#Snowpack news: All basins see a jump in accumulations

Sophie in the snow near Evergreen, April 17, 2016, via Laura Wing.
Sophie in the snow near Evergreen, April 17, 2016, via Laura Wing.

From The Mountain Mail (Marcus Hill):

A slow-moving snowstorm brought about 2 feet of snow, totaling 2.42 inches of precipitation, to Salida Friday, Saturday and Sunday, and more snow is expected before the end of the month.

Just another April in Colorado.

The snowstorm impacted many aspects of life throughout Colorado, including Salida.

According to the Denver Post, more than 850 flights were canceled at Denver International Airport due to the conditions…

According to a Facebook post by Mal Sillars, Buena Vista received about 0.41 inch of precipitation and 10.1 inches of snow from the storm.

Cotopaxi didn’t have much snow sticking to the highway, but Anne Langford, owner of Cotopaxi General Store, said there was 2 feet of snow near her home. Reports from Sawatch indicate snowfall was lighter there, with about 2 inches of snow…

Following the weekend storm, total precipitation for April stands at 2.6 inches. Total precipitation for the year is 4.16 inches, 1.39 inches more than the historical average…

The Mail reported Friday that National Weather Service forecasters predict another “slow-moving storm” is expected to hit April 25 through 29.

From the Associated Press via The Denver Post:

A weekend storm that dropped up to 4 feet of snow in the central Colorado mountains improved the snowpack in most of Colorado’s major river basins.

Federal data released Monday shows the snows that feed the east-flowing Arkansas, North Platte and South Platte rivers ranged from 94 to 109 percent of average.

Southern Colorado’s Rio Grande Basin was only 78 percent.

West of the Continental Divide, the Upper Colorado River Basin was at 103 percent while the Yampa and White river basins were at 98 percent.

The Gunnison and Animas-San Juan river basins in southwestern Colorado were still below average, at 75 to 85 percent.

From CBS Denver (Nick Spears):

The snow was caused by a large area of low pressure in the upper atmosphere that was sitting and spinning over the central Rockies, drawing moisture from as far away as the Gulf of Mexico…

As of 6 a.m. on April 17 Denver’s official weather station had measured 12.1 inches of snow.

Westwide SNOTEL map April 18, 2016 via the NRCS.
Westwide SNOTEL map April 18, 2016 via the NRCS.

Rio Grande Roundtable meeting recap

1869 Map of San Luis Parc of Colorado and Northern New Mexico. "Sawatch Lake" at the east of the San Luis Valley is in the closed basin. The Blanca Wetlands are at the south end of the lake, via Wikipedia.
1869 Map of San Luis Parc of Colorado and Northern New Mexico. “Sawatch Lake” at the east of the San Luis Valley is in the closed basin. The Blanca Wetlands are at the south end of the lake, via Wikipedia.

From the Valley Courier (Ruth Heide):

Finding out where the San Luis Valley’s wetlands and irrigated acreage used to be could help determine where they should be in the future.

Chronicling that history to chart a future course is one of the focuses of a proposed watershed assessment project that Wetland Dynamics is seeking funding for. How those wetlands relate to wildlife habitat is another big component.

Cary Aloia and Jenny Nehring of Wetland Dynamics made an initial presentation and request for $37,000 to the Rio Grande Roundtable this week. The formal presentation and decision will be made next month. The project total is $164,000.

Although no one objected to the project, it sparked discussion about whether or not the roundtable should fund a project through an individual business, rather than a nonprofit organization, as previous funding requests have been made.

Aloia and Nehring said they were simply cutting out the middleman, and the costs for the project would probably increase $4,000-10 ,000 if it had to go through a nonprofit, which would take its portion and then contract with Wetland Dynamics to perform the work.

Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) Program Manager Craig Godbout said individuals and businesses are not eligible for statewide account funds, but individual roundtables have discretion with regard to basin-allocated funds.

“There are no restrictions that I am aware of on what type of entity can be awarded basin accounts,” Godbout said.

Wetland Dynamics is seeking funds allocated to the Rio Grande Basin.

Funding for water projects around the state through CWCB and the basin roundtables is derived from severance tax revenues.

Nehring said this project will provide a Valleywide perspective about how drought and other changes have affected the wetlands that provide habitat to a variety of wildlife. She said several agencies and groups are monitoring their portion of the picture, but this would encompass the entire Valley and bring those agencies and groups together.

