Vail’s Gore Creek looks pristine, but bug counters tell a different story — The Mountain Town News

Gore Creek is healthy as it emerges from the Eagles Nest Wilderness Area, but has problems soon after, via The Mountain Town News. All photos by Jack Affleck.
Gore Creek is healthy as it emerges from the Eagles Nest Wilderness Area, but has problems soon after, via The Mountain Town News. All photos by Jack Affleck.

From The Mountain Town News (Allen Best):

Gore Creek originates in splishes and splashes among tussocks of grass in the eponymously named range of 13,000-foot peaks in north-central Colorado. There, the water is as pure as the driven snow. Emerging from the Eagles Nest Wilderness Area, the creek passes a national forest campground, located along Interstate 70. Still, everything remains good, as attested by a profusion of bugs. Bugs provide food for fish, and what is a healthy stream, creek or river without fish?

Downstream as Gore Creek flows through Vail for 10 miles, it has a more checkered life. As the creek flows through lawns and parks and under city streets, the bug counts decline, not uniformly, but enough so that the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment in late 2011 put Gore Creek on a state list of impaired waters. It’s still supporting fish. Four miles of Gore Creek remain classified by the state as a gold medal trout fishery. But it’s not what it could be.

Gore Creek is not alone among waterways in mountain valleys that look pristine—but aren’t. Also listed on the impaired lists are segments of creeks and rivers at Breckenridge, Silverthorne, Aspen, Winter Park, and Telluride Colorado has 65 stream segments with impaired aquatic life because of high water temperatures, mining-related impacts or, as in the case of Vail and other mountain towns, the impacts of urbanization.

It’s a story of a thousand minor, seemingly innocuous cuts:

  • Lawns grown to the creek edge, kept in mint weed-free condition by the application of herbicides and pesticides.
  • Twin frontage roads and a four-lane interstate highway, altogether eight lanes of pavement in a narrow mountain valley, along with paved areas for bus stops, traffic roundabouts, and all the other impervious surfaces of a transportation system that, together, provide an expedited pathway for pollutants to the creek.
  • An ill-advised community stormwater system.
  • Even the most minor of infractions, the slop from solvents used to clean windows that can, from blocks away, eventually get into the creek.

But this is also a story about a community decision to confront the problem sooner, not later. The town council in March approved the first $2 million of what could ultimately be $9 million in actions to address urban stormwater runoff. Vail is an affluent resort community, yes, but also one that says that having a creek that doesn’t measure up, no matter how good it still looks, just is not OK.

This nexus between land use and water quality is something that state water officials see as an emerging area of understanding.

“It’s just so important to have that local dialogue about land use and water,” says Tammy Allen, restoration and protection utility manager with the Colorado Water Quality Control Commission.

The creek long ago was put into a channel to accommodate the golf course, highways and roads. Photo Jack Affleck via The Mountain Town News.
The creek long ago was put into a channel to accommodate the golf course, highways and roads. Photo Jack Affleck via The Mountain Town News.

The Gore Creek Action Plan identifies 27 immediate actions to be taken from a total of 217. Some actions have already begun. In cooperation with the Colorado Department of Transportation, plans are being readied to address the mass of impervious surfaces at the East Vail interchange. The town also plans to modify its snow dump, ironically created 20-plus years ago to avoid putting contaminants from plowed roads directly into the creek. For some reason, it’s not working as well as intended.

Then there are the manicured buffers along the creek, both along the parks and golf course. Can they be restored to more closely resemble what existed before in the riparian zones? On a cost-sharing basis, can those riparian areas of private property owners also be restored?

Education is a big part of the project. The town budget includes funding for a full-time employee during the next two years. The employee will be assigned to work with the community, advising residents how to adopt what are considered best-practices to avoid pollution of Gore Creek.

Yet other actions being launched are more tentative. What grounds does the town have for limiting how far property owners can mow the grass to water’s edge? What authority does the town government have to limit pesticide use on lawns and gardens?

A more familiar story of water pollution once existed in the nearby Eagle River, to which Gore Creek becomes tributary at Dowd Junction. Extensive mining had occurred between the towns of Minturn and Red Cliff beginning in the late 1870s. Extraction of zinc, lead, gold, and other minerals at the Eagle Mine continued until the late 1970s, but with a lingering legacy familiar to nearly all places of hard-rock mining: the orange water that results from contact with fractured sulphur-based rock faces. At one point, the Eagle River ran so orange that water drawn from the creek to make snow at Beaver Creek, located several miles downstream, had an orange hue.

