The administration of water rights is serious business. Governor Hickenlooper recognized the need for a Colorado Water Plan and then issued an executive order to produce one. Some said that he was asking them to, “Do the impossible,” that is, bring the varied entrenched water interests in Colorado together.
The Colorado Foundation for Water Education presented the Governor with their first Dianne Hoppe Leadership Award yesterday evening. Eric Hecox, board president, cited Hickenlooper’s leadership, dedication to wise governance, and faith in the power of listening to all sides in an issue to find common ground.
The governor credited everyone involved with the Water Plan. He singled out the IBCC and roundtables for their 10 years of effort working the grass roots across Colorado.
Heather Dutton received the Emerging Leader Award. Greg Hobbs’ introduction on Your Colorado Water Blog says, “[Heather Dutton] the newest manager of the San Luis Valley Water Conservancy District, glories in the heritage of the Rio Grande River. She’s a fifth-generation daughter of the Valley’s farming and ranching community, like her father Doug, who farms in the center of the Valley.”
Ms. Dutton thanked her family for their support and also cited the collaboration and mentoring from friends and colleagues.
Nicole Seltzer and the CFWE staff are getting pretty good at throwing these shindigs. I thought it was a great tribute. to change the President’s Award name to the Diane Hoppe Leadership Award. She was instrumental in passing the legislation that established the Colorado Foundation for Water Education. Diane passed this year but leaves a deep legacy.
Here’s a gallery of photos from the event:
Greg Hobbs and Ken Wright
Jamie Alvarez at the Diane Hoppe Leadership Award Celebration (CFWE) May 20, 2016.
On this day a year from now, Coloradans will get to celebrate Colorado Public Lands Day, thanks to a bill that squeaked through the gridlocked legislature this year.
But in terms of better protecting Colorado’s public lands, that hat-tip is about all that got accomplished this legislative session…
And like most discussions of the increasingly politicized issue of public lands in the West, the commemorative day turned into a mountain-sized argument. Kerry Donovan, a Democratic state senator from Vail, introduced Senate Bill 21 during the first week of the four-month session in January, and it passed during the session’s last week in May.
Amendments in the legislature larded up the bill with partisanship and acrimony. Finally, Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg, a strong conservative from Sterling, brokered a solution in a committee tasked to find a compromise.
The committee stripped out all the added amendments and preserved just the day and its name…
House Democrats killed another Republican bill this year that would have given local and state law enforcement more authority over federally managed lands…
In a West Vail diner this week, cradled by the high, green shoulders of the White River National Forest, Donovan reflected on the work that led to Hickenlooper’s signing her bill into law, making the third Saturday in May each year Colorado Public Lands Day…
Over eggs benedict and coffee, Donovan pulled out a letter her grandfather, Bill Mounsey, wrote to Gov. Dick Lamm in 1976. He compared the growing public push to preserve public lands to the American Revolution. Mounsey helped chart the boundaries for the Eagle’s Nest, the Flat Tops and the Weminuche wilderness areas for The Wilderness Society.
Her parents successfully sued the U.S. Forest Service in the early 1970s to prevent a timber sale in what would become the Eagle’s Nest Wilderness Area, protections that were pending before Congress.
To Donovan and countless Coloradans, public lands are a lot more than trees and dirt — they’re a fight worth having.
“They’re one of the most beautiful examples of democracy, right?” she said. “It doesn’t matter what your station in life is or how much money you make or what your background is or anything. We all have the same ability to go to a trailhead, walk out and have the experience of enjoying those lands.”
Sonnenberg is in the camp that public-lands advocates such as Donovan and Scott Braden of Conservation Colorado fear most. He supports more state control over federal lands to allow more use of the economic resources and more access for the public. Sonnenberg thinks the federal government does a horrible job of it at Coloradans’ expense, citing wildfire prevention, pest control and over-regulation.
The cost for Colorado to control federal lands could run into the hundreds of millions of dollars each year, but Sonnenberg said the state could swing it by allowing more use with responsible management, the way it manages state lands.
“I’m afraid the issue has become too polarized on both sides,” he said this week. “We need to find something in the middle and cut all the rhetoric on both sides, to get down to what the issues are. Public Lands Day came together at the end, because people were willing to do that.”
“It’s easy to go inflammatory on this [state takeover of federal lands],” Donovan said. “Will the Maroon Bells be sold off? No. We’re not going to sell off these incredible vistas and the most valuable assets. But would public lands across the state start getting chunked off without a lot of people being able to keep track of it? Absolutely. And who’s going to be the highest bidder? Not some land-conservation nonprofit.”
Next Saturday, May 28 the Leadville, Colorado & Southern Railroad‘s (LCSR) will blow the whistle on its 28th year in business. So “All Aboard” to catch up with what’s happening on the Leadville train.
The Leadville, Colorado and Southern Railroad track crew worked hard to clear all of the snow off the train tracks earlier this month. Opening Day for the 2016 summer season is one week from today, Saturday, May 28. All Aboard! Photo: LCSR
Daily train rides will begin over memorial Day Weekend, with an afternoon ride leaving at 1 p.m. until June 18, when things kick into high gear with two-a-days, departures at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m.
This year, there are more packages and special rides than ever. If you and your family/group are looking for some Rocky Mountain adventure, take your pick from the “Raft and Rail”…
2016 was a busy session for the Colorado legislature and conservationists. Western Resource Advocates and our partners had tremendous success shaping several bills that affect protection of Colorado’s rivers and lakes.
2016 was a busy session for the Colorado legislature and conservationists. Western Resource Advocates and our partners had tremendous success shaping several bills that affect protection of Colorado’s rivers and lakes. Partnerships we solidified at the Colorado state Capitol this year will help in 2017, where we hope many proposals from Colorado’s Water Plan will move forward to advance water conservation and water recycling. A recap of key 2016 bills includes:
Rain Barrels Are Legal!! HB 16-1005 will legalize the use of residential rain barrels for all Coloradans. The bill received a rainfall of votes in the House and Senate, passing 61-3 and 27-6, respectively. Governor John Hickenlooper signed the bill at the Governor’s Mansion on May 12th. WRA was involved in crafting bill language, lining up supporters, testifying in committee, and pushing media coverage. Legalizing rain barrel use is part of our work, for more than a dozen years, to accelerate urban conservation as the cheapest, fastest, and most flexible water supply. Legalizing rain barrels will help build the water conservation ethic we need for all Colorado residents to implement Colorado’s Water Plan and its landmark urban water conservation goal.
Minimizing Water Loss: HB 16-1283 set out to decrease the water lost by municipal water providers from leaky pipes and faulty water meters. WRA worked on bill language, consulted with sponsors, and created legislative fact sheets. A concerted water loss management effort enabled through this bill could have added 20,000 acre-feet to our state’s water supplies each year, enough water for 200,000 people. Improved efficiency is a cornerstone of Colorado’s Water Plan, and water loss reduction is one of the single most effective efficiency measures we can undertake. Unfortunately, this bill did not pass out of committee. We will work to advance this bill next year after further refinements from a variety of stakeholders.
Protecting Flows for Fish: HB 16-1109—which addressed conflicts between state water law and certain proposed federal policies—passed after WRA Staff Attorney Rob Harris and our partners successfully lobbied for inclusion of language to safeguard existing laws that protect fisheries. We preserved “bypass flows,” an aquatic habitat standard that ensures enough water is kept in rivers for fish to survive. Our defensive efforts helped keep a political squabble between certain land users and federal agencies from accidentally hurting fish and other wildlife.
Adding Flexibility in Water Management to Benefit the Environment: Mixed Results: At least two bills aimed at increasing the flexibility of water management to achieve community, environmental and agricultural goals had mixed success. HB 16-1228, to enable temporary transfers of irrigation water rights to cities or other users, passed and awaits the Governor’s signature. This allows Front Range agricultural users to retain their water rights but share some of their water with other users in times of need. HB-1392, proposing to establish a statewide water bank – which would have enabled sharing water inside river basins and potentially dedicating some water for streams themselves – died in committee. WRA engaged with sponsors on both bills to help create beneficial alternative water transfer mechanisms, to enable providing water for the environment and recreation, while ensuring that the legislation did not create loopholes for unneeded and environmentally damaging water projects.
Legislative advocacy is essential. The nitty-gritty work at the Capitol is where aspirations meet reality and where hard won gains for our rivers and lakes must be defended. We are proud that we defended key protections and helped advance a better water future for all Coloradans.
If you just went by the numbers on the map of state snowpack, you’d be digging out the mittens and skis to enjoy a winter wonderland in the high country.
But the state’s lush snow numbers are more a function of timing, not quantity. [ed. emphasis mine]
Colorado snowpack moisture content was reported at 144 percent of median on Thursday, largely because of late spring snowstorms last week and cool temperatures that kept it from melting.
“I’m not sure it means a lot,” said Roy Vaughan, manager of the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project for the Bureau of Reclamation, at the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District’s monthly meeting Thursday.
He showed graphs that explained why the numbers look so good right now. In most years, the snow would have already begun a precipitous melt-off by now, and that may happen with warmer temperatures this weekend.
In the Arkansas River basin, the total snowpack briefly climbed higher than the average peak for the entire season — usually that occurs in mid-April. The snowpack was listed at 158 percent, but that’s mostly because some high-altitude sites are 2-5 times normal, while lower points already have melted out.
The same is true of the Rio Grande basin, which was listed at 153 percent of normal.
Reclamation projects that 65,000 acre-feet of water will be brought over the Continental Divide this year through the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project. While above average, it would be far from a record year. It would rival last year’s imports of 72,000 acre-feet, which increased throughout the season because of heavy rains.
Storage in the Arkansas River basin remains at high levels with nearly all reservoirs at above-average elevation.
Pueblo’s precipitation for the year is 5.19 inches, more than an inch above normal, but an inch less than at this time last May, when it rained nearly every day.
Farms will get a lot more water from the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project as cities curtailed their requests for water under the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District’s annual allocation.
Because many municipal storage accounts are full, they did not take as much water as they would otherwise be entitled to. About 53 percent of Fry-Ark water is tabbed for cities.
Instead, the cities took only about 16 percent, leaving 84 percent for agriculture.
The district projects there will be about 52,500 acre-feet of water available to allocate this year, the net amount from about 65,000 acre-feet that could be brought through the Boustead Tunnel into Turquoise Lake from the Fryingpan River on the other side of the Continental Divide. The difference accounts for obligations to deliver water, evaporation and transit losses.
Only 80 percent of the allocations will be delivered initially, providing a cushion if less water is imported.
