The Arkansas Basin Roundtable and the Arkansas River Forum pony up $50,000 for water education

Arkansas River Basin via The Encyclopedia of Earth
Arkansas River Basin via The Encyclopedia of Earth

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Each month, a roomful of water wonks has convened monthly to iron out the Arkansas Valley’s water issues for the past decade.

Soon, if a state grant is approved, more people may be able to join in the fun.

The Arkansas River Basin Water Forum and the Arkansas Basin Roundtable want to spend $50,000 annually for a three-year program to increase public awareness.

Specifically, the grant would fund a water video specific to the Arkansas Valley, increase the number of water festivals, public library activities and host community meetings to explain water policies. In addition, it would be used to hire a part-time coordinator for the events.

“You can hit a broader audience than any one organization can do,” said Julia Gallucci, water educator for Colorado Springs Utilities. She spoke at Wednesday’s roundtable meeting.

The roundtable moved the grant request to the Colorado Water Conservation Board, which will consider funding it. The program would require about $72,000 in matching funds and $24,000 in in-kind services from area water groups as well.

It builds on existing activities. The water forum has been held each year for more than 20 years. The Pueblo Children’s Water Festival at Colorado State University-Pueblo in May began as a water education tool for fourth-graders 18 years ago. Ironically, rain canceled the event this year. Several valley water groups have had other water education efforts over the years.

The idea is to create toolkits for minifestivals and add large water festivals in Salida and Colorado Springs

Now, with the state water plan and the accompanying basin implementation plan nearing completion, the roundtable wants more chances for water education.

Don’t worry. It’ll be fun.

ROUNDTABLE OFFICERS

The Arkansas Basin Roundtable Wednesday elected officers for the coming year.

Sandy White, a water attorney now with the Huerfano Conservancy District, will be the chairman.

Terry Book, executive director of Pueblo Water, and SeEtta Moss, of the Arkansas Valley Audubon Society, are vice chairs. Jay Winner, of the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District, and Jeris Danielson, of the Purgatory Water Conservancy District, are representatives to the Interbasin Compact Committee.

Terry Scanga, of the Upper Arkansas Water Conservancy District, is secretary-recorder.

Alan Hamel is a member of the Colorado Water Conservation Board.

Jim Broderick, executive director of the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District, is past-president and IBCC alternate.

Grand Valley Drainage District board sets fees

Grand Valley Drainage District boundaries -- Robert Garcia The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel
Grand Valley Drainage District boundaries — Robert Garcia The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Mike Wiggins):

Tens of thousands of Grand Valley residents and business owners will begin paying an annual fee next year to manage stormwater that drains off their properties.

The Grand Valley Drainage District board voted unanimously Wednesday to institute a $3-per-month base fee on the more than 44,000 tax parcels within its boundaries and a $500-per-unit impact fee on new development. The $3 fee is based on a parcel containing 2,500 square feet of impervious surface.

Property owners will begin receiving bills from the drainage district in January and will have 60 days to pay them or face potential legal action.

“Once people see that (bill) is collectible, we expect the issue (of not paying) will go away,” said Dan Wilson, the attorney for the drainage district.

The district had asked Mesa County Assessor Ken Brownlee to include the charges in tax bills his office mails out, but he declined, so the district will spend $120,000 next year to mail the bills itself.

Geology, drainage, laws decrease odds of toxic mine spill in Teller, El Paso counties — The Colorado Springs Gazette

Cripple Creek via RVTravel.com
Cripple Creek via RVTravel.com

From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Ryan Maye Handy):

Once a booming mining region, Teller County remains punctured by more than a thousand abandoned mines, but state officials say none are likely to poison the environment with toxic waste…

…in Teller County, the dangers of abandoned mines are different, said Bruce Stover, director of the inactive mine reclamation program for the Colorado Division of Reclamation, Mining and Safety. More than a century ago Cripple Creek was one of the most thriving gold mine sites in the world. In the 21st century, nearly all of the mines have been abandoned, and Stover is more concerned about people falling down shafts and dying of asphyxiation.

“We are not talking about any environmental issues in the Cripple Creek district,” he said.

