Thornton Water Project update

Cache la Poudre River watershed via the NRCS
Cache la Poudre River watershed via the NRCS

From the Fort Collins Coloradan (Kevin Duggan):

Thornton officials are developing plans to build a pipeline that would move water from north of Fort Collins to the city’s water treatment plant roughly 60 miles away.

A preferred route for the pipeline could be identified by early next year, said Mark Koleber, water project director for Thornton. Construction on the underground pipeline could begin in 2018…

Thornton water serves about 122,000 city residents plus another 16,000 in unincorporated Adams County, said Emily Hunt, the city’s water resources manager. The city’s population at “build out” is projected to be about 242,000.

The pipeline could deliver up to 14,000 acre feet of water per year to Thornton…

“That’s not how much we would be bringing down to the city on day one,” Koleber said. “That would be the total in the future.”

Thornton officials have finished an initial round of meetings with representatives of counties and cities that would be crossed by the pipeline to discuss its potential route and places to avoid.

The feedback will be used in developing alternative routes for the pipeline that will be presented to the cities and counties in the next round of meetings, Koleber said.

“Instead of drawing a line on the map and saying, ‘here is where it’s going,’ we want to work with them,” he said…

Thornton came looking for Poudre River water in the mid-1980s after checking into the availability of resources to meet its future needs in the Clear Creek, Boulder Creek and South Platte River basins.

The city bought about 100 farms, primarily in Weld County, for their water. Thornton wound up with about 21,000 acres in Northern Colorado and the rights to 30,263 acre feet of water.

The purchases left Thornton owning 47 percent of shares in Water Supply and Storage Co., which has diverted from the Poudre River to serve farmers since 1891, and 17 percent of the Jackson Ditch Co. The move stunned Northern Colorado residents, governments and water providers…

Thornton’s Farm Management keeps track of the city’s properties and leases the land to farmers who keep them in production. Over the years, some of the land has been sold to school districts in Weld County.

The Water Court decree requires Thornton to revegetate the farmland from which it removes water with dryland grasses. The non-irrigated farms must be certified by the Natural Resources Conservation Service as being self-sustaining native grasslands.

So far, Thornton has converted about 7,000 acres of its property to grasslands. Of the 1,590 acres on eight farms owned by the city in Larimer County, 721 acres have been converted to dryland farming.

A couple of converted farms northwest of Fort Collins are used to graze cattle. A dryland farm west of the Anheuser-Busch brewery is used to grow hay that is regularly harvested and sold to local farmers.

Just east of Interstate 25, the city owns farms that are still irrigated by Poudre River water and wells to produce a variety of crops, including sugar beets and corn.

“For the near term at least, more farms won’t be converted until Thornton grows and needs that water,” Koleber said.

The city expects to eventually to sell all of its properties in Larimer and Weld counties.

New owners could develop the land as housing or for commercial or industrial uses, depending on local zoning, Koleber said. They also could continue farming by bringing water from other sources to the land…

Water Supply and Storage Co. draws water from the Poudre River using a large diversion structure and headgate near Bellvue. The water is carried east to farms and small storage reservoirs by the Larimer County Canal.

The irrigation company’s draw won’t be changed by the pipeline, which will likely start at a reservoir north of Fort Collins, Koleber said.

“There won’t be any additional water taken out of the Poudre than what is currently being delivered out of the Poudre to the farms under Water Supply and Storage system,” he said…

Communities that potentially would be crossed by the pipeline, such as Larimer and Weld counties, Fort Collins, Timnath, Windsor, and points south, have varied concerns about the impact of constructing the pipeline, Koleber said.