Even though imports are higher this year, cities requested less water because storage is higher, said Garrett Markus, engineer for the district.
Both Pueblo and Pueblo West declined their allocations this year. El Paso County cities were allocated about 3,700 acre-feet; cities east of Pueblo, 4,500 acre-feet; cities west of Pueblo, 214 acre-feet.
Agricultural ditch companies requested more than 100,000 acre-feet of water, but will get only 43,200 acre-feet of water that’s available. The largest ditch, the Fort Lyon Canal, will get 17,000 acre-feet.
“It’s always good to see a little more go to agriculture,” said Carl McClure, of Crowley County, who chairs the allocation committee.
Another 15,200 acrefeet of return flows will be allocated to well associations or farmers to replace depletions of groundwater under either state well or surface-water irrigation improvement plans. Fort Lyon farmers are exercising their first right of refusal for about 4,900 acre-feet of that total.
Could the end be near for one of the West’s biggest dams?
When Glen Canyon Dam was built in the middle of the last century, giant dam projects promised to elevate the American West above its greatest handicap — a perennial shortage of water. These monolithic wonders of engineering would bring wild rivers to heel, produce cheap, clean power and stockpile water necessary to grow a thriving economy in the desert. And because they were often remotely located, they were rarely questioned.
But today, there are signs that the promise of this great dam and others has run its course.
Climate change is fundamentally altering the environment, making the West hotter and drier. There is less water to store, and few remaining good sites for new dams.
Many of the West’s big dams, meanwhile, have proved far less efficient and effective than their champions had hoped. They have altered ecosystems and disrupted fisheries. They have left taxpayers saddled with debt.
And in what is perhaps the most egregious failure for a system intended to conserve water, many of them lose hundreds of billions of gallons of precious water each year to evaporation and, sometimes, to leakage underground. These losses increasingly undercut the longstanding benefits of damming big rivers like the Colorado, and may now be making the West’s water crisis worse.
In no place is this lesson more acute than at Glen Canyon.
And yet even as these consequences come into focus, four states on the Colorado River are developing plans to build new dams and river diversions in an effort to seize a larger share of dwindling water supplies for themselves before that water flows downstream.
The projects, coupled with perhaps the most severe water shortages the region has ever seen, have reignited a debate about whether 20th-century solutions can address the challenges of a 21st-century drought, with a growing chorus of prominent former officials saying the plans fly in the face of a new climate reality.
“The Colorado River system is changing rapidly,” said Daniel Beard, a former commissioner of the federal Bureau of Reclamation, which oversees the government’s dams in the West. “We have a responsibility to reassess the fundamental precepts of how we have managed the river.”
That reassessment, Mr. Beard and others said, demands that even as new projects are debated, it is time to decommission one of the grandest dams of them all, Glen Canyon…
It took 17 years for the reservoir to fill; 19 years later, a steady decline began. Thanks to the steady overuse of the Colorado River system — which provides water to one in eight Americans and supports one-seventh of the nation’s crops — Lake Powell has been drained to less than half of its capacity as less water flows into it than is taken out.
That relative puddle is no longer capable of generating the amount of power the dam’s builders originally planned, and so the power has become more expensive for the government to deliver, with the burden increasingly falling on the nation’s taxpayers. In 2014 the agency managing power at the dam spent $62 million buying extra power on the open market to make up for shortfalls. The dam’s power sales are relied on to pay for the operations of other, smaller, dams and reservoirs used for irrigation in the West, and as Glen Canyon crumbles financially, so might the system that depends on it.
But it is not just the reservoir’s overuse that is causing it to shrink. More than 160 billion gallons of water evaporate off Lake Powell’s surface every year, enough to lower the reservoir by four inches each month. Another 120 billion gallons are believed to leak out of the bottom of the canyon each year into fissures in the earth — a loss that if tallied up over the life of the dam amounts to more than a year’s flow of the entire Colorado River.
In all, these debits amount to “the largest loss of water on the Colorado River,” Mr. Beard said, enough to supply some nine million people each year.
Glen Canyon is not the only dam to fall out of favor. Other major projects are also being decommissioned or re-evaluated.
The Hoover Dam’s Lake Mead, which on Wednesday fell to its lowest level ever, some 145 feet below capacity, also loses hundreds of billions of gallons to evaporation and is now 37 percent full. The lake behind Arizona’s Coolidge Dam, one of the state’s largest reservoirs, is virtually empty.
…on the Colorado, water managers dispute the notion that it’s time for a change.
Glen Canyon Dam may be past its prime, said Michael Conner, the deputy interior secretary and a former commissioner of reclamation, but it’s not past its usefulness. Though he called the amount of water lost to evaporation and leakage “incredibly significant,” Mr. Conner credited Glen Canyon with numbing the pain of the recent drought. “Look at the last 15 years,” he said. “It’s the lowest inflow in history and there’s been no shortages on the Colorado River, and that’s because of Glen Canyon Dam and Lake Powell and Hoover Dam and Lake Mead.”
There is also a political tide to be reckoned with: the delicate peace accord struck among seven Western states in 1922, and later with Mexico, that divides Colorado River water among them, and the fear that they’d never be able to reach such an agreement again. Lake Powell is the gateway that gives the Colorado’s upper basin states control of their water, and a way to withhold every drop not required to be sent to the states downriver. Get rid of Powell, its protectors warn, and the states will drag one another into legal chaos.
But decommissioning Glen Canyon Dam could offer a solution hard to ignore — a cheap, immediate and significant new source of water where it is most desperately needed.
The idea is this: Since two of the nation’s largest reservoirs — Lake Mead and Lake Powell, just 300 miles apart — depend on the same dwindling water source but are each less than half full, they should be combined into one. Lake Mead would be deeper, and its evaporative losses would increase. But the surface area of Lake Powell would be substantially reduced, and the evaporating water from there would be saved. Furthermore, sendng the water out of Glen Canyon would move it from a valley that leaks like a sieve into one that is watertight. Evaporation losses at Mead — say plan proponents — would be more than offset by savings at Lake Powell.
In all, according to Tom Myers, a hydrologist who studied the proposal for the Glen Canyon Institute, an environmental group advocating for combining the two reservoirs, about 179 billion gallons of water would be saved each year — more than enough to supply the population of the city of Los Angeles.
The argument has weight because both reservoirs have been struggling to remain half full, and may never refill as temperatures rise because of climate change. At the same time, the Bureau of Reclamation predicts that demand for water will continue to increase on the river so much that by 2060 the region will run short by a trillion gallons each year.
The Glen Canyon Dam itself would not be removed. Rather, its gates would be opened, and the water behind it allowed to pass through, restoring the natural flows into the Grand Canyon just below it, draining Lake Powell, and allowing the magnificently scenic landscape of Glen Canyon to be resurrected.
The water would not be lost. It would simply flow down through the Grand Canyon and be recaptured behind the Hoover Dam in Lake Mead.
“To me it is a no-brainer,” said David Wegner, who studied Glen Canyon as a scientist with the Department of Interior. “You’ve got very few options.”
Vast tracts of land now submerged would be restored, and broad sections of river pinned between vertical canyon walls would be transformed into remote wilderness valleys, their floors once again inviting exploration on horseback or on foot. Dozens of archaeological sites, their walls covered in petroglyphs, would be revealed. The flow of the river through the Grand Canyon would again be defined mainly by the precipitation gathered by the mountains upstream.
Restoring Glen Canyon this way has long been the campaign of ardent environmentalists. Mr. Brower, who agreed to the dam’s construction without having ever visited Glen Canyon, mounted an intense campaign to save “the place no one knew” after seeing it. He called the reservoir his greatest regret, and the Glen Canyon dam has been a potent symbol of the desecration of wild places ever since.
Now the shortages on the river, and the likelihood that climate change is certain to make them worse, have breathed new, pragmatic life into their arguments.
Whether the “Fill Mead First” proposal would improve the water supply depends on whether Mr. Myers is right about the amount of water that leaks out of the bottom of Lake Powell. He puts that number at about 124 billion gallons each year. But the Bureau of Reclamation has not adopted Mr. Myers’s findings and has long said that water that seeps into the ground eventually returns to the river. Combining the reservoirs would save negligible amounts of water, in the bureau’s view.
“This is an attempt to find a water supply rationale which supports their recreational focus and narrow view of what the river should look like,” said Colby Pellegrino, the Colorado River programs manager for the Southern Nevada Water Authority.
Ultimately, the decision to drain Lake Powell — or perhaps to forgo the other new dam and water projects now in the works on the river — comes down to a question of whether the seven states and Mexico that share the Colorado River really need the water badly enough.
If they conclude that they do, abandoning parochial concerns about how the river is supposed to work, and changing the status quo, however uncomfortable or complicated, will begin to seem worth it.
But Jim Lockhead, chief executive of Denver’s water utility, said decommissioning the dam would probably require an act of Congress, a new agreement among seven state legislatures, a revised treaty with Mexico, and a lengthy federal environmental impact analysis.
“A half a million acre feet sounds like a lot of water,” he said, referring to the water saved by combining the Powell and Mead reservoirs, “but I don’t think it’s significant enough, frankly, to justify going through all of that.”
Today’s long lead outlook from the Climate Prediction Center is enough to make a southwestern water manager long a second consecutive busted forecast*. With La Niña in the offing, the maps show creeping brown across the Four Corners states by August and not letting up until late spring of 2017:
New detention ponds and detention basins dominate the list of 71 stormwater projects that will be built throughout Colorado Springs over the next 20 years as part of a $460 million intergovernmental agreement.
Topping the list released by the city Wednesday are $2 million worth of projects through the Federal Emergency Management Agency to maintain and repair city stormwater fixtures; a $250,000 King Street detention pond; a $2.5 million detention basin at America the Beautiful Park, and a $3 million detention basin on Sand Creek, surrounded by Forest Meadows housing developments near Woodmen and Black Forest roads.
The projects are intended to stanch the flow of flood waters into Pueblo County, and cut back on sediments and other pollutants entering drainages and going downstream.
Asked why the developers aren’t providing the Sand Creek pond, Public Works Director Travis Easton said he couldn’t recall for certain but thought one of the developers was providing other stormwater work.
The America the Beautiful project calls for a consultant to be hired and to coordinate the work with Kiowa Engineering, designer for the adjacent Olympic Museum, one of three City for Champions projects that all are privately funded.
The city money isn’t being spent to benefit the museum; rather, it’s needed for that entire downtown area, Easton said.
