#ColoradoRiver: Hoover (Boulder) Dam dedication anniversay


Click here to go to the Hoover Dam FAQ webpage from the US Bureau of Reclamation.

Click on a thumbnail to view a gallery of Hoover Dam photos from the Coyote Gulch archives.

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.

Upper Colorado River Basin water year 2015 precipitation as a percent of normal through August 31, 2015
Upper Colorado River Basin water year 2015 precipitation as a percent of normal through August 31, 2015

#ColoradoRiver: Southwestern Water Conservation District Water 101 session recap #COWaterPlan #COriver

From The Pine River Times (Carole McWilliams):

The nightmare scenario for West Slope water nerds is a “call” on the Colorado River, meaning that Colorado, Wyoming, and Northwest New Mexico are not delivering a legally required amount of water to California, Nevada, Arizona, and Utah.

If or when that happens, some water users in the three Upper Basin states will have their water use curtailed so that the Lower Basin states get their share. Water banking as a concept being proposed on the West Slope to minimize curtailment and huge water fights between holders of pre-1922 water rights, which would not be curtailed, and holders of post-1922 rights that would be curtailed.

Durango water engineer Steve Harris spoke to this at the Sept. 25 Water 101 seminar in Bayfield.

The idea started in 2008 with the Southwest Colorado Water Conservation District and the Colorado River Conservation District. Those two entities cover the entire West Slope, Harris said. The idea of water banking is “to provide water for critical uses in cases of compact curtailment.”

West Slope agricultural water users would voluntarily and temporarily reduce their water use and be compensated for it. The water would go to Lake Powell to satisfy the legal requirement for the three Upper Basin states to deliver 7.5 million acre feet of water each year (averaged over 10 years for a total 75 million AF) to the four Lower Basin states and avert curtailment…

All this is dictated by a water compact signed in 1922. It committed 15 million AF per year divvied up between the Upper and Lower Basin states. “Average flow now is around 13 million AF in the Colorado,” Harris said. The result has been continued draw-down of Lake Powell and Lake Mead.

“Right now we are at around 90 million AF versus the 75 million AF over 10 years,” Harris said. If the amount delivered goes below the 10 year requirement, perfected water rights before 1922 would not be curtailed. Most of that is West Slope ag water.

About half of Bayfield’s and Durango’s municipal water is pre-1922 rights, he said. More than 90 percent of the 1-plus million AF of pre-1922 West Slope water is used to grow grass or alfalfa hay.

Post-1922 rights include area reservoir storage, water for coal-fired power plants, a lot of municipal and industrial water, and 98 percent of West Slope water diversions to Front Range urban areas. “So they would be curtailed. But that’s not going to happen,” Harris said, because Front Range residents aren’t going to have their water supply cut to grow hay.

“We want to set up a water bank so the pre-1922 users would set aside water for the post-1922 users. Otherwise, pre-1922 rights could be targeted for acquisition by post-1922 users,” he said.

Water banking is still an idea at this point. “We don’t know if the water bank will work,” Harris said. Two studies have been done, one is under way, and a fourth will be conducted by Colorado State University to look at the impacts on eight small farms of full irrigation, reduced irrigation, and no irrigation.

Harris said 50,000 to 200,000 AF of West Slope pre-1922 water might be able to go into a water bank, based on land that could be fallowed. But there is concern that some other senior water right holder could take the water before it gets to Lake Powell. Also, he said, “It’s very hard to measure water saved through fallowing. Every year is different.”

In contrast, there is an estimated 55,000 AF of critical post-1922 municipal and industrial use on the West Slope and 295,000 AF of critical diversions to the East Slope. “The amount of pre-compact water that might be available is much smaller than the demand,” Harris said. He cited another local issue: “If you don’t irrigate on Florida Mesa, people don’t have water wells.”

An assortment of water entities in the Colorado River Basin have contributed $11 million to do demand management pilot projects to get more water to Lake Powell. Durango applied to change their water billing to “social norming,” meaning how much water you use compared to your neighboors. Harris quipped that he’d pull the norm down because he made a show of removing his lawn back in the spring.

State Sen. Ellen Roberts also spoke at the seminar. “Even though we are a headwaters state, there’s a limited amount of water, and if the population is going to double by 2040 or 2050, where will the water come from? … Every direction from Colorado, there’s a neighboring state that has a legal right to some of our water.”

Eighty-seven percent of the state population lives between Fort Collins and Pueblo, and they like their Kentucky blue grass, she said, adding, “Kentucky is a much better place for it. … On the Front Range, all they care about is does the water come out when they turn on the tap.”

She noted the heated reaction to the bill she introduced in 2014 to limit the size of lawns in new residential developments that use water converted from ag, leaving the ag land dry. Harris initiated that idea. Roberts commented, “To feed their lawns, they need our water.”

As with population, 87 of 100 state legislators also live betwween Fort Collins and Pueblo, she said. “If they don’t come out here to know our world, they don’t appreciate why water is so important. … Water is our future.”

Roberts gave an update on the Colorado Water Plan, which is intended to address the projected gap between water demand and supply. Community meetings on the plan were held around the state last year and earlier this year. “The number one thing we heard was the need for storage,” Roberts said. “If we can’t capture and hold the water we have, we are hurting ourselves.” The next question is how to pay for storage projects. “That’s where the fighting begins,” she said.

The water plan needs more specifics on recommended actions, Roberts said. And after the Gold King spill of toxic mine waste, it needs something about water quality threats from abandoned mines.

The 470-plus page plan is being done by the Colorado Water Conservation Board and is supposed to be presented to the governor by Dec. 10. It’s available on-line at http://www.coloradowaterplan.com.

Colorado River Basin including Mexico, USBR May 2015
Colorado River Basin including Mexico, USBR May 2015

Children’s World Water Day activities at Littleton-Englewood treatment plant


From the Centennial Citizen (Tom Munds):

Excited laughter and conversations among young voices created a different atmosphere at the Littleton/Englewood Wastewater Treatment Plant as more than 500 students from Englewood, Littleton and Denver made a field trip there for World Water Day activities.

“We have expanded the event this year and have more students attending it,” said Brenda Varner, plant employee and event coordinator. “We have gotten help in expanding the event from a number of agencies that are providing volunteers and displays. Each school’s student group is scheduled to visit every station. The stations provide the opportunity to check out displays, listen to presentations and do hands-on activities. I am sure one of the more popular hand-on activities will be at the booth where each student can create a special T-shirt.”

She said the school groups arrived at different times Sept. 23. Each group then followed a schedule from station to station.

Sixth-graders from Littleton Preparatory Charter School took part in the event. At one of the tour stations, Lily Stinton and other Littleton Prep students were divided into small groups and ran a number of tests on water from the South Platte River.

“I am learning a lot of things I didn’t know about water,” Stinton said. “I am learning about what has to be done to water so it is safe for us to drink. I am glad I came today.”[…]

Fellow student Charles Childers said it was fun testing river water.

“The water looks OK when you have it in the flask,” he said. “Then with the tests and the displays you learn about all the stuff that is in the river and in the river water. I didn’t know much about the river and the water in it so it is cool to learn about those things.”

Basalt approves whitewater kayak park — The Aspen Daily News

Proposed Basalt whitewater park via the Aspen Daily News
Proposed Basalt whitewater park via the Aspen Daily News

From The Aspen Daily News (Collin Szewczyk):

Pitkin County plans to install concrete structures and place boulders in the Roaring Fork River near the intersection of Two Rivers Road and Elk Run Drive to create the wave feature for kayakers, and help secure an in-stream diversion water right to keep more of the precious liquid in the river.

But whitewater enthusiasts will have to wait just a bit longer to ride the waves, after construction was delayed until next year so that more public input can be taken into account and amorous trout have time to do their thing.

John Ely, Pitkin County attorney, told the council that Colorado Parks and Wildlife officials had concerns over spawning trout in the river where the construction is to occur. This sentiment was echoed by members of the local angling community who urged caution on moving forward, and asked that the project be delayed.

David Johnson, member of the Roaring Fork Fishing Guide Alliance and guide at the Crystal Fly Shop in Carbondale, said more public input needs to be reeled in before construction occurs.

“Our official position on this issue is that, as an entity, we’d like to see the town of Basalt delay construction on this project so the public can be more fully informed and engaged,” he said. “Pitkin County has had this on the drawing board for a long time, many years, but there hasn’t been outreach to the fishing community.”

Johnson added that the “washing-machine effect” of the feature could be detrimental to fish in the river, and that many locals are skeptical of just how much water the junior right would put in the river, even though any would be a benefit…

Laura Makar, assistant Pitkin County attorney, noted that the cubic feet per second associated with the right would entail an extra 240 CFS from April 15 to May 7; 380 CFS from May 8 to June 10; 1,350 CFS June 11 to June 25; then down to 380 CFS June 26 to Aug. 20; and 240 CFS from then until Labor Day…

Ely said that construction will be delayed until 2016, and that the Army Corps of Engineers, which provides the 404 permit for the project, has been amenable to a delay. The permit has already been granted but is scheduled to expire on Dec. 7…

Denise Handrich, an adjunct professor at Colorado Mountain College’s Aspen campus, said the whitewater park will provide a wonderful location to teach her students how to kayak…

Basalt Mayor Jacque Whitsitt said that while safety must still be addressed in the area, she was relieved by the delay to allow for the spawning trout to procreate, calling fishing the top economic driver for Basalt.

“I’m really happy that we’re going to slow down,” she said. “I think this issue with the spawning is a big deal. … Fishing is a really, really big deal for this community.”

Map of the Roaring Fork River watershed via the Roaring Fork Conservancy
Map of the Roaring Fork River watershed via the Roaring Fork Conservancy

Bayfield: Water 101 session recap

From the Pine River Times (Carole McWilliams):

Two-thirds of the water that originates in the Colorado mountains must go to downstream states and Mexico, recently retired State Supreme Court Justice Gregory Hobbs noted at the Water 101 seminar on Sept. 25 at the Pine River Library in Bayfield.

This includes Kansas, Nebraska, and New Mecico as well as Arizona, Utah, Nevada, and California.

Herbert Hoover presides over the signing of the Colorado River Compact in November 1922.  (Courtesy U.S. Department of Interior, Bureau of Reclamation)
Herbert Hoover presides over the signing of the Colorado River Compact in November 1922. (Courtesy U.S. Department of Interior, Bureau of Reclamation)

“The legal doctrine is equitable sharing of interstate waters,” Hobbs said. This is governed by an assortment of interstate compacts, starting with the 1922 compact with three upper basin (Western Colorado and parts of Wyoming and New Mexico) and four lower basin states. Compacts are between states, but they become federal law when approved by Congress.

The 1922 compact dictates that 75 million acre feet, averaged over 10 years, must be delivered to the lower basin states. That’s measured at Lee’s Ferry in the Grand Canyon below Glen Canyon dam and Lake Powell. Seventy percent of that water comes from Colorado, Hobbs said.

There are nine interstate compacts governing Colorado water, he said…

Colorado transmountain diversions via the State Engineer's office
Colorado transmountain diversions via the State Engineer’s office

Within Colorado, the hot issue for many years, at least on the Western Slope, has been trans-mountain water diversions to the Front Range. “We are one Colorado. Isn’t that the problem?” Hobbs asked. Before his 19 years on the State Supreme Court, he represented the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District (northern Front Range) for 17 years.

“The water in these rivers is available to Colorado. There’s an overlay of federal supremacy,” he said. There are trans-basin diversions within the Colorado River Basin and around 24 diversions that go from Colorado headwaters to the east, he said.

Colorado water law is based on prior appropriation (first in time, first in right) and putting the water to beneficial use. A water right is conditional until it’s put to beneficial use.

The problem is, “If you can’t get your structure permitted by the Corps (of Engineers) or permits to cross federal land, you can’t put the water to beneficial use,” he said. “Getting the right is one thing; getting the permit to build the project is something else.”

Hobbs also listed a progression of federal laws – the 1862 Homestead Act to promote Western settlement, the 1866 Mining Law that severed water from federal lands and turned it over to states, and the 1902 Reclamation Act that opened the way for Western dam construction projects.

Colorado became a territory in 1861, he said. That year the territoriaal legislature created the right for settlers to build ditches to get water to their land that wasn’t next to the stream. It prevented corporations, railroads and land barons from buying up the river banks to control the water. In 1864, the legislature made prior appropriation the basis for water diversion and use.

San Luis People's Ditch via The Pueblo Chieftain
San Luis People’s Ditch via The Pueblo Chieftain

The earliest ditch right was the 1852 People’s Ditch near San Luis. Ute water rights date to 1868, the basis for constructing the Animas/La Plata Project.

“Our (state) constitution from 1876 says the public owns the water. You get a right to use it by prior appropriation,” Hobbs said. “The most valuable rights in the state are water and ditch rights.”

He showed pictures of several historical hand drawn maps of rivers in the mountain region. One from 1841 showed a big blank space of unknown land. The land was considered vacant, at least to settlers coming from back East, he said, noting that Native Americans already lived “from sea to shining sea.”

Farview Reservoir Mesa Verde NP
Farview Reservoir Mesa Verde NP

Before all those maps, Hobbs showed a picture of Far View Village on Chapin Mesa at Mesa Verde and a nearby structure that he said was a water reservoir. There are four reservoirs at Mesa Verde and one at Hovenweep, Hobbs said. Paleohydrology is one of his interests. “I can’t teach about water law without talking about history, culture, governance. There are enduring problems that go way back,” he said.

“Everywhere across this country there are water features, because water is the basis of life,” he added

Hobbs was just appointed as Jurist in Residence at Denver University. He also serves on the Colorado Foundation for Water Education that publishes the quarterly Headwaters magazine and the Citizens’ Guide to Colorado Water Law.

El Niño: “The fact of the matter is it’s always unpredictable” — Nolan Doesken

Average influence of El Niño on US temperature and precipitation
Average influence of El Niño on US temperature and precipitation

From the Fort Collins Coloradoan (Jacy Marmaduke):

…there’s another factor at play this season to complicate an already inexact science regarding El Nino. And it’s leaving even seasoned forecasters unsure what this winter will look like.

It’s called the Pacific Decadal Oscillation, and it only happens about every two decades. The combination of the PDO with a historic El Nino means the normal El Nino pattern might be thrown off course.

“In my 27 years, I don’t know if I’ve ever seen anything like this,” said Mike Baker, meteorologist and climate service focal point with the National Weather Service in Boulder…

The last two big-time El Ninos took place in 1997-98 and 1982-83. Both periods started out warmer and drier than usual for Northern Colorado but were punctuated by a small number of heavy snowfalls in the area.

Fort Collins averages 15 inches of rain and 47 inches of snow a year. Looking at each of the four years individually, those years brought above to well-above rain and two well-above average, one average and one below average snowfall. The most rain was in 1997, when Fort Collins last experienced a major flood, with 25.24 inches. That year also saw 75.9 inches of snow, second in those years only to 1983’s total of 81.7 inches.

