Durango: City needs to pump $4 million into water and sewer infrastructure

Durango
Durango

From The Durango Herald (Mary Shinn):

While it is not likely all the projects will make the city’s 2016 budget, Utilities Director Steve Salka on Tuesday made a strong case for many of the maintenance projects to the Durango City Council.

The intakes on both the Florida and the Animas rivers, a foundation piece of the system need to be upgraded. Some of the intakes on the Florida are almost 100 years old.

On the Animas River the city needs to install improvements to ensure enough water flows to the intake.

This intake is located near the Durango Whitewater Park, and the park has exacerbated a problem with the way the water flows through the channel. Right now, not enough water is flowing over the intake, Salka said.

The construction fix for the problem is estimated to cost about $250,000, and the Durango Parks and Recreation Department may contribute $100,000 to the project, he said.

This will help make sure the department is ready to rely more heavily on the Animas River during maintenance on Lemon Reservoir, which stores Florida River water. Work will be ongoing at the reservoir from August of 2016 through 2017, he said.

This likely won’t be the only construction in the Animas next year because the Utilities Department is also planning to replace four of the pipelines that cross beneath the river. These pipes are about 50 years old.

Many of the other projects Salka has planned focus on stainability at water-treatment plant and in other parts of the system.

Some of these projects include better insulation and variable-frequency drive pumps to reduce their demand for electricity.

He would also like to install larger compressors that would help eliminate the need for them to turn on and off constantly; this would address noise complaints from the Hillcrest neighborhood.

Eventually, Salka plans to install a solar garden that would fund the entire plant. But before the solar panels can be installed the La Plata Electric Association must install new equipment, and this project is not currently slated to happen in 2016…

The department will continue replacing water meters again the year by installing 300 new ones.

City crews have replaced 600 meters over the last two years, and it’s had a positive effect on the system.

“My revenue starts going up; we get more water accountability,” Salka said.

In dealing with the sewage system, Salka proposed $1.8 million in upgrades that will needed no matter what decision is made on the wastewater-treatment plant.

Councilors are debating whether to move the plant or renovate it at its current location in Santa Rita Park.

Oil and gas exploration near South Park concerns some in Colorado Springs area — The Colorado Springs Gazette

Upper South Platte Basin
Upper South Platte Basin

From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Ryan Maye Handy):

In a small plane soaring thousands of feet above the expanse of South Park, Jara Johnson surveyed one of the richest landscapes in the state, an area home to endangered wildlife, water, natural gas and uranium.

Although South Park has long been prized as the home of South Platte River and for its native elk herds, its energy prospects are what has put it on the radar of the Bureau of Land Management. The federal agency has begun putting together a master leasing plan for South Park to evaluate the risks of drilling for oil and natural gas in what Johnson considers one of the state’s unparalleled playgrounds.

But for those who make their living off the wildlife and water in South Park, the area’s potential for energy development poses a serious economic threat, said David Leinweber, who owns the Angler’s Covey in Colorado Springs.

Leinweber’s business has one of the largest guiding permits for the South Platte and habitually fishes the “Dream Stream,” a state-designated Gold Medal fishery at the southern edge of the BLM’s proposed leasing site. Leinweber foresees disaster if oil and gas development were to harm the river and its tributaries.

“In South Park our big concern is not very much different from what just happened on the Animas (River),” said Leinweber, referring to the acid-mine drainage that polluted the southwestern Colorado river last month. “It’s the what-if story.”

For Johnson, the director of operations for the environmental nonprofit Coalition for the Upper South Platte, there is much more at stake than South Park’s rich fishing economy.

Last week, Johnson served as guide for a National Wildlife Federation-organized flight tour over South Park to highlight the area’s mix of crucial water resources and wildlife habitats.

To the uneducated eye, South Park is a treeless expanse that stretches between the Front Range to the east and the Mosquito Range to the northwest. But Johnson sees the 980-square-mile area as a complex ecosystem with rare high-elevation wetlands, agricultural fields and winter refuges for elk and pronghorn. The South Platte meanders through the heart of the park – so named because white settlers thought it was like a natural game preserve – and delivers most of the water for the Denver metro area.