“What we realized is we have open space in that park, with a low-lying area, and needed to route water from downtown into the pond to treat it before it enters Fountain Creek. They didn’t have detention ponds back when that was built, and it just goes straight into Fountain Creek,” he said.
Many of the detention ponds and basins got the nod from Wright Water Engineers Inc., which is representing Pueblo County in its three-way pact with the city and Colorado Springs Utilities.
Other projects throughout Colorado Springs, including many listed by the Pikes Peak Stormwater Task Force in 2013, are lower on the city’s new list.
But, Easton said, “I wouldn’t pay too much attention to the order of things farther down the list because these will change. We’re starting the top nine projects this year. We’re meeting with Pueblo County’s engineers soon to go over the list, which we’ll do every year, and plan the projects for the next five years.”
Big concessions to Pueblo County had to be made in the agreement, or Utilities could have been blocked from launching its $825 million Southern Delivery System last month. The county held a critical permit for the massive water project, and its commissioners demanded extensive stormwater work on Fountain Creek and its tributaries.
The county’s needs were heavy on flood control, sediment loading and channel stabilization, Easton said, “but we agree those are needed.”
The city’s Stormwater Division is spending $7.1 million next year on operating costs alone, primarily personnel and equipment, he said. Three new employees have been brought on board, and five more will be hired over the next three months.
“We need to make sure we have processes in place so these people can hit the ground running and do the job.”
The city has launched a new website to highlight the location of all 71 stormwater projects on an interactive map. Easton said he also plans to combine the city’s new interactive maps so stormwater and roads projects all will be in one place.
“It will be a one-stop shop for citizens to go and see where their money is being spent. This is a tool meant for the citizens, a communication tool.”
Click here to go to the US Drought Monitor website. Here’s an excerpt:
This U.S. Drought Monitor week saw widespread improvements in drought conditions primarily focused on northern California and Nevada while short-term precipitation deficits during the past 30–60 days led to some deterioration of conditions in parts of the Northeast, Pacific Northwest, and Southeast. During the past week, unseasonably cool temperatures dominated east of the Rockies while temperatures were above average in the Far West. Parts of the South continued in a wet pattern where a series of severe storms impacted South Texas with heavy rains (five-to-twelve inches) and localized flash flooding. Significant rainfall accumulations (two-to-five inches) also were observed in portions of the lower Midwest including southern Illinois, western Kentucky, and southern Missouri. Out West, conditions were generally drier, although some modest rainfall accumulations were observed across the Central and North Rockies as well as in the Pacific Northwest. In the Hawaiian Islands, beneficial rains fell in the drought-impacted coffee growing regions of South Kona on the Big Island, providing some relief…
Across the Plains, improvements were made on the map in areas of Abnormally Dry (D0) in southeastern Kansas and north-central Oklahoma where recent rainfall improved area conditions. In southwestern South Dakota, short-term precipitation deficits in the Black Hills led to the introduction of an area of Moderate Drought (D1) that extended across the border into northeastern Wyoming. Temperatures were well below-normal across the entire region during the past week, especially in the Central and Northern Plains where temperatures were six-to-fifteen degrees below-normal. Precipitation across the region was heaviest in eastern portions of Kansas and Oklahoma where one-to-three inch accumulations occurred during the past week while northern portions were dry…
During the past week, average temperatures were generally above-normal across much of the West with the exception of the northern Great Basin, central Rockies, and northern Rockies where temperatures were two-to-ten degrees below normal. Overall, the West was generally dry during the past seven-day period with the exception of isolated shower activity in the Central and Northern Rockies, and portions of the Pacific Northwest. With the conclusion of the snow season, statewide reservoir storage is above average in Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Washington, and Wyoming while near-normal levels are present in Oregon and Utah. Conversely, below-normal storage levels remain in Arizona, California, Nevada, and New Mexico, according to the Natural Resource Conservation Service.
On this week’s map, widespread one-category improvements were made across northern California and northwestern Nevada where conditions have steadily improved since the beginning of the Water Year (October 1st). In the northern Sierra, spring rains combined with a generally above-average snowpack have led to considerable increases in reservoir storage levels in area reservoirs. According to the California Department of Water Resources, Lake Oroville sits at 116% of its historical average while both Folsom Lake and Lake Shasta are at 108%. As of May 17th, the Northern Sierra 8-Station Index (a broad index of precipitation in the northern Sierra) is at 119% of average since the beginning of the Water Year. In southern California, precipitation accumulations since the beginning of the Water Year have been below-normal, especially in coastal areas of Los Angeles, Orange, and Ventura counties where the percentage of normal precipitation is less than 50% for the Water Year. In northwestern Nevada, a one-category improvement in a large area of Extreme Drought (D3) was made in response to a combination of short- and long-term indicators supporting improvements including: snowpack conditions, stream flows, reservoir storage levels, percentage of normal precipitation, and vegetative health. In the Pacific Northwest, a combination of short-term precipitation deficits (30-day) and above-normal temperatures led to the introduction of an area of Abnormally Dry (D0) in northwestern Oregon and western Washington where stream flow (28-day average) activity and soil moisture conditions are below-normal in many locations. In western Utah, a one-category improvement was made in an area of Moderate Drought (D1) where short- and long-term indicators show improvements in stream flows, groundwater levels, and soil moisture…
The NWS WPC 7-Day Quantitative Precipitation Forecast (QPF) calls for significant rainfall accumulations in the Gulf Coast, Mid-Atlantic, Southeast, and Texas with totals ranging from two-to-four inches. Otherwise, lesser accumulations are forecasted for extreme northern California, the Northern Rockies, and the Pacific Northwest. The CPC 6–10 day outlooks call for a high probability of above-normal temperatures east of the Rockies while the West is expected to be below-normal. Below-normal precipitation is forecasted for the Eastern Tier and Desert Southwest while there is a high probability of above-normal precipitation in the western portions of the Midwest and South, Northern Great Basin, Northern Rockies, Pacific Northwest, and across the Plains states.
From email from Reclamation (Peter Soeth):
Green Mountain has started to fill for the 2016 season and due to the higher snowpack and minimum available storage in Dillon Reservoir releases from Green Mountain will be increasing to 800 cfs over the next two days. Releases are expected to remain above 600 cfs for several weeks. Green Mountain Reservoir is currently 55% full and is anticipated to reach maximum fill around the second week of July.
The future of water—who gets it and who has access to it—is just the start of an upcoming panel discussion presented by National Public Radio and host of “All Things Considered” Michel Martin. “Water is so central to the development of the west,” Martin says. “We’re working together to talk about something locally important and of national interest.”
“Michel Martin: Going There” is an NPR series that brings together an eclectic and informed panel of guests to the heart of the story, in hopes of igniting a nationwide debate on various issues. The next discussion, “The Future of Water,” is happening on May 24 at Colorado State University, in partnership with KUNC. “There’s art around water, there’s story around water,” Martin continues. “We’re looking for things that aren’t just your usual debate.”
Martin will be joined by local and national guests: Patty Limerick, Colorado State Historian and University of Colorado Boulder’s director of the Center of the American West; Paolo Bacigalupi, author of The Water Knife; Roger Fragua of the organization Water is Life; and Melissa Mays, a concerned mom from Flint, Michigan, who started the group Water You Fighting For. “These are people who you want to spend one-and-a-half hours with,” Martin says. “ Really, it’s like a very interesting dinner party.”
To keep things upbeat, there will be a performance by Colorado’s Seven Falls Indian Dancers, as well as opportunities for audience participation—whether you can make it to the event or not. Attendees can submit questions at the event and anyone, from anywhere, can send questions through Twitter to @NPRMichel or @KUNC, tagged #NPRH2O.
The panel will be streamed live (find details here closer to the event) and recorded for a feature segment on “All Things Considered.” In other words: Don’t be surprised if you see the Centennial State in national headlines later this month.
Attend: May 24, 7 p.m.; Colorado State University’s Lory Student Center, 1101 Center Ave. Mall, Fort Collins; $15
At Yampa River State Park on Thursday, Josefina Kuberry, Jayden Evenson and more than 130 other third-graders were thinking about rocks.
“We glued different rocks on paper,” said Josefina, as she, Jayden and a group of other students began reciting the types of rock — igneous, sedimentary and metamorphic — that they’d just seen.
Third-graders from East, Ridgeview and Sandrock elementary schools gathered on Wednesday at the park to learn about cycles of water, rocks and various life forms. And they did it with the help from local agency experts who congregated at the park with the students.
Among the topics broached by Dusty Jager, rangeland management specialist for the Natural Resources Conservation Service, were the roles plants play in filtering running water and the importance organic matter to the soil.
Bugs, Jager explained, are among those vital agents.
“They break down the organic matter, and they also help with infiltration of water when it rains,” he said.
Jager said the students were especially interested in the water trailer, or stream simulator, that NRCS staff members brought to the park.
Becky Jones agreed. She’s a private lands wildlife biologist working for NRCS, Colorado Parks & Wildlife and Bird Conservancy of the Rockies.
“They love it when you flood it, and when they can float things down the river,” she said.
Donn Slusher is a rangeland ecologist working for the Bird Conservancy of the Rockies. He’s in partnership with NRCS and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Slusher is also one of 26 sage grouse biologist specialists in the nation.
“We just kind of start out talking about where streams come from — the head waters and stuff — and how they move through the river,” he said, as he recalled during lunch break the talk he’d given to students. “We talk about vegetation and the importance of it to protect the banks from erosion.”
Gina Robison, outdoor recreation planner and program leader for the Bureau of Land Management, focused on the way “weathering and erosion” shaped the rocks scattered throughout the park — and throughout the region. That sort of knowledge, Robison said, can cultivate an appreciation of the environment.
“If you know a little bit about your environment, you’re able to appreciate it more,” she said. “You know how it works, you know how it got there, you know how it survives.”
And getting out into the environment in the first place was a key goal of Wednesday’s trip. Sam McCloskey, Colorado Parks & Wildlife ranger, said he and others staff members delivered presentations about plant life cycles. The students then went outside to examine those concepts by scrutinizing dandelions.
“One of the reasons we do a program like this is to increase their interest in (the outdoors),” McCloskey said.
Throughout the activities, students were moving through third-grade science standards, said Bobbi McAlexander, the East Elementary School third-grade teacher who coordinated the trip with the help of Colorado Parks & Wildlife. Those standards, she said, included learning about the water cycle, the rock cycle and the life cycle.
“They get the outdoor-education,” McAlexander added. “For a lot of (students), games take precedence (in their lives) — and this gets them in the outdoors.”
