CWCB: Huerfano County Water Conservancy District receives $250,000 grant approval for Cucharas Basin storage study

Cucharas River
Cucharas River

From the Huefano World Journal (Bill Knowles):

On September 23, the Huerfano County Water Conservancy District received approval from the Colorado Water Conservation Board for a grant totaling $250,000 to conduct a study of the storage needs for the Cucharas Basin. The current study is just one of 13 storage projects that are within the basin and are on the Arkansas Basin Improvement Project’s master needs list. Such projects are necessitated by the aged nature of existing storage infrastructure, 83 percent of which were built before the end of World War II. About 71 percent of all storage capacity has been lost due to abandonment or restriction. Funding for the grant has come from the basin and state-wide accounts, as well as from the Huerfano County Water Conservancy Board, the Huerfano County Board of County Commissioners, the Cucharas Water and Sanitation District Board, and the towns of La Veta, and Walsenburg. The water district has also applied for a second grant for gauging and administration modeling improvements along the Cucharas and Huerfano rivers. The purpose of the grant is to develop reliable infrastructure and technical data thatcan be used to provide help to arrive at difficult water administration decisions. The data can also be used to convey the reasons for decisions to water users impacted by those decisions in a clear, fact based manner. The district has not heard if the application has been approved. The two items in the gauging grant that will cost most are the stream gauge evaluation involving an inventory, assessment, and designing of gauge sites, and the construction of new gauges and improvements to gauges currently in use. Other costs include ground water monitoring, the development of administrative models, and project management. Following an executive session, the board approved signing a lease agreement with Sheep Mountain Ranch for an easement to possibly build an extra storage pond. The district’s attorney is still looking at the agreement at the time of the writing of this report. The Huerfano County Water Conservancy District adjourned after the executive session.

NOAA funds CU-Boulder-based Western Water Assessment for another five years — CU Boulder

Plume of subtropical moisture streaming into Colorado September 2013 via Weather5280
Plume of subtropical moisture streaming into Colorado September 2013 via Weather5280

From CIRES via the CU News Center:

n 2013, the torrents of water that poured out of the mountains, ripping up roads and inundating Boulder, Lyons, Longmont and other Front Range communities, also resulted in a deluge of questions. Both the general public and local officials wondered just how unusual this rainfall and flooding had been. Had something like it happened before? Was anthropogenic (human-caused) climate change responsible?

“The intensity of the floods really caught a lot of us living in the region off guard,” said Lisa Dilling, director of the Western Water Assessment, which is part of the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences at the University of Colorado Boulder. Dilling is also a professor of environmental studies at CU-Boulder. “But because WWA has a long history of working with water managers and planners in Colorado’s Front Range, we could quickly assemble regional experts to assess the disaster.”

Within ten days of the floods, WWA researchers and their partners at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and Colorado State University synthesized information about the atmospheric conditions that produced the floods, the potential role of climate change, and how these floods compared to others in the past. They released a 4-page handout at a public briefing and panel discussion. This rapid-response effort spurred additional WWA research projects to better understand Front Range flood risk, some of which are still ongoing – which is why the group was thrilled to find out that NOAA will support them with about $4 million for another five years.

The money comes from NOAA’s Climate Program Office, which has funded WWA since 1999. WWA, which focuses on Colorado, Utah and Wyoming, is one of ten teams under NOAA’s Regional Integrated Sciences & Assessments (RISA) program. It’s intended to help expand the country’s ability to deal with climate change by having scientists work with local and regional stakeholders and engage them as research partners.

For WWA, the NOAA agreement is invaluable. “NOAA’s support is our foundation,” said Dilling. “We are grateful for the recognition that our work in this intersection of environmental change and decision-making is relevant, important and timely.” In the last five years, WWA has issued a report examining how climate change in Colorado affects water resources, as well as a study on the state’s vulnerabilities to climate change: in tourism, recreation, education, public health and many other sectors. It also helped Salt Lake City, Utah evaluate the impact of a changing climate on their water supply. And WWA collaborated with the National Integrated Drought Information System (NIDIS) to create a report on climate change and the Navajo Nation.

In all of these projects, the goal has been to provide land managers, water managers and other officials with the best information possible so they can develop and enact effective policies.

