Whether you call him the epitome of the Greatest Generation or the man who would not give up, former Durango Mayor Frederick V. Kroeger, who died Saturday at 97, left a legacy for generations of Southwest Coloradans to come.
The most visible parts of that legacy? Lake Nighthorse, Kroeger Hall and the Community Concert Hall at Fort Lewis College and the business he founded in 1967, Kroegers Ace Hardware, an expansion of his family’s Farmers Supply that dates back to 1921…
“He had a huge talent for leadership and was always positive and forward-looking,” Short said, “He never gave up. When I think about all the support, rallying and lobbying he did for the (Animas-La Plata Project) … he wasn’t going to stop until he saw it through.”
Water conservation and storage were key issues for Kroeger most of his life, in part because of his family’s connection to the agricultural sector through Farmers Supply and in part because extended family members lived in southwest La Plata County, where water is scarce. Kroeger made countless trips to Washington, D.C., and Denver to lobby federal and state agencies on behalf of Southwest Colorado.
“What more can I say? He’s one of the great figures in Colorado water history,” said former Colorado Supreme Court Justice Greg Hobbs, who told the Herald in 2009 he’d been inspired by his Southern Colorado counterparts while serving as the counsel for the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District…
“He was from that Greatest Generation, and he did everything with the highest integrity and ethics,” [Sheri Rochford Figgs] said. “I admired all of them so much – Fred Kroeger, Robert Beers, Morley (Ballantine) – because if they said they were going to do something, they did it, and they did it with gusto and enthusiasm.”
McPhee Reservoir, the Dolores Water Conservancy District, and its farmers are getting a double dose of holiday cheer.
Snowpack is piling up early in the San Juan Mountains, the best start to winter in a couple of years.
Preliminary snowfall totals from the Dec. 22-23 storm in the San Juan Mountains are 24 inches of fresh powder, according to the National Weather Service.
Snotels – devices placed throughout the Dolores Basin measuring snowpack in real time – are reporting above-average snowfall. They are used to predict runoff into McPhee Reservoir, which ended the irrigation season with decent carryover storage.
The El Diente Snotel is at 145 percent of normal, the Lizard Head Snotel is at 130 percent of normal, and the Scotch Creek Snotel is at 135 percent of normal.
Those numbers will climb even higher as updates comes in, said NWS meteorologist Andrew Lyons.
“Plus we’re tracking another storm for Christmas Eve that is expected to be a real snow maker for the Western Slope,” he said. “It’s stronger to the north, but will likely bring snowfall your way as well.”
Another gift for the district is the award of up to $3 million in grants from the Bureau of Reclamation to overhaul several pumping stations in time for the 2016 farming season.
Ruin Canyon, Pleasant View, Cahone, and Dove Creek pumping stations are all having critical infrastructure replaced. The pumps are 25 years old.
State legislation has been drafted in an effort to pressure the federal government into quickly settling damage claims stemming from the Gold King Mine spill.
Rep. Don Coram, R-Montrose, said he will carry the bill at the start of the legislative session, which begins next month.
The bill would allow the state to file lawsuits against the federal government on behalf of individuals financially impacted by the Gold King Mine spill.
“It’s authorizing the state of Colorado to sue the EPA in case they renege on their obligation,” Coram said.
He added, “The idea behind the bill is that it encourages them to settle this in a gentlemanly manner.”
The legislation is directed at the Federal Tort Claims Act, which allows individuals to sue the United States in federal court for damages caused by federal employees acting on behalf of the country. With Coram’s legislation, the state would be allowed to sue on behalf of individuals.
He stressed that the bill was in its initial drafting stages and that the language would become more specific.
Here’s the release from the University of Colorado at Boulder (Peter Blanken, Justin Huntington, Jim Scott):
Water managers in Colorado and the West scrambling to meet the growing demand for increasingly scarce water supplies caused by large populations far from water resources, climate change and drought need to focus more effort on conserving water, including addressing reservoir evaporation, say University of Colorado Boulder researchers.
While reducing water consumption has been successful in places like Denver and much of California, the loss of water from reservoir evaporation is an issue already affecting the growing population of the West, said CU-Boulder Associate Professor Katja Friedrich. The reservoir water loss is becoming even more important as broad uncertainties in precipitation projected by climate change and early snowmelt require more reservoir storage, she said.
“Evaporation of water from open reservoirs in the arid western U.S. cannot be neglected any more, especially with the possibility of precipitation decreases occurring as a result of a changing climate,” said Friedrich, a faculty member in the Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences (ATOC). “We need to try to plan for both short-term needs and to make sure we have enough water over the coming decades.”
