Roaring Fork Conservancy District Independence Pass diversion system tour recap

Independence Pass Diversion
Independence Pass Diversion

From The Aspen Daily News (Collin Szewczyk):

The Independence Pass transmountain diversion system shut down for more than a month this year around the June peak runoff due to ample water supplies in the Arkansas River basin, only the fourth such time this has happened for these reasons since the 1930s.

Seeing rivers in this more-natural state has reinvigorated local interest in the health of the Roaring Fork watershed and how it is managed.

Recently, a group of more than two dozen interested locals and tourists met up at the Lost Man trailhead parking lot near Independence Pass to learn more about how water is diverted east from the watershed. The sold-out event was hosted by the Basalt-based Roaring Fork Conservancy, and was led by both its employees and those of the Twin Lakes Reservoir and Canal Co., which manages water flows through the transmountain diversion system…

Medved noted that there are 24 major diversion tunnels in Colorado, and two of the five largest are in the Roaring Fork watershed.

The fifth largest is the 3.85-mile-long Twin Lakes tunnel, which diverts water from the headwaters of the Roaring Fork River to the Arkansas River basin. It is a bit over nine feet wide and boring began in November of 1933, with the workers “holing out” in February 1935.

The Boustead Tunnel is the third-largest diversion tunnel and is located on the headwaters of the Fryingpan River. It stretches 5.5 miles, and empties into Turquoise Reservoir near Leadville.

Scott Campbell, general manager of the nonprofit Twin Lakes Reservoir and Canal Co., which is privately owned and based out of Ordway, has worked with water for about 40 years and explained that the Twin Lakes diversion was originally a supplemental water right in the 1930s. He added that when water from the Arkansas River was coming up short on the eastern side of the Continental Divide, Twin Lakes Reservoir water would help to fill the gap.

Each year, the transmountain diversion system collects water from the Roaring Fork River, as well as the Lost Man, Lincoln, Brooklyn, Tabor, New York and Grizzly creeks, and moves it through the Twin Lakes Tunnel into the Arkansas basin. From there much of it aids agricultural pursuits near Pueblo and Crowley counties…

The Twin Lakes Reservoir is owned and operated by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, but the Twin Lakes Reservoir and Canal Co. retains ownership of 54,452 acre-feet of space within to store water…

More storage on East Slope needed

When asked why Eastern Slope reservoirs aren’t being expanded to store more water, Campbell replied, “That’s a very good question.”

Alan Ward, water resources administrator for the Pueblo Board of Water Works, explained that many of the reservoirs on the Front Range are under federal purview, and changes would require an act of Congress.

“As it turns out, we’ve been trying to do that for almost 15 years,” he said. “It’s not easy to get Congress all together and actually passing legislation that would allow us to study the enlargement of that.”

Ward added that while some potential reservoir sites may be good from an engineering point of view, they don’t always make sense environmentally.

“It’s just a challenge to be able to find a spot that you can get permitted, that you can afford to build on, and that you can get permission to build on, if it requires an act of Congress,” he said. “But something I think is very much in the forefront of the minds of water planners on the East Slope, is where and how can we build more storage to be able to better manage the limited supply [of water] we have.”

Into the Styx

Following a bumpy Jeep ride up Lincoln Creek, care of Blazing Adventures, to see the opposite end of the tunnel through Green Mountain, Campbell concluded the tour by leading people on a subterranean descent into the Twin Lakes Tunnel.

The concrete “road” dropped down quickly into the darkness, and constant seepage water dripped from above, creating the feeling of being caught in an underground monsoon.

Campbell noted that the site’s caretakers, Kim and Glenn Schryver, use the underground route in the winter to reach the outside world while Independence Pass is buried under the snowpack.

He explained that the workers boring the tunnel converged on each other from either side and averaged just under 50 feet in progress a day. When they met up, the holes were six inches apart, Campbell said, adding that the route was determined with a line of mirrors shot over Independence Mountain.

EPA: #AnimasRiver surface water returning to pre-spill conditions — The Denver Post

Animas River at Durango photo -- Steve Lewis via Twitter
Animas River at Durango photo — Steve Lewis via Twitter

From The Denver Post (Elizabeth Hernandez):

Environmental Protection Agency officials released new data Sunday that they said indicates surface water concentrations from the Animas River are returning to their normal conditions.

Water samples collected by the EPA on Aug. 16 and 17 have been validated, the agency said. An agency review of the data included a comparison to screening levels for exposure during recreational river use to see if the metal concentrations in the water are consistent with levels prior to the disastrous 3 million-gallon spill that inundated the river in early August.

“Based on the results of the surface water samples in the Animas River, surface water concentrations are trending toward pre-event conditions,” the EPA said Sunday.

From The Denver Post (Jesse Paul):

The Environmental Protection Agency says there may still be blockages in the Gold King Mine that could lead to future wastewater surges more than two weeks after 3 million gallons of contaminants were released at the site.

Officials say while the EPA and state responders have “begun efforts” to ensure such plugs do not exist, the work has not been completed.

The news came as 92 pages of internal documents were released by the EPA late Friday showing the agency knew the Gold King was at risk for blowout more than a year before wastewater spilled from the mine above Silverton on Aug. 5.