Thornton will likely have to acquire 300 to 500 permits for project as it crosses under private and public property, roads and highways, rivers, streams and ditches, and railroad tracks…

The basics

For the city of Thornton’s proposed water pipeline:

•55 to 65 miles: Length depending on alignment

•48 inches: Potential diameter

•14,000 acre feet: Maximum annual amount of water it could deliver to Thornton

•$400 million: Preliminary cost estimate

•2025: When the pipeline could go online

Source: City of Thornton

Eagle River cleanup: Steady progress over 30 years as a superfund site

Eagle Mine
Eagle Mine

From the Eagle River Watershed Council (Kate Burchenal):

As we all know, Colorado has a rich and fascinating history of mining that dates back to the late 1800s. Between 1991 and 1999, the Colorado Geological Survey inventoried abandoned and inactive mine sites on National Forest lands across the state. Of the 18,000 mine features they inventories, 900 presented environmental problems significant enough to warrant future study. About 250 of those were found to be causing significant or extreme environmental degradation.

For those of you who read the previous installment of this series and have been thinking that the story of the Gold King Mine and the Animas River sounds familiar, you’re correct. One of these abandoned mines happens to be in our backyard, right here in Eagle County. In 1984, that particular mine spilled thousands of gallons of metal-laden water into the Eagle River. The river ran orange, wiping out fish populations and causing Vail Resorts to blow orange snow on their mountains.

But where our story differs somewhat from the Gold King Mine is that we have been fortunate to have willing partners in the cleanup effort. In some parts of the state, mine owners will spend millions of dollars in court to avoid cleaning up harmful mines; here, those millions have gone to greatly improving the situation.

The Eagle mine has been listed as a Superfund site for the better part of three decades. Much progress has been made in that time thanks to coordinated efforts from entities such as the Eagle Mine Limited, Eagle River Watershed Council, Eagle River Water and Sanitation, CBS (the mine owner), Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Water Treatment

The main goal is and has been to treat all contaminated water before putting it back into the Eagle River, and to divert fresh, clean water around the mine so it remains uncontaminated and out of the water treatment plant. The water treatment facility treats 250 gallons of water every minute and removes 251 pounds of metals from the water passing through each day.

That is not to say, however, that the problem has been solved. Quite the opposite actually, since the mine tunnels and metal-rich rocks below Gilman aren’t going anywhere. This is an issue that will be with our community in perpetuity and so we must guard against complacency. We haven’t seen any large-scale, dramatic spills recently, but that doesn’t mean it couldn’t happen.

Our Best Defense

From here, the best defense we have against a spill like the one at the Gold King Mine is to emphasize existing and augmented preventative measures. While we can’t rule out the possibility of future spills from the Eagle Mine, we can do our best to implement preventative and proactive measures that safeguard our river and our community.

The cleanup contractors have a regular maintenance and monitoring schedule to keep the pipeline – which carries contaminated water to the treatment facility – functioning properly, free of leaks and other issues. This aspect is critical, and very much achievable. Adding in satellite technology will provide remote, real-time monitoring for spills and leaks. This equipment will not eliminate the need for having people on the ground inspecting the mine and pipeline, but rather will provide an added layer of security.

The initial, catastrophic spill from the Eagle Mine in 1984 made the river uninhabitable for the entire fishery that once called it home. Today, hardier fish such as brown trout have returned, while species more sensitive to metals – such as rainbow trout and sculpin – are less prevalent. Though the species diversity is not what we would like to see, this return is a big accomplishment in and of itself.

We have seen this progress because our community pushed for it. The stakeholders in the mine cleanup listened, collaborated and took action. But we can’t pat ourselves on the back too heartily; as a community, we must stay engaged. The Gold King Mine spill is a reminder of what could happen and why we can’t let our guard down.

Kate Burchenal is the education and outreach coordinator for the Eagle River Watershed Council. The council has a mission to advocate for the health and conservation of the Upper Colorado and Eagle River basins through research, education and projects.

#AnimasRiver: Gold King Mine bleeds $100,000 daily; the leak’s still not fixed — The Colorado Independent

Gold King mine treatment pond via Eric Vance/EPA and the Colorado Independent
Gold King mine treatment pond via Eric Vance/EPA and the Colorado Independent

From the Colorado Independent (Nancy Lofholm):

The snow is beginning to fly in Silverton’s high country, and a temporary water treatment plant has been completed – in the nick of time – to handle the discharge from the Gold King Mine over the winter.