Despite its extensive mining history, a few things ensure that Teller County mines are less prone to an environmental disaster, unlike areas of the San Juan mountains, where abandoned mines continue to pour toxic metals into nearby water sources.

Teller is home to one of the state’s largest mines, the Cripple Creek & Victor gold mine, which operates under heavy regulations passed in Colorado after the last mining disaster in the early 1990s. Unlike the San Juans, underground water networks in Teller are regulated and monitored, making the likelihood of toxic waste pooling unlikely.

But another thing that sets Teller County apart from the San Juans is geological luck. The formation of mountains millions of years ago made gold mining in Teller less toxic than in the San Juans, Stover said.

“There is really no comparison at all between the two districts,” he said.

Buffering minerals

Volcanic eruptions millions of years ago formed gold deposits in the San Juans and Teller County, and ancient reactions between lava and rock created the kind of minerals still found in local mines.

In the Gold King Mine, which was last operational in the 1920s, an underground lake of toxic sludge had been pooling for decades before a barrier broke on Aug. 5 and released 3 million gallons into the Animas. The Environmental Protection Agency was trying to address the pooling, and the agency has accepted blame for a reclamation job gone awry.

That level of toxicity is unlikely to occur in the Cripple Creek mining district, thanks in part to those ancient volcanoes. In Cripple Creek, the eruptions created a layer of minerals known as telluride ore, which does not have as much pyrite as the rock formations in the San Juans, Stover said. When it decomposes, pyrite can transform into a type of toxic acid.

The Cripple Creek formation also contains what Stover calls “buffering minerals,” which decrease the levels of acidity in the rock.

“It’s just the geology of the district,” he said. “It’s far less conducive to acid rock drainage. There are some but it’s not much.”

The Cripple Creek landscape is relatively young in terms of geological formation – about 35 million years old, said Christine Siddoway, a professor at Colorado College who specializes in the geological development of the Front Range.

The mountainous border between El Paso and Teller counties shows all the signs an economically profitable region for gold mining. According to Siddoway, western El Paso County sits on a fault system that allows underground fluid to heat, circulate and bring metals to the surface.

“Those high-temperature fluids are successful at carrying any metals, which leads to economic-scale mineral deposits,” Siddoway said. “In Colorado, gold, silver, precious metals are on ancient faults where there is much circulation of geothermal waters.”

But in the early mining days when prospecting was an unregulated free-for-all, separating gold from other minerals in a rock formation often came at a high cost. Sometimes chemical reactions using cyanide were used, but the reactions left behind toxic metals. To this day, even the most heavily regulated mines legally produce millions of pounds a year of lead and other carcinogenic elements as a by-product of the mining process, according to data from the EPA’s Toxic Release Inventory.

But chemical means of extracting gold were less common in Cripple Creek, Siddoway said.

“Historically in (the Colorado Springs area), those mines did not use any chemical reactions to liberate the gold,” she said.

But that doesn’t mean that the Pikes Peak Region was spared repercussions from decades of active mining. Decades ago, miners shipped ore to Colorado Springs, where it was mechanically crushed. The remaining mineral tailings were deposited in west Colorado Springs in modern-day Bear Creek Regional Park.

“Those historical deposits are still here in the Colorado Springs city limits,” Siddoway said. “There are some elevated concentrations of heavy metals. There is still particulate gold in those tailings.”

Tunnel network

In addition to the area’s geological makeup, heavy regulation of underground water tunnels and active mining will help the Pikes Peak Region avoid a toxic disaster like that in the Animas River.

Beneath Cripple Creek, a network of underground tunnels shuttle water away from mines, Stover said.

“The district is already completely drained from underground by large drainage tunnels drilled by large mines,” he said. “Those do have permits, discharge is meeting water quality. (The area) doesn’t have water collecting in pits and mine shafts.”

The Carlton Tunnel drains the entire Cripple Creek mining district into Fourmile Creek, a tributary of the Arkansas River, said Stover. Discharge from the Carlton Tunnel is monitored under a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit, issued by the state of Colorado, EPA records show. The permit was first issued in 1992, and while documents show that the permit expired in 2011, the latest inspections of the tunnel were done in 2014. For 2015, permit data for the tunnel and the Cripple Creek mine showed that manganese, iron and zinc were the main pollutants released in the watershed.

