“Corn are thirsty and dying, damn the EPA, damn the government, damn the industry!”
— Duane “Chili” Yazzie, Navajo farmer, activist and President of the Shiprock Chapter, from his poem “Yellow River”
On May 23, the State of New Mexico filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the owners of the Sunnyside Mine near Silverton, Colorado, over damages caused by last year’s Gold King mine blowout. It’s likely just the first volley in what could be a long legal fracas emerging from both the spill and the impending Superfund listing for the Gold King and surrounding mines.
The action was hardly a surprise: New Mexico had expressed its intention to take legal action when the impacted rivers — the Animas and the San Juan — were still orange from the spill of 3 million gallons of acid mine drainage and iron oxide sludge. Initially, however, the state was targeting not just the EPA, but also the State of Colorado, the owner of the Gold King Mine and others. The only defendants in the actual complaint are: the EPA and its administrator Gina McCarthy; the contractor working on the mine when it blew out; and Sunnyside owner Kinross, a Canada-based global mining company, and its subsidiary Sunnyside Gold Corp.
While the EPA has accepted blame for inadvertently causing the spill, Sunnyside’s culpability in the matter is murky. After being almost dry for years, the Gold King mine started draining water in the late 1990s or early 2000s, most likely a result of water backing up behind one or more of the three bulkheads that Sunnyside installed in the American Tunnel, below the Gold King. Yet still unknown is which bulkhead, in particular, is causing the drainage, and whether Gold King water is just being returned to its historic course, or Sunnyside mine water is somehow infiltrating the Gold King. (See our extensive, interactive timeline, which clearly helped inform the New Mexico complaint, for details.)
The complaint alleges that the “garish yellow cloud of contamination wrought environmental and economic damage throughout the Animas and San Juan Rivers” and that it deposited sediment that could be re-mobilized during spring runoff, causing a potential repeat. Perhaps more damaging than the metals contained in the plume and sediment was the psychological impact, and the “uncertainty and anxiety generated by widely-circulated images of a sickly yellow river.” The state seeks reimbursement of all of its costs related to the spill, which it says exceed $100 million.
At a recent regional water quality conference in Farmington, New Mexico, one speaker noted that the “river would never be the same” after the spill. Yet water sampling and fish counts conducted since the spill have shown that things haven’t changed significantly. At the conference, a presentation by Jim White, aquatic biologist with Colorado Parks and Wildlife, noted that fish counts showed “no discernible changes in species composition, biomass, and/or quality of trout or native fishes POST Gold King Mine spill.” And an analysis conducted by the Mountain Studies Institute in Durango this spring showed that metal concentrations in the Animas River have increased during spring runoff, but not noticeably more than in past years.
Spring snowmelt runoff in the Colorado Rocky Mountains has triggered the spawning and emergence of endangered razorback sucker fish populations in the Green River downstream from Flaming Gorge Dam, Utah. Larval emergence in the river was observed on May 28, 2016.
To assist the survival of this endangered fish population, Bureau of Reclamation officials will gradually increase water released from Flaming Gorge Dam from the current flow of 800 cubic feet per second (cfs) to 8,600 cfs beginning Tuesday, May 31, 2016. The rate of release will reach 8,600 cfs on Friday, June 3, 2016, and will remain at that flow rate until further notice. However, Reclamation officials anticipate the release to remain at this rate for only 7 to 14 days beyond June 3.
At the highest rate, Flaming Gorge reservoir will release approximately 4,600 cfs through the Flaming Gorge Dam powerplant, allowing power generation to reach its full capacity of approximately 150 megawatts. Another 4,000 cfs will be released through the dam’s bypass tubes to reach the total of 8,600 cfs.
Projected peak flow on the Green River at Jensen, Utah, resulting from the combined flows of Flaming Gorge Dam releases and the Yampa River, will be approximately 22,000 to 24,000 cubic feet per second. These projections are close to flood stage and Reclamation officials urge caution while recreating or farming along the Green River during the next few weeks.
Scientists monitor critical habitat to detect the first emergence of razorback sucker larvae as a “trigger” for this type of release by Reclamation in cooperation with the State of Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program. A major purpose of the higher release is to transport as many larval fish as possible into critical nursery habitats located in the floodplains along the Green River, downstream of the confluence of the Green and Yampa rivers. The increased releases from the dam, combined with the Yampa River flows, will provide the maximum possible flow of water to transport the larval fish.
Reclamation consulted with the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources concerning possible impacts of the releases to the rainbow trout fishery below the dam. While releases during this period will make fishing the river more difficult, no adverse impacts to the fishery are expected.
Meanwhile, Granby Reservoir should fill and spill this year. Here’s a report from Lance Maggart writing for the Sky-Hi Daily News:
Things look to be shaping up nicely in terms of water levels for 2016. The Colorado River District recently hosted a “Grand County State of the River” meeting at Mountain Parks Electric in Granby. During the meeting representatives from the Federal Bureau of Reclamation informed attendees their prediction models indicate Granby Reservoir will physically fill again this year, sometime around the second week of July at which point those administering the water flows will begin bypassing additional water downstream.
Officials expect the massive reservoir to spill slightly, around 1,700 acre-feet of water, right at maximum flow times. Bureau of Reclamation representatives said that if Granby does spill they anticipate moving the excess water through the outlet works for the reservoir’s dam.
So far 2016 has been a fairly average year in terms of precipitation. Reservoirs along the eastern slope of the continental divide are mostly full and transmountain diversions will likely be diminished because of storage levels in places like Horsetooth and Carter Lake Reservoirs.
Willow Creek Reservoir, a relatively small reservoir located just a few miles directly west of Granby Reservoir has seen high levels of runoff already and officials anticipate pumping roughly 40,000 acre-feet of water from Willow Creek into Granby Reservoir this summer. Because of storage limits water from Willow Creek Reservoir is already being bypassed downstream.
Because of the high water levels anticipated for Willow Creek Reservoir and the rest of the Three Lakes Colorado River Collection System officials do not expect to pump any water up from the Windy Gap Reservoir, located west of Granby on US Highway 40 and downstream from Granby Reservoir.
Existing directives from the US Secretary of the Interior require at least 75 cubic feet per second (cfs) of water be released from Granby Reservoir throughout the summer. The Bureau of Reclamation will maintain releases of 75 cfs from Granby Reservoir through October this year as part of the ongoing Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program.
CARBONDALE — In an effort to leave more water in the lower Crystal River in dry years, a growing number of irrigators in the watershed are considering entering into non-diversion agreements and are reviewing ways to deliver water to their crops more efficiently.
The agreements would be a product of discussions surrounding the recently released Crystal River Management Plan, which sets a goal of adding 10 to 25 cubic feet per second of water into the river during moderate and severe drought years.
The additional water could come from paying irrigators to reduce their diversions by 5 to 18 percent, depending on conditions, and by helping irrigators improve irrigation ditches and installing sprinkler systems.
The plan also calls on the town of Carbondale to fix the leaky irrigation ditches it uses to move water from the Crystal River through town and for the town to find ways to get its customers to use less raw water in dry years.
And apparently there is progress quietly being made on the plan’s recommendations.
“We’re really hopeful about this approach and it has had a pretty good response from the folks that we’ve had the opportunity to speak about it with in the agricultural community,” said Seth Mason, the principal hydrologist at Lotic Hydrological in Carbondale, who was the primary consultant on the river management plan.
The plan also cites the potential benefits of a 3,000-acre-foot reservoir at the confluence of Yank Creek and North Thompson Creek, although it notes such a reservoir would cost $9.75 million and it’s not clear who would pay for it.
Today there are 25 water diversions on the main stem and tributaries of the Crystal River and together they can pull up to 433 cfs of water from the river system.
In really dry years, the diversions can leave a section of the lower Crystal disturbingly dry, even if the water is being used to keep fields near Carbondale refreshingly green.
Just how many ranchers and farmers in the Crystal River Valley are now actively weighing their water options is uncertain, as the process to develop the river management plan in concert with local irrigators has largely been conducted in private.
But the acknowledgement section of the Crystal River Management Plan released Thursday does list 12 irrigation ditches among the organizations that “informed and advised” the team that developed the new river management plan.
“A long list of individuals and organizations informed and advised the Project Team throughout the planning process,” the plan states, including “Crystal River water rights holders and agricultural producers, including representatives from the Sweet Jessup Canal, East Mesa Ditch, Lowline Ditch, Ella Ditch, Helms Ditch, Pioneer Ditch, Bowles and Holland Ditch, Rockford Ditch, Carbondale Ditch, Weaver and Leonhardy Ditch, Kaiser and Sievers Ditch, and Southard and Cavanaugh Ditch … ”
No names of any individual ranchers, farmers or ditch company shareholders are included in the plan, but the ditches that are acknowledged account for the majority of diversions from the lower Crystal.
Bill McKee, a rancher and irrigator on the Crystal, has been actively involved in talking with local ranchers about the river management plan and he voiced his support for the plan’s recommendations at Thursday’s public presentation at the Carbondale library meeting room.
“In all our discussions, it’s seen as a good time to strike while the iron is hot,” McKee said.
Drought sparked plan
The planning process for the Crystal River Management Plan started after the drought of 2012 left a section of the Crystal River between Thompson Creek and the state’s fish hatchery, just upvalley of Carbondale proper, with only 1 cubic foot per second of water flowing in it below several diversion structures. That year represented at least a one-in-20-year drought.
(On Saturday, May 28 at 10 a.m. the Crystal was flowing at 851 cfs near the fish hatchery).
“It is a fairly large river channel,” Mason said Thursday. “You can imagine that a channel that size is a pretty astounding sight when there is no water in it.”
During 2012 staffers at the Roaring Fork Conservancy and Colorado Water Trust began talking with ranchers about ways to leave more water in the river.
The Trust eventually reached short-term agreements with seven irrigators to leave water in the river in 2013, which was shaping up to be another drought year. Late-season rains negated the need for the agreements, but the work of the Trust helped provide a foundation for ongoing discussions that shaped the current plan.
The Conservancy then contracted with Mason to develop a technical study of the Crystal River and eventually brought in CDR Associates of Boulder to work with stakeholders. Public Counsel of the Rockies, an Aspen-based nonprofit, also joined the planning process and helped raise funds to pay for the plan.
The process has taken two-and-a-half years and cost over $300,000, said Rick Lofaro, the executive director of Roaring Fork Conservancy.
Before the plan was unveiled Thursday it was vetted by some irrigators, a number of whom are now in active discussions with the Colorado Water Trust about non-diversion agreements, according to Mason.
“There are ongoing conversations that I can’t say too much about,” said Mason, who was able to characterize the conversations both among irrigators and the town as “positive.”
A non-diversion agreement is a tool the Water Trust uses to give irrigators and other water users the option to leave water in rivers under certain conditions and terms, without going through a water court process to change an existing water right.
“Such agreements, which used to present risk to water users under Colorado water law, are now protected by [state] Sen. Gail Schwartz’s bill that passed in the 2013 legislative session, Senate Bill 19,” said Amy Beatie, executive director of the Water Trust.
(Please see a related story, “City considers 10-year agreement to leave more water in the Roaring Fork.”)
Mason helped clarify the situation for many local ranchers with a graphic that illustrates extremely low flows on the lower Crystal in late summer of 2012 in relation to various irrigation ditches.
He also developed a detailed scientific study of the Crystal River watershed and a model that could show what would happen in the river under various scenarios.
During the planning process, it became clear to Mason and other project team members that many local ranchers were not comfortable attending public meetings that included a bevy of professionals from various organizations.
“We did have other folks in the room at a couple points and that did not go the way we wanted it to,” Mason said. “We had some negative reactions to that and we’re very protective of the process. We wanted to make sure that the agricultural community knew that this process wasn’t a process run by folks who didn’t care about their livelihoods or their importance to the local community.”
The project team also learned that there were some threshold questions that needed to be answered.
One question was whether the periodic lack of water in the Crystal was really “the largest constraint on the ecological function,” as Mason put it.
By studying many different aspects of the river, including sediment flows, Mason concluded that yes, having enough water in the lower Crystal River is a key factor in its ecological health.
Another important question posed by stakeholders was, “How much water is enough to make a difference?”
In answering that question, Mason found that using the state’s instream flow right of 100 cfs in summer on the Crystal below Avalanche Creek as a planning goal was unacceptable to local ranchers.
“The agriculture community was not interested in talking about the state’s instream flow as the benchmark for ecosystem health,” Mason said.
He explained that the 100 cfs figure, which the state adopted in 1975 as the amount of water needed to protect the environment of the Crystal “to a reasonable degree,” was tied to average conditions, not drought conditions, and was therefore unlikely to be met in a really dry year.
What was acceptable to water users was working toward a “moderate,” but not “optimal,” level of flow between between Thompson Creek and the fish hatchery during one-in-five-year and one-in-ten-year droughts.
They also, notably, did not set a goal of reaching moderate flows in a one-in-20-year drought, such as 2012.
Mason concluded that during a severe one-in-10-year drought, an “optimal” flow level in the targeted stretch of river was 55 cfs, and a “moderate” flow level was 44 to 55 cfs.
During a one-in-five-year drought, he found the optimal flow level was 58 and moderate flow level ranged from 46 to 51 cfs.
To fill the expected gap between low river levels and the targeted moderate flow levels, the plan calls for 25 cfs to be left in the river from non-diversion agreements in a 1-in-10-year drought, and for 10 to 15 cfs to be left in the river in a one-in-five-year drought.
The plan states that stakeholders “indicated tolerance for moderate ecosystem risk under average to moderate drought conditions.”
Range of options
After developing a solid scientific foundation and a model to help answer “what if” questions, Mason then developed options for each major irrigator on the Crystal.
These ditch-by-ditch options are not included in the plan, but Mason has been working with willing irrigators to help them understand how a non-diversion agreement might work for them, especially if they are joined by other water users.
The plan also calls on the town of Carbondale to take steps to reduce its diversions from the river, along with the agricultural community.
“Carbondale does have a few big ditches that move quite a bit of water from the river,” Mason said. “That water supports all the lovely large trees that we see down here that wouldn’t be here normally.”
Those steps include lining more of the town’s irrigation ditches to prevent leaking of water and using market forces to curtail use of raw water in dry years.
The new Crystal River Management Plan could be a potential model that could be used to develop other stream management plans, as the state’s recently released Colorado Water Plans calls for such plans on 80 percent of the state’s rivers.
James Eklund, the director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board, which produced the state water plan, complimented the planning process in the Crystal River valley.
“Our quick read says that this plan is based on sound science, examined viable alternatives, and engaged many stakeholders,” Eklund said Friday when asked for comment. “Continued collaboration with water users is required in order to implement effective solutions, but the Crystal River is headed in the right direction.”
Editor’s note: Aspen Journalism, the Aspen Daily News and Coyote Gulch are collaborating on coverage of rivers and water. The Daily News published this story on Sunday, May 29, 2016.
Pitkin County agreed to an intergovernmental agreement last week with the city of Aspen to expedite a study that aims to assess the health of the Roaring Fork River from its origin high atop Independence Pass down to where it meets Maroon Creek.
The $200,000 Upper Roaring Fork River management plan will be funded evenly by the two entities, and address feasible changes to improve the river ecosystem’s health including return flows to keep water levels up. The project will last roughly 15 months, ending in July 2017.
The project will focus on the river’s health; assess the community’s values and expectations; and look into river management objectives during periods of critical flow, a county memo noted. The goal of the study is to improve water quality, recreational opportunities, riparian habitat, and the overall health of the river and surrounding ecosystem.
John Ely, county attorney, said the study will look at water rights and development potential to “assess the ability to coordinate the competing interests to improve or enhance the health of the upper Roaring Fork.”
The study will cover river health from Independence Lake to just below Maroon Creek.
Ely said the county’s $100,000 will be contributed from both the Open Space and Trails and Healthy Rivers and Streams funds. Both of those entities’ boards are supportive of the project and related costs.
April Long, stormwater manager for the city and project manager for the endeavor, told the commissioners that a goal is to determine “realistic view of river health” for the community.
“The health of this section of the Roaring Fork has been on the city’s mind for quite a while now,” she said. “We’ve developed a pretty substantial stormwater management program to improve the runoff from the city areas and from private development before it gets into the river.”
Long added that other issues the river faces include degraded riparian areas and the lack of water during critical times of the year.
“In drought years, like we saw in 2002 and 2012, this section of the river can almost run dry,” she said. “It runs dry enough for you to walk across it without getting your feet wet. That has significant impacts for our aquatic life.”
Long added that the project will have benefits to the entire area, and not just within the city of Aspen. She said stakeholder opinions will be sought to determine what constitutes a healthy river.
Carbondale-based Lotic Hydrological, which recently completed a management plan on the Crystal River, has been hired as consultant for the project.
Long added that all prior river data will be utilized in the study.
“This isn’t a restudy of what is a healthy river, this is using all of the information that comes from different consultants [and county studies],” she said. “Given that everybody thinks there’s these different pieces that make a healthy river, what is actually realistic? What can we make change on? … We want the community to understand that these are the opportunities for a healthy river.”
Commissioner George Newman noted that the county doesn’t want to simply match the current state minimum standards for a healthy river.
“They’re probably woefully [inept] and not going to really address our vision in terms of what makes up or determines a healthy river or stream,” he said.
Long said that while the state’s minimum standards are not viewed as being too low, the community may have higher standards.
“It may be that our community believes we should be striving for more,” she said. “This would actually look at not just striving for more, but what can we actually get done. We may not even be able to meet the minimum in-stream flow at times, therefore what should we be striving for if we can’t get even to that? What is realistic that we can get to?”
The commissioners unanimously approved the emergency ordinance, 3-0.
“For a variety of different events beyond anybody’s control, we were kind of behind the eight ball in getting the project up and running,” Ely said of the ordinance. “If we were to wait and put this on a normal schedule, we’d be further behind.”
He added that even though the terms of the IGA haven’t yet been finalized, it was best to act now.
“At least we have immediate expression of commitment to the project,” Ely said.
