, the audience was never provided a copy of the CWCB proposal under consideration, so we were listening to a discussion that didn’t always make a lot of sense to us. It was clear, from the 51-minute public discussion, that different board members had different interpretations of the CWCB offer.

How much interest would be charged, exactly? What would happen to the $1 million SJWCD grant? How much would the balloon payment total?

More Pagosa Springs coverage here.

NWS Pueblo: Latest snowpack numbers for the Arkansas and Upper Rio Grande basins of southern Colorado

Water Lines: Colorado Water Plan delivered, key dilemmas remain — Hannah Holm

From the Grand Junction Free Press (Hannah Holm):

Colorado lurched one more step towards resolving how to satisfy growing demands for water with stable-to-diminishing supplies when Governor Hickenlooper received the first complete draft of a statewide water plan on Dec. 10.

In compiling the plan, the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) provided the latest information on current and projected water supplies and defined some “no regrets” actions that would help no matter what the future holds. These include achieving at least low-to-medium levels of conservation, completing already planned projects, implementing water re-use projects, and preserving the option of taking more water out of the Colorado River and its tributaries to meet both West and East Slope needs.

The CWCB stopped short of endorsing (or vetoing) any particular projects to meet future needs or taking a hard stand on the role conservation and land-use restrictions should play in meeting future needs. The draft plan maps the landscape, but doesn’t define the route.

The identification of specific projects was left to roundtables of water providers and stakeholders in each of the state’s major river basins. As anticipated, those basin plans conflict on the issue of whether East Slope basins can continue to rely on additional West Slope water to meet their growing needs. Approximately 500,000 acre-feet per year already flows east across the Continental Divide through ditches and tunnels that siphon off a majority of the natural flows from many headwaters streams. One acre-foot can meet the needs of two to three households for a year under current usage rates.

Seven-point draft conceptual agreement framework for negotiations on a future transmountain diversion screen shot December 18, 2014 via Aspen Journalism
Seven-point draft conceptual agreement framework for negotiations on a future transmountain diversion screen shot December 18, 2014 via Aspen Journalism

While the draft plan doesn’t say “yes” or “no” to additional transmountain diversions, it does incorporate a seven-point “draft conceptual agreement” on how to negotiate on future transmountain diversions. The draft discussion framework (there’s been a lot of push back on calling it an agreement) contains several new features in the many-decades-long debate between East and West Slope actors over transmountain diversions. It states that the East Slope is not looking for stable water deliveries each year from any such project, recognizing that it may only be able to divert in wet years and would have to use transmountain water in conjunction with non-West Slope sources, such as the Denver Basin aquifer and temporary transfers from agriculture.

The draft framework also notes the need for an “insurance policy” to protect against Colorado water users getting cut off in the event that we fail to let enough water flow beyond the state line to meet downstream obligations. Colorado and the other Upper Colorado River Basin states have never failed to meet their obligation to downstream states under the 1922 Colorado River Compact, but the margin by which we’ve exceeded it keeps diminishing. Additional use in Colorado, Utah, Wyoming and New Mexico, plus continued drought, could push us over that threshold.

While the draft framework is a tiny part of the draft Colorado Water Plan, it’s likely to be at the center of debate between water leaders from each of the state’s major river basins as the draft Colorado Water Plan becomes “final” over the coming year. In a meeting Dec. 18, members of the four West Slope basin roundtables met in Grand Junction to work towards a common negotiating position in those discussions.

The four roundtables share extreme skepticism about the wisdom of any transmountain diversion, no matter the caveats; they also share a concern that any “insurance policy” to protect existing uses from curtailment under the 1922 Colorado River Compact would ultimately result in water being transferred out of West Slope agriculture, even if the transfer is voluntary and lower-impact than the wholesale “buying and drying” of agricultural water rights that has already devastated some East Slope farming communities.

Where the West Slope roundtables begin to diverge is over how additional Colorado River Basin development on the West Slope figures into the picture. Given that any new uses raise the risk of failing to meet downstream obligations, should new West Slope water projects be looked on any more favorably than new projects to send water across the Continental Divide? Where is the right line in the trade-off between protecting existing Colorado River water users and making the fullest use possible of the resource? And what place should “nonconsumptive” uses of water for the health of the environment and recreation play into these decisions?

This already complicated dilemma is made more complicated by the fact that the Yampa and White river basins have fewer dams and diversions on their streams than the other West Slope river basins, and therefore have a greater interest in new projects to provide greater security for existing users, as well potentially irrigate even more land and/or meet the needs of increasing energy development. Is the Yampa Basin bearing an unfair share of the burden of meeting downstream obligations, or would it be even more unfair for existing users in other basins to have to cut back in order to subsidize Yampa Basin growth?

In the quest to find common ground on this issue, participants in the Dec. 18 meeting called for better hydrologic data in order to better understand how much additional risk is created by different levels of additional use.

I don’t know if that’s possible, given the current state of scientific understanding of our region’s climate and hydrology, particularly when it comes to forecasting. What may bear fruit is the search for the right “triggers,” in terms of reservoir and/or streamflow levels, to indicate when more development, on either side of the Continental Divide, can proceed without posing unacceptable risks to the whole system. Don’t expect this dilemma to be resolved any time soon, no matter what deadlines exist on paper.

This is part of a series of articles coordinated by the Water Center at Colorado Mesa University in cooperation with the Colorado and Gunnison Basin Roundtables to raise awareness about water needs, uses and policies in our region. To learn more about the basin roundtables and statewide water planning, and to let the roundtables know what you think, go to http://www.coloradomesa.edu/WaterCenter. You can also find the Water Center on Facebook at http://Facebook.com/WaterCenter.CMU or Twitter at http://Twitter.com/WaterCenterCMU.

More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.

“There are a lot of good tools out there that could create informal and formal benefits” — Amy Beatie

Screen shot from Peter McBride's video arguing that the Crystal River should be left as is
Screen shot from Peter McBride’s video arguing that the Crystal River should be left as is

From Aspen Journalism (Brent Gardner-Smith) via The Aspen Times:

The Pitkin County Healthy Rivers and Streams Board unanimously agreed Thursday to approve a $45,000 grant to help the East Mesa Water Co. repair an irrigation ditch on the Crystal River as long as the ditch company agrees to talk with the county about ways to leave more water in the river.

The grant comes with the condition “that the shareholders of the East Mesa Ditch agree to engage with the river board and consider working with Pitkin County on matters of irrigation efficiency and measures to protect instream flows and the free-flowing nature of the Crystal River.”

The condition was left broad, as there are no routine ways in Colorado to improve an irrigation system and then leave any saved water in a river despite the fact that 86 percent of the water diverted from Colorado’s rivers is for agriculture.

On Friday, Dennis Davidson, a consultant helping East Mesa secure funding for the ditch-repair project, said the 12 shareholders in the ditch company would likely accept the county’s condition.

“I don’t see why they wouldn’t,” said Davidson, who had not conferred with the shareholders yet. “There is no reason for them not to talk with them.”

After presenting to the river board Nov. 20, Marty Nieslanik, president of East Mesa Water Co., said, “I think all of us we want to see the river healthy, too. I mean, it’s not like we’re trying to hog all the water; it just takes water to do what we do.

“We need the water to maintain our lifestyle, but if there is any way that we can make that water more efficient, then maybe there is some way that we can leave some of it the river.”

