CWCB/DWR: The next Water Availability Task Force meeting is March 24

From email from the Colorado Water Conservation Board (Ben Wade):

A Joint Water Availability & Flood Task Force meeting will be held on Thursday, March 24, 2016 from 9am-12:00p at the Colorado Parks & Wildlife Headquarters, 6060 Broadway, Denver in the Bighorn Room.


Trout Unlimited honors Denver Water with River Stewardship Award

Here’s the release from Colorado Trout Unlimited (Randy Schofield):

Trout Unlimited has awarded Denver Water, the Denver metro area’s largest water utility, its 2016 River Stewardship Award, recognizing the utility’s leadership in urban water conservation and its collaborative efforts with Trout Unlimited and other stakeholders to promote river health in the Upper Colorado River and South Platte basins. TU presented the award at its annual River Stewardship Gala Thursday evening at Mile High Station in Denver.

“We’re recognizing the fact that, 25 years after the divisive Two Forks Dam battle, Denver has engaged former adversaries as partners in a shared 21st Century effort for river stewardship,” said David Nickum, executive director of Colorado Trout Unlimited. “That’s a remarkable and encouraging sign of progress in protecting the rivers that help sustain Colorado’s wildlife, communities and recreation economy.”

Denver Water provides water supply to approximately 25 percent of Colorado’s population with less than 2 percent of all the water used in the state and has been a leader in advancing water conservation, with customers reducing water use by more than 20 percent over the past 10 years, despite a 10 percent increase in population.

Denver has also established new collaborative relationships with the West Slope and with conservation groups, including TU, to help improve river conditions in the Colorado River headwaters through “Learning By Doing,” a monitoring and adaptive management program with the goal of maintaining, and where possible, improving the health of Colorado River headwater streams in Grand County Under LBD, Denver has agreed to promote flexibility in their operations to deliver flows when and where they are most needed to minimize river impacts, as well as invest in restoration projects to help improve stream habitat and water quality.

The LBD partnerships follow similar collaborative efforts in the South Platte River through the South Platte Protection Plan, which emerged as a locally developed alternative to Wild and Scenic designations being considered for segments on the South Platte River upstream of Denver. For nearly 12 years, the Plan has promoted collaboration among water suppliers, local governments, recreationists and conservationists – including flow management, an endowment to support investment in
river-related values, and partnerships for water quality and watershed health. Development of the Plan also inspired the creation of the Coalition for the Upper South Platte, a group that has helped direct millions of dollars into watershed restoration efforts including post-Hayman fire recovery projects.


“In the years since the Two Forks veto, Denver Water has truly changed its culture,” said Nickum. “Rather than looking at conservationists and the West Slope as enemies to be defeated, they have engaged those parties as allies in conserving the watersheds we all share. Colorado TU is pleased to recognize Denver Water for its leadership in promoting partnerships that not only supply water to Denver citizens, but also promote stewardship of Colorado’s rivers as well.”

“Part of what makes Colorado an amazing state are our great cities, variety of recreational opportunities and beautiful natural environment. Denver Water is committed to continuing to collaboratively work together with partners from all sectors to keep our rivers healthy,” said Jim Lochhead, Denver Water CEO/manager. “We’re honored to receive the 2016 River Stewardship Award from Trout Unlimited and look forward to continuing our work with them in the future.”

Denver Water CEO Jim Lochhead, left, receives award from CTU executive director David Nickum
Denver Water CEO Jim Lochhead, left, receives award from CTU executive
director David Nickum

The Upper Colorado River system and the Fraser/Williams Fork rivers
provide important aquatic habitat and serve as a critical municipal,
agricultural, recreational and industrial water supply for the state as
a whole. A substantial percentage of the native flows of the Colorado,
Fraser and Williams Fork rivers is currently diverted for Front Range
water supply projects, and as a result, the health of the rivers has
declined over the years. Two projects will divert additional native
flows from these rivers across the Continental Divide to meet growing
municipal needs of the Front Range: the Windy Gap Firming Project and
the Moffat Collection System Project. Although these two projects
triggered conflicts between West Slope and East Slope entities, years of
negotiation produced the 2012 Colorado River Cooperative Agreement
(CRCA), which establishes a long‐term partnership between Denver Water
and the West Slope. The CRCA is a framework for numerous actions to
benefit water supply, water quality, recreation, and the environment on
both sides of the Continental Divide. The LBD Cooperative Effort emerged
from the CRCA.

