Snowpack news: Trek up to the Berthoud Summit SNOTEL with the NRCS on Feb. 9

From email from the NRCS (Brian Domonkos):

With only one third of the winter remaining in the mountains of Colorado how much snowpack is currently in place and how much snowmelt runoff can irrigators, dam operators, river enthusiasts and all other water users expect this spring and summer for water availability?

February 2nd, 2016 – The NRCS Colorado Snow Survey program will be hosting its annual Media Day on February 9th at 9:00 am MST at the Berthoud Summit SNOw TELemetry (SNOTEL) site. With the latest data and streamflow forecasts recently published in the February 1, 2016 Water Supply Outlook Report we plan to field all your questions regarding this latest snowstorm and current streamflow prospects for spring runoff.

Be sure to bring touring skis or snowshoes (which you can rent from many locations around the area) so that you can access the data site which is a 200 yard uphill trek from Colorado Highway 40. In order to be at the SNOTEL site by 9:30 am we ask that everyone meet at the Berthoud Pass proper parking area (very top of the Pass) at 9:00 am. From there we will drive a very short distance down the west side of Berthoud Pass toward Winter Park to a small parking area where we will suit up in our gear and then proceed by foot up to the SNOTEL. If you would like you may reserve a pair of snowshoes with us, but keep in mind we only have a limited supply, please send an email to or requesting snowshoes.

SNOTEL Site via the Natural Resources Conservation Service
SNOTEL Site via the Natural Resources Conservation Service

#Snowpack news: SW basins tops in state = 130%

Fort Collins plans an 800 foot bore to bypass Michigan Ditch pipeline section

Michigan Ditch photo via
Michigan Ditch photo via

From the Fort Collins Coloradan (Kevin Duggan):

The city of Fort Collins is preparing to pay $6.3 million to repair a water pipeline more than 60 miles from city limits.

This would be on top of about $2 million already directed toward dealing with a section of Michigan Ditch that was taken out by a slow-moving landslide south of Cameron Pass.

That’s a lot of money. But given the value and importance of the city’s water supply system, the expenditure is necessary and well-spent, city officials say.

Michigan Ditch moves water from the upper Michigan River basin high in the mountains to the Poudre River basin and city-owned Joe Wright Reservoir.

Portions of the 6-mile-long ditch are open, but a stretch of the ditch carries water through a 54-inch iron pipeline. A 2015 landslide separated the pipeline at its joints, filling it with mud and taking the ditch out of commission.

The city plans to bore an 800-foot tunnel through bedrock behind the slide to protect the pipeline from further disruption. Construction is expected to begin in spring with the goal of having the pipeline ready to carry water in time for the 2017 spring runoff…

the city needs to get the pipeline fixed in order to meet long-term obligations under the terms of a water-use agreement involving Fort Collins, Platte River Power Authority and the Water Supply and Storage Co.

Water from Joe Wright Reservoir and nearby Chambers Lake also must be released to meet terms of an agreement between Fort Collins and Greeley to support aquatic life in the Poudre River, according to city documents.

The rise of humankind, in one mesmerizing map

From to go to The Washington Post website:

One of the first things that jumps out at you from this video is that China and India have always been kind of a big deal. The huge populations of South and East Asia, especially around the Yellow and Ganges rivers, stretches back to ancient times. You can also see early civilizations along the Mediterranean Sea and the Nile River, and in Japan, Indonesia, the Middle East and Sub-Saharan Africa.

By contrast, the Americas are much more sparsely populated. You can see the Aztec and the Inca populations flourish around 1400, as well as some other ancient populations, like the Mayans and the Moche. But the population of the Americas doesn’t really start to boom until after the Industrial Revolution.

If you watch the video closely, you can see some populations wane as well — including Europe’s loss of millions of people from the Black Death, and the fall of the Incan Empire with European colonization.

The site includes an interactive version of this map that tells you what civilizations all these dots represent. It also includes a cool site where you can enter your birthday to see how many people were alive on Earth when you were born. For example, if your birth is Jan. 1, 1980, the site shows you that there were 4,449,226,229 other people alive when you were born.

Erie seeks bids for water plant project — The Denver Post

The water treatment process
The water treatment process

From The Denver Post:

The Town of Erie is accepting bids for the design and construction of the Water Plant Solids Handling Equipment Project at the town’s water treatment facility.

The project includes moving the plant’s powdered-activated carbon system and providing carbon storage. The town also plans to explore options for pretreating water to reduce unwanted tastes and odors.

Bids are being accepted through 3 p.m. Feb. 19.

For more information, visit

The Pueblo County Commissioners approve reveg. along SDS

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Anthony A. Mestas):

The Pueblo County commissioners adopted a resolution Monday to approve findings on revegetation and land restoration efforts by Colorado Springs Utilities under its 1041 permit for the Southern Delivery System.

The findings would allow the release of about $674,000 in bonds held for the 17-mile route of buried SDS pipeline through Pueblo County.