The IGA will return before the BOCC for a public hearing on June 22.
Projects to clean up Fountain Creek will resume this fall, after danger of flooding has subsided.
At least two projects are anticipated. One would remove debris from the channel between Eighth Street and Colorado 47, while the other would reconstruct the access road and embankment on a side detention pond behind the North Side Walmart.
“Getting debris out of the channel is the first priority,” said Jeff Bailey, Pueblo stormwater manager. “The debris that gets in there can cause havoc, and it’s the reason we lost the embankment.”
Work will have to wait until water goes down and there’s less danger of flooding.
“We’re in the flood season, and you don’t want to have equipment sitting in the creek if something happens,” Bailey said. “Also, in the summer, the vegetation is thick and your equipment can overheat. We’ll wait until the flows go down.”
The city has started cleaning up debris north of the Colorado 47 bridge, in order to reduce the chances that the detention pond could be further damaged. Some of the trees obstructing the Eighth Street bridge also were removed, although sediment still is clogging portals under the bridge.
The dredging will get a boost from a $279,000 project funded by Pueblo County, the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District, the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District and the Colorado Water Conservation Board. Pueblo County and the Lower Ark are chipping in $100,000 each; Fountain, $74,000; and the state $5,000.
The project is the brainchild of Jay Winner, general manager of the Lower Ark district, and is similar to a project at North La Junta on the Arkansas River. The idea is to temporarily clear the channel at relatively little cost.
“It shouldn’t cost millions of dollars for routine maintenance,” Winner said. “What we will find, if we can get rid of the debris, is that we will pass the water through more quickly without flooding and get the water downstream to farmers.”
Long-term projects can be more costly, such as the Army Corps of Engineers’ $750,000 project to fortify Fountain Creek at the railroad tracks near 13th Street. That project rebuilt an earlier $500,000 project that began to wash out during last year’s floods. The detention pond and a sediment collector that were installed in 2011 as demonstration projects cost $1.5 million and are not working well.
Bailey is not sure how $3 million in payments over three years from Colorado Springs Utilities would be used. Under the April stormwater agreement between Colorado Springs and Pueblo County, the money is available if it is matched by the city of Pueblo. Pueblo can use $1.8 million previously paid to the county by Utilities for its share of the match.
“I have a pretty good idea of the types of projects: to recertify the levee, and for removal of debris, vegetation and silt,” Bailey said. “I want to make darned sure we’re using it for the purposes it was intended for in the right way.”
Click here to go to the website. Here’s an excerpt:
The Grand County Learning By Doing Cooperative Effort (LBD) is a unique partnership of East and West Slope water stakeholders in Colorado.
LBD emerged from the Colorado River Cooperative Agreement, a five-year negotiation that became effective in 2013 and will be fully implemented with the successful construction of the Moffat Collection System and Windy Gap Firming Project. The agreement establishes a long-term partnership between Denver Water and Colorado’s West Slope, including several water utilities, nonprofit organizations and government agencies.
A Governance Committee oversees the LBD activities, with one voting member from each of these organizations:
Colorado Parks and Wildlife
Colorado River District
Middle Park Water Conservancy District
Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District
A Technical Committee, made up of representatives from the Governance organizations, as well as government agencies, regional water utilities and other partners, advises on LBD efforts and activities.
Here’s the release from Colorado Communities for Climate Action (Stephen Saunders):
Nine Colorado communities, from large to small and east to west, have banded together to push for more action to tackle climate change at the state and federal levels. Colorado Communities for Climate Action (CC4CA) is this state’s first consortium to represent municipalities and counties in advocating state and federal actions providing the authorities, tools, and policy frameworks that communities need to reduce heat-trapping emissions enough to meet local climate-protection goals and help stabilize our climate.
The nine local governments serving as the founding members of CC4CA are Boulder County, the City of Fort Collins, the City of Boulder, Eagle County, the City of Golden, Pitkin County, San Miguel County, the City of Aspen, and the Town of Vail. On the day of its launch, the coalition already represents one-ninth of all Coloradans. Other local governments are considering joining the coalition, and those numbers are expected to grow.
Boulder County Commissioner Elise Jones said, “Colorado has so much at risk from extreme weather, drought, and wildfires that we need to do more at every level of government to protect our public health and safety, environment, and quality of life. This new coalition will unite the voices of counties, cities, and towns to bring about the policies and support we need from the state and federal government so we can take care of our local communities and local residents.”
Jackie Kozak Thiel, chief sustainability officer for the City of Fort Collins, said, “Fort Collins has some of the nation’s most ambitious greenhouse gas reduction goals in the country, and we will be more successful as a region with state and federal support. We can make a difference to build resiliency in our communities if we collaborate to align action and policies, as well as share best practices with other jurisdictions and learn from each other.”
Boulder Mayor Suzanne Jones said, ““The best way for local governments to achieve change at the state and federal levels is to work collectively to promote a shared policy agenda. supported by many communities. This type of collaboration provides much greater influence than any of our individual governments would have on our own.”
Eagle County Commissioner and board chair Jeanne McQueeney said, “At the local level, we need a better, more effective framework of state and federal climate policies that support our efforts. Our local climate actions should be part of a coordinated, overall approach to climate change.”
CC4CA is guided by a steering committee comprised of representatives of member local governments and administered by the Rocky Mountain Climate Organization, a nonprofit group with 12 years of experience working with Colorado local governments on climate change policy. The coalition has retained Frontline Public Affairs to represent it before the General Assembly and other state and federal offices, and is reviewing proposals from law firms to represent it before the Colorado Public Utilities Commission.
Colorado leaders from Fort Collins, Boulder, Vail, Golden, Aspen and four counties feeling impacts of climate change formed a political bloc this week to prod state and federal governments to act more aggressively to cut emissions of heat-trapping gases.
The locals demand swifter implementation of a national Clean Power Plan, better public transit, denser housing that discourages driving, cleaner sources of electricity, tougher vehicle miles-per-gallon standards and bigger paybacks for residents who switch to electric vehicles.
“Colorado has so much at risk from extreme weather, drought and wildfires that we need to do more at every level of government to protect our public health and safety, environment and quality of life,” Boulder County Commissioner Elise Jones said.
The launch of Colorado Communities for Climate Action (CC4CA) reflects rising local concerns about the greenhouse gases that scientists link to global warming. Colorado has faced increasingly ruinous wildfires, floods, forest die-offs, heat waves and water supply challenges as snowfall shifts to rain.
Particularly in snow-dependent resorts, elected officials say they’re hearing more from residents bracing for economic consequences.
“We’re really worried about the effects of warming on the ski industry. We think this is going to change the ski industry for the worse,” said Pitkin County Commissioner Steve Child, a CC4CA steering committee member. “We need to address climate change any way we can.”
The nine bloc members hired a lobbying firm to pressure state lawmakers and engage state agencies. They plan to hire a lawyer to represent local interests before the Public Utilities Commission, which decides matters such as how much homeowners can benefit by installing solar panels.
More cities will join, said Stephen Saunders, president of the Rocky Mountain Climate Organization, a nonprofit supporting the bloc. CC4CA members aim to communicate more with the governor to ensure an aggressive state policy, Saunders said.
Decision-making is based on consensus, and members are planning a retreat to hash out a strategy. While climate change results from global processes, members said, locals feel the impact and may be most able to slow climate change.
“The real levers to reduce greenhouse gas emissions are at the local level. We do the land use, the transportation,” said Jackie Kozak Thiel, chief sustainability officer for Fort Collins.
From the Colorado Water Conservation Board (Tracy Kosloff):
Cooler than average temperatures & wet conditions across most of Colorado has eliminated most D0, abnormally dry, conditions since late April. Only 3.8% of the state is currently experiencing D0 conditions. Recent storms improved snowpack in the central mountains and have brought much needed moisture to the Southwest basins. The forecast over the next two weeks shows continued cool temperatures and more chances for precipitation. The long term CPC forecast predicts a wet and cool first half of the summer changing to warm and dry conditions going into the fall.
Statewide water year to-date precipitation as reported from NRCS is at 137% of average as of May 25, with the west slope benefiting from late April & May storms receiving up to 4 inches in certain areas.
Reservoir storage statewide remains above normal at 112%. The Arkansas basin has the highest storage levels in the state at 118% of average; the Upper Rio Grande has the lowest storage levels at 91%, just slightly below normal although the basin has been steadily improving since 2013.
The Surface Water Supply Index (SWSI) as of May 25th is near or above average across the majority of the state. At this time of year the index reflects reservoir storage and streamflow forecasts. May storms have helped increase SWSI values in the Southwest & Rio Grande basins.
May 1st streamflow forecasts are near normal to above normal in the northern half of the state and mostly below average in the southern half of the state. Due to May storms that have benefited the Southwest basin, the June 1 streamflow forecast should see more improvement.
Agricultural producers are experiencing a decent year so far benefiting from lower temperatures and higher humidity from statewide storms. Corn & bean planting is slightly below average at this time of year.
…a year after “Miracle May,” the Arkansas Valley has left Cloud 9, and again will settle for a Cloud 5 or 6 and hopefully not plunge to earth again. Rainfall and snowpack are looking good this year, both still above average. More waves of rain or snow keep arriving every other week or so.
But over the long term, the basin still is catching up when it comes to water storage. A graph, presented by the Natural Resources Conservation Service at April’s state drought task force meeting, shows that overall storage poked its nose above average along the Arkansas River only twice in 15 years. Two multi-year droughts and a decline in usable storage space were to blame.
Spoiled in the ’90s
The wet years from 1995-99 created the largest surplus of stored water yet observed in the Arkansas River basin. At times, there more than 600,000 acre-feet — enough to supply Pueblo’s basic needs for 20 years — in storage.
The decade was a great time for optimism all along the Arkansas River.
In the upper reaches a new state recreation area was getting off the ground and the rafting industry, bolstered by a voluntary agreement to keep water in the river during early summer, was growing.
Kiowa County pushed hard to create a state park around the Great Plains reservoirs that are usually empty.
The Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District was drawing up plans to study where to put even more water, after the state fended off challenges by Kansas over increased storage in Lake Pueblo and Trinidad Lake.
The Bureau of Reclamation bolstered Pueblo Dam, for safety reasons and for the possibility of enlarging the storage space behind it. There was so much water that some of it was released intentionally in order to fortify the concrete center portion of the dam.
Crash of 2000s
But Mother Nature turned off the spigot in 2000, acting much like a homeowner who decides to just let the lawn die. There was a swing of 1 million acre-feet, from 750,000 acre-feet above average to 250,000 acre-feet below in just three years. On top of that, in 2005, the U.S. Geological Survey determined there was also a soil moisture deficit of 1 million acre-feet over the same time span.
The tone of water discussions changed dramatically, beginning in 2002.
Those arguing for increased storage said building more storage would ease the pain and allow water users to survive the swings in drought. Colorado Springs, Aurora and Pueblo put in water restrictions in 2002. Aurora, which fought for and won storage space as an outsider, made its restrictions permanent and built its Prairie Waters system to reuse its water from other basins.
But others weren’t sure the increased storage would just take more water from agriculture to fuel urban growth.
Voters in five counties formed the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District for the purpose of preventing the cities from grabbing even more water, as Aurora was doing by buying up most of the remaining shares of the Rocky Ford Ditch it had left behind in the 1980s.
The sense of urgency diminished, PSOP led to a battle royale between, at times, 11 entities that ended in a draw in 2007.
Water planners faced the prospect of a refill of reservoirs that would take years, and dove into a statewide discussion, through basin roundtables and the Interbasin Compact Committee, about how to conserve, share and build Colorado out of a drought.
At the same time, the Arkansas River basin continued to lose storage.
Some reservoirs have been put under restrictions for dam safety reasons and are expensive and difficult to renovate. Colorado Parks and Recreation is renovating Two Buttes Reservoir south of Lamar, while a private developer has a plan to rebuild Cucharas Reservoir southeast of Pueblo.
Others have been restricted for insufficient water rights, such as Lance Verhoeff’s small reservoirs that serve as bird and wildlife preserves on private land near McClave. Finding water to store in the reservoirs has been problematic. In Pueblo, Lake Minnequa was made into a city park, but required intervention by Pueblo Water and the Lower Ark district to retain water during dry years.
Finally, all reservoirs eventually lose capacity because of silt. Capacity at Lake Pueblo, for instance was downgraded last year after a study showed where sediment has filled areas on the lake bed.
Yet, there is the possibility that more dams could be built in the future.
Several projects are already on the drawing board. They are expensive, however, and take years of planning.
Excavation already is already underway at Stonewall Springs east of Pueblo, a site that could be used for recovery storage by cities, wildlife or downstream supply.
The Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District is looking at the possibility of a flood control dam on Fountain Creek. It’s not envisioned as a primary storage project, but some models have incorporated storage.
Colorado Springs Utilities has plans for two dams on Williams Creek, a tributary of Fountain Creek located south of the city, one for terminal storage for Southern Delivery System and the other to regulate return flows.
Pueblo Water has plans to more than double the size of Clear Creek Reservoir, south of Leadville.
Just one hurdle to overcome: Where to find the water to fill them?
The City of Fort Collins is hosting a regional water collaboration workshop for water providers serving the City’s Growth Management Area (GMA), including Fort Collins Utilities, East Larimer County Water District (ELCO) and Fort Collins-Loveland Water District (FCLWD), Tuesday, May 31, 4-8 p.m., Lincoln Center, 417 W. Magnolia St., Fort Collins.
This workshop is focused on recognizing opportunities and discussion will identify needs over the next 20 to 50 years that can be cooperatively addressed. Plans show Fort Collins is expected to grow to approximately 250,000 people in that timeframe, offering a compelling reason to address water needs of the entire area.
The City anticipates approximately 25 attendees, including Fort Collins City Council, professional staff from Fort Collins Utilities, and board members and professional staff from ELCO and FCLWD. This is a public listening session.
Note: Because members of City Council may attend this event, it is being regarded as a meeting of the City Council and is open to the public. While no formal action by Council will be taken, the discussion of public business may occur.
For more information, contact Water Resources and Treatment Operations Manager Carol Webb at email@example.com or 970-221-6231 or V/TDD 711.
Authorities remained on alert after about a third of the water in the pond at the top of the West Salt Creek landslide burst out early Friday morning, ripping a deep gorge down the middle of the 3-mile-long slide.
About 120 acre-feet of water rushed out of the pond about 2:30 a.m. after a snowstorm brewed up suddenly, according to authorities who sent out a plane at first light to survey the pond and assess any damages…
The pulse of water from the so-called “sag pond” ran down West Salt Creek toward Plateau Creek and then into the Colorado River several days at least before Vega Reservoir was expected to top into its spillway into Plateau Creek, authorities said.
No shifting of the slide block accompanied the sudden rush of water, alleviating fears that a water release might trigger another landslide.
“This is what we were hoping for, in all honesty,” said Pete Baier, Mesa County’s deputy administrator for operations…
Rather than flow over the dam and then cut downward, it appears that the water found a pathway out of the pond well below the top, said Garrett Jackson, a dam-safety engineer for the state Division of Water Resources.
As the water escaped, it undercut the top of the block, collapsing it and sweeping it downstream in the sudden surge.
Photos of the rushing stream show it white as it falls steeply, only turning turbid as it slows.
That shows, “It’s not a new landslide,” Jackson said.
Tenmile Creek is the polar opposite of Water World.
Down on Pecos Street in Denver, the largest water park in Colorado is gearing up for the summer season with water slides, wave pools and everything else you’d expect at a manmade water playground. There are dangers to be sure, but everything at Water World is overseen by well-trained lifeguards and managed by tons upon tons of machinery, all designed to keep guests as safe as possible. All you need is sunscreen and a decent breaststroke.
In Summit County, the early-summer scene is entirely different. On Tenmile Creek — the waterway found just outside of Frisco on the shoulder of Interstate 70 — whitewater rafting seems just as enticing as Cowabunga Beach and Turtle Bay in suburban Denver. The river is flowing at 247 cubic feet per second, which is relatively low compared to the May 27 average of 407 cfs. In other words, Tenmile is lower and friendlier than usual, at least on paper, and experienced kayakers are anxious for the true start of a stellar whitewater season.
From the Glenwood Springs Post Independent (Ryan Hoffman):
Conditions in the Upper Colorado River Basin, particularly in Colorado, are OK for the time being, officials said Wednesday during a “state of the river” address in Rifle.
However, the largest of several caveats to that statement falls in the context of the entire Colorado River Basin, specifically the lower basin, where water use continues to outpace supply.
Additionally, good flows and filling reservoirs in the Centennial state and in other areas of the upper basin — a region that includes western Colorado, eastern Utah, a sliver of Arizona and portions of Wyoming and New Mexico — are a sign that drier conditions loom in the future.
The combination of the two could lead to reductions in water usage, Eric Kuhn, general manager of the Colorado River Water Conservation District, said Wednesday.
The statement was not a prediction, Kuhn added, but a call for preparedness.
The cautionary note comes at a peculiar time basinwide.
“So right now … you’re … reading a lot of things about what’s going on in Arizona and the drought in California, the lower basin states are using too much water and they’re having to cut back — all of that is true,” Kuhn said. “But we’re kind of in an interesting situation. In Colorado conditions are OK to wet.”
Snowpack for the Upper Colorado River Basin was at 118 percent of average as of May 24, according to provisional SNOTEL data from the Natural Resources Conservation Service.
While the basinwide snowpack is less than the past two years, it is not “too far off normal,” said Nolan Doesken, Colorado state climatologist.
A streamflow forecast from NRCS predicts most of the Upper Colorado River Basin will hover around 100 percent of average May through July. And, Colorado’s reservoir storage statewide at the end of April was 112 percent of average.
Operations at two smaller storage reservoirs for the Upper Colorado River Basin, Green Mountain Reservoir in Summit County and Ruedi Reservoir east of Basalt, reflect average conditions, according to Victor Lee, hydrologic engineer for the Bureau of Reclamation’s eastern Colorado area office.
Green Mountain is expected to fill around July 10, and Ruedi is expected to fill around July 15.