Streets and other artificial impervious areas result in rapid runoff of pollutants into the creek. Photo via The Mountain Town News and Jack Affleck.
Streets and other artificial impervious areas result in rapid runoff of pollutants into the creek. Photo via The Mountain Town News and Jack Affleck.

The story of the Eagle River had turned around by the mid-1990s, thanks to the deep pockets of Viacom, the corporation that had swallowed the mining company – and took on its obligations— and the stick of the federal Superfund law. The Eagle River had fish again at Minturn. But just as they proclaimed success immediately below the abandoned mine, state wildlife biologists announced they had detected another problem. Shocking fish on the Eagle River at Edwards, about 10 miles downstream from both Vail and Minturn, they found disturbing evidence of declining sculpin and other fish. The problem, they said, was probably the result of urbanization in what had become known as the Vail Valley.

In Vail, both the Forest Service and the Town of Vail had conducted periodic sampling of insects in Gore Creek. There was an awareness of a problem. Then sampling of bugs along the creek was stepped up in 2008 as the Eagle River Water and Sanitation District prepared for new state regulations governing nutrients from wastewater treatment plants. The district maintains a plant in Vail, just below Lionshead.

Bracketing samples were taken up and down the creek: above and below the treatment plant, for example, and above and below the commercial area. This took time, but it also provided a clearer definition of problem areas. It also yielded a surprise: the area downstream from the treatment plan actually showed elevated counts of insect populations. Sewage effluent wasn’t the problem.

“What immediately struck us was that the creek was probably going to get listed as impaired, and it had nothing to do with the point source, the treatment plan,” says Linn Brooks, general manager of Eagle River Water and Sanitation District. Reduced bug counts were being found upstream, “and so they must have to do with urbanization of the town. We didn’t know exactly what it was when we started, but we knew it wasn’t the wastewater treatment plant.”

Riparian areas were crowded or completely eliminated as the town was developed. In this, Vail is hardly alone. Photo by Jack Affleck via The Mountain Town News.
Riparian areas were crowded or completely eliminated as the town was developed. In this, Vail is hardly alone. Photo by Jack Affleck via The Mountain Town News.

Driving all this was the Clean Water Act. Adopted by Congress in 1972 in response to outrages, such as the burning of the Cuyahoga River in Cleveland, the federal law was used to address the worst problems of point-source pollution. Examples include untreated sewage and pollutants released from factories into rivers and creeks. Administered by the Environmental Protection Agency, in the case of Colorado through the state government, the law has also been used to address the more prickly problems of urban and agriculture pollution.

In the late 1990s, the EPA began implementing the law and refining the implementation.

“Colorado mountain streams are generally in good shape,” says Karl Hermann, senior water quality analyst for the EPA Region 8 in Denver. “It’s typically mining impacts that cause water quality problems. But you do have this other situation of stormwater runoff that causes water quality problems. There’s a strong correlation with water quality problems and development, and typically stormwater is the cause of that.”

But confusing in Vail, and some other locations, was the lack of a clear trigger to explain problems. “If you just measured metals in Gore Creek, you would never suspect something is going on,” says Hermann.

One metric of stream health in Colorado’s high country is the state’s wildlife department’s specified listing for gold medal trout streams. Colorado has 322 miles, give or take. Included are the last four miles of Gore Creek, below the wastewater plant and before the creek flows into the Eagle.

The state in March added a 24-mile segment of the Colorado River while delisting a 19-mile stretch of the Blue River, from the northern edge of Silverthorne to Green Mountain Reservoir. The river segment has not met the criteria of gold medal water for production of trout for some time. Jon Ewert, an aquatic biologist with Colorado Parks and Wildlife, pointed to the cumulative effects of unnatural stream flows, sparse aquatic invertebrate populations, low nutrient content, and degraded habitat.

Vail’s listing on the state’s 303-D list of impaired waters provoked community meetings. Dozens were eventually held. Key stakeholders—the town, the river district, the Forest Service, Vail Resorts, and C-DOT, among others—were engaged early on. Many were looking for a single cause, a smoking gun, that could be addressed. Some suggested the pine beetle epidemic was the problem. Others pointed the finger at I-70 and the use of mag chloride on roads.