From Northern Water via The Loveland Reporter-Herald:
Residents can learn about water conservation and native plants at Northern Water’s Conservation Gardens Fair on Saturday.
The free event will be held 9:30 a.m.-2 p.m. at Northern Water, 220 Water Ave., in Berthoud. It will feature seminars, tours of the conservation gardens and advice on water saving measures and technology.
Expert advice will come from Associated Landscaper Contractors of Colorado, Fort Collins Utilities, Colorado State University Extension Office, Colorado master gardeners, Colorado Vista Landscape Design, High Plains Environmental Center, HydroPoint, L.L. Johnson, Loveland Water and Power and Plant Select.
The first 400 people will receive a perennial and a chance to spin the prize wheel.
Starting at 11 a.m., a limited number of free sandwiches will be available.
On the second and final day of a mining conference in Farmington, a question borne out of mounting frustration was raised by a New Mexico representative: “Are we going to benefit from Colorado’s Superfund designation? And if not, do we have to apply?”
The inquiry, posed by Rich Dembowski, chairman of the New Mexico Gold King Mine Citizen’s Advisory Committee, stems from lingering resentment that as the Environmental Protection Agency and Colorado pursue the federal hazardous cleanup program, New Mexico, and its concerns, are being ignored.
Dennis McQuillan, chief scientist of New Mexico’s Environmental Department, said requests for an informational meeting about the Superfund listing in New Mexico have gone unanswered by the federal agency.
Yet when New Mexico officials see EPA hearings scheduled in Silverton, Durango and Ignacio, McQuillan said it feels like an outright slight toward downstream interests.
“It’s a reoccurring theme – we’re not treated like stakeholders down here because we’re not in Colorado,” he said. “We’re basically forgotten. But we are stakeholders. Our people use the water.”
For two days, researchers from New Mexico and Native American tribes pored over the science behind the spill, the highly mineralized Silverton mining district, and the possible short and long-term effects of sediment loading in the Animas and San Juan rivers.
McQuillan said the conference was a bit of an attempt to play catch-up to years of research well-known in Southwest Colorado through groups such as the Animas River Stakeholders Group. He hopes next year’s conference will have more data to compare.
“I think the Gold King spill brought a lot of attention to the existing situation down here,” he said.
“We have this shocking visual of yellow river, and yet the issue’s been around a long time.”
McQuillan said instead, the state environmental department has been more concerned over the high levels of E. coli found in the stretches of the Animas and San Juan rivers within New Mexico, which pose a more immediate risk to human health.
“The Gold King spill took a lot of the attention away from that issue that’s still out there,” he said. “That’s why we need a holistic approach to the entire watershed. Maybe this single event will cause that holistic response.”
The EPA listed 48 mining-related sites in its Superfund proposal, all around the Silverton area. However, New Mexico officials maintained Wednesday a real cleanup of the watershed should include other contaminating sites from Silverton to Lake Powell.
“The elephant in the room right now is we don’t trust the government, and that’s focused at the EPA,” Dembowski said. “Why aren’t they answering questions?”
New Mexico officials claim the EPA hasn’t justified important data, such as metal levels in the water returning to pre-spill conditions, and failed to answer simple questions about the temporary water-treatment plant, which led the state to file a Freedom of Information Act request.
San Juan County Commissioner Kim Carpenter, who referred to the post-Gold King spill world as “hell,” made it clear he too is no fan of the EPA.
“There’s a lot of resentment over the mine spill,” he said.
“In every state there’s a fight about water. And sometimes we overlook the fact we have to fight for what we have, not just what we want.”
However, Carpenter said New Mexico communities along the Animas and San Juan watershed are “at the mercy of where it all starts,” and for real cleanup efforts to begin, “the blaming has to stop.”
Virginia McLemore, with the New Mexico Bureau of Geology and Mineral Resources, begrudgingly agreed that although relationships between communities along the watershed might not historically be fair, they must work toward a shared goal.
“For years, Colorado gets the financial benefits, and we have to deal with the metal laden sludge,” she said. “But this is a problem that affects us all, and we have to trust the federal agencies will do their part.”
Location map for abandoned mine near Silverton. The Silver Wing is in the upper right corner of the aerial.
FromThe Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Gary Harmon):
The Grand Valley Drainage District has been able since 1983 to charge fees for services such as handling stormwater runoff, the district says in a Mesa County District Court filing.
The district responded to a lawsuit filed by the Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce and Mesa County that asked the court to nullify the bills sent out to more than 40,000 property owners aimed at generating $2.5 million annually for stormwater improvements. The suit seeks a preliminary injunction that would stop the fee.
Mesa County owes $25,000 and the chamber $600, the drainage district said in its response that asks Judge David Bottger to uphold the fee and require the plaintiffs to pay the bills.
A hearing date is to be scheduled.
The district’s due date for payment is May 31. It is negotiating with the state to collect any unpaid fees.
The original lawsuit said the fees violated the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights section of the state constitution because it amounted to a tax that was imposed without a vote of the residents of the district.
The fees “are not a tax of any kind,” the district said in its response, but “service fees” needed to defray the cost of managing and controlling stormwater flowing off impervious surfaces.
The district’s existing mill levy brings in enough money to operate the networks of ditches and conduits needed to carry irrigation waters and seep toward the Colorado River.
The levy, however, “is not sufficient to address either the quality of water, or the increase in the quantity of water, generated by urban development and the impervious surfaces that are created as part of urbanization, such as roofs, sidewalks, driveways and parking lots,” the district said.
The district is charging residents within its 90-square-mile area north of the Colorado River $36 per year. Businesses, local governments, churches and other nonprofits are charged $36 per year for each 2,500-square-foot area of impervious surface they occupy.
The district also charges an impact fee on new development.
School District 51 is receiving a credit for its payments in recognition of teaching children about water and runoff.
The nation’s largest man-made reservoir slipped to a new record low sometime after 7 p.m. Wednesday, and forecasters from the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation expect see its surface drop another 2 feet through the end of June.
The latest dip into record-low territory comes as officials in Nevada, Arizona and California consider a new deal to prop up the declining lake by giving up some of their Colorado River water.
But some river advocates argue that those voluntary cuts could be rendered meaningless by proposed water developments that will further sap the overdrawn and drought-stricken river before it ever reaches Lake Mead…
Others see reason for hope.
Colby Pellegrino, Colorado River programs manager for the Southern Nevada Water Authority, said the “silver lining of this cloud” is the cooperative work among water managers, regulators and policymakers across the river basin. She said some of those collaborations have already made a tangible difference at Lake Mead, where the water would be even lower than it is now without some of the banking agreements and conservation efforts agreed upon by the states.
The voluntary reductions being discussed are designed to stave off deeper, mandatory cuts for Arizona and Nevada if the lake sinks below levels outlined in a 2007 agreement.
Nevada would leave 8,000 acre-feet of water in Lake Mead each year under the first round of voluntary cuts, while Arizona would give up 192,000 of its 2.8 million acre-foot Colorado River allocation to benefit the reservoir…
The annual reductions would increase to 10,000 acre-feet for Nevada and 240,000 acre-feet for Arizona should Lake Mead drop another 30 feet to 1,045 feet above sea level.
Elevation 1,045 is also where California would see its first voluntary cuts, which start at 200,000 acre-feet a year and increase by 50,000 with every additional 5-foot drop in Lake Mead. Under existing law, California is not required to give up any of its 4.4 million acre-foot river allocation, which is the largest among the seven states that share the Colorado.
Lake Mead’s new record low erases the old mark of 1,074.71 feet above sea level set just over a year ago on June 26.
Federal forecasters expect the lake to finish this June at elevation 1,070.98. The last time Lake Mead had so little water in it was May 1937, the month of the Hindenburg disaster, when the reservoir was filling for the first time behind a newly completely Hoover Dam.
Record-low water levels present more of an access problem than a supply problem for the Las Vegas Valley, which depends on the lake for 90 percent of its water.
Southern Nevada Water Authority officials insist Nevada’s comparatively small 300,000 acre-foot share of the Colorado River can be stretched enough through reuse and conservation to serve the growing community for decades to come. But to keep that water flowing from the shrinking lake, the agency is spending almost $1.5 billion on a new deep-water intake and pumping station.
Wherever this year’s low-water mark eventually lands, the record is not expected to stand for long. The current forecast calls for Lake Mead to start 2017 about 4 feet higher than it is now, then dip downward again into record territory in April. The reservoir should bottom out near elevation 1,063 sometime in June 2017.
At 7 p.m. Wednesday, the elevation inched below the past record set last June, when it hit 1,074.70 feet, according to hourly data from the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, the federal agency responsible for overseeing Western water management and the Hoover Dam.
“This is the early warning signal,” said Drew Beckwith, a water policy manager with Western Resource Advocates, a conservation group. He said that it signifies that more water is being used than the Colorado River, which feeds Lake Mead, provides.
“It’s about an over-allocated resource,” he said.
Projections show the lake could continue dropping about 3 more feet through June, ebbing farther from a full capacity of 1,221 feet above sea level, which was last achieved in 1983. Facing a drought of more than a decade, it has dropped 130 feet since 2000.
“It’s a visual and physical manifestation for all of us,” said Rose Davis, a spokesperson for the Bureau of Reclamation. She added that water issues are plaguing countries throughout the world and that Lake Mead provides an illustration. “We might not see it globally but we can certainly see the bathtub ring.”
For now, the drop is largely symbolic since shortages are not likely to be triggered next year. But states could face cuts in 2018. No resource planning is an exact science, but the Bureau of Reclamation says there is a higher chance states will be asked to voluntarily reduce their Lake Mead allocations in 2018…
The river is fed by snow melt in the Rocky Mountains…
…the Southern Nevada Water Authority told the Sun earlier this month that it was building a water system impervious to elevation drops.
“We are building a water delivery system that will ensure a secure water supply regardless of lake levels in Lake Mead,” John Entsminger, SNWA’s general manager, said last week.
Last fall, the water authority completed a “third straw” project that would draw water from the bottom of the lake if surface elevations were to drop below a critical level of 1,000 feet. SNWA can call on more than 1 million acre-feet of water in the case of a shortage.
Beyond the drought and climate change, Beckwith said that what is also driving the drop is that Lake Mead loses more water than it takes in. He said states have come to recognize this in recent years.
Davis, with the Bureau of Reclamation, said that as states negotiate more voluntary reductions, individuals should also play a role in conservation and improving their water usage practices.
“(The water agencies are) doing what we can,” she said. “But it’s got to go farther than that. It’s got to go down to the individual.”