While Colorado is looking “pretty darn good,” as Kuhn said, trouble lies downstream, where the combined storage in two of the nation’s largest reservoirs is declining.
Specifically, Lake Mead continues to see a drop in its water level to the point of a historic low. Water from Lake Powell has been released to stem Mead’s decline. A forecast from the Bureau of Reclamation predicts 9 million acre-feet of water could be released from Lake Powell in 2016 to help Lake Mead.
The problem, Kuhn said, is the demand in the lower basin is outpacing supply.
Numbers, shared Wednesday night, for Lake Mead’s water budget show an inflow of 9 million acre-feet, while outflow is 9.6 million AF. Evaporation claims another 0.6 million AF, which leads to a total deficit of 1.2 million AF.
While there has been a great deal of attention paid to the word “drought,” Kuhn said conditions on the Colorado River have mostly been stable since 2005.
“I would argue we’re not in a drought in the Colorado River Basin as a precipitation drought,” he said. “We may be in a drought because the demand exceeds supply in the system, especially in the lower basin.”
Should conditions worsen, it would exacerbate the situation.
As for when exactly conditions will worsen is uncertain, but Doesken said it could be right around the corner.
“This year we’re just cooking along as pleasant as can be, but what do you know about drought,” he asked. “It is always around the corner, so the longer we have little drought on the map the sooner we’ll be back into the next drought. … I guess I’d say that is a prediction.”
The third annual Poudre RiverFest will combine music, food, beer and environmentally focused activities at Fort Collins’ Legacy Park on Saturday, June 4.
The free event will take place from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Festival organizers are still seeking volunteers.
The festival, a revamped version of the annual Poudre cleanup that took place in the ’90s and ’00s, will include activities that highlight the river’s role as a habitat for wildlife, a recreation area and a source of clean drinking water. Educational and volunteer activities are planned throughout the day, and a celebration with live music, food and a beer garden will begin at 11 a.m. Performers will include Justin Roth, Grant Farm, and Mama Lenny and the Remedy.
Organizers anticipate an attendance of about 5,000 people, up from about 2,000 last year.
Eight area organizations are putting on the festival: Save the Poudre, Sustainable Living Association, Bird Conservancy of the Rockies, Synergy Ecological Restoration, National Association for Interpretation, Coalition for the Poudre River Watershed, CSU Environmental Learning Center and Wildlands Restoration Volunteers.
Anyone interested in volunteering at the festival should visit poudreriverfest.org/volunteer. Volunteers receive a T-shirt, one free beer at the event and a $5 Avogadro’s Number gift card. Volunteer orientation will take place at New Belgium on June 1 at 5:30 p.m.
Running just above 6 feet, the river is still comfortably below its 10-foot flood level in Fort Collins, though flows remain well above average for this time of year. Thursday, the Poudre River gauge in Fort Collins recorded 1,930 cubic feet per second, almost three times the average for the site. Late-season snowfall has meant a higher-than-usual snowpack this year, which can cause the river to rise quickly. The South Platte River Basin is at 139 percent of the average snowpack for this date, Huse said.
FromThe Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Gary Harmon):
Authorities are monitoring the pond atop the land that tipped in toward Grand Mesa in a major landslide two years ago, watching for signs that it could spill over as the high country snowmelt increases.
Mesa County and other officials went to a level of heightened awareness a week ago, as what is known as the “sag pond” filled with snowmelt, said Pete Baier, the county’s deputy administrator for operations.
“We’re entering into uncharted territory here for the next few days,” Baier said on Thursday.
The pond is filling to the point that it is as high as it was last year, when there was concern it might spill, “and there’s still snow up there to melt,” Baier said.
The nearly 3-mile-long landslide of 39 million cubic feet of rock and debris slid down the West Salt Creek drainage on May 25, 2014, engulfing three men — father and son Clancy and Dan Nichols and Wes Hawkins — who were working to clear an irrigation ditch in the drainage.
The water in the sag pond passed the 20-foot depth mark and the question isn’t so much whether it grows higher, but whether it suddenly falls, Baier said.
With that possibility in mind, the county alerted Collbran and Plateau Valley officials, as well as state and federal authorities, about the status of the pond.
The next step — alerting residents that they should be prepared to move — will depend on a variety of factors, such as a shift in the block still clinging to the side of the mesa, a new source of water running into the pond, or a large thunderstorm headed toward the slide, Baier said.
A shift or break could result in an evacuation of downstream residences.
The pond holds about 400 acre-feet of water and no one knows how long it can be contained, or what might happen should it suddenly release, carrying with it tons of mud, rock and debris.
Heavy rains two years ago soaked the soils as the snowmelt geared up, setting the stage for the slide.
There’s no prediction of rain, but there is more snow atop the mesa than there was two years ago, Baier said.
Mesa County authorities have raised the alert level at the site of the massive West Salt Creek landslide near Collbran because of increased spring runoff.
The county said Friday it has initiated a Level Two response to its emergency preparedness action plan, advising residents in the area to be prepared to evacuate.
A pond at the landslide area released water and cut a new drainage channel Thursday evening.
“Mesa County Sheriff deputies are contacting people who live nearby in addition to reverse 911 notifications,” the county said in a news release. “Road and Bridge equipment is being staged in Collbran as well as thousands of sand bags in the event flooding becomes an issue.”
The 2.8-mile-long West Salt Creek landslide on the Grand Mesa on May 25, 2014, was the longest such slide in Colorado history. It killed three men.
Worries of another catastrophe have persisted in the slide’s wake, particularly last spring, when heavy rains prompted warnings. The main risk, officials say, is in early spring as snowmelt travels down the slide area.
Water that has collected in a depression near the top of the slide has created a “sag pond,” which continues to spark fears among geologists of another catastrophe.
In October 2015, the Colorado Geological Survey said conditions remain at the West Salt Creek area that could prompt another disaster of comparable magnitude.
The highest alert level for the landslide area is Level Three.
“The alert level was raised because the pond spilled over the slump block at the head of West Salt Creek early (last Friday) morning,” said Jeffrey Coe, a research geologist with the U.S. Geological Survey who has studied the slide. “There was some local flooding near the toe of the landslide. A flood watch was issued for areas downstream. But from everything that I have heard so far, the impact to downstream areas has been minimal.”
Coe’s research showed the initial deadly slide was caused by a rainstorm over melting snowpack in the area, triggering a series of events that led to the disaster.
The county said Friday that an initial water surge made it through Collbran without overflowing the banks of Plateau Creek. There have been no signs of land movement.
“Right now the landslide is doing what we want and expect it to do,” the county said. “However, if Mother Nature decides to take more land down, we want residents to be ready to evacuate.”
Officials say they have a team flying over the area that will monitor the conditions.
The San Luis Valley in southern Colorado is an 8,000-square-mile expanse of farmland speckled with potato, alfalfa, barley and quinoa fields between the San Juan and Sangre de Cristo mountain ranges. Only about 7 inches of rain fall each year in the San Luis Valley. But while farmers and ranchers can’t depend on moisture above ground, they make up the difference beneath it. The valley is underlain by a vast aquifer, which is punctured by more than 6,000 wells that pump water onto the valley’s crops and supports the livelihoods of 46,000 residents.
For generations, the aquifer provided enough water to sustain the arid farming community. But beginning in 2002, a multi-year drought shrunk the nearby streams and water table. Farmers and ranchers began to notice the falling levels of the Rio Grande and the rapidly draining aquifer. Some wells throughout the valley abruptly stopped working.
The aquifer dwindled so much that the Closed Basin Project, a Bureau of Reclamation pumping effort that had long met downstream water diversions and delivered flows to the Rio Grande River to maintain the Alamosa National Wildlife Refuge, failed to convey enough water to the valley’s farms and ranches. “We operate in a highly over-appropriated system,” says Cleave Simpson, manager of the Rio Grande Water Conservation District, the main water management entity in the San Luis Valley. “Agriculture had overgrown and far outstretched water supply.”
Without change, state water regulators could shut off thousands of wells. So the valley’s farmers and ranchers, unlike other agriculture communities in the West, did something nearly unprecedented: They decided not to ignore the problem.
In 2006, the Rio Grande Water Conservation District and San Luis Valley water users created the sub-district project, an innovative solution for solving water problems. The plan would charge farmers and ranchers $75 per acre-foot for the groundwater they pumped, and in turn use the funds to pay farmers to fallow portions of their fields, limiting demand on the water supply, as High County News reported in 2013. The experiment began at sub-district 1, the valley’s largest of six sub-districts, which sits at the heart of the San Luis Valley in aptly named Centre, just west of the Great Sand Dunes National Park.
Today, four years into the operation of the project after it launched in 2012, the aquifer is rebounding. Water users in sub-district 1 have pumped one-third less water, down to about 200,000 acre feet last year compared to more than 320,000 before the project. Area farmers have fallowed 10,000 acres that once hosted thirsty alfalfa or potato crops. Since a low point in 2013, the aquifer has recovered nearly 250,000 acre-feet of water. By 2021, the sub-district project plans to fallow a total of 40,000 acres, unless the ultimate goal of rebounding the aquifer can be reached through other conservation efforts, like improving soil quality and rotating to more efficient crops.
The plan’s proponents say it provides a template for groundwater management in other arid communities whose agricultural economies are imperiled by drought. “The residents of the valley know that they are in this together, and that the valley has overgrown the water available to us,” says Craig Cotten, Almosa-based division engineer for the Colorado Division of Water Resources. “This is a water user-led solution, which makes it unique. I really think this can be a model.”
Crucially, the plan is state-mandated, which requires everyone to either participate in a district, fallow their fields or work with water engineers to develop their own augmentation plans, which in turn need to be approved by state water courts. Those choices — paying premiums for groundwater or scaling down operations significantly — have been tough for farmers. Nevertheless, Simpson says the valley’s water users have gotten on board. “It’s not comfortable but most everyone has really come forward,” Simpson says. “It’s a bit of a paradigm shift for farmers who are individualistic and don’t typically work together — but by necessity they realize that we will bankrupt ourselves if we continue to stretch our water resource.”
But water users in the San Luis Valley have also gone beyond the call of duty, says Heather Dutton, manager of the San Luis Valley Water Conservancy District. While the SLVWCD helps include users in its augmentation plan as an alternative to joining the sub-district project, Dutton says that few water users have gone that route. That’s partly because farmers and ranchers themselves have helped create the sub-district rules, through participating in public meetings and getting involved with the board of managers. “This has been a good exercise in self-governance,” Dutton says. “It’s been a success story in people coming together and trying things that my grandpa’s era would have thought were crazy.”
Although sub-district 1 has proved a success, the broader sub-district project remains in its fledging stages. In March, Colorado District Court in Rio Grande County mandated that sub-district 2, a cluster of a hundred or so wells between Monte Vista and Del Norte, unroll as phase two of the program. The second district is currently forming a board of managers to develop official rules for farmers and ranchers within the territory. The Rio Grande Water Conservation District is still working with valley residents to implement the remaining four sub-districts.
Still, the project’s first phase has been encouraging for residents. Patrick O’Neill grew up in Central California’s San Joaquin Valley and first came to the San Luis Valley in 1998 to work as an intern at Agro Engineering, a consulting company. Though he later returned to his family farm in California, he came to feel that the Central Valley, built on its own wasteful groundwater use, was not sustainable. He returned to the San Luis Valley in 2005, where he now owns Soil Health Services in Alamosa and works with area farmers and ranchers to improve soil health. “I chose this place in a very deliberate way for my home because there’s potential for putting our water system back into balance,” O’Neill says. “People here are much more conscious of how much water they are using.”
The Interbasin Compact Committee continued its ongoing discussion about Colorado water rights and river basins at a meeting Tuesday in Salida.
The IBCC was founded through the Colorado Water for the 21st Century Act to lead conversations and address issues about Colorado’s water.
The Upper Arkansas Water Conservancy District hosted the event and kicked off the meeting with a presentation by the Arkansas River Basin PEPO (Public Education, Participation and Outreach) Workgroup, led by Chelsey Nutter and Jean Van Pelt.
They explained four tasks they are working on, including participation and partnership building, focusing specifically on the Arkansas Basin area for education.
Their second task is to develop a Water 101 presentation for education, and they are currently working on a documentary about water and the Arkansas Basin.
Their third task is to help facilitate communication among the Arkansas Basin Roundtable, the Colorado Water Conservancy Board, the IBCC and the public, by integrating the information gathered into public outreach forums.
Finally, they are working to market the Arkansas Basin by designing a mission, logo and online resources, including a website and a Facebook presence.
Bob Randell, an attorney with the IBCC, discussed the Colorado Supreme Court decision earlier this month, in which BP America Production Co. will be refunded millions in oil and gas severance taxes.
Randell explained that the refunded taxes will have a direct effect on Colorado general funds and Department of Local Affairs grants, which will not be adding any additional money to 2016 and 2017 Tier 2 programs.
Sean Cronin, the South Platte River Basin representative, spoke about how that will affect the Water Supply Reserve Account.
“With demand outpacing supply, we will have to maximize our limited dollars,” Cronin said. “We want to provide folks with confidence that we are using WSRA funds as effectively as possible.”
Cronin said some of the options they have been looking at to help the program include:
• Looking at other grant deed programs for ideas.
• Considering how money is spent to hire contractors.
• Looking at financial need analysis for applicants, with a sliding scale depending on financial stability.
• Encouraging match requirements.
• Considering holding back a percentage of funds until progress reports on projects have been turned in and reviewed.
During the Lean Process update, Eric Kuhn, an appointee to the IBCC by the governor, raised a point about the difficulty with working with different parties on a project.
“Sometimes we miss the biggest concern,” Kuhn said, “trying to do something with a complex project. When you have two major entities with a lack of consensus, you hope it works out, because the permitting process only works as long as people agree on it.”
Becky Mitchell with the IBCC responded, saying, “What we came up with out of the Lean Process is that the state won’t jump into those kinds of situations.”
Cronin also said he had heard it wasn’t so much a problem in other parts of the country, only Colorado.
“I did hear that Colorado has had special circumstances, but that it is common among Western states, but we’re not the worst,” Mitchell said.
The committee also debated an idea of placing a tax on drinking liquid containers, from children’s juice boxes to cans of soda, as a possible source for the additional funding.
No decisions on the tax were made, but it was jokingly said that Colorado would need a drought for a tax like that to go through.
Paolo Bacigalupi is a Hugo award-winning author of The Water Knife. Bacigalupi’s writing has appeared in Wired magazine, High Country News, OnEarth magazine,The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, Asimov’s Science Fiction magazine and on Salon.com.
Kathleen Curry is a Colorado native and rancher who served in the Colorado Legislature from 2005 to 2010. Prior to serving in the Legislature, she managed the Upper Gunnison River Water Conservancy District.
Roger Fragua of Jemez Pueblo in New Mexico has dedicated his professional career to the advancement and development of American Indian communities. Roger is currently the president of Cota Holdings LLC and ndnEnergy LLC. Both organizations are engaged in tribal development in the energy sector.
Patty Limerick is the faculty director and chair of the board of the Center of the American West at the University of Colorado, Boulder, where she is also a professor of environmental studies and history. In addition, Limerick serves as the official state historian for Colorado State and was appointed to the National Endowment for the Humanities’ advisory board and the National Council on the Humanities in 2015.
Melissa Mays has proudly lived in Flint, Mich., since 2002, where she is a clean-water activist. With her husband, Melissa formed Water You Fighting For, an organization that connects activists with the stated mission of standing together against the loss of democracy and denial of clean, safe and affordable water.
Click here to go to the US Drought Monitor website. Here’s an excerpt:
This U.S. Drought Monitor week saw minor improvements in drought conditions in areas of the West including: northeastern California, northern Nevada, northwestern New Mexico, and southeastern Alaska. In Texas, persistent rainfall led to the complete removal of drought conditions from the state. In the Northeast, Northwest, and Southeast, short-term precipitation deficits, low streamflows, and pockets of dry soils led to further deterioration of conditions. Significant rainfall accumulations this week were observed along the western Gulf Coast, portions of the Mid-Atlantic, Northern Rockies, and Southeast. In southeastern Florida, seven-day rainfall totals were impressive with some coastal areas receiving nearly fifteen inch accumulations. Temperatures across most of the conterminous U.S. were below normal during the past week with the largest negative departures across the Central and Southern Plains, lower Midwest and Mid-Atlantic where average temperatures were four-to-ten degrees below normal. Conversely, temperatures were four-to-ten degrees above normal in the North Plains and High Plains of Montana…
Across the Plains, only minor changes were made on the map this week including removal of the remaining area of Moderate Drought (D1) from west-central Oklahoma. Overall, the region was relatively dry in western portions while eastern portions received modest rainfall accumulations of generally less than two inches. Temperatures were two-to-ten degrees above average in the Northern Plains while further south below normal temperatures prevailed…
During the past week, average temperatures were below normal across the most of region. Overall, the region was generally dry with exception of areas of northeastern California, northwestern Montana, and south-central Oregon where modest precipitation accumulations were observed (one-to three inches). On the map, improvements were made in an area of Severe Drought (D2) in northeastern California and northern Nevada where overall conditions have continued to steadily improve during the past year. According to the NOAA NCEI Climatological Rankings, Nevada Climate Division 1 (Northwestern Nevada) experienced its 9th wettest 12-month period (May 2015-April 2016) on record. In northwestern Oregon, short-term dryness and degraded streamflow conditions led to the expansion of areas of Abnormally Dry (D0). In northwestern New Mexico, improvements in soil moisture and streamflows led to the reduction of a small area of Moderate Drought (D1). Coming into the summer months, Lake Mead currently sits at 37% full while Lake Powell is slightly higher at 48% full, according to the May 23rd U.S. Bureau of Reclamation’s Lower Colorado Water Supply Report…
The NWS WPC 7-Day Quantitative Precipitation Forecast (QPF) calls for significant rainfall accumulations across the nation’s midsection – primarily focused on Texas, Plains, and western portions of the Midwest with accumulations from three-to-six inches while much of the South and Western U.S. area forecasted to be generally dry. The CPC 6–10 day outlooks call for a high probability of above normal temperatures in the eastern half of the U.S. and Far West while below normal temperatures are expected in the Desert Southwest, extending northward into the eastern Great Basin and Central Rockies. Below normal precipitation is forecasted for the Pacific Northwest, much of California, western Great Basin, and across portions of the Northeast while there is a high probability of above normal precipitation across the Northern Rockies, Plains, Mid-Atlantic, South, and Southeast.