While the tunnel network takes care of shuttling away and treating any toxic waste, Colorado’s mining regulations ensure that the still-active Cripple Creek and Victor mine complies with environmental standards, Stover said.

The environmental protections were borne of yet another Colorado mine project gone wrong: In the 1980s and 1990s, the Summitville gold mine in Rio Grande County was found to be poisoning the Alamosa River with heavy metals and acid from its tailings.

When the mine’s owners declared bankruptcy and were forced to abandon reclamation, the federal government took over and declared the mine a Superfund site, opening the door to federal funds for the clean up.

“Summitville was a slow-motion sort of thing that unfolded as the mine was being constructed,” Stover said. “That was a permitted site that went horribly wrong.”

The disaster sparked massive changes in Colorado law.

“It caused a lot of changes in Colorado mining reclamation rules and regulations,” Stover said. “So we have some much more stringent laws.”

The regulations came decades too late to impact many abandoned districts, like the Gold King mine, which had been mined and shuttered long before the state cracked down on mining. The Colorado Division of Reclamation, Mining and Safety estimates there are 22,000 inactive mines around Colorado, more than 6,000 of which have been reclaimed.

In Teller County there are 1,100 mines, nearly 500of which have been reclaimed and are blocked off with metal grates, Stover said. In El Paso County there are 153 mines, one of which has been reclaimed. The area mines that have been reclaimed and safeguarded are those that needed it most, Stover said.

“We started working concentrically out from Cripple Creek, we did around 493 mine closures in and around the towns,” Stover said. “And of course that all changed when the mine came in. A lot of the closures are gone, they would be hanging in space because of the new mine.”

Even so, mine disasters are possible in southern Colorado, even if the odds have been decreased by geology and regulations, Siddoway said.

“Because the mine is not in our watershed – it’s off away on the southwest corner of the Pikes Peak elevated area – it’s not of immediate concern. But the mine is on a drainage that follows a tributary of the Arkansas River, and the Arkansas River flows into Pueblo Reservoir, and soon into the Southern Delivery System,” Siddoway said.

“There is kind of a daisy chain there, were any accident to happen at the Cripple Creek mine.”

The Unexpected Downside Of Ag Water Efficiency — KUNC

Flood irrigation -- photo via the CSU Water Center
Flood irrigation — photo via the CSU Water Center

From KUNC (Stephanie Paige Ogburn):

Until about 10 years ago, rancher Jim Yahn would water his hilly hayfield near Sterling by flooding the land. But as Yahn, who heads North Sterling Irrigation District, points out, about half of that water didn’t even stay on his field.

“A lot of it just ran quickly to the bottom, and then ran back to the creek, and ran back to the river.”

Flooding is how most farmers out here used to water their fields — some still do. Yahn, however, has changed watering strategies. He, and about three-quarters of the farmers around him, have installed center pivot sprinklers. Think of them as long arms that sit in the middle of the field and rotate in a giant circle, like the second hand of a clock, sprinkling the crops underneath. This has made Yahn a lot more efficient.

“I just apply a little bit of water, really nothing runs off,” he says.

To be more precise, only about 15 percent runs off. Compared to the 50 percent he was losing before, that’s a big savings. It’s certainly increased his hay yields. And that’s the catch: Yahn is using more water.

Remember, half the water Yahn was entitled to used to run off his field and back to the river. Now, only a trickle runs back off. So by changing how he irrigates, Yahn is actually using more. In the arid West, that means someone else is getting less.

That someone is Larry Frame, and the farmers he represents as head of the Julesberg Irrigation District, just downstream of North Sterling and Jim Yahn.

From the Fort Collins Coloradan (Adrian D. Garcia):

Hundreds of homes sprung up from the land [Ronald] Ruff and his neighbors once farmed south of Harmony Road. By 2006, new construction encircled the five acres where he lived and operated his cattle feedlot.

The longtime Fort Collins resident wasn’t the first to experience the sweeping effects growth can have on a place. With more than 1 million residents projected for Northern Colorado by 2040, he won’t be the last.