A Christmas Eve blizzard in 1982 dropped about 24 inches of snow on Denver, although Fort Collins only received about 4 inches. A late October snowstorm in 1997 slammed Denver with more than 24 inches of snow and Fort Collins with about 18 inches.

Northern Colorado is less affected by El Nino than southern and southwestern Colorado, and even Denver. That’s because it’s further from the storm track, or the Pacific jet stream —a river of wind in the upper atmosphere that picks up storms.

“These little weather disturbances are carried along like leaves in a river, and these little disturbances when they move across an area produce the weather,” Baker said. “That’s why we don’t see weather all the time. We have to wait for one of those little leaves of energy to come by in the jet stream.”

The Pacific jet stream sets itself up along the coast where the water is relatively warmer, which is why storms come from the south during El Nino years.

Here’s where things get weird, though. Remember the Pacific Decadal Oscillation, the thing that happens every 20 years? It causes warmer water in the northern part of the Pacific, all the way from the Pacific Northwest up to Alaska.

So right now, the entire Pacific coast is warm and there’s no temperature gradient, which means the jet stream is wandering around like an awkward party guest, unsure where to sit down.

Whether Fort Collins gets any big snows depends on where the jet stream eventually finds a seat.

“We always tell the media, if the jet stream sags 50 miles, we’re gonna see nothing here along the Front Range,” Baker said. “If it sags a little farther north, we’re gonna get clobbered.”

Forecasters say the precipitation outlook for the next three months is indeterminable. The jet stream’s location might be farther north than normal for an El Nino period, its movement toward the U.S. might be delayed, or it may not set up at all.

“The fact of the matter is it’s always unpredictable,” said Nolan Doesken, state climatologist at the Colorado Climate Center. “People get all excited about a strong El Nino as if this will absolutely predict the rest of the late fall and winter … But it’s just one modifier of the otherwise beautiful and complex atmospheric-oceanic circulation system.”


EPA doesn’t expect ‘adverse effects’ from Boulder County mine discharge — Longmont Times-Call

The Arcade Saloon in 1898 Eldora Colorado via WikiPedia
The Arcade Saloon in 1898 Eldora Colorado via WikiPedia

From the Longmont Times-Call (John Bear):

EPA spokeswoman Laura Williams said the agency is continuing to investigate samples taken from the creek to see whether the metal content in the water is higher than historic levels.

Officials said that samples collected did not show the presence of some of the metals the EPA tests for, but, as of Monday, they had not explained what metals were present in the samples and in what concentration.

The tests look for aluminum, antimony, arsenic, barium, beryllium, cadmium, calcium, chromium, cobalt, copper, iron, lead, manganese, magnesium, nickel, potassium, selenium, silver, sodium, thallium, vanadium and zinc.

The deluge of water from the Swathmore Mine on Sept. 21 temporarily turned the creek orange and led officials to briefly shut down water intake systems downstream.

Boulder and Nederland use the creek as part of their water supplies.

EPA officials said soon after the spill that the discharge from the mine was not toxic, but sent water samples for testing. They expect further results to be available later this week.

Todd Hartman, a spokesman for the Colorado Department of Natural Resources, said the mine has discharged at a “low flow rate,” less than 15 gallons a minute, for as long as the landowner can remember, but had apparently never surged before…

The Colorado Division of Reclamation, Mining and Safety has identified six old or abandoned mining sites in the county that impact water quality or likely do: Bueno, Emmett, Evening Star, Fairday, Captain Jack and Golden Age.

Four of the mines — Bueno, Emmett, Evening Star and Fairday — likely impact water quality, but currently have no active water treatment programs, records show.

Hartman said the six mines are designated as “legacy mines” because they were mined prior to modern mining reclamation laws that came into effect in the 1970s.

The Captain Jack Mill is designated as a Superfund site because of multiple contaminants, including lead, arsenic and thallium, along with several other heavy metals, according to the EPA.

Mary Boardman, a project manager with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, said the Captain Jack Mill Superfund Site was added to the national priorities list in 2003 and a decision was made to begin clean-up in 2008. That project remains ongoing.

Hartman said the Golden Age Mine is still in the investigative stage, so officials can determine the best approach to managing it.

Boulder County has several waterways deemed “mine related impaired streams” and one state-run “nonpoint source mine reclamation project” that includes removing mine tailings, waste piles and restoring streams, according to the Colorado Division of Reclamation, Mining and Safety.

Hartman said “mining impacted” means the streams have been degraded by acidity or metals from a combination of mining sources and natural background geological sources in such a way that they fall below Clean Water Act Standards.

He said it’s difficult to determine how many old or abandoned mines are in Boulder County, but nearly 1,200 safety closures have been conducted in the last 25 years, and the owner of Swathmore Mine has asked that one be installed by the Colorado Division of Reclamation, Mining and Safety.

“Those are grates and other measures to prevent people and animals from entering (or) falling into old mines,” Hartman said.

Fountain Creek District board meeting update: Trail system from Colorado Springs to Pueblo?

Fountain Creek photo via the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District
Fountain Creek photo via the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Sure, Fountain Creek is going to flood from time to time.

But one landowner says that’s inevitable, and a district formed to improve the creek should be looking at using conservation easements to build a trail system from Pueblo to Colorado Springs.

“You could create an easement to connect the two cities,” said Jerry Martin, a Pueblo West Metropolitan District board member who owns property on Fountain Creek about 5 miles north of Pueblo. “It doesn’t solve flooding, but it helps mitigate the damage.”

Martin spoke at Friday’s meeting of the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District board.

Martin’s idea is for the district to secure easements, either through donations such as he is willing to do or by purchasing them. Martin, who chose to live in Pueblo West after working in Colorado Springs, said state funding is more likely if Pueblo and Colorado Springs can pull together for a common goal.

“My whole point is that we have a sow’s ear, but you can make a silk purse,” Martin said.

The district was receptive, and in fact already on the case.

Already, the district has secured Great Outdoors Colorado funding for trails in both El Paso and Pueblo counties, as well as recreational activities such as the wheel park on Pueblo’s East Side, slated to open in November.

Executive Director Larry Small noted that recreation has always been a purpose of the district, and is included in the strategic plan and corridor master plan.
Board member Richard Skorman added that the district is working to include the Fountain Creek trail as part of Gov. John Hickenlooper’s recently announced $100 million critical connections program for hike and bike trails.

“The designation would help,” Skorman said.

The idea of connecting Pueblo to the Front Range Trail via Fountain Creek goes back to then-Sen. Ken Salazar’s “Crown Jewel” vision in 2006. Skorman was a staffer for Salazar at the time.

“What can I do?” Martin asked. “I know it’s not a new idea, but one that I hope gets to the top of the list.”

“We’ve always felt we’ve been a stepchild,” Skorman said. “Colorado Springs and Pueblo need to push together. If we could get that (critical connection) designation, it could go a long way. We’re on a roll here if we can get this to work.”

‘Recharge Ponds’ Show How Water Needs Of Animals And Ag Can Align — KUNC

Recharge pond
Recharge pond

From KUNC (Shelly Schlender):

Colorado’s South Platte River basin is a powerhouse for crops and cattle. Massive reservoirs quench the region’s thirst, with farm fields generally first in line. Wildlife? It’s often last.

A small win-win though is giving waterfowl a little more room at the watering hole. It’s a program that creates warm winter ponds for migrating ducks — then gives the water back, in time for summer crops…

Dabbling ducks need shallow water. In a nearby hayfield you’ll find some mud flats, each about the size of a city dweller’s yard and only two feet deep. Yahn calls them “recharge” ponds, but they could also be described as mud holes, or maybe soggy hollows.

“Recharge pond,” though, is their official name, and they don’t just happen; they’re intentionally made from natural depressions that previously did not hold much water…

To transform these features into recharge ponds, farmers must first earn a water right through Colorado water court. Then, documenting every drop, farmers pump water into their recharge ponds starting around November, when groundwater is plentiful. They keep refilling them until March, as water constantly seeps out of them. The water then percolates through the soil, slowly heading back to “recharge” the South Platte River.

“The goal,” says Yahn, “is to have it during those critical times – July, August, and September. That’s really where there’s a demand for water above what the supply is.”

A farmer who legally captures winter water through a recharge pond has essentially retimed it, making it possible to add that same amount to summer crops.

As a side effect, during the winter, ducks benefit.

During winter on Colorado’s northeastern plains, ducks can bob up and down in the recharge ponds because the pumped up groundwater is so warm that it doesn’t freeze.

“Most people … are very used to seeing that duck butt sticking straight up in the air with the bill kind of grazing off the bottom of the pond,” says Denver nature lover Kent Haybourne. “So you really want this water to be at a depth where the duck can tip its head under water and eat.”

Heybourne, a doctor, is so impressed by recharge ponds, he’s contributed land and money for creating them. He donates his water credits to nearby farmers, who use them for summer crops. Assisting him financially and with legal and engineering expertise is Ducks Unlimited, one of the nation’s oldest and largest conservation groups.

“We did about $20 million worth of those grants. And there was probably about 26 different landowners and about 40,000 acres conserved,” says Greg Kernohan, who leads the Ducks Unlimited recharge pond efforts. “It’s been a pretty incredible impact over a 10-year period.”

Kernohan teams up with hunting groups, farmers, and even businesses that provide matching grants, to help offset their corporate water use. Companies helping range from carmakers and software giants, to brewers.

As for the ponds, Kent Heybourne says that visiting one during the winter is kind of a miracle.

“You go out there when it’s 10 or 15 degrees below zero . . . and there’s this beautiful open water with steam rising off of it, and of course, you know, that’s fabulous habitat for the ducks.”

Nature lovers like Kernohan and Heyborne hope the success of recharge ponds will inspire more Coloradans to find win-win ways to share water with wildlife.

CWCB: September 2015 Drought Update

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

Warm dry conditions have continued across much of eastern Colorado, while the mountains have seen near average precipitation so far this month. Drier conditions have resulted in declining soil moisture levels, but overall evapotranspiration rates are below average for the season, and pasture conditions and harvest yields are reportedly good. Water providers are also reporting increased demands during August and September, however system-wide storage levels remain above average and providers have no immediate concerns.

The abnormally dry conditions along the eastern plains and Front Range are not serious enough to require action.

  • The Colorado Drought Mitigation and Response Plan was formally deactivated by Governor Hickenlooper on September 15, 2015 due to improved conditions. Additional information on this can be found at http://cwcb.state.co.us/water-management/drought/Pages/DroughtResponse.aspx
  • Statewide water year-to-date precipitation is 94 percent of average, a slight decline since last month. Statewide August received only 62 percent of average precipitation while September to-date have seen only 71 percent of average. Generally, the west slope has seen greater precipitation than the eastern plains.
  • August temperatures were above average by 1.6 degrees Fahrenheit, with the warmest temperatures along the southern Front Range. September to-date has seen slightly above average temperatures on the west slope and well above average temperatures on the eastern plains. Warmer temperatures typically drive up demand for irrigation water during the growing season.
  • Reservoir Storage statewide is at 115 percent of average as of September 1st. The Arkansas has the highest levels in the state at 145 percent of average. The Upper Rio Grande has the lowest storage levels at 92 percent of average, this is also the only basin with below average storage. However, the Rio Grande levels are 31 percent greater now than this time last year.
  • The Surface Water Supply Index (SWSI) is highly variable across much of the state. The majority of the sub-basins remain near normal, however most have seen declines over the last month. Portions of the South Platte and Arkansas have abundant supplies due largely to reservoir storage levels. The greatest declines have been in the Colorado and Yampa River basins.
  • The state has recently complete an automation tool for the SWSI index and a revised detailed monthly report can be found at http://water.state.co.us/DWRDocs/Reports/Pages/SWSIReport.aspx
  • El Niño has gained strength over the last few months and continues to be forecasted as a strong event, which is likely to persist through winter. Strong El Niño events typically result in above average precipitation in the fall, but not necessarily in the winter, with the highest risk of a dry winter for the northern and central mountains. The best combination would be for the El Niño to weaken over the winter, and then come back strong in spring.
  • #ColoradoRiver: Reclamation Awards a $1 Million Contract to Upgrade Four Dolores Project Pumping Plants

    Mcphee Reservoir
    Mcphee Reservoir

    Here’s the release from the US Bureau of Reclamation:

    The Bureau of Reclamation announced that it has awarded a $1 million contract to PAF Electrical, LLC, Oregon, on September 17 to replace nine existing variable frequency drives that will upgrade the Cahone, Dove Creek, Pleasant View and Ruin Canyon Pumping Plants near Cortez, Colorado.

    “Replacing the variable frequency drives will increase the energy conservation where there is a need to vary the flow in distribution systems,” said Western Colorado Area Manager Ed Warner. “The new frequency drives will lessen the mechanical and electrical stress on the motors, reduces maintenance and repair costs and extend the life of the motor.”

    The Dolores Water Conservancy District provides seasonal irrigation and delivers vital water to Montezuma and Dolores Counties as part of the Dolores Project which is owned by Reclamation and operated by the District. The contract provides upgrades for four pumping plants by replacing the nine existing variable frequency drives with modern drives which provides more reliability with increased flow flexibility.

    The Pleasant View and Ruin Canyon Pumping Plants currently use medium 2400 VAC drives and motors that require the use of old technology and are significantly aged. To support the change in pump operating voltage to 480 VAC at these pumping plants, the equipment at each plant will include a new section of 5 kilovolt metal-enclosed switchgear, a new station service transformer, as well as new a distribution switchboard. New 480 VAC inverter duty motors will replace the four 2400 VAC motors on the existing pumps at those two plants and provide one spare. These new motors will be a hollow shaft design.

    The Cahone and Dove Creek Pumping Plants were originally constructed using 480 VAC drives and motors. The contract will replace the old 480 VAC variable frequency drives.

    For more information about Dolores Project, please visit: http://www.usbr.gov/projects/Project.jsp?proj_Name=Dolores+Project

    You can see the South Platte Basin dry-out in the Clear Creek at Golden gage

    Clear Creek at Golden gage April 1 through September 27, 2015
    Clear Creek at Golden gage April 1 through September 27, 2015

    Can pure science co-exist with robust tourism at lab near Crested Butte? — The Mountain Town News

    During July, the gravel road through Gothic looks like commuter traffic in Denver, says a local newspaper editor. On a Saturday evening in late August, traffic had slackened considerably. Photo/Allen Best
    During July, the gravel road through Gothic looks like commuter traffic in Denver, says a local newspaper editor. On a Saturday evening in late August, traffic had slackened considerably. Photo/Allen Best

    From The Mountain Town News (Allen Best):

    The Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory can best be understood as a 1,000-acre island of scientific research in a sea of public lands. Whether experiments can continue unblemished at the outdoor laboratory is the vital question as use of the public lands near Crested Butte has grown in recent years.