Nervous investors, concerned about their nest eggs, will check the financial markets. Is the New York Stock Exchange up? What direction is the NASDAQ moving?
For people living in the American Southwest, water levels in reservoirs play the same role. And Lake Mead is the blue chip, the biggest, most consequential, most widely watched piece in the game. When water levels are up, spirits are unburdened. People are confident in their place in the desert.
But when water levels are down, a cloud of worry creeps in, bringing questions about the fragility of life in the drylands. Down, way down, is where Lake Mead is today. On May 18, just before sunset, the surface elevation of America’s largest reservoir crossed the 1,074.7 foot threshold, setting a new record low for the iconic water body. The next day another record low was set. In fact, every day since then the reservoir has broken the old mark. The Bureau of Reclamation, the federal agency that manages Mead, expects the daily decline to continue through June. The reservoir is 36 percent full — or, to look at it another way, 64 percent empty.
Public worry has evolved to a transcendent regional anxiety, and moving the Southwest to action. Communities are investing in new equipment and partnerships in order to adapt to the basin’s new math. Las Vegas spent nearly $US 1.5 billion to construct a water intake at the bottom of the lake and a pumping station to lift the water. Los Angeles, which is outside the basin but gets Colorado River water delivered by canal, is cutting reliance on imported water. Phoenix and Tucson, often viewed as ideological opposites, agreed in 2014 to coordinate the use of their water facilities, to maximize storage and minimize cost. Most remarkable of all, California — which holds the most power in the basin and the most secure rights — is in talks with Arizona and Nevada on a new conservation agreement. That agreement would reduce California’s annual take of the Colorado River for the first time.
Mead started to tumble at the turn of the 21st century, when drier conditions took hold in the Colorado River Basin. With every new annual low the sense of urgency in the seven-state, two-country watershed grew. A landmark 2007 agreement worked out a formula for declaring a shortage in the lower basin states of Arizona, California, and Nevada, and for restricting water withdrawals from Mead. The three states are now working to delay that day of reckoning by keeping more water in the big reservoir.
A reckoning is imminent. The climate and the Colorado are drying. There are proposals from the upper basins states — Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming — to take more water out of the river, which will reduce flows into Lake Mead. Utah filed a federal application earlier this month for a pipeline to draw water from Lake Powell, located upstream from Mead.
Topography is another complication. Because the canyon that holds the lake is v-shaped, water levels fall more quickly near the bottom. Every one-foot drop in elevation equates to 80,000 acre-feet of water lost — an acre-foot is 326,000 gallons — or more water than San Francisco uses in a year. It all adds up to a long-term forecast of diminishing supplies.
There is no time to waste. The timetable for action is accelerating. The record lows are coming sooner in the season – July 9, 2014; June 23, 2015; May 18, 2016. All eyes are on the number 1,075. If Mead’s elevation in August is projected to be lower than 1,075 feet at the start of the following year, then a shortage would be declared. The Bureau of Reclamation estimates a 56 percent chance of a lower basin shortage by 2018. This means water cuts from the Colorado for Arizona and Nevada (and potentially for California, depending on how the ongoing negotiations shake out).
Despite the gloomy forecast, there are encouraging signs of camaraderie. A shortage would have come sooner if not for concerted conservation efforts in recent years. A $US 11 million program that was agreed to in 2014 is paying for conservation projects that bank the saved water in Mead. A similar program is taking place in the upper basin.
All told, a shortage will not decimate the basin. Its punch is more psychological at the moment than physical. But it is symbolic of the difficulty ahead if Lake Mead drops below 1,050 feet, or 1,025 feet, or even near the 950-foot level where hydropower generation would cease. The sternest tests for the Colorado River Basin — both political and hydrological — are still to come.
State legislators in Colorado rarely vote unanimously, and when they do it’s usually in support of a pom-pom proclamation such as espousing eternal support for the Denver Broncos or some other feel-good cause.
The Colorado Water Rights Protection Act was approved unanimously this spring before being signed into law April 21 by Gov. John Hickenlooper. The unanimity, however, glosses over strong disagreements.
The Boulder-based law firm that drove the proposal needed three years to get it approved. Then, once it was passed, an environmental group that helped craft the law’s language declined to be interviewed, because it was, in the words of a spokeswoman for Conservation Colorado, “neutral” about what the law says.
Welcome to the wonky, sometimes wacky, world of Colorado water.
This new law is frequently described as a “message.” It tells the federal government that Colorado has sovereignty over all matters involving water appropriations.
The rub lies in water on federal lands. A majority of Colorado’s 14 million acre-feet of water originates on federal lands, which cover near 36 percent of the state’s land mass. Should the federal land agencies have just a little say say-so in how diversions affect ecosystem functions?
Bypass flows have caused the quiet argument. In some cases, the Forest Service requires small amounts of water remain in creeks and rivers when issuing special-use permits or rights of way for diversion infrastructure such as dams, ditches, and pipes. The Forest Service cites the need for resource protection. Bugs need water, and fish needs bugs. They also need water, too. Most creatures do.
Near Winter Park, bypass requirements govern diversions from Vasquez and St. Louis creeks by Denver Water. Another requirement mandates bypass flows from Strontia Springs Dam, on the South Platte River southwest of Denver. Still another involves a hydroelectric facility near Georgetown.
The authority, however, lies in contested territory. In 2004, a district court judge agreed with Trout Unlimited that the Forest Service not only has bypass flow authority but also responsibility in some cases to use that authority. A higher federal court took on the case, but ruled on procedural issues, not the substance of the case.
But environmental groups stood by quietly when the Forest Service in 2011 said that ski areas, as a condition of their permits to operate on federal land, had to transfer their water rights to the agency. The reasoning was that water is a critical component of ski area operations, such as for snowmaking. The agency wanted the water rights to be attached to the special-use permit.
That’s really no different than Colorado’s requirement of state school trust lands leased for agriculture. These are the lands—a section in each township—given by the federal government to Colorado at statehood, in 1876, to be managed for income to benefit public schools. There are now about three million acres. Water rights used in agriculture must be transferred to the state when the land is leased.
The ski industry loudly opposed the Forest Service requirement. If a ski area figures out how to make snow with less water, for example, why shouldn’t it be able to move the water elsewhere? Too, some water used at ski areas comes from elsewhere. Both Aspen and Vail, for example, use water that originates in rivers at their bases. Finally, late last year, the Forest Service threw in the towel.
The Forest Service also retreated from a directive declaring that the agency has control over groundwater underlying its lands.
The dividing line
Glenn Porzak, a Boulder-based water attorney who was behind the new law, is adamant that the federal government has no role in determining water allocations in Colorado. “The only way you own that water is if you go through (state) water court,” says Porzak, who has for decades represented many ski areas and other water agencies in the Vail-Summit County area.
Western Resource Advocates, a leading environmental organization, was unwilling to stand by the Forest Service in the tiff with ski areas. Rob Harris, the group’s senior staff attorney, says the Forest Service over-reached, likening it to “poking them in the eye a little bit.”
But the group stood firm that it would oppose any state water rights law that rejected bypass flow authority. “We view the legal question as being well settled,” says Harris, pointing to the 2004 decision by the federal district court. “Most people would be depressed if they went to their favorite tract of national forest and found that the creek was dry,” he adds.
Rep. KC Becker oversaw the compromise. A Democrat from Boulder, her district has key parties on both side of the issue as well as the Eldora, Loveland and Winter Park ski areas. It also includes Grand County. Along with Summit and Eagle counties, it bears the brunt of transmountain diversions from the Western Slope. The three counties said in March that they were ready to oppose the bill if it constricted their ability to impose conditions on diversions. Language favored by the state attorney general’s office would have potentially allowed water diverters to sue Grand County for “takings” of property, said the county’s water attorney, David Taussig.
Leaving water in creeks at certain times and situations was integral to Grand County’s support of Denver’s stepped-up diversions through the Moffat Tunnel to Gross Reservoir. The concept, supported by Denver, is that when water is diverted is equally important to how much. In hot, dry weather, added diversions could leave the Fraser River too shallow and warm for fish.
What does it accomplish?
Even in headwaters counties, some heralded the new law. Rick Sackbauer, who chairs the board of the Vail-based Eagle River Water and Sanitation District, called it a “great victory for water right holders in the Eagle River valley and throughout Colorado.”
Greg Walcher, former director of the state’s Department of Natural Resources under Gov. Bill Owens, said the law “signals the state attorney general, and state agencies, that they are not only cleared, but encouraged, to take legal action when Colorado water rights are threatened by federal overreach.”
The law’s one shortcoming, said Walcher in his op/ed in the Grand Junction Sentinel, was that it was “watered down” by the neutral language about bypass flows.
That neutrality is why Becker, the bill’s primary sponsor, thinks environmental groups should be happy with the law, too. Not all of them are, though.
“My guess is that no one on the D(emocrat) side wanted any daylight between them and the citizens of the state on this, no matter how they feel about it deep down,” said one knowledgeable individual, concerned about job security. “The feds are everyone’s favorite whipping boy on just about everything, and especially water.”
“All true,” said Chris Treese, legislative affairs director for the Colorado River Water Conservation District, when he was read these words.
Treese doubts Colorado’s message law will resolve anything. Tension between the state and the federal government over water will remain. “This will continue to be an issue and a question of perspective.”
The bigger issue is the sufficiency of flows for environmental purposes. Laws adopted in the early 1970s have resulted in water rights called instream flows for environmental protection. They serve the same purpose as the federal government’s bypass flows, argues Porzak, the attorney who works on behalf of ski area interests.
Others think far more must be done. In the dry summer of 2012, for example, the South Platte River was reduced to small puddles downstream from diversions for electrical production and farm ditches. The Yampa River through Steamboat Springs looked no better until an agreement was struck that July to return flows.
But linking arms with federal agencies to secure water is always going to be looked upon with suspicion in Colorado. If the Broncos are the state’s de facto religion, state administration under the doctrine of prior appropriation ranks close behind. Even the water that flows out of the Eisenhower Tunnel has an owner and a priority date adjudicated by a state court.
It’s why legislators took so many years to pass the law making it legal to put a coffee can under your back porch to collect dripping rain. The rain barrels were a matter of principle.
The majority of private wells tested in the Widefield, Security and Fountain area have tested above new levels announced Thursday for chemicals that may cause low birth weight in children or certain types of cancer.
Fourteen of the 17 wells tested so far were above the newly announced levels – leading health officials to say some people who rely on those wells may want to switch to bottled or treated water. Those people include infants, nursing or pregnant women or women planning to become pregnant.
In addition, health officials are urging people using private wells that draw from the Widefield aquifer to contact El Paso County Public Health and get their water tested for free.
In the meantime, people using those wells – especially those at highest risk – also may want to use other sources of water, said Larry Wolk, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment’s executive director and chief medical officer.
“It’s really more out of caution and trying to be as conservative as possible to provide the advisory and pass on the information,” Wolk said.
The developments mark the latest in a growing concern over the presence of perfluorinated compounds, or PFCs, in groundwater across the nation.
The Environmental Protection Agency does not regulate the chemicals, but they are on a list of potential pollutants that might be regulated in the future.
On Thursday, the EPA issued new health advisory levels for the human-made chemicals, which have been used for decades in firefighting foams, furniture fabrics, food wrappers and in chemicals used to protect carpets and clothing.
The EPA’s previous alert level was 200 parts per trillion. But current research – while limited – suggests the chemicals may cause low infant birth weight.
As a result, the EPA lowered its advisory level Thursday to 70 parts per trillion.
Low birth weight has been linked to a higher risk of physical or developmental health issues later in life.
Links also may exist between PFCs and several conditions, including kidney and testicular cancer, liver damage and thyroid issues, the EPA said.
Determining the exact risk in humans is difficult, because research has only focused on animals so far, Wolk said. Still, many companies that once used PFCs have stopped them.
The new advisory is a so-called lifetime advisory – meaning that the chemical may be harmful after repeated use over a long period.
The 14 wells that tested above the new health advisory level did not exceed the old level, said Tom Gonzales, El Paso County Public Health’s deputy director.
State health officials say that historical data does not show a “significant difference” in low birth weight between areas where PFCs have been detected and the rest of El Paso County. However, their analysis is ongoing.
The source of the contaminants remains unclear, Gonzales said.
Several other water sources near the aquifer – such as surface water – as well other wells tapped into it are being analyzed to pinpoint its source. The tests usually take about three weeks to process.
The county Health Department plans to continue testing water in the area through March – all to gain a better idea of where the PFCs originated.
The aquifer stretches from Stratton Meadows area to Fountain and extends east to the Colorado Springs Airport. It’s the only one in Colorado where PFCs have been detected, Wolk said.
The chemicals initially reached or exceeded the EPA’s old health advisory levels in three public wells in Security and one public well in Widefield.
That water, however, has been diluted with water pumped into the area from the Pueblo Reservoir.
Local health officials’ main concern has been private wells that draw directly from the aquifer, of which there are an estimated 87.
For those people, Gonzales urged water quality tests. They are available by calling El Paso County Public Health at 575-8602.
El Paso County health officials are aware of more people using water contaminated with chemicals that may cause low infant birth weight.
Security Mobile Home Park, which has about 150 residents, and the Fountain Valley Shopping Center appear, to be drawing from Widefield aquifer wells with unhealthy levels of perfluorinated compounds, said Tom Gonzales, El Paso County Public Health’s deputy director, during a Board of Health meeting Wednesday.
Further, residents on the western end of Security and Widefield may be using water with unhealthy levels of the compounds, water district managers said. That is because efforts to dilute it do not appear to work well enough…
It’s a lifetime advisory – meaning adverse health effects might happen after prolonged use over years. Those effects include low infant birth weights and kidney and testicular cancer.
The Widefield aquifer, which stretches along Interstate 25 from the Stratton Meadows area to Fountain and east to the Colorado Springs Airport, appears to be the only aquifer in Colorado contaminated by PFCs at levels triggering health alerts. The contaminants’ source remains unknown.
Different types of wells pull from the aquifer.
Concerns first centered on public wells, which help supply water to thousands of people in the area via a few water districts. Some of those wells tested positive for elevated levels of PFCs during initial tests by the EPA. In those cases water from the Pueblo Reservoir was used to dilute the chemicals.
However, in a few areas, those efforts may not be working well enough, officials with the Widefield Water and Sanitation District and Security Water and Sanitation Districts said.
Each district serves roughly 18,000 or 19,000 residents. Water serving some of those people – especially those on the western end of each district – may be using water with too many PFCs. That is based on tests performed prior to the middle of last week, and further testing is ongoing.
In Security, the issue may be of particular concern on peak water usage days, when the district must use a higher ratio of well water to meet demand, said Roy Heald, general manager of the Security Water and Sanitation Districts.
As a result, the Security water district will institute voluntary watering restrictions from June 1 to Oct. 1 to limit water usage, he said. Those restrictions are three days a week, based on address. [ed. emphasis mine]
El Paso County Public Health officials also have been testing private wells, which are often only used by one household and tap directly into the aquifer, meaning they do not include water from other sources.
The vast majority of the roughly 15 to 20 private wells tested have registered levels above the new EPA advisory level, and more testing is ongoing.
Gonzales once again urged people drawing from private wells to contact the health department for free tests, to determine the PFC levels of their drinking water.
In the meantime, he said the health department is working on ways to remove the chemicals from the water.
“That is our number one priority right now,” Gonzales said.
From the Associated Press via the The Colorado Springs Gazette:
Federal regulators announced tighter guidelines [May 19, 2016] for human exposure to an industrial chemical used for decades in such consumer products as non-stick pans, stain-resistant carpets and microwave popcorn bags.
The cancer-causing chemical perfluorooctanoic acid, known as PFOA, has been found in the tap water of dozens of factory towns near industrial sites where it was manufactured. DuPont, 3M and other U.S. chemical companies voluntarily phased out the use of PFOA in recent years.
Also at issue is the related chemical perfluorooctane sulfonate, or PFOS, used in firefighting foam.
The Environmental Protection Agency issued the stricter guidelines for the chemicals after years of pressure from public health experts and advocacy groups. The agency said the new limits were prompted by recent scientific studies linking PFOA and PFOS to testicular and kidney cancers, as well as birth defects and liver damage.
“EPA will continue sharing the latest science and information so that state and local officials can make informed decisions and take actions to protect public health,” said Joel Beauvais, the EPA’s deputy assistant administrator for the Office of Water. “This is an important part of our broader effort to support states and public water systems as we work together to strengthen the safety of America’s drinking water.”
Trace amounts of PFOA and PFOS can be detected in the blood of almost every American as the result of exposure through food and consumer products. But of specific concern to regulators is the risk posed to residents in the relatively small number of communities where higher levels of PFOA and PFOS have been found in public drinking water.
EPA now says long-term exposure to either chemical at concentrations above 70 parts per trillion could have adverse health impacts. That’s significantly lower than the agency’s prior advisory level based on short-term exposure of 400 parts per trillion.
Under the EPA’s new guidance, water systems where concentrations of PFOA or PFOS are found above 70 parts per trillion are advised to promptly notify local residents and consult with their state drinking water agencies.
EPA said public notification is especially important for pregnant or nursing women because of the impact the chemicals can have on the development of fetuses and infants who are breastfed or drinking formula made with tap water.
In 2013, EPA ordered about 4,800 public water systems nationwide to test for PFOA. More than 100 cities and towns in 29 states had trace amounts of PFOA, but none exceeded 400 parts per trillion.
However, the new lower limit means that a handful of those communities will now qualify as having water with contamination levels above the advised threshold.
