Knowing when to water in Colorado’s crazy climate

Mile High Water Talk

Follow these simple rules of (green) thumb for watering your trees, gardens and lawns this spring.

It’s common to see a lot of “green thumbs” in the garden during the springtime. Photo: Kate Ter Haar, Flickr Creative Commons It’s common to see a lot of “green thumbs” in the garden during the springtime. Photo: Kate Ter Haar, Flickr Creative Commons

By Travis Thompson

Denver’s first day of summer will arrive Monday, June 20, at precisely 4:34 p.m.

Of course, summertime weather doesn’t appear with the flick of a switch. We’ll almost certainly experience some hot, dry spells in the months prior to this moment, which is why Denver Water’s annual summer water use rules go into effect May 1.

But these are just dates, not predictors of the bipolar Colorado climate. Weather patterns are the true indicators for proper watering habits.

When it comes to knowing when and where to water this spring, follow these rules of (green) thumb:

Trees and shrubs: During prolonged dry periods, water once or twice a…

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EPA proposes Superfund for San Juan County — The Durango Herald

From The Durango Herald (Peter Marcus):

The recommendation will be published in the Federal Register on Thursday, which sets off a 60-day public comment period before the rule can be finalized.

The proposal calls for adding eight new sites to the National Priorities List, including Bonita Peak Mining District in San Juan County.

The EPA recommended the site after Gov. John Hickenlooper sent a letter to federal officials in February backing the designation, which would inject large amounts of federal dollars into permanent restoration efforts. The action came in the wake of the Aug. 5 Gold King Mine spill.

Hickenlooper sent the letter to the EPA after Silverton and San Juan County expressed support for the listing.

“This is a crucial next step in making the region eligible for necessary resources and comprehensive cleanup efforts under EPA’s Superfund program, but our work is not done,” Hickenlooper said. “We are working with the EPA to ensure that adequate funding for this site is provided, including immediate interim measures and options to mitigate any further water quality deterioration.”

The listing would impact as many as 50 mining-related sites in the Gladstone area that have contaminated the Upper Animas, Mineral Creek and Cement Creek for more than a century.

Restoration efforts would likely include a permanent water-treatment facility, as well as long-term water quality monitoring…

Local officials, however, vow to closely watch the process, which could last for many years. They want a voice at the table and to ensure that boundaries of the proposed Superfund site don’t expand. Some also worry about blocking access to the backcountry.

Meanwhile, Hickenlooper on Wednesday renewed his support for Congress to pass Good Samaritan legislation, which would ease liability concerns for government and private entities to restore draining mines.

And the state Legislature on Wednesday advanced a bill that would allow the state to use emergency response funds for hazardous conditions at a legacy hard rock mine site that is a danger to the public. Currently, the state can only use those funds at mining sites subject to the state’s regulatory authority, so the bill would expand the state’s authority.

House Bill 1276 passed the House Agriculture, Livestock and Natural Resources Committee unanimously without any conversation. It now heads to the full House for approval.

@NOAA: State of the Climate, March 2016

significantanomaliesevents032016noaa

Click here to go to the NOAA website for the current State of the Climate. Here’s an excerpt:

March was 4th warmest for contiguous US

Lower 48 states had 3rd warmest year to date, and Alaska was record warm

The March temperature for the contiguous U.S. was 47.5°F, or 6.0°F above the 20th century average, the warmest since 2012. The January-March temperature was 39.7°F, 4.6°F above the 20th century average, also the warmest since 2012. The March precipitation total for the contiguous U.S. was 2.89 inches, 0.38 inch above the 20th century average. The January-March precipitation total was 6.92 inches, 0.04 inch below average.

This analysis of U.S. temperature and precipitation is based on data back to January 1895, resulting in 122 years of data.

U.S. climate highlights: March

Temperature

Every state in the contiguous U.S. had an above-average March temperature. Temperatures were much warmer than average across parts of the Rocky Mountains, Central and Northern Plains, Midwest, and along the East Coast. No state had a record warm March.

The Alaska March temperature was the sixth warmest on record at 18.6°F, 7.8°F above average. Record warmth was observed across southern parts of the state. The end of March was particularly warm for Alaska with several locations setting new March daily temperature records. On March 31, the temperature at Klawock in southeastern Alaska reached 71.0°F, the warmest March temperature ever observed in the state.

Precipitation

Above-average precipitation was observed along the West Coast, Midwest, Southern Plains and Lower Mississippi River Valley. Seven states were much wetter than average. Record-breaking rain events at both the beginning and end of March caused significant flooding across parts of the Lower Mississippi River Valley. Memphis, Tennessee and Little Rock, Arkansas, each had their wettest March on record with 16.20 inches and 12.33 inches of rain, respectively.

