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


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.