Many states, including Nevada, have made strides in conservation that focuses on the end-user, but Beckwith said more can be done.
“In the cities, we’re going to need to start deploying next-generation urban water efficiency measures,” he said. “How do you affect personal behavior rather than how do you just affect the toilets and the showers and the appliances that use water?”
From the Loveland Reporter-Herald (Pamela Johnson):
Colorado residents will be able to collect rainwater from their roofs to use in gardens and yards when a new law takes effect on Aug. 10.
Water officials expect that less than 10 percent of residents will use rain barrels, and each home is allowed to have two barrels totaling 110 gallons of water.
The amount is small enough that it should not cause any measurable drops in the water feeding into rivers to supply cities, farms and businesses locally and downstream, said Reagan Waskom, director of the Colorado Water Institute.
It won’t hurt utilities and those who hold water rights, and it will only help residents by supplementing the water available for their yards and promoting conservation, he said…
Residents likely will have to supplement their rain barrel water for their yards and gardens. However, the amount needed varies upon the size of yard and the type of vegetation, for example native low-water grasses versus a typical lawn.
Under the new law, each household can have two barrels to collect water from rain gutters or off the roof. That water must be used for outdoor landscaping, such as gardens or yards, and cannot be used indoors or for purposes such as filling a hot tub, according to guidelines from the Colorado State University Extension Service.
“You need a surface you can gather it from,” said Waskom, and the new state law specifies that the water must come from a rooftop.
The law also requires that the rain barrel have a lid that can be sealed to reduce evaporation but also to prevent mosquitoes from accessing and breeding in the standing water.
Health officials also urge people to completely drain and clean the barrel weekly or at least every month also to prevent a mosquito hotbed.
Home supply stores sell granules, called “Mosquito Dunkers” or “BTI granules,” that can be used to prevent any of the pests’ eggs from hatching, noted Katie O’Donnell, spokeswoman for the Larimer County Department of Health. These are commonly used in livestock water tanks and will not hurt wildlife or plants, she noted…
Colorado is the last western state to adopt a law that allows residents to collect rain water for their yards because of the demands upon water and the complex water rights system in place, Waskom noted. Those who hold the water rights worried that they would lose precious water supply and lobbied against the new law to prevent that.
However, water officials showed that the small amount of water diverted off roofs, which will likely be from a small number of homes, will not impact that water supply, according to Waskom.
And larger utility providers testified that the use of rain barrels could positively promote conservation.
Waskom added, “Hopefully it will make us more water conscious.”
April’s average global temperature registered at 1.98 degrees Fahrenheit above the 20th century average, marking the 12th month in a row with a new record high temperature.
It’s the longest such streak since record-keeping started in 1880, according to NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information, which released its monthly State of the Climate report this week. The average global temperature for the year-to-date (January to April) is also the warmest on record, and by such a large margin that most climate experts expect 2016 to end up as the warmest year ever for planet Earth.
Human activity has increased the direct warming effect of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere by 50 percent above pre-industrial levels during the past 25 years, according to NOAA’s 10th Annual Greenhouse Gas Index .
In 2015, the global average CO2 concentration reached 399 parts per million, increasing by a record amount of almost 3 ppm. From the end of the Ice Age to the beginning of the industrial era, atmospheric carbon dioxide remained remarkably stable at 278 ppm.
“We’re dialing up Earth’s thermostat in a way that will lock more heat into the ocean and atmosphere for thousands of years,” said Jim Butler, director of NOAA ESRL’s Global Monitoring Division (GMD).
Overall, emissions of all heat-trapping greenhouse gases have amplified the warming impact on the planet by more than one third since 1990, scientists at GMD report.
The Annual Greenhouse Gas Index is a measure of the annual change in the warming influence of greenhouse gases. It was developed by NOAA to help policymakers, educators and the public more clearly grasp how quickly this warming influence is increasing.
“Climate is driven by complex systems and our ability to predict future climate impacts comes from complex models,” Butler said. “This isn’t a model. These are precise and accurate measurements, and they tell us about how humans are changing the balance of heat in the Earth system.”
Other takeaways from the 2016 report:
The warming impact of gases other than CO2 is equivalent to an additional 85 ppm of carbon dioxide. In other words, the atmosphere is warming as if it contained 21 percent more carbon dioxide than it does today.
From 2014 to 2015, levels of the potent greenhouse gas methane increased substantially faster than from 2007 to 2013. Similarly, nitrous oxide levels, another greenhouse gas, have increased at faster rates recently.
Chlorofluorocarbons, ozone-eating refrigerants banned by the Montreal Protocol, are declining. However, atmospheric levels of two replacement chemicals are rising.
Among the many nicknames Coloradans have for their state, “the mother of rivers” is particularly apt. Roughly 8,000 miles of streams and rivers flow through a state dotted by 2,000 or so lakes and reservoirs. Much of that water flows into 17 other states and Mexico, slaking the thirst of millions.
Despite its role as one of the nation’s primary taps, Colorado only recently adopted a comprehensive plan for managing this essential resource. Ahead of that historic moment, the Colorado Water Conservation Board asked Matt Nager to document how people throughout the state use something there simply isn’t enough of. His series Colorado Water is a breathtaking look at all the ways water shapes life in Colorado and the west. “It all revolves around water,” Nager says.
Colorado’s water—which begins as rain or snow—generates an average of 95 million acre feet annually. Of that, about 16 million acre feet flow through the state’s streams, creeks, and rivers and about 10.5 million acre feet continue on to 17 other states and Mexico. Three major river systems—the Arkansas, Rio Grande, and Colorado—have their headwaters in the Rocky Mountains, and the Colorado River system alone provides water to one in 10 Americans. “Water [in Colorado] is not simply some far away issue,” Nager says. “The decisions of one region directly impacts those in another.”
Those decisions have, at times, been haphazardly made, leading to recurring fights among competing interests over who gets what, when, and where. Eleven interstate compacts govern the distribution of water to other states. The $20 billion plan approved last fall focuses on water use within Colorado and aims to save 130 billion gallons annually through conservation, reuse, and smarter development. “[It] is remarkable in many respects,” says Larry MacDonnell, an expert in water law at the University of Colorado. “It is a reflection of the times, the increasing sense of uncertainty about our water future, [and] the awareness that historic practices are no longer sufficient at this time.”
Nager, who grew up in Boulder, Colorado, and lives in Denver, pounced at the chance to travel the state exploring a topic that’s long fascinated him. “It’s something that’s always been in the back of my mind,” he says.
Nager started his road trip in June and spent two months exploring the state with his Nikon D800 (for portraits) and Mamiya RZ67 (for landscapes). His photos reveal the beauty of the state, and all the ways people rely upon its water. Farmers tap canals to irrigate their acres of farmland. Anglers fish in the state’s many man-made reservoirs. The state’s natural bodies of water attract vacationers and locals to relax in the state’s abundant outdoor beauty.
Nothing about the scenes in Nager’s gorgeous photos suggests Colorado, like many states, faces a critical shortage of water. The mother of rivers will always be bountiful, but only if carefully managed.
The Durango City Council unanimously adopted the Animas River Alert and Notification Plan on Tuesday. La Plata County, San Juan County, the Southern Ute Indian Tribe, regional health departments and others collaborated on the plan. The idea for the plan emerged in the weeks following the Gold King Mine blowout, said Tom McNamara, La Plata County emergency management coordinator…
The U.S. Geological Survey installed sensors in March and April that measure indicators such as water acidity, cloudiness and temperature. If any of these indicators reach concerning levels, local researchers receive alerts in the form of text messages, emails and phone calls, to go check the condition of the river in person.
In addition to automated notifications from these sensors, river spotters will be trained to alert officials when they see major changes in the river.
These people will likely include law enforcement, river guides and people who operate irrigation ditches on the north end of the Animas Valley.
“We really want folks who know the river well and who have a good idea of what’s normal and what’s not,” McNamara said.
Call lists were also pre-built into the Durango-La Plata Emergency Communications Center’s CodeRED system to send out notifications to all the right officials.
“It’s essentially one click to get the information out to those people,” he said.
The public can also sign up for the alerts through the CodeRED system. Users must opt in to receive Animas River alerts.
From Western Resource Advocates (Jon Goldin-Dubois):
On Thursday May 12, Western Resource Advocates joined Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper, James Eklund, Director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board, our colleagues at Conservation Colorado, Denver Water, the Colorado Farm Bureau and many others to celebrate HB16-1005, legalizing the use of rain barrels, becoming law. There was a party, there were speeches, there were toasts in celebration – and several rain barrels were autographed by the Governor. I was quoted as saying, “On this sunny day, I’m dancing in the rain!”
But I know a number of my friends and colleagues scratched their heads at this news. I have heard some say that rain barrels and this legislative win were not very important. I want to tell you why I disagree.
First, our opportunities to win legislative victories, in any state, on any issue, are too few and too far between. Getting legislation passed, of any kind, in our divided Western state legislatures is tough to say the least. Getting leaders to work across the aisle and achieve victories for both parties is a very difficult task. But this win was achieved in Colorado to gain final passage of rain barrel legalization after two years of effort.
Second, don’t underestimate the power of symbolism. Rain barrels became a tangible symbol of work to fix a state law that was contrary to our desired water future. Everyone wondered why rain barrels were illegal in Colorado – and when they learned that it was because there are water interests who feared this would begin to unravel water laws from the 1800s, it became clear this was a battle over more than just rain barrels. This was a battle to get vested water holders to open up and consider new ways of doing business that help us advance water conservation. These interests are powerful and can be suspicious of change, and they successfully killed the bill last year. Passing the bill this year is a signal that Coloradans representing a variety of interests are committed to finding new, innovative strategies to manage our water resources.
Third, Western Resource Advocates and Conservation Colorado created a campaign that garnered interest from the press, brought attention to the issue, engaged citizens, and focused policy makers on an issue that, until two years ago, they hadn’t even considered. This was a well-organized campaign that took hundreds of hours of time educating reporters, editors, citizens and legislators. There were videos, tweets, blogs, and action alerts. This campaign represented what energetic commitment by the conservation community can achieve in the face of opposition.
Finally, legalizing rain barrels illustrates that we can create our own future and be the catalyst for change. Theresa Conley, Water Advocate at Conservation Colorado, relayed to me a story of a conversation two years ago where Western Resource Advocates and Conservation Colorado were dreaming up what we could possibly do to advance wiser water management in Colorado in a divided legislature. During that conversation, our own Drew Beckwith said, “What about rain barrels?” There are not many people out there who can claim an idea that becomes a concept, a plan, legislation, and then a law.