“Everybody was hoping that we would have a silver bullet, just one, two or three things, that we could get done by 2013. But early on, it became apparent that this was death by a thousand cuts,” says Diane Johnson, communications officer for Eagle River Water and Sanitation District.

This revegetation project uses log cribbing to hold the bank of Gore Creek in place while the plants get established. The logs will slowly decay. Photo credit Jack Affleck via The Mountain Town News.
This revegetation project uses log cribbing to hold the bank of Gore Creek in place while the plants get established. The logs will slowly decay. Photo credit Jack Affleck via The Mountain Town News.

Vail’s problem can be seen as flip sides of the same equation. Pollutants have been created in the long, narrow valley that end up in the creek. It’s no one thing. That’s partly why the town’s action plan calls for just $2 million in spending at the outset, to give time to figure out what makes a difference.

In addition to the pollutants that end up in the creek, it’s also the pathways to the creek. Large impervious areas provide easy pathways for pollutants to go to the creek. But the creek itself has been extensively modified, mostly brazenly where it was channelized during the construction of I-70, now sandwiched by a frontage road and a golf course.

In many places in Vail, the creek’s messy riparian areas have been sheared, manicured lawns installed right to the water’s edge. This might have an aesthetic appeal, but those native riparian areas served a function.

Brooks, of Eagle River Water, calls the riparian area the creek’s immune system. Without that riparian area to filter and treat the water, pollutants directly enter the creek and impair the waters. This was part of the simplified message that she said had to be taken to the public.

Vail’s story, says Brooks, is not unlike stories occurring all over the country, including other resort areas of Colorado. They differ in some particulars. Aspen, for examples, doesn’t have an interstate highway paralleling it, nor does Telluride. They do, however, have urban impacts, too.

Where Vail stands out, she believes, is that the town was quick to react. “The political will was already there, and the science was already there.”

As this is fundamentally a land use issue, the onus is on Vail, the municipality, as it owns 40 percent of the streambanks. But a majority is in private ownership.

There was some pushback in Vail. Some thought C-DOT should have accepted greater responsibility. And at le ast one homeowner along Gore Creek protested that “bugs and beavers don’t pay taxes.” But that was not the dominant mood. There was, says Kristen Bertuglia, the town sustainability director, much less controversy than when Vail banned throw-away plastic grocery bags or mandated curbside recycling. Instead, the dominant response was “This is our creek; this is our home.”

As for the measures in the action plan, they’re not particularly novel. For the most part, says Bertuglia, they were picked out from the EPA’s watershed manual.

In the case of Vail, a community process was absolutely crucial, and it will be in other places, too, she says. “We don’t have a smoking gun, and they won’t either.”

That’s another way of saying that with urban runoff pollution, there’s no one guilty party, but everyone is part of the problem —and everyone has to be part of the solution. That’s a long, involved conversation to have.

Please support Allen’s journalism by subsribing to The Mountain Town News.

#Drought news: No change in depiction for #Colorado

Click here to visit the US Drought Monitor website. Here’s an excerpt:

Summary

A large upper-level ridge of high pressure spanned the Lower 48 States (CONUS) this USDM week, bringing warmer-than-normal temperatures to most of the CONUS. But Pacific low pressure systems undercut the ridge, dumping rain and snow over many areas. This USDM week (April 19-25) ended up with above-normal precipitation across parts of the west coast, intermountain basin, and northern Rockies; much of the Plains; and parts of the coastal Carolinas. The week was drier than normal across parts of the Pacific Northwest and central Plains, and much of the Southwest, Midwest, and eastern U.S. east of the Mississippi River. Heavy precipitation in the Plains soaked into parched ground, with U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) reports of topsoil moisture improving 20 to 40 percent over the last two weeks from Texas to Montana. But continued dry weather in the east further dried soils, resulting in 20 to 40 percent increases in topsoil rated short or very short of moisture from South Carolina to Vermont. Consequently, drought and abnormal dryness contracted across parts of the Plains but expanded in the East. As this USDM week ended Tuesday morning, additional storm systems were poised to move across the CONUS…