The papers say workers at the site had a list of precautions they were supposed to take to prevent such a disaster. It was unclear Saturday from the documents whether those steps were taken.

“Conditions may exist that could result in a blow-out of the blockages and cause a release of large volumes of contaminated mine waters and sediment from inside the mine, which contain concentrated heavy metals,” an EPA task order from June 2014 said.

Media outlets and political figures alike have been pushing for weeks to see the documents released on Friday. The agency has come under intense criticism, much of it from politicians throughout the Southwest, for a lack of transparency in the Gold King disaster’s wake…

The task order, sent to contractor Environmental Restoration LLC, called the mine a “time critical” site and said water could be backed up in the Gold King because of the partial collapse of its portal and blockages within its workings.

The documents show the Gold King’s workings had no maintenance since 1991 and that its tunnels had been inaccessible since 1995, when its portal collapsed.

In an action plan dated in May, the EPA contractor slated to work on the mine — Environmental Restoration — said it planned to “de-water” the mine and remove blockages to prevent any blowout danger.

According to the plan, work was to be completed in the summer and fall of 2015, with an official start date of Aug. 17. The EPA said Saturday “work began at the site based on the availability of personnel and equipment, and appropriate weather conditions.”

“Collapse blockage material removal will be performed in a controlled manner in (order) to control the rate of release of water and allow for appropriate treatment and sludge management,” the EPA work order said.

The documents show the work crew was supposed to remove loose rock from the Gold King’s portal bit-by-bit while simultaneously pumping out backed-up wastewater inside the mine. The waste was then to be directed to the adjacent Red and Bonita Mine, lower in elevation, where the EPA and contractors already had set up treatment areas to prevent contaminants from entering the watershed.

The work plan also indicates the crew was to set up structures at the Gold King portal to prevent a blowout, including bedding material and a culvert section. Also as a precaution, the task order instructed the crew to install a gate at the portal that could be locked as part of blowout prevention.

However, EPA supervisor Hays Griswold, who was at the scene of the blowout Aug. 5, told The Denver Post in an interview this month the plan in place “couldn’t have worked.” He said conditions in the mine were worse than anticipated.

“Nobody expected (the acid water backed up in the mine) to be that high,” he said.

Griswold and his crew were using a backhoe to investigate the area near the Gold King’s portal when the blowout happened.

“All that was holding it back was the dirt. The dirt just wasn’t going to hold,” Griswold said…

The Post visited the Gold King Mine on Wednesday, when wastewater was still flowing from its portal at about 600 gallons per minute. The EPA is treating the sludge below the mine through a series of sediment ponds and says it plans to construct a commercial water treatment apparatus before winter.

The Associated Press reported the agency had spent $3.7 million through Thursday on response efforts in the spill’s aftermath.

The EPA’s inspector general, the agency’s internal watchdog, is investigating the disaster, and the Department of the Interior is conducting an independent review expected to be completed in October.

Colorado Water Congress annual summer meeting recap #COWaterPlan

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

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Some might think the upcoming state water plan is a recipe book for an elegant 10-course dinner.

Turns out something else is on the menu.

Stone soup.
You know, that old tale where a boiling rock becomes a tasty, fulfilling and nutritious dish as everyone adds a little something to the mix.

That’s the upshot of a three-day meeting of the Colorado Water Congress where the water plan served as the centerpiece of discussion. Gov. John Hickenlooper ordered up the water plan in 2013, a tumultuous weather year that featured drought, huge wildfires and floods. The document is expected to be completed in December, but even then will serve more as a cookbook than rule book or guidebook.

“The early discussion was, is this a textbook or a novel?” said Travis Smith, a Rio Grande basin member of the Colorado Water Conservation Board that is writing the state water plan.”We provided the textbook. I was interested in the novel that told the stories (of water).”

The plan has to be digested one bite at a time, Smith said. He advised Water Congress members to pick a chapter that interested them and read it, then add their own comments to the stew.

John McClow, who represents the Gunnison River basin on the CWCB, picked the section that discusses a collaborative framework for interbasin transfers — an idea that few from the Gunnison basin would have discussed 10 years ago.

The Interbasin Compact Committee still is seasoning that portion of the plan, so the current set of instructions already is outdated, he said. When it’s done, it will remain only a suggestion.

“We’re close to finding consensus about how a transfer could occur,” McClow said. “But it’s not a rule. It spells out the obstacles.”

Those obstacles are finding the balance among municipal water needs, protecting the Western Slope environment and satisfying Colorado River Compact needs with downstream states.

Patti Wells, representing Denver on the CWCB, dug through the ingredients already tossed in the pot and didn’t really like the taste.

While most of the people in Colorado have chosen to live in cities, their use of water — particularly for outdoor watering — has been described in terms of a problem, rather than a benefit, Wells said.

She pointed out that lawns and gardens reduce urban heat islands, improve water quality, increase property value and provide a place to play.

“That’s not to say we can’t use water wisely, but there is a value to people using water for outside uses,” she said.

By couching everything as a problem, it could be tougher to find solutions.

“Instead of trying to avoid the train wreck, we’re trying to figure out where to build the field hospitals,” she said.