I am so proud of our team, led by Drew, Bart Miller, and Maren McLaughlin-Klotz, who created amazing educational opportunities, captured people’s imagination, and changed a bad state law. I am grateful to State Representatives Daneya Esgar and Jessie Danielson and State Senator Michael Merrifield for leading on this issue. The Governor has once again shown he is a water leader and his support made the moment of “Now it’s Law” possible. I am also so proud of you and all our donors and supporters who participated in this effort and made this possible.
We all should be very proud of our work together to legalize rain barrels. I certainly am. And we will and should rightfully claim this victory with our partners at Conservation Colorado, in particular the great work of Theresa Conley, Becky Long, and Kristin Green. Yes, there is much more work needed to conserve water, advance water reuse, and to further agricultural-urban water sharing — but this victory shows what we can do when we are committed and strategic, and when we work together to advance our vision for the future. Onward to implementing the Colorado Water Plan!
The Dolores Water Conservancy District announced on its website on Monday that recent heavy precipitation, including what’s in the forecast for this week, would likely fill McPhee Reservoir and allow for a boating release. If it happens, it would be the first since 2011.
The water district said that the precipitation combined with a cool, slow start to irrigation season has left the reservoir just 12 feet below full.
“A boating release will likely cover the Memorial Day weekend and last 5-10 days at 1,000 +/- CFS (cubic feet per second),” the website says.
The district says it will continue to keep boaters updated through the week.
The Dolores River was dammed in the late 1980s, which created McPhee Reservoir to ensure domestic water supply for Cortez and the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe, and irrigation for more than 70,000 acres of otherwise arid land.
A bill that would ease the cost burden of the Arkansas Valley Conduit to local communities got its first hearing in the U.S. Senate water and power subcommittee Tuesday.
The bill, S2616, would allow miscellaneous revenues from the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project to be applied to the local match of the conduit.
Legislation in 2009 allowed those revenues to be applied to the federal cost of building the $400 million conduit.
Because of the 65-35 cost share, however, the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District will face heavy expenses. The bill would allow the district’s share to be paid first, with any funds not needed being used to repay the federal share.
Under the new law, the costs of Ruedi Dam, the Fountain Valley Conduit and South Outlet Works still would be repaid before funds could be used for the conduit. Like the Arkansas Valley Conduit, they are all parts of the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project which was authorized in 1962.
The district is anticipating up to $100 million in loans from the Colorado Water Conservation Board — $60 million already has been committed, said Bill Long, president of the district board.
He presented the committee with a letter of support from the CWCB.
Long, a Las Animas businessman and Bent County commissioner, detailed the water quality problems faced by the Lower Arkansas Valley. Those include radioactivity, salts and sulfates. The 40 communities involved in the project serve more than 50,000 people and face increasingly strict regulatory standards, he said.
“S2616 will achieve the goal of significantly reducing federal outlays while providing a reliable, safe drinking water supply to the rural communities in the Lower Arkansas River Valley,” Long said. “The alternative — contaminated supplies which pose a significant threat to public health and prohibitive costs for individual system improvements — is unacceptable.”
Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., a member of the committee, and Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., are co-sponsors of the legislation.
“Water is a precious resource in Colorado and throughout the west. As home to the headwaters for 20 states, our communities continuously look for ways to conserve water,” Bennet said.
During the hearing, Estevan Lopez, commissioner for the Bureau of Reclamation, lent his support to the bill.
“While we are still undertaking a detailed analysis of the full implications of such a reallocation of federal receipts, the reallocation of federal revenues to a non-federal entity for the benefit of that non-federal entity should be given careful consideration,” Lopez said.
Lopez said about $21 million in appropriations already has been provided through this year. At least $3 million is anticipated this year.
Construction on the conduit is expected to begin in 2019.
Once the conduit is completed, there would be a 50-year repayment of the 35 percent local share that is addressed in S2616.
The Pueblo Board of Water Works Tuesday approved two contracts with Colorado Mountain College to improve storage and collection facilities in the high country.
A $50,000 contract to take a bathymetric survey of Clear Creek Reservoir and an $85,000 payment over 10 years for a fen research project near Leadville were approved.
The bathymetric survey — basically underwater topography — will serve two purposes, said Steve Anselmo, water resources engineer. It will update the storage capacity of the reservoir by identifying areas that have silted in, and identify any sinkholes that could contribute to seepage paths into the dam’s foundation.
The study would be conducted in conjunction with the U.S. Geological Survey.
The last time the lake bed was surveyed was in 2007, when the reservoir was drained in order to repair the outlet works.
Pueblo Water has been participating in the fen research project since 2005, along with the Army Corps of Engineers, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, EPA and Colorado Mountain College. The purpose is to see if a fen can be relocated, said Alan Ward, water resources manager.
Fens are wetlands with certain soil characteristics that take thousands of years to develop.
The presence of fens was the major obstacle Pueblo Water faced when it determined that it was not feasible to build a reservoir at Tennessee Creek. Aurora also faces the challenge at its proposed Box Creek Reservoir in Lake County.
While relocation of fens is not realistic for Tennessee Creek because of the large number that are present, the research could help Pueblo Water in future projects, Ward said. That could include its Tennessee Creek Ranch as a receiving site for transplanted fens.
Pueblo’s payment of $85,000 would go toward a total project cost of $580,000. Aurora would pay $300,000 and Denver Water $150,000.
This Friday, May 20th, the Colorado Foundation for Water Education will celebrate water education and water leadership at its annual President’s Award Reception. Each year, CFWE honors recent work by a young Colorado professional with the Emerging Leader Award. This year CFWE will recognize Heather Dutton, the new manager of the San Luis Valley Water Conservancy District with this award. Join the celebration later this week. Register here to attend this Friday at 6 pm at Space Gallery. We’ll enjoy refreshments, a famous game of “Wine Toss,” exciting new activities, and a fun evening with friends.
By Justice Greg Hobbs
Heather Dutton, the newest manager of the San Luis Valley Water Conservancy District, glories in the heritage of the Rio Grande River. She’s a fifth-generation daughter of the Valley’s farming and ranching community, like her father Doug, who farms in the center of the Valley. A 2008 graduate of Colorado State University, she double-majored in…
Click here to read the newsletter. Here’s an excerpt:
State endorses the Windy Gap Firming Project
During Northern Water’s April 13 Spring Water Users meeting, Mr. John Stulp, Governor Hickenlooper’s water policy advisor, read a letter from the governor endorsing the Windy Gap Firming Project.
The governor said, “Northern Water and its many project partners have worked diligently, transparently and exhaustively in a collorabitve public process that could stand as a model for a project of this nature.” Hickenlooper continued, “This is precisely the kind of cooperative effort envisioned for a project to earn a state endorsement in Colorado’s Water Plan.”
The state’s endorsement followed the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment’s March 25 issuance of a 401 water quality certification for the WGFP. Project Manager Jeff Drager said, “This is the next to last step in getting the project permitted. The final step is the federal 404 wetlands permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which we believe will be forthcoming in the next few months.”
This is the State of Colorado’s first endorsement of a water storage project.
“He is the mountain streams’ own darling, the humming-bird of blooming waters, loving rocky ripple-slopes and sheets of foam as a bee loves flowers, as a lark loves sunshine and meadows,” he wrote in 1894.
On and off for 30 years, Muir, regarded as America’s most influential naturalist, noted the American Dipper in his explorations of Yosemite, and saw the bird as intrinsically tied with the life of the rivers.
“They scarce suggest any other origin than the streams themselves; and one might almost be pardoned in fancying they come direct from the living waters, like flowers from the ground.”
And now, more than 120 years later, a community reeling from a mine spill that has reinvigorated questions over the Animas River basin’s health will monitor the bird to gain a better understanding of the local watershed.
“I think the spill served to highlight we live in a really contaminated watershed,” said Kimberly Johnson, a volunteer with the American Dipper Project. “So a group of us bird aficionados got together to look at the river from a wildlife point of view.”
While the spill caused no immediate die-off of fish and other aquatic life, the heavy-metal laden sediment deposited in the river has raised concerns about the long-term health of aquatic species.
University of Saskatchewan biologist Christy Morrissey said the American Dipper – a bird she researched to earn her doctorate – is the “perfect indicator of water quality.”
“Basically, just the presence of dippers will indicate the suitability of the habitat. Then you can measure a lot of things, contaminate-wise, which are useful for understanding the effects of something like a mine spill.”
The American Dipper, a sooty gray bird with a tail that points upward, lives its entire life on a river, rarely straying more than a few meters from the fast-moving, cold water.
Weighing about 2 ounces, North America’s only aquatic songbird can dive and spend up to 30 seconds under water, upturning rocks for aquatic insects, such as stoneflies, mayflies and caddisflies, midges and even small fish.
Yet for how stalwart the bird is – it’s been noted to withstand negative 40-degree air temperatures in Montana – the avian diver is extremely vulnerable to instability in a river’s ecosystem.
Pete Marra, head of the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center, said if a dipper’s food source begins to decline, the bird has been known to decrease in numbers along rivers, and in some cases, completely abandon waterways.
In a reverse situation, after a dam in Washington was removed, Marra said a flailing population of dippers almost immediately rebounded as salmon were able to reach upstream and reproduce, thereby providing an essential food source for the bird.
“We used dippers to show how rapidly a river system can rebound,” Marra said. “But they can also be used as evidence of how contaminant releases affect ecosystems.”
A 10-month study on aquatic bugs, which are known to accumulate metals over time, will be released later this week, said Scott Roberts, an aquatic biologist with Mountain Studies Institute, which is part of a multi-year monitoring program on the Animas.
And while the institute and others look below the surface, a group of self-organized volunteers operating under the name The American Dipper Project will keep a lookout above this summer.
The project extends along the Animas from behind Home Depot all the way to Silverton. Volunteers are assigned a stretch of the river and asked to visit three times throughout the summer, for a minimum of 20 minutes.
“Not long enough to disturb but long enough to observe what they’re doing,” said Kristi Dranginis, an organizer and owner of Bird Mentor.
Dranginis said the project’s first-year goal is to identify where nests of the American Dipper are located along the Animas. And then in following years, since the bird is non-migratory, behavior such as reproduction can be further analyzed.
“There was a feeling after the spill of what can we do?” said Shelley Silbert, executive director of the Great Old Broads for Wilderness, which is supporting the effort. “This project offers people who are not scientists, or even really skilled bird watchers, to get involved and contribute.”