EPA’s national survey also did not include many smaller communities located near sites where the chemicals were used for decades.
Hoosick Falls, New York, is located near a plastics plant and where the water supply system serves just 4,500 people, wasn’t included in the testing. PFOA levels of 600 part per trillion were discovered in village wells in 2014 because residents demanded testing amid concerns about what they perceived as a high cancer rates.
More recently, testing turned up PFOA concentrations of about 100 parts per trillion in the drinking water of nearby Petersburgh, New York, and North Bennington, Vermont, which also had plastics plants. A second round of water testing in North Bennington recently yielded readings of up to 2,730 parts per trillion — nearly 40 times the EPA’s new advisory limit.
Here’s the release from the High Line Canal Conservancy (Suzanna Jones):
The High Line Canal Conservancy, which is dedicated to preserving the recreational and environmental future of the High Line Canal, today announced the launch of the High Line Canal public planning initiative. The public planning initiative is part of a large-scale planning program to ensure the well-loved Canal trail reaches its potential as an economic, environmental, recreational and social asset along all of its 71 miles. The goal of the public outreach and visioning phase, called “Adventure on the Canal: Charting our course for the next century,” is to develop a shared vision for the Canal that will guide the future planning process.
“Today begins a region-wide conversation led by the High Line Canal Conservancy to rehabilitate this beloved corridor into a legacy greenway that unifies and celebrates the distinct communities it intersects,” said Gov. John Hickenlooper. “This project joins a statewide effort to get people outdoors and connect with the beauty of Colorado.”
Gov. John Hickenlooper will help kick off the public planning initiative at the High Line Canal and Triple Creek Trail connection ribbon cutting and bike ride in Aurora on Tuesday, May 31 at 12:10 p.m. Following the press conference, the Governor will begin a bike ride along the Canal with local children from Environmental Learning for Kids (ELK), assisted by Bicycle Colorado, and continue with a small select group of riders for a portion of the trail. The Governor will have an opportunity to see some of the challenges presenting the Canal currently.
“The High Line Canal Conservancy is thrilled to work with the Governor and other leaders throughout the region to preserve and transform this outmoded water delivery corridor into a legacy greenway that unifies and celebrates the distinct communities along the High Line Canal,” said Harriet Crittenden LaMair, Executive Director of the High Line Canal Conservancy. “We’re thrilled to have Governor Hickenlooper’s help launching the public outreach phase of this project, asking the public to consider how they view the long-term purpose of the Canal.”
Following the kickoff event, the Conservancy will launch its summer outreach “Adventure on the High Line Canal,” which will include a series of community open houses, events and other engaging activities in various locations across the region. These gatherings will be interactive, fun opportunities where participants can share the reasons they love the Canal and help write a new chapter for the Canal’s future.
Each series of community open houses includes 3 identical gatherings in various locations along the Canal’s reach and represents an important chapter in the mission to chart the High Line Canal’s course for the next century. Together, the four series follow the arc of a typical story. Chapter One – “Our Journey Begins” will kick off the week of June 6 at Aurora Central Library, the Lowry Town Center and Goodson Recreation Center. At these introductory open house events, we’ll take a journey together along all 71 miles of the Canal, from the foothills to the plains, and you’ll be able to share your ideas and feedback every step of the way.
Chapter Two – “A Fork in the Road” will be held the week of July 18 at Expo Recreation Center, Eloise May Library and Eisenhower Recreation Center. This set of community open houses will be the second chapter of the story, bringing residents together to focus on the Canal’s future opportunities and challenges. We’ll explore how each of these ideas could impact the Canal’s narrative in the years to come and ask for your feedback.
Chapter 3 – “Our Story” will be held the week of September 5 at locations to be set in the future. This third chapter will focus on presenting the initial vision reached by residents, the draft shared vision for the Canal, asking the public to share their feedback and input on the shared vision for the Canal.
Chapter 4 – “Looking Ahead” will be held the week of October 16 at locations to be set in the future. This fourth set of open houses represents the final chapter, the draft action plan, determined by feedback from the public. It will be focused on implementation and next steps, and will continue to rely on feedback from the public about the final preferred vision for the Canal.
In addition, online surveys will be available in June and July, providing additional opportunities for input. Visit highlinecanal.org.
Anyone can participate throughout the launch and subsequent events on social media by following @COHighLineCanal and using the hashtag #71Miles.
Here’s how to stay updated on High Line Canal project updates:
The High Line Canal newsletter.
High Line Canal’s social media channels (Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram).
Help us spread the word: Please invite your friends and neighbors to participate too!
ABOUT THE HIGH LINE CANAL CONSERVANCY
The High Line Canal Conservancy was formed in 2014 by a passionate coalition of private citizens to provide leadership and harness the region’s commitment to protecting the future of the High Line Canal. With support from each jurisdiction and in partnership with Denver Water, the Conservancy is connecting stakeholders in support of comprehensive planning to ensure that the Canal is protected and enhanced for future generations. For more information, please visit http://www.highlinecanal.org.
The House on Tuesday easily approved a bipartisan bill that would for the first time regulate tens of thousands of toxic chemicals in everyday products from household cleaners to clothing and furniture.
Supporters said the bill would clear up a hodgepodge of state rules and update and improve a toxic-chemicals law that has remained unchanged for 40 years.
“Today marks a milestone — for this Congress and for the American people as we make great strides to update our nation’s chemical safety laws,” said Rep. Fred Upton, R-Mich., chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. “This bill is good for jobs. It’s good for consumers. And it’s good for the environment.”
The 403-12 vote in favor of the bill sends it to the Senate, where it’s expected to be approved and sent to President Barack Obama, who is expected to sign it.
The bill, more than three years in the making, won support in recent days from a broad coalition that ranged from environmental and public health groups to the chemical industry and the National Association of Manufacturers.
In a sign of the bill’s wide support, lawmakers from both parties heaped praise on the measure. House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., called it a “common sense” bill that will reduce risks to consumers and make “chemicals and products we use every day safer for Americans.”
Rep. Diana DeGette, D-Colo., said the bill “addresses the fundamental flaws” of the current law that expose the public to dangerous chemicals. “It is long past time that Congress update this law,” she said.
Some environmental groups remained opposed, however, saying the bill did too little to protect consumers from dangerous chemicals that can cause cancer, nervous system disorders and other health problems.
“Despite the best efforts of many lawmakers to redeem legislation that originated in the suites of the chemical industry, on balance the law Congress will send to the president’s desk continues to place chemical company interests above the public interest,” said Ken Cook, president of the Washington-based Environmental Working Group.
Toxic chemicals have been linked to serious illnesses, including cancer, infertility, diabetes and Parkinson’s disease. But under current law only a small fraction of chemicals used in consumer goods have been reviewed for safety.
The bill approved Tuesday would set new safety standards for asbestos and other dangerous chemicals, including formaldehyde, styrene and Bisphenol A, better known as BPA, that have gone unregulated for decades.
The measure would update the 1976 Toxic Substances Control Act to require the Environmental Protection Agency to evaluate new and existing chemicals against a new, risk-based safety standard that includes considerations for particularly vulnerable people such as children and pregnant women. It also establishes written deadlines for the EPA to act and makes it harder for the industry to claim chemical information is proprietary and therefore secret.
The manufacturers group said industry has “revolutionized the way chemicals are made and used” since the original toxics law was adopted in 1976, “yet the law has not been updated to keep up with those changes.”
State laws enacted to fill the void have resulted in “a patchwork of confusing, often contradictory, regulations for manufacturers and consumers to navigate,” the manufacturers group said in a statement. “It is time to update our nation’s chemical laws.”
“While not perfect, the bill meets the high goals set by the administration for meaningful reform,” the White House said in a statement Monday. The legislation is likely to restore public confidence in the safety of chemicals while improving public health and environmental protections, the White House said.
A key sticking point in negotiations over the bill has centered on state regulation of toxic chemicals.
California, Massachusetts, Vermont and other states have moved aggressively to regulate chemicals, and some Democrats said they feared the bill would block state efforts even as it imposed the first-ever national standards for tens of thousands of chemicals that have gone unregulated for decades.
The 181-page bill declares that any state law or rule in place before April 22 would not be pre-empted by federal law. The legislation also would allow states to work on some regulations while federal rules are being developed, a process that can take up to seven years.
States that do not regulate chemicals closely would follow the federal standard.
Rep. Paul Tonko, D-N.Y., said the bill includes a “regulatory pause” that prevents states from acting on some chemicals for up to 3 1/2 years while EPA reviews a chemical. Tonko called that “a core flaw in reform that cannot be ignored.”
Supporters say they hope to win Senate approval later this week, with the goal of sending it to Obama’s desk by Memorial Day.
Spring runoff pumped up by water released from El Vado Reservoir today [May 25, 2016] will push flows on the Rio Chama and Rio Grande up to as much as 4,000 cubic feet per second, the swiftest rate in recent memory, in a multiagency effort to benefit the environment and boost silvery minnow spawning.
“Today will be our high-flow day,” said Carolyn Donnelly, water operations supervisor for the Albuquerque office of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation. “We are going up to 4,000 cfs out of El Vado for the first time since I don’t know when.”
In 2014, the spring peak flow was only 1,500 cfs, and last year, the best flow year since 2010, the rate at Albuquerque’s Central Avenue bridge was measured at just under 3,000 cfs.
Donnelly said this week’s fast-moving water on the Rio Chama between El Vado, 80 miles northwest of Santa Fe, and Abiquiu Dam, 60 miles northwest of Santa Fe, will break up channel vegetation that is harmful to the ecology.
“When the channel is static, native species, small invertebrates such as snails, for example, don’t do well,” she said.
The one-two punch of spring runoff and released storage water will provide the robust flow that cues the spawning of the endangered silvery minnow, found in the Rio Grande from Cochiti Dam, 50 miles north of Albuquerque, to Elephant Butte Reservoir, five miles north of Truth or Consequences.
Donnelly said the release from Cochiti Dam will be about 3,300 cfs for about two weeks. That rate will benefit the entire ecosystem as well as the minnow.
“The timing of the release is important to the minnow,” Donnelly said. “Conditions are looking really good. We had more snow in April in the Rio Chama watershed and also up in Colorado on the Rio Grande. We are going to start seeing high water from Colorado real soon. And since it’s late May, the water is warmer and the fish (minnow) like that.”
Agencies collaborating with Reclamation in the project are the Office of the State Engineer and the Interstate Stream Commission, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District, the Rio Chama Watershed Partnership and the Rio Grande Compact Commission, which represent the compact states of New Mexico, Texas and Colorado.
A resolution approved in March by the [Rio Grande] Compact Commission made this week’s high-flow push possible by allowing the storage of about 40,000 acre-feet of water in El Vado between May 2 and May 20.
Six years ago, at the end of the summer of 2010, federal Bureau of Reclamation officials worried that Hoover Dam, the biggest hydropower enterprise in the Southwest, might soon go dark. Water levels in Lake Mead, the dam’s energy source, were falling, and Hoover was moving “into uncharted territory,” the facility manager told Circle of Blue.
Today, the story has a twist. Lake Mead is 10 feet lower, a new record set on May 18 that is re-broken every day now. Yet though water levels continue to decline, Hoover’s hydropower is in a much better spot. Thanks to investment in efficient equipment, managers are confident that they can still wring electricity from the Colorado River even as the surface elevation of Lake Mead drops below 1,050 feet, the uncharted territory that was assumed to be Hoover’s operating limit.
“As far as power goes, we can still operate below 1,050 feet,” Rose Davis, Bureau of Reclamation spokeswoman, told Circle of Blue. Dam operators are revising the lower limit to 950 feet, a boundary that will be confirmed in October once the fifth and final more-efficient turbine is installed, Davis said.
The investments in wide-head turbines, stainless steel wicket gates, and digital controls are emblematic of the types of practices that are necessary for the drying Colorado River Basin. In order to maximize scarce water, authorities must do more with less. Water managers in the lower basin states of Arizona, California, and Nevada, keen to avoid a disastrous downward spiral for Lake Mead that would threaten supplies for tens of millions of people, are spending more than $US 11 million on farm-efficiency and other projects that will conserve water and bank the savings in Lake Mead. Dam managers and power customers are adopting the same ethic for power generation.
Spending to Save Water and Boost Power
Electricity from Hoover is some of the cheapest in the country, at 1.83 cents per kilowatt-hour. Constructions costs for the dam were paid off years ago and the energy source, the water, comes from Mother Nature free of charge.
Customers in Arizona, California, and Nevada, the destination for Hoover’s output, would like to keep the cheap power flowing. That is why they spent $US 14.9 million since 2011 on the turbines and wicket gates.
The problem with Mead’s low water level for power generation is physics. Pressure differences in the water coming into the generators produce air bubbles on the turbine blades. As the water flows across the blades, the bubbles collapse and burst, which causes vibrations that can damage the generating unit. If the vibrations worsen, the unit must be shut down.
Wide-head turbines are designed to avoid these “rough zones” and operate smoothly at low reservoir levels. Four of Hoover’s 17 turbines have been fitted with wide-head models, and a fifth will be installed by October.
The wicket gates, on the other hand, allow for more precise control of water flowing through the turbines. They also reduce water leakage so that every drop that passes through Hoover can generate as much power as possible. Digital controls, which allow for more precise positioning of the wicket gates, have been installed at Hoover as well as at Davis and Parker dams, downstream on the Colorado.
“Any efficiency in hydropower means more power for our customers,” Kara Lamb told Circle of Blue. Lamb is the spokeswoman for the Western Area Power Administration, which markets Hoover’s power.
Though Hoover will not shut down any time soon, low water levels still reduce its output.
Generating capacity — the maximum amount of power that the dam is capable of producing — is down 30 percent from when Mead was full. For every foot that Mead drops, generating capacity decreases by five to six megawatts. Money is power, the old saying goes. So is water.
What a hoot at Colorado State University last night. NPR and KUNC collaborated to host a national conversation about The Future of Water.
The panel included, Patty Limerick (Colorado State Historian), Kathleen Curry (Former state legislator from Gunnison County), author Paolo Bacigalupi (The Water Knife), Melissa Mays (Resident from Flint, Michigan), and Roger Fragua (Spiritual leader form the Jemez Pueblo, New Mexico).
Ms. Martin asked pointed questions and kept the discussion on track. She had done her homework about the Colorado River Basin and water issues in general.
The event turned into a national Twitter fest using hashtag #NPRH2O. Click here to view all the Tweets. (If you don’t have a Twitter account you can still view them. After you click the link, click the “Live” button at the top of the page. Scroll down to the bottom and read upward since Tweets are posted in reverse chronological order.)
Reading the Tweets will give you an understanding of the conversation. I observed entries from coast to coast. It was a great example of social media enabling folks to interact with each other.
Colorado water law and prior appropriation are under scrutiny nowadays. Kathleen Curry risked the enmity of some by asserting that, “I don’t have a lot of sympathy for newcomers. This [Colorado water law] is how it works here.”
She understands that senior water rights mean a lot to food production and that Colorado has the most active water market in the US. She also cautioned that forcing efficiency on the ag sector would lead to higher prices at the grocery store. She touched on the need for wise use of changed ag water rights by the urban areas. She also mentioned the 800 pound gorilla of water management — land use and growth management.
Curry added, “I’m not overly optimistic that things will change. Water follows money,” and, “We’re taking a fixed amount of water and reallocating it here in the West.”
Patty Limerick always finds a way to get at the heart of issues. She warned, “Whenever you get a simple position it means you haven’t thought enough.”
She also mentioned rhetorically, “Maybe conventional agriculture wasn’t the best idea for the West.”
Paolo Bacigalupi was more direct, saying, “We’ve done magical things because of our engineering prowess but populations exist where they should never have been.”
Ms. Limerick expanded on that theme when Melissa Mays asserted that Flint’s problem was a national problem. Patty defended water providers in general countering Mays claim with, “I’m a friend of many water managers. I know that there are dedicated people that are in our camp. We need them.”
“In the US we like to address our natural world in terms of commodities,” said Bacigalupi, “The value of water is infinite since we will pay almost any amount to survive.”
He summed up the importance of the evening saying, “We need to become more comfortable with abstract thinking and wonky subjects like water quality.”
Click through to the Tweet stream cited above. I guarantee that it is safe for work and of course I believe that learning and talking about water issues is the most important thing you can do.
From the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District (Norman Kincaide) via The La Junta Tribune-Democrat:
At a work session held Wednesday, May 18, 2016, the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District (LAVWCD) board members listened to farmers’ concerns about the possibility of a dam to be built on Fountain Creek. All board members were in attendance except Melissa Esquibel. First on the agenda was Cindy Lair, Colorado Department of Agriculture. Lair reported on salinity and nutrient pollution in the Arkansas River, stating that agricultural users are not big polluters compared to municipalities. Regardless of historically high levels of salinity in the Arkansas it is likely that the salinity issue will have to be addressed in the future. This means that agricultural users will have to address the issue along with municipalities. How and by what means salinity in the Arkansas will be remediated remains to be seen but funding for remediation may come from NRCS or the Colorado Water Quality Control Department. Regardless of the means and funding, Kansas wants to see Colorado users moving in the right direction by 2022.
Following Lair’s report, Alan Frantz of Rocky Ford, gave a short slide presentation: Fountain Creek vs. Individual Water Rights. Slides showed graphs and data on Fountain Creek that from 1921 to 1965 (44 years) that there were 21 flows with less than 10,000 cfs and 10 flows higher with 13 years of data missing. From 1966 to 2014 (48 years) there were 36 flows less than 10,000 cfs and 7 flows higher with 5 years of data missing. This data came from the Fountain Creek Flood Control Study of Oct. 14, 2015. Frantz raised the question of: Is there really a problem? Speaking for ditch directors and shareholders of all the ditches, county commissioners, Ark Valley Ditch Association, well associations and others, they think there is not a problem with Fountain Creek and wanted some questions answered.