South Platte River Run Park south of Denver to provide watercraft amenities

From (George Dempoulos):

“If you build it, they will come,” said [Ben Nielsen], an engineer at Denver’s McLaughlin Whitewater Design Group, a subsidiary Merrick & Co. “I think these projects make a market for activities like stand-up paddle boarding, kayaking, really anything having to do with any kind of watercraft. I don’t think it’s a huge leap of faith to say that this park will help make a surfing market in Denver.”

Nielsen and his team plan to redevelop a half-mile stretch of the South Platte River, just north of Union Avenue, into a park with a jungle gym, trail system and underwater ramps for river surfing. The $14 million complex, called “River Run Park,” aims to add six surfable waves to the Platte once it’s complete in spring 2017.

The first phase, which is under construction and set to open this year, will feature ramps on the bottom of the riverbed that create waves by diverting the water’s flow. One of the ramps, called a “waveshaper,” has hydraulic pumps that can change its angle in order to alter the size of the waves.

The second phase, which will include a trailhead, fish habitat and four more wave features, will begin construction this year and is slated for completion in 2017.

The project is being funded through grants from Arapahoe County, the City of Englewood and the State of Colorado, Nielsen said. Get Outdoors Colorado (GoCO), a public institution that uses proceeds from lottery sales to fund outdoor projects, will vote on a resolution to fund the project next month.

Surfing rivers is different from riding the massive waves off the coast of Hawaii or California. For one, river surfers don’t actually move down the river while they ride. The waves from the underwater ramps push surfers in the opposite direction of the river’s flow, keeping them essentially in the same spot.

And river surfboards differ in design from their ocean counterparts. River boards generally use more fiberglass in their construction because they have to stand up to rocky riverbeds.

Oxford Reach Whitewater Park Looking Upstream Toward Oxford Avenue via Arapahoe County.
Oxford Reach Whitewater Park Looking Upstream Toward Oxford Avenue via Arapahoe County.

Weekly Climate, Water and Drought Assessment of the Upper #ColoradoRiver Basin #COriver

Upper Colorado River Basin  month to date precipitation through March 16, 2016 via the Colorado Climate Center.
Upper Colorado River Basin month to date precipitation through March 16, 2016 via the Colorado Climate Center.

Click here to read the current assessment. Click here to go to the NIDIS website hosted by the Colorado Climate Center.

#AnimasRiver: New Mexico still irked, seeks water tests, $1.5 million after #GoldKingMine — The Denver Post

The orange plume flows through the Animas across the Colorado/New Mexico state line the afternoon of Aug. 7, 2015. (Photo by Melissa May, San Juan Soil and Conservation District)
The orange plume flows through the Animas across the Colorado/New Mexico state line the afternoon of Aug. 7, 2015. (Photo by Melissa May, San Juan Soil and Conservation District)

From The Denver Post (Bruce Finley):

New Mexico officials Tuesday accused Colorado of blindly accepting assurances from the Environmental Protection Agency that the Animas River has returned to conditions that existed before the Gold King Mine disaster — and warned they’re still mulling a legal battle.

New Mexico’s chief environmental official also is pressing the EPA to reimburse $1.5 million spent responding to the agency-triggered Aug. 5 blowout, which spilled 880,000 pounds of acidic heavy metals downriver.

“Colorado and the EPA keep saying everything has returned to pre-event levels. That’s just false, not backed up by the data,” said New Mexico’s Ryan Flynn, a Cabinet secretary who runs the state Environment Department.

