#AnimasRiver: Colorado delegation poised to introduce good Samaritan mine cleanup bill — The Durango Herald

A “get well soon” balloon floats in the contaminated waters of the Animas River flowing through Durango on Monday afternoon August 10, 2015 -- photo The Durango Herald, Shane Benjamin
A “get well soon” balloon floats in the contaminated waters of the Animas River flowing through Durango on Monday afternoon August 10, 2015 — photo The Durango Herald, Shane Benjamin

From The Durango Herald (Edward Graham):

Colorado’s U.S. Sens. Michael Bennet, a Democrat, and Cory Gardner, a Republican, are preparing to introduce good Samaritan legislation along with U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Cortez. The bill would allow groups to apply for permits to assist with environmental cleanup efforts at abandoned mines. The draft legislation, called the Good Samaritan Cleanup of Orphan Mines Act, will be discussed Tuesday at the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works.

“While there are willing and able good Samaritans who wish to address safety and environmental concerns and improve water quality at orphan mines, the EPA has done little to incentivize them, and the fear of liability for meeting all federal standards during cleanup is too great,” Gardner said of the draft legislation.

Although good Samaritan legislation has previously been failed in Congress, the latest effort is a renewed attempt by Colorado’s delegation to address leaking mines in response to the Gold King Mine spill last August. The spill, caused by contractors working for the Environmental Protection Agency, released more than 3 million gallons of contaminated wastewater, eventually reaching the Animas and San Juan rivers.

“The Gold King Mine spill was a sharp reminder of the imperative to clean up the thousands of abandoned mines in Colorado and throughout the West,” Bennet said. “Part of that solution is to craft a good Samaritan policy with the help of the state, local communities and their partners.”

[…]

The legislation is specifically tailored to address abandoned mine sites “used for the production of a mineral other than coal.”

[…]

One of the benefits of allowing willing groups to undertake mine cleanups is the scope, as well as the cost, of remediating the problem in Colorado and across the United States. The cost of cleaning the estimated 33,000 leaking U.S. mines would be tens of billions of dollars.

Tipton, who strongly supports good Samaritan legislation and introduced similar legislation in the previous Congress, said the newest bill would “remove regulatory hurdles that currently discourage and prevent these groups from cleaning up contamination in abandoned mines, empowering them to take action.”

Rio Grande Water Conservation District board meeting recap

From the Valley Courier (Ruth Heide):

With the cooperation of “Mother Nature” and San Luis Valley irrigators, aquifer levels in the Rio Grande Basin are improving.

Rio Grande Water Conservation District (RGWCD) Program Manager Rob Phillips , who oversees the water district’s first sub-district , reported to the board on Tuesday that the unconfined aquifer generally in the area encompassed by the subdistrict had recovered by 119,469 acre feet between September 2014 and September 2015. That is the largest recovery in the unconfined aquifer storage in that area since 2007.

RGWCD District Engineer Allen Davey added, “We have seen significant recovery.”

He said the aquifer has had a couple of good years, which hopefully will continue.

The recovery is encouraging , given that this area of the aquifer has declined by more than one million acre feet since a long-term monitoring study began in 1976.

“We have just seen great recovery this last couple of years,” Davey said. “The runoffs haven’t been really above average, but it’s just been great recovery.”

At least some of that recovery can be attributed to farmers and ranchers in Subdistrict #1 who are reducing the amount of water they pump or paying for water to make up for their depletions.

Davey said irrigators in the area encompassed by Subdistrict #1 were pumping an estimated 391,000 acre feet of water in 2000. Estimated pumping this year in that same area is 230,000 acre feet, he said.

One of the methods the sub-district has used to motivate irrigators to cut down on their pumping is to promote the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP) and add sub-district incentives on top of the normal CREP payments to encourage farmers to enroll in CREP.

Phillips said 16 new CREP contracts are in place for the 2016 fiscal year, with 10 of those involving permanent groundwater retirement. These new contracts involve 36 wells that would otherwise be pumping 2,900 acre feet a year, Phillips explained.

Davey said he attributed the aquifer recovery to two reasons: reduced pumping; and “some cooperation from Mother Nature.”

Colorado Division of Water Resources Division 3 Engineer Craig Cotten said the weather service’s forecast for the next few months and even longer calls for above average precipitation for this area.

“Hopefully that will come true and we will have a good year,” he said.

Cotten said the basin snowpack as of January 14 was 112 percent of normal, including both the Sangre de Cristo and San Juan Mountains . (Fred Bunch, Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve, said the Medano snowpack was 157 percent of average on Tuesday.)