The resolution paves the way for other issues in the permit, the largest concerning stormwater issues dealing with SDS.

The findings for the revegetation items were heard in a public hearing Jan. 25.

“We attempted to be as thorough as we possibly could with this discussion and as fair as we could, not only with the applicant, but also critically important to us, fair to our own citizens,” said Commissioner Terry Hart.

“We want to establish a precedent that any of the conditions that are associated with this project are perpetual and continue as long as the SDS pipeline is in place and functioning.”

As part of the agreement, Colorado Springs Utilities must establish about 90 percent of the vegetation that was there before the project and was disturbed by construction.

“Our experts have gone through and analyzed the area and they say that it has substantially been met,” Hart said.

“There are some areas that still need some work and so that’s what our findings show.”

Hart said the resolution also is in place to make it clear that over time Pueblo County and Colorado Springs will be watching the revegetation to make sure that it maintains itself as well as the restoration.

Hart said the next big obstacle is stormwater issues related to the pipeline.

“That is the biggest of the issues. We are working on that right now,” Hart said.

“Pueblo County is suffering terribly from the conditions that are going on in Colorado Springs. So we are looking for good action to begin to control that problem.”

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

The latest “The Current” newsletter is hot off the presses from the Eagle River Watershed Council

Click here to read the newsletter.

Homestake Creek  June 17, 2015 via Allen Best
Homestake Creek June 17, 2015 via Allen Best

#Snowpack news: Yampa headwaters doing just fine so far

Westwide SNOTEL February 2, 2016 via the NRCS.
Westwide SNOTEL February 2, 2016 via the NRCS.

From Steamboat Today (Tom Ross):

Steamboat skiers and snowboarders prefer their champagne dry, but the relatively wet snow that buried the slopes over the weekend put a big boost into the snowpack on nearby Rabbit Ears Pass, where the amount of water stored in the standing snow jumped from a healthy 126 percent of median Jan. 30 to 135 percent Monday morning with the snow continuing to fall.

The snowpack on Rabbit Ears now contains 18.9 inches inches of water — and counting — compared to the median 14 inches for the first day of February. After measuring 69 inches Sunday, the snow depth at 9,400 feet on the pass had settled to 67 inches Monday morning.

But it’s a different story north of Steamboat Springs beginning at Buffalo Pass and continuing north to snow pack measuring sites maintained by the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) on the edges of the Mount Zirkel Wilderness Area.

The Tower site on Buff Pass has significantly more snow than Rabbit Ears, as it always does. However, on a percentage basis, the snowpack measurement of 23 inches is just 84 percent of median at 27.5 inches, according to the NRCS.

The pattern repeats further north at the Lost Dog and Mount Zirkel sites at roughly the same latitude on opposite sides of the Continental Divide. Lost Dog is on the western flanks of the Park Range in Routt County where the snow that melts into the streams ultimately finds its way into the Colorado River.

At the Zirkel site on the eastern, or North Park side of the Divide, the water is bound for the North Platte River and finally the Mississippi River.

The snowpack at Lost Dog is 90 percent of median, and at Zirkel, it is 87 percent of median. The combined Yampa/White river drainages stand at 106 percent median snowpack based on 20 measuring sites. That ranks the basin last among the eight major basins in the state with the San Miguel/Dolores/Animas/San Juan Basin leading the way at 123 percent of median. Lizard Head Pass south of Telluride stands at 162 percent of median snowpack.

On the east side of Rabbit Ears in Buffalo Park at an elevation of 9,240 feet, the snowpack contains 10.5 inches of water — 144 percent of median. But the nearby Columbine measuring site at 9,160 feet is at just 101 percent of median with 14.9 inches of water.

Turning to South Routt, the Crosho measuring site at 9,100 feet at the foot of the Flat Tops southeast of Phippsburg has 9.9 inches of water — 146 percent of median.

Southwest Colorado Springs homeowners struggle against the abyss — The Colorado Springs Gazette

From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Ryan Maye Handy):

Rick Sisco’s home in the Skyway neighborhood has been riding a landslide for months. It started as a crack, became a chasm, then a 13-foot cliff.

But because Sisco’s circa-1964 home was built long before Colorado Springs passed its geological hazards ordinance, city officials know very little about the landslide that has ruined Sisco’s property.

It’s part of an estimated $14 million problem now facing the city, involving several older homes in southwest Colorado Springs that have been destroyed or buckled by landslides in the wake of record-setting rains in May. A lack of information is yet another obstacle facing city officials, who are dealing with damaged homes, unstoppable landslides and development concerns.

The city hopes federal aid will cover 75 percent of the $14 million price tag to buy at least 20 homes, but the city and homeowners will pay the remainder.

In the meantime, city officials will also consider updating the geological hazards ordinance, which requires assessments of landslide risk on properties.

While Colorado Springs’ geology is infamous for its landslide potential, the city has not faced a problem of this scale since April 1999, when heavy rains triggered slides and prompted the buyout of 27 homes on the southwest side of town.