Under this new round of funding, WWA plans to pursue three big research areas. One of those is to examine how the science developed by WWA and other research entities can be made more useful to decision-making. “We’re interested in enhancing the usability of science,” said Jeff Lukas, Research Integration Specialist with WWA. “We want to involve stakeholders in everything we do. And we want to spread our model of two-way dialogue and collaboration between scientists and stakeholders.”

Another big area of research over the next five years will be vulnerability and adaptation. WWA plans to focus on how Utah, Colorado and Wyoming are vulnerable to climate change, as well as how to design more adaptive and resilient systems, looking specifically at water supply.. Lukas also points out that adaptation and resilience aren’t just about infrastructure, like roads, buildings, and bridges. They’re also about getting organizations to think differently when it comes to climate change.

And, finally, in an extension of their work on the 2013 floods, WWA wants to better understand extreme weather and climate events and help to use that understanding to inform future decisions. “We need to glean all the information we can from the rich historical record,” says Lukas. “And also tease out what the climate models can really tell us about changes in these events going forward.”

“Every day, communities and businesses in the U.S. and around world are grappling with environmental challenges due to changing climate conditions and extreme events,” said Wayne Higgins, director of the NOAA Climate Program Office, which announced funding for WWA and other programs today. “People want timely and relevant scientific information about where and why climate is changing, and what impacts that has on human and natural systems. CPO’s competitive grants play a vital role in advancing understanding of Earth’s climate system and in transitioning our data, tools, information, and operations to applications the public can use to improve decision making.”

CIRES is a partnership of NOAA and the University of Colorado Boulder.

EPA crew at Standard Mine above Crested Butte triggers waste spill — The Denver Post

Fault vein in Standard Mine Gunnison County
Fault vein in Standard Mine Gunnison County

From The Denver Post (Bruce Finley):

Only an estimated 2,000 gallons spilled Tuesday, amid efforts to open a collapsed portal. The impact on town water is expected to be minimal…

The Standard Mine, five miles west of Crested Butte and abandoned, has been designated an environmental disaster since 2005 and targeted for a superfund cleanup. It is one of an estimated 230 inactive mines in Colorado that state officials know to be leaking toxic heavy metals into headwaters of the nation’s rivers.

The spill happened at 1:30 p.m. Tuesday, and the EPA said it immediately informed public works officials. Residents weren’t notified. Crested Butte Mayor Aaron Huckstep said he wasn’t notified until Thursday.

EPA officials on Wednesday, responding to Denver Post queries about the mine, didn’t reveal the spill. On Thursday afternoon, the agency issued a prepared statement saying that, based on neutral acidity and creek flow levels, Crested Butte didn’t close its water intakes.

“Subsequent investigation found no visible plume or signs of significant impacts in downstream locations,” the EPA said.

At the cleanup site, acidic wastewater laced with cancer-causing cadmium and other toxic heavy metals leaches out of the mine into Elk Creek, which flows into Coal Creek — a primary source of water for Crested Butte. The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment has determined that the levels of arsenic, cadmium and zinc in Coal Creek exceed state standards.

Huckstep requested EPA help testing water in Elk Creek, Coal Creek and in town.

“I want to make sure that the EPA’s work is being done in a diligent manner and that their contractors are following the right procedures. We’d like to see these types of events not happen,” Huckstep said.

“Obviously, after Gold King, there’s a high level of public concern and attention — rightfully so. … The EPA is willing to come in and do the work. We support that. But we want to make sure that these types of circumstances don’t happen.”

The local Coal Creek Watershed Coalition began additional water sampling along the waterways “to determine what the impact of the spill was,” director Zach Vaughter said.

“While this event is unfortunate, we have a great cooperation and partnership with the EPA working on our watershed. … From what I understand, they’ve kept town staff and the coalition in the loop.”

The EPA has been working toward installation of a long-planned bulkhead plug inside the mine, an effort to reduce the flow of acidic wastewater leaching cadmium, arsenic, lead and manganese from tailings and tunnels.

EPA crew members were drilling a new opening at the mine, parallel to a portal that is partially collapsed. They were using a vacuum truck to siphon water from a waste pond, but the truck “dipped too low,” the EPA’s statement said, causing grey-colored water from inside the mine and sediment to spill into Elk Creek.