“If we can keep that up through the end of the snowpack season, we should have a really good year,” Cotten said.

Two years in a row the annual flows on the Rio Grande were close to the long-term average, Cotten added, with 2015 ending up with 665,000 acre feet annual index flow, which is the first time in quite a few years the river has had an above average flow . The long-term average is 650,000 acre feet. The Rio Grande more than met its Rio Grande Compact obligations and actually over delivered water to downstream states in 2015, Cotten said. The Rio Grande wound up the year with 8,700 acre feet credit. The Conejos River system, which is also included in the compact with New Mexico and Texas, had a slight deficit in what it owed, under-delivering about 1,400 acre feet. However, the compact incorporates the two river systems so in total the state of Colorado ended 2015 with a Rio Grande Compact credit.

LAWCD board meeting recap: Shut down SDS

Fountain Creek Watershed
Fountain Creek Watershed

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Colorado Springs Utilities claims that violations of federal stormwater standards are not related to permits for the Southern Delivery System being contested by the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District.

“Documents for the (Bureau of Reclamation’s) Record of Decision refer to the stormwater enterprise numerous times, so to me there’s a tie,” Lower Ark General Manager Jay Winner told the board Wednesday.

The Lower Ark board agreed, and fired off two letters to regulatory agencies requesting to delay SDS until stormwater issues are solved. They ask for protection for Pueblo and other downstream communities from Fountain Creek flows that have been increased by decades of growth in Colorado Springs.

The first — brought to the board by Winner and Pueblo County board members Melissa Esquibel and Anthony Nunez — asks Reclamation to review its contract for SDS and suspend it until Colorado Springs proves it has a stormwater control plan in place.

The second letter — drafted by attorney Peter Nichols at Winner’s request — is to Pueblo County commissioners and cites provisions in the Record of Decision and Pueblo County’s 1041 permit for SDS that require Colorado Springs to meet all federal, state and local permits, regulations and laws. John Fredell, the director of the SDS project, tried to make the case Tuesday to the Pueblo Board of Water Works that the enforcement action by the Environmental Protection Agency against Colorado Springs has nothing to do with SDS.

That viewpoint was echoed Wednesday by Mark Pifher, a Colorado Springs consultant, at the same time as he enumerated renewed efforts by Colorado Springs to beef up stormwater control.

Pifher touted that new leadership in Colorado Springs is committed to correcting the errors that led up to the EPA action.

Winner wasn’t buying it.

“We listened to ‘there is a real commitment’ in 2005, when (water chief) Gary Bostrom, (council members) Lionel Rivera, Larry Small and Richard Skorman came here and told us the same thing,” Winner said. “We tried to get an IGA so there would be an enforceable document.”

Winner said the commitment appears to come and go depending on who is elected, and doubted whether the current plan to fix stormwater control would stay in place after the next cycle.

Nichols questioned whether the $19 million Colorado Springs has committed to stormwater control would come close to the $600 million in needs identified by one study.

Pifher tried to deflect that by saying many of the projects identified fall into the category of a “wish list,” while the action plan now under consideration addresses the most critical projects.

“We’re skeptical,” Nichols said.

Both letters tie the current EPA enforcement action to the Record of Decision and 1041 permit, saying the violation of the federal stormwater permit alone should trigger denial of use of SDS by Colorado Springs.
Winner added that there is no acknowledgement by Colorado Springs that flooding on Fountain Creek is a result of unchecked growth upstream.

#Drought news: #Colorado still drought free

Click here to go to the US Drought Monitor website. Here’s an excerpt:

Summary

Outside of the coastal ranges from northern California up to the Olympic Peninsula (along with the Sierra-Nevada), much of the rest of the Lower 48 states had a dry week. Temperatures were also much above-normal in the West and Pacific NW along with the New England region. In addition, even as the El Niño begins to weaken, its influence continues to bring more dryness and drought to the eastern islands of Hawaii…

Great Plains and South

Below-normal temperatures and some additional shots of moisture across North Dakota and northern Minnesota have brought about some adjustments for this week’s map with D1 being reduced in North Dakota accompanied by a trimming of D0 in North Dakota and northern Minnesota for those areas now running around 125% of normal for the Water Year-to-date (WYTD) period (since October 1). The rest of the region remains unchanged and drought free…

West

Changes abound across the region this week, but are mostly found outside of California where favorable precipitation continues to come in waves (also covering the coastal ranges from northern California up to the Olympic Peninsula in Washington) with favorable prospects for more precipitation on the horizon this week as well (see the “Looking Ahead” section below). That said, there were still some minor improvements (reduction of D0-D2) made this week in extreme northwestern California and southwestern/south-central Oregon in-and-around the Salmon Mountains, Siskiyou Mountains and Klamath region where WYTD snow water equivalents are running well above-normal thus far. This doesn’t mean the region is drought free by any means, but it’s certainly a good start to the Water Year as we sit near the mid-point of the snow season. Now we’ll see if Mother Nature finishes strong or changes her mind.