With no historical data on the bird, Dranginis hopes to correlate the dipper’s habitat with state and federal findings on metal levels. If a particular dipper’s behavior takes a downturn, the group would ultimately like to test the bird – either through blood or its feathers – for any abnormalities or bio-accumulations.
But that’ll be difficult, Morrissey said. Field studies are almost never sufficient to pinpoint the effect of contaminates on a species, she said, and other environmental factors further entangle research.
“That said, it’s additional evidence that’s supposed to get regulators info that can give some clues,” Morrissey said. “And if the pattern holds, even with variations, then you have a greater support for your hypothesis that it’s whatever the disturbance is that’s caused the problem.”
One of the strongest El Niños on record has been dominating the tropical Pacific Ocean for the past year. But beneath the surface, a deep pool of cool water has been sliding slowly eastward for the past couple of months. This massive, slow-motion wave is a favorable sign that La Niña—the cool phase of the ENSO climate pattern—might develop.
This animated gif [above] shows where temperatures in the top 300 meters (~1,000 feet) of the Pacific Ocean at the equator were warmer or cooler than average during 5-day periods centered on three dates this spring: March 14, April 13, and May 3.
As the weeks pass, the layer of warm water at the surface contracts to the central Pacific and becomes very shallow, a sign that the current El Niño is on its way out. By the final frame of the animation, the cold pool is just breaching the surface of the eastern Pacific off South America. (You can see these cool-water breakthroughs in our map of April 2016 surface temperatures.)
ENSO (which scientists pronounce “en-so,” like a word) is short for El Niño-Southern Oscillation. ENSO is a natural climate pattern in which the central-eastern tropical Pacific swings back and forth between a warm and rainy state (El Niño) and a cooler and drier state (La Niña).
ENSO’s impacts on wind, air pressure, and rain throughout the tropics can have cascading side effects around the whole globe, including shifting the location of the mid-latitude jet streams that guide storms towards the United States. El Niño and La Niña also tend to have seesawing impacts on the Atlantic and eastern Pacific hurricane seasons.
The influence of ENSO on temperature and precipitation in the United States is weakest in summer and strongest in winter. Last week, NOAA continued the previous month’s La Niña watch, indicating that conditions were favorable for La Niña to develop by fall. Read more about it on our ENSO blog.
If you want some good clues about river health, check out the bug life.
Trout Unlimited, Mountain Studies Institute and partners today announced plans for a multi-year monitoring of the Animas River in southwest Colorado to gauge the overall health of the Animas River and whether the Gold King Mine spill in 2015 is impacting aquatic health in the world-class trout waters through Durango.
“We’re lucky that our community’s Gold Medal trout fishery wasn’t immediately damaged by the Gold King spill,” said Ty Churchwell, TU’s San Juan Mountains coordinator, in a release. “But long-term, it’s unclear what the effects of the spill might be. Trout Unlimited wants to make sure the aquatic health of the river—and specifically, its bug life—is closely monitored in coming months and years.”
Why look at bugs? Scott Roberts, aquatic biologist with MSI, pointed out that aquatic macroinvertebrate orders—such as mayflies, caddis and stoneflies—provide the foundation of the aquatic food chain, not just for trout but for a range of wildlife, from birds to mammals.
“Aquatic bugs are widely considered an excellent indicator of water quality,” said Roberts. “That’s because they live in the water column as well as river sediment. We’re going to learn a lot by seeing which bugs are doing well and which aren’t.”
Salmonflies (Pteronarcys), for instance, are present in the lower Animas watershed—a good sign because they are considered sensitive to pollution.
TU is committed to following up on the Animas spill in coming months and years and making sure the EPA and others in charge of cleanup don’t lose sight of the health of this amazing recreational fishery.
Two researchers say Fountain Creek has a rich aquatic environment that would benefit from flood control structures such as a dam.
“This is an extremely diverse biological stream and needs to be continuously studied,” said Scott Herrmann, a retired biology professor from Colorado State University-Pueblo.
“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,” said Del Nimmo, who has worked with Herrmann on Fountain Creek projects for the past decade.
The pair presented a suite of studies to Pueblo County commissioners, who have funded their recent work, last week.
Those studies began in 2007 and continued for five years, providing a baseline of conditions before the Waldo Canyon and Black Forest fires, and the growth impact of the Southern Delivery System. They track selenium and mercury concentrations moving through the food chain in plants, insects and fish.
“A large dam on Fountain Creek would give us the flood control capability that we need, but also provide recreational opportunities that are primary, with a pool of water as well as a tailwater. So we would have a fishery and fishing benefits from such a structure,” Her- rmann said.
The studies began in 2007 when the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District purchased equipment for CSU-Pueblo that allowed measurement of minute concentrations of contaminants in tissues.
Herrmann led a team that identified how bryophytes (moss) absorbed selenium.
“What it told us was that selenium is there and available (to life forms), and there is more of it as you go downstream,” Nimmo said. “But not too many people care about bryophytes, so we began to look at fish.”
Further studies looked at the impact on fish and insects, particularly chironomid midges.
Some of the studies have only been published in the last six months.
“One of the surprises was that we also found mercury in all but one of the 111 fish we tested,” Nimmo said.
Selenium may act as a protection against harmful effects of mercury for the fish, because it reduces toxicity, Herrmann said. But the presence of both elements points to the need to monitor levels in species to measure how development in El Paso County is affecting the creek.
The main reason Nimmo supports a dam on Fountain Creek is to reduce erosion, which is the primary reason for selenium making its way into the water. The Pierre shale that underlies Fountain Creek is known to contribute selenium when it comes into contact with water.
“We’re on a selenium dome,” Nimmo said.
“Nobody has tied selenium to erosion, but every time it floods there is not only damage by erosion, but to water quality.”
The studies found that Fountain Creek exceeded EPA selenium levels at all measuring points.
The insects, which provide food for the fish, are the subject of the most recent study, and the most fascinating for Herrmann.
“Fountain Creek is not a dead stream,” Herrmann said. “It’s rich in biota.”
Scientists found at least 150 species of insects on Fountain Creek, including 24 new species. The same methodology — pupal exuvia, or identifying casts left behind by adult males as they hatch — was used in an earlier study of the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon, and found just 38 species, Herrmann said.
“The question is what effects will increased SDS return flows and runoff have on the species diversity of midges?” he said.
For the first time during 2016, statewide snowpack improved over the previous month as opposed to the declines that have occurred each month since Jan. 1, including in the Yampa and White River Basin.
April weather conditions yielded a 7 percent improvement in snowpack, which now stands at 104 percent of normal. Mountain precipitation across the state of Colorado during April was the best of the 2016 calendar year, at 110 percent of normal. Now, water year-to-date precipitation is exactly at 100 percent of normal.
According to the Natural Resources Conservation Service, which is under the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the snowpack and reservoir storage as of May 1 along the Yampa and White River drainage, the snowpack is at 106 percent of normal, is 224 percent of last year’s snowpack for the same date, is at 115 percent of the average reservoir storage level and is 120 percent of last year’s average reservoir storage level compared to last year on the same date.
Brian Domonkos, Colorado Snow Survey Supervisor, illustrates how fortunate the Colorado water situation is.
“At this time last year, the water supply outlook was grim at best,” he said. “Colorado’s current snowpack and precipitation levels are right where we want to be this time of year. Elsewhere in the Western United States, seasonal snowpack during 2016 succumbed to early spring warming and did not recover as Colorado did from recent storms.”
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.
The seven major watersheds also have 90 percent of normal or better water year-to-date precipitation.
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 saw the greatest improvement in April, while the Upper Rio Grande and combined San Miguel, Dolores, Animas and San Juan Basins saw little change.
It is fortunate those basins saw little change downward given that snowpack there is now 77 and 85 percent of normal respectively. Although not reflected in snowpack values, 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.
The local Swift Water Rescue Team has a message about safety for everyone looking to make a splash.
Every year the reminder is the same; be careful near rivers and wear a life jacket if you are going to be getting in the water. As the snow pack starts to melt, it is leading to some very dangerous conditions.
The US Geological Survey shows the Arkansas River spiked by 600 cubic feet per second on Monday through Pueblo, deepening one stretch by a whole foot. Now running at nearly 900 cfs, taking on the water in the kayak course in particular will not be a walk in the park. “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,” explains PFD engineer Ryan Moran, who is a member of the SWRT. “This is not a place for just inner-tubing leisurely.”
The SWRT is already gearing up for a busy season. They have not had any river emergencies yet, but just last week two children drowned in northern Colorado. The local team keeps that in mind as families start to hit the shores without life jackets or shoes, fishing and climbing on treacherous rocks.
Moran says, “You may not know that an hour ago they released more water. You could be standing in what you thought was a safe place when it starts washing over you at that point and washes you off the rocks.”
Firefighters emphasize that parents teach their children water safety early on, and keep kids away from the worst of the waves. “As a parent myself, my children wonder why we can’t go play on the river, too, and I have to explain to them that’s just not safe,” says Moran. “We’ll go play some place in the water that is safe.”
The SWRT is currently in training mode, and say they expect to start getting emergency calls as the school year ends. City ordinance does require you to wear a certified life jacket any time you are in the rivers.
Arkansas River rafting companies are expecting another busy spring and summer as turnout continues to rebound from the Great Recession and the damaging 2012 and 2013 wildfire seasons.
Last year, commercial rafters provided trips to 196,998 thrill seekers, the fourth straight year of increased ridership on the state’s most rafted river, according to recently released Colorado River Outfitters Association statistics for the 2015 season.
The overall economic impact of last year’s Arkansas River rafting season was estimated at $62 million, including $24.4 million on direct spending on rafting and $37.6 million on lodging, gas and food and other related expenses, the industry group said.
Among the factors that contributed to the busier season was the late spring snowpack that grew to above average levels and created a high water season for most of Colorado.
Also, no major wildfires broke out, which contributed to stable use patterns, said Joe Greiner, who compiles the use report for the Colorado River Outfitters Association.
“Part of the increase use on the Arkansas River is due to recovery from the Royal Gorge fire that burned much of the infrastructure of the Royal Gorge Bridge & Park in 2013. The park was open the entire 2015 season, contributing to solid increases in rafting use,” Greiner said.
This year’s rafting season begins with “a lot of positive elements” that point to another great year for outfitters, Greiner said.
“I think everything is now in line. The Royal Gorge Bridge has been reopened a full year. The Brown’s Canyon National Monument has now been designated for a year and is starting to show up in guidebooks and on state maps. Plus the snowpack is perfect,” Greiner said.
