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


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

Water supply good, storage space short — La Junta Tribune-Democrat

Lower Arkansas River near Bent
Lower Arkansas River near Bent

From the La Junta Tribune-Democrat (Bette McFarren):

The Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District maintains its position on current issues with flood control in Colorado Springs but acknowledges not much storage space available for water.

Roy Vaughan of the Bureau of Reclamation reported as of Aug. 16, 230,980 acre-feet are stored in Pueblo Reservoir. Turquoise, Twin Lakes and Pueblo Reservoir are all fuller than they were last year at this time.

Jack Gobel and Henry Schnable of Lamar reported the Colorado Water Protection and Development Association and possibly other well associations will go together to talk with lobbyist and try to get more water storage, for the benefit of well farmers.

Henry Schnable is interested in creating a role for John Martin Reservoir in the storing of water for areas nearer that reservoir.

State Senator Larry Crowder reported he is withdrawing his support for a dam on Fountain Creek because local constituents oppose it.

What Did All That Rain Really Mean For Colorado? — 5280.com

Upper Colorado River Basin May 2015 precipitation as a percent of normal
Upper Colorado River Basin May 2015 precipitation as a percent of normal

From 5280.com (Dahlia Singer):

That means Coloradans have a lot of reasons to celebrate. “Statewide, we’re in the best situation we’ve been in since 2011,” says Taryn Finnessey, a climate change risk management specialist with CWCB. “The rains really have not only alleviated drought conditions, but, in most portions of the state, they’ve eliminated them. And as far as reservoirs, we’re doing great. We’re better off than we were last year in all portions of the state.” Per the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, Colorado reservoir storage was at 117 percent of average at the end of July, the most recent info available; soil moisture is up, which typically makes farmers and ranchers do a happy dance; and cooler weather has also helped reduce demand on our water resources.

Of course, recent news that “this year’s El Niño weather pattern could be the most powerful on record” leaves just one question on the tip of Coloradans’ tongues: What’s that mean for the upcoming ski season? “An El Niño year does typically mean more moisture for Colorado,” Finnessey says, “But I don’t know that we have the information yet to determine whether or not that’s going to fall in the mountains or along the Front Range.”

Unfortunately, Klaus Wolter, a local climate scientist, says Colorado’s highest elevations typically don’t benefit from the system. “It’s the flip side of El Niño,” he says. But it’s not all bad news: “Typically what happens is you go through the winter and if you come out just slightly below normal, which is a very typical outcome, there is a good chance you might still play catch-up in the spring.

EPA releases internal report on Animas River Spill

Summit County Citizens Voice

EPA releases first results of internal investigation

FRISCO — EPA officials say that workers at the Gold King Mine likely underestimated the pressure building up inside the mountain. That miscalculation likely resulted in the massive 3 million gallon spill that tainted the Animas and San Juan rivers for miles downstream.


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The “why” behind our fluoride policy

Mile High Water Talk

Denver Water’s board decided to continue community water fluoridation by weighing the evidence. Now you can, too.

By Denver Water staff

Denver Board of Water Commissioner members listen to information at the July 2015 fluoride information session. Denver Board of Water Commissioners listen to information at the July 2015 fluoride information session.

In the end, it came down to the science. And there’s a lot of it.

On Aug. 26, the Denver Board of Water Commissioners voted to continue its practice of community water fluoridation.

That decision was not entirely unexpected. Denver Water has been regulating fluoride in the water since 1953, but board members said they took opposition to the policy seriously and requested a review of the latest science from the foremost national and local authorities to inform our policy.

Fluoride naturally occurs in many of Denver Water’s supply sources. We add fluoride as necessary to achieve an average concentration equal to the target recommended by the U.S. Public Health Service and the Colorado…

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What risk do Larimer County waters face from mining? — the Fort Collins Coloradoan


From the Fort Collins Coloradoan (Jacy Marmaduke):

A map released last week by the Colorado Division of Reclamation, Mining and Safety shows the majority of the mines clustered in the Silverton area and the Summit and Clear Creek county areas.

The closest leaking mines to Fort Collins are a Boulder County cluster of seven, four of which aren’t undergoing active water treatment. There are about 23,000 abandoned mines in Colorado, according to the state geographical survey.

The map also charts mine-related impaired streams — waterways with levels of potential mining-related minerals that surpass state standards. Red lines on the map denote mine-related impaired streams.

The map shows a short red section on the North Fork of the Poudre River and a lot of red lines around the Big Thompson River in the southern part of the county.

The North Fork of the Poudre is red because it contains higher-than-normal levels of lead, cadmium and copper. The Big Thompson is red because of higher levels of the same minerals, plus selenium and zinc as well as low pH levels indicating acidity.

But it’s not as bad as it sounds, said Nicole Rowan, watershed section manager with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

“It could be mining or it could be the geology of the area,” Rowan said. “This is one of the most mineralized areas in the world. That’s why people mine here.”

Federal law requires the state to assess its water quality and report the results. The map draws from the state’s last complete report in 2012. Of the Larimer County waterways included on the map, three segments are ranked high priority — meaning they’re a source of public drinking water or contain an endangered or threatened species with no plan in place to protect it.

These segments are:

•Big Thompson River’s Fish Creek below Mary’s Lake, due to low pH levels

•Big Thompson River from Rocky Mountain National Park to Home Supply Canal Diversion due to sulfide, copper, cadmium and zinc levels as well as high temperature

•Big Thompson’s North Fork due to copper levels

Zack Shelley, program director of the Big Thompson Watershed Forum, said the metals in the Big Thompson probably aren’t results of mining. The copper levels in particular are high because federal and state government used to treat algae in the river with copper sulfide, Shelley said. Other potential sources of metal in the Big Thompson include abandoned landfills, forest fires and septic systems in the area.