The biggest improvements on this week’s map can be found in eastern/northern Nevada and across parts of eastern and northern Utah. 1-category improvement for D0-D4 was contained along the eastern flanks in both states with removal of the eastern lobe of D4 in Nevada (generally located prior in-and-around the northern reaches of the Shoshone Mountains) and the eastern lobe of D2 (generally found along the Unita Mountain range) in Utah. The D0-D2 areas were also trimmed and pushed slightly westward in both Utah and Nevada to account for the favorable pattern over the past month or so. This push of improvement to the west also includes the trimming of D0 in northern Arizona as well.

For most of the West, snowpack and snow water equivalent numbers are running above-normal to well above-normal in general. There are still some lagging totals in northern Utah and southeastern Idaho as well as in Wyoming and northwestern Montana. This issue of snow pack will be ever more important as stores of snow will hopefully continue to build as we head into the final half of the snow season, which will then be needed to begin the filling of reservoirs while also providing some buffer against the high demand that will follow come summer. The hydrological impacts (depleted streams, depleted deep soil moisture reserves, reservoirs and ground water) are the last to emerge going into drought and they will be the last to recover coming out. El Niño continues to spur on this slow recovery process (especially for those areas with the long-term “L” drought label), but much more is needed (particularly in the form of snow) to begin chipping away at the “L”, particularly in California and southern Oregon where the multi-year drought has been entrenched for some time now.

Not all areas shared in the improvement though as D0 and D1 continue to expand in western and northern Wyoming from the Big Horn range (30-50% of normal precipitation for the WYTD) west toward Yellowstone. To the north and west, improvement is noted this week in western Montana with the reduction of D0-D2 after recent storms have brought Water Year-to-date precipitation totals up to 125-200% of normal. Even so, this favorable pattern needs to continue in order to improve on the large pocket of D1-D3 found in northwestern Montana…

Looking Ahead

Over the next 5-7 days, temperatures are expected to run well above-normal (3-9 degrees) across the northern tier states from the Pacific NW to the Great Lakes. Below-normal temps are likely across the eastern Great Basin, central Rockies, central Plains, Midwest and across most of the eastern Seaboard from Florida northward into New England. As for precipitation, the best bet for the heaviest totals can be found in east-central California, northern California, and the coastal ranges of Oregon and Washington along with the Gulf Coast and Mid-Atlantic regions.

The 6-10 day outlooks (January 26-30, 2016) are calling for a high probability of above-normal temperatures across the entire western half of the country (from the Mississippi River to the Pacific Ocean) with the greatest signature found along the west coast from San Diego to Seattle. Alaska and New England also seems primed to share in this winter warm spell. Precipitation is also most likely across northern California, the Pacific NW and the Great Basin with a slightly better chance of above-normal rains falling across the Southeast and central Florida in particular. Some strong pockets of dryness are most likely across the country’s mid-section including the Midwest and central/southern Plains.

#Snowpack news: “We’re fairly confident…but we never get over-confident with Mother Nature” — Nolan Doeskin

From The Greeley Tribune (Bridgett Weaver):

The Greeley area will be in good shape when it comes to water availability this year if above-average snowpack and water storage continues for the rest of the winter.

Brian Werner of the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District explained Wednesday when it comes to Greeley and Weld County, they watch the South Platte and the Upper Colorado river basins to determine what the water supply will look like for the year.

As of Wednesday, the South Platte River basin was 9 percent above the historic average for snowpack, and the Upper Colorado basin was 6 percent above historic average.

“So we’re in good shape,” he said. “Anytime you’re above average, you like that. We want to stay there.”

Likewise, the reservoir storage for the South Platte was 7 percent above average and the Upper Colorado storage was 8 percent above average. Storage amounts were recorded Jan. 1.

“It means that Greeley, at this point in time, should have adequate to above-adequate water supply this year,” Werner said.

The El Niño weather pattern likely is a factor in the healthy snowpack so far this winter, said Nolan Doesken, Colorado state climatologist.

“There’s clearly been a much better flow of Pacific moisture this year than in the last few (years) in terms of the midwinter time period, and that’s sort of consistent with El Niño,” he said.

With snowpack in the mountains above the long-term average so far, experts from the drought-stricken Southwest were hopeful.