A recent workshop on campus convened by researchers at CU-Boulder and the Desert Research Institute (DRI) in Reno, Nevada, brought together experts in atmospheric science, hydrology, land use and water resource management from the western U.S. and Canada, said Friedrich.
Water managers have little information on evaporative loss, relying on outdated methods like “pan evaporation,” developed in the 1920s and still in use today. In pan evaporation, a 4-foot-in-diameter, 10-inch deep pan is set next to selected reservoirs where water managers fill the pan and measure water evaporation in 24-hour increments and extrapolate the results to corresponding reservoirs. The method is used today in many Colorado reservoirs as well as major Colorado river impoundments.
The problem in part is not all reservoirs are equal in terms of location, elevation, shape or evaporation. Attendees of the CU-Boulder-hosted reservoir evaporation workshop in October proposed the use of high-resolution weather models coupled with sophisticated reservoir models, which could be used not only to estimate evaporation but also to forecast it, a method not previously considered by water managers.
Little research has been done on quantifying evaporation with instrumentation and numerical models, Friedrich said. “We need to better understand evaporation, which will require continuous measurements of wind direction and speed, air and reservoir temperatures, humidity, solar radiation and vegetation at individual reservoirs.”
Evaporation is a large and continuing problem in the Colorado River basin, including Lake Mead and Lake Powell where about 5 billion gallons of water evaporate annually, according to CU-Boulder Assistant Professor Ben Livneh of the Department of Civil, Environmental and Architectural Engineering.
This represents roughly 10 percent of the total natural flow of the Colorado River Basin said Liveneh, who also is also a fellow at the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences — about five to 10 times the amount of Denver’s annual water use.
“We can no longer afford to lose this amount of water. Once it is lost it is gone,” said retired ATOC scientist Bob Grossman, who helped organize the conference on reservoir evaporation. “The neglect of evaporative loss as the cost of doing business in a water-abundant world will likely cut into the bottom line as scarcity looms.”
Proposed “geo-engineering” techniques for reducing reservoir evaporation include covering surface water with thin films of organic compounds, reflective plastics or extremely lightweight shades. Other proposals include moving reservoir water underground into new storage areas or aquifers or relocating or building new storage reservoirs at higher elevations where less evaporation occurs.
“One thing we do know is that you can only reduce evaporation and not eliminate it unless you store it underground,” said Friedrich. “But that has its own set of problems. Our intention is to help water managers reduce evaporation for current and future reservoirs.”
To study evaporation differences in different reservoirs, a team of scientists, water managers and federal and state agency representatives led by DRI researcher Justin Huntington deployed high-tech buoys at reservoirs in California, Idaho and Nevada to better understand the water evaporation process. In addition, there is ongoing research on evaporation from the Great Lakes by CU-Boulder geography Professor Peter Blanken and his Canadian and U.S. colleagues.
Participants in the October evaporation workshop included a number of universities and federal and state agencies like the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, the Colorado Water Conservation Board, Environment Canada and the National Center for Atmospheric Research. The researchers hope to test new techniques and tools related to evaporation on a Front Range reservoir starting next year, said Friedrich.
Lake Powell, shown here in 2008, serves multiple purposes. Photo/Andrew Pernick, U.S. Bureau of Reclamation — via The Mountain Town News
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Not many cities can claim their infrastructure was of leading concern from the beginning, but Colorado Springs is one of them. Concrete evidence was left in a time capsule by one of the city’s founding engineers, Edwin W. Sawyer, via documents dated in 1901 which state, “It seems to me that nothing except the lack of water can stop the growth of a city so desirable for residence as this…Our people are becoming aroused to the need of securing at once all the available reservoir sites and water rights…”
Continuing in the same water-conscious spirit as those earlier citizens, three different mayors and at least eight previous city councils have been involved and invested in the planning of the Southern Delivery System, American Infrastructure magazine’s Water Project of the Year.
Awarded for its forward-thinking and comprehensive approach to water management, the regional project will be built in phases through 2040 based on customer demands, and will bring water from Pueblo Reservoir to Colorado Springs and partner communities, Fountain, Security, and Pueblo West.
The project is more than a simple fix for major pipelines that are now over 50-years-old and nearing capacity; Jerry Forte, the current CEO of Colorado Springs Utilities, hopes that this project “will serve as an engine, driving more efficiency, effectiveness, and reliability in our system.”