The East Mesa Ditch repair project includes shoring up a collapsing tunnel and installing 1,200 feet of new pipe. The project is still being engineered, and the projected cost is now $700,000.

East Mesa has raised $410,000 for the project from state and federal sources so far. That does not include the river board’s $45,000 grant, which still must be approved by the Pitkin County commissioners, who are set to review it Jan. 6.

The repairs to the ditch are not expected to result in more water for the river, but other improvements, such as piping or lining more sections, installing high-tech control gates and using sprinklers in fields, could likely save water.

The 8.5-mile-long ditch irrigates 740 acres of land southeast of Carbondale. Of the 740 acres, 180 acres are under a conservation easement either through Pitkin County Open Space and Trails or the Aspen Valley Land Trust.

East Mesa is the second-largest diversion on the Crystal River, which in summer can run well under the environmental minimum set by the state of 100 cubic feet per second.

The ditch has two water rights that allow it divert as much as 42 cfs of water. One right is from 1904 and is for 32 cfs. The second is from 1952 and is for 10 cfs.

Pitkin County’s river board, created in 2008, is funded with a 0.1 percent sales tax, which is expected to generate $850,000 in 2015. The board has budgeted $150,000 for grants next year.

The board is charged with “improving water quality and quantity” in the Roaring Fork River watershed and “working to secure, create and augment minimum stream flows” in conjunction with nonprofits and government agencies. The board also can improve and construct “capital facilities.”

While the vote to award East Mesa the grant was unanimous, some board members questioned whether fixing an irrigation ditch was consistent with the board’s mission.

“Our job isn’t supporting ag and open space,” said Andre Wille, the chairman of the board. “Agriculture and healthy rivers are two different things.”

But board member Bill Jochems supported the grant, saying it could increase support among irrigators for federal protection of the upper Crystal River.

And board member Dave Nixa suggested that East Mesa talk to the nonprofit Colorado Water Trust, which works with water-rights owners to find ways to leave water in rivers.

“There are a lot of good tools out there that could create informal and formal benefits,” said Amy Beatie, the executive director of the water trust, who was pleased Friday with the river board’s decision.

Rick Lofaro, the executive director of the Roaring Fork Conservancy, is working with irrigators in the Crystal River Valley as part of developing a management plan for the river.

“The goodwill and the momentum this could create could really be precedent-setting,” Lofaro told the river board Thursday.

Aspen Journalism and The Aspen Times are collaborating on coverage of rivers and water. More at http://www.aspenjournalism.org.

Meanwhile, he East Mesa Water Company is asking Pitkin County’s Healthy Rivers and Streams Board for dough to pipe the ditch, according to this article from Brent Gardner-Smith writing for Aspen Journalism:

The East Mesa Water Company is asking Pitkin County’s Healthy Rivers and Streams Board for a $45,000 grant to help cover the $550,000 cost of installing 1,450 feet of new pipe in the 8.5-mile-long East Mesa Ditch.

The irrigation ditch can divert up to 42 cubic feet per second of water out of the Crystal River 9 miles above Carbondale, but it typically diverts about 32 cfs.

The proposed East Mesa Ditch project entails installing 48-inch plastic pipe on a failing section of the irrigation ditch that includes an 80-year-old, 650-foot-long tunnel and a hillside that often sheds rock and mud down toward the ditch.

The work will keep the ditch functioning but won’t result in more water being left in the Crystal River, which is a goal of the county river board.

“As a board, with our mission, we’d like to keep as much water in the river as we can,” Andre Wille, the chair of the county river board, said Nov. 20 during the review of the East Mesa application. “If we can improve the efficiency of that ditch, and leave the rest in the river, that would be in our interest.”

Dennis Davidson, a consultant for East Mesa Water Co. with more than 40 years experience at the Natural Resource Conservation Service, said there would be “minimal” water added to the river from the repair project, as it only included adding 1,450 feet of pipe to a 8.5-mile-long ditch.

But, he noted, if the ditch were fully piped, which he said would cost $20 million, there would be water savings.

“If we lined the East Mesa Ditch from beginning to end, we would probably get by diverting 50 percent of the water that we divert,” Davidson told the river board.

The ditch “loses as much as 35 percent of the water in the ditch due to seepage through the course and rocky soil,” according to a feasibility study from East Mesa submitted to the Colorado Water Conservation Board in a funding application.

The East Mesa Ditch typically runs the first two weeks of May until about mid-October. It sends water to 740 acres of land between 1 and 5 miles south of Carbondale, most if it with big views of Mount Sopris and some of it protected with conservation easements.

The water is used for cattle ranching, and growing nursery trees, forage crops and hay.

On paper, the East Mesa Ditch is the second biggest diversion on the lower Crystal.

The largest diversion on the river is the Sweet Jessup Canal, which can divert 75 cfs. It is located about a mile-and-a-half upstream from the East Mesa diversion structure.

When the Sweet Jessup, the East Mesa and the Lowline Ditch, which is just downstream of East Mesa, are all diverting, water levels in the Crystal River often drop well below the environmental minimum of 100 cfs set by the state.

According to a study done by consultant Seth Mason in 2012, the river below the diversions dropped to 4 cfs Sept. 4 and to 1 cfs Sept. 22, 2012.

“Near complete dewatering of the stream channel was observed through much of September at Thomas Road and near the Garfield/Pitkin County line,” Mason, with Lotic Hydrological, LLC, said in his 2012 report.

Need to divert all the water?

The East Mesa Ditch has a senior water right for 32 cfs that dates back to 1894 and a second water right for 10 cfs from 1942.

Davidson told the river board that in his experience in the Roaring Fork River Valley, 20 cfs is usually enough to irrigate 800 acres of land.

As the East Mesa Ditch typically diverts 32 cfs to irrigate 740 acres, does that mean there is as much as 12 cfs of water that could potentially be left in the river and still allow for adequate irrigation?

No, according to Marty Nieslanik, president of the East Mesa Water Co.

He said the full 32 cfs of water needs to be diverted today to act as “push water” to convey water to the end of the long irrigation ditch.

“We figure we lose two feet of water from our head gate to the last person who takes it out,” Nieslanik said.

He also said that some of the diverted water also returns to the river.

“After it dumps out at our ranch, it comes down the draw and drops in right below the fish hatchery,” Nieslanik said. “So that’s why you see the big difference as you drive down the Crystal, it’s almost dry and then all of a sudden there is a lot of water there.”

Nieslanik told the river board that the company was “trying to make our water go further.”

“If we can get that whole mesa irrigated with 25 feet of water, we may let six or eight of water go by to help the river maintain its levels,” he said.

“It would be good to understand the benefits,” river board member Lisa Tasker told Nieslanik about the project. “We are very interested in the natural hydrograph and trying to mimic that as best as possible.

“Speaking for myself, I would love to leave a little bit of water coming down the river to help the river out, if we could somehow make that happen,” Neislanik said after the meeting. “We need the water to maintain our lifestyle, but if there is any way that we can make that water more efficient, then maybe there is some way that we can leave some of it the river.”

Money for water

The East Mesa Water Company is on track to raise $410,000 toward its ditch-repair project, whether or not the county’s Healthy Rivers and Streams Board agrees to a grant.

The company will receive a $300,000 grant from the federal Natural Resource Conservation Service when the work is complete.

It has secured a $60,000 grant from the Colorado River Basin Roundtable and a $25,000 grant from the Colorado River District. And it has requested a $25,000 grant from the Colorado Soil Conservation Board.