The Plains and Mississippi Valley

Heavy precipitation fell on parts of the Plains and upper Mississippi Valley, bringing additional relief to areas where dryness and drought quickly developed over the past several weeks. Over four inches of precipitation was recorded at stations along the Iowa-Nebraska state line, with 2-4 inch reports common in the drought and abnormally dry areas of southeast Nebraska and northeast Kansas. Two or more inches fell over the D0-D1 areas of the Dakotas and Minnesota. The heaviest rains in Texas fell outside the drought and abnormally dry areas, although 1-3 inches was reported at stations in and near the Panhandle drought and abnormally dry areas. D0 was trimmed in Nebraska and D0-D1 were pulled back in Kansas. In the Dakotas and Minnesota, D1 was eliminated and D0 reduced. Parts of south central Minnesota had been drying out over the last several weeks, but 1-3 inches of precipitation this week prevented any expansion of D0 there. D0-D2 were cut back in the Texas panhandle and D0 trimmed in the Trans Pecos region. In the Texas panhandle, Lake Meredith has recovered to levels not seen in the last ten years, although the level is still below those last seen in the 1990s. Continued dry weather from Arkansas to Illinois resulted in expansion of D0 in Missouri and western Illinois. D1 was added in southwest Missouri where 67% of the topsoil moisture and 58% of the subsoil moisture was short or very short, according to April 25 USDA reports…

The Rockies and Intermountain West

Parts of the Great Basin to central Rockies received 1-3 inches of precipitation, with amounts locally over 3 inches in Nevada and adjoining Idaho. Smaller amounts fell to the north, with no precipitation reported across much of the Southwest. D0 was pulled back in parts of Montana and Wyoming, and D2 in south central Montana was deleted. D0 expanded in central Montana and across southeastern Utah where precipitation was below normal this week and deficits have intensified over the last 30-120 days…

The Far West

Coastal Washington and Oregon received 1-3 inches of precipitation this week, but these areas were outside the drought and abnormally dry region. Precipitation amounts were much lighter east of the Cascades, generally less than half an inch. In northern California, 1-3 inches of precipitation fell along the northern Sierra, which translates to well above normal, but normals are lower this time of year and the amounts are small compared to the multi-year deficits, so no change was made to the depiction in California and Nevada…

Looking Ahead

In the two days since the issuance of the April 26 USDM, additional heavy rain has fallen across the drought and abnormally dry areas of the central Plains, and precipitation of varying amounts has occurred over the drought and abnormally dry areas of other parts of the CONUS. During April 28-May 2, a large upper-level weather system and associated frontal systems are forecast to bring moderate precipitation totals of 0.5 to 2.0 inches, with locally higher amounts, to parts of the intermountain basin to central and northern Rockies, much of the Great Plains to Mississippi and Ohio Valleys, and the mid-Atlantic to Southeast. Less than half an inch is predicted for the Far West, southern portions of the Southwest, northern Great Lakes, New England, and central to southern Florida. The upper-level low is expected to keep temperatures below average for much of the country, with above-normal temperatures limited to the Far West and Southeast to southern Plains.

The odds favor above-normal precipitation across the Southwest, Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic coasts, and most of Alaska during May 3-7, 2016. There are enhanced chances for subnormal precipitation across the Pacific Northwest to western Great Lakes, much of the CONUS from the Rockies to Appalachians, and extreme northwest Alaska. Enhanced chances for colder-than-normal conditions exist for the southern Plains to New England, while warmer-than-normal weather is favored across the West to northern Plains, Alaska, and southern Florida.

SDS: “It has been a lot to get this Pueblo County agreement out of the way and taken care of successfully” — John Fredell

Southern Delivery System construction celebration August 19, 2011 via The Pueblo Chieftain
Southern Delivery System construction celebration August 19, 2011 via The Pueblo Chieftain

From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Billie Stanton Anleu):

The $825 million Southern Delivery System’s treatment plant was ready to serve drinking water Wednesday, as a project 20 years in the making finally made its debut.

The distribution system will be turned on Thursday to deliver water to Colorado Springs, Security and Fountain, and water will begin reaching those customers Friday. The SDS already supplies water to Pueblo West, which needed early assistance after a major water pipe in its system broke.

“Things are going great, just like we’ve always planned,” SDS Project Manager John Fredell said Wednesday. “We’ve worked on a lot of these issues a long time to get ready.”

The project hit a snag last year when Pueblo County, which had issued the essential SDS 1041 permit, began seriously pressuring Colorado Springs leaders.

The county insisted on more city stormwater projects to protect downstream residents from excessive flows, sediment buildup and water quality degradation in Fountain Creek.