“There’s still a hazard. The risk is still there. We’re having to deal with that risk. We shouldn’t be having to address, on our own, a risk that was created by others,” Flynn said.

Colorado officials didn’t respond.

EPA spokeswoman Nancy Grantham said the agency has been working with New Mexico “and will review their submission as quickly as possible.” New Mexico sought reimbursement for about $375,000 about a week ago then revised that to include additional response costs, Grantham said…

New Mexico residents in Farmington, Aztec and other communities have raised concerns about lead and other heavy metals deposited along river banks. They contend that heavy rain and flooding dislodge contaminants, causing spikes in lead levels. They acknowledge that municipal treatment plants remove contaminants and that lead may have existed in soil before the disaster — but they demand further study…

And New Mexico also is pleased that Silverton residents and Gov. John Hickenlooper have asked the EPA to launch a Superfund cleanup, he said. “But the jury is still out on whether we’re going to move forward to court.”

From The Durango Herald (Peter Marcus):

A $1.5 million bill sent by New Mexico to the Environmental Protection Agency on Friday could be the last chance for federal officials and the state of Colorado to avoid a lawsuit related to the Gold King Mine spill.

Meanwhile, Colorado Attorney General Cynthia Coffman on Tuesday asked the EPA to quickly resolve individuals’ claims, which have not been settled more than seven months after the incident.

The requests from New Mexico and Colorado highlight the uncertainty that lingers in the aftermath of the spill.

New Mexico Environment Department Secretary Ryan Flynn told The Durango Herald on Tuesday that his researchers reject assertions from Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper and Colorado environment officials that the Animas River quickly returned to safe pre-event conditions after the Aug. 5 spill of toxic heavy metals.

The rift between New Mexico and Colorado is a departure from the unity promised when Coffman hosted the attorneys general of New Mexico and Utah in Rotary Park in Durango just a week after the spill…

New Mexico also asked the EPA to provide financial and technical support for a long-term monitoring plan it developed in partnership with Utah. And the state wants a seat at the table for ongoing Superfund discussions.

“If we can’t come to alignment on those issues, then ultimately the state of New Mexico will have to do what is necessary to make sure our communities are protected,” Flynn said.

Coffman said her office has been in communication with New Mexico.

“I think these interstate matters are best resolved by talking to one another rather than lashing out in the press …” she said in an email to The Durango Herald. “We are committed to working with all the parties affected by this catastrophe to reach a good outcome as quickly as possible.”

Coffman’s letter to EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy expressed concern for EPA’s “apparent failure to process claims of citizens” affected by the spill.

Fifty-one claims from individuals totaling nearly $5 million have not been paid, despite the EPA promising to “make every effort” to respond quickly.

“EPA’s inaction effectively forces Colorado citizens into federal court to resolve their claims or they must suffer further delay and uncertainty …” Coffman wrote to McCarthy. “Neither is fair or consistent with your commitment to take full responsibility for the damage.”

In January, New Mexico officials filed a notice of intent to sue the EPA and Colorado. A lawsuit could come as early as mid-April.

Colorado would become entangled in the lawsuit, as Flynn and attorneys for his department suggest that the state is liable for the incident. He added that his office is working “in lockstep” with New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas’ office…

Colorado officials with the Department of Natural Resources have maintained since September that its Division of Reclamation, Mining and Safety was never on board with the EPA’s restoration plan.

The disagreement came to light after the Aug. 24 release of an internal investigation by the EPA that determined that the Colorado Division of Reclamation, Mining and Safety agreed to put drainage piping through the entrance of the mine, contributing to the spill.

But former Colorado Department of Natural Resources Director Mike King wrote in response to the EPA’s investigation: “DRMS did not have any authority to manage, assess, or approve any work at the Gold King Mine … Operations at Gold King were entirely under EPA management using EPA contractors on an EPA response action.”

For its part, Colorado state officials submitted a request to the EPA for reimbursements of approximately $315,000. The request is being evaluated.