Modern landslides in the Pikes Peak region are a consequence of ancient geology. The land that formed Colorado Springs sits on steep and weak shale eroded over millions of years. Because of this, landslides have plagued Colorado Springs since 1959, city records show.

A 1996 landslide prompted the city to pass the first version of the geological hazards ordinance, which required geological assessments for homes in danger zones, such as the Broadmoor Bluffs areas. The ordinance was updated in 1999 and 2011, but older homes like Sisco’s have escaped the city’s scrutiny. Now, nearly two decades after the last rash of landslides, these homes built without geological study are at risk.

“What we know now is that these are very expansive soils,” said Tim Mitros, a city engineer who is helping oversee the landslides for the Office of Emergency Management. “If we would have known that back in the day, we would have required overdigs and underdrains. . But because (these homes) were built back in the ’50s, when we didn’t have a geological hazards ordinance, they are being impacted.”

City officials have informally asked the Housing and Building Association to help them evaluate existing codes, HBA President Tim Seibert said. Re-evaluating codes is an natural part of disaster response and one the city and the HBA have worked on before, most recently after the 2012 Waldo Canyon fire, which prompted drastic changes to fire and building codes for homes in wildfire-prone neighborhoods.

But it’s too early to say if the city’s geological hazards ordinance will change, said Bret Waters, director of the Office of Emergency Management.

“I think after every disaster we want to evaluate not just ordinances, but the entire event,” Waters said. “Could that end up with a change in code? We don’t know at this point. We’ve really got to continue to study this – if there needs to be some solution to prevent it in the future.”

The city plans to look at ordinances adopted by other municipalities affected by landslides, Mitros said. A potential ordinance change in Colorado Springs might target empty land platted before the hazards ordinance was passed, Mitros said.

“We do have a lot of building lots on the west side that were platted before 1996,” he said. “Should we look at those differently? I don’t know.”

(Screen shot) Five years ago, Rick Sisco and his wife bought their home on Constellation Dr. in the Skyway area. Since last Summer, the home for the Siscos is being threatened by the eroding hillside and a fifteen foot cliff has formed in his front yard. Rick Sisco looks over the view that sold them on the house on Thursday, January 28, 2016. Photo by Jerilee Bennett/The Gazette
(Screen shot) Five years ago, Rick Sisco and his wife bought their home on Constellation Dr. in the Skyway area. Since last Summer, the home for the Siscos is being threatened by the eroding hillside and a fifteen foot cliff has formed in his front yard. Rick Sisco looks over the view that sold them on the house on Thursday, January 28, 2016. Photo by Jerilee Bennett/The Gazette

#ColoradoRiver: Obama administration aims to reduce US water footprint — The Desert Sun

Salt Works desalination process
Salt Works desalination process

From The Palm Springs Desert Sun (Ian James):

Deputy Interior Secretary Mike Connor said some of the White House’s objectives include encouraging more recycling of wastewater and promoting investment in water treatment and desalination technologies.

“From a technology standpoint, the administration views this as similar to the great strides that it’s made in the renewable energy area, where we set goals of reducing the costs of solar energy,” Connor told The Desert Sun in an interview by phone last week.

“I think in the area of water, given the impacts of climate change, the issues associated with long-term droughts, questions about sustainability, we’re striving to make and promote those types of investments to help us build resiliency in the long term,” Connor said during a visit to Las Vegas, where he attended a conference on water law.

The White House announced its new “water innovation strategy” last month and plans a summit on March 22, which is World Water Day, focusing on potential solutions to the country’s water challenges. The White House said in a fact sheet about the initiative that with improvements in efficiency, better management practices and more widespread adoption of water reuse technology, “we have potential to considerably reduce water usage by 33 percent.”

Federal officials said that would bring the U.S. more in line with other industrialized nations and could also reduce the country’s carbon emissions by decreasing the amounts of electricity needed to treat and pump water.

Another of the administration’s aims is to encourage research and development to bring down the costs of recycling wastewater and desalinating seawater.

“The overall goal is to achieve ‘pipe parity,’ where you could take these technologies, make available good quality water supplies that can compete with other water supplies,” Connor said, “so that we’re expanding the available resources for water consumption while also promoting efficiency wherever we can.”

During a Dec. 15 meeting at the White House, Interior Secretary Sally Jewell announced the creation of new Natural Resources Investment Center, which will be responsible for encouraging private investment in infrastructure projects and facilitating local water-exchange deals in the West.

“We recognize there are limits to the resources that the federal government can apply towards these water resource challenges,” Connor said, “so we’re trying to promote more public-private partnerships.”

One big reason federal officials are confident it’s possible to reduce the nation’s water footprint is that it’s been done before. Due to improvements in efficiency and conservation, total water use in the United States has decreased in recent years even as the population has grown. Researchers with the U.S. Geological Survey have estimated that the country’s water use in 2010 was about 13 percent less than 2005 – the lowest level since before 1970.