Phase I, which is now under construction, will transport water from Pueblo Reservoir through approximately 50 miles of underground pipeline, and is on schedule for April 2016. The project is estimated to cost $841 million at completion (thus far, under budget by $156 million)…
The four-part Water Resource Plan, of which the SDS is the major component, includes conservation, non-potable water development, existing system improvements, and major water delivery systems (the SDS itself). After the 2002 drought heightened public awareness of water scarcity, Colorado Springs has been able to make improvements to increase the efficiency of the existing water system before constructing SDS. Today, their per capita residential water use is among the lowest in the region. Colorado Springs also has the second-largest nonpotable water system in the state and has expanded their use of non-potable water in recent years.
Like any other project, this process hasn’t gone without headaches. However, clearing some of these hurdles was no easy feat, including dozens of permits and an Environmental Impact Statement that took almost six years to complete. In order to mitigate concerns that the proposed SDS would cause damage to Fountain Creek and surrounding wetland areas, a significant portion of the $1.4 billion overall cost of the project is a $75 million in wastewater system improvements to help prevent wastewater spills into Fountain Creek, a $50 million payment to the newly formed Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District; additional payments will be allocated towards various mitigation and flow maintenance programs on Fountain Creek in the future.
Many people start their work day with a computer log-in screen. For Doug Billingsley, a reservoir caretaker for Greeley Water and Sewer, it begins with a snowmobile ride that feels like a bucking bronco. “This is the fun part,” the 57-year-old said…
Billingsley looks after about a half dozen northern Colorado reservoirs that feed the city of Greeley’s water supply. The city may be located on the plains, but it has substantial water rights located far away in the mountains. On a typical day, Billingsley may test snowpack levels or dig into the ice to make sure reservoir levels are holding steady.
One thing he always checks are the dams.
“Do I see any bulges? Do I see any rises, do I see any dips? Anything out of the ordinary. Because I know what the dam is supposed to look like. Summer and winter,” said Billingsley.
In the world of 24/7 automation, there are routine tasks that some water districts don’t have the resources or desire to automate. This is where reservoir caretakers come in. About 75 people across the state work in remote areas tending the state’s water supply. The job is time consuming and challenging. The reward during the summer is breath-taking scenery out your front door.
The power of a trained eye
Colorado has come a long way since its worst dam failure in 1933 when Castlewood Canyon dam burst spilling water into Cherry Creek and into parts of Denver. Back then it was dam caretaker Hugh Paine who rushed 12 miles to the nearest phone. With no text or cell phones, Paine was able to initiate a phone tree credited with saving many lives.
Across Colorado, the need for a physical presence near dams and reservoirs remains for many water districts. The Bureau of Reclamation can do most of its operations remotely, and relies on about 15-20 workers stationed remotely across its system.
Some of Colorado’s dams and reservoirs aren’t as automated. Older gauges and equipment need to be manually operated. Then there’s the role of the human eye in detecting dam problems. Many water managers believe it’s still one of the best diagnostic instruments.
“The human eye is the best tool to be able to recognize the subtle changes that might indicate a problem happening at a dam,” said Bill McCormick, dam safety chief for Colorado.
Take for example earthen dams. Automated tools monitor water seepage—small amounts are common. But McCormick said there can be subtle changes instruments don’t pick up.
“A caretaker’s eyes will catch that where the instrument would never see it,” said McCormick.
McCormick’s dam inspectors train reservoir caretakers on what problems to look for. The highest hazard dams are inspected every year.
One of the state’s largest employers of reservoir caretakers is Denver Water. It positions two, sometimes three caretakers at its more remote reservoirs. One of the biggest challenges — and benefits — of the job is the variety of tasks.
“The best part about it is that you never do the same thing twice — unless it’s shoveling snow,” joked Ryan Rayfield, head caretaker of Williams Fork Reservoir in Grand County for Denver Water.
Rayfield said caretakers have to be a jack of all trades. Regular tasks include painting, carpentry and fixing lawnmowers. Rayfield even repairs and operates the hydroelectric plant. Rayfield lives with his wife and young daughter at the reservoir. Denver Water has stories of caretakers who have raised their entire families at reservoirs…
Despite the harsh winter conditions, most reservoir caretakers say the job is challenging and rewarding. That’s true for Doug Billingsley. He stayed put at his home at the Milton Seaman Reservoir during the High Park Fire in 2012 to watch over vital equipment. He hunkered down during the 2013 floods.
The events didn’t cause direct problems for Milton Seaman Reservoir. But Randy Gustafson, city of Greeley water resource administrator, said having a presence in the backcountry was key — especially during the flood.
“It was critical on the aspect of just being able to assure everybody that the reservoir was operating as it should,” he said.