The company also has obtained a $375,000 loan from the Colorado Water Conservation Board, which is to serve as a bridge loan until the project is complete and grant funds come in, Davidson said.

There are 12 shareholders in the East Mesa Water Co., and 1,003 shares have been issued to them, based on the size of their land holdings. Owners are assessed an annual fee of $15 a share, which brings in $15,000 a year. The company has no debt.

“The East Mesa Water Co. operates on assessments of the water users,” according to the feasibility study given to the Colorado Water Conservation Board. “For many years, the ditch company has kept the assessments as low as possible as many of the users are just getting by.”

The largest shareholders in the company include Paul Nieslanik, who owns 200 shares, John Nieslanik, who owns 185 shares, Tom Bailey, whose Iron Rose Ranch owns 185 shares and Richard McIntrye, who owns 168 shares.

Marty Nieslanik told the county the hay grown with water from the East Mesa ditch was worth about $500,000 a year under a calculation of four tons of hay per acre, on 740 acres, at $170 per ton.

At the end of Nieslanik’s presentation, the members of the Healthy Rivers and Stream Board agreed to meet in December to continue to review East Mesa’s application.

The Healthy Rivers and Streams Board will next consider the East Mesa application Thursday at 4 p.m. in Pitkin County’s Plaza 1 meeting room.

Aspen Journalism and The Aspen Times are collaborating on coverage of rivers and water. More at http://www.aspenjournalism.org.

More Crystal River coverage here.

Snowpack news: The Westwide SNOTEL is showing blue and green hues in the central and north basins

Westwide SNOTEL snow water equivalent as a percent of normal December 26, 2014 via the NRCS
Westwide SNOTEL snow water equivalent as a percent of normal December 26, 2014 via the NRCS

Click here to explore the Snow Map Products available from the National Water and Climate Center (NRCS).

Northern Water plans hydropower plant at the base of Granby Dam

Granby Dam via Reclamation
Granby Dam via Reclamation

From the Sky-Hi Daily News (Hank Shell):

The Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District plans to construct a hydropower plant at the base of Granby Dam.

“It’s economically feasible to put a little power plant on the outlet structure there, so we’re going to move forward with it,” said Brian Werner with Northern Water.

The Granby Hydropower Project could generate a maximum of 7 million kilowatt-hours per year, Werner said.

Revenues from the station could reach $390,000 annually, according to documents from the Colorado Water Conservation Board.

The project will use existing releases from Granby Dam to the Colorado River.

Northern Water plans to sell the power generated at the station to Mountain Parks Electric Inc., Werner said.

“This fits in well with those producers that have to have green power,” he said…

Construction on the new plant could begin in summer of 2015, Werner said.

More hydroelectric/hydropower coverage here.

Water Values podcast: Advocating for Water Efficiency with Mary Ann Dickinson

Silt water plant to be powered by sun — Rifle Citizen Telegram

Silt water plant solar array photo via the Rifle Citizen Telegram
Silt water plant solar array photo via the Rifle Citizen Telegram

From the Rifle Citizen Telegram (Heather McGregor):

Crews are setting foundations, erecting racks and installing solar panels in a wave of activity at the Silt Water Treatment Plant. The 234-kilowatt solar array is slated to be in service and powering the plant by Dec. 31, according to Katharine Rushton, commercial sales associate for Sunsense Solar.

The new solar array will offset 100 percent of the plant’s electrical use on an annual basis.

It’s being financed with a power purchase agreement and renewable energy credits from Xcel Energy, so it cost the town just $3,500 in upfront fees.

The solar system will save the town an estimated $102,000 over the next 20 years, or about 15 percent of the plant’s total annual electric costs, and it will lock in electric rates for 20 years.

Work on the project started Nov. 3. It’s the first of three major solar energy systems being installed in Garfield County in 2014 and 2015 by Sunsense, a Carbondale solar developer and contractor. Together, the systems will add up to 1 megawatt of renewable energy capacity.

Next up after the Silt project are arrays that will power the Battlement Mesa Metro District water treatment plant and Roaring Fork High School in Carbondale.

The Silt array includes 756 solar panels, each capable of generating 310 watts of electricity. A bank of eight inverters will convert the direct current electricity to alternating current, so the power can be used by the plant’s equipment or fed back onto the Xcel Energy power grid.

Facing a tight, two-month timeline, the crews are closely following each other for all three phases of building the ground-mounted array, Rushton said.

The foundation contractor, Lyons Fencing of Rifle, set the footers. The Sunsense crew erected the framework and solar panels, and is now finishing off the electrical wiring. Expert Electric of Rifle is handling the alternating current aspects of the project.

Sunsense is also partnering with Garfield Clean Energy to install an energy data logger at the plant as part of the project. It will measure electricity use and solar production in 15-minute intervals for display on the Garfield Building Energy Navigator website.

More water treatment coverage here.

Top NatGeo photo of 2014 is from Colorado — Jeremy Moore

Another wild year in water: Droughts, dust and fighting future floods all played a role — The Pueblo Chieftain

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

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

The year began with towering tumbleweeds and dust storms as drought gripped Southern Colorado for the fourth consecutive year.

By late spring the snow was piling up and a decent runoff was expected for a change. Thunderstorms arrived in July, washing out three large canals in the Arkansas Valley. Weather began to follow more typical patterns and snow started falling by mid-October.

At year’s end, precipitation was slightly below the long-term average.

Whether the weather is back to “normal” remains anyone’s guess.

While it’s easy to talk about forces of nature, the news on the water beat usually occurs from the human response and preparation for future events. Here are the top stories of 2014 from a water reporter’s perspective:

1. Fountain Creek and stormwater woes

The festering issue of flood control on Fountain Creek gushed forth after El Paso County voters rejected the proposed Pikes Peak Drainage district in the November election. The district would have tackled regional stormwater projects with a 20-year funding stream of $37 million per year.

Pueblo County commissioners, District Attorney Jeff Chostner and the Lower Arkansas Valley Conservancy District reacted angrily to the outcome because El Paso County officials had assured them for the past two years that voters would be receptive to the idea. At least one lawsuit is in the works.

There were no major floods on Fountain Creek this year, although the logs and debris from past floods still leave the creek “logged and loaded” for the next flood.

The Fountain Creek Flood Control and Greenway District continues to study building either a dam or a series of detention ponds to protect Pueblo from floodwaters that will surge more violently because of upstream development.

On a positive note, the district sponsored the first community cleanup of Fountain Creek this year, which yielded 6.7 tons of trash thanks to the efforts of 625 volunteers in Pueblo and El Paso counties.

2. Arkansas River levee to be rebuilt

The Pueblo Conservancy District set in motion a plan to rebuild and lower the Arkansas River levee, a $15 million project that could be completed in three years. The levee, built 90 years ago, is starting to fall apart. Because Pueblo Dam was built about 40 years ago, the levee no longer has to be as tall.

The new levee will be about 12 feet shorter.

The project comes with some side issues.

After the district established a fee and expanded boundaries to include the whole county, the state Legislature in 2014 expanded its board to nine members and changed how they were appointed.

Rebuilding the levee will mean that the world’s largest mural, some parts more faded than others, will be destroyed. The district has undertaken efforts to preserve it in a visual record with high-resolution photography.

3. State water plan action

It seemed like everyone had an opinion on the future of Colorado’s water as 13,000 comments and 11,000 form letters were collected on the state’s water plan.