Taller projects are planned for Old Town Fort Collins, development is creeping farther north in Loveland, and residents are flocking to small towns in Larimer County. To the east, Weld County and Greeley are seeing similar changes.

For Ruff, growth was embodied in new houses, schools — Fossil Ridge High School in 2004, Kinard Middle School in 2006 and Zach Elementary in 2002 — and streets that were expanded in the southeast portion of the city.

“The money got to be pretty big,” Ruff said. “We all joke about a farmer when he sells his farm — the last crop you sell is the best and that’s houses. That’s the best return you ever get off of farm ground.”

Mountains warming faster, scientists report — CIRES

At 12, 218 feet (3,724 m), Mount Cook is the highest mountain in New Zealand. An international team of scientists, including two from CIRES, is calling for better monitoring of temperature patterns in Earth's highest altitude regions, because of compelling evidence that these places are warming faster than others. Photo: Birgit Hassler, CIRES/NOAA.
At 12, 218 feet (3,724 m), Mount Cook is the highest mountain in New Zealand. An international team of scientists, including two from CIRES, is calling for better monitoring of temperature patterns in Earth’s highest altitude regions, because of compelling evidence that these places are warming faster than others. Photo: Birgit Hassler, CIRES/NOAA.

From (CIRES):

An international team of scientists is calling for urgent and rigorous monitoring of temperature patterns in mountain regions after compiling evidence that high elevations could be warming faster than previously thought.

Without substantially better information, people risk underestimating the severity of a number of already looming environmental challenges, including water shortages and the possible extinction of some alpine flora and fauna, according to the research team, which includes Henry Diaz and Imtiaz Rangwala from CIRES, the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences at the University of Colorado Boulder. Both researchers are part of NOAA’s Earth System Research Laboratory.

The team’s report is published in the journal Nature Climate Change.

“There is growing evidence that high mountain regions are warming faster than lower elevations and such warming can accelerate many other environmental changes such as glacial melt and vegetation change,” said lead author, Nick Pepin of the University of Portsmouth. But scientists urgently need more and better data to confirm this, because there are so few observations from 11,000 feet or higher, he and his co-authors said.

“It’s understandable. Mountains are difficult to study, they are remote and often inaccessible, and it is expensive and often challenging to find ways of effectively monitoring what is happening,” Pepin said. “Mountains are also very complicated landscapes, and have a wide variety of microclimates which makes it hard to see the overall picture.”

The most striking evidence that mountain regions are warming more rapidly than surrounding regions comes from the Tibetan plateau, according to the new paper. There, temperatures have risen steadily over the past 50 years and the rate of change is speeding up. But masked by this general climate warming are pronounced differences at different elevations. For example, over the past 20 years temperatures above 13,000 ft (4,000 m) have risen nearly 75 percent faster than temperatures in areas below 6,500 ft (2,000 m).

The picture is more complicated in other regions. In the Rocky Mountains, for example, there are so few data that reach back more than a decade, researchers have not been able to make broad conclusions about warming trends at various altitudes, said CIRES’ Diaz, who works in the NOAA Earth System Research Laboratory.

However sparse, existing monitoring has been a huge help to scientists trying to understand how various physical processes act to change climate at high altitudes, said Rangwala, who works in NOAA’s Earth System Research Laboratory and also the Western Water Assessment (see sidebar).

Records of weather patterns at high altitudes are “extremely sparse,” the researchers found. The density of weather stations above 4,500 m is roughly one-tenth that in areas below that elevation. Long-term data, crucial for detecting patterns, doesn’t yet exist above 5,000 m anywhere in the world. The longest observations above this elevation are 10 years on the summit of Kilimanjaro.

The team of scientists came together as part of the Mountain Research Initiative, a mountain global change research effort funded by the Swiss National Foundation. The team includes scientists from the UK, United States, Switzerland, Canada, Ecuador, Pakistan, China, Italy, Austria and Kazakhstan. Between them, they have studied data on mountain temperatures worldwide collected over the past 60-70 years.