Separately, the EPA made initial payments of $197,792 to La Plata County and $220,000 to San Juan County. Another $71,571 is pending to the San Juan Basin Health Department…

The EPA also is working with states and tribal governments to allocate $2 million for water-quality monitoring, according to Grantham. She added that the agency is addressing New Mexico’s $1.5 million request.

A spokeswoman for Hickenlooper said the office would “not weigh in on Mr. Flynn’s comments. We remain focused on the work at hand which is supporting our local communities.”

“From afar, there seems to be this strange dance that’s occurring between the state of Colorado and EPA, where on one hand you have certain agencies like CDPHE (Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment) who seem strongly aligned with EPA and … on the other hand, you have agencies like the Department of Natural Resources in Colorado who really seem to be disagreeing with EPA …” Flynn added. “I’m hopeful that Colorado will join the other downstream communities and really have that conversation so we can put in place some measures … to move forward.”

Louisville councillors approve 13% water rate increase

This is the oldest known photo of Louisville. In this beautiful image you are looking west on Spruce Steet from Main Street and can see the Flatirons in the hazy distance. This photo provides an amazing feel of how wide open the spaces were between the new cities on the front range. Photo via
This is the oldest known photo of Louisville. In this beautiful image you are looking west on Spruce Steet from Main Street and can see the Flatirons in the hazy distance. This photo provides an amazing feel of how wide open the spaces were between the new cities on the front range. Photo via

From the Colorado Hometown Weekly (Alex Burness):

Seeing a significant need for infrastructure repair, the Louisville City Council on Tuesday approved a 13 percent water utility rate increase for 2017, with city ratepayers projected to see their bills rise much higher over the next five years.

The average Louisville ratepayer currently forks over $63 combined for water, wastewater and stormwater services, and the newly approved schedule will see that figure bumped up to $71 on May 1, through the end of 2017. Unofficial projections from the city suggest the average could be in the range of $93 by 2021. And 10 years from now, citizens may be paying twice what they pay now.

According to staff from the city’s Public Works Department, the extra money will fund improvements at the Louisville wastewater treatment plant that bring the city to compliance with mandatory federal and state standards. The rate increases will also provide revenue that staff believes is needed to properly operate and maintain city utility systems.

Though the City Council unanimously approved the hike, several lamented the rising cost burden on citizens.

“We’re at the point now where we have to make significant reinvestment,” Mayor Pro Tem Jeff Lipton said. “But we’re looking at raising rates another 48 percent over five years. Some people can afford it, some people are going to be challenged by it, but we’ve always got to keep this in mind. … We’re continuing to increase the cost of living here in a variety of ways.

#Snowpack news: The South Platte and #ColoradoRiver basins up to 97% of avg.

Westwide SNOTEL map March 15, 2016 via the NRCS.
Westwide SNOTEL map March 15, 2016 via the NRCS.

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):

A curious local meteorologist’s dive into century-old regional weather data has yielded a disconcerting finding — a notable increase in average minimum weather temperatures consistent with the expectations of climate-change researchers.

National Weather Service forecaster Joe Ramey has analyzed records from 11 western Colorado and eastern Utah sites all dating back to at least 1911, including both valley and higher-elevation communities. He found that while average maximum temperatures per decade haven’t changed much over the last century, average minimum temperatures showed a notable increase. The increase has largely occurred since the 1970s, rising from 28.7 degrees that decade to 31.8 degrees for 2011-15, when that half-decade is included in the comparison.

Ramey said while he was surprised to see average minimum temperatures rise noticeably, but not average maximums, in fact that’s in keeping with what the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change have been saying to expect with a changing climate.

The IPCC has said to expect faster increases in daily minimum temperatures than daily maximum ones almost everywhere, leading to a decrease in 24-hour temperature ranges. In 2011, when NOAA reported a half-degree overall U.S. increase in temperatures between 1981-2010, compared to 1971-2000, it showed higher jumps in nighttime maximum temperatures than daytime maximums in many states.

“That’s what NOAA has been saying for awhile, that we would see larger changes in the minimum temperature, and indeed that’s what I found occurring here,” Ramey said of his local findings.