Aloia added that this project meets many of the environmental , recreational, agricultural and water administration goals of the roundtable.

She explained that this project will be completed by two entities: Intermountain West Joint Venture, which already has funding in place to provide historic and current wetland and agricultural uses in the Valley through its GIS model (and has completed similar projects in other parts of the western U.S.); and Wetland Dynamics, which will coordinate the project and bring everyone together to identify priority species, future water delivery projects and the best way to use water and land to benefit habitat.

“We are working cooperatively and collaboratively,” Aloia said.

Nehring said historical information is available as far back as the 1870’s through General Land Office surveys, which can be coupled with imagery captured from 1984 to the present. She said this information will show how wet areas in the Valley have ebbed and flowed through the years.

This information will help determine where habitats still exist and areas that can be targeted for conservation.

Nehring said Intermountain West Joint Venture will begin its work next month and will complete its part of the project in 18-24 months. Wetland Dynamics plans to complete its portion next year and will spread the $37,000 over a two-year period.

Aloia said there is a great deal of information, but it is in different places and with different agencies.

“We need to compile all of that,” she said.

Then priority species lists will be compiled and habitat areas identified for those species. All of the groups will then be able to cooperatively manage their water better to serve those habits, Aloia explained.

Brian Sullivan, wetlands program coordinator for Colorado Parks and Wildlife, said the department sees many benefits for this project and is firmly behind it. For example, it will provide information on the quantity and quality of wetlands for wildlife habitat and will help justify financial investments in the basin, he said.

Sullivan said Colorado Parks and Wildlife has pledged $46,000 towards this project, and he urged the roundtable to also support it. He said this project would be a great tool, “and you can’t have too many tools in the tool box.”

Kevin Terry, Rio Grande project coordinator for Trout Unlimited, added his endorsement of the project. One of the benefits , he said, would be consolidation of data in one place where it would be accessible to the different agencies.

Aloia said another outgrowth of the project will be identification of knowledge gaps, which can be the basis for future projects.

“It will highlight things we still don’t know,” she said. “It’s really a stepping stone for future projects.”

It will identify, for example , places where there could be restoration projects in the future to help bring back water resources that were present historically but are no longer present, she explained.

The information gathering and assessment will encompass the Valley floor up to 8,500 feet. Roundtable member Ed Nielsen said this sounds like a good project, but he believed it needed to encompass the mountains and headwaters too. He said it seems fragmented at this point.

Nehring said this a joint venture, and Intermountain West Joint Venture is setting the scope of this project. Aloia added that agricultural use, which is a key component of this project, is centered on the Valley floor.

Sullivan explained that the focus is on the irrigated landscape, which is where the biggest changes in wetlands have occurred.

Former Rio Grande Roundtable Board Chairman Mike Gibson said he personally had a problem with the roundtable funding an individual entity, because requests in the past have come through nonprofit organizations or state agencies. He said it had nothing to do with Wetland Dynamics, but he was concerned about the roundtable losing control over how money is administered and spent if the roundtable starts funding individual entities. He said he believed the roundtable had more oversight over projects going through nonprofit groups.

“I have a real concern,” he said.

Roundtable member Travis Smith said this is a worthy project, but it sounded like the roundtable needed to clarify some protocol issues.

“This application is about shared partnerships and getting agencies to talk to each other about water resources,” Smith said.

Roundtable member Dale Pizel said this seemed like a good project and he would hate for it not to be conducted simply because the roundtable had never funded projects through individual businesses before.

“If we need to have that discussion, let’s have it,” he said.

Roundtable member Judy Lopez agreed the discussion needed to be held. She also agreed this was a good project but was taking the roundtable into uncharted territory.

She asked if Billy Bob’s Excavating came in with a request for river restoration funding, would the roundtable fund it?

Pizel said if it fit with the roundtable’s goals, he did not have a problem funding “Billy Bob.” He said every project needs to have oversight to make sure it is performed correctly and fiscally responsibly.

Lopez said she did not think anyone had a doubt about how fiscally responsible Wetland Dynamics would be, but the roundtable needed to determine if it wanted to open this door and decide who could go through it. She said Aloia and Nehring are people of integrity, and this project meets many of the roundtable’s goals.