But water and weather experts said it’s too early to predict how deep the snow will get or how much of the Colorado River water will make its way into the river and on to Lake Powell in Utah and Arizona, one of two major reservoirs on the Colorado.

“We are cautiously optimistic, but nature has a way of doing what it wants,” said Chris Watt, a spokesman for the federal Bureau of Reclamation, which manages the water in Lake Powell.

The Colorado River serves about 40 million people and 6,300 square miles of farmland in Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming. Mexico also is entitled to a share of the water.

Lake Powell, behind the 580-foot-high Glen Canyon Dam, has a key role in regulating and distributing the river.

Some people worry there won’t be enough water in the river to go around in the future because of protracted drought, climate change and unrealistic estimates about how much water was available in the first place. Lake Powell is only about half full after multiple dry years.

April is the key time for predicting how much water will flow into the lake from the annual spring snowmelt in the Rocky Mountains, Watt said. The bulk of the snow has fallen by then, and the runoff has begun.

Most forecasts call for average or above-average water flow in the upper Colorado River and other waterways in the state, Doesken said, but the snow season is only about half over and the picture could change quickly.

“We haven’t gotten so much snow that we’re assured of an average or above-average runoff,” Doesken said. “It could turn on us.”

Although it’s looking good, Werner agreed it’s still necessary to be cautious.

“We’re fairly confident at this point but we never get over-confident with Mother Nature,” he said.

The Colorado River Basin is divided into upper and lower portions. It provides water to the Colorado River, a water source that serves 40 million people over seven states in the southwestern United States. Colorado River Commission of Nevada
The Colorado River Basin is divided into upper and lower portions. It provides water to the Colorado River, a water source that serves 40 million people over seven states in the southwestern United States. Colorado River Commission of Nevada

From the Associated Press (Dan Elliott) via The Durango Herald:

Snowpack in the mountains that feed the Colorado River was slightly above the long-term average on Wednesday – welcome news in the drought-stricken Southwest.

But water and weather experts said it’s too early to predict how deep the snow will get or how much of it will make its way into the river and on to Lake Powell in Utah and Arizona, one of two major reservoirs on the Colorado.

“We are cautiously optimistic, but nature has a way of doing what it wants,” said Chris Watt, a spokesman for the federal Bureau of Reclamation, which manages the water in Lake Powell…

April is the key time for predicting how much water will flow into the lake from the annual spring snowmelt in the Rocky Mountains, Watt said. The bulk of the snow has fallen by then, and the runoff has begun.

As of Wednesday, the accumulated snowfall was 104 percent of normal in the Upper Colorado River Basin, which includes the western half of Colorado, the eastern half of Utah and smaller portions of Wyoming, New Mexico and Arizona.

The river begins near the Continental Divide in Colorado, inside Rocky Mountain National Park.

Most forecasts call for average or above-average water flow in the upper Colorado River and other waterways in the state, Colorado state climatologist Nolan Doesken said, but the snow season is only about half over and the picture could change quickly.

“We haven’t gotten so much snow that we’re assured of an average or above-average runoff,” Doesken said. “It could turn on us.”

The El Niño weather pattern is likely a factor in the healthy snowpack so far this winter, Doesken said.

“There’s clearly been a much better flow of Pacific moisture this year than in the last few (years) in terms of the midwinter time period, and that’s sort of consistent with El Niño,” he said.

Klaus Wolter, a research scientist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in Boulder, Colorado, said the state’s snowpack could fall below average during the second half of winter, but the moisture will likely rebound in the spring.

Most of Colorado’s east-facing mountain slopes, which feed the Platte and Arkansas rivers as well as the Rio Grande, ranged from 98 to 112 percent of the long-term average.

Westwide SNOTEL January 20, 2016 via the NRCS.
Westwide SNOTEL January 20, 2016 via the NRCS.

HB 15-1778: Dewatering grant applications moving forward — The Sterling Journal-Advocate

Map of the South Platte River alluvial aquifer subregions -- Colorado Water Conservation Board via the Colorado Water Institute
Map of the South Platte River alluvial aquifer subregions — Colorado Water Conservation Board via the Colorado Water Institute

From the Sterling Journal-Advocate (Callie Jones):

The Logan County Commissioners heard an update on the dewatering grant Country Club Hills and Pawnee Ridge subdivisions are applying for during a work session Tuesday. Geologist Alan Horn spoke about how the funds will be used and the timeline for submitting the grant applications. The county is acting as a fiscal agent for the grant funds.

The grant program came about when House Bill 15-1778 was signed into law by the governor last year. The bill authorizes the Colorado Water Conservation Board, in collaboration with the State Engineer, to administer a grant program for emergency dewatering of areas in and around Gilcrest and Sterling.