From The Gunnison Country Times:

The Town of Crested Butte has been notified by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) of a spill estimated at 2,000 gallons or less of water and gray-colored sediment from a holding pond at the Standard Mine.

According to the EPA, a contractor had been dewatering the pond containing un-mineralized sediment from drilling operations and water from the lower mine adit. The contents had been treated to a neutral PH of 7. The treated water from the sediment pond was being discharged into Elk Creek as part of a planned maintenance activity. A vacuum truck siphoning clear water from the surface of the pond accidentally dipped into gray-colored sediment leading to the accidental discharge of sediment and gray-colored water into Elk Creek. The discharged material contained a mixture of PH-neutral rock slurry and water from the mine.

Based upon the size and content of the spilled material as understood from the EPA, the flow levels downstream, and the 10 million gallon storage reservoir at the town’s treatment plant, the Town Department of Public Works has determined that any impact to the town’s drinking water would be negligible. The town has also hired an independent contractor to perform additional testing to ensure that there is no negative impact to the town watershed or drinking water.

Work on the holding pond is now complete.

The town is communicating and working closely with the EPA on this issue. The EPA has additionally contacted the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, Gunnison County and the Coal Creek Watershed Alliance. The town is also in contact with these agencies.

Colorado’s first-ever #COWaterPlan should be ‘bold,’ Denver chamber leader says — Denver Business Journal

From The Denver Business Journal (Cathy Proctor):

Colorado’s first-ever formal water plan needs to offer specific, actionable, measurable goals that the state’s leaders can use to fill a massive gap in the amount of water the state will have to support a growing population, business leaders were told Thursday.

And it needs to be a bold plan, said Kelly Brough, president and CEO of the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce.

Brough spoke at the chamber’s “2015 State of Water” forum held Thursday at Hyatt Regency Denver at Colorado Convention Center. Speakers included Jim Lochhead, CEO of Denver Water, former Colorado Agriculture Commissioner Don Ament, Colorado River District General Manager Eric Kuhn and Robert Sakata, owner of Sakata Farms in Brighton…

…the chamber would like to see more attention to innovative and market-based solutions to filling the gap.

Brough referred to one idea as “buy and grow,” a twist on the “buy and dry” scenarios common across Colorado — in which cities and towns buy water used by farmers, shift it to the city, and let the field dry out due to lack of irrigation.

A buy and grow concept might make cities an outside investor for farmers who want to conserve their water but don’t have the financial means to buy expensive, new equipment to do so. The cities could provide the money, and the farmer could share the water that’s saved with the city, Brough said.

Such an arrangement also ensures that the water right, which is a property right in Colorado, remains in the hands of the farmer, she said.

“The current draft plan calls for 400,000 acre feet of new water through conservation, that’s nice but we don’t think it’s enough,” Brough told the business leaders assembled at the forum.

“Colorado needs to do so much more, and move to a future — beyond conservation — to maximum economic use of this precious resource,” she said.

From The Durango Herald (Peter Marcus):

Business leaders Thursday said they hope to replace the practice of “buy-and-dry” with “buy-and-grow,” a plan that would allow farmers to share their water rights with municipalities.

The idea was proposed at a meeting in Denver with state and local water officials, hosted by the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce.

Kelly Brough, chief executive of the chamber, said “buy-and-grow” could usher in a new wave of water policy. The new plan could overshadow conversations about other controversial issues, such as transmountain diversion.

“By implementing measures that will streamline flexible water sharing between ag and urban areas, in ways that allow ag to continue to grow through using efficiencies, protect their water rights and reducing the transitional cost, while delivering water to an urban area,” Brough said of the plan…

“Buy-and-grow” would essentially boil down to sharing between urban and rural communities. Governments and private interests could help farmers with investments into water-conservation technology and other equipment, thereby helping farmers grow. The farmers would then turn around and share the water that they don’t need anymore because of the savings.

“They’re still growing, still producing, they’re more efficient and they don’t lose their water right,” Brough said.

Robert Sakata, owner of Sakata Farms in Weld County, who spoke at the meeting, acknowledged the reality of ag dry-up, pointing out that millions of acres stand to dry up by 2050.

“In order to feed the world, we’re going to need water,” Sakata said.

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