These groups want an independent engineering study to evaluate possible consequences of any type of structure on Fountain Creek, (whether it be a dam or holding ponds), an in depth assessment of historical precipitation versus stream flow and assess the validity of Duane Helton’s Fountain River study. Furthermore, a professional analysis and discussion on long term effects of structures on the whole river system was also desired. What was needed from LAVWCD was expertise and technical assistance.
Agricultural users want to form a committee consisting of 5 to 7 individuals, including farmers and ditch directors, a county commissioner or two, with Jack Gobel, District Engineer for LAVWCD, for technical support and funding from LAVWCD for completion of the study. Frantz asked if there are any valid reasons this study should not be pursued.
Farmers are concerned about the amount of press given to a Fountain Creek dam. A Pueblo Chieftain article published Tuesday, May 17, 2016, the opinions of two researchers, Del Nimmo and Scott Hermann, indicated that a dam on Fountain Creek would decrease erosion. Without mentioning the consequences to peak flow users and prior appropriations to agricultural users, Nimmo said: “A large dam could provide better understanding of what’s happening in the watershed, and be a good recreational benefit to the entire watershed of Fountain Creek.” The main reason for supporting a dam on Fountain Creek is to reduce erosion, which is the primary cause for selenium making its way into the water. Scott Hermann said: “A large dam on Fountain Creek would give us the flood control we need, but also provide recreational opportunities that are primary, with a pool of water as well as tailwater. So we have a fishery and fishing benefits from such a structure.”
Here’s the release from the USACE Omaha office (Katie Seefus):
The annual sediment flushing exercise will be completed at Cherry Creek Reservoir, near Aurora, Colorado on Wednesday, June 1, 2016.
Katie Seefus, water manager in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Omaha District office, says the exercise involves high releases from each of the five main outlet gates at Cherry Creek Dam, located south of Interstate 225 in Aurora. “When the gates are opened, the high velocity of the water leaving the reservoir scours the area immediately upstream of the gates and transports sediment with the flow,” said Seefus. The sediment flush is required to allow proper operation of the outlet gates.
Cherry Creek Dam will begin releasing 50 cubic feet per second (cfs) at 2:30 p.m. on Tuesday, May 31. The actual flushing exercise will begin at 9 a.m. and end at 12 p.m. on Wednesday, June 1 when the release will be set back to normal levels. The travel time from Cherry Creek Dam to the streamgage located at the Champa Street Bridge, is about 6 hours…
Omaha District Commander Col. John Henderson asks the public to be aware that the high flows will take some time to reach the downtown channel, and flows from the last gate opened will not reach the downtown channel until late afternoon on Wednesday. The high flows will cause higher than normal creek stages and potential flooding of bike paths and stream crossings. “In the interest of public safety, I urge the public to not attempt to cross the stream during this event,” says Henderson.
People can register to participate in a June 11 Boulder County Parks and Open Space water tour that’s to highlight the 150th anniversary of the Left Hand Ditch Company.
The 7:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. tour will begin at the Plaza Convention Center, 1850 Industrial Circle, Longmont, and start with presentations on water law, the orientation of the overall Left Hand basin and the history of the Left Hand Ditch.
Tour buses will then visit stops at sites in the Left Hand Ditch system before returning to the Plaza Center. The water tour, which will include a light breakfast and lunch, will cost $20 per participant.
Reservoir managers have announced a 10-day spill at an approximate rate of 1,000 cubic feet per second. However the plan is to begin the release the first weekend of June instead of over Memorial Day as forecasted last week.
“There will be a spill, and by pushing it forward we’re setting up the boaters for a longer season with improved rafting flows,” said Mike Preston, manager for the Dolores Water Conservancy District.
Warmer weather beyond the current five-day forecast could accelerate the start of the spill by a few days.
McPhee will fill and provide full farmer allocations, with an estimated left-over water for rafting.
Cooler, stormy weather and significant snowpack holding in the mountains forced managers to adjust the timing of the spill until the first weekend of June.
Reservoir managers are waiting on a second peak runoff from remaining snowpack.
Preston said the decision for the delay is to avoid the possibility two small spills and their associated ramp-up and ramp-down water needs. For safety, spills are gradually increased 200 cfs at a time, then reversed at the end of the controlled spill.
Releasing rafting flows for Memorial Day weekend was not seen as ideal for boaters because managers would have to stop it to allow the reservoir to fill. Then a second spill would likely be required to avoid overfilling the reservoir as the second peak finishes coming down.
“Delaying for one release saves ramping water to extend the season,” Preston said.
The benefits of a single combined spill of rafting flows allows for longer trips and less down-river congestion of boaters.
The district worked closely with the Dolores River Boating Advocates on the early June release decision.
“There has been definite improvement in communication between the reservoir managers and the boating community,” said DRBA board member Wade Hanson. “DWCD and the Bureau of Reclamation have been on the ball with timely public notice about a release.”
Boaters should be aware of some new changes on the Lower Dolores River.
The usual private land available for a public take-out/put-in at Slickrock is closed.
However, another landowner is negotiating with the DRBA to open public access point on land just downstream of the bridge at Slick Rock near the old store.
Farther down river, the BLM’s Big Gypsum Valley river access remains open.
Boaters should be especially alert this season on the Lower Dolores because it has not been floated for many years.
A large boulder fall has been reported in Ponderosa Gorge upstream of the Dove Creek pump house at mile 17, and debris flows and log jams are a real possibility.
Also expect campsites throughout the 100-mile section to Bedrock to be overgrown.
“It’s exciting to get on the Lower Dolores after all these years,” said Hanson said. “We will be taking a lot of pictures and GPS coordinates of the campsites to inform the public.”
New Mexico launched a legal fight against the EPA and owners of a Colorado gold mine Monday, demanding action, contending the Gold King disaster caused catastrophic harm to downriver people, aquatic insects and fish.
“Not only is this an environmental crisis, but it is a crisis in poor governance. … Governments need to be accountable to neighboring communities as well as their own community,” New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas said after filing a lawsuit in federal court.
The lawsuit does not specify monetary damages, but state attorneys said New Mexico is entitled to at least $7 million to reimburse communities for emergency expenditures after the disaster and for independent, third-party monitoring of water quality. In addition, the attorneys estimated New Mexico suffered economic harm of $140 million.
It spares Colorado, for now. Balderas said he’s “having a conversation” with Colorado Attorney General Cynthia Coffman and hopes legal issues between the states can be resolved.
EPA officials declined to comment on the lawsuit, but agency officials said the EPA has paid $1.3 million to help New Mexico cover costs related to the disaster. Coffman declined to comment.
The lawsuit contends New Mexico, tribes and Utah suffered catastrophic damage from the EPA-triggered Aug. 5 spill into Animas River headwaters, a “sickly yellow plume of contamination” that flowed out of southwestern Colorado into New Mexico, the Navajo Nation, Utah and eventually Lake Powell atop the Grand Canyon.The spill damaged water that is the lifeblood of downriver communities’ economy and culture with devastating impact, the lawsuit said.
It demands tougher water-quality testing — using “the highest testing standards that the EPA would impose in any other state in the nation” — by someone outside the EPA.
Compensation would go for remediation and to help agricultural and cultural communities that depend on the river for irrigation and drinking water. “They must be properly compensated and there must be appropriate independent monitoring to prevent future dangers to public health and the economy,” the lawsuit said.
New Mexico blames the plugging of the Sunnyside Mine, currently owned by Kinross Corp., as the root cause of the Gold King disaster because this action backed up acidic, metals-laden water, causing water levels to spread to nearby mines, including the Gold King Mine. The lawsuit also targets Environmental Restoration, the EPA’s contractor, involved in work to try to drain the Gold King when workers accidentally caused a blowout.
New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas filed the complaint today on behalf of the New Mexico Environment Department in U.S. District Court in Albuquerque.
The EPA has admitted responsibility for the Aug. 5 mine blowout. Employees of an EPA contractor, Environmental Restoration, released millions of gallons of mine waste laced with heavy metals into the Animas and San Juan rivers during a cleanup operation. The plume carried more than 880,000 pounds of toxic metals including lead, cadmium, copper, mercury and zinc through state and tribal lands.
In addition to the EPA, the lawsuit names EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy, Environmental Restoration, Kinross Gold Corp., Kinross Gold USA Inc. and Sunnyside Gold Corp.
New Mexico is demanding the defendants “abate the imminent and substantial threats” from the Sunnyside Mine network and remediate residual contamination from mine releases. The state is also seeking compensation for environmental and economic damages.
The complaint alleges the state is experiencing “enormous economic losses” because of the spill.
“The indelible images of a mustard-hewed toxic plume meandering downstream – into the habitat of several endangered species and superb sport fishing and recreational grounds – will linger long after the visible impacts of the release have vanished,” the complaint states.
The “lingering stigma” will result in reduced economic activity and a decline in taxes, fees and income because of lost tourism, fishing and land use, according to the complaint.
State Environment Secretary Ryan Flynn said the federal Tort claim notice filed this month included an estimate the state has suffered and will suffer $130 million in lost income, taxes, fees and revenues.
In a telephone interview Monday, Flynn said the department tried to work with the EPA to address ongoing concerns — including monitoring heavy metals levels in the river — but were unable to resolve those matters.
“We tried over seven months to pursue a diplomatic path forward,” he said adding the agency has to be accountable for its promises to address the spill and its aftermath.
A press release from the attorney general’s office states New Mexico and the EPA have been unable to “mutually agree” on a monitoring plan that “appropriately protects” state and tribal lands.
“It is inappropriate for the EPA to impose weak testing standards in New Mexico and I am demanding the highest testing standards that the EPA would impose in any other state in the nation to protect the health and well-being of our citizens,” Balderas said in the release.
In a statement emailed to The Daily Times Monday, EPA Region 6 spokesman David Gray said the agency takes responsibility for the cleanup and has been working to reimburse response costs and provide funding for monitoring plans developed by state and tribal governments.
“EPA’s longstanding practice has been not to comment on pending litigation filed by external parties,” Gray said.
He added the EPA has paid approximately $1.3 million in reimbursements and monitoring costs for New Mexico. Other funding has been distributed to Colorado, Utah, the Southern Ute Indian Tribe, the Navajo Nation and the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe.
Louie Diaz, spokesman for Kinross, said in an email Monday that Kinross and Sunnyside Gold were not involved and have no responsibility regarding the mine spill.
The complaint names Kinross Gold Corp., through its subsidiary Kinross Gold USA, as owner of the Sunnyside Mine and neighboring properties near Silverton, Colo.
“Kinross and Sunnyside never owned or operated the Gold King Mine. We will vigorously defend ourselves from this legal action,” Diaz said.
The 51-page complaint asks the federal court to declare the defendants liable under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act for all costs incurred by New Mexico for its response to the releases or threatened releases of hazardous substances from the Gold King Mine and two additional locations, which are also mine sites in the mountains above Silverton.
The court is being asked to declare the named mining companies and EPA contractor in violation of the “imminent and substantial endangerment” provision in the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act.
The contractor, Environmental Restoration, did not return calls seeking comment today.
In addition, it requests EPA Administrator McCarthy to find a way to moderate pollution from inactive and abandoned mines in Colorado that discharge acid mine waste water into the Animas River.
New Mexico is asking the court to declare the mine owners and EPA contractor “negligent, grossly negligent or both” and award the state compensatory, consequential and punitive damages.
The complaint comes months after the state announced its intent to sue the EPA, the owners of the Gold King and Sunnyside mines, and the state of Colorado, which was not named in Monday’s complaint.
James Hallinan, spokesman for the attorney general’s office, said the state is still attempting to resolve issues with Colorado. Letters obtained by The Daily Times sent by Balderas to the EPA and the Colorado attorney general last week detailed some of the state’s problems with responses to the spill.
Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye said the tribe will support New Mexico in its action and the tribe will closely monitor the lawsuit.
The president added the economic and environmental impacts and losses related to the spill, including abandoned crops, “heavily affect” the tribe, and the EPA has yet to reimburse those Navajo farmers and ranchers.
“The U.S. EPA has yet to provide significant clean-up along the river banks and in the river beds. The Navajo Nation is still very concerned that the contaminants will continue to migrate down river, particularly when there is a spike in the flow of the river,” Begaye said.
From the Associated Press (Susan Montoya Bryan) via The Columbian:
The federal lawsuit says the environmental effects of the August 2015 spill are far worse than claimed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. New Mexico wants to be paid back for its immediate response to the disaster and receive funding for long-term monitoring, lost revenue and a marketing campaign to undo the stigma left behind by the bright-yellow plume of arsenic, lead and other heavy metals that fouled rivers in three Western states.
“The liability is crystal clear. The facts speak for themselves, and EPA for whatever reason is unwilling to resolve this outside of court,” New Mexico Environment Secretary Ryan Flynn told The Associated Press. “We’re going to do what we need to do to make sure New Mexicans are protected and compensated for the harm caused.”
Balderas said the spill has had a devastating effect on communities and that the federal agency should be held to the same standards it would impose on private interests accused of polluting.
“Remediation and compensation dollars have been far too minimal for these very special agricultural and cultural communities who depend on this precious water source for irrigation and drinking water,” Balderas said. “They must be properly compensated and there must be appropriate independent monitoring to prevent future dangers to public health and the economy.”
The EPA typically declines to comment about pending litigation but a spokeswoman said last week that the agency was taking responsibility for the cleanup…
A notice sent this month to the EPA outlined the damage and argued that heavy metals in the Animas and San Juan rivers remain at levels that “present unacceptable risks to health and the environment.”
Attorneys for New Mexico argue that the spill was preventable and that the EPA had been warned about a potential blowout nearly a year before the incident.
The state also contends its offers to lead a regional long-term monitoring project to better understand the damage and the prospects of future contamination flowing down the river system have been repeatedly rebuffed by the EPA.
The agency offered $2 million to states and tribes affected by the spill for monitoring, but New Mexico officials say that’s only a fraction of the more than $6 million that would be needed for adequate monitoring in the state.
New Mexico also estimates the spill is costing the state $130 million in lost income taxes, fees and revenue. Officials have pointed to reduced tourism, fishing and land use throughout the region.
The state sued the Environmental Protection Agency, contractor Environmental Restoration LLC, and owners of the Gold King Mine as defendants. It’s the first state to take this kind of legal action…
New Mexico officials say that about $130 million would go toward economic damages, $17 million would be spent on a marketing fund to promote the state’s image, and $6 million would be spent on long-term water quality monitoring. About $1 million would help recoup emergency response costs at the time of the spill.
New Mexico isn’t the only state struggling with covering costs associated with the spill. La Plata County, in Colorado, reports a deficit of nearly $185,849 spent on wages, benefits and water quality monitoring since the spill. San Juan County reports that it’s seeking reimbursement for $357,363 for spill-related expenses through Feb. 29, 2016.
In a lawsuit filed Monday in federal court, Attorney General Hector Balderas and the New Mexico Environment Department cite economic setbacks and environmental damage suffered by the state after more than 3 million gallons of toxic waste was dumped into the river.
It demands reimbursement of $889,327 for short-term emergency-response costs paid by the state, more than $6 million to pay for long-term monitoring of the Animas and San Juan rivers and $130 million for lost income, taxes, fees and revenues suffered by the state because of the spill.
“The river only flows one way,” said Ryan Flynn, New Mexico environment secretary. “Trouble could still be coming for New Mexico. We have been pushing for a monitoring effort since October. Our concept is $6 million plus and five years of comprehensive monitoring that would give us a firm grasp of what is happening in the watershed. All EPA has said is we will give you is $465,000. That just doesn’t cut it.”
Flynn said efforts to resolve issues with the EPA outside of court have proved fruitless.
“I couldn’t tell you what EPA is thinking,” Flynn said. “EPA seems totally unwilling to resolve this in a collaborative manner.”
Among the major impasses between New Mexico and the EPA has been appropriate screening levels for contaminant metals such as lead.
Flynn said the EPA wants to impose a recreational standard that would be safe for hikers and campers, but New Mexico believes the much more strict residential standard should be applied because people live along the affected rivers in New Mexico.
“There are a lot of people whose homes are right on the river or who use the river for a lot more than kayaking,” Flynn said.
“It is inappropriate for the EPA to impose weak testing standards in New Mexico, and I am demanding the highest testing standards that the EPA would impose in any other state in the nation to protect the health and well being of our citizens,” Balderas said. “Additionally, remediation and compensation dollars have been far too minimal for these very special agricultural and cultural communities who depend on this precious water source for irrigation and drinking water. They must be properly compensated, and there must be appropriate independent monitoring to prevent future dangers to public health and economy.”
The EPA does not comment on pending litigation filed by outside parties. But in a statement released Monday, the EPA said the agency takes responsibility for the mine spill cleanup and has been working to reimburse response costs and fund tribal and state monitoring plans as well as conduct its own monitoring of the Animas and San Juan rivers.
“EPA has funded about $1.3 million in reimbursements and monitoring cost for New Mexico to date,” the EPA statement said. “We continue to review documentation and applications for different entities in the state and will expedite payments. New Mexico has $7.1 million available in unallocated federal funds – of which $108,000 has already been approved – to fund real-time monitors in the river.”
Flynn said the EPA has paid back more than $700,000 of the emergency-response money New Mexico shelled out dealing with the spill, but that the state is seeking another $800,000-plus from the federal agency to cover those costs.
New Mexico also wants $130 million to pay for economic losses it attributes to the mine spill.
“We asked our analyst to be as conservative as possible,” Flynn said. “But there is stigma associated with this region due to the yellow river.”
He said that stigma had hurt New Mexico in revenue lost because kayakers, fishermen, hikers and other outdoorsmen have sought other places to enjoy outdoor recreation, tourists have selected other vacation destinations and consumers of agricultural products have looked elsewhere for their purchases.
“The facts speak for themselves,” Flynn said. “They (EPA) are clearly at fault. At the end of the day the law is on our side. EPA is now on the other side of the law it has been fighting to enforce for so many years.”
The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in New Mexico, names the EPA and its administrator, Gina McCarthy, Environmental Restoration, LLC, Kinross Gold Corp., Kinross Gold U.S.A. Inc., and Sunnyside Gold Corp. as defendants. Kinross is the parent company of Sunnyside.