The plan also got input from nine basin roundtables, which developed implementation plans to address more local impacts. The Arkansas Basin Roundtable hosted 17 meetings in every region of the basin.

In early December, the draft state water plan was presented to Gov. John Hickenlooper.

Lawmakers, the Colorado Water Conservation Board, the Interbasin Compact Committee and the roundtables will work to finalize the plan by December 2015.

4. Summer rains return

Rain replaced fire as the major summer hazard in 2014.

At least 15 drownings were reported in the Arkansas River basin that occurred as a result of high water. The Colorado Canal, Otero Canal and Catlin Canal all broke during heavy rain that sheeted off the prairie into already full ditches.

Rain on the Southern Delivery System pipeline scar across Walker Ranches caused heartburn for rancher Gary Walker.

Rain, of course, is always welcome. Farmers reported better crops, but lower prices in a business that always finds a way to achieve equilibrium. The prairies looked green for the first time in four years, even if much of it was weeds.

For city folks, lawn watering became less problematic.

5. Lake Minnequa revival

Take one depleted lake, add 68 million gallons of water, 12,000 bluegills and 1,000 channel catfish; mix thoroughly with a fishing pole. Voila!

You’ve got a fishing hole.

Colorado Parks and Wildlife, the Pueblo Board of Water Works, EVRAZ Steel and the city of Pueblo teamed up to bring water and fish to the lake, which had shrunk during the drought. The action came through the persistent advocacy of former City Councilman Ray Aguilera, who worked for years to make the area a city park.

Many features of the park already are in place, thanks to a Great Outdoors Colorado grant awarded in late 2004 and subsequent local action.

The lake itself was once filled by the steel company, but now relies chiefly on stormwater from the city’s South Side. A pipeline completed in 2013 from the St.

Charles Reservoir to the south now gives the city an easier way to replenish the lake and keep it from running quite so dry.

6. Dust and tumbleweeds

It’s easy to forget how 2014 began. Let’s face it, most of us want to. Snow and rainfall stayed just about average for the entire year, but the damage from past years was evident.

Until April, there were constant dust storms: Sometimes daily, sometimes all-day. While the term “haboob” technically applies to perennial storms in North Africa, Arabia and India, such dust storms have become so common in Southeastern Colorado that term is catching on locally. The National Weather Service began issuing dust storm warnings this year in recognition of the phenomenon.

You can still see mile after mile of tumbleweeds along area roadways. La Junta even fashioned some of its bounty into a Christmas tree.

Pueblo County spent more than $250,000 removing them, while landowners smashed, hauled and burned tons of the invasive vegetation.

7. Southern Delivery System

When Pueblo West had the opportunity to turn on its new source of water from SDS early, it was a real turn-off for three newly elected metro board members.

A draft agreement raised the hackles of board members in May when former Pueblo West manager Jack Johnston proposed discussing it executive session. Board member Mark Carmel said the proposal apparently required Pueblo West to do some of the heavy regulatory lifting under Pueblo County’s 1041 rules for its SDS partner, Colorado Springs. Lew Quigley and Judy Leonard agreed with him. The three voted in August to fire Johnston, without much public explanation.

Meanwhile SDS marched toward completion, with nearly all of the underground pipeline installed through Pueblo County and work continuing on the Juniper Pump Station below Pueblo Dam.

8. Water for marijuana

Even water got a buzz off marijuana in 2014, the first year for recreational sales in Colorado.

Because marijuana remains a federal crime, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation issued rules requiring its managers to report instances where federal water is used to grow weed to the Justice Department. It also pointedly excluded water that is commingled in federal facilities like Lake Pueblo.

By year’s end, Pueblo West, Pueblo and St. Charles Mesa all allowed some of their supplies to be used to grow pot. Pot growers also filed substitute water supply plans with the state that allow wells to be pumped on pot farms.

9. Arkansas Valley Conduit

After delays caused by the 2013 government shutdown, the $400 million Arkansas Valley Conduit got final approval from Reclamation in February.

Now the trick is to get funding from Congress for the project, which will serve 50,000 people in 40 communities east of Pueblo. Funding totaled $2 million for the 2014 fiscal year.

10. Pueblo’s water rates

Water rates in Pueblo will go up 3.25 percent in 2015, keeping them lower than any major Front Range city. The low rate is possible because of nearly $9 million in water leases, roughly one-fourth of the total revenue.

Major projects of the Pueblo Board of Water Works in 2015 will include continuation upgrades to automated meters, large main replacements Downtown and legal work to change the use of Bessemer Ditch rights the board purchased in 2009.

More Arkansas River Basin coverage here.

Ken Carlson wants to be an “honest broker” in a controversial world — Fort Collins Coloradoan

Directional drilling and hydraulic fracturing graphic via Al Granberg
Directional drilling and hydraulic fracturing graphic via Al Granberg

From the Fort Collins Colordoan (Sarah Jane Kyle):

Ken Carlson wants to be an “honest broker” in a controversial world.

The CSU professor of civil and environmental engineering studies the water used, produced and extracted from oil and gas sites in Colorado. His main goal is to give people information — not opinions.

“For every study that says the world’s coming to an end, there’s a study someone can produce that says everything’s great,” Carlson, 54, said. “We try hard to operate in the middle.”

Carlson, who has been with Colorado State University for 16 years, runs the school’s Center for Energy Water Sustainability. CEWS recently launched Colorado Water Watch, a real-time monitoring system for water quality at oil and gas wells.

The free and public website uses anomaly detection software to monitor five wells, including one control site at the Agricultural Research Development & Education Center, which is just across Interstate 25 from the Anheuser-Busch brewery and at least three miles away from oil and gas activity. The remaining wells are by active Noble Energy oil and gas sites in Weld County.

More oil and gas coverage here.

Water Roundtable skeptical about Front Range diversion — the Sky-Hi Daily News

Historical Colorado River between Granby and Hot Sulphur Springs
Historical Colorado River between Granby and Hot Sulphur Springs

From the Sky-Hi Daily News (Brittany Markert):

With the release of the Colorado Water Plan’s first draft on Dec. 10, more than 150 residents and western Colorado water experts gathered in Grand Junction on Dec. 18 for a West Slope Basin Roundtable meeting. Members of the Colorado Water Conservation Board, of surrounding basin roundtables, and Interbasin Compact Committee members were present…

“It is focused on filling the projected gap for cities and towns due to a predicted increase in population to about 10 million by 2050,” said Hannah Holm, Colorado Mesa University’s Water Center coordinator.

At the West Slope Basin Roundtable meeting on Dec. 18, a variety of issues were discussed including agricultural water rights, municipal water rights and how to locate alternative water sources.

“We all need to be thinking about what’s next,” said Russell George, a representative of the Colorado River Basin on Interbasin Compact Committee.

The Interbasin Compact Committee “was formed to mediate differences between the state’s river basins on water policy issues,” Holm said. “George was also a major force behind the 2005 legislation that established the basin roundtables of water providers and stakeholders charged with bottom-up water planning in each of the state’s major river basins.”

Another focus of the gathering was to ensure the plan meets the needs of Colorado as a whole, along with downstream needs of the Western Slope.

“An ongoing point of contention is whether any new transmountain diversions from the West Slope will be used to meet growing demands in Front Range cities,” Holm said. “A recently developed framework document for how to discuss any such project was released this past summer.