While less than an hour by plane from southeast Denver, South Park might as well be an exotic high-mountain paradise for animals, microbes and plants.

“There are plants in the Mosquito Range that are found nowhere else in the world,” Johnson said.

South Park’s uniqueness comes in part from its geology – a mixture of ancient volcanoes, glaciers and lakes, which make the area precious to the Front Range for its connection to water. Denver, Aurora and Centennial get water from South Park’s rivers, streams and reservoirs. While Colorado Springs gets its water from the Homestake system west of Leadville, two pipelines shuttle water east through the park, right through the BLM’s proposed leasing site.

With 28 abandoned wells and no active permits for the area, South Park has seen minimal drilling, said BLM spokeswoman Vanessa Lacayo. Areas around Lake George are “prime for uranium development,” although none has happened, Johnson said.

Nonetheless, potential for oil and gas development has raised the alarm in Park County, which gets most of its water from aquifers beneath South Park. While locals are anxious to see how leasing will play out, they are getting what many consider an unprecedented opportunity to plan with the BLM.

In years past, master leasing plans were done once energy companies expressed interest in drilling on BLM lands. But in 2010, inspired by the risks and interest in South Park, the BLM reformed the process, Lacayo said.

“The concept of the leasing reform (is) it doesn’t wait for someone to submit an expression of interest,” she said.

Instead, the BLM triggered the process without active interest in energy development in South Park. And the BLM is seeking the input of people like Leinweber.

“I think that when we initiated the master leasing plans, it was to provide the public with more opportunities to take a closer look at oil and gas leasing,” Lacayo said.

Before 2010, the first time locals learned of plans to drill on BLM lands was when mineral rights were sold, Lacayo said. Now, residents and others impacted will know about the area’s potential for oil and gas development long before leases are made available. The BLM has placed a moratorium on energy development around the state until several leasing plans are completed, Lacayo said.

Lacking funds, the agency has relied on CUSP to jump-start conversations about the impacts of oil and gas development. The nonprofit received a grant from the Keystone Policy Center to host three public meetings from October to February to give Park County officials, residents and business owners a chance to express concerns.

In a report submitted in March, CUSP found that South Park’s cattle owners welcome oil and gas development, while others want limited or strict restrictions.

Park County residents are afraid oil and gas wells will pollute their vulnerable aquifers. Various wildlife groups proposed that drilling be prohibited in known wildlife areas, such as portions of the James Mark Jones State Wildlife Area. Water providers, such as Denver Water and Colorado Springs Utilities, lobbied for mandatory setbacks for oil and gas development from water sources.

The BLM will take all the input into consideration for an environmental review, which will be released for another round of public comment after a draft is done, Lacayo said.

Although research has begun, the BLM is possibly years from opening the leasing process in South Park. The area’s leasing plan is but a sliver of the BLM’s Eastern Colorado Resource Management Plan, which will take years and millions of dollars to complete.

South Park, meanwhile, will continue to be the recreational and wildlife mecca it has always been. But even if it doesn’t become the home to Colorado’s next natural gas boom, Leinweber believes that even the smallest amount of drilling could have devastating impact on the area if it goes wrong.

“What people don’t often recognize with some of the oil and gas things is that it often isn’t the big company that goes in and does the exploration,” he said.

“It’s these small guys that don’t really have the backing of something. If they were to make a mistake, it can be pretty impactful for a long time. My concern is containing any byproducts that come out of the these (drilling) processes that could jeopardize our industry as a business.”

September 2013 flood: “It’s a nightmare we keep trying to wake up from” — Kitty Wang

Evans Colorado September 2013 via TheDenverChannel.com
Evans Colorado September 2013 via TheDenverChannel.com

From The Denver Post via the Loveland Reporter-Herald (Joey Bunch/John Aguilar):

As Colorado hits the two-year mark since a historic deluge swelled rivers and creeks to overflowing, killing 10 and causing nearly $4 billion in damage across 24 counties, frustration is a theme for a surprisingly large group of folks still dealing with the storm’s aftermath. Hundreds of mobile home park residents in Evans, a city of 20,000 south of Greeley, are unable to return to communities that have been effectively scraped off the map.