Along with seeking compensation for environmental and economic damages related to the Aug. 5, 2015, Gold King Mine spill, the lawsuit “demands that the Defendants abate the imminent and substantial threats emanating from the mines in Colorado, and remediate residual contamination from the Gold King Mine releases in New Mexico’s surface waters and sediments.”
James Hallinan, communications director for the New Mexico Office of the Attorney General, said he could not comment on open litigation, but the New Mexico Attorney General’s Office is in “ongoing communication” with the state of Colorado over the Gold King spill. The state of Colorado and the owner of the Gold King Mine were not named in the lawsuit filed Monday, although in March the New Mexico Environment Department filed notice of its intent to sue those parties as well.
Colorado Attorney General Office spokeswoman Erin Lamb declined to comment on the lawsuit.
A spokesman with Kinross Gold Corp. responded in an email to a request for comment: “Kinross Gold and Sunnyside Gold were not involved and have no responsibility regarding the incident on August 5th, 2015 and Kinross and Sunnyside never owned or operated the Gold King Mine. We will vigorously defend ourselves from this legal action.”
The lawsuit claims the “root cause” of the disaster dates back more than 20 years to Sunnyside Gold’s attempt to block acid mine drainage by building bulkheads in drainage tunnels below the mine. The owners of the Gold King and Sunnyside mines have disputed the source of the wastewater buildup.
“These bulkheads impounded possibly billions of gallons of acid mine drainage and wastewater in Bonita Peak Mountain and caused the water to flood several adjacent mines,” the complaint says. It accuses Sunnyside Gold of using the mountain to store its waste rather than properly treating it.
A federal grant will fund an economic development coordinator to help Silverton and San Juan County businesses during the potential Superfund cleanup of historic mines.
“They are totally reliant on tourism, and we don’t know how that will be impacted,” said Laura Lewis Marchino, the deputy director of the Region 9 Economic Development District.
The U.S. Economic Development Administration is providing about $115,600 to pay a coordinator for two years and cover expenses such as marketing materials and travel, Marchino said.
The coordinator will be focused on supporting existing businesses through the federal cleanup of the Bonita Peak Mining District, which could include 48 mine-related sites.
The mining district was recommended for a Superfund listing in April following the Aug. 5 mine blowout, and the proposed designation is nearing the end of a 60-day comment period.
Easing the housing shortage when Superfund workers come to town will likely be another priority for the coordinator, she said.
During the construction of the temporary water-treatment plant near the Gold King Mine, there was not enough housing, she said.
The town needs more rentals so that hotel and motel rooms aren’t used as permanent housing.
The five-member San Juan Development Association Board that includes representatives from the town of Silverton, San Juan County, the Silverton Chamber of Commerce and Region 9 will hire the new coordinator.
Region 9 will manage the two-year grant, and Marchino would like to have the position filled by late summer.
“We needed to do what we could to help,” she said.
Spring snowmelt is already bringing fast-moving and rising water to the Arkansas River in Pueblo, according to the local Swift Water Rescue Team, and kayakers and fishermen alike are being urged to take caution.
The U.S. Geological Survey showed the Arkansas River spiking by 600 cubic feet per second on Monday through Pueblo, deepening one stretch by a whole foot. The river at the Moffat Street gauge was running at 1,440 cfs on Wednesday afternoon, making water in the city kayak course in particular a challenge, according to KOAA Channel 5.
“The kayak course … was designed for people who are used to kayaking or boating, who know what they’re doing and have more river experience,” Pueblo Fired Department engineer Ryan Moran told the news outlet. “This is not a place for just inner-tubing leisurely.”
Denver Water says, so far this year, their water supply is in good shape thanks to above-average snowpack levels in the local collection areas, nearly full reservoirs and continued efficient water use by consumers.
But what will it look like as the state heads into the hot, summer months?
Water conservation is not only needed in dry years. Colorado is a dry area, and water is finite. It’s vital for those who live in the state to conserve water in order for Colorado’s economy to thrive. Farmers and ranchers across the state rely on higher water levels. Wildlife and aquatic life in local rivers and streams need enough to live off of. Those who enjoy the recreational activities in the state want higher river and reservoir levels.
No matter what the conditions may be, Coloradans must use water efficiently. Denver Water has annual summer watering rules in place from May 1 until Oct. 1. The rules should reinforce best practices to help customers use water properly and when needed while still keeping landscapes healthy.
The biggest mistakes people make is with their irrigation controller settings. Sprinkler systems are not meant to be forgotten once they are set. It’s important that consumers adjust their settings depending upon the month and recent rainfall. That means, if it rains, and your system doesn’t have a rain sensor, turn off your irrigation system until your landscape needs water again.
The last time two states went to war over water, it was 1934. The combatants were California and Arizona and the casus belli was the start of construction of Parker Dam, which would direct water from the Colorado River into California via the Colorado River Aqueduct.
The episode unfolded with a sort of Gilbert and Sullivan absurdity. Arizona’s governor, Benjamin Baker Moeur, dispatched a handful of National Guardsmen upriver in a ferryboat named the Julia B., which frontline correspondents dispatched to the river by The Times and other California newspapers happily dubbed the “Arizona Navy.” The “brave little Julia B.,” The Times reported, promptly ran into a sand bank and got worked free by bridge-building crews, after which a truce was dictated by the federal government.
The next water war may involve the same combatants, but may not be so amusing. Lake Mead, the main reservoir holding Colorado River water for California, Arizona and Nevada, has reached its lowest point since it began filling behind Hoover Dam in 1935. As of midnight Sunday, the lake reached 1,074.37 feet above sea level. It’s expected to keep falling until mid-summer, reaching 1,070 feet before seasonal agricultural demand falls off and it begins to fill again. Last year, the reservoir reached a low point of about 1,075 feet, but not until late June.
The long-term prospects for Colorado River supply are dire. Demand for its water among the seven states of the river basin–chiefly California and Arizona–hopelessly outstrips the supply, and has been almost since the seven states in its basin worked out an allocation deal in 1922. That interstate compact, brokered by then-Commerce Secretary Herbert Hoover, was based on an estimate of river flows that was flagrantly inflated and never has been met. Since then, the recognition of claims from Mexico and Southwestern Indian tribes has only increased demand. Climate change and drought are making the crisis worse.
So water officials from California, Arizona and Nevada have been meeting to work out a solution. Arizona faces the most pressing deadline: Under existing agreements, if the current Lake Mead level persists to the end of this year, the Central Arizona Project, which supplies Colorado River water to Phoenix and Tucson, will be required to give up roughly 13% of its allocation. Further cutbacks are mandated if the lake falls to 1,050 and 1,025 feet, at which point Arizona would lose 17% of its water. Each cutback would especially threaten the livelihood of farmers dependent on the Central Arizona project, who have the most junior rights to the water.
Nevada would also face cuts, though these would be relatively modest, since the state has the smallest allocation from the river.
The interstate talks are focused on maintaining the level of Lake Mead to avert a federal declaration of shortage triggering the Arizona and Nevada cutbacks. The idea on the table involves California’s taking a voluntary reduction of as much as 8% of its annual allocation of 4.4 million acre feet from the river if the level gets much lower. That would be an extraordinary concession, since existing interstate and federal agreements largely exempt California from any cutbacks as long as there’s water in Lake Mead to meet its allocation. The chief consequences for California of a continued decline in Lake Mead’s water level is that the date of a required renegotiation of water allocations, now set at 2026, would be accelerated by several years. (One acre-foot equals about 326,000 gallons, enough to serve one or two average California households.)
But California officials know that working out an interstate deal to keep the reservoir level higher is the wiser option in the long run. “At the end of the day,” says Jeffrey Kightlinger, general manager of Southern California’s Metropolitan Water District, “once you get so low, California loses out.”
Among the risks is that federal officials could step in to impose a reallocation settlement among the three states. Arizona’s U.S. senators, John McCain and Jeff Flake, already have hinted at trying to work a settlement agreement into federal legislation, a step that would probably provoke a donnybrook among the two states’ congressional delegations without resolving the underlying issues.
“If you ask Congress to solve your problems,” Kightlinger says, “you’re usually asking for trouble.”
Nor does anyone want the issue to land in court; the last major lawsuit over river water, the 1952-vintage Arizona vs. California, would last 11 years and go down in history as one of the longest, costliest and most complicated ever to come before the Supreme Court. Its outcome pleased neither party, for the justices ruled that federal officials, not the states, had the ultimate say on the river — “the life-and-death power of dispensation of water rights long administered according to state law,” complained Justice William O. Douglas in a furious dissent.
All the parties are under pressure to reach an agreement by the end of this year, before the current administration leaves office and the process has to start anew with new federal overseers. But the interstate complexities may pale in comparison with the difficulty of working out agreements among water users within each state. California’s Imperial Irrigation District, which has the largest entitlement of Colorado River water, has balked at any agreement to preserve water levels in Lake Mead without a parallel agreement to preserve the Salton Sea. That huge inland pond has suffered as a result of earlier multi-billion-dollar deals by which the Imperial Irrigation District transferred water to San Diego, the MWD and other users.
The shrinkage of the sea already is an environmental and public health disaster. Withholding more water in Lake Mead without a rescue plan would be unacceptable, Imperial Irrigation District General Manager Kevin Kelley said recently. “The Salton Sea has always been the elephant in the room in these talks,” he told the Desert Sun newspaper.
The real elephant in the room, however, is the prospect of a lasting shortage in Colorado River water supply. Says Kightlinger, “It’s no longer a matter of if, but when.”
Two projects to improve Fountain Creek will get underway soon after contracts were approved at Friday’s meeting of the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District.
A $67,000 contract with MWH Global was approved to evaluate flood control alternatives on Fountain Creek between Colorado Springs and Pueblo.
It’s the next phase of a project to determine the best type and placement of flood control structures on Fountain Creek, which could include a dam or several smaller detention ponds.
The planning started with a U.S. Geological Survey study in 2013 that identified the most effective concepts to protect Pueblo from severe floods and reduce harmful sedimentation. Last year, another study determined flood control projects could be built without harming water rights downstream.
The new study will use $41,800 in grants from the Colorado Water Conservation Board through the roundtable process. It is expected to be complete by Jan. 31, 2017.
A second project, totaling $60,000, was approved to continue a study of Fountain Creek stability and sediment loading by Matrix Design. The project was begun in 2010, and will identify the most critical areas for projects along Fountain Creek.
The district obtained matching funds for the projects through the payment of $125,000 from Colorado Springs Utilities to the district under terms of a recent intergovernmental agreement with Pueblo County that allowed Southern Delivery System to be put into service.
The district board also agreed on a formula to fund routine operation of the district among member governments in Pueblo and El Paso County. The district is looking at $200,000 in funding for next year’s budget. The funding is allocated by population, with Colorado Springs paying half; unincorporated El Paso County, 25 percent; small incorporated cities in El Paso County, 5 percent. The city of Pueblo would pay $26,000, or 13 percent; Pueblo County, $13,000, or 6.5 percent.
Those costs are still subject to approval by each governmental entity.
Thanks to spring snowfalls and cooler temperatures keeping the snow in the mountains a bit longer, the Rio Grande Basin’s snowpack is now above normal.
In fact in the northern part of the basin the threat of flooding conditions now exists, Colorado Division of Water Resources Division 3 Assistant Division Engineer James Heath told water leaders at the Rio Grande Roundtable on Tuesday afternoon in Alamosa.
He said as of [May 16], the basin snowpack was 104 percent of normal.
“We exceeded last year’s peak, which is good,” he said. “We are looking at a pretty good runoff. The northern part of the Valley is looking at flooding conditions already.”
He said La Garita and Carnero Creeks are already running at about 100 cubic feet per second (cfs). They typically peak at 50-60 cfs.
“They will get higher over the next week,” he said.
He said Saguache Creek is running at 175 cfs and is steadily climbing.
Heath said the Division of Water Resources is reviewing three forecasts to help determine what the annual flow of the Rio Grande and Conejos River systems will be this year, but the three forecasts vary quite a bit. Traditionally the water office has relied on the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) but is also now reviewing forecasts from the National Weather Service and WRF-Hydro, a modeling system developed by the National Center for Atmospheric Research.
On the Rio Grande, the National Weather Service has the highest forecast of 659,000 acre feet for the April-September time period , WRF-Hydro the next highest at 542,100 acre feet with NRCS at 445,000 acre feet for April-September . Division Engineer Craig Cotten decided to use a figure of 540,000 acre feet for the April-September time period and 660,000 acre feet for the calendar year.
“That’s above average on the Rio Grande system,” Heath said.
Thanks to return flows, the water division is going to maintain curtailment levels at 13 percent on the Rio Grande.
Curtailments on the Conejos River system have gone up, however, Heath explained. Curtailments were at 22 percent when the irrigation season started and now are at 26 percent.
The total anticipated flow of the Conejos River system this year is 300,000 acre feet, which is about average, Heath said, with 267,500 acre feet anticipated April-September. The forecasts between NRCS, the National Weather Service and WRF-Hydro were not as disparate on the Conejos system, with NRCS estimating 208,500 acre feet April-September, the National Weather Service predicting 327,000 acre feet and WRF-Hydro anticipating 297,700 acre feet.
It also causes the snowpack to melt sooner, which affects runoff into the San Luis Valley’s rivers, creeks and irrigation ditches.
The only place in Colorado to do so, the Center for Snow & Avalanche Studies (CSAS) monitors and measures dust-on-snow events at 11 mountainous locations including two affecting the San Luis Valley, Wolf Creek Pass and Spring Creek Pass.
CSAS Director Jeff Derry talked about the center’s work and made a preview presentation for financial support to the Rio Grande Roundtable on [May 17] in Alamosa. The water group will consider the formal request during its next meeting.
Derry said the data the dust-onsnow studies provide helps improve snowmelt forecasts.
“We collect a lot of data that SNOTEL does not,” he said.
The monitoring sites are at higher elevations than most SNOTEL measurement sites, he said.
Colorado’s recently completed water plan acknowledges dust on snow as a problem, Derry said. Simply put, when the snow is dirty, it melts faster because it does not reflect off the sun as well, Derry explained.
He said there could be several dust-on-snow events through a winter, which create layers of dust between snowfall layers in the snowpack, and in the spring when the snow begins to melt off the mountain, when the snowpack reaches those dust layers, it melts at a higher rate. This can explain erratic peaks in runoff, he said.
“Dust can be a major error in forecasting because they don’t know where dust might be in the snowpack so they can’t account for it,” Derry said. He said the biggest source of dust is from the Southern Colorado Plateau. The only way to know how many layers of dust there are in the snowpack is to dig snow pits, Derry said. “There’s just no substitute for going out and digging a snow pit.” He said this year on average there were about six dust events, with most of those being moderate events. Last winter there were three. “We usually see about eight events a year,” Derry said. There have been as many as 12-13 dust events in a year, however.
Rio Grande Roundtable Chairman Nathan Coombs said this type of information could be valuable for water management in the basin.
“This is a very big decision-making tool,” he said.
“Any kind of forecasting tool is very important to us,” added Roundtable member Travis Smith.
Derry will be asking for financial assistance from each of the basin roundtables . His first request was to the Rio Grande Basin roundtable.
He is asking for $25,000, but that could be split over more than one year, he said.
Colorado snowpack reached 104 percent of median by May 1, the Natural Resources Conservation Service reported Friday in a news release.
Conditions have shown the first improvement over the previous month since Jan. 1.
Mountain precipitation across the state during April was the best in 2016 at 110 percent of normal. Water year-to-date is at 100 percent of normal.
Colorado’s current snowpack and precipitation levels are right where they should be this time of year, Brian Domonkos, Colorado snow survey supervisor, said.
Elsewhere in the West seasonal snowpack has succumbed to early spring warming and has not recovered as Colorado did from recent storms, he said.
“In the Pacific Northwest, low precipitation and high temperatures led to a dramatic reduction in snowpack,” said NRCS hydrologist Cara McCarthy. “In this area, peak streamflow is arriving weeks earlier than normal this year.”
Not all areas have low snowpack. “Parts of Wyoming and Colorado have seen much above-average precipitation in recent weeks, causing concerns about potential flooding in the North Platte,” said McCarthy.
Snowpack for the North Platte River basin is 114 of median, 177 percent of last year.
The South Platte River basin is 114 percent of median, 117 percent of last year.
The seven major mountain watersheds in Colorado all received 90 percent of normal April precipitation or better. Special mention is warranted in the Arkansas, Upper Rio Grande and combined Yampa, White and North Platte basins because these areas received 120 percent of normal or better precipitation.
Rio Grande River Basin snowpack reached 77 percent of median and 269 percent of last year’s snowpack.
Yampa/White river basins are sitting at 106 percent of median, 224 percent of last year’s snowpack.
The seven major watersheds also have 90 percent of normal or better water year-to-date precipitation.
Arkansas River Basin snowpack reached 110 percent of median, 122 percent of last year’s snowpack.
Snowpack metrics indicate that the North and South Platte river basins have the best snowpack in the state at 114 percent of normal.
The Arkansas River saw the greatest improvement in April, while the Upper Rio Grande and combined San Miguel, Dolores, Animas and San Juan basins saw little change. Snowpack there is now 77 and 85 percent of normal, respectively.
Although not reflected in snowpack values, the NRCS noted it is also fortunate that rain was abundant most particularly in the Upper Rio Grande, which added to the greater water budget.
Statewide reservoir totals increased 1 percent since April 1, ending the month at 112 percent of normal, with declines occurring in the Rio Grande, Arkansas and combined Yampa, White and North Platte watersheds.
From the Associated Press (Susan Montoya Bryan) via The Native Times:
The federal government and Colorado have made little progress in remedying damage from the release of millions of gallons of wastewater from a southern Colorado mine last year, New Mexico’s top prosecutor charged in a pair of scathing letters sent to officials this week.