The City Council signed an intergovernmental agreement April 20. It promises, among other things, to spend $460 million on 71 mutually beneficial stormwater projects over the next 20 years, with Colorado Springs Utilities guaranteeing any funds the city can’t provide.

Pueblo County commissioners approved that pact Monday, enabling SDS to kick off its operations on Wednesday, the target date set years ago.

“It has been a lot to get this Pueblo County agreement out of the way and taken care of successfully,” Fredell acknowledged. “But I really did not fear that it wasn’t going to happen. It was just a matter of timing.”

Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers has spent much of his first year in office negotiating with Pueblo County and with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on the city’s long-time stormwater program deficiencies.

Dan Higgins, chief water services officer for Utilities, called it “a great day.”

“I look back at all the things we’ve seen our team experience,” Higgins said. “We’ve been through so much together. It’s just a fantastic experience for everybody that’s been involved.”

As usual, Fredell credits his project team for a job well done.

“I’m telling you, without all these great people putting out every ounce of energy they have, we couldn’t have done it,” Fredell said. “And to me that’s just so cool, to bring all these people together and they’re all pulling in the same direction.

“To me, that’s the coolest thing. I feel like the whole team, we have stronger friendships now than when we started. How many teams can say that? To me, that’s absolutely incredible.”

The project team determined in July 2009 that the SDS would start operating in April 2016.

“I’ll feel better Friday,” admitted Kim Mutchler, who has worked on SDS for Utilities’ government and corporate affairs team. “There’s a lot going on between now and then.

“I’m happy for these guys who have been on this project for so long. It’s just exciting to see (Utilities) board members and previous council members. We had a couple out there yesterday seeing (the plant) for the first time. It’s nice to see them excited.”

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

The need for Colorado Springs to control stormwater on Fountain Creek was always tied to the Southern Delivery System, and the new agreement with Pueblo County is designed to cement the relationship.

During the permitting process for SDS, stormwater control was mentioned in both the Bureau of Reclamation environmental impact statement and Pueblo County’s 1041 permit.

Ever since Colorado Springs City Council abolished its stormwater enterprise in 2009, the city engaged in political gymnastics to assure Pueblo County it was doing enough.

Monday’s completion of an intergovernmental agreement should represent an end to political bickering over stormwater, because it spells out very clearly what has to be done over the next 20 years.

Commissioners were quick to point out Monday that the items contained in the agreement are not the only things Colorado Springs must do in relation to SDS under the 1041 permit. But they have to do these things:

Fund stormwater control with at least $460 million over the next 20 years.

The funding will go toward 71 projects on a set schedule that can be adjusted only if both parties agree.

The amount of funding steps up from at least $20 million per year in the first five years to at least $26 million per year in the last five.

While the money can be matched with other funds, Colorado Springs must come up with the minimum amount, but the sources are not specified. Annual reports are required.

Colorado Springs also is required to resolve any conflicts with the IGA that might result from action by the Department of Justice, EPA and Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment over the city’s failure to meet the terms of its municipal stormwater permit from 2013-15.

A provision of the IGA requires Colorado Springs to notify Pueblo County of any variance to its drainage criteria manual. The failure to apply the document to new development was among deficiencies identified by the EPA in its audit of Colorado Springs’ stormwater permit.

Regional cooperation on Fountain Creek.

The IGA triggers the first two payments of $10 million each that were negotiated under the 1041 permit. Five annual payments of $10 million are required. The money must be used for a dam, detention ponds or other flood control structures that protect Pueblo from flows on Fountain Creek that have increased because of growth in Colorado Springs and El Paso County.

The first payment is actually $9,578,817, because of credits for payments already made and an “index” fee, which amounts to interest payments. It will come within 30 days.

The second $10 million payment will be made Jan. 15.

The payments go to the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District, which was created by the state Legislature to improve Fountain Creek.

Formed in 2009, the district grew out of discussions between the two counties. Pueblo County Commissioner Sal Pace sponsored the legislation when he served as a state representative.

The IGA also provides $125,000 to the district, which will be used in part to help fund a state study of a dam or detention ponds on Fountain Creek. The money is in addition to the $50 million required under the 1041 permit. The Fountain Creek board will determine exactly how the money is spent.

Both Pueblo County and Colorado Springs agree to work with other governments to find a permanent source of funding for the Fountain Creek district.

Colorado Springs also will pay $3 million over three years to the city of Pueblo for repairs to levees, dredging and removal of debris or vegetation in Fountain Creek.