“It’s a huge step that the Eastern Slope entities agreed they couldn’t expect to take a firm yield of water every year from any new project,” she added. “Nonetheless, West Slope parties remain very wary of such projects, and one of the purposes of the meeting in Grand Junction was to move towards developing a common West Slope negotiating position.” [ed. emphasis mine]

When it comes to Colorado’s water situation, Holm explained that once the water plan is finished, it will need to be regularly revised due to the state’s ever-changing landscape of yearly rainfall and population growth.


At last week’s meeting, Eric Kuhn, general manager of Colorado River District, noted the necessity of managing development within the state to prevent excess use of resources.

“The higher level of development, the chances of running into problems are greater,” he said.

Western Colorado representatives also believe there isn’t enough water to give to Colorado’s Eastern Slope for its increased water consumption due to obligations to downstream states, Holm noted. Representatives from the Yampa Basin are concerned about having access to water to meet their own growing needs “as well as statewide needs and downstream obligations.”

Despite conflicting needs, all representatives agreed that water conservation is a must, particularly in Front Range cities.

Another meeting to discuss the Colorado Water Plan is planned, but a date has not yet been set. Topics to be discussed include how to address future Western Slope water needs, conservation and reuse.

“This plan is a work in progress,” said Bruce Whitehead, an Interbasin Compact Committee member. “It’s open to changes and something the Interbasin Compact Committee agreed to. More future discussions need to take place.”

For more information about the Colorado Water Plan, visit http://coloradowaterplan.com.

More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.

“We’ve accomplished a hell of a lot” — John Salazar

John Salazar via Colorado Proud
John Salazar via Colorado Proud

From The Denver Post (Lynn Bartels):

Outgoing agricultural commissioner John Salazar could barely contain his pride as he pointed out the John Fielder photographs, the file cards containing decades of cattle brands and the conference rooms named for Colorado rivers.

“Mira,” he said, pointing to the quilt hanging on the landing between the first and second floors of the new agriculture headquarters in Broomfield.

“Mira,” he said, showing off former Gov. Roy Romer’s picture on a wall of photographs. “I bet you didn’t know he used to be the agricultural commissioner.”

Look at this. Look at that. Mira.

John Salazar spoke little English before going to school and he still sprinkles Spanish into some of his sentences. Look at that stunning picture of the Rio Grande headwaters. A closer inspection reveals it was shot by Salazar himself.

“That’s what I’m going home to,” Salazar said.

Salazar opted against a second term as Colorado’s agricultural commissioner so he can return to the San Luis Valley and his family. A replacement has yet to be named. Asked if his wife, Mary Lou, was thrilled to have him home full time, Salazar laughed. “I don’t know,” he said. “Maybe you should call and ask her.”

Gov. John Hickenlooper wasn’t that surprised by Salazar’s decision. “His heart is on the ranch,” Hickenlooper said, calling Salazar the “patriot of the prairie.”

“And you want someone to run that agency who would rather be ranching. You want people who understand the ups and downs of farming in Colorado, somebody who knows that life.”

Holding office

John Salazar knows that life. The 61-year-old grew up with seven siblings on a ranch that has been in his family for six generations.

Salazar served on the Governor’s Economic Development Advisory Board during Romer’s tenure, the Rio Grande Water Conservation District and the Colorado Agricultural Leadership Forum. He also served on the Colorado Agricultural Commission from 1999 to 2002.

He and his younger brother, Ken, made national news in 2004 when they were both elected to Congress. John, a state lawmaker from Manassa, won a seat in the U.S. House, while Ken, the attorney general, won an open seat in the U.S. Senate.

Their humble beginnings provided for a great story line. The Salazars’ parents, Henry and Emma, had stressed an education above all else — John used to check out a slew of books every week from the Manassa library. The ranch didn’t have electricity until 1981; the children studied by oil lamps.

“Send a farmer to Congress,” was John Salazar’s slogan, and voters did just that in three elections. But his political fortunes changed in 2010, a tough year for Democrats. Republicans turned the slogan around, saying, “Send a congressman to the farm.”

By that time, Ken Salazar was serving as President Barack Obama’s secretary of the Interior.

After John Salazar lost to Republican state Rep. Scott Tipton of Cortez, Hickenlooper, who had just been elected governor, asked the outgoing congressman to serve as the agriculture commissioner.

Salazar said when he discussed the position with the governor-elect in 2010, he asked for the autonomy to run the department “as I saw fit.”

“The governor has been awesome,” Salazar said. “You know what I love about him? While he may not be a farmer or a rancher or know a whole lot about about agriculture, he knows the importance of it.”

State Rep. J. Paul Brown, R-Ignacio, said he thinks Salazar has been a better agricultural commissioner than he was a congressman.

“As the commissioner he did what he thought was right and he did really well,” said Brown, who raises sheep. “He understood our issues.”

Coming out on top

But the Colorado Department of Agriculture is more than ranches and farms, as it points out on its website. “If you’ve ever bought groceries, adopted a dog, or fertilized your lawn, the Colorado Department of Agriculture has served you.”

The department measures grocery store scales to ensure they are accurate. It inspects dog groomers and breeding operations. It oversees the Colorado State Fair and conducts pesticide inspections.

The biggest disaster under Salazar’s tenure came in 2011 when more than 25 people died eating Colorado cantaloupe improperly processed by Jensen Farms, sparking one of the deadliest American food-illness outbreaks in 100 years.

In the wake of the outbreak, Rocky Ford cantaloupe growers implemented changes, creating the Rocky Ford Growers Association where members must agree to twice-a-year safety audits conducted by inspectors in the state Agriculture Department.

“We came back stronger than ever,” Salazar said.

Despite historic fires, floods and droughts, the export of agricultural products, which was $869 million in 2009, is forecast at $2.25 billion this fiscal year. Colorado ships 66 percent of all fresh-market potatoes sent to Mexico.

“We’ve accomplished a hell of a lot,” Salazar said, and then corrected himself. “Say we’ve accomplished a heck of a lot.”

Born: July 1953 in Alamosa, the third eldest of Henry and Emma Salazar’s eight children

Raised: On the family ranch 14 miles north of the New Mexico border

Family: He and his wife, Mary Lou, have three grown sons: Esteban, Miguel and Jesus, and three grandchildren

Residence: Manassa

First political election: Won a seat in the Colorado House in 2002

Congress: First elected to the U.S. House in 2004, the same year that his younger brother Ken was elected to the U.S. Senate; served three terms.

Colorado: Tapped by Gov. John Hickenlooper to serve as the state agricultural commissioner in 2011

Drought news

Click here to go to the US Drought Monitor website. Here’s an excerpt:


(Note: The weather summary covers the full 7-day period – to 12Z Dec. 23; some product tools only cover the first 6-day period – to 12Z Dec. 22 due to the holiday-shortened, 1-day early release time constraints). Early in the week, another in a series of Pacific storm systems (since after Thanksgiving) impacted the West Coast, with the bulk of the heaviest precipitation (4 to 8 inches, locally to 12 inches) shifted a bit farther north into western Oregon instead of north-central California as observed during the previous two weeks. Still, decent precipitation (more than 2 inches) fell as far south as central coastal California and on the northern Sierra Nevada Mountains, with lower amounts (an inch or less) to the south. To the east, as a storm system and associated cold front departed the Atlantic Coast, the southern section of the front became stationary in the Gulf Coast. Waves of low pressure developed along the stationary front and tracked northeastward, triggering showers and thunderstorms along parts of the Gulf Coast region. Moderate to heavy rains (more than 2 inches) fell on southeastern Texas, southern sections of Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama, and north-central Florida. Toward the end of the period, a change in the upper-air pattern over the West (ridging) brought drier and colder conditions to the region, while a storm in the Nation’s mid-section generated light to occasionally moderate precipitation to most of the eastern half of the U.S. In Hawaii, light showers were generally limited to windward locations except toward the end of the period (Sunday into Monday) when more widespread, heavier rains fell across the western islands of Kauai and Oahu. In Puerto Rico, moderate to heavy (1-4 inches) rains fell across northeastern and central sections, enough to deter the spread of the small D0 area northward. Weekly temperatures averaged well above-normal in most of the West, Plains, upper Midwest, New England, and Alaska, and near- to slightly above-normal in the southeastern quarter of the Nation…