That hurry-up, stop-gap treatment option for the hundreds of gallons of heavy metal-laced water still draining each minute from the old mine comes with a hefty price tag – about $100,000 per day. That daily amount is being added to the $14.8 million already spent on the huge three-million-gallon spill that turned the Animas River an acid yellow on Aug. 5 and triggered emergency declarations in four states.

An EPA spokeswoman said she doesn’t know how long the temporary fix on the leaking mine will continue to rack up high daily costs. But she does expect that cost to drop as a command center in Durango is dismantled by the end of November and the crew at the Gold King high in the San Juan Mountains is chased out by winter conditions. The treatment facility sits at 10,500 feet in an area where temperatures regularly drop to -20, making any manual work at the treatment plant unsafe.

EPA spokeswoman Christie St. Clair said the treatment facility that pipes bad water from holding ponds at the mine to a treatment area nearby at the mining ghost town of Gladstone is being fine-tuned this week for “optimal performance.” It should then be able to operate through the winter without the 33 workers who have been at the site recently and the 29 officials who have been tackling the problem of the Aug. 5 leak from an office downstream in Durango.

The officials and the workers on the ground have included personnel from the EPA, the Army Corps of Engineers, the U.S. Geological Survey, the Bureau of Reclamation, U.S. Fish & Wildlife and the Coast Guard. Four State of Colorado and New Mexico agencies have also had officials involved in the work.

The exodus of many of those leak responders, and the start-up of the treatment plant, doesn’t indicate the problem is solved, or even near to being solved.

Over the winter, federal, state and local officials will be tackling the tough question of what to do in the long term about this and other leaking mines that have troubled the Silverton area for decades. The EPA is waiting on reports from the Inspector General and the Department of Interior. Those entities are examining the leak that was caused by an EPA contractor when a plug was breached in a long abandoned mine.

The leak at the Gold King didn’t just put alarmed focus on a waterway in southwest Colorado, southeast Utah and northern New Mexico and Arizona. It drew attention to the tens of thousands of old hard-rock mines that pock the West’s landscape and, in thousands of cases, leak contaminated water that has collected in shafts and tunnels.
Some are being mitigated through Superfund designations that bring federal dollars – and federal decision-making – but that is not a universally popular option in Silverton.

Last week, the Sunnyside Gold Corp. renewed its pledge to put $10 million into building a permanent water treatment plant for acid drainage that runs into Cement Creek through Silverton and on into the Animas River. Sunnyside never operated the Gold King Mine, but the company did operate the nearby Sunnyside Mine and American Tunnel that are all part of an interconnected drainage problem. Sunnyside proposes using lime to treat contaminated water and is asking for no Superfund designation and no liability for the company in exchange.

Sunnyside’s option will be one of many kicked around this winter as officials try to come to an agreement on how to move forward with the spring thaw.

In the meantime, the EPA and some of the other involved agencies will continue to have a presence in Silverton sampling and monitoring water quality below the Gold King.

Colorado Water Congress 2016 Annual Convention — January 27-29


Click here to go to the convention webpage.

From the CWC website:

The Colorado Water Congress Annual Convention is the premier water industry event in the state, attracting 500+ attendees that convene for networking and collaboration on the important water issues of the day…

Highlights of the Annual Convention include:

  • Keynote Presentations
  • Unique workshops
  • Top secret POND Reception
  • Fresh Local Food from CWC Members
  • Opportunities to earn CLE credits!
  • CSU Water Tables 2016
    Once again, the Water Congress is pleased to announce that CSU will host their 2016 Water Tables Dinner “The Historic One Hundred”, Thursday, January 28 at 6:15 p.m. This is an excellent way to support the Water Resources Archive. See the Annual Convention Registration above to register. The 25 Table Host selection is coming soon. If you register before the Table Host selection is available, you will be contacted to make your choice.

    Click here to register. Click here to reserve a hotel room.

    The Republican River Water Conservation District Board of Directors elects new president

    South Fork of the Republican River
    South Fork of the Republican River

    From The Yuma Pioneer (Tony Rayl):

    The Republican River Water Conservation District Board of Directors has a new president for the first time in its history.