Pueblo is required to match the money, but can use about $1.8 million that Pueblo County is still holding from $2.2 million Colorado Springs was made to pay for dredging in Pueblo. Some of the money was spent on demonstration projects.

The agreement also specifies that any disputes will be handled in the same way as disagreements in the 1041 permit. If not successful, legal action over the IGA would be handled in Pueblo District Court.

2016 #coleg: Gov. Hickenlooper signs Colorado Water Rights Protection Act

Gov. John Hickenlooper signs House Bill 16-1109 on April 21, 2016, with state Senators Kerry Donovan and Jerry Sonnenberg, state Reps. Diane Mitsch Bush, Jon Becker, and KC Becker; and Kristin Moseley, Theresa Conley, and legislative aides.
Gov. John Hickenlooper signs House Bill 16-1109 on April 21, 2016, with state Senators Kerry Donovan and Jerry Sonnenberg, state Reps. Diane Mitsch Bush, Jon Becker, and KC Becker; and Kristin Moseley, Theresa Conley, and legislative aides.

From email from the Eagle River Water & Sanitation District (Diane Johnson):

Gov. John Hickenlooper on Thursday (4/21) signed into law House Bill 16-1109, the Colorado Water Rights Protection Act. Both the Colorado House and Senate had unanimously passed the bill, which protects state issued water rights on federal lands.

HB-1109 confirms U.S. Supreme Court, Colorado Supreme Court and federal statutory precedent, which provides that water rights in Colorado are adjudicated and administered according to Colorado laws, not pursuant to administrative policies of the U.S. Forest Service or Bureau of Land Management. When it comes to securing water, the federal government must defer to Colorado water law and water courts. The Act also prevents state enforcement and administration of restrictions placed by the Forest Service and BLM on the use and alienability of private water rights, and provides tools for water right holders to fight these agencies in court if necessary.

The impetus for the legislation dates to 2012, when the Forest Service demanded that ski areas, in exchange for renewing their leases on public land, turn over their private state issued water rights to the federal government. The ski areas sued and the Forest Service lost on procedural grounds. The Court ordered the Forest Service to go back to the drawing board, and while improvements have been made in the context of ski area policy, the Forest Service has subsequently issued other policy directives that raise additional concerns for private water right holders throughout Colorado.

Accordingly, a diverse group of stakeholders, including municipalities, water providers, and agricultural, recreational, and environmental interests, worked together on language in the bill that protects state water rights and prevents environmental streamflow impacts. Legislative support was similarly diverse as state Reps. KC Becker, D-Boulder, and Jon Becker, R-Fort Morgan, and state Senators Jerry Sonnenberg, R-Sterling, and Kerry Donovan, D-Vail, sponsored the bill, with co-sponsors such as Rep. Diane Mitsch Bush, who represents Eagle and Routt counties.

The issue has been particularly concerning for western slope entities given the extensive federal lands in the area. About 80 percent of lands in Eagle and Summit counties are federally owned. Eagle River Water and Sanitation District and Upper Eagle Regional Water Authority provide water service in eastern Eagle County and by necessity, have water infrastructure on federal lands. Rick Sackbauer, Eagle River Water and Sanitation District board chair, called HB16-1109 “a great victory for water right holders in the Eagle River valley and throughout Colorado” and said, “the legislation serves as a strong message to the Forest Service and BLM that Colorado water rights are governed by Colorado law.”

George Gregory, Upper Eagle Regional Water Authority board chair, noted, “The Authority and other water providers have made enormous financial investments in water rights and water infrastructure in reliance on state laws. Recent actions by the USFS and BLM discourage such investment, create uncertainty in Colorado’s water rights system, and represent an effort by these agencies to benefit from the hard work of private parties without providing compensation. Passage of the Act ensures that such investments are protected for our customers, who ultimately fund public water service and infrastructure.”

For more information, go to http://www.erwsd.org, link to a fact sheet, or contact general manager Linn Brooks at 970-476-7480.

#AnimasRiver: “All in all, we are farmers, and farmers must farm” — Duane “Chili” Yazzie

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 Farmington Daily Times (Noel Lyn Smith):

This month, personnel from the Navajo Nation Irrigation Office in Shiprock have been clearing debris and completing maintenance on the system of canals that serves farms in chapters along the San Juan River. They are preparing the canals to receive water after they were closed last year in response to the Gold King Mine spill. That incident released more than 3 million gallons of contaminated mine waste into the Animas and San Juan rivers last August, and tribal officials issued water-use restrictions for the river water.