    Some think that Crested Butte’s summer busyness can be explained by the congestion of Interstate 70.

    Others point to the lingering “hangover” of Whatever, the festival sponsored by Budweiser last year that received prominent national attention by … well, by drinkers of Bud.

    Yet another cause may be winter promotions at the ski area that have drawn return visitors in summer or even rising temperatures in places like Oklahoma and Texas. For that matter, summer seems longer, the aspen leaves turning yellow perhaps a week later than they used to.

    Sales tax figures in Crested Butte, the old mining town, attest to the growing bulk of the summer economy.

    “Last year, our sales taxes for June and September were only slightly lower than for March and December. July and August are much bigger than anything during winter,” says Jim Schmidt, a town council member.

    Schmidt has been in Crested Butte since 1976, and he describes a reduced presence of the Forest Service. “There are fewer campgrounds here than when I moved here 39 years ago,” he says.

    But there are more people. “It’s astounding how many people are out there on weekends, especially in July,” he says.

    Schmidt describes seeing 100 cars parked at one trailhead this summer, 70 at another—both miles off the nearest paved road. And, in both cases, the road taking them there goes through Gothic, the flash-in-a-path mining town from the 1880s that is the headquarters for the Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory.

    A scientist in Colorado first visited Gothic in 1919 and recognized its potential. The lab was formally established in 1928, and it now draws scientists from across the United States—the world, too—to study butterfly genetics, bee pollination, and wildflower meadows turning to sagebrush. Some have returned faithfully every summer for decades. The longest current track record goes back to 1956. Among repeat visitors is the prominent Berkeley team, Paul and Anne Ehrlich. Currently the lab draws 160 people, but at peak season, some 200 to 250 people can be in the area, taking quarters in Mt. Crested Butte, located 3 miles away at the base of the ski area, or at Crested Butte, the old mining town, which is 8 miles away.

    Over time, important research has emerged from the laboratory at 9,485 feet in elevation. Much of what we know about pollination biology comes from the laboratory.

    Now, research continues into how rising temperatures will affect the climates of mountain valleys into the future.

    One experiment, being funded by the Department of Energy, explores effects of rising temperatures in the Colorado River Basin during the next 25 to 50 years. Individual mountain valleys have proven tremendously challenging to climate modelers. The series of questions being explored seeks to understand very complicated hydrological modeling. For example, if temperatures cause meadows to change over time into shrublands, wildflowers into sagebrush, how does that affect water runoff?


    Another ongoing experiment involves bees and pollination. But there was a bump in that research. One study site, located on nearby Forest Service land, had become sullied. There was just too much fecal matter in the area.

    That’s just one of many blatant examples of recreational visitors, mostly innocent in their pursuits, creating conflicts with scientific research. While scientists—and valley ranchers like Bill Trampe—have complained of intrusions for many years, the scale has picked up in just the last few years. Property lines don’t mean quite as much. Fences don’t necessarily make good neighbors. One local rancher described a “flood” of visitors.

    “People were literally defecating in the woods. Traffic on the old dirt Gothic Road at times looked like a work commute in Denver,” writes Mark Reaman in the Crested Butte News. “Campsites and fire rings were every 50 feet in spots in July and attitudes were less respectful than we here in the valley are used to.”

    Ian Billick, the manager of the laboratory since 2000 and, before that, a researcher beginning in 1988, can point to any number of annoyances and disruptions. He also sees a pattern. The Forest Service, he says, does not have the money nor the framework for managing large amounts of dispersed recreation, as is now occurring in the Crested Butte area.

    That observation was reinforced this summer in Crested Butte when the Forest Service reported they didn’t have the money for backcountry outhouses. Crested Butte is helping pony up the money for the toilets next year.

    Russell Forrest, the assistant Gunnison County manager, has experience from Vail and Snowmass Village. In part, this is an upward tick after the Great Recession. A traffic counter on the road to Gothic shows an 81 percent increase in traffic from 2013 to 2015. There were concerns during the last boom period, of 2005-2006, so the problem is not new.

    Hiking trails to the Maroon Bells area, on the other side of the Elk Range, are a draw. Hanging around the visitors’ center one day, Forrest said 95 percent of the people were asking directions for those trails.

    At a retreat held this summer at Gothic, many ideas were suggested, and there are both small and easier short-term steps as well as long-term strategies, says Forrest, if none are yet firm. One of the bolder ideas involves providing bus service to the hiking trails, somewhat similar to what occurs on the opposite side of the range, to the base area for the Maroon Bells.

    Still another idea, also implemented in the Maroon Bells area, is to limit traffic altogether during mid-day and during mid-season. But that would be hard to effect in the Crested Butte-Gothic area, because the road through Gothic is part of a long loop past Paradise Basin. The devil is always in the details.

    What seems more certain are small steps: more backcountry privies next summer and stepped-up enforcement, for example.

    Have things gone to hell in a hand-basket at Crested Butte and Gothic? Again, everything is relevant. To most visitors, the valley remains heavenly.

    And I’m reminded of a conversation. Somebody had moved from the Aspen area to Crested Butte, to get away from the “noise,” or general high level of activity. I asked him how he liked it now. “I said I wanted to turn down the noise, not turn it off,” he replied with a smile.

    Fountain Creek watershed: That pesky stormwater was around much of the summer

    Here’s a photo gallery from The Colorado Springs Gazette

    #ColoradoRiver District Annual Seminar recap: El Niño looks promising for southwest Colorado


    From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):

    Western Coloradans might consider keeping an umbrella handy this fall thanks to the development of a strong El Niño weather system.

    Less clear is the degree to which snow-sport enthusiasts and those concerned with the adequacy of water supplies should count on a heavier-than-average overall snowpack this winter. But the weather trend is inspiring optimism among some.

    “It looks like we’re going to have a heavier-than-normal snowfall this year, is what we’re hoping,” said Dusti Reimer, a Powderhorn Mountain Resort spokeswoman who noted that cooler-than-normal temperatures also are in the forecast.

    “We’re definitely excited with those possibilities to make this pretty much an epic ski year.”

    Klaus Wolter is a research scientist in Boulder with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Earth Systems Research Laboratory Physical Sciences Division. He said that while chances are good in western Colorado for above-average precipitation this fall thanks to El Niño, mid-winter is likely to be drier than normal in Colorado’s central and northern mountains. Southern Colorado, by contrast, is more likely to continue benefiting in mid-winter from the moisture El Niños typically deliver to the southwestern United States.

    “Basically if you want to have a lot of snow this winter the San Juans (San Juan Mountains in southwest Colorado) are the place to go,” Wolter said recently at the Colorado River District’s Annual Water Seminar in Grand Junction.

    For western Colorado as a whole, whether it can finish the snowpack season with net above-average precipitation depends on whether there’s a wet enough spring, he said. The good news is that El Niños typically boost spring snowfall levels, and the fact that the current one is a strong one increases the likelihood it will still be around by spring, Wolter said.

    It was late-season moisture during another strong El Niño season, in 1982-83, that threatened to cause Lake Powell to overfill that spring.

    Jim Pokrandt, a spokesman with the Colorado River District, said that from everything he hears from Wolter and other experts, “Colorado is kind of a no-man’s land” when it comes to El Niño winters. El Niños tend to be a strong predictor of above-average snow in southwest Colorado, while only sporadically providing benefits farther north, he said.

    “We’ve seen El Niños produce good winters and we’ve seen El Niños leaving people saying, ‘Hey, what happened?’ It’s just not as sure-fire a thing as it is for other parts of the country,” Pokrandt said.

    Given the concern over the adequacy of snowpack levels in the Colorado River Basin in recent years, Pokrandt would be happy to see El Niño at least produce average snows in coming months, even if it doesn’t deliver a whopper of a winter.

    “The way things are going, 100 percent of average would look like a good year and act like a good year. I’ll take average,” Pokrandt said.

    “… I hope as skiers and water managers we get at least an average year, if not better.”

    El Niños are associated with warmer-than-average surface water temperatures in the eastern equatorial Pacific Ocean. Data to date suggests the current one could be one of the strongest since 1950.

    For California and the Southwest, it should provide relief from drought, although possibly with negative side effects such as mudslides. El Niños also tend to result in below-average moisture for the Northwest and northern Rockies — making the current one bad news for places such as Washington state that already have been coping with wildfires and other effects of drought.

    Predicting the impacts on Colorado is made difficult because of its location, somewhat on the border between the Southwest and the northern Rockies. While Interstate 70 is sometimes referred to as a typical rough dividing line between areas of above-average and lesser moisture during El Niños, Wolter more specifically puts it around Crested Butte and the Elk Mountains area.

    If nothing else, the current El Niño looks promising for southwest Colorado, an area that has been particularly dry in several recent years.

    “If this outlook pans out, that will be really good for the water supply situation in southwest Colorado,” said Jim Pringle, a warning-coordination meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Grand Junction.

    Wolter said that even if the mid-winter is drier in the central mountains, ski areas may benefit from having good conditions to open their seasons, and hopefully also good conditions come spring. That might bode well for spring break business and offer the possibility for pushing off their closing dates if the economics warrant staying open longer, he said.

    Reimer said Powderhorn is scheduled to open Dec. 17 and close April 3, but those dates could be reconsidered if conditions warrant an earlier opening or later closing. She said the resort will further benefit from work this summer to expand its snowmaking coverage from 25 acres to 42 acres.

    California Drought Monitor September 22, 2015
    California Drought Monitor September 22, 2015

    From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):

    California’s water-supply problem is by default the problem of the entire Colorado River Basin, and basin states ignore it at their own peril, two speakers warned Thursday.

    “You have to keep track of what’s going on in California. California affects the Colorado River and vice versa,” Jennifer Gimbel, principal deputy secretary for water and science at the U.S. Department of Interior, said during the Colorado River District’s annual water seminar in Grand Junction.

    Pat Mulroy, retired general manager of the Southern Nevada Water Authority, warned that Lake Mead is dropping ever closer to a point at which it would no longer be capable of releasing water for downstream uses. That will lead to panic and irrational behavior, she predicted, and federalization of a river system under which water is now governed and allocated by interstate compact.

    “We will have all-out chaos,” said Mulroy, now senior fellow for climate adaptation and environmental policy at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas’ law school.

    California is coping with a severe drought, the effects of which have been amplified by the inability of varying interests there to build flexibility into water management, store water in wet years and otherwise prepare for dry times, Mulroy said.

    “The story of California is the story of missed opportunities, and of the inability, the human inability, to find solutions,” she said.

    Gimbel, former director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board, said part of California’s problem is a lack of sufficient in-state water storage capability to help it prepare for dry years, as opposed to the high-capacity storage provided by Lake Mead and Lake Powell on the Colorado.

    “It’s quite honestly what’s saved our bacon over these last 15 years of the drought,” Gimbel said.

    She said the heavy precipitation during what’s being called the “Miracle May” earlier this year helped stabilize water levels in Lake Powell. That has provided some breathing room for dealing with what’s an ongoing drought, and efforts to deal with it must continue, Gimbel said.

    She said Lower Basin states have had “difficult discussions” in this regard, “and when things get bad people tend to go back to their positions.”

    “… I think that we have to do better on this river. We cannot give up, and it means that when we get scared we cannot retreat to our corners and close the door. We can’t do it alone.”

    She hopes that Colorado learns from California’s experience “about drawing lines in the sand, litigating and being unable to move forward.” She said as work began on Colorado’s state water plan, she worried about the rhetoric she was hearing, and about people falling back to their standard positions.

    “You can protect what you want to protect, go after what you want to go after,” but everyone has to work together, said Gimbel, who praised the progress that since has been made on the plan.

    Said Mulroy, “It is not easy to try to find a new balance point, it is not easy to try to understand your adversary’s position or your fellow stakeholder’s position.”

    That is something that has yet to occur in California, she said.

    Mulroy sees a need for people to view themselves as citizens of the Colorado River Basin. Everyone has to conserve water and participate in the management of the system, and water needs to be viewed not just as a right but a responsibility, she said.

    “If we each take a little bit less in times when we can … and we set limits on how far we’re comfortable letting the system drop before we start recharging the system, then we won’t be sitting in front of dry reservoirs,” Mulroy said.

    Asked about concern on the Front Range that conservation measures could mean fewer green lawns and reduced property values, she talked about the initial resistance in the Las Vegas area to efforts to have homeowners convert to more desert landscaping, before they realized it could be beautiful and also end the need to mow lawns.

    “It is a real cultural shift, but people need to understand there is a need to conserve,” Mulroy said.

    She said that in considering the challenges river basin states face in the years ahead, it’s important to keep in mind the “amazing transformation” that has occurred in connection with the Colorado River’s management over the last 20 years. Parties in Colorado and other states have overcome acrimony and finger-pointing to forge agreements that have drawn attention from people in other parts of the world who have river systems facing similar challenges.

    “We need to look at the successes in order to keep the challenges that we face in perspective and not perceive them as insurmountable,” Mulroy said.

    El Niño: One of Nature’s Biggest Weather Makers — Weather-Ready Nation

    El Niño has arrived, according to forecasters with NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center, and it’s making big news. But why? It simply comes down to the extensive impact El Niño has on the world’s weather patterns.

    Average influence of El Niño on US temperature and precipitation
    Average influence of El Niño on US temperature and precipitation

    When an El Niño develops, it can start a chain reaction in the atmosphere influencing the weather in places much farther away from the tropical equatorial Pacific Ocean, including the United States. This means certain changes to the typical climate, or long-term average for temperature or precipitation, for folks in some parts of the U.S. Climate is like the tides. Just like the tides roll in and out, our climate warms during the summer and cools during the winter. El Niño’s would be like changing the level of those tides in some places. Perhaps they come in a little higher or earlier now, getting you wet before you have a chance to move your blanket back.

    The map above highlights areas of the U.S. that experience temperature or precipitation conditions that may be different from normal when an El Niño is present. Impacts from El Niño are most noticeable during the late fall through early spring months. During late spring and summer, climate patterns may not be affected at all.

    Not every El Niño event leads to the same climate conditions, however, and the strength of the El Niño event can have an impact on just how warm, cool, dry, or wet the affected areas become. As of summer 2015, the current El Niño has strengthened over the past few months, with a strong event currently favored during the late fall and early winter, according to the latest report from the Climate Prediction Center.

    In instances when a strong El Niño occurs, there can be large impacts to communities and the U.S. economy. Strong El Niños are often associated with heavy winter rains across California, which could bring much needed moisture to a region devastated by drought. Even if above normal precipitation falls across California, one season of above-normal rain and snow is very unlikely to erase four years of drought.

    Meanwhile, heavy rains in the southern half of the U.S. could lead to flooding causing widespread damage to towns and communities, lives and livelihoods. In addition, El Niño could elevate the risk for severe weather across the Southeast during winter. On the other hand, above-average late fall to winter temperatures across the northern tier of the U.S. might mean a milder winter and lower energy costs. It’s important to understand that a strong El Niño only favors these impacts, but doesn’t guarantee they will happen…

    For more information on El Niño, visit http://www.climate.gov/.