“It’s data, right. It’s not wisdom, and it’s no projection for the future. … But what I’m seeing at local specific sites in our forecast areas is what seems to fit for what NOAA says for the nation and what IPCC is saying for the planet.”

‘A very simple study’

Ramey said he undertook what is “really a very simple study” involving crunching historical weather records in the region and seeing what trends they might reveal. It was driven in part by personal curiosity, and also by a side climate assignment of his job, outside his forecasting work. He became interested in going beyond what NOAA was saying, and trying to better determine what was going on specific to the region.

He first began looking at 30-year averages that are updated once a decade, most recently in 2011, to look for changes over time. He compared data from 21 sites, but as he went further back in time he got to the point where just 11 remained that date back to at least 1911, and he focused on them.

While detecting the temperature trend, he worried that some of those long-term monitoring sites may have been affected over time by things such as changes in specific measurement locations, changes in the instrumentation used to make measurements, and increasing urbanization that can have effects like warming as pavement and rooftops increase. Grand Junction’s measurement location was originally downtown, for example, before moving twice, most recently to the Grand Junction Regional Airport.

But then Ramey considered the fact that there are weather stations in the region that aren’t subject to these influences — at national parks, monuments and recreation areas. He looked at data from nine of them, including at Colorado and Dinosaur national monuments, and Canyonlands and Mesa Verde national parks. Their one drawback is that their data generally dated back only to the 1960s. But Ramey saw the same distinct pattern of sizable increases in average minimum temperatures per decade and little noticeable change in average maximum temperatures. That similarity in trends gave him confidence that the older data was pretty reliable despite the concerns he’d had about it.

Ramey then looked farther to compare historical records, to places like Salt Lake City, Denver, Fort Collins, Rocky Ford, Taos, N.M., and Lander, Wyo.

“They too showed the same trend as the data that I’d seen here,” he said.

Ramey analyzed precipitation trends as well, and saw a lot of variation over the last century. The wettest decade was the 1980s, with more than 16 inches of annual precipitation on average, but there’s been a drying trend since then.

Ramey said precipitation is a complicated thing to forecast, for seven days much less over the longer term. He said that generally speaking, a warmer atmosphere can hold more moisture, and experts predict that with warming will come wetter wet periods and drier dry periods.

He was careful to note that individual sites he has studied have seen differing trends, and his findings apply to the region as a whole. For example, Grand Junction actually has seen a cooling trend over the last five years, which Ramey suspects may be the result of strong wintertime temperature inversions. The warming trend has been stronger at higher-elevation sites over the last five years than across the region as whole.

Ironically, too, Ramey has noted an actual shortening recently of local growing seasons as determined by first and last frosts, something he thinks might be the result of stronger shoulder-season storms that bring in cold fronts.

Just the facts

Ramey has given some public presentation on his findings, but said he’s not trying to jump to conclusions or forecast the future based on them.

“I’m just trying to show people what we’ve seen since we’ve had a fairly robust hundred years of climate information now — what that information says.”

Asked if he’s concerned about climate change, he said, “Personally, yes it concerns me. But that’s just personally.”

“… I’m trying to avoid any kind of political whatever. My point is, here’s my methodology, here’s what I was curious about … here’s the results, here’s what we’re seeing.”

He said while a lot of people have opinions about climate change, he wanted to see what the facts — the numbers — say in the region. “I think it’s an important, a hugely important topic, and I wanted to say that I actually looked into it and this is what I found.”

He said for him personally, climate change is enough of a concern “that three or four years ago we put solar panels on our house.”

He said that wasn’t an economic decision, as it will take a long time to recover that investment, but it was just something he felt a need to do.

Colorado as a whole has seen an increase in overall average temperatures in recent decades. Nolan Doesken, state climatologist at Colorado State University’s Colorado Climate Center, said those who have tracked such data have tried to normalize comparisons despite changes over the decades such as a decrease in weather stations in the mountains.