Central and Southern Plains

Most of the central and southern High Plains saw little or no precipitation (less than 0.3 inches) after last week’s “bonus” amounts in the central Plains, so status-quo here, while locations to the east measured higher totals (0.5-1 inch), although most of that fell on non-drought areas in eastern sections of Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas. An exception was in southeastern Texas where 2-5 inches of rain fell along the western Gulf Coast (especially near Houston), providing some relief to D0-D2 areas near Victoria and Corpus Christi. As mentioned in the Tennessee and lower Mississippi Valley narrative, D0 was added between northeastern Texas and central Arkansas as lower weekly totals (less than 0.5 inches) and 60- and 90-day deficits were similar enough to merge the two D0 areas. Farther to the west, D2-D4 was degraded by a category in north-central Texas as continuing short-term deficiencies and long-term drought impacts mounted, especially in Palo Pinto and Parker counties. Lake Palo Pinto was down to 9% full as of Dec. 23, down from 100% full in early 2012, and at its current rate of drawdown, it would be empty within 6 months. In addition, the impact line was also adjusted to put this area in short and long-term drought (SL). Similarly in south-central Texas (small D3 area), Medina Lake was only 3.3% full, another good example that some areas of Texas have yet to recover from the long-term drought, even with occasional periods of wetness since it started in 2011…

Northern Plains and upper Midwest

Light precipitation fell on most of the region, with southern North Dakota, northern and western South Dakota, northeastern Minnesota, and northwestern Iowa measuring between 0.2-0.6 inches of liquid equivalent. The light precipitation was enough to maintain conditions there. Across northern North Dakota and western Minnesota, however, little or no precipitation occurred, and 60- and 90-day precipitation was under half of normal. With northwestern North Dakota also drying out the past 2-3 months, D0 was expanded to incorporate this area. An expansion of D1 to northeastern North Dakota and western Minnesota was considered with precipitation less than 25% and 50% of normal at 60- and 90-days, respectively, but deficits were relatively small (less than 3 inches), so no increases were made this week…


With mostly light precipitation (less than 0.5 inches, locally to an inch) recorded across the Four Corners region, generally surplus precipitation in the short-term (30-days) and medium-term (6-months from an active southwestern monsoon), and below normal in-between (at 2 and 3 months), conditions were left unmodified. However, as of Dec. 22, Water Year-to-Date (WYTD, since Oct. 1) precipitation is below normal, as is the Snow Water Equivalent (SWE) in the basins of Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, and Colorado. With WYTD average basin precipitation ranging between 60-80% of normal and SWE at 30-80% of normal (lowest in Arizona and western New Mexico), this region will be watched closely for WYTD precipitation and snow pack numbers to increase as the winter progresses to ensure adequate spring snow melt runoff and recharge for rivers and reservoirs…

The West

Another in a series of Pacific systems affected the West, with the latest one dropping the greatest precipitation totals on western Oregon and Washington (4-12 inches), although the northern half of California received 2-6 inches, with lesser amounts to the south (generally an inch or less). Although the recent precipitation was not as great as the past 2 weeks, the total capacity of water at the major reservoirs in northern and central California (e.g. Trinity, Shasta, Oroville, Folsom, and San Luis Lakes) did slightly increase on Dec. 16 from 29, 32, 33, 38, and 33% to 32, 38, 36, 41, and 36% as of Dec. 22, respectively. Unfortunately, these values are still well below the historic average capacity for Dec. 22 (47, 62, 59, 85, and 54%, respectively), with the Sierra Nevada basin average SWEs also well below normal (45-72%). The Northern Sierra 8-station precipitation index on Dec. 22 was at 22.4 inches, or 146% of normal, while the San Joaquin 5-station index was at 8.8 inches, or 78% of normal. And similar to last week, major reservoirs to the south showed little or no increase this week with the lower totals. Therefore, even with the additional precipitation, no modifications were made to California this week.

In the Pacific Northwest, with most basins reporting near to above normal WYTD precipitation, generally normal to surplus precipitation at short, medium, and long-term periods (except in southern Oregon, closest to California), the heavy precipitation was enough to slightly trim (improve) the edges of the D0-D2 in northwestern and northeastern Oregon, western Washington, and western Idaho, especially where the long-term SPIs (12- and 24-months) were wet. Since improvements were made in north-central Washington last week, no modifications were made this week. A major concern this Water Year has been the warm component of the storms. Even though WYTD average basin precipitation for the Cascades ranged between 103-134% of normal as of Dec. 22, SWEs remained quite low, ranging between 10-65% of normal. Fortunately, SWEs were close to normal in the northern and central Rockies. Across the West, not only will continued ample moisture be crucial, but also occur in combination with enough cold air to produce adequate winter mountain snow pack for spring snow melt, runoff, and reservoir recharge…

Looking Ahead

For the upcoming 5-day period (December 24-28), light to moderate precipitation (0.5-2 inches, locally to 3 inches along the Pacific Northwest Coast) is forecast for the Northwest, and with temperatures expected to be below normal, the precipitation should mainly fall as snow on the Cascades, northern Sierra Nevada, and the northern and central Rockies. Farther east, moderate (more than 0.75 inches) to heavy precipitation (over 2 inches) is forecast for the eastern third of the U.S., with most of the Southeast expecting over 2 inches of rain, and locally 4-6 inches along the east-central Gulf Coast. Readings should average above normal across the eastern half of the Nation.

For the ensuing 5-day period (December 29-January 2), the CPC 6-10 day precipitation outlook paints a dry outlook for the West (good odds of below median precipitation), but favorable probabilities of above median precipitation for Alaska, the southern Plains, Southeast, and mid-Atlantic, with the best chances along the Gulf Coast. Temperatures are expected to average below normal in the western two-thirds of the Nation, with above median temperature probabilities limited to southern Florida and Alaska.

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

Upper Colorado River Basin precipitation December 1 thru December 21, 2014
Upper Colorado River Basin precipitation December 1 thru December 21, 2014

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

Snowpack news: Weekend storm bumps north and central basins, sorry Rio Grande

Westwide SNOTEL snow water equivalent as a percent of normal December 23, 2014 via the NRCS
Westwide SNOTEL snow water equivalent as a percent of normal December 23, 2014 via the NRCS

California Gulch superfund site now 70% delisted

California Gulch back in the day

From the Leadville Herald Democrat (Marcia Martinek):

The EPA came to town on Thursday, Dec. 18, and it was a much-more cordial gathering than back in the 1980s when Leadville was first named a Superfund site. The occasion was to recognize the removal of Upper California Gulch, the Asarco Smelter/Colorado Zinc-Lead Mill site and the Apache Tailings from the Superfund National Priorities List. All are part of the California Gulch Superfund site.