Below-average precipitation was observed across parts of the Southwest and Central Plains and along parts of the East Coast, where eight states were much drier than average. New Mexico had its driest March on record with 0.06 inch of precipitation, only 8 percent of average.

According to the March 29 U.S. Drought Monitor report, 15.1 percent of the contiguous U.S. was in drought, up about 0.8 percent compared to the beginning of March. Drought conditions improved across parts of the Northwest and Northern California, however, drought conditions continued to impact over 90 percent of California. Drought conditions worsened in the Southwest and parts of the Southern and Central Plains. Short-term drought created ideal wildfire conditions along the Oklahoma and Kansas border, where a grassland fire charred more than 400,000 acres, the largest wildfire on record in Kansas.

Eagle approves sales tax for river park project — The Denver Post

From The Denver Post (Jason Blevins):

Surf’s up in Eagle.

Eagle residents overwhelmingly approved a sales tax increase to fund a river park project in a record-turnout election for the town.

The 20-year, half-percent sales tax increase to 4.5 percent will spark development of a $12 million riverpark project designed to transform a dirt parking lot used by truckers into a gateway for the growing town.

In a record turnout election for Eagle — spurred in part by an abundance of yard signs urging support for Ballot Question 1 — voters approved the measure 962 to 589. The project includes a whitewater park for kayakers and stand-up paddlers and terraced fields designed to lure passersby off Interstate 70 and into town. The hope is the project spurs mixed-use development on private land between the park and Eagle’s historic downtown.

“This is total validation for what’s going on right now in Eagle,” said Mayor Yuri Kostick, noting the proliferation of mountain bike trails that has elevated his town as a biking destination.

Kostick was heading over to the Bonfire Brewery, which served as an informal headquarters for river park supporters.

“It’s going to be such a sweet scene,” he said.

Eagle River
Eagle River

2015 #coleg: HB16-1337 (Appellate Process For Decisions About Groundwater) passes out of House

Groundwater movement via the USGS
Groundwater movement via the USGS

From the South Platte Sentinel (Greg Brophy/Mark Hillman):

Local ground water management districts protect the underground water rights of farmers and other residents of rural Colorado. House Bill [HB16-1337], now under consideration at the State Capitol, will ensure that water speculators cannot play deceptive games in court in order to exhaust the limited legal budgets of these districts.

HB 1337 will clarify a recent court decision, which found that state law was unclear regarding whether new evidence could be introduced when decisions of the Ground Water Commission are appealed in district court.

Essentially, the court said that entirely new evidence can be presented in court – evidence that was never considered by the commission or local ground water district.

HB 1337 is an easy fix. It simply requires parties in contested appli-cations to present all their evidence at the administrative hearing level. This is in line with how things are done in Water Court where the applicants must prove they are not injuring existing water rights and show all their evidence at that time.

HB 1337 ensures applicants only get one bite of the apple and aren’t able to put on multiple cases on the same contested application in order to run up the costs to the detriment of our communities, farms and towns.

Because of our roots in rural Colorado and in agriculture, we wanted to be sure people are aware of this important legislation.

We urge you to call or e-mail Senate President Bill Cadman to thank him for his leadership and let him know that this bill is important to rural Colorado.

While you’re at it, thank Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg (Sterling) and Sen. Larry Crowder (Alamosa) for their leadership in protecting Colorado agriculture. The future of eastern Colorado is in their hands!

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

Upper Colorado River Basin precipitation as a percent of normal March 2016 via the Colorado Climate Center.
Upper Colorado River Basin precipitation as a percent of normal March 2016 via the Colorado Climate Center.

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

#Colorado Springs and Pueblo County are still wrangling over stormwater problems — Colorado Springs Independent

From the Colorado Springs Independent (Pam Zubeck):

April 27 is the red-letter day for which Colorado Springs Utilities has waited at least 15 years. But now nobody wants to talk about it.

Mayor John Suthers refuses to discuss it. So do the three Pueblo County commissioners.

The taboo topic? Activation of the long-awaited, $825 million Southern Delivery System pipeline that will pump 50 million gallons of water a day from Pueblo Reservoir.

At issue is a rift between Colorado Springs and Pueblo County over the city’s stormwater management, or lack thereof. The city agreed to control drainage, which ultimately flows down Fountain Creek to Pueblo, as part of the so-called 1041 construction permit issued by Pueblo County in 2009. But it hasn’t done so.

Now, only weeks before SDS is turned on, Pueblo County says in a March 11 letter to the Bureau of Reclamation it might suspend the permit unless “enforceable” guarantees for stormwater control are incorporated into a pending intergovernment agreement.

Whether Pueblo County can stop water from flowing through the pipeline is in question, but Pueblo County officials hope their long-standing complaints to the bureau over stormwater eventually get traction.