Gadii’ahi is served by the Cudei canal, which receives river water through a pipeline or siphon that runs under the river from the Hogback canal.

The Hogback canal delivers river water to the Shiprock and Tsé Daa K’aan chapters. Together, the system runs 30 miles from the Hogback diversion to the Gadii’ahi-Tokoi Chapter. A separate system — the Fruitland Irrigation canal — serves the Nenahnezad, San Juan and Upper Fruitland chapters.

During the weeks that followed the mine spill, chapters determined whether to resume irrigating with river water or keep the canals closed.

Shiprock Irrigation Supervisor Marlin Saggboy said the Fruitland canal started operating in early April.

Meanwhile, chapter members served by the Hogback and Cudei canals decided to reopen the system after listening to results on April 15 from water and soil testing conducted by the Navajo Nation Environmental Protection Agency and New Mexico State University in addition to a joint study by the University of Arizona and Northern Arizona University.

Saggboy said the Irrigation Office understands there were several concerns expressed by residents, but hearing the results, including a recommendation by the Navajo Nation EPA to reopen the canals, eased those worries.

Farmers are not obligated to use river water, he said, adding that individuals can close their irrigation head gates.

Saggboy said crews will be flushing the A and B canals in the Tsé Daa K’aan Chapter today as part of the efforts to have that system fully operational by next week.

After the tribe eased water-use restrictions last year, the Shiprock and Tsé Daa K’aan chapters continued to oppose reopening the Hogback Irrigation canal due to concerns about the amount of heavy metals released during the mine spill into the river.

The Gadii’ahi-Tokoi Chapter approved resuming irrigation activities, and the tribe’s Department of Water Resources installed pipelines and pumps to deliver river water to fields.

Gilbert Harrison is the farm board member for the Gadii’ahi-Tokoi Chapter and president of the San Juan River Farm Board. He said the farmers were satisfied with the information they received April 15 about the testing completed on the soil and river water.

“We look forward to it and (are) glad the water is back on,” Harrison said about the canal openings.

The Shiprock and Tsé Daa K’aan chapters approved separate resolutions this month to open the Hogback canal.

Shiprock voted 46-14 in favor of the measure with 10 abstentions on April 17, and the Tsé Daa K’aan Chapter voted 17-4 in favor of it with nine abstentions on April 18, according to a press release from the Shiprock Chapter.

Shiprock Chapter President Duane “Chili” Yazzie said in the press release the decision was “anticlimactic,” and concerns remain, but chapter members “made efforts to reassure” themselves.

“All in all, we are farmers, and farmers must farm, so the people have spoken,” Yazzie said.

Jean Jones, the farm board member for the Tsé Daa K’aan Chapter, said chapter members voted on the matter after hearing testing results, which indicated the water is safe to use for agricultural purposes.

“I guess it’s good,” Jones said adding a number of farmers are glad the Hogback canal is operating.

#ColoradoRiver: Whither Lake Powell’s power pool? #COriver

Glen Canyon Dam releases. Photo via Twitter and Reclamation
Glen Canyon Dam releases. Photo via Twitter and Reclamation

From Lake Powell Life (Mike Reilley):

In Glenwood Springs, Colorado the Colorado River District is spending more than fifty thousand dollars on a study about Lake Powell water levels.

The study is aimed at determining how likely it is that the water level on the lake will drop to such a low that the hydroelectric works at Glen Canyon Dam would be effected. In addition, those conducting the study need to know how such a drop in the level would subsequently affect entities below the dam, including Lake Mead.

Reports indicate that the Lake Powell level must stay above 3525-feet. Currently it stands at 3291-feet. At the beginning of the new century the water level was 94 percent full. Today it’s at less than 50 percent.

Downstream, if things do not improve there will be more significant water cuts for Arizona and Nevada unless the rains come and the drought ends. Water officials from those two states and California have been meeting regularly to discuss the situation.

There’s a report that indicates that if things don’t improve on Lake Mead, the federal government, specifically the Department of the Interior, would begin overseeing the distribution of water. Lake Mead’s levels need to stay above1025-feet in order to avoid more problems and having the Interior department step-in. It’s currently at 1136-feet.