The delisting of these areas, Operable Units 4, 5 and 7, from the Superfund list is said to be a major milestone in addressing mining contamination at the site.

Lake County Commissioner Mike Bordogna provided a timeline of the activity in California Gulch stretching from the time when gold was discovered in California Gulch in 1859 through 1983 when California Gulch was placed on the EPA’s National Priorities List to the current day and the most recent delistings.

EPA Regional Administrator Shaun McGrath said that of the 18 square miles that initially made up the Superfund site, seven of the 12 operable units have now been delisted, accounting for 70 percent of the area. He added that 90 percent of the construction work is now complete.

McGrath also used the occasion to present the Lake County Commissioners with an Environmental Achievement Award for Excellence in Site Reuse. Cited were three reuse projects within Lake County: the Mineral Belt Trail, the Lake County Community Park and soccer fields, and the restoration of the Upper Arkansas River, which recently received the Colorado Parks and Wildlife’s Gold Medal Designation for trout fishing.

Martha Rudolph, director of Environmental Programs, Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, looked back to the “thorny days” of the Superfund site, saying “California Gulch was a challenge from the beginning,” so much so that no cleanup took place at the site for the first ten years.
Despite the adversity, she noted, “Everyone always had the same goal.”

Thirty years later relationships among the entities have improved. And today the Arkansas River has gone from an eyesore to a true gem, Rudolph said.
Along with the Lake County award, numerous people were recognized for their work over the years with the EPA.

History of California Gulch

Commissioner Mike Bordogna traced the history of California Gulch through the years at the delisting celebration held Dec. 18.

1859 – Gold discovered at mouth of California Gulch

1893 – Silver market crash

1983 – National Priorities List listing

1991 – Leadville Mine Drainage Treatment Plant began operations

1992 – Yak Treatment Plant began operations

1994 – Site divided into 12 operable units

1995 – Construction of the Mineral Belt Train began

2000 – Mineral Belt Trail completed

2001 – OU10 (Oregon Gulch) deleted from NPL

2002 – OU2 (Malta Gulch) deleted from the NPL

2005 – Remedy construction at OU11 (Arkansas River floodplain) began

2008 – Upper Arkansas River ranked most popular Colorado fishery

$20.5 million natural-resource damages settlement reached

2010 – OU11 (Arkansas River Floodplain) remedial work completed

OU8 (Lower California Gulch) deleted from the NPL:

2011 – OU9 (residential areas) deleted from the NPL

2014 – Gold Medal Trout Waters designation awarded

Lake County received Brownfields grant

OU4 (Upper California Gulch) deleted from the NPL

OU5 (ASARCO Smelter/Colorado Zinc-Lead Mill Site) deleted from the NPL

OU6 (Apache Tailings) deleted from the NPL

More California Gulch coverage here and here.

Seeking water peace across the Divide — Aspen Journalism #COWaterPlan

Colorado Water Plan website screen shot November 1, 2013
Colorado Water Plan website screen shot November 1, 2013

From Aspen Journalism (Brent Gardner-Smith) via the Glenwood Springs Post Independent:

Russell George, who represents the Colorado River basin on the Colorado Water Conservation Board, says interest has been high in the state water plan since it was submitted to the governor Dec. 10.

“Everyone wants to think about, ‘OK, now what? What’s next? What battle lines are we going to draw?’” George told a crowd of about 150 people gathered Thursday in the Ute Water Conservancy District’s conference room for a meeting of four Western Slope water-planning roundtables.

“The basic history of water in Colorado is ‘It’s mine, leave me alone,’” George told his audience, most of whom own or manage water rights on the Western Slope. “Of course, that never worked. And it doesn’t work today. And if you don’t know it, you must. It isn’t going to work in the future. It can’t be that way.”

A final version of the state water plan is due a year from now, and the state’s nine roundtables are working to sharpen basin-specific water supply plans, due to the CWCB in April. Those basin plans are supposed to inform the water plan, which currently lacks a list of specific projects endorsed by the state.

Meanwhile, the Interbasin Compact Committee, which includes two members from each of the basin roundtables, is also working on a framework for discussing a big potential transmountain diversion to help meet growing water demands in Front Range cities.

George, a former speaker of the Colorado House from Rifle whose leadership helped create the roundtables, said water interests on both sides of the Continental Divide are now working to better understand the other side’s perspective.

“We haven’t always done that,” he said. “The other side hasn’t always looked at our point of view and tried to put themselves in our place. And I doubt that we’ve done our duty in trying to put ourselves in their place.”

John Stulp, the head of the IBCC, sounded a similar theme Thursday before George took the podium.

“We really need to put ourselves in each other’s shoes as we look to the future with the water supply that we anticipate,” Stulp said.

And Stulp said he was encouraged by a meeting of the South Platte basin roundtable in Longmont on Dec. 9.

“I came away from that meeting with a positive feeling that there is going to be some intense, but some very fruitful and beneficial discussions, not only among the roundtables, but at the IBCC level,” Stulp said.

At the Dec. 9 meeting, Eric Wilkinson, the general manager of the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District, and an IBCC member, told the South Platte roundtable members there is a growing understanding at the IBCC level of what Western Slope water interests want, and fear, regarding a transmountain diversion.

In part, they fear that a new transmountain diverter will come in and insist on their full legal right to divert water, Wilkinson explained.

Such an action could eventually help trigger a “compact call” by California and other states in the lower Colorado River basin. And a call could shut down diversions for all junior water rights holders on the Western Slope.

“When somebody said, ‘Well, what I understand you saying is that you want any new transbasin diversion to subordinate and be junior to any existing and future West Slope water development,’ it was like somebody just took the blanket off the elephant in the room, and the discussion started,” Wilkinson said.

And that understanding then led to the first of seven points in a “draft conceptual agreement,” which is now included in the draft Colorado Water Plan and refers to the East Slope accepting “hydraulic risk” as part of a new transmountain diversion.

Wilkinson said the draft conceptual agreement came about after “finally understanding what the West Slope was trying to say, and what their fears were.

“And the reality is, as much as we’d like to think it isn’t, you are not going to move a West Slope transbasin project forward without support on the West Slope,” Wilkinson said. “Trust me.“

In reaching the seven points in the draft conceptual agreement, Wilkinson also said he was “thoroughly convinced” that “the East Slope gave up far more to get these seven points than the West Slope did.”

“We tried to solve, practically, if we could, the fears and concerns of the West Slope, and we went a long way from the traditional East Slope position to do that, because that’s the new reality,” Wilkinson said.

Aspen Journalism, The Aspen Times and the Post Independent are collaborating on coverage of rivers and water. More at http://www.aspenjournalism.org.

More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.

E.P.A. Issues Rules on Disposal of Coal Ash to Protect Water Supply — The New York Times

December 22, 2008 Kingston Fossil Plant coal ash retention pond failure via the Environmental Protection Agency and the Tennessee Valley Authority
December 22, 2008 Kingston Fossil Plant coal ash retention pond failure via the Environmental Protection Agency and the Tennessee Valley Authority

From The New York Times (Emmarie Huetteman):

The Environmental Protection Agency on Friday announced the first federal guidelines for disposing of coal ash, instructing power plants to implement safeguards against contaminating nearby water supplies.

But the agency did not require many of the restrictions that had been urged by environmentalists and other advocates, who point to studies showing coal ash — the material that remains when coal is burned to produce electricity — contains a significant amount of carcinogens.