Bureau spokesman Buck Feist tells the Independent that suspending SDS “is unnecessary” now, because progress is being made in complying with various SDS requirements. But he notes the bureau has authority to stop the project if the city fails to meet requirements of the Bureau of Reclamation’s 2009 Record of Decision, and that includes contracts with others, such as the 1041.

Months ago, Suthers and City Council vowed to spend $19 million annually on stormwater needs, but that apparently hasn’t satisfied Pueblo County. In an early March interview with the Gazette, Suthers bemoaned Pueblo County’s refusal to accept the city’s new offer to spend $445 million over 20 years on drainage, an average of $22.5 million per year…

Since then, Suthers has clammed up on that topic, as well as a related issue — the Environmental Protection Agency’s findings, in 2013 and again in 2015, that the city violated its federal stormwater discharge permit conditions.

“We are unable to discuss either matter at present due to the pending nature of both the EPA investigation and the continuing discussions with Pueblo,” Suthers’ communications manager Jamie Fabos says via email. She also noted no information will be released “until we have a result to share with our stakeholders and residents.”

In response to a Colorado Open Records Act request for correspondence with Pueblo County about the IGA, the city claims there were no responsive records, which suggests negotiations are verbal.

The city withheld its communications with the EPA and Justice Department, citing a CORA exemption for documents subject to a court order or Supreme Court rule. While the Indy couldn’t find a lawsuit involving the EPA violations, a court decree could be issued mandating that the city deal with stormwater problems.

But that might be “several months” away, with Department of Justice spokesperson Wyn Hornbuckle saying via email the negotiations are in the “early stages.”

Meantime, Pueblo County commissioners can’t comment, because the 1041 permitting process is a quasi-judicial function, barring them from making public statements ahead of a hearing, a county spokesman says.

Pueblo County, though, has documented the city’s failed stormwater system for years in letters to the Bureau of Reclamation. In a March 11 letter, the county noted that “negotiations on a proposed IGA continue to progress,” but added that “absent an enforceable IGA” that would address inadequate stormwater controls, county staff is “likely” to recommend county commissioners “temporarily suspend commercial operations of the SDS” and perhaps suspend or amend the 1041 permanently.

That’s the last thing Colorado Springs needs, because a noncompliance finding could impact its deals with the bureau to use Pueblo Reservoir. As Feist says via email, “Contracts between Reclamation and SDS participants do provide the bureau with the authority to immediately cease storage or conveyance of water until the commitments are implemented, if such action becomes warranted.”

Feist also says the law allows the Bureau of Reclamation to reopen the Environmental Impact Statement for SDS in certain circumstances.

As those issues loom, Colorado Springs needs to turn on the tap to test the new water treatment plant within designated warranty periods, says SDS project director John Fredell. Also, at least one SDS partner, Pueblo West, is using SDS on an emergency basis and needs regular deliveries as soon as possible, he says.

Asked if he plans to stick to the April 27 date, Fredell says, “I’m planning on it.” Asked if it will pose a hardship to the city if the pipeline isn’t activated on that date, he says, “It depends on how things shake out with our other systems.” He didn’t elaborate.

Among Pueblo County’s other complaints cited in the March letter is concern over Utilities’ Fountain Creek wetlands project. Completed in 2014 at a cost of $4.2 million, the project stabilized the creek’s banks and installed flora to improve water quality and to prevent erosion and reduce sediment washing down the creek to Pueblo.

But heavy rains and high creek flows last year disrupted the wetlands. While Fredell calls the project “a total success” for its boulder-laden banks’ withstanding the flows, it did get “beat up.”

“There was 20,000 CFS [cubic feet per second of water] in that storm,” he says. “It did get banged up, and there was a lot of sediment” jarred that filled the area. The project was designed to withstand 15,000 CFS.

Fredell estimates repairs, now underway, at $1 million, but a single wetland won’t solve the creek’s problems. He says at least 10 detention facilities and other improvement projects are needed to curb flooding and sediment transport.

The Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District agrees, but needs money, which is another complaint of Pueblo County and a point of contention in the IGA debate. The 1041 permit requires Utilities to pay $10 million annually for five years after the pipeline delivers water. The county contends test flows started last fall, and the first payment was due in January.

The city says the first installment isn’t due until January 2017, assuming SDS is turned on this year.

It’s worth noting that some other agencies with a stake in SDS — including El Paso County, Colorado Department of Public Health & Environment, city of Fountain, Security Water and Sanitation Districts and Colorado Parks and Wildlife — have expressed no issues to the Bureau of Reclamation about Utilities’ permit and contract compliance.

Southern Delivery System map via Colorado Springs Utilities
Southern Delivery System map via Colorado Springs Utilities