Godbout said his office requires reports and specific information, and he reviews that information carefully. He said he makes sure that the invoices match the work completed.

Roundtable member Rio de la Vista said, “So there is some oversight I think we can feel good about.”

Roundtable member Ron Brink said he was apprehensive about opening the gates to this type of funding.

Roundtable Chairman Nathan Coombs said, “The door can be opened. Just because it has not been opened doesn’t mean we shouldn’t. We should look at the project on its merits, if it accomplishes our goals.”

#ColoradoRiver: Risk of failure at Wolford dam ‘very remote’ — The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel #COriver

Wolford Mountain Reservoir
Wolford Mountain Reservoir

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):

A review has led to the determination that there’s no need for the Colorado River District to make potentially expensive repairs to its Wolford Mountain Reservoir dam in the foreseeable future and it can resume full filling of the reservoir.

The review found that the risk of the Ritschard Dam in Grand County failing is extremely low despite the deformation problems it has been experiencing.

“We’re a public agency and we’re pretty gratified that we’re not looking at a 30-plus-million-dollar fix right now,” River District spokesman Jim Pokrandt said.

The rock-fill, clay-core dam was completed in 1995. It has settled near its center by about 2 feet, a foot more than expected of it as an earthen dam.

Its crest also has moved about 8 inches downstream.

The district already has spent about $1.5 million to install instruments to measure the dam’s movement.

It has considered possible repairs ranging from injecting concrete into the dam to shore it up to rebuilding it. The latter is something the district several years ago estimated could cost $30 million.

The district is taxpayer-funded and includes Mesa County. Any repairs might have come at least partly out of a separate enterprise fund the district derives from revenues such as water sales.

The district has called the dam problem the most important issue it faces. The reservoir is on Muddy Creek, and the town of Kremmling is just downstream, where the Muddy meets the Colorado River.

The reservoir can hold about 66,000 acre-feet of water.

The district began to rethink how it should deal with the dam movement after a three-person outside team of dam experts said no immediate action was required.

In February, it then held a workshop on the matter with participants including, among others, the outside team of experts, the state Dam Safety branch of the Colorado Division of Water Resources and Denver Water, which has a leasehold interest in the reservoir.

Participants concluded that the risk of the dam failing from the movement in a given year is one in 100 million, compared to the normally acceptable one-in-a-million risk of the dam failing from a flood overtopping the dam.

“Thus, the deformation-
related public risk is much lower than other, normally acceptable dam-related risks,” the river district’s chief engineer, John Currier, said in a memo to the district board.

He wrote that the workshop participants concluded the chance of a dam failure from the problem is “very remote,” and that from a risk perspective “there is no compelling reason to proceed with remediation of the dam now or in the foreseeable future.”

“The dam is functioning properly, and has a very high probability of continuing to function properly even if deformation continues at the historical rate for many more years,” he wrote.

The district has been voluntarily keeping the water 10 feet below full as a precaution.

But those involved in the review agreed “that normal reservoir operation along with continued reasonable monitoring is appropriate,” Currier wrote, and that keeping water lower, while slowing down the dam’s deformation, merely prolongs how long it will take for that deformation to be complete.

#Colorado Springs hoping to flip the switch on SDS, Pueblo County public meeting today

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

From The Denver Post (Bruce Finley):

As water pressures mount, Colorado Springs engineers are about to switch on one of the West’s boldest new water projects: an $825 million pipeline to siphon up to 50 million gallons a day of Arkansas River water from Pueblo, 50 miles away.

This highly contentious Southern Delivery System has been 27 years in the making. It resolves a core quandary for Colorado Springs (pop. 350,000), built on a high-and-dry, flood-prone plain away from rivers, with only two creeks to sustain people.

The project will pull from [the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project Pueblo Reservoir] — pumping water northward, uphill 1,500 feet — to support growth.

But there’s a hitch. Pueblo is demanding that Colorado Springs first commit to pay another $460 million before turning on the system as scheduled April 27 to clean up the dirty runoff Colorado Springs sends to Pueblo in Fountain Creek.

Colorado Springs leaders told The Denver Post last week they will agree, to avoid a legal war. Pueblo County officials, still reviewing a draft agreement, said they want to hear from residents Monday.