    CWCB board meeting recap: Horse Creek flume gets state funding

    Fort Lyon Canal
    Fort Lyon Canal

    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

    The Fort Lyon Canal Co. will rebuild its aging Horse Creek Flume this winter in a $2.2 million project designed to save both cropland and wildlife habitat.

    The Colorado Water Conservation Board approved a $1.69 million loan and $500,000 grant at its meeting in Montrose this week. The grant was from the Water Supply Reserve Account endorsed by the Arkansas Basin Roundtable.

    The 400-foot long, 10foot diameter steel pipe flume crosses Horse Creek about 8 miles west of Las Animas and was originally designed to carry 1,800 cubic feet per second when it was built in 1938. The flume has been repaired many times, but is at the end of its useful life. Its loss would affect farm revenues of $50 million and 14,000 acres of wildlife habitat.

    Work on the project is scheduled to begin in November and be completed by March.

    The CWCB also approved several other loans and grants that affect the Arkansas River basin:

    A $533,000 project will replace the Evans Bypass Flume, a 450-foot long, 6-by-5foot structure with an underground pipeline at Evans Reservoir near Leadville. The Parkville Water District got a $180,000 loan and $300,000 grant from CWCB.

    Lamar Water received a $100,000 loan and $161,000 grant toward a $400,000 project to repurpose two wells to provide non-potable water to irrigate public parks and fields. The wells previously were part of the city’s drinking water system until 2012, when they were taken out of service over water quality issues.

    The Box Springs Canal and Reservoir Co., near Ordway, received a $200,000 grant toward a $300,000 project to replace several traditional wells with horizontal wells to restore production under water rights already claimed.

    The Huerfano County Water Conservancy District won approval for a $220,000 grant toward a $250,000 project to assess the viability of storage in about 70 small dams in the Cucharas River basin.

    The CWCB approved a $98,000 grant for the Arkansas Basin Roundtable to hire a coordinator to put the basin implementation plan into action. The plan identifies 300 projects — many of which meet multiple needs — that have been identified in the past 10 years.

    Straight line diagram of the Lower Arkansas Valley ditches via Headwaters
    Straight line diagram of the Lower Arkansas Valley ditches via Headwaters

    The Pueblo Board of Water Works is looking at options to enlarge Clear Creek Reservoir

    Clear Creek Reservoir
    Clear Creek Reservoir

    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

    One of the most popular sayings surrounding the upcoming state water plan has been “one size does not fit all.”

    Pueblo Water is taking that to heart in its own planning for the future of Clear Creek Reservoir, located in northern Chaffee County.

    “Clear Creek is an important part of our future,” said Alan Ward, water resources manager for Pueblo Water. “We’re looking to see if there’s a sweet spot so we can look at enlargement that is most costeffective.”

    The Pueblo Board of Water Works Tuesday approved a $97,600 contract with GEI Consultants to look at various sizes for enlargement of the reservoir.

    The reservoir now holds 11,500 acre-feet (3.7 billion gallons). GEI did a study in 2001 on what it would cost to enlarge the reservoir to 30,000 acre-feet.

    But those numbers are out of date by now, and there may be some intermediate sizes that are less costly and more practical.

    The biggest factor is land acquisition. U.S. Forest Service and some private land lies behind the reservoir and would be inundated as reservoir levels rise. If the storage were increased to less than 30,000 acrefeet, not as much land would be needed, Ward explained.

    While the dam is not unsafe, Pueblo Water is studying seepage issues and the effectiveness of corrective measures that have been performed. The risk assessment by Black & Veatch will be complete in October.

    The study also will look at improving the outlet works in order to maintain large releases when necessary.

    Pueblo Water purchased Clear Creek Reservoir and Ewing Ditch from the Otero Canal Co. in 1954, and uses it to store primarily transmountain water by exchange. There is an in-basin water storage right that occasionally comes into priority during wet conditions, such as this spring.

    #Drought news: 25% of #Colorado is abnormally dry

    From The Denver Post (Jesse Paul):

    The U.S. Drought Monitor report shows that the abnormal dryness is centered around Denver, and the state’s northeast and southeast.

    “We’ve been dry August and September,” said Bob Koopmeiners, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Boulder. “Way below normal.”

    The new dryness percentage follows a report last week in which only about 10 percent of Colorado was listed as abnormally dry.

    In July, a drought monitor report showed that Colorado was nearly free of the thirst that had affected the state — particularly the Western Slope and southeastern counties — for years.

    The dry conditions have led to open-burn bans across the Front Range, including in Jefferson, Boulder and Clear Creek counties.

    From KUSA via the Fort Collins Coloradan:

    Larimer County, parts of Boulder County, unincorporated Arapahoe County, unincorporated Jefferson County, Lincoln County and Gilpin County are under some level of fire ban. On Thursday afternoon, Clear Creek County became the latest one to impose fire restrictions.

    Along the western edge of the metro area, it is not hard to find evidence of just how dry it is…

    That sight repeated around the Colorado, where grass fires of varying sizes have broken out in the past few weeks. It is a far cry from what we saw earlier this spring and summer…

    Last week, the U.S. Drought Monitor map showed a state with a few abnormally dry spots. Fast forward to now and those dry conditions have grown, encompassing large swaths of the Eastern Plains and up and down the I-25 corridor. Firefighters say it’s evidence of a state that is rapidly drying out.

    #AnimasRiver: NM and #Colorado Congressmen draft mining legislation after Gold King mine spill

    Gold King Mine entrance after blowout August 2015
    Gold King Mine entrance after blowout August 2015

    From MiningTechnology.com:

    US Senators have introduced a new bill to help the Navajo Nation and communities in north-west New Mexico and south-west Colorado recover from the Gold King Mine spill.

    The bill was introduced by US Senators Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich and Representative Ben Ray Luján of New Mexico, and Senator Michael Bennet of Colorado…

    Outlining allowable damages, the bill will is aimed at ensuring spill victims can receive compensation for their losses.

    An Office of Gold King Mine Spill Claims will also be established within the EPA to carry out the compensation process under the Federal Tort Claims Act.

    Under the new legislation, the EPA is required to work with affected states and tribes, as well as other relevant agencies to identify the dangerous abandoned mines across the west and establish a priority plan for cleanup.

    Agencies have to alert nearby communities and develop a contingency plan in case of a spill before deciding on any cleanup or remediation in an abandoned mine…

    Ensuring that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) continues to work with affected communities, the Gold King Mine Spill Recovery Act of 2015 would also require the agency to work with the states and tribes to fund and implement long-term monitoring of water quality from the mine.

    Michael Bennet said: “In addition to the acid mine drainage that polluted our river, the disaster took its toll on businesses throughout the region, particularly our recreation and tourism industry.

    “This bill ensures that those businesses, individuals, water districts, farmers, and local and tribal governments will be compensated by the EPA for costs they incurred due to the spill.”

    Meanwhile, the Animas River Stakeholders Group meets in Durango for the first time in two years. Here’s a report from Jonathan Romeo writing for The Durango Herald. Here’s an excerpt:

    The Animas River Stakeholders Group made its way downstream Tuesday, holding its first meeting in Durango in almost two years.

    The decision to hold the group’s monthly meeting at the La Plata County Administrative Building was directly related to the Aug. 5 Gold King Mine spill that has drawn a renewed interest in the mine waste pollution occurring in the Upper Animas watershed.

    Peter Butler, one of the coordinators of the group, said it’s now important to weigh the risks of managing a one-time major blowout as opposed to continuous metal loading. He said the ARSG is aware of four other major blowouts in the last 20 years, but preventing such an event can become very complicated. Sites at risk can be hard to identify, because sometimes a mine entrance can appear stable, and a collapse can occur further back in the workings, triggering a blowout.

    In the aftermath of the Gold King spill, several departments compiled a preliminary “midnight list” for Gov. John Hickenlooper, identifying the most at-risk mine sites. Of the 230 potential risk sites statewide, 44 are located in the Upper Animas mining district.

    But even with those sites identified, the question then becomes what method do you use to prevent such an event, and how much money are you going to spend? Stakeholders also called into question whether efforts should be directed toward continual acid mine drainage, which has longer-lasting impacts on the environment.

    “People are focused on a blowout, but when you start talking about what physically you can do about it, it becomes a hard issue,” Butler said. “I’m trying to put that a little bit to the side so we can focus on continuous flow.”

    Doug Jamison with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment admitted he is in support of a Superfund, but he said the Environmental Protection Agency and the state health department are offering the designation as only a potential solution. As in past meetings, officials for the two agencies were unable to answer specific questions related to site boundaries, timelines and the promise of funding – stressing the need for more data…

    Only a little more than a month since the Gold King Mine discharged 3 million gallons of acid mine drainage, most communities have not reached a consensus on whether to choose a Superfund. Jamison said the community around the state’s most recent Superfund site, Colorado Smelter, took almost a year to decide. However, which communities will factor in to the decision for the Upper Animas mining district’s treatment is still unclear.

    From the Associated Press (Dan Elliott) via The Durango Herald:

    Researchers say they found scattered accumulations of heavy metals along a 60-mile stretch of riverbank in Colorado and New Mexico a month after the Gold King Mine wastewater spill and say that any potential threat to crops and livestock should be studied further.

    David Weindorf of Texas Tech University and Kevin Lombard of New Mexico State University said they found patches of discolored sludge containing elevated levels of iron, copper, zinc, arsenic and lead along the Animas River from around Farmington to just north of Durango.

    The concentrations of those metals were higher than at other sites they tested on the riverbank and on nearby irrigated and non-irrigated land, Weindorf said.

    None of the high readings was found in ditches that carry irrigation water to crops, Weindorf said. Irrigation systems along the Animas were closed before the mustard-colored plume of tainted wastewater drifted downstream after the Aug. 5 blowout at the Gold King…

    EPA spokeswoman Laura Allen said the agency will review the researchers’ findings. She said the EPA plans its own long-term monitoring project and has asked the affected states and tribes for their input.

    Weindorf described his and Lombard’s work as a pilot study and said he didn’t want to cause undue alarm, but he believes soils need to be tested over the long term. Over time, the metals they found along the riverbank could be washed into the river, get into irrigation ditches and gradually build up in the soils of land used to grow food and to graze livestock.

    “There’s a risk those metals could work their way into our food chain or the food chain for animals. That’s why we want to do this long-term study,” he said.

    Weindorf and Lombard have asked the Natural Resources Conservation Service, part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, to fund a three-year study that would closely monitor five or six sites along the river. They estimated it would cost $750,000 to $1 million. No decision has been made.

    Weindorf and Lombard conducted their pilot study Sept. 1-3.

    Lombard, who works at the NMSU Agricultural Science Center in Farmington – where the Animas joins the San Juan River – said researchers also took soil samples from irrigation ditches before the polluted plume passed to compare with future tests…

    Asked about that kind of cleanup, the EPA said it doesn’t anticipate any human health problems from contacting or accidentally ingesting river water, and that the risk to livestock was low.

    Colorado officials believe risks are low for most human exposure and don’t warrant removing sediment, health department spokesman Mark Salley said.

    The department advised avoiding any contact with discolored sediment and water and washing after any exposure.

    The New Mexico Environment Department hasn’t reviewed Weindorf and Lombard’s findings but believes contaminated sediment is one of the more serious risks, spokeswoman Allison Majure said. New Mexico is planning its own long-term monitoring.

    Gold King Mine’s temporary treatment plant to open by Oct. 14 — The Denver Post

    From The Denver Post (Kirk Mitchell):

    The portable plant will treat 550 gallons per minute of water still discharging from the mine in southwest Colorado, according to an Environmental Protection Agency news release. The system, intended to meet treatment needs through the coming winter, will replace temporary settling ponds constructed by the EPA in August…

    The portable system is necessary because winter temperatures at the mine’s elevation of 10,500 feet north of Silverton can drop to 20 degrees below zero.

    EPA’s contractor, ER LLC, awarded a subcontract on Sept. 22 to Alexco Environmental Group Inc. to do the work.

    The treatment system will neutralize the mine discharge and remove solids and metals, the news release says. The EPA continues to evaluate data to determine the impact of the Gold King Mine on water quality.

    Confluence of Cement Creek and the Animas River from the Coyote Gulch archives (11/21/2010)
    Confluence of Cement Creek and the Animas River from the Coyote Gulch archives (11/21/2010)

    Does optimism have a place in Western water politics? — High Country News

    John Fleck photo via State of the Rockies Project -- Colorado College
    John Fleck photo via State of the Rockies Project — Colorado College

    Here’s an interview with John Fleck from the High Country News (Sarah Tory). Click through and read the whole thing. Here’s an excerpt:

    Writer John Fleck wants us to abandon our dried-up narratives of doom.

    When John Fleck began covering water (among other things) in 1995 for New Mexico’s Albuquerque Journal, he assumed he’d be writing stories about dried out wells and cracked mud. After all, as a Los Angeles native who grew up in a suburb that had replaced an irrigated citrus orchard, he’d grown up reading books like A River No More, by Philip Fradkin, and Cadillac Desert, by Marc Reisner, essential reading for water nerds.

    As a journalist, he went looking for the kinds of stories these authors promised: stories of “conflict, crisis, and doom.” But he found a very different narrative and after nearly 30 years spent covering some of the most pressing water issues in the West, Fleck is now writing a book, which is due to be published by Island Press next year. He recently spoke to HCN about the dilemma water journalists face these days— and why the West’s water problems aren’t as bad as we think…

    HCN: Where did the idea for your book come from?

    JF: The thesis is that when it comes to our perception of water in the West, we’ve inherited this narrative of crisis, conflict and doom, from literature of the ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s, and especially from Cadillac Desert. Growing up reading those books, I really embraced that narrative. I thought that was our story — that we were headed for this great crash because we’d made the mistakes that Reisner wrote about.

    HCN: But that’s not what you found?

    JF: When I came to New Mexico, which is a mostly desert state living on the edge of its water supply, I kept looking for those stories that showed people running out of water. But over and over I found communities instead showing a lot more adaptive capacity than I think the traditional narrative gave them credit for. Albuquerque’s water use, for instance, is close to half what it was per capita in the mid ’90s. We’ve grown a bunch and are using less water than we were 30 years ago. And I saw these farm communities — which are really strong cultural underpinnings of the West — who have adapted to use less water.

    It took me a long time to come around to the idea that people have actually succeeded in using less water. And how do communities do that? That’s really what my book is about — how do these places use less water and still succeed in being the kind of communities they want to be, in the midst of this pretty remarkable change?[…]

    HCN: Are there places that are still struggling with that transition?