The major access road into Glen Haven is still being put back together, causing repeated daily hour-long delays that result in unending headaches for locals and drive away tourist traffic headed to or from nearby Estes Park.

Only three of 17 homes in James town destroyed by a manic James Creek have been completely rebuilt, and a part of the population has relocated or hasn’t yet moved back to the tiny mountain town.

And then there are the dozens of Lyons residents, locked in a seemingly endless bureaucratic arm-wrestling match with town officials over attempts to get permits to rebuild their homes.

They confronted town leaders at a public meeting earlier this month demanding a more streamlined process for evaluating and approving their engineering and hydrology plans so they can move forward.

“We’ve spent a lot of money on this project, and we haven’t laid a shovel in the ground,” said Kitty Wang, who with her husband has lived in Lyons for 13 years and still awaits a floodplain development permit for a new house. “It’s a nightmare we keep trying to wake up from.”[…]

Molly Urbina, the state’s chief recovery officer, acknowledged that despite the billions spent to make repairs and provide compensation to victims of Colorado’s most costly natural disaster, problems remain.

The state, she said, has not forgotten about those still suffering.

“When we talk about disasters, we talk about a marathon, not a sprint,” Urbina said. “We continue to coordinate with local communities to assess and evaluate needs and priorities and to advocate for additional resources.”

Some of those resources have come from groups like Foothills United Way in Boulder County, which has raised $4.9 million in donations and spent about $363,000 for mental health services. The charity still sits on nearly $2 million to help cover the costs of at least 333 open cases in Colorado’s hardest-hit county…

Urbina said estimating costs for a disaster the size of the 2013 floods, which destroyed 1,852 homes and 203 businesses and created more than 18,000 evacuees over a five-day period starting Sept. 10, 2013, is a “complex, long-term process.”

“We understood that this would evolve as recovery priorities and projects became more clear,” she said.

The dynamic nature of the floods’ impact has played out in dramatic fashion since the one-year anniversary, with the cost of rebuilding in Colorado swelling by a third to nearly $4 billion.

The $1 billion spike, Urbina said, reflects the fact that initial cost estimates done in the months following the flood were rough. In the past year, more detailed estimates of what it would cost to fully repair and restore roads and watersheds in the state were made.

Specifically, watershed recovery master plans performed over the last year revealed that the true cost of improving flood-impacted watersheds would amount to some $600 million.

Last February, Gov. John Hickenlooper announced $56.9 million will come from a federal program to help restore stream corridors and prevent future flooding.

The remainder of the increased cost estimate since last year — around $400 million — came about as the result of detailed design and engineering work, which more clearly outlined the cost of building roadways that can better withstand future flooding, Urbina said.

Work will begin soon to redesign U.S. 36 from Estes Park to Lyons at an estimated cost of $50 million.

Also, individuals and local governments have found damage they initially didn’t know about or thought private insurance would cover, according to the Colorado Resiliency and Recovery Office…

A new normal is also being pieced together in Evans, where the Eastwood Village and Bella Vista mobile home parks were turned from once-vibrant low-income neighborhoods to empty, weed-choked lots by the floods. It’s not certain what will happen to the two properties, though Bella Vista’s owner is working with the city to re-establish itself at the same spot on 37th Street.

Here’s a look at several survivors from Isa Jones and Pam Mellskog writing for the Longmont Times-Call via the Loveland Reporter-Herald.

Meanwhile the Big Dam repairs are nearly complete. Here’s a report from Saja Hindi writing for the Loveland Reporter-Herald. Here’s an excerpt:

Crews are putting the finishing touches on repairs to the Nelson Big Dam and expect to have them completed in the next few weeks.

The masonry arch dam, built in 1895, is located west of Loveland’s water treatment plant, and was significantly damaged in the September 2013 flood.

The dam diverts raw water to the city’s water treatment plant, provides drinking water for the Johnstown water treatment plant, and irrigates about 20,000 acres of farmland in Larimer and Weld counties.