“If Fountain and Monument creeks were our only sources of water, we would only be a town of 25,000 people,” Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers said in an interview after a treatment plant for the siphoned water was dedicated.

The SDS system “is an amazing engineering feat,” Suthers said. “It will take care of the future water needs of Colorado Springs for up to 50 years of growth.”

Pueblo and Colorado Springs officials agreed to vote on the deal April 26, the day before water engineers click a computer mouse to fire up the system.

For decades, Pueblo has been fighting Colorado Springs over the fouling of Fountain Creek, which flows from the Springs to Pueblo. The problem is stormwater runoff — chemical contaminants and sediment washing into the creek…

Under a draft deal, Colorado Springs would spend $460 million over 20 years to complete 71 stormwater cleanup projects. These include creation of ponds that slow and filter runoff and planting vegetation along drainage channels to stabilize sediment.

Colorado Springs will rely on general fund revenues from sales taxes to cover the $460 million, Suthers said. “If we have a downturn, we may have to look at something else.”

City Council president Merv Bennett said, “We’ve got to fix the stormwater problem. If we don’t do this, the EPA could require us to do it. This is a good deal.”

[…]

Eleven 2,000-plus horsepower pumps will propel the water from the reservoir through a 66-inch-diameter underground pipeline for 50 miles with an overall elevation gain of 1,500 feet.

The water must be used within the Arkansas River Basin, ruling out sales to south Denver suburbs. And wastewater, after treatment, must be returned via Fountain Creek to Pueblo.

Colorado Springs residents have paid for the system through water bills, which increased by 52 percent over four years.

City officials have been working since 1989 to install the system. “You have to handle all the legal, the permits, the right of way …,” said Edward Bailey, 80, who has led the efforts and whose name now appears on the treatment plant.

Moving water to people around the West entails altering the natural environment, Bailey said. “We have to do it right. We shouldn’t leave a big footprint. … I understand Pueblo and their concerns. We need to be very environmentally sensitive, but we cannot be preservationists.”

[…]

“Water drives our economic viability, our economic prosperity,” SDS program director John Fredell said.

“Now we’ve got it. Now we’re ready to go in Colorado Springs.”

From The Pueblo Chieftain editorial board:

Although we appreciate and commend the work of Pueblo County commissioners, the county planning department, county attorneys and Wright Water Engineers, we implore county officials to take more time before approving the 1041 permit that would allow water to flow from Lake Pueblo to Colorado Springs via the Southern Delivery System.

Cartoon via The Pueblo Chieftain
Cartoon via The Pueblo Chieftain

Lakewood’s increase in #stormwater fees hits nonprofits, churches — The Denver Post

Lakewood, Hogback View From Green Mountain, via MountainHomesOfDenver.com
Lakewood, Hogback View From Green Mountain, via MountainHomesOfDenver.com

From The Denver Post (Austin Briggs):

Schools, nonprofits and church buildings are among the properties hardest hit by the hikes, because the new rates assess the fee on commercial, retail or business properties based on the amount of impervious space on an area: the more roof and parking lot square footage, the higher the fee.

Owners of single-family homes pay a flat rate.

“Our mind was spinning when we got the bill,” said Lori Schreiner, business manager for St. Bernadette’s Church. “We budgeted for a 2 percent increase, which would have been about $40.”

Instead, the rate jumped from $1,493 to $2,790…

Residents and property owners started receiving bills reflecting the rate hikes in January. Residential homeowners are seeing their bill increase from $23.76 to $44.40 per year.

City officials have said the fee model is fairly standard across municipalities, and it makes sense that properties that push more water into the system should shoulder their share in the responsibility of maintaining it…

The city has 18 major drainages in need of 110 improvements, and another 70 improvements needed in localized neighborhoods. The city faces a $155 million maintenance backlog and hasn’t had a rate hike since the fee was instituted in 2000.

Many of the flooding issues are more prevalent in the older neighborhoods on the city’s east side, which were developed long before strict zoning guidelines were in place and the complexities of urban drainage were understood.

Jay Hutchison, the city’s public works director, said the city is in the design and planning stage for the first set of projects. Next year, construction is slated to begin on the installation of storm sewer systems at 20th Avenue and Nelson Street and 17th Avenue and Lee Street.

“We’ll have some followup projects that will start moving around town and continue for a number of years,” Hutchison said.