    JF: I think in every community there’s tension between that old way of thinking about water, which just wants to use it all, and the new way of thinking that recognizes conservation. At the regional level, I think the continued talk in Colorado among a lot of people in the populated east side of the state, about the desire to divert more water out of the Colorado River Basin—to meet growing cities on the Front Range—is one place that hasn’t received the message yet, that there isn’t more water to take out, that there’s in fact going to be less…


    HCN: So, in a way, your book is the anti-Water Knife?

    JF: Exactly. My book is saying, “Let’s look at how we might take advantage of the steps we’ve already taken in addressing our water problems and create a future for ourselves that we’d really like.” Because if we take the narrative of crisis and conflict to its extreme, we’re going to be sending out squadrons of armed helicopters against our neighbors, and that’s not a West that any of us wants.

    WISE: Project will impact metro area’s water supply — 7News

    Click on a thumbnail below for the WISE system map and Prairie Waters map.

    @OmahaUSACE to begin ecosystem restoration project along Lower Boulder Creek

    Lower Boulder Creek Restoration site map via Boulder County Open Space
    Lower Boulder Creek Restoration site map via Boulder County Open Space

    Here’s the release from the US Army Corps of Engineers (Omaha District):

    The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Omaha District, in partnership with the Boulder County Parks and Open Space Department, will hold a groundbreaking ceremony to celebrate the start of construction of an ecosystem restoration project along an approximately one-mile stretch of Lower Boulder Creek. The ceremony will take place on Thursday, October 8, starting at 12:30 p.m. MDT at the project site, which is located between N 109th Street and Kenosha Road in Boulder County approximately 3.5 miles west of the Boulder County-Weld County line and 8 miles east of the city of Boulder. Limited parking will be available along the Boulder County property access road located just east of the 109th Street Bridge. See attached map. In case of inclement weather, the ceremony will take place at the Goodhue Farmhouse located at the Carolyn Holmberg Preserve, 2009 S. 112th Street, Broomfield, Colorado.

    BACKGROUND: Lower Boulder Creek once meandered across a broad floodplain that supported numerous wetlands, streamside vegetation, and associated native fish and wildlife populations. Since European settlement, the project reach and its associated habitats have been dramatically degraded by activities including upstream development, water diversions, pollution, non-native species, and gravel mining. During past on-site mining activities, the project reach of Lower Boulder Creek was channelized, and earthen levees were constructed along portions of its banks, thus disconnecting the channel from its historic floodplain and creating an impoverished stream and riparian environment. The project area is currently in a highly degraded state, which without active ecological restoration would take decades or longer to improve.

    In 2011, the Omaha District completed a feasibility study which identified a feasible project to restore habitat for migratory birds and other wildlife, restore wetland and stream values, reduce invasive species and provide other ecosystem improvements. A construction contract was awarded to American West Construction LLC of Denver, Colo. for $2.6 million, which includes realigning the one-mile section of Lower Boulder Creek to restore natural meanders, in-stream habitat, and the creek’s floodplain and planting native riparian, wetland, and upland grasses, forbs, trees and shrubs along the stream and within the floodplain to greatly improve wildlife habitat. The project is expected to be complete by Fall 2016.

    Click here to go to the Boulder County Open Space website for all the inside skinny.

    #Drought news: The Front Range and parts of the South Platte and Arkansas basins are drying out

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


    Large sections of the nation experienced dry weather, reducing topsoil moisture but promoting summer crop maturation and harvesting. On the Plains, some producers awaited rain before planting winter wheat. Pastures in portions of the Southern and Mid-Atlantic States continued to suffer from the effects of late-summer and early-autumn dryness. In contrast, locally heavy showers soaked Florida’s peninsula and the immediate southern Atlantic Coast. Significant rain also fell—albeit briefly—in parts of the Midwest, providing localized relief from recent dryness. Above-normal temperatures dominated the Plains and upper Midwest, favoring fieldwork and helping to push summer crops toward maturity. The late-season warmth also extended across the Great Lakes region and into the Northeast. Meanwhile, cool air settled across the southeastern and northwestern U.S. for several days, helping to hold weekly temperatures more than 5°F below normal in a few locations. Elsewhere, locally heavy showers dotted the West, with the most significant rain falling in the lower Southwest, southern California, and the northern Intermountain region. California’s rain, heaviest along and near the coast, fell mostly on September 15 in conjunction with tropical moisture associated with former Hurricane Linda, while Southwestern rainfall was courtesy of Tropical Depression 16E later in the period…

    Central Plains

    Dry, unseasonably warm weather maintained or worsened dryness over the central Plains. With sunny skies and temperatures topping 80°F from Colorado into Kansas and central Nebraska, Abnormal Dryness (D0) and Moderate Drought (D1) remained or expanded. Precipitation deficits are most pronounced at 60 days, with rainfall tallying less than 50 percent of normal in D0 areas, and locally less than 25 percent of normal in the D1 region of central Kansas. The rain which has since fallen over the central Plains will be accounted for in next week’s drought assessment, as the data cutoff for inclusion into the assessment is Tuesday morning…

    Northern Plains and Dakotas

    Warm, dry conditions in eastern and southern portions of the region contrasted with showery, chilly weather farther west. Despite year-to-date precipitation averaging near to above normal, Abnormal Dryness (D0) expanded over southeastern South Dakota and immediate environs where 90-day rainfall has totaled 60 percent of normal or less (locally less than 40 percent). Similar precipitation deficits were noted in the newly introduced D0 over eastern Wyoming, while 60-day rainfall totaling a meager 15 to 40 percent of normal led to the expansion of Abnormal Dryness into southwestern South Dakota and northwestern Nebraska. Farther west, below-normal temperatures were accompanied by periods of rain (1-2 inches, locally more), though rain was generally not sufficient to alleviate longer-term (9 months and beyond) precipitation deficits…

    Southern Plains and Texas

    Despite areas of beneficial rain in the north and west, the overall trend toward intensifying “flash drought” continued. After record-setting rainfall over central and eastern Texas in May, sharply drier weather over much of the state during the summer resulted in rapidly deteriorating conditions despite longer-term precipitation surpluses. To illustrate, the 6-month precipitation in Texas’ core Extreme Drought (D3) area from just east of Austin to Nacogdoches still stands at 120 to 150 percent of normal. However, over the past 3 months, this same area has received a meager 10 to 20 percent of normal. With another hot, dry week, the drought intensity and coverage expanded over much of the Lone Star State. Exceptions included the Red River Valley, where rain totals greater than an inch resulted in localized reductions in drought intensity and coverage. Farther north, widespread moderate to heavy showers (1-3 inches) eased Abnormal Dryness (D0) and Moderate Drought (D1) over central and southern Oklahoma. At the end of the period, showers and thunderstorms were overspreading northern Texas and western Oklahoma, areas generally devoid of drought at this time…

    Western U.S.

    The overall trend toward drought persistence continued, though pockets of beneficial rain were noted in the northern Rockies, Pacific Northwest, and lower Four Corners. The west was generally cooler than normal, easing stress on pastures, crops, and livestock.

    In the north, most of the region’s core Extreme Drought (D3) areas were dry. However, moderate to heavy rain on Washington’s Olympic Peninsula (2-4 inches, locally more) staved off D3 expansion. Farther east, 1 to 3 inches of rain eased drought intensity and coverage over central and southern Idaho, though northern portions of the state remained dry.

    Across the California and the Great Basin, drought remained unchanged as the region continued through its climatologically dry summer season. Some showers associated with the remnants of Hurricane Linda were noted along the coastal regions of southern California, though the totals (mostly less than 2 inches) were not sufficient to warrant any reductions to the Extreme (D3) to Exceptional (D4) Drought.

    In the Four Corners States, a late-season surge in monsoon rainfall was enhanced by moisture associated with Tropical Depression 16E, whose remnants tracked from Baja, Mexico onto the central Plains. While passing over the Southwest, the remnants of 16E generated 1 to as much as 4 inches of rain, resulting in reductions of Moderate (D1) and Severe Drought (D2) coverage in southeastern Arizona and southwestern New Mexico…

    Looking Ahead

    A cold front infused with tropical moisture will remain the focus for locally heavy showers, primarily from the southern High Plains into the upper Midwest. Additional rainfall in the vicinity of the front could reach 1 to 3 inches in a few spots. Meanwhile, a low-pressure system will drift westward toward the middle and southern Atlantic Coast, bringing a mid- to late-week increase in rainfall. Five-day rainfall totals could reach 2 to 5 inches or more in the Carolinas and parts of neighboring states. Warm, mostly dry weather will cover the remainder of the country, except for some late-week showers in the Northwest. The NWS 6- to 10-day outlook for September 29 – October 3 calls for the likelihood of above-normal temperatures nationwide, with near-normal temperatures confined to the Pacific Coast States. Meanwhile, wetter-than-normal conditions over the Southeast and from the north-central Plains into the western Corn Belt will contrast with drier than normal conditions across the central and eastern Great Lakes Region and from the lower Four Corners into central and northern Texas.

    The DWR sends rules for groundwater pumping in the San Luis Valley to water court

    San Luis Valley Groundwater
    San Luis Valley Groundwater

    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Matt Hildner):

    For the second time in 40 years, the state engineer has come up with rules and regulations for groundwater wells in the San Luis Valley.

    The rules, which were submitted by State Engineer Dick Wolfe to the Division 3 Water Court Wednesday, aim to restore the valley’s two major aquifers and protect senior surface water users from the harm caused by pumping.

    The rules would apply to roughly 4,500 high-capacity irrigation wells spread across the valley, with the exception of southern Costilla County, which is not above either aquifer.

    Wolfe pointed to provisions that defined sustainable levels for the valley’s groundwater, noting they were a first for any of the river basins in the state.

    “You see a lot of what’s going on in a lot of other parts of the Western U.S., particularly California right now, we’re going to look back on this time and say we’re glad we took this step,” he said.

    The engineer’s office aims to return the two major aquifers to the levels that existed until 2000, when drought and persistent withdrawals sent them into steep decline.

    Toward that end, the rules will require users of the confined aquifer — the deeper and larger of the two — to submit plans to achieve and maintain a sustainable water supply.

    The rules would also give the engineer’s office the ability to shut down wells that are not operating under one of three options to mitigate pumping.

    To avoid being shut down, well users could join a groundwater management subdistrict, in which its members pool resources to either buy water or pay surface water users for injury.

    They could also take out individual augmentation plans for the same purpose.

    Third, they could have a short-term temporary water supply plan.

    The development of the sustainability section partly accounted for the six years Wolfe, his staff and upward of 100 valley water users took to come up with the regulations.

    Developing the computer model that would eventually be used to calculate stream losses from groundwater pumping also took a period of years, Wolfe said.

    But it is that computer model that could be one of the biggest differences from these rules and the version from 40 years ago that was never implemented.

    “It was really apparent to me that we did not have the hydrologic knowledge to really effectively control wells,” said Mac McFadden, who served as division engineer in the valley in 1975.

    After the water court publishes notice of the rules submission, there will be a 60-day period for objectors and supporters to file statements to the court.

    Wolfe said he hoped to work out stipulations with objectors that would allow the court to avoid a trial.

    It is possible that at least one group of water users in the La Jara Creek drainage will be among the objectors.

    They sued the engineer’s office earlier this year, alleging the state’s computer model had failed to find pumping losses to a spring they depend on to irrigate.
    Parties in that case are scheduled to meet in court Oct. 5 to determine if consolidation into the rules and regulations is appropriate.

    Grand Mesa Landslide Report Released — Hannah Holm

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

    From the Grand Junction Free Press (Hannah Holm):

    On the evening of May 25, 2014, the longest landslide in Colorado’s recorded history rumbled down the West Salt Creek drainage on the Grand Mesa, overtopped 2 adjacent ridges, and buried three men: Wes Hawkins, Clancy Nichols, and Danny Nichols. The men were investigating irrigation disruptions and safety hazards from smaller slides earlier that day.

    Now, a detailed report of the landslide has been released by the Colorado Geological Survey and the Colorado School of Mines. The report describes the geological history of the location, what investigators believe actually happened during the slide, current conditions in the slide area, potential hazards, and recommendations for future risk reduction. You can download the report for free from http://coloradogeologicalsurvey.org/.

    According to the report, melting snow and intense rainfall likely played a role in lubricating existing weaknesses in the underlying rock to send a “rapid series of cascading rock avalanche surges of chaotic rubble” down the slope. The toe of the slide, which just missed an active gas well, is 2.8 miles from the top, where a ½ mile wide block rotated and slipped free of the northern flank of Grand Mesa. At its deepest point the pile of debris is 123 feet deep.

    The slide is located about 6 miles southeast of the town of Collbran, which sits along Plateau Creek downstream from its confluence with Salt Creek. In addition to the loss of life, impacts to the surrounding community include irrigation disruptions, loss of grazing land, and the ongoing threat of additional slide movement and the threat of a sudden release of water from a pond that formed at the top of the slide.

    When the water level in the pond began rising quickly last spring, there was fear that the pond could overtop. Collbran residents were warned that they may need to evacuate, but then the water levels gradually diminished again.

    The slide area is being intensively monitored, and so far there haven’t been any major movements beyond the settling of the debris field.

    The pond at the top remains a concern. Several different scenarios could cause the pond to spill suddenly, sending large amounts of water and debris downslope and downstream. These include further slumping of the block of material that created the natural dam holding the water in place; exposed bedrock above the slide falling into the pond and causing a “mini-tsunami,” and simple overtopping that then erodes the bank holding the pond in place.

    Alternatively, it’s possible that the slide will remain mostly stable and the water will find its way out less dramatically, gradually re-establishing the stream channel. Water is already beginning to percolate through the slide and emerge at the toe.

    The report notes that it is very likely that similar slides have occurred in this area in the past, and that the existing inventory of landslides from published maps doesn’t capture the full story. New technology has made it possible to identify many old slides.

    The report recommends conducting a comprehensive landslide risk assessment of the greater Plateau Creek Valley and other landslide-prone areas in Mesa County, as well as limiting development in hazardous areas.

    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 at http://www.Facebook.com/WaterCenter.CMU or http://www.Twitter.com/WaterCenterCMU.

    Final draft of #COWaterPlan will push action — Fort Collins Coloradoan

    Barker Meadows Dam Construction
    Barker Meadows Dam Construction

    From the Fort Collins Coloradoan (Jacy Marmaduke):

    The Colorado Water Plan, more than two years in the making, reached the end of its final public comment period last week. Now, the Colorado Water Conservation Board is combing through an estimated 26,000 comments with the intent to respond to them and prepare a final draft for the Dec. 10 due date.

    The hardest part, board members and water wonks say, will be whittling down the second draft’s 16-page list of goals into a shortlist of action items. The goals were derived from eight regional “basin implementation plans.”[…]

    It’s too early to tell exactly which action items will make the cut for the final draft, but Eklund said it will prioritize conservation – the point at which every water conversation must start, as Gov. John Hickenlooper likes to say — and storage.