Improved observations, satellite-based remote sensing and climate model simulations are all needed to gain a true picture of warming in mountain regions, said Raymond Bradley, a climatologist at the University of Massachusetts and one of the report’s co-authors. “We are calling for special efforts to be made to extend scientific observations upwards to the highest summits to capture richer data on what is happening across the world’s mountains,” Bradley said. “We also need a strong effort to find, collate and evaluate observational data that already exists wherever it is in the world. This requires international collaboration.”

The world’s highest mountain, Mt Everest, stands at 8,848 m (29,029 feet). More than 250 other mountains, including Mt Elbrus in Russia, Mt Denali in Alaska, Mt Aconcagua in Argentina and Mt Kilimanjaro in Africa also all top the 5,000-m (16,000-feet) mark.

Wearing Chief Engineer J.C. Ulrich’s hat at the reservoir — Greg Hobbs

David Robbins and J.C. Ulrich (Greg Hobbs) at the 2013 Colorado Water Congress Annual Convention
David Robbins and J.C. Ulrich (Greg Hobbs) at the 2013 Colorado Water Congress Annual Convention

Here’s a history lesson from Greg Hobbs on the 100th anniversary of Rio Grande Reservoir (celebrated in 2012) where Ulrich grumbled through the construction. Here’s an excerpt:

Ulrich served as Chief Engineer for the reservoir’s construction between the years 1905 to 1912. He wore a gentleman’s hat when on the construction site. I did the same for this year’s August 23 celebration. I spoke for Ulrich in his own words from letters he wrote 100 years ago. He was a stickler for detail and a worrier. He had cause to worry much.

When the Farmers Union Irrigation Company asked him in 1905 to design a reservoir, he had two major worries. First, the United States had embargoed the construction of any reservoirs on the Upper Rio Grande Reservoir within Colorado, as it sorted out the water needs of Texas, New Mexico and the Republic of Mexico.

Second, because the reservoir site sits high above Creede in wild country, Ulrich worried about a possible flood during construction.

In a 1905 letter he wrote, “No reliable information exists as to the maximum discharge of the Rio Grande River at or near the site of this dam, and I do not pretend to know what it is. It presents the appearance, however, of being a very formidable stream when in flood, and it would be very imprudent to undertake the construction of an earthen dam at the point under consideration without making ample provision for the discharge of a very large volume of water while the construction of the dam is under execution.”

A few years later, the United States lifted the embargo, but the Farmers Union Irrigation Company could not afford to build the reservoir. It nevertheless directed Ulrich in 1908 to draw up specifications for the on-site surveys necessary to put out a call for contractor bids.

Colorado Springs councillors get a look at Fountain Creek flood damage after a rough early summer

Fountain Creek Watershed
Fountain Creek Watershed

From KOAA.com (Jessi Mitchell):

$2 million in damage remains in Pueblo’s Fountain Creek after unrelenting flooding earlier this year. It will cost much more to repair. The rain fell throughout southern Colorado, but the southern part of the river has arguably the most visible effects…

The rushing water coursed its way wherever it could find a path, destroying cement trails and creating a vast wasteland of dead trees and silt. Those from farther north say they now understand why Pueblo is asking for millions of dollars to help fix it. Colorado Springs city council president Merv Bennett says, “This is important for us in Colorado Springs to come down and see this. They’ve come up to Colorado Springs. That’s what neighbors do. We come and share in this and share in a dialogue as to finding solutions.”

The Springs council members admit there is a difference between driving down I-25 and looking at the creek, and actually getting up close to see it firsthand. The add, however, that their lack of stormwater management is not totally to blame. “A lot of this damage, a lot of this water comes in above Colorado Springs, and some of it comes in below Colorado Springs, so this is a regional issue,” says Bennett.

What they took away from the tour is a sense of cooperation. Looking to the future, Colorado Springs and Pueblo plan to work together in finding and creating the best solutions to keep this from happening again.

“It was just good to have them down here so they could see firsthand the devastation and they reassured us about their commitment,” says Pueblo city council vice president Ed Brown.

Colorado Springs mayor John Suthers told Pueblo city council in July that he plans to restart the city’s stormwater management enterprise program, and dedicated $19 million a year for mitigation efforts in Fountain Creek.