The Consolidated Home Supply Ditch and Reservoir Co. owns the 60-foot-plus dam, which didn’t suffer major damages in the 1976 flood, but the 2013 waters left a lot of damage.

The dam is also identified as a Colorado Historic Civil Engineering Landmark, so crews had to make sure not to change the historic aspects of the dam substantially. That included using stones from the same quarry as the original stones.

Crews are working on Phase II of repairs now, according to Home Supply board member Gary Gerrard, which encompass the pointing or refacing of the dam (grouting stones on the face of the dam), a need caused by years of erosion. Once that’s completed, he said, crews will close the gate.

The dam was operational April 1, 2014, in time for the spring runoff, and repairs continued while it was in use, aside from taking a break in the winter months…

Some of the repairs after the flood damaged the dam, Gerrard said, included restoring the crest elevation, mitigating future flood effects by strengthening the dam with concrete abutments and installing a new spillway that configures water to go around instead of on top and updating to 21st century technology such as an automatic gate that fluctuates with river flow.

Because the flood damaged the dam’s main gate, the company was also able to replace other gates not damaged by the flood that were almost unusable and rusting because they were first put in 1915.

Funding for the repairs came from the city of Loveland, the Home Supply board, the Colorado Water Conservation board and the Federal Emergency Management Agency. The city committed to paying 50 percent of the costs not covered by federal and state grants. The conservation board committed to covering uncovered costs through long-term low-interest loans.

The total cost of repairs, Gerrard said, is about $3 million. Of that, $2.2 million is expected to be covered by federal aid.

Gerrard said the entities were able to keep costs low through “the methods of construction and the ability we had to be able to make decisions in the field, and the cooperation we had from all the entities to react to the things we found out in the field.”

Because officials could make decisions quickly, there weren’t a lot of construction holdups, he said.

From KWGN:

“That’s the main thing to reach out for help. They (Larimer County Long Term Recovery Group) connect you with the people you need (Loveland Housing, in particular). We had volunteers from Lyons, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Florida,” said Aleta.

Today, the Hammond’s have a little less privacy. The flood took out about half the trees and bushes along this road. And what was a pasture with a barn now looks like an outcropping of rocks.

That creek that once rushed with danger is nearly dry, but the family’s gratitude is overflowing.

People lost their homes, a few lost their lives. So we were very, very fortunate,” said Aleta…

The state repositioned U.S. 36 and Little Thompson River to prevent a tragedy like this from ever happening again.

The Hammonds say they still have work to do on their property, like foundation work, and cleaning off grit inside tools and motorcycles.

From the Loveland Reporter-Herald (Jessica Benes):

Where the Little Thompson River used to be 70 feet wide in places, it was blasted to 300 yards, according to Gordon Gilstrap of the Little Thompson Watershed Restoration Coalition.

The September 2013 flood devastated areas along Front Range rivers and streams, and while not nearly as many houses were lost on the Little Thompson River, landowners still are recovering from the deluge that destroyed vegetation, wildlife habitat and landscapes.

Some landowners along the Little Thompson call it “the forgotten river.”

“It’s been an interesting journey,” said Gilstrap, who helped set up the Little Thompson Watershed Restoration Coalition after the flood. “The Little Thompson has been an unknown river because no county or state roads run along it for any distance. It is all privately owned.”

Deirdre Daly, president of the coalition, said that because the river isn’t in a town or county that is leading the charge for river repair, the restoration has been almost entirely driven by the people who live on it…

The Little Thompson headwaters come in from several areas but are mostly above Big Elk Meadows below Estes Park, separate from the Big Thompson.

“It was a small working river,” Gilstrap said. “It provides drinking water to Big Elk Meadows and Pinewood Springs, irrigation to a lot of farmland. It has always been a small, quiet little river.”

The water pushed woody debris down the river, knocking out everything for hundreds of feet on both sides of the river.

Gilstrap said the land along the river was heavily wooded, with a lot of wildlife habitat, especially in the Big Elk Meadows, Pinewood Springs and Blue Mountain areas. Much of that habitat area was lost.