    The plan will be action-oriented, Eklund said, although the document can’t directly instigate action. That power lies in the hands of Hickenlooper, government agencies and the Colorado Legislature. New water projects will need regional coordination and funding.

    Fort Collins is part of the South Platte River Basin, which also includes Boulder, Windsor and Greeley. The South Platte Basin worked with the Metro Basin – Denver – to come up with a basin implementation plan.

    The basin goals include:

  • Initiating new water storage projects, especially ones that integrate the South Platte River
  • Finding alternatives to buy-and-dry, or the municipal purchase of farm land for water use
  • Instilling stricter requirements for efficiency in plumbing fixtures, appliances and landscaping to conserve water
  • There’s one thing the final plan won’t include: a transmountain diversion project. The second draft included seven tough criteria for evaluating proposals for those kinds of projects, and none of the basin plans advocated for one…

    The [CWCB] wanted the plan to present a wide range of viewpoints in language that “you don’t need to be a Ph.D. water scientist to understand.”

    From the Fort Collins Coloradoan (Nick Coltrain):

    Fort Collins’ state legislators will host a forum on the Colorado Water Plan on Saturday.

    The forum will include a panel discussion with local water experts and presentations. Time for audience questions, comments and ideas will follow. Sen. John Kefalas, and Reps. Joann Ginal and Jeni Arndt, all Democrats, will host the event.

    The free event will run from 10:30 a.m. until noon Saturday at the Old Town Library, 201 Peterson St., Fort Collins.

    #ColoradoRiver: Grand County and partners still need $50,000 for Windy Gap bypass study #COriver

    Windy Gap Reservoir via Northern Water
    Windy Gap Reservoir via Northern Water

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

    Grand County and its partners have raised all but $50,000 of the $385,000 needed for the first two engineering phases of the Windy Gap Bypass Project.

    The first engineering phase will cost $85,000, to which Grand County has contributed $55,000 and the Upper Colorado River alliance has contributed $20,000, and the Colorado River District pitched in $10,000, said Assistant County Manager Ed Moyer during the Tuesday, Sept. 22 board of county commissioners meeting.

    Former County Manager Lurline Underbrink Curran and Mely Whiting, counsel for Trout Unlimited, secured $250,000 from the Gates Family Foundation to fund phase 2 of the project, leaving $50,000 to be raised, Moyer said.

    Project participants hope to have the two phases completed by 2016.

    The Windy Gap Bypass Project seeks to establish a free flowing channel of the Colorado River around the Windy Gap Reservoir near Granby.

    Proponents say the project will vastly improve the condition of the Upper Colorado River by reconnecting fish migration corridors and addressing temperature and sediment issues in the river.

    The project’s total cost is around $9.6 million.

    Testing continues on Eldora mine seepage, but officials say spill isn’t toxic — Longmont Times-Call

    The Arcade Saloon in 1898 Eldora Colorado via WikiPedia
    The Arcade Saloon in 1898 Eldora Colorado via WikiPedia

    From the Longmont Times-Call (John Bear):

    Officials believe 4,500 gallons of orange water that leaked from an old Eldora-area mine into a creek Monday — prompting the shutdown of water intake systems downstream — is not toxic, but they’re still awaiting further test results.

    Environmental Protection Agency spokeswoman Lisa McClain-Vanderpool said Tuesday that the agency collected water samples to test for heavy metals associated with mines and expects the results in the next few days.

    McClain-Vanderpool said other tests conducted Monday showed the pH balance in the water — which would be affected by the presence of heavy metals — appeared to be within normal ranges.

    Boulder County spokeswoman Carrie Haverfield said a county hazardous materials team and Nederland town officials also tested the water Monday and didn’t find anything that raised alarms.

    Haverfield said that Boulder County is full of old mines, so some amount of seepage is likely.

    “We did call in the proper resources and take the proper precautions we needed to take to ensure the safety of our residents,” Haverfield said.

    McClain-Vanderpool added that the EPA and state mining and health officials visited the site Tuesday morning and are continuing to support local responders…

    County officials responded to the area Monday after a plug came loose from the historic Swathmore mine, located near the 900 block of Bryan Avenue in the Eldora townsite.

    Orange water flowed from the opening for about two-and-a-half hours on Monday, and officials temporarily shut down water intake systems for Nederland and Boulder while they tested the water.

    A news release said county officials had been previously made aware of seepage from the mine.

    The creek appeared orange on the bottom Tuesday afternoon, and a small culvert that runs into the creek was still full of rust-colored water and mud.

    Denver: 2015 State of Water, October 8

    Click here to go to the Denver Chamber of Commerce website. Click here to register.

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

    Cheers, boos for Jewell’s sage grouse decision — WyoFile

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

    From WyoFile (Angus M. Thuermer Jr.):

    Speaking at the Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge in Commerce City, Colorado, Jewell hailed “the largest, most complex land conservation [effort] ever in the history of the United States of America, perhaps the world.” State, private and federal conservation plans ensure the imperiled bird’s survival, she said…

    Love-fest at Colorado announcement
    The love-fest announcement in Colorado included Gov. Matt Mead and three other western governors, U.S Fish and Wildlife Service director Dan Ashe and other officials. The decision that the greater sage grouse is no longer a candidate species for ESA protection drew criticism, too.

    Federal and state plans “failed to adopt key conservation measures identified by the government’s own scientists and sage-grouse experts,” Jamie Rappaport Clark, president and CEO of Defenders of Wildlife, said in a statement. Those failures include no protection of winter habitat and no plan to address climate change.

    Erik Molvar, wildlife biologist with WildEarth Guardians, said the grouse faces threats from industrial development and livestock grazing. “And now the Interior Department seems to be squandering a major opportunity to put science before politics and solve these problems,” he said in a statement. “Today Secretary Jewell declared victory before the battle is actually won. What came out the other end of the sausage grinder is a weak collection of compromises that will not and cannot conserve the species.”[…]

    Another critical group, Western Watersheds Project, said Jewell “seemed determined to put a happy face on the future of the American West.” She did not make hard decisions to limit energy development, prohibit transmission lines and block spring cattle grazing, said Travis Bruner, executive director. “There is no ‘win’ here for sage-grouse,” he said in a statement. “There is only a slightly slower trajectory towards extinction.”

    In Commerce City, however, officials detailed myriad changes since the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in 2010 determined regulations were insufficient to save the bird.

    “We went to work with a lot of partners,” Fish and Wildlife director Dan Ashe said. “The result is a remarkable turn of events.” Threats from oil and gas development are “remarkably reduced.” Most important and vulnerable habitat is not at risk from agricultural conversion…

    In Sublette County, crossroads of gas development and sage grouse habitat, rancher and state Rep. Albert Sommers (R-Pinedale) touted grassroots work. “It is comforting,” he said. “It’s welcome news, that the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service recognizes that local efforts … by ranchers, by conservationists, efforts by states, matter. They recognize there’s a way to get things done without bringing the total hammer of ESA down.”

    Wyoming Game and Fish Department sage grouse coordinator Tom Christiansen will go back to work, doing what he’s done for years. “It’s basically a waypoint on a long journey that will never end,” he said. “It’s gratifying to hear,” he said of the announcement, “and we can take a deep breath. But we can’t stop what we’re doing in keeping moving forward.”

    From the Colorado Independent (Kyle Harris):

    Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell announced today that the greater sage grouse does not require protection under the Endangered Species Act.

    Once upon a time, this bird “darkened the skies,” she says in the video above. But no longer, of course. Now, the sage brush landscape where these creatures dwell is used for a thriving Western economy: ranching, recreation and energy.

    When she says the word “energy,” the video cuts to windmills – notably, not fracking wells that speckle the West, spewing out flames and sometimes making tap water explode.

    “This vast landscape is suffering death by a thousand cuts,” Jewell says with Shakespearean flourish. “Longer, hotter fire seasons have eliminated millions of acres. Invasive species are pushing out native vegetation. And development is fragmenting the land. By many measures, the sage grouse serves as the pulse of this imperiled ecosystem.”

    The bird’s population has plummeted by 90 percent, sparking the largest land conservation effort in U.S. history. And as Jewell tells it, an unlikely cohort of ranchers, sportsmen, environmentalists and industry came together to protect the grouse — giving the bird a “bright future.”

    “With climate change and an expanding population, the stresses on our land, water and wildlife aren’t going away.”

    But Jewell remains optimistic. “We have shown that epic collaboration across a landscape guided by sound science is truly the future of American conservation.”

    In other words, the private sector will save us – or at least these poor, besmirched birds.

    The response to the announcement has been largely positive.

    Celebrating the political forsight and leadership of President Barack Obama, Gov. John Hickenlooper and Jewell, Conservation Colorado’s Executive Director Pete Maysmith touted the sage-grouse plan in a release: “The scope and scale of this unprecedented effort is astounding. It highlights that through collaboration, diverse interests can achieve unbelievable results – focusing on a shared goal and not our perceived differences.”
    Colorado’s U.S. senators took the news with glee.

    In a statement, Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet wrote:

    “Today’s announcement is a testament to the tireless work of our local communities, along with the state, to enhance conservation efforts. Colorado farmers, ranchers, local governments, conservationists, and community members have worked for years to find innovative ways to protect sage grouse habitat. This decision ends the uncertainty hanging over the heads of families, farms, and businesses on the western slope. It’s also another reminder that Coloradans can work together to develop commonsense solutions to difficult problems that can serve as a model for the nation. Now it’s important that the collaboration and hard work continue to effectively and successfully implement the state, federal and voluntary plans in a way that works for everyone.”

    “Today’s announcement is a testament to the tireless work of our local communities, along with the state, to enhance conservation efforts. Colorado farmers, ranchers, local governments, conservationists, and community members have worked for years to find innovative ways to protect sage grouse habitat. This decision ends the uncertainty hanging over the heads of families, farms, and businesses on the western slope. It’s also another reminder that Coloradans can work together to develop commonsense solutions to difficult problems that can serve as a model for the nation. Now it’s important that the collaboration and hard work continue to effectively and successfully implement the state, federal and voluntary plans in a way that works for everyone.”

    “Keeping the greater sage-grouse from being listed as an endangered species has always been my goal, and I’m glad Secretary Jewell arrived at the same conclusion. Greater sage-grouse populations are increasing, and I commend the collaborative efforts from stakeholders to keep this bird from being listed. While land use management is best handled by local groups, landowners and state leaders, I will be closely monitoring the implementation of the federal land-use management plans on our public lands in Northwest Colorado and across the West.”

    Despite this bipartisan love fest, Jeremy Nichols of Wildearth Guardians took to Twitter to condemn the decision, arguing that it would keep the feds from limiting the oil and gas industry.

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

    The greater sage grouse will not be added to the endangered species list because the bird’s habitat in Nevada and 10 other western states is already being protected by “the largest land conservation effort in U.S. history.”

    So said Interior Secretary Sally Jewell in an announcement Tuesday that was immediately cheered by some who feared red tape and economic damage from an endangered species listing for such a wide-ranging bird.

    Jewell said additional federal protection is unnecessary thanks to all the work done so far: dozens of public-private partnerships among federal and state regulators, ranchers, energy developers and conservationists aimed at preserving the chicken-sized bird’s sagebrush home.

    “The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service has determined that these collective efforts add up to a bright future for the sage grouse,” Jewell said in a video posted to YouTube.

    Two hours later, she formally announced the final listing decision for the sage grouse at Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge just outside Denver, where she was joined by a host of federal and state officials including Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval and the governors of Colorado, Montana and Wyoming.

    Sandoval said he is “cautiously optimistic that this is good news for Nevada,” but a lot more work lies ahead.

    “I appreciate Secretary Jewell’s commitment to continue working with us, and I take her at her word that we will collaborate in good faith during the next two years so that we have the opportunity to demonstrate that the Nevada plan provides the best conservation for sage-grouse in Nevada,” Sandoval said in a written statement. “We will closely monitor the implementation of this decision so that every option remains available to our state.”

    The greater sage grouse is native to 11 western states and Canada, but its population has declined over the past century from about 16 million to fewer than 500,000 by some estimates.

    The ground-dwelling bird measures up to 30 inches long and two feet tall and weighs two to seven pounds. In the spring, the males puff themselves up and perform elaborate mating dances that attract hens and human tourists.

    Experts say the bird is now threatened with extinction because its fragile, slow-healing sagebrush habitat has been splintered by wildfires, invasive plants and human development. In Nevada alone, wildfires have burned through more than 800,000 acres of sagebrush since 2000.

    Jewell called it “death by a thousand cuts.”

    Sage grouse are found across the northern half of Nevada, with large expanses of prime habitat in the northeastern and northwestern corners of the state. Several hundred of the birds are killed in Nevada each year in state-regulated hunts that have gone on for decades…

    But not everyone is celebrating.

    Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., said the federal mitigation plans drawn up to avoid listing the sage grouse are just as damaging to Nevada and the West.

    “This has been an issue of the Department of the Interior using the threat of a listing to get what it really wanted all along: limiting Nevadans’ access to millions of acres of land equal to the size of the state of West Virginia,” Heller said in a written statement. “At the end of the day, Big Government continues to tighten its grip at the expense of rural America’s future, especially in Nevada.”

    Rep. Rob Bishop, a Utah Republican and chairman of the House Committee on Natural Resources, called Tuesday’s announcement “a cynical ploy” to distract the public from federal regulation every bit as restrictive as listing would have been.

    “The new command and control federal plan will not help the bird, but it will control the West, which is the real goal of the Obama Administration,” Bishop said in a written statement.

    Technically, there are almost 100 separate plans.

    The Fish & Wildlife Service and the Bureau of Land Management gave final approval Tuesday to 98 land-use plans developed by federal, state and local stakeholders over the past five years to protect sagebrush habitat on public land in 11 states.

    According to agency officials, those plans are generally designed to minimize new surface disturbances in core sage grouse areas, improve and expand existing habitat and reduce the threat of wildfires, all while respecting valid rights and rights-of-way.

    But some new development will be restricted because of the bird. The Department of Interior just announced plans to temporarily prohibit new mines on about 10 million acres of federal land considered sage grouse strongholds in Nevada, Idaho, Montana, Oregon, Utah and Wyoming.

    The ban on new mining development is expected to last for up to two years while federal regulators determine whether the land should be permanently withdrawn from mineral exploration to protect sage grouse. That analysis will include input from the public.

    For now, the decision not to list the bird is largely drawing praise — though some of it guarded — from ranchers, hunting organizations, energy developers and conservation groups.

    Eric Holst, associate vice president of working lands for the Environmental Defense Fund, called it “one of the biggest listing decisions of our time” and proof that “wildlife conservation does not have to come at the expense of the economy.”

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

    Upper Colorado River Basin September month to date precipitation through September 20, 2015
    Upper Colorado River Basin September month to date precipitation through September 20, 2015

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

    CSU: Water Resources Archive acquires 100th collection

    Head archivist of the CSU Libraries Water Resources Archive Patty Rettig at work.
    Head archivist of the CSU Libraries Water Resources Archive Patty Rettig at work.