The wastewater, which contained arsenic, copper, lead, mercury and other dangerous pollutants, rushed down a Colorado mountainside and eventually fouled rivers in three Western states, setting off a major response by government agencies and private groups.
Attorney General Hector Balderas wrote to the head of the U.S Environmental Protection Agency and Colorado officials as New Mexico’s threat to sue the agency, the neighboring state and two mining companies remains on the table.
Balderas said New Mexico reached out to discuss independent monitoring and remedial measures in the wake of the spill, but he’s concerned about the lack of progress.
New Mexico’s requests have been disregarded and minimized, he said.
“I am disappointed by the continued unwillingness to respond to the New Mexico Environment Department’s numerous attempts to resolve this matter diplomatically and outside of court,” Balderas said. “The safe and peaceful livelihood of our citizens should override any political or scientific indifferences that we face.”
The EPA didn’t comment directly on the letter, but a spokeswoman told The Associated Press that the agency takes responsibility for the cleanup of the spill.
Erin Lamb, a spokeswoman for Colorado Attorney General Cynthia Coffman, declined to comment because of the possible litigation.
The EPA announced last month that it would reimburse states, tribes and local governments about $1 million for their costs after an EPA-led crew triggered the release of 3 million gallons of wastewater from the inactive Gold King Mine while doing preliminary cleanup work.
Most of the money is for the cost of responding to the spill, but requests for another $570,000 in expenses from the immediate aftermath are still being considered.
During the spill, water utilities briefly shut down their intake valves and farmers stopped drawing from the rivers as the bright yellow plume moved downstream.
The EPA said the water quality quickly returned to pre-spill levels, but some continue to warn about heavy metals collecting in the sediment and being stirred up each time rain or snowmelt results in runoff.
In his letters, Balderas said New Mexico’s agricultural landscape was severely damaged by what he described as a catastrophe. He said meeting the state’s repeated and reasonable demands for compensation and long-term monitoring would be a step toward justice.
“Following this tragic incident, our greatest concern should be ensuring that the people and the lands we live on are free from hazardous materials,” he wrote.
According to the EPA, $2 million has been allocated to support the states’ and tribes’ monitoring plans. Another $628,000 will help to fund a real-time alert system that will monitor water quality.
Sampling locations also have been set up in Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and on Southern Ute, Ute Mountain Ute and Navajo tribal lands as part of the EPA’s monitoring program.
New Mexico has developed its own monitoring plan and the city of Farmington, which taps the Animas River for drinking water, has installed sensors to detect contamination.
As the Colorado River dries out, the seven states that rely on this body of water risk water scarcity. Colorado state historian Patty Limerick discusses preparations for water scarcity in the West.
MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
Now we’re going to take the conversation closer to home. Water is becoming a major topic of concern in the American West. Just take the Colorado River. Forty million people in seven states depend upon it for drinking, farming and recreation, and the strain on the river is showing. For the last decade, the Colorado River has been completely dry by the time it completes its 1,400 mile journey to the Sea of Cortez.
That’s just one reason we’re heading to Colorado on Tuesday for our live event series. And one of the people we’ll meet up with there is Patty Limerick. She’s the faculty director for the Center for the American West in Boulder, and she’s also the Colorado state historian. Patty, thanks so much for joining us.
PATTY LIMERICK: Oh, what a pleasure. Thanks so much for having me.
MARTIN: Now you have a saying that I want to introduce everybody to. You call the last 100 years in the American West, quote, “the era of improbable comfort made possible by a truly astonishing but taken for granted infrastructure,” unquote. It’s catchy. But unpack that for me.
LIMERICK: Oh, thank you. In my opinion, that’s just a wonderful way of saying after initial encounters of Euro-Americans with this region, they just thought, it’s too dry for conventional American settlement. It can’t happen here. Then all kinds of ingenuity and hard work kicked in, and this place became a very comfortable place to live.
You turn on a faucet, you get water. You turn on a switch, you get electricity. It’s just a – it’s a remarkable transformation. And so if you look before this era and if you look at the future, that is implausible and improbable comfort. And it is not guaranteed for the ages. In fact, this is a time of great reckoning.
MARTIN: Do I take that to mean that you believe that era is now over? And if so, why? Is it because of climate change, or is it because of demand?
LIMERICK: Yeah, I think it’s petering out more than ended. I think a whole bunch of factors – certainly climate change – and as the managers of, well, most water utilities say it’s not that we’re moving from one determined, defined state of precipitation to another one. The past no longer really give us our bearings. We don’t know that there’s not going to be a new, stable normal. It’s really a state of continued uncertainty. I’ve been in this area for 32 years, and I would say I see change.
MARTIN: Now a World Bank report said that lack of water could give rise to a lot of interpersonal conflict. In your state, conflicts have already arisen with the eastern and western parts of the state sometimes in conflict over water rights. I mean, do you – is that something that you see?
LIMERICK: I think it’s an open question. I would say there’s a very strong streak of collaboration. And the state of Colorado has a state water plan for the first time in its history. It was a very long process. And they squabbled, they fought, but then they reached some kind of report that they could all stand behind. Now having that as a written document is pretty different from having a new this is how we conduct ourselves and this is how water is allocated.
MARTIN: So what I think I hear you saying is that conflict isn’t the only choice. What you also see…
MARTIN: …Are new pathways to collaboration around this because people are understanding just how crucial it is. So, Patty, before we let you go, why should people in other parts of the country care about this?
LIMERICK: Because you can have droughts in the southeast. Georgia and Alabama – those states have squabbled over water during periods of drought. And bedrock – most important – water quality can create a problem of scarcity. I don’t want to take us off track, but Flint, Mich. is the place to remember – to think it’s not just the West.
MARTIN: Patty Limerick is the Colorado state historian and the faculty director of the Center for the American West in Boulder. She will be joining me in Fort Collins, Colo., on Tuesday for our live event. It’s called The Future of Water. It’s a conversation about a lot of the things that we’ve been talking about and more. You can start joining the conversation right now if you care to. Our hashtag is #nprh20. That’s on Tuesday in Fort Collins, Colo. Patty, thank you so much for joining us.
LIMERICK: Oh, thank you. I can’t wait until Tuesday.
More water is lost across the seven-state basin to evaporation due to human factors such as irrigation during July — about 8.5 million acre-feet — than what flows downriver from Lake Powell to Lake Mead in an average year, says the study, from seven researchers in Southern California, Taiwan and China.
The 8.5 million acre-feet is more than five years worth of Central Arizona Project water for Tucson, Phoenix and neighboring cities and farms. An acre-foot covers a football field a foot deep.
During July, 38 percent of evaporation in the seven-state basin — which also includes big reservoirs such as Lake Powell and Lake Mead — is typically caused by human factors, the study says. Year-round, the human share is about 12 percent, the study says.
The study, covering 2003 to 2010, used satellite data and computer models to calculate the difference between natural and human causes of what’s called evapotranspiration — a combination of two forces.
Evaporation occurs from a water body such as a reservoir or river. Transpiration occurs when water irrigates a crop, is taken up into plants through its roots, and goes on small pores on the underside of leaves. There, it changes to vapor and is released.
The 8.5 million acre-feet is “a pretty big number, for sure,” said Stephanie Castle, a water resource specialist in Irvine, California, who co-authored the study. “The middle of summer is when it’s hottest, when there’s the most evaporation off Mead and Powell, and when it’s more likely that irrigation is applied.”
Hopefully the study will start a conversation about how to minimize evapotranspiration losses, said another author, Jay Famiglietti, a senior scientist for NASA’s Joint Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena.
“We lose a lot of water from reservoirs that were built at a time when we didn’t think evapotranspiration was as important as we do today. We can’t fix the problem if we don’t start putting numbers out for comparison,” Famiglietti said.
Evaporation from reservoirs has long been a flash point for environmentalists who decry the damming of rivers and its resulting environmental degradation to store water for people…
As long as reservoirs exist, it’s unlikely much can be done to reduce their evaporation because they’re too big, Famiglietti said. But irrigation water loss “is a bit easier problem to tackle,” said Famiglietti, who earned a master’s degree in hydrology from the University of Arizona in 1986.
“Using less water and being more efficient with irrigated agriculture can certainly help,” he said, particularly drip irrigation lines that can be covered by topsoil.
The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, which operates the Colorado’s reservoirs, declined detailed comment on the study, as did the Central Arizona Project.
“It’s interesting information to add to the studies that exist already regarding the Colorado River,” said bureau spokeswoman Rose Davis. “We appreciate the interest in the Colorado River.”
Losing water to evaporation “is the price we pay for having four years worth of water stored in the reservoirs,” added CAP spokesman Mitch Basefsky.
The Arizona Farm Bureau, a farmers’ educational and advocacy group, agreed that the study touches on a valid concern that desert states with low humidity and high temperatures have high evapotranspiration rates. But Arizona farmers using flood irrigation have modified practices to reduce water use and evapotranspiration, said Julie Murphree, a Farm Bureau spokeswoman.
“Unfortunately, such a study does not take into account all the things the farmers are doing to reduce water use,” Murphree said.
UA hydrologist Thomas Meixner and Oregon State University hydrologist Michael Campana generally praised the study, in part because it shows the importance of using satellite data to measure evaporation. Evaportranspiration is probably the most difficult form of water behavior to measure, since you can’t see it, said Campana, who earned a master’s degree and a doctorate at the UA in the 1970s.
While the discovery of large-scale evapotranspiration may not be shocking, it’s important that the researchers were able to measure it, Meixner said. If you do wholesale changes to landscapes, he said, you need to know: “How does that affect the climate?”
How much snowmelt will eventually flow into our reservoirs and rivers? Join us to learn all about this year’s snowpack figures, water supply forecasts and anticipated stream flows & conditions.
The Colorado River District and the Middle Colorado Watershed Council will co-sponsor the annual “State of the River” meeting on Wednesday, May 25 from 6-8pm at the Ute Events Center in Rifle. The public meeting will provide an overview of expected river flows in the Colorado River, as well as other topics pertaining to the Watershed. The packed lineup will include:
Victor Lee, Hydrologic Monitoring Program Coordinator, Bureau of Reclamation
Laurie Rink, Executive Director, Middle Colorado Watershed Council
Jim Miller, Utility Director, City of Rifle
Eric Kuhn, General Manager, Colorado River District
Nolan Doesken, Colorado State Climatologist, Colorado Climate Center
WHEN Wednesday, May 25, 2016 from 6:00 PM to 8:00 PM (MDT)
WHERE: Ute Theater and Events Center – 132 East 4th Street, Rifle, CO 81650
For two decades, the local Animas River Stakeholder Group drove efforts to deal with acid metals draining from the hundreds of mines drilled into mountains above Silverton. And the EPA-triggered Aug. 5 Gold King disaster prompted formation of more groups motivated to clean the river and restore riparian habitat.
But with the EPA launching a federal bureaucratic process, locals are asking how, if at all, they will fit. Residents want a role beyond sitting at meetings.
“It definitely has taken the wind out of our sails,” stakeholder group coordinator Peter Butler said. “It’s unclear what the Animas River Stakeholder Group’s future will be.”
This jumble of inactive mines ranks among the worst in the West, draining more than 1,000 gallons a minute of arsenic, cadmium, zinc, lead and other contaminants into streams.
The locals hired mining engineers and identified major polluters, tested soil and water at 160 mines, and began to route water away from exposed minerals.
But the job is huge, and locals, even with the state and federal support they received, hit limits.
Butler said they “ran out of steam” due to high costs of plugging mines and treating water and liability under the Clean Water Act for projects that only partially reduce pollution — a legal catch Congress has not addressed.
An EPA takeover means more federal funding may be available.
The issue is whether momentum, buy-in and funding for grassroots stewardship will suffer.
At a recent EPA briefing on the Superfund process, San Juan County Commissioner Pete McKay asked about the role for locals.
EPA officials say they want to include residents and propose creating a Community Advisory Group that the EPA could use for communication and dialogue.
“I certainly appreciate the opportunity to learn from all the information they have,” EPA project manager Rebecca Thomas said. “There are a lot of different stakeholder groups. We’re looking forward to working with all of them.”
At other mining Superfund sites — around Leadville, Central City and Creede — the EPA established advisory groups. Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment officials, who work with the EPA, embrace this approach.
“We’ve learned it’s better to get people involved on the front end. It makes for a smoother process,” CDPHE Superfund unit leader Doug Jamison said in an interview.
Yet mistrust of the EPA runs deep in Silverton — all the deeper because it was an EPA-contractor crew that botched work at the Gold King, triggering the 3 million-gallon blowout that turned the Animas mustard-yellow…
When the last mine closed in 1991 (the Sunnyside), old-timers couldn’t accept falling behind. They resisted an EPA-run cleanup, dreading federal control, and hoped for a mining revival.
That has changed after the Gold King disaster. More residents are involved, demanding cleanup, launching new projects that build on work done by the Animas stakeholders and conservation groups such as Trout Unlimited. At the recent meeting, Silverton town manager Bill Gardner challenged EPA assurances that sufficient federal funds are available and said he wants the EPA to make sure research scientists are involved in developing solutions at mines.
A new Animas River Community Forum has drawn on expertise at Fort Lewis College in Durango. San Juan Basin Health officials recently installed one of the nation’s most-advanced river monitoring systems on the Animas. Sensors in the river send acidity, turbidity and metals information every 15 minutes that local officials can monitor on computers.
“We have a lot more attention to the health of our watershed than we’ve had for a long time, maybe ever. We have a lot more focus on getting things done since the river turned orange,” county health spokesman Brian Devine said…
Superfund cleanups are slow and can last decades.
“We’re all going to die before this thing’s over,” [Marcie Bidwell] said.
“But this is a great opportunity for the EPA to innovate in how they go about the process of involving communities.”
Location map for abandoned mine near Silverton. The Silver Wing is in the upper right corner of the aerial.
Colorado Springs Utilities presented the first of five $10 million payments to the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District this week.
The check was actually for $9,578,817, in order to reflect prepayment of $600,000 and interest payments.
The payment of $50 million to the district is a condition of the Pueblo County 1041 agreement with Pueblo County, reached in 2009 for the construction of the Southern Delivery System.
The district has plans to spend about $2.5 million this year, as it continues studies of where the best sites for dams or detention ponds are located. The money could be used to leverage funds for large projects such as a dam.
The second $10 million payment is due Jan. 15.
The money is to be used for Fountain Creek flood control projects, including a possible dam, that have a primary, not incidental benefit to Pueblo.
The release of the money was made possible by the settlement of stormwater control issues that arose after Colorado Springs abolished its stormwater enterprise in 2009. That agreement requires Colorado Springs to spend an additional $460 million to control stormwater in the city.
The enterprise was in place when Pueblo County issued its 1041 permit in 2009, which allowed Colorado Springs Utilities to construct the 17-mile portion of the pipeline in Pueblo County.
SDS is a 50-mile pipeline from Pueblo Dam to Colorado Springs. Colorado Springs, Security, Fountain and Pueblo West all benefit from the $825 million project.
Meanwhile, Fountain Creek keeps knocking out Colorado Springs’ stormwater control projects. Here’s a report from Chris Woodka writing for The Pueblo Chieftain:
Two projects meant to improve Fountain Creek through Pueblo have not held up well, but the city is not in a position to simply walk away from them.
Both were kicked off with a great deal of fanfare in 2011 as part of a $1.5 million demonstration project, but neither was able to withstand high water that came in single events in 2011 and 2013 or in a prolonged deluge in 2015.
Jeff Bailey, Pueblo’s stormwater director, gave a bleak assessment to the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District Friday of the side detention pond that was built behind the North Side Walmart and the sediment collector located just north of the confluence with the Arkansas River.
He inherited both projects two years ago, and didn’t sound thrilled with either. But because of the investment put into the collector and the environmental implications of the detention pond, he is obligated to try to make them work.
The pond was designed to collect water as it backs up from a full channel, then slowly release it as the water recedes.
But the detention pond flooded in September 2011 before the project was completely finished. That scoured the ground too deeply, causing the pond to intercept groundwater. There wasn’t enough money to fill the pond, so the city — through an arrangement with the Pueblo Board of Water Works — must repay the evaporation costs each year.
The floods in 2013 and 2015 damaged the east retaining wall of the pond and took out most of the service road to the north bank. Disaster funds from the Federal Emergency Management Agency can be applied to repairing the embankment, but the money is slow in coming, Bailey explained.
The Army Corps of Engineers won’t allow the city to disturb the wetlands that were created as part of the project. Finally, sediment has clogged the inlet/outlet pipe.
“Because of all this stuff, it’s difficult to maintain,” Bailey said.
The sediment collector was put in by Streamside Systems, and billed as a way to continuously dredge Fountain Creek by removing sediment as water washed over the large concrete structure. But differing opinions about where it should be placed and how it should be operating led to failure after it initially collected a pile of sand.
The device relies on pumps to remove sediment laden water, then return the water to the exact point where it was taken out. But when it is turned off, sediment continues to fall into it.
“It’s very labor intensive to clean out the collector and the pipes,” Bailey said.
No sediment has been collected since July 2013, and the collector is buried under 3-4 feet of sand.
“Since I came into stormwater, I’ve decided to give it one more college try and attempt to make it operational at low flows,” Bailey said. “We’re hoping to do it this winter. But we have to get it set up before we can turn it back on.”
Bailey said collectors work in other places, and there’s still a chance Pueblo’s could be functional. He plans to install a concrete “forebay” that could be easily cleaned, and then perhaps it could begin collecting large amounts of sediment.
During the initial installation, there were discussions about what to do with the sediment.
“That’s a problem I’d love to have,” Bailey said.
Some of the funding for the project could come from $3 million that Colorado Springs Utilities made available through its recent settlement with Pueblo County and $2.2 million that it paid earlier to settle dredging issues under the 1041 permit for Southern Delivery System. Already, $350,000 has been spent on the sediment collector.
Pueblo County Commissioner Terry Hart, chairman of the Fountain Creek board, said that money also has to be used for such things as debris removal as well.
“But some of the money could go for (the collector),” Hart said, “We’ve invested a lot of money in it already.”