The number of homes lost in the flood was small — two to four — but there was a lot of other damage such as water in basements, homes partially damaged and agricultural fields that were made useless with sediment and garbage debris accumulation.

“A lot of agricultural equipment was lost, and the irrigation ditches took a real hit,” Gilstrap said. “An interesting fact most people don’t know is the Little Thompson was the river that shut down every county bridge between Big Elk Meadows and Milliken — seven public bridges and many other private bridges — so it cut off Northern Colorado from southern Colorado.”[…]

Watershed coalition

Gilstrap helped found the Little Thompson coalition in December 2013, starting with nothing. The group had no money and no knowledge of how to run a coalition.

“Thanks to an amazing group of volunteers that stepped forward to be a part of it, we established the Little Thompson coalition as one of the most effective coalitions in Colorado,” Gilstrap said.

With grant funding, the coalition oversaw the successful completion of a master plan for the watershed, started having meetings, published an active website and Facebook page and coordinated volunteer projects.

“We secured over $1.2 million in government and private-sector grants with a potential of $3 plus million to come,” he said.

The coalition also was able to hire a full-time watershed coordinator, Keith Stagg, and assistant coordinator. Erin Cooper, this summer to oversee grant raising and volunteers, which meant the hard workers such as Gilstrap who had volunteered so much of their time were able to step back.

“We all learned together (at the beginning),” Gilstrap said. “We even learned to say ‘fluvial geomorphic transition’ and other big words like that.”

He said there were two reasons for their success: the volunteers who stepped forward to be on committees while also working day jobs, and support from the state and counties involved.

“Everyone worked together, and that spirit is ongoing more than ever. The volunteers came in from everywhere and did the dirtiest, grungiest work imaginable and were happy as can be if you gave them water and cookies,” he said.

Work still to be done

One of the big problems the river still faces is sediment.

Gilstrap said the Big Thompson River has a rock base, while the Little Thompson has more of a soil base.

When the flood swept down the river from just below Estes Park, sediment traveled down, blocking irrigation canals and changing the bed of the river.

One of the private bridges in Berthoud — called the Green Monster bridge by locals — used to have a space large enough to walk under, and now a person can barely crawled under because of all the new sediment. Julie Moon used to walk her horse beneath the bridge.

“That all plugs up irrigation ditches, rechannels the river,” Gilstrap said. “It’s a long-term fight to understand what will happen with the sediment, how to fight it, how to do restoration so we don’t aggravate the problem.”

He said there is still a lot of farmland with sediment covering valuable cropland.

Natural Resources Conservation Service representatives walked the river and filled out disaster survey reports to define the work to be done. The restoration work will carry on for the next five or more years, he said. The river is also being analyzed for flood and fire resiliency, to be more resilient the next time a flood passes through.

“We’re trying to think during restoration how we can bounce back from them more quickly and not put people in as much peril,” Gilstrap said.

Stagg said the silver lining of the flood is that people are aware of the need for resiliency.

“Everyone wants to see the system put together,” he said.

Gilstrap said wildlife is coming back, and the coalition is looking at revegetation options to establish more wildlife habitat. They plan to use willow cuttings and other “ecotypical” seeds from Daly’s property and neighbors’ to vegetate other areas along the river with native plants.

Finding funding

Major sources of grants for restoration work has come from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, and from the Emergency Watershed Protection Program through USDA.

Gilstrap said a new round of grant funding from several sources will deliver possibly $47 million across Colorado, and he believes the Little Thompson might see $2 million to $3 million of that. Stagg and Cooper were hired through funding jointly from the state Department of Local Affairs and the Colorado Water Conservation Board.

“We’re one of (several) watersheds that received funding for professional staff,” Stagg said.

Each year, the coalition will receive grants and work on different pieces of the restoration project for many years to come.

“We will get a couple projects done in each round. Each year we will go find another source of money, and do a little bit of project as the years go on,” Daly said.

The Little Thompson even has a “Little Thompson Watershed” sign posted near the headwaters.

“We’ve never had that before,” Daly said. “Before, the river was there and hidden by trees and no one knew what river it was.”

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