    Here’s the release from Colorado State University (Kate Jeracki):

    Irrigation ditches lace the lands of Colorado, transporting water required for raising crops and tying mountains to plains, rural areas to urban. The Water Resources Archive at the Colorado State University Libraries preserves the history of these fundamental features of the state’s heritage and landscape and is celebrating the receipt of its 100th collection of significant documents.

    The North Poudre Irrigation Company (NPIC), one of the largest irrigation companies in northern Colorado, has donated its historical records to the Water Resources Archive. Among NPIC’s 73 boxes, 10 ledgers, and approximately 1,000 large maps, plans and aerial photos reside details of the company’s 1901 origins and its development of nearly two dozen storage reservoirs and 200 miles of ditches.

    “This is now the largest archival collection documenting an irrigation company in the state,” said archivist Patty Rettig. The next largest, also at the Water Resources Archive, is from the opposite corner of Colorado and documents the Montezuma Valley Irrigation Company.

    After Archives staff clean the materials of dust and mold, organize and inventory them, the collection will be accessible to the public.

    “We appreciate the Archive’s professionalism and help with this process and project.” said Scott Hummer, NPIC general manager, who facilitated the donation.

    Other collections available

    The Archive’s 99th collection, the Papers of Loretta Lohman, is the first collection in the repository to document the work of a woman in water. Dr. Lohman’s lifetime of research on Western water issues focused on the economic effects of water reuse, salinity, federal reclamation projects, and energy use.

    Other collections in the Water Resources Archive include the Papers of Delph E. Carpenter and Family, the Ralph L. Parshall Collection, and the Records of Wright Water Engineers, respectively documenting the development of interstate river compacts, flumes and early irrigation practices, and investigations of water rights related to engineering projects.

    “By rescuing historical documents from inadequate, inaccessible storage, we can provide access to a virtual time machine to see how our society developed,” said Rettig,

    The Water Resources Archive, which opened in 2001 to collect, preserve, and promote the unique documents that capture Colorado’s water history, has grown substantially over the last 14 years. Its collections are now so extensive they would extend over a half mile if all the boxes were placed end to end.

    The Archive broadly collects documentation of water across the state of Colorado, and even beyond. Collections have come from as far away as California and Nebraska. Donors benefit from having collections inventoried and potentially digitized. The public benefits from accessibility for general use, such as scholastic studies, legal cases, filmmaking, or family genealogy.

    The collections are accessible in Suite 202 of Morgan Library on the CSU campus in Fort Collins from 8:30-4:30, Monday through Friday. Also, about 5 percent of the total holdings are digitally available online.

    For more information, visit the Archive’s website or call 970-491-1844.

    #SageGrouse: Historic Conservation Campaign Protects Greater Sage-Grouse

    Here’s the release from Secretary Jewell:

    U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service determines federal land management plans and partnerships with states, ranchers, and NGOs avert ESA listing by conserving America’s “Sagebrush Sea”

    An unprecedented, landscape-scale conservation effort across the western United States has significantly reduced threats to the greater sage-grouse across 90 percent of the species’ breeding habitat and enabled the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) to conclude that the charismatic rangeland bird does not warrant protection under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). This collaborative, science-based greater sage-grouse strategy is the largest land conservation effort in U.S. history.

    Secretary Jewell made the announcement earlier today on Twitter with a video that explains why the sage grouse decision is historic and sets the groundwork for a 21st-century approach to conservation.

    The FWS reached this determination after evaluating the bird’s population status, along with the collective efforts by the BLM and U.S. Forest Service, state agencies, private landowners and other partners to conserve its habitat. Despite long-term population declines, sage-grouse remain relatively abundant and well-distributed across the species’ 173-million acre range. After a thorough analysis of the best available scientific information and taking into account ongoing key conservation efforts and their projected benefits, the FWS has determined the bird does not face the risk of extinction now or in the foreseeable future and therefore does not need protection under the ESA.

    “This is truly a historic effort – one that represents extraordinary collaboration across the American West,” said U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell. “It demonstrates that the Endangered Species Act is an effective and flexible tool and a critical catalyst for conservation – ensuring that future generations can enjoy the diversity of wildlife that we do today. The epic conservation effort will benefit westerners and hundreds of species that call this iconic landscape home, while giving states, businesses and communities the certainty they need to plan for sustainable economic development.”

    Jewell made the announcement at the Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge today alongside Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper, Nevada Governor Brian Sandoval, Montana Governor Steve Bullock, Wyoming Governor Matt Mead, U.S. Department of Agriculture Under Secretary for Natural Resources and the Environment Robert Bonnie, FWS Director Dan Ashe, Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Director Neil Kornze, U.S. Forest Service (USFS) Chief Tom Tidwell, Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) Chief Jason Weller, and U.S. Geological Survey Acting Director Suzette Kimball.

    “Today’s decision reflects the joint efforts by countless ranchers and partners who have worked so hard to conserve wildlife habitat and preserve the Western way of life,” said U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. “Together, we have shown that voluntary efforts joining the resources of private landowners, federal and state agencies, and partner organizations can help drive landscape-level conservation that is good for sage-grouse, ranching operations, and rural communities. Through the comprehensive initiatives on both public and private lands, the partnership has made and will continue to make monumental strides in supporting the people and wildlife that depend on the sagebrush landscape.”

    The FWS’s September 30, 2015 deadline to review the status of the species spurred numerous federal agencies, the 11 states in the range, and dozens of public and private partners to undertake an extraordinary campaign to protect, restore and enhance important sage-grouse habitat to preclude the need to list the species. This effort featured: new management direction for BLM and Forest Service land use plans that place greater emphasis on conserving sage-grouse habitat; development of state sage-grouse management plans; voluntary, multi-partner private lands effort to protect millions of acres of habitat on ranches and rangelands across the West; unprecedented collaboration with federal, state and private sector scientists; and a comprehensive strategy to fight rangeland fires.

    “We’ve written an important chapter in sage-grouse conservation, but the story is far from over,” said Director Ashe. “By building on the partnerships we’ve forged and continuing conservation efforts under the federal and state plans, we will reap dividends for sage-grouse, big game and other wildlife while protecting a way of life in the West. That commitment will ensure that our children and grandchildren will inherit the many benefits that this rich but imperiled landscape has to offer.”

    The BLM and USFS today announced that they have issued Records of Decisions finalizing the 98 land use plans that will help conserve greater sage-grouse habitat and support sustainable economic development on portions of public lands in 10 states across the West. The land use plans were developed during over a multi-year process in partnership with the states and local partners, guided by the best available science and technical advice from the FWS. The BLM and USFS also initiated today the public comment process associated with their proposal to withdraw a subset of lands that are sage-grouse strongholds from future mining claims. More information on the plans is available here . More information on the proposed mineral withdrawal is available here.

    The future of the sage-grouse depends on the successful implementation of the federal and state management plans and the actions of private landowners, as well as a continuing focus on reducing invasive grasses and controlling rangeland fire. The FWS has committed to monitoring all of the continuing efforts and population trends, as well as to reevaluating the status of the species in five years.

    The greater sage-grouse is an umbrella species, emblematic of the health of sagebrush habitat it shares with more than 350 other kinds of wildlife, including world-class populations of mule deer, elk, pronghorn, and golden eagles. In 2010, the Service determined that the greater sage-grouse warranted ESA protection because of population declines caused by loss and fragmentation of its sagebrush habitat, coupled with a lack of regulatory mechanisms to control habitat loss. However, the need to address higher-priority listing actions precluded the Service from taking action to list the bird. Since that time, actions from state, federal and private partners have added needed protections, increasing certainty that this important habitat will be protected.

    Roughly half of the sage-grouse’s habitat is on federal lands, most of it managed by the BLM and USFS. These tend to be drier uplands where the birds mate, nest and spend fall and winter. While the federal plans differ in specifics to reflect local landscapes, threats and conservation approaches, their overall goal is to prevent further degradation of the best remaining sage-grouse habitat, minimize disturbance where possible and mitigate unavoidable impacts by protecting and improving similar habitat.

    About 45 percent of the grouse’s habitat is on state and private lands, which often include the wetter meadows and riparian habitat that are essential for young chicks. Efforts by private landowners in undertaking voluntary sage-grouse conservation have been an important element in the campaign. While private lands programs differ, each works with ranchers, landowners and other partners on long-term agreements to undertake proactive conservation measures that benefit sage-grouse.

    Through the NRCS-led Sage Grouse Initiative, more than 1,100 ranchers have restored or conserved approximately 4.4 million acres of key habitat. Through the recently-announced SGI 2.0 strategy, USDA expects voluntary, private land conservation efforts to reach 8 million acres by 2018. On private and federal lands, the FWS and BLM have received commitments on 5.5 million acres through Candidate Conservation Agreements. Many of these projects also improve grazing and water supplies for ranchers, benefitting cattle herds and the long-term future of ranching in the West.

    States in the sage-grouse’s range have been engaged in this collaborative process. For example, Wyoming has been implementing its “core area” strategy for more than five years. Montana has committed to implement a similar plan that would set standards for managing private and state lands to meet sage-grouse conservation goals. Similarly, Oregon has adopted an “all lands” strategy for greater sage-grouse conservation. Colorado, Utah, Nevada, and Idaho have also developed strategies to improve state and private land management to benefit the sage-grouse.

    Greater sage-grouse once occupied more than 290 million acres of sagebrush in the West. Early European settlers reported seeing millions of birds take to the skies. But the bird, known for its flamboyant mating ritual, has lost almost half of its habitat since then.

    Despite losses, sage-grouse populations are still relatively large and well-distributed across the range. The FWS anticipates that some sage-grouse populations may continue to decline in parts of the range, as conservation efforts begin to take effect. Other populations appear to be rebounding as they enter a rising period in their decadal population cycle, which can fluctuate by as much 30 to 40 percent. The FWS has found conservation measures will slow and then stabilize the loss of habitat across the range, securing the species success into the future.

    For more information about the greater sage-grouse and this decision, including reports, maps, myths and facts and Secretary’s Jewell’s video announcing the USFWS decision, please see http://www.doi.gov/sagegrouse.

    From the Associated Press (Matthew Brown and Mead Gruver):

    Tuesday’s announcement signaled that the Obama administration believes it has struck a delicate balance to save the birds from extinction without crippling the West’s economy. It also could help defuse a potential political liability for Democrats heading into the 2016 election — federal protections could have brought much more sweeping restrictions on oil and gas drilling, grazing and other human activities from California to the Dakotas.

    The government was providing some level of habitat protections on 67 million acres of federal lands, including 12 million acres where strict limits on oil and gas limits will be enforced, an aide to Interior Secretary Sally Jewell said. That’s more than a third of the animal’s total range and does not include millions of acres of private land shielded by conservation easements.

    “It’s the most complex, the largest land conservation effort in U.S. history,” Jewell adviser Sarah Greenberger said. “This model of science-based, landscape-level conservation is truly the future of conservation.”

    Jewell and the governors of Wyoming, Montana, Colorado and Nevada were to make a formal announcement later in the day at the Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge just north of Denver.

    From Conservation Colorado (Chris Arend):

    Conservation Colorado Executive Director Pete Maysmith released the following statement on the U.S. Department of Interior’s announcement on Greater sage grouse:

    “This is an historic decision that marks a critical point in one of this nation’s most ambitious and historic planning initiatives to save the iconic Greater sage grouse and its vast and under appreciated sagebrush home. The scope and scale of this unprecedented effort is astounding. It highlights that through collaboration, diverse interests can achieve unbelievable results – focusing on a shared goal and not our perceived differences.

    We believe that comprehensive development and implementation of federal and state land use and Greater sage grouse plans will provide the opportunity to go above and beyond the protections of the Endangered Species Act.

    However, it is critical that we work together to implement BLM plans and ensure every state plan is striving to complement important conservation objectives on private and state lands. These plans working together can ensure that Greater sage grouse and our sagebrush landscapes remain healthy and productive for generations to enjoy.

    This landmark decision would not have been possible without the foresight and leadership of President Obama, Secretary Sally Jewell and our Governor John Hickenlooper. We all understand this is not the end. We will need to continue working with our state and federal partners to ensure this plan is effectively implemented for the long term viability of this bird and our critical sagebrush seas.”

    From The Denver Post (Bruce Finley):

    A chicken-size forager famed for fancy mating displays, greater sage grouse once numbered in the millions but have declined to an estimated 200,000 to 500,000. Survivors are clumped around 165 million acres stretching from Colorado up to the Dakotas and out to California — also home to 300 other species including golden eagles.

    “It demonstrates that the Endangered Species Act is an effective and flexible tool and a critical catalyst for conservation — ensuring that future generations can enjoy the diversity of wildlife that we do today,” Jewell said.

    Newly launched state-led conservation projects “will ensure that abundant greater sage grouse populations will continue to be distributed across the range into the foreseeable future,” U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service assistant director Gary Frazer said Monday in a discussion with reporters.

    “The service has concluded that the greater sage grouse does not meet the definition of a threatened or endangered species and does not warrant listing,” Frazer said. “We will continue to participate in and monitor the conservation efforts and population trends, and we will re-evaluate the status of the species in five years.”

    Finally, here’s Governor Hickenlooper’s release:

    Gov. John Hickenlooper issued the following statement after the announcement by the U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) that it has issued a “non-warranted decision” in regard to a potential listing of the Greater Sage-Grouse under the Endangered Species Act:

    “Secretary Jewell and her agencies have recognized the results of significant conservation efforts that have dramatically improved sage grouse habitat in Colorado and across 11 western states. Landowners, regional industries, and local, state and federal government have worked in close collaboration over many years. These improvements will enhance not only sage grouse, but also all manner of wildlife that are a crucial part of what makes Colorado and the American west the unique place that it is.”

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

    Hopes high for a ‘Super’ El Niño — the High Country News

    From the High Country News (Sarah Tory):

    El Niño is upon us and it’s shaping up to be a big one – so big that scientists have amused themselves coming up with new terms for the coming weather phenomenon. Bill Patzert of NASA coined the term “Godzilla El Niño.” Another meteorologist from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) who loves kung fu compared it to famed martial arts star Bruce Lee…

    This year, many global weather models are signaling that we’re in for a whopper of an El Niño. In fact, some indicate that we appear to be on track to experience one of the strongest El Niños on record. Still, Klaus Wolter, a climate scientist at the University of Colorado Boulder, cautions against getting too caught up in the hype. “There’s always a race for the biggest epithet,” he says. El Niños can vary in strength, and it’s impossible to know yet just how big a punch this one will deliver. The latest models show the current El Niño as the second strongest on record for this time of year (it typically peaks in winter), but some models have scaled back their predictions of a “Super” El Niño. That’s not uncommon: Last year, the odds of a “Super” El Niño occurring diminished substantially — from close to 80 percent earlier in the summer down to 65 percent by August…


    In contrast to the Northwest, El Niño means good news for Arizona and New Mexico (though as the recent flash flood deaths in Utah reveal, heavy rain in desert areas can be dangerous too). They’ll likely see a wet winter and spring. Similarly, in the southern Rockies, El Niño will tilt the odds in favor of a snowy winter, a boon to ski resorts that make up much of the region’s tourism economy. However, more central and northern parts of the Rockies, extending into Wyoming, will probably suffer relatively dry winters – until spring that is, when El Niño could deliver some mega-storms.

