#Snowpack news: Arkansas River Basin = 106% of avg.

Westwide SNOTEL February 19, 2016 via the NRCS,
Westwide SNOTEL February 19, 2016 via the NRCS,

From The Wet Mountain Tribune (Doris Dembosky):

As of Monday, February 15, the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District reported that the weight gauging “snow pillow” at South Colony measured the equivalent of 13.6 inches of water. This number is 103 percent of normal to date. Automated reporting allows for real-time, daily reporting. In the case of the Arkansas River Drainage, snowmelt is 114 percent of average.

A “snow pillow” is a rubber sphere filled with a 50/50 antifreeze solution of water and ethanol. Although the pillow is a preferential measure, a layer of frozen ice, lateral pressure, and blowing snow can inflate the statistics. Conversely, a fierce wind can scour snow off the pillow and deflate the numbers.

With warmer water in the Pacific Ocean and El Nino bearing down, Colorado is expected to have heavier snows in March and April and wetter weather into spring.

Arkansas River Basin High/Low Graph February 17, 2016 via the NRCS.
Arkansas River Basin High/Low Graph February 17, 2016 via the NRCS.

#AnimasRiver: Proposed Superfund site boundaries, name released — The Durango Herald

From The Durango Herald (Jessica Pace):

Nearly 50 mines in and around San Juan County are proposed by the Environmental Protection Agency to be part of a Superfund site that would be called the Bonita Pike Mining District Site, according to documents released Friday

The release comes before a Monday vote by San Juan County Commissioners and Silverton town trustees on a resolution directing Gov. John Hickenlooper to request National Priorities Listing to clean up mine pollution affecting the Animas River.

The community has spent months coming to terms with the EPA over the nuts and bolts of Superfund listing to address area mines that have polluted the watershed for years. The documents posted Friday list 26 mines affecting the Upper Animas, seven that impact Mineral Creek and 15 that affect Cement Creek, including the Gold King Mine, from which 3 million gallons of metal-laden sludge poured on Aug. 5, 2015, when an EPA team breached the portal.

Also posted is a letter from the EPA promising to include the community in decisions related to Superfund cleanup, which Silverton has demanded from the start.

The site boundaries for Superfund were narrowed after Silverton protested the parameters were too big. The EPA also has agreed to look at establishing a community advisory group to keep the Silverton community informed throughout the process.

Long-term objectives include prolonging the operation of the EPA’s water treatment plant, ensuring that the EPA will not go after innocent landowners, and continued monitoring of the area’s water quality.

Monday’s meeting, set for 4 p.m. at Town Hall, will be the community’s last chance to vote on the matter, as Hickenlooper has a Feb. 29 deadline to formally appeal to the EPA to be considered in March for Superfund status. A vote scheduled for January was delayed over unresolved issues with the EPA.

Here’s the release from the Town of Silverton:

Silverton – The Town of Silverton and San Juan County officials announced today that they have posted documents related to the proposed Superfund listing on the town and county websites: https://www.colorado.gov/townofsilverton and http://www.sanjuancountycolorado.us

The documents posted include:

  • A brief description of what the working group was able to achieve and areas that still need to be addressed during the Superfund process – if approved by Town and County elected officials;
  • The letter from the Environmental Protection Agency to the Town and County confirming its commitments;
  • Mine sites under consideration for the listing;
  • A map of the mine sites under consideration for the listing;
  • An EPA fact sheet;
  • A document that outlines the cleanup measures that have been taken over the past decades.
  • “This has been a long and intense process with a lot of back and forth with the EPA. We are posting this information in advance of Monday’s joint meeting of the San Juan County Commissioners and the Town of Silverton Board of Trustees so people can review it and come to the meeting with any questions they might have,” said Willy Tookey, county administrator.

    “We hope members of the public will review the information we have posted on the website and come to Monday’s meeting with any questions they have. This is a tough decision for everyone in our community,” said Bill Gardner, town administrator.

    “We were briefed by the negotiating team and it sounds like we’ve made good progress in the meetings with the EPA. I am reviewing the documents and all the information in preparation for Monday’s public meeting,” said Ernie Kuhlman, chair of the San Juan County Commission.

    Monday’s meeting will be at 4 p.m. at the Town Hall.




    #ColoradoRiver: Here’s what El Nino’s storms meant for Lake Mead’s water levels — The Las Vegas Review-Journal

    Lake Mead behind Hoover Dam December 20, 2015 via Greg Hobbs.
    Lake Mead behind Hoover Dam December 20, 2015 via Greg Hobbs.

    From The Las Vegas Review-Journal (Henry Brean):

    The Pacific Ocean climate pattern that typically soaks the Southwest has so far only managed to produce an average year on the river that supplies 90 percent of the Las Vegas Valley’s water supply.

    The latest federal projections released Friday call for the Colorado to carry about 94 percent of its average flow during the all-important April-July time frame, when snowmelt in the western Rockies collects in Lake Powell on the Utah-Arizona border.

    But forecasters insist there’s plenty of time for the snowpack to grow and the river’s outlook to improve.

    “We’ve still got two more months of (snow) accumulation,” said Randy Julander, a Utah-based snow survey supervisor for the the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Water and Climate Center. “We’re fairly optimistic.”

    Already, Julander said, the powerful El Nino pattern that developed in the eastern Pacific last year has contributed to wet conditions and above-average snow accumulation in the southern mountain ranges of Utah and Colorado and in California’s Sierra Nevada.

    “Those states are in pretty doggone good shape,” he said.