“To my knowledge, I don’t see a human health risk,” Shelley said, but the metals do present risks for fish and other aquatic life in the river.

The Big Thompson Watershed Forum will present new data on the river’s water quality next month.

Colorado Water Congress summer conference recap: Ag nutrient program in the works

Blue-Green algae bloom
Blue-Green algae bloom

From the Sterling Journal-Advocate (Marianne Goodland):

The Colorado Water Congress last week took a look at the Michigan Agriculture Environmental Assurance Program, known as MAEAP. It’s a program that has had limited success in other states, largely dependent on whether it gets support from the ag community.

According to Joe Kelpinski, who runs the program for the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Urban Development, the ag industry is being pressured to do “something” to demonstrate that farms and related businesses are being responsible about water quality. “We were under tremendous pressure from the environmental movement, especially for livestock,” Kelpinski told the audience at the CWC’s Vail summer conference.

That’s where MAEAP comes in. About 15 years ago, a coalition of farmers, commodity groups, state and federal agencies, and conservation and environmental groups in Michigan designed the voluntary program to minimize agricultural pollution risks. But it had low participation until 2011, when the state legislature added incentives to encourage more farmers to be involved.

The program has three phases: education, on-farm risk assessment and third-party verification. Producers are required to attend a state-reviewed meeting in environmental best management practices and conservation.

In the second phase, state technicians work directly with the farmers to provide technical assistance, conduct a risk assessment on the operation; whether it’s farm, livestock, cropping or forestry/wetland and habitat. The technician walks the operation with the producer, looking at pesticide or fertilizer storage, soil and water erosion and wells, or location of wetlands, for example. The assessments are confidential. The technician then scores the assessment and comes up with an improvement or action plan, and what to do to mitigate risks so the third phase, verification, can take place.

The verification is done by a third-party verifier. Kelpinski said environmentalists wanted the third-party verification instead of self-certification. A verification then lasts for five years.

According to the program’s website, verification reduces legal and environmental risks through use of proven scientific standards, balances efficient production and sound environmental practices; and helps ensure safe storage of fuel, fertilizer and pesticides. Verification is also a tool for local emergency responders. Technicians develop emergency plans, using aerial photographs, which help first responders know where fuel or fertilizer is stored when there’s a fire or other emergency situation.

With these three systems, “we can look at farms holistically,” Kelpinski said.

But buy-in from the agriculture industry is essential, he added. “If you don’t have industry support, it will fail,” and he noted that other states have tried without having buy-in from the agricultural industry, only to see their programs flop. Michigan’s program now has about 11,000 participating farms, out of 52,000 total in the state. Kelpinski said that last year, sediment runoff was reduced by 357 tons, phosphorus levels have dropped and 566,000 acres have approved pesticide management plans. And once the incentives were added in 2011, the department went from 150 verifications per year to about 500.

The incentives included eliminating fines for accidental discharges, which Kelpinski called “the golden carrot.” There are also incentives related to watershed management.

Cindy Lair of the Colorado Department of Ag has had a proposal waiting for a similar program for several years, and believes the time has come. “But we won’t do anything without complete support of the industry,” she said. “Farmers are asking for details and for certainty.” She’s hoping for dialogue between Colorado ag producers and those in other states where this program has been successful. “It would take the scare and fear out of it,” she said. Ag producers feel vulnerable about this, but there are benefits, too, she said, such as getting higher ranking for certain federal programs that provide technical and financial assistance on conservation practices. She believes a pilot program might be the best way to get this started.

“Municipalities have already been working on their side of nutrient pollution,” Lair explained. “It’s appropriate for the ag industry to show some goodwill and activity in this area.”

A group in Colorado is already looking at something similar to MAEAP. The Colorado Agricultural Nutrient Taskforce started last January, in response to a new regulation from the Colorado Water Quality Monitoring Council, part of the state’s water quality control division. Regulation 85 looks at nutrient pollution resulting from excess nitrogen and phosphorus, a leading cause of degradation of U.S. water quality, according to the council. Reg 85, as it is known, seeks to establish scientifically-based nutrient regulations and allow those who discharge those chemicals time to develop plans to begin treating both nitrogen and phosphorus. The regulation was passed in March 2012, with a ten-year waiver for ag on nutrient control.

Mary Gearhart of Brown and Caldwell is facilitating the taskforce. She explained that in 2022, if there has been no substantial progress by the ag community in improving water quality, the commission will consider whether to regulate agricultural runoff and discharge. “It’s a touchy subject,” Gearhart noted. The taskforce is looking at a modest assurance program, not as substantial as Michigan, she said, adding that a lot of farms are doing best practices but there isn’t a formal documentation or verification process.

Former ag Commissioner Don Ament of Iliff is a member of the taskforce. Water quality is becoming more of an issue, he told this reporter. “Agriculture is very willing to step up to the plate and do their fair share. It just needs to be science-based,” he explained. “I want ag to be in the front, being a part of the solution — but a scientific one, not an emotional one.”

Reductions in ag runoff have improved dramatically, Ament said. “We can make the case that we’re an environmentally-sound partner. We can demonstrate a lot of that already.”

And how will the legislature react? Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg, R-Sterling, told this reporter he is hesitant to back yet another program with a permit or registration process for a farmer to do what they’re already doing. “We’ve become a little gun-shy of giving any information to government on how we do business,” he said. “The vast majority are doing things correctly and doing things that are environmentally sensitive, because they have to leave the land better tomorrow than they did today, or it doesn’t provide for their families.”