    Dennis Coryell of Burlington has held that position since the RRWCD was formed one decade ago. Fellow Burlington resident Tim Pautler also has been a board officer since the inception, the only holdovers from the original executive committee.

    However, that changed a bit last week when the board held its annual officer elections, during its regular quarterly meeting held in Wray.

    The board voted Rod Lenz as the president, but that was the only change to the Executive Committee. Greg Larson was the only candidate for vice president. Pautler remains as secretary, beating a challenge from Rod Mason. Incumbent Byron Weathers and Wil Bledsoe were the candidates for treasurer, with Weathers voted to remain in that role…

    Six board seats also were up for appointment for new three-year terms. All the current board members were appointed to new terms — Stan Laybourn, representing Washington County; Wil Bledsoe, Lincoln County; Wayne Skold, Sedgwick County; Jack Dowell, W-Y Ground Water Management District; Brent Deterding, Central Yuma Ground Water Management District; and Coryell as the Plains District’s representative.


    Dick Wolfe, Colorado’s State Engineer, reported to the board about negotiations with Kansas and Nebraska in regards to Colorado’s compact compliance pipeline, as well as credit to be received for draining Bonny Reservoir.

    He said if the states can agree to an action plan by November 1, the agreement of operating the pipeline will automatically renew for 2016. He said the three states have met monthly all year, and came to a “conceptual agreement” on September 26, on the action plan. Wolfe said he expects it will be finalized when the three states meet October 28-29 in Manhattan, Kansas.

    #ElNino: “The Four Corners area is on the northern boundary of the El Niño impact” — Joe Ramey

    Precipitation - U.S. Winter Outlook: 2015-2016  (Credit: NOAA)
    Precipitation – U.S. Winter Outlook: 2015-2016
    (Credit: NOAA)

    From the Cortez Journal (Jim Mimiaga):

    The Four Corners is still trending toward a wetter, cooler winter thanks to a strong El Niño, reports the National Weather Service in Grand Junction.

    The 2015-16 winter forecast from December to February shows a 33 to 40 percent chance that the Four Corners will be wetter than normal. New Mexico and Texas have a 50 percent probability of a wetter-than-normal winter.

    But NWS forecaster Joe Ramey cautions that the strong El Niño does not guarantee an above-average winter for the Dolores and San Miguel basins.

    “It shifts the Pacific jet stream south, which favors more of the Southern states,” he said. “The Four Corners area is on the northern boundary of the El Niño impact.”

    For example, the last strong El Niño was the winter of 1997-1998, which produced below-average snowpack for the Dolores Basin…

    Ramey added that the current west-to-east weather patterns indicates that El Niño has kicked in, bringing additional moisture to the Southwest because of the southern shift in the jet stream.

    “The monsoons that bring up moisture from the tropical south have ended,” Ramey said. “These recent storms are coming from the west, which coincides with the El Niño signal.”

    Current weather corresponds to the trend as well, said Jim Andrus, a local weather watcher for the NWS.

    October moisture 112 percent of normal for Cortez. And year-to-date moisture for the Cortez area is 137 percent of normal at 14.9 inches of precipitation.

    According to the NWS, the 30-day precipitation outlook is above normal for Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, and Texas. The 90-day forecast is slated for normal to above normal precipitation for those same areas.

    Southern Delivery System moving along

    Southern Delivery System route map -- Graphic / Reclamation
    Southern Delivery System route map — Graphic / Reclamation

    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

    Colorado Springs Utilities got a clean bill of health from Pueblo County’s weed manager Monday and answered questions raised at a Sept. 25 hearing about revegetation along the 17-mile route of the Southern Delivery System through Pueblo County.

    Still, commissioners want more time to study documents submitted and continue a public hearing on SDS 1041 permit commitments to 9 a.m. on Dec. 8.