“It’s hard to perfectly adjust for major changes in the locations and numbers of weather stations,” he said.

He said there are few individual weather stations with what he considers a perfect long-term weather record, but the stations in Grand Junction and Montrose are two of the better ones on the Western Slope.

He said it’s generally been consistent statewide and nationwide that nighttime minimum temperatures have shown a bit more warming than daytime maximums have. He said one line of thinking is that during the wet 1980s there was increased nighttime cloud cover that trapped heat at night. With the drier period of the last 10 or 15 years, some people believe the discrepancy between average temperature increases between night and day may be diminishing, he said.

Evidence grows

Doesken said he’s been in Grand Junction a number of times, and knows a lot of people locally think the climate is changing and a lot don’t. Scientists are on the side of thinking it is changing, he said, adding, “Every year there’s more evidence on that side of the argument, that’s for sure.

“Fifteen years we said, well, give us another 15 years and we’ll know for sure, and we know a lot more now with 15 more years of information. But now I’ll say for sure we’ll know in 15 years.”

He said if current projections are even halfway close to correct, by 2030 or so it will be distinctly warmer almost everywhere, with what are now considered to be really hot years being pretty much the norm by 2030-40.

Rising temperatures, and the expectation of more to come, concern everyone from Colorado ski resort operators, to forest officials who fear more insect infestations and fires, to water managers.

Hannah Holm, coordinator of the Ruth Powell Hutchins Water Center at Colorado Mesa University, said increasing temperatures are expected to pinch water supplies.

“I think the main thing is that it’s becoming more and more apparent that even in the absence of much change in precipitation, higher temperatures make drought worse because they increase water use by plants, whether that’s native vegetation or agriculture,” she said.

She said Ramey’s findings are in keeping with other data she’s seen experts present. “It’s a pretty consistent story,” she said.

And despite the uncertainty over what may happen precipitation-wise in coming years, “the temperature projections are all pretty consistent and they pretty much all say we’re getting hotter.”

Streamflows also likely will go down, Holm said Tuesday from St. George, Utah, where she was headed into a climate-change presentation at the Utah Water Users Workshop.

#ColoradoRiver Basin #Drought: PBOWW board meeting recap

Alan Ward stands at the Ewing Ditch headgate,
Alan Ward stands at the Ewing Ditch headgate,

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

A contract for a pilot program that would leave some of Pueblo’s water on the Western Slope was approved Tuesday by the Pueblo Board of Water Works.

Pueblo Water will leave 200 acre-feet (65 million gallons) of water from the Ewing Ditch for a fee of about $134,000 as part of an $11 million pilot project to test tools to manage drought in the Colorado River basin.

The program is paid for by the Upper Colorado River Commission, Bureau of Reclamation, Southern Nevada Water Authority, Denver Water, Central Arizona Water Conservation District and the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California.

It will test methods to maintain levels in Lake Powell and Mead through conservation techniques in all seven states in the Colorado River basin.

“How is it tracked?” water board member Kevin McCarthy asked.

“It’s going to be hard to watch 200 acre-feet from the top of Tennessee Pass to Lake Powell,” said Alan Ward, water resources manager. “But in theory, it gets there.”

Pueblo Water only has to bypass the flows, Ward explained.

The board approved the concept last summer, and the bypass is only about one-third of what originally was proposed.

The Ewing Ditch was purchased by Pueblo Water from Otero Canal in 1954 after it was dug in 1880 to bring Colorado River basin water over Tennessee Pass into the Arkansas River basin. It typically yields about 900-1,000 acrefeet per year, although the amount can vary. In some years, such as 2015, there might not be places to store the water.

The water board also passed a resolution supporting HB1005, which would legalize rain barrels in Colorado. Board President Nick Gradisar requested the resolution after already offering his personal support to the bill’s co-sponsor, Rep. Daneya Esgar, D-Pueblo.

A contract of $275,000 to Black & Veatch to study water distribution was also approved.

Colorado transmountain diversions via the State Engineer's office
Colorado transmountain diversions via the State Engineer’s office