Horn explained each subdivision will submit its own separate grant application, because the issues in each subdivision are different.

A total of $580,000 in grant funding is available for Sterling and Gilcrest, $290,000 for each fiscal year, 2016 and 2017.

“What I feel like would be the best way to approach this would be to try to get something as quickly as possible that could provide immediate relief for these residents in these areas,” Horn said, explaining they would like to start with temporary pipelines laying on the ground, then in the second fiscal year they could apply for funding “that would be sufficient to come out and do the excavation and bury these pipelines.”

In the Pawnee Ridge Subdivision, there are two locations that have been having trouble with high water conditions, Dakota Road and Westwood Drive, near the intersection of Westwood and Summit Drive.

Horn said on Dakota Road what he would like to do is put in a temporary pipeline and take the St. John dewatering well and a dewatering well next door, on Gene Thim’s property, manifold them together and then pump the water up so that it would discharge into the drainage and drain down into the Gentz pond, which is a natural drainage, and then the water would be bypassed on down to the river. When the water level drops work would be done to make the pipeline permanent.

Both wells will pump a total of about 400 gallons a minute.

In the Westwood area there only a couple of houses that have typically been having issues, so he would like to excavate and install a subsurface drain, which would go along Westwood Drive and would have a couple of laterals going up into the property at 18188 Westwood Dr. Horn said the homeowner, Michael Negley, installed a temporary drain several years ago when problems were real bad. Grant funds will be used to install it at a deeper level and “do a little more professional job.”

The PRN 3 well is being used to monitor the water conditions there. Horn noted as of early December the water was only about half a foot below ground surface at that well.

Water from the subsurface drain will make its way to a swell that goes into the Springdale Ditch. Horn estimated there will be no more than 50 to 100 gallons a minute draining out of this area once the drain is installed. He told the commissioners he doesn’t anticipate any damage to property.

Horn brought right of way applications for both Dakota Road and Westwood Drive. Rocky Samber asked if fees are being paid through the grant. Horn wanted to know if the county could waive those fees, which would be $100 to $200 each, because it would be helpful to the project funding availability and the CWCB looks favorably toward applicants that put forth some kind of services or funds. Samber asked if the county in the past has exempted permit fees; Horn said he believes they have.

The commissioners did not make a decision.

For the Country Club Hills Subdivision, all work will take place on public land that is being held in trust by the county, which requires a permit from the county. Horn explained they would like to excavate and install a concrete sump with an inlet structure to the little pond that’s by Cottonwood Lane. Then via a temporary pipeline to begin with — which would be made permanent later — the water would be pumped under Forest Road, under Cottonwood Lane and over to the Springdale Ditch.

He said Springdale Ditch has agreed in principal to work them on this and allow this water to be discharged to their ditch and then conveyed back to the river. Horn pointed out the good news is the water doesn’t seem to be rising as much in Country Club Hills as it is in Pawnee Ridge, so hopefully there will be some extra time to get the agreement with Springdale Ditch in place.

The pipeline will be for to six inches and will pump about 100 gallons a minute.

There was a question about who will pay for the power. The first couple of years it will be paid for by the grant funding and Scott Szabo, a resident of the subdivision, has said that he will pay for the power for future dewatering issues. Horn said there may be other residents that would be amenable to joining with him to help pay for the power.

Dave Donaldson asked if Gilcrest is more prepared to move forward than Sterling. Horn said Gilcrest has already received some funds, $80,000 or $90,000, but they’re running into some difficulties that are preventing them from expending the funds that have already been awarded. He is confident there will be enough funds for Sterling.

Horn said he hopes to have a draft application for the CWCB to review finished by the end of January. On Feb. 17 the South Platte Groundwater Basin Technical Committee will be meeting and will review the applications and pass them on to the CWCB, which will review them in mid-March. Funding should be available in mid-April.

Security water district addresses contamination concerns — KOAA.com

securitywatersanitation

From KOAA.com:

The Security Water and Sanitation District met with the community tonight to address concerns over chemicals that have been detected in the local water supply.

A recent study from the EPA revealed that water in Security, Widefield, and Fountain has traces of PFA, a dangerous chemical.

Although the cities have some of the highest levels, city officials said the levels are still too low to be considered dangerous.

The EPA says the chemical can be removed from water at treatment plants or with activated carbon filters.

All three water districts stress that customers should not be worried about the effect this has on water quality in the area, and said their water is safe to drink.

The EPA is planning to meet with water officials in Security next week to discuss solutions.