    Utilities needs to fulfill conditions of Pueblo County’s 1041 permit for SDS in order to turn on its pipeline from Pueblo Dam to Colorado Springs next April. Revegetation compliance also would release $674,000 Pueblo County is holding under of the permit.

    Utilities revealed it has spent more than $5.3 million on revegetation work already.

    Colorado Springs provided point-by-point assurances on 17 issues raised on Sept. 25, when experts from both camps agreed Utilities had tackled the problem with state-of-the-art methods. Utilities also provided documentation from contractors that the work was done correctly, and that most landowners were satisfied with the work.

    “We need to work through the (final) issues to protect the citizens of Pueblo County,” said Commissioner Terry Hart, who made a motion to take the comments under advisement and continue the hearing. “What we’re trying to do is look at the work in its totality.”

    Hart, along with Commissioners Liane “Buffie” McFadyen and Sal Pace, had little criticism of Utilities’ report, which pledged further work with landowners as well as reviewing procedures already put in place to bring land disturbed by SDS construction back to its original condition or better.

    “It’s light years ahead of other projects,” Hart said.

    Bill Alt, who manages Pueblo County’s weed control program through the Turkey Creek Conservation District, agreed. Alt toured the pipeline route last week and said Colorado Springs has lived up to its responsibilities to reseed ground disturbed by SDS.

    “The grass is up and doing well,” Alt said.

    “Some of the tamarisk has been dug up by the roots and removed, and the topsoil has been replaced as in any mining operation.”

    The problem is that the areas on either side of the 150-foot path of SDS are still susceptible to tumbleweeds (Russian knapweed) and tamarisk, which could still find their way back onto the treated area, particularly on the route north of U.S. 50, Alt said.

    Some landowners have mowed or grazed the revegetated areas prematurely instead of allowing new grasses a chance to get established, he added.

    “Everything is fine for what we looked at,” Alt said. “We did not go on Walker Ranches, although I would like to go because that’s where the erosion is.”

    The Walker Ranches crossing is being handled under a $7.4 million settlement as a result of a jury verdict.

    Colorado Springs also said it is working on a settlement with Dwain Maxwell, a Pueblo West resident who complained about the project at an earlier hearing. Utilities also has taken on a separate project to divert floodwater around a property just south of Walker Ranches in Pueblo West.

    From (Jessi Mitchell):

    As part of the deal, the utility company had to repair the land after digging up 50 miles of dirt to bury the 66-inch pipe, restoring at least 90% of the vegetation that was in place before. CSU showed the county that they have gone above and beyond the requirements, but commissioners have not yet released them from the commitment.

    “The work that we’ve got done so far is already light-years ahead of other projects,” admits commissioner Terry Hart. Pueblo County commissioners applauded CSU for its nearly $5.4 million efforts to re-seed and irrigate the lands it plowed through to plant the SDS pipeline.

    Landowners agree, giving high praise in a report to the way workers left things better than before.

    CSU’s SDS permitting and compliance manager Mark Pifher says, “We put in a very extensive irrigation system. If I had to guess, it’s probably the biggest irrigation system ever installed in Colorado.

    Commissioners had lots of questions when they first met to review the re-vegetation process in September, many of which addressed future concerns over erosion and management of the property. Pifher says doing a good job is about more than protecting the pipeline; it is about respecting the landowners as well. “It’s important that you do it with a mindset that this is like your property,” says Pifher, “how would you like it restored and put back into its historic condition, if you will.”

    Bill Alt has been working closely with the group to oversee the management of noxious weeds throughout the easements, which have been removed on the property in question, but remain nearby and are likely to spread. Alt suggests CSU send a notice to the owners about maintaining the landscaping moving forward. “It needs some tender, loving care,” says Alt, “and it’s good for your property because it keeps the property value up. It’s not something you’re ashamed to show a realtor or other people.”

    Commissioners will meet with Colorado Springs Utilities again Dec. 8 to make sure no other questions arise before checking re-vegetation off the long SDS checklist. The only other big issue standing in the way of water flowing north is Colorado Springs’ stormwater management efforts.

    To access all official documents on the SDS, including CSU’s latest report, click here.