    Overall, the prognosis is mixed for the fragile Colorado River Basin and its shrinking reservoirs. Decades of over-allocation and a 15-year warm spell have pushed Lake Mead just inches from unprecedented mandatory water restrictions. In general, the pattern of past El Niños does not correlate well with total runoff, says [Klaus Wolter], since dry winters tend to cancel out wet springs. But as this year proved, a spring boost could give the Basin states some breathing room.


    #WISE Water Project Receives Unprecedented Statewide Support — South Metro Water Supply Authority

    WISE System Map via the South Metro Water Supply Authority
    WISE System Map via the South Metro Water Supply Authority

    Here’s the release from the South Metro Water Supply Authority (Russ Rizzo):

    The WISE water project today received unprecedented statewide support, becoming the first water infrastructure project in Colorado to receive funding from Basin Roundtables across the state.

    The Colorado Water Conservation Board approved $905,000 in state and regional grant funding for the WISE (Water Infrastructure and Supply Efficiency) project, including funds from seven of the state’s nine Basin Roundtables.

    “We are excited and grateful for the broad, statewide support for this important project,” said Eric Hecox, executive director of the South Metro Water Supply Authority, which represents 13 water providers comprising most of Douglas County and a portion of Arapahoe County. “This is a significant part of our region’s plan to transition to a more secure and sustainable water supply, and benefits of WISE extend throughout the region and to the West Slope.”

    WISE is a partnership among Aurora Water, Denver Water and South Metro Water to combine available water supplies and system capacities to create a sustainable new water supply. Aurora and Denver will provide fully treated water to South Metro Water on a permanent basis. WISE also will enable Denver Water to access its supplies during periods when it needs to. All of this will be accomplished while allowing Aurora to continue to meet its customers’ current and future needs.

    “This project is reflective of the regional and statewide collaboration the State Water Plan calls for to meet the future water needs of Coloradans,” said former State Representative Diane Hoppe, chair of the Colorado Water Conservation Board. “The broad financial support from Basin Roundtables across the state reflects the cooperation and smart approach that the Denver metro area’s leading water providers have taken.”

    The Basin Roundtables, created in 2005 with the Colorado Water for the 21st Century Act, represent each of the state’s eight major river basins and the Denver metropolitan area. The grants are part of the state’s Water Supply Reserve Accounts program that assists Colorado water users in addressing their critical water supply issues and interests.

    Roundtables that have committed funds to WISE so far include:

    Metro Basin Roundtable
    South Platte Basin Roundtable
    North Platte Basin Roundtable
    Colorado Basin Roundtable
    Arkansas Basin Roundtable
    Gunnison Basin Roundtable
    Yampa/White/Green Basin Roundtable

    “The Colorado Basin applauds the WISE participants for their forward thinking and collaborative approach,” said Jim Pokrandt, chair of the Colorado Basin Roundtable, which includes Grand Junction and Glenwood Springs. “WISE benefits not just the Front Range but the West Slope as well. The project enables the metro region to re-use its trans-mountain supplies, thereby reducing the need to look to other regions for water supply. In addition, the WISE agreement is an integral part of the Colorado River Cooperative Agreement under which the West Slope receives funding to help meet our water project and environmental needs.”

    Construction on the WISE project began in June and will continue into 2016. When WISE begins delivering water in 2016:

    ●The South Denver Metro area will receive a significant new renewable water supply;
    ●Denver will receive a new backup water supply;
    ●Aurora will receive funding from partners to help offset its Prairie Waters Project costs and stabilize water rates; and
    ●The West Slope will receive new funding, managed by the Colorado River Water Conservation District, for water supply, watershed and water quality projects.

    Securing a Sustainable Water Supply for South Metro Denver

    South Metro Water and its 13 water provider members are executing a plan to transition to renewable supplies. The plan focuses on three areas: conservation and efficiency; infrastructure investment; and partnership among local and regional water suppliers.

    The region has made tremendous progress over the past decade, reducing per capita water use by more than 30 percent and adding new renewable water supplies and storage capacity that have significantly decreased reliance on nonrenewable groundwater.

    For details on the WISE project as well as South Metro Water’s plan to transition to renewable water supplies, visit http://www.southmetrowater.org.

    #COWaterPlan: Pueblo County files comments


    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

    Pueblo County commissioners say the state should be a referee, rather than a sponsor, in future water projects and they want to emphasize local regulation.

    “The county’s experience has been that federal and state regulations and enforcement alone have been inadequate to protect against local impacts of water projects,” the commissioners wrote in comments on the state water plan filed last week.

    The deadline for comments was Thursday. Commissioners Liane “Buffie” McFadyen, Terry Hart and Sal Pace jointly signed the letter to Gov. John Hickenlooper and the Colorado Water Conservation Board, who are working to finish the plan by December.

    The commissioners want to make sure that the state water plan does not undermine the authority of the state’s counties and cities to regulate water projects under laws such as HB1034 and HB1041, both passed in 1974 to provide local regulation of statewide activities, including water projects.

    Pueblo County has used the 1041 process most notably in obtaining mitigation for the Southern Delivery System, an $840 million project that is designed to bring water from Pueblo Dam to Colorado Springs.

    SDS is scheduled to go online in 2016, and under the 2009 permit for the project, Colorado Springs has been required to spend an additional $75 million to fortify sewer lines, $50 million for Fountain Creek flood control, $15 million for roads, $4 million for wetlands restoration and $2.2 million for Fountain Creek channel dredging, among other conditions.

    “To avoid confusion as to the local government’s authority to deny a permit for a specific project, we recommend that the following sentence be added: ‘A permit may be denied for a specific water project that does not meet the standards or criteria of the local regulations,’ ” the commissioners wrote.

    The county also wants the state to remain neutral in water projects.

    “Pueblo County does not believe that it is appropriate for the state of Colorado to endorse or become a sponsor of a water project in most cases,” they said.

    The board also wants to include stormwater control in the state definition for watershed protection. Most of the efforts in the last three years in watershed health have focused on mitigating the damage from large wildfires, but Pueblo County said equal attention has to be given to the effects on water quality from increased stormwater caused by development, such as what has occurred on Fountain Creek.

    Stormwater has been a key issue in regulation of SDS as well. A recent study for the county by Wright Water Engineers found that 370,000 tons of sediment are deposited each year between Colorado and Pueblo, decreasing the effectiveness of Fountain Creek levees.

    Finally, the county wants water reuse to get more emphasis in the state water plan.

    “The benefits to Pueblo County of promoting reuse are twofold,” commissioners said. “First, municipal reuse would reduce the need for dry-up of agricultural lands and transfers of agricultural water rights to municipal use. Second, reuse in El Paso County would reduce and control damaging flows in Fountain Creek through Pueblo County.”

    Public review for new floodplain maps for Aspen and Pitkin County

    Map of the Roaring Fork River watershed via the Roaring Fork Conservancy
    Map of the Roaring Fork River watershed via the Roaring Fork Conservancy

    From Pitkin County via the Aspen Daily News:

    Pitkin County and the city of Aspen will roll out preliminary floodplain maps to the public at an open house next week.

    The new maps, also known as flood insurance rate maps, had not been updated since 1987. The latest effort was the result of an extensive, multiyear study of the Roaring Fork watershed, and surrounding creeks and drainages, according to a Pitkin County press release.

    “Floodplains change over time, and with that the risk of flooding can change for people who own property in floodplains,” said Lance Clarke, the county’s assistant director of community development.

    The unveiling of the maps is scheduled for Tuesday, Sept. 29, from 5 to 7 p.m. in the Plaza 1 meeting room, 530 East Main St. in Aspen.

    At the public event, participants will be able to see their properties online using GIS technology with a floodplain map overlay. Property owners will have the opportunity to review the maps with advice and counseling by FEMA, Colorado Water Conservancy officials and flood insurance experts.

    The new maps are preliminary, and FEMA has not yet adopted them. Officials want local residents and business owners to review the drafts to identify any concerns or questions.

    Experts will be available to explain what should be done if properties are located in a floodplain and what property owners can do to protect their home or business from the consequences of a flood.

    “This is a rare opportunity for local property owners to meet one-on-one with FEMA officials and insurance experts to find out how these new maps may affect their property,” Clarke said.

    In 2009, officials with the Federal Emergency Management Agency recommended the new study to the city and county. FEMA contributed 75 percent of the $517,220 price tag. The remainder of the cost was funded by grants from Pitkin County Healthy Rivers, the city of Aspen, Pitkin County Open Space and Trails, the Colorado Water Conservation Board and an in-kind contribution from the Pitkin County GIS Department.

    The public can access the preliminary maps on FEMA’s website: https://msc.fema.gov/portal.

    Saturday, September 26th: The 2015 Alpine Bank #ColoradoRiver Cleanup — Middle Colorado Watershed Council


    Click here to register. From the website:

    The 2015 Alpine Bank Colorado River Cleanup presented by the Middle Colorado Watershed Council is happening on Saturday, September 26th at Grand River Park in New Castle, Colorado. Come join us to help restore this beatiful 6-mile strech of river between South Canyon and New Castle. The Day will begin with registration at 8:30am at Grand River Park, then volunteers will venture out to remove trash and debris from the banks and river channel. The day will conclude with a barbeque lunch at the park in New Castle. Pre-registration is required.

    Saturday, September 26, 2015 from 8:30 AM to 1:00 PM (MDT)
    Grand River Park – Park Drive New Castle, CO 81647

    2016 Colorado legislation: Another showdown over precipitation harvesting?

    Rain barrel schematic
    Rain barrel schematic

    From The Durango Herald (Peter Marcus):

    A legislative committee Tuesday approved drafting a bill that would legalize rain barrels. Colorado is the only state where they are illegal.

    The Water Resources Review Committee won’t officially vote on whether to introduce the measure as a committee until October. If the committee approves the bill, then it would be introduced at the start of the next session in January. There’s also the option for a lawmaker to carry the measure separate from the committee, or run a completely separate bill.

    While the legislation signals that the issue is far from dried-up, certain caveats in the measure could cause an outcry. For one, the bill would require users to register their barrels with the state. Another provision would require water providers to replace water taken from rooftops.

    Rain-barrel supporters worry that the current proposal is burdensome to water providers, and that would result in failing to approve barrel collection. They point out that rain barrels help with conservation, and that 97 percent of water falling on residential property never ends up in a river or stream.

    But it may be their best shot after a similar effort drowned during the previous legislative session. That legislation was stalled in committee after concerns from Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg, R-Sterling, over water rights. Had the bill received a floor vote, it likely would have passed thanks to support from Republican Sen. Ellen Roberts of Durango.

    Just when it looked like the bill had a chance to receive a late floor vote in the Senate, sponsors and legislative leaders agreed to let the bill die so that discussions could continue for future compromise legislation. Enter Sonnenberg’s current proposal.

    “This is more about process,” Sonnenberg said Tuesday during the committee hearing. “This is more about honoring the prior appropriations system and saying, ‘If we’re going to have rain barrels, the right thing to do is to figure out how we replace that water.’”[…]

    Under Sonnenberg’s proposal, Coloradans would be allowed to use up to two containers with a maximum capacity of 55 gallons each. A consumer’s residence would need to contain four or fewer residential units.

    Rain-barrel supporters say legislation should make it easy.

    “Numerous studies have consistently shown that rain barrels have no impact on downstream users,” said Pete Maysmith, executive director of Conservation Colorado. “Any proposals to put additional red tape and bureaucracy on a rain-barrel program disregard these studies and will only serve to dissuade and burden Coloradans.”

    Big Thompson Watershed Forum’s 2015 Watershed Meeting: Thursday, September 24

    From the Big Thompson Watershed Forum via the Estes Park Trail-Gazette:

    The Big Thompson Watershed Forum (The Forum) will have its 14th Watershed Meeting, “FROM FLOOD TO FUTURE ~ RISING FROM MUD AND ASHES” on Thursday, September 24, 2015.

    The Big Thompson River watershed, an area encompassing over 900 square miles, provides drinking water to numerous cities in northern Colorado including Berthoud, Estes Park, Fort Collins, Fort Morgan, Greeley, Loveland and Milliken. The Big Thompson River watershed is vital to more than 800,000 people, as it carries water from the Colorado-Big Thompson Project (C-BT) to be used for residential, commercial, agricultural, ranching, recreation, and wildlife habitat purposes.

    We will welcome several great speakers and professionals with on-the-ground experience, research, and tales from the 2013 Big Thompson River flood. We will also be presenting the findings and results from our major water quality report and answering the question…. “is our water getting better or is it getting worse?” The assessment and presentation will discuss the findings from 15 years of data from the Forum’s most recent water quality analysis of the Big Thompson River and its major tributaries, and pre and post-flood water quality monitoring results.

    Panels & Topics for 2015…

  • Your River & Who Runs It ~ Functionality & Monitoring in the C-BT System
    Big Thompson Watershed Forum, Northern Water, U.S. Bureau of Reclamation
  • The 2013 Flood ~ Impacts on Operations & Infrastructure
    City of Loveland, Northern Water, Larimer County
  • From Flood to Future ~ Rising from Mud and Ashes
    AloTerra Restoration, Big Thompson Conservation District, City of Loveland, Colorado Parks & Wildlife, Colorado Water Conservation Board, U.S. Forest Service, U.S. Geological Survey
  • 2015 State of the Watershed Water Quality Report
    Big Thompson Watershed Forum, Hydros Consulting
  • The watershed meeting will be held at the Fireside Café, Group Publishing Building, Loveland, CO from 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. The cost is $50 per person and includes a continental breakfast, snacks, drinks, and Italian theme buffet lunch. Cash or check at the door please. Seating is limited. For additional details and to register, please contact Zack Shelley at 970-613-6163 or zshelley@btwatershed.org.

    Fly fishing below Olympus Dam (Colorado-Big Thompson Project) September 17, 2015 via the Bureau of Reclamation
    Fly fishing below Olympus Dam (Colorado-Big Thompson Project) September 17, 2015 via the Bureau of Reclamation

    Tuesday, September 22: Waters of the United States Workshop — Colorado Water Congress

    If you’re tired of hearing, “They are trying to regulate every puddle,” from the usual suspects and would like an in-depth look and thoughtful analysis for the issues around the EPA’s new Waters of the US rule click here and register for the Colorado Water Congress’ workshop tomorrow.