“This rule is a pragmatic step forward that protects public health while allowing the industry the time it needs to meet these requirements,” said Gina McCarthy, the E.P.A. administrator.

The E.P.A. declined to designate coal ash a hazardous material, but said power plants would have to meet certain minimum structural standards for landfills and disposal ponds, and monitor them for leaks. If a breach is discovered, it will be the utility company’s responsibility to reinforce or close the pond. New ponds and landfills will have to be lined to provide a barrier against leaks. Controls must be used to prevent people from breathing in coal ash dust.

Power plants will also have to report the results of their inspections on a public website. The rule provides little oversight, leaving it to citizens and the states to sue if power plants are suspected of not adhering to the E.P.A.’s guidelines.

The rule is a victory for electric utility companies and the coal industry, which had decried the increased financial burden that would have been placed on companies to revamp their existing disposal facilities if the E.P.A. had decided to phase out ponds and impose other, stricter guidelines.

The decision also reinforced the growing, multibillion-dollar coal ash recycling business, in which coal ash is used to make wallboard, concrete and other products. The United States produced nearly 114.7 million tons of coal ash in 2013, according to an annual report released Wednesday by the American Coal Ash Association. Of that, less than 51.4 million tons were reused.

Officials celebrated the end of what they characterized as a costly period of uncertainty for an environmentally friendly industry.

“This stuff is just as safe as we thought it was before the rule-making started, and it’s time to keep that growth going,” said Thomas H. Adams, executive director of the American Coal Ash Association.

Advocates for stronger restrictions on coal ash expressed disappointment in the rule, especially that coal-fired power plants would be allowed to continue dumping the ash into existing ponds that they are left to largely police themselves.

“As we’ve seen over the past six years, irresponsible storage of coal ash by big utilities has caused unprecedented disasters and threatened the health and safety of Americans around the country,” Frank Holleman, a lawyer with the Southern Environmental Law Center, said in a statement. “While there are some new tools for addressing our nation’s coal ash problem in these new federal protections, there are glaring flaws in the E.P.A.’s approach.”

Continue reading the main storyContinue reading the main storyContinue reading the main story
“When the day’s done, the E.P.A. regulates toxic coal ash less stringently than household waste,” said Lisa Evans, a lawyer with Earthjustice who used to work for the E.P.A.

More Environmental Protection Agency coverage here.

USGS: Check out our Landslide Photo Collection for images of slides in both the US and worldwide

Here’s the link to the West Salt Creek Slide near Collbran earlier this year.

CMU: Water Center highlights from 2014

Raise the River: 2014 Year in Review #ColoradoRiver

Draft conceptual diversion deal presented to West Slope water interests — Aspen Journalism

Informational graphic screen shot December 18, 2014 via Aspen Journalism
Informational graphic screen shot December 18, 2014 via Aspen Journalism

From Aspen Journalism (Brent Gardner-Smith):

A draft seven-point framework that lays out conditions for a potential new transmountain diversion in Colorado was explained Thursday in Grand Junction to the members of four Western Slope water-planning roundtables.

About 75 members of the four roundtables heard Bruce Whitehead, a member of the Interbasin Compact Committee, describe in relatively plain terms a “draft conceptual agreement” the committee reached in June on how to possibly move more water from the Western Slope to the Front Range.

“This is conceptual,” said Whitehead, who serves on the Southwest Basin roundtable. “We haven’t sold the ranch, and I don’t think, intend to. It was really to set up a dialogue about, yes, go ahead and say it, transmountain diversions. What are the pros? What are the cons? How do we meet Colorado’s gap in the future?”

Whitehead said the seven-point framework had moved the discussion about a new transmountain diversion past the water-planning euphemism “new supply.”

“The term ‘new supply’ had been used a lot,” Whitehead said. “And folks on the Western Slope, obviously, are a little sensitive about new supply. I’ve heard it stated that it might be new supply to somebody else but it’s not really a new supply.”

Sawyer Creek diversion via Aspen Journalism
Sawyer Creek diversion via Aspen Journalism

The 7-Points, in the draft water plan

The 27-member Interbasin Compact Committee serves as something of an executive committee for the nine basin roundtables. Its mission includes developing new water storage and providing a framework for negotiations between the roundtables.

The Colorado Water Conservation Board, the state agency charged with planning for the state’s water needs, oversees both the committee and the roundtables.

On Dec. 10, the agency presented a draft Colorado water plan to Gov. John Hickenlooper. The plan includes the committee’s seven-point “draft conceptual agreement.”

Whitehead explained that the committee members were polled at a meeting in June using a clicker system, and all of them endorsed the statement, “I agree that the draft conceptual agreement is ready to go the water conservation board for consideration while we continue to get feedback from our roundtables and constituencies and the public.”

“So it is not a done deal,” Whitehead said. “And I know there’s even been some things in the newspaper here recently that agreements have been cut, that a deal’s been done, and that’s not the case.”

Members of both the Colorado River Basin and the Gunnison River Basin roundtables recently expressed dismay that a perception had been created that an agreement on a new transbasin has been reached.

“Our last roundtable meeting in November was a very emotional, heartfelt meeting where we discussed the seven points,” said Louis Meyer, a member of the Colorado roundtable. “We are the donor basin. There are currently 15 major transmountain diversions diverting between 450,000 and 600,000 acre-feet out of our basin.”

At their November meeting, the Colorado roundtable members unanimously adopted a motion stating that “it would be premature and inappropriate” to include the seven points in the Colorado water plan.

“We’re not saying they don’t belong in Colorado’s water plan; we’re saying they are not ready yet,” Meyer said at Thursday’s meeting, which also was attended by another 75 or so members of the public and Colorado’s professional water community. “They need a lot more discussion.”

The first and perhaps most significant of the seven points states that “the eastern slope is not looking for firm yield from a new transmountain diversion project and would accept hydrologic risk for that project.”

“I think the (Interbasin Compact Committee) has acknowledged that in high-water years, and at high levels of storage, there is probably some water left to develop in the Colorado River system,” Whitehead said of the first point. “In very low years, as in the previous 14 or 15 years we’ve just seen, there may not be.”

Whitehead said the third point, concerning “triggers” that might force a new transmountain diversion to divert less water, was about managing a potential “compact call” from California and other lower-basin states. Such a call could force junior water-rights owners in Colorado and other upper-basin states to stop diverting water.

“If it looks like we’re going to be headed toward compact curtailment of some kind, then they shouldn’t divert and increase that risk,” Whitehead said of a new diversion. “What those triggers are hasn’t been fully defined.”

The fourth point calls for an “insurance policy” for existing junior water rights, and raises the question of how much more water should be diverted from the state’s west-flowing rivers in the face of a looming compact call.

“Obviously, any development is going to increase the risk,” Whitehead said. “In my mind, 2 acres of irrigation on the Animas River that has a fairly small depletion is a bit of a different animal than a 100,000 acre-foot diversion. So how do we handle that? Is there a de minimus amount that we could agree to that would allow for some future uses on the Western Slope while trying to minimize that risk?”

Most of the basin roundtables are set to meet in January, and the Interbasin Compact Committee, which has not met since June, is slated to meet Jan. 28. A final version of the Colorado water-supply plan is due in December 2015.

Editor’s note: Aspen Journalism and The Aspen Times are collaborating on coverage of rivers and water. The Times published this story on Monday, Dec. 22, 2014.

More IBCC — basin roundtables coverage here.