    Much of Nevada also has seen precipitation at or above average levels so far this winter, and more appears to be in store.

    “El Nino has peaked and is heading down, but it’s still relatively strong,” Julander said.

    A few more rounds of heavy, wet snow or rain in the right places between now and April could push the forecast for the Colorado River above the 30-year average, he said, though even a normal year would be welcome.

    The past 15 years of punishing drought on the river have lowered expectations, even among forecasters. What once drew a shrug is now cause for celebration.

    “The last four years have been exceptionally dry in the Colorado River basin, so having an average year is going to put a smile on everyone’s faces,” Julander said.

    Even “average” isn’t what it used to be.

    Since drought hit the region in 2000, the 30-year average flow on the famously fickle river has dropped by 1 million acre-feet. That’s enough water to supply the entire Las Vegas Valley for four years.

    The Bureau of Reclamation’s latest forecast calls for Lake Mead to continue to shrink in fits and starts over the next two years, with new record lows projected for May and June of this year and April, May and June of next year.

    Despite the overall decline, bureau forecasters still expect the water level in Lake Mead to stay just above the line at just the right time in 2017 and 2018 to avoid a first-ever federal shortage declaration and force Nevada and Arizona to cut back on how much water they pull from the Colorado.

    The surface of the nation’s largest man-made reservoir is now 130 feet lower than it was in February 2000.


    Colorado Springs: New stormwater chief jumps into the issues of Fountain Creek

    Fountain Creek erosion via The Pueblo Chieftain
    Fountain Creek erosion via The Pueblo Chieftain

    From the Colorado Springs Independent (Pam Zebeck):

    In a news release, the city of Colorado Springs announces the hiring of Richard Mulledy, a former city of Pueblo employee, as its Engineering Stormwater Division Manager.

    Colorado Springs is in a bind after the EPA found multiple violations of its stormwater discharge permits, not to mention lax oversight of developers’ drainage projects.

    Pueblo is seizing on this in efforts to force the city to comply, and stop the flooding and erosion down Fountain Creek. “On the line,” Jan. 27, 2016.

    So now, Mulledy joins Colorado Springs government, having worked for the city of Pueblo as well as a consultant after that.

    Here’s the city’s news release:

    “We are excited to bring Richard on board – his expertise in managing major water resource-related projects will lend itself well to overseeing our stormwater programs,” said Public Works Director Travis Easton. “His experience in municipal government, managerial skills and familiarity with Colorado Springs stormwater systems will be great assets to the City as we begin to take on a significant increase in stormwater projects over the coming years.”

    Richard is a licensed Professional Engineer and brings to the City twelve years of civil engineering experience, most recently as Deputy Director of Water Resources for Matrix Design Group in Colorado Springs. He also previously served as the Drainage Engineer for the City of Pueblo.

    The Engineering Stormwater Division Manager is responsible for the management of the city’s stormwater infrastructure and for administering municipal stormwater programs and procedures as required for compliance with the City’s MS4 (Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System) permit. The Stormwater Manager will oversee a $19 million annual budget and a division anticipated to grow to approximately 60 employees. The Stormwater Manager reports to the Public Works Director with an annual salary of $120,000.

    Mulledy’s first day of employment with the City will be February 22.

    #scotus: Scalia was Supreme Court’s leader on limiting environmental rules — The High Country News


    Here’s an in-depth look at Antonin Scalia’s influence on environmental issues from Elizabeth Shogren writing for The High Country News. Click through and read the whole article. Here’s an excerpt:

    During Justice Antonin Scalia’s tenure on the Supreme Court, a conservative California-based legal foundation had six straight victories on property rights and Clean Water Act cases. The decisions bolstered private property owners’ ability to develop their land and restricted federal authority to protect waters and wetlands from being polluted or filled in. In the Pacific Legal Foundation’s biggest wins, the justices were split, 5-4 or 4-1-4. Scalia’s vote was essential for the firm’s favorable outcomes. With Scalia’s death last weekend, the Pacific Legal Foundation lost a powerful ally who showed deep enthusiasm for their cases, and who often took the role of writing the court’s decisions in their favor. “I do think it’s less likely that the Court will adopt additional restrictions” on the Clean Water Act, says Damien Schiff, a lawyer for the Pacific Legal Foundation.

    Scholars say Pacific Legal Foundation is justifiably concerned. “If you lose Scalia, there’s nothing subtle about that change,” says Richard Lazarus, a Harvard Law School professor and expert in environmental and natural resource law and the Supreme Court. Scalia was deeply skeptical about a broad interpretation of the Clean Water Act and greatly concerned about private property rights. “There was no one more forceful than Justice Scalia; a very powerful voice is now missing from the bench,” Lazarus adds.

    In his opinion in the 2006 Clean Water Act case known as Rapanos, one of the Pacific Legal Foundation’s biggest triumphs, Scalia criticized “the immense expansion of federal regulation of land use that has occurred under the Clean Water Act — without any change in the governing statute — during the past five Presidential administrations.”

    Scalia’s death dims the Pacific Foundation’s chances in a major environmental case on the horizon. The Supreme Court is expected to eventually review Obama’s Clean Water Rule, which has been stayed by a lower court. Significantly for the arid West, the rule would protect tributaries, no matter how frequently water flows in them, as well as some wetlands, ponds and ditches. “With Justice Scalia’s departure, it’s fair to say it’s more likely to be upheld,” Schiff says. “The impacts will be principally in the West. It’s precisely in the areas that are dry most of the year that you have the most significant disputes about the Clean Water Act.”