Snowpack levels are a little above normal, which is right where rafting outfitters like to see them: not so high that they cause flooding and not so low that the river is flat.
“We should have excellent flows all the way through the summer,” he said.
Other favorable indicators are a more stable stock market and increased housing prices, factors that help people feel they have more money to spend on vacation.
“The gas prices are certainly affordable, too. Our bookings are now a little bit up, but we are finding that as people get more and more comfortable with computer booking, there are more last minute bookers,” Greiner explained.
A new music festival set for early August in Buena Vista, the Vertex Music Fest, should lead to more rafting business with 20,000 people expected to visit the region..
“So all the elements are there for an awesome season,” Greiner said.
The face of rafting is changing as the number of rafting companies diminishes — “very slowly,” Greiner said — and may eventually dwindle down to 25 outfitters.
“In the early ’80s, when I started (his company, Wilderness Aware Rafting), there were over 80 companies and today we have 47 permit holders. I would say 25 is about the most any river in the country has and through attrition we should get there,” he said.
The Arkansas River remains the most rafted in Colorado with a statewide market share of 39 percent last year.
The river’s biggest year ever was 2001 when 252,213 boaters floated its waters.
If climate change renders the Western Slope warmer and drier, and if historic growth rates keep up, then Aspen’s water utility could have trouble meeting consumer demand without depleting minimum in-stream flows in Castle and Maroon creeks over the next 50 years.
Aspen City Council on Monday heard a presentation from consultants hired to evaluate the adequacy of the municipal water supply. Wilson Water Group put together a report forecasting demand and available supply over a 50-year outlook, and found that in the worst-case climate change scenario, the city could miss in-stream flow targets on Castle and Maroon creeks by between 4 and 9 cubic feet per second during the “irrigation months” of June through September.
The city has committed to a 13 cfs minimum flow in Castle Creek, and 14 cfs in Maroon. Both creeks are tapped to feed municipal needs through diversion structures that send water to Thomas Reservoir, a holding bay for the city’s treatment plant.
Even if the worst-case scenario projections come to pass in terms of climate change and population growth — demands on the city’s water system historically have risen by about 1.2 percent a year, according to special projects utilities engineer Phil Overeynder — the city has other ways to shore up its water supply.
One project that has been on the drawing board for years would pump treated wastewater uphill from the sanitation plant to irrigate the city’s golf course.
The city also controls three wells in town drawing from the local aquifer. If irrigation for city parks increasingly relied on those wells, then more water could be left in Castle and Maroon creeks.
Combined with more water conservation, or restrictions in drought years, depletion of in-stream flows could be avoided, consultants report.
City council agreed to adopt the 2016 Water Supply Availability Study, and continue monitoring hydrologic conditions.
Council also heard a presentation on Monday from another consultant that analyzed threats to the water supply and water quality. Given that Aspen’s water originates in high mountain valleys, wildfire poses perhaps the most imminent and hazardous threat. A bad fire in the Castle or Maroon watersheds could be detrimental to water quality in those streams, and subsequent mudslides could also cause problems.
There is also the abandoned Pitkin Iron Mine above Ashcroft that drains into Copper Creek, a Castle Creek tributary.
The Colorado Rural Water Association conducted a study for the city assessing the best ways to mitigate these threats.
Creating a buffer zone against wildfire near the diversion structures on Castle and Maroon creeks, while continuing to develop plans to limit wildfire debris flow into Thomas Reservoir, were among the study’s top recommendations.
More work to control erosion at the Pitkin Iron Mine site was also recommended. However, the consultant noted that the Pitkin Iron Mine did not make the list of the state’s 200 most pressing mine cleanup needs.
For the Colorado Department of Transportation to be able to move forward with its first phase of construction on permanent repairs to U.S. 34, the agency will have to come to an agreement with the city of Loveland.
Part of the construction work for repairs after the 2013 flood will require crews to use some of the Loveland-owned properties, right-of-ways and easements in the Big Thompson Canyon.
Loveland City Council members will vote at their meeting at 6 p.m. Tuesday on whether to allow CDOT to move forward with its work before the two entities come to a formal intergovernmental agreement in the next 90 days.
The meeting will take place in the Council Chambers in the municipal building at 500 E. Third St.
City Manager Bill Cahill said this will also be another chance for Loveland residents to ask any questions they may have about the permanent repairs on U.S. 34.
Cahill said although the city’s most commonly-known property in the canyon is Viestenz-Smith Mountain Park, it also owns land to the east and west of the park.
The first phase of the U.S. 34 reconstruction will first require rock blasting for a new roadway alignment at the horseshoe curve, west of Viestenz-Smith, where the city owns land.
“The Agreement will permit CDOT to move forward with construction prior to a final agreement on the value of the required Loveland right of way,” a City Council memo states.
Additional city property that CDOT will need to use as well as compensation to the city will be discussed at the July 5 City Council meeting.
Staff members have been working with CDOT officials for the past year on the best road alignment possibilities, according to the council memo.
“One key goal for road reconstruction is to create a safer and more resilient roadway alignment that works in harmony with the Big Thompson River. Eliminating the horseshoe curve west of the Viestenz-Smith Mountain Park (“VSMP”) is one of the greatest opportunities to accomplish this goal,” it stated.
The new alignment will cross through the Rosedale property, west of Viestenz-Smith, which the city owns.
Additionally, CDOT will need to move excess rock out of the canyon during the three-year reconstruction period, Cahill said, and is looking for a staging area and site to dispose of the rock spoils on the east edge of Round Mountain, south of U.S. 34 and Viestenz-Smith
Cahill said as more of the permanent plans are made for the roadway, there could be more possibilities near the city-owned properties for recreational opportunities along the river, falling in line with a longterm vision for the Big Thompson Canyon among Larimer County, its municipalities and CDOT.
Preliminary flood maps for the city of Pueblo and Pueblo County will be available for public review at a meeting from 1:30-3:30 p.m. May 24 at the city’s human resources conference room, 301 West B St.
Representatives from the Federal Emergency Management Agency will be on hand to discuss the maps, which will be used to determine flood insurance rates for Pueblo County property owners.
The meetings will look at changes in flood maps, explain flood hazards and review ordinances regarding the flood plains.
The preliminary maps reflect revised engineering in the last 10 years and are still subject to appeal. The Arkansas River, Fountain Creek, Lake Minnequa and several larger tributaries were included in the mapping.
You could sit all day and stare at the Pueblo Dam and not have a clue about why it’s there, who built it and what it’s for.
Or, if you’re lucky enough to be a fourth- or fifth-grader in Pueblo County, you could spend a day filled with fun activities and learn everything from water safety to the water cycle — including the Pueblo Dam and the kitchen sink.
The Children’s Water Festival began in 1999 and continues each year since, except for 2015, in early May at Colorado State University-Pueblo. About 1,800 fourth- or fifth-graders attend each year from Pueblo City Schools (D60), Pueblo County School District 70 and private schools.
In 2015, the festival was canceled, ironically, because of weather. It was wet and cold the entire month of May, but the big concern was the possibility of thunderstorms. The 2016 program was geared for fifth-graders, who had missed their chance as fourth-graders last year.
“The kids have always enjoyed it,” said Linda Hopkins, a retired employee of the Bureau of Reclamation, who helped coordinate the festival for many years.
She explained that the Pueblo event was patterned after the Nebraska Groundwater Festival, which started in Grand Island, Neb., in 1988.
Internally, Reclamation decided a Pueblo festival would be a good idea in 1999. By then, there were a few other water festivals for children in some other parts of Colorado.
Reclamation in 1999 was involved in one of its most controversial periods in Pueblo since it built Pueblo Dam in the 1970s. The dam was being reinforced to improve its stability, a move that some interpreted as a precursor to enlargement that could benefit large municipal users such as Colorado Springs and Aurora.
“Part of it was to get the bureau’s name out there in a positive way, but mostly it was to expose the kids to water information,” Hopkins recalled. The idea was that the children would take the information home and discuss it with parents or other family members.
Local water providers were immediately supportive, and continue to contribute resources and people each year. The festival has operated smoothly, organizing squadrons of teachers, students and parents armed only with coolers of sack lunches and a big appetite for a six-hour course of water games, lessons and contests.
This year’s festival, held last Tuesday at CSU-Pueblo, was sponsored by Reclamation, the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District, the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District, the Pueblo Board of Water Works, Pueblo West and the St. Charles Mesa Water Conservancy District. CSU-Pueblo makes the entire campus available for activities.
“We have a closeout meeting after the festival each year, then start meeting in September or October to plan the next year,” said Toni Gonzales, of the Southeastern district.
The presenters range from high school students to water professionals. With the exception of the Mad Science demonstration — a crowd-pleasing experience that goes beyond water — all of the presenters are volunteers.
“I came to one of these when I was in fourth grade,” said Tony Valenzuela, a member of the Future Farmers of America and Pueblo County High School student.
On Tuesday, he was demonstrating how to set irrigation siphon tubes. The process involves coaxing water through a 4-foot metal tube by capping one end and firmly jiggling it. Farmers use the skill to flood irrigate crops planted in furrows.
“Our family used to farm,” Valenzuela said.
Erik Duran, fire inspector for the Pueblo Fire Department, went over a math lesson with the visual aids of 1-gallon and 5-gallon water cans and a pumper truck that can hold up to 3,000 gallons.
“That hose can pump 1,500 gallons per minute, so how long would it take to empty the tank?” Duran said.
“Two minutes!” the students responded, but you could tell they were thinking: “How long before we get to shoot the hose at those targets?”
Nearby, other students were solving a simpler equation as workers from Pueblo Water demonstrated in real time what happens when a pipe leaks under pressure. Water was shooting out in a 20-foot plume and the goal appeared to be finding out the minimum time running through water (while screaming) in order to soak the maximum amount of clothing.
About three seconds, apparently.
If you go to a water festival, chances are good you’ll get wet.
On the stage of Hoag Hall, Pueblo County High School students gave a theatrical demonstration of the hydrologic cycle, including the popular song: “Evaporation, Condensation, Precipitation, Runoff.”
Well, it was mostly popular because the high school students invited all the teachers in the auditorium to join them onstage in an impromptu line dance.
Other outside displays demonstrated the water cycle, how to stay safe while boating or forest health. Inside, students in one room conducted a mock water court, applying Colorado’s water law to a manufactured dispute. In another, Water Wizards from competing schools answered some tough questions that ranged from global to local in scope.
Such as: “How many gallons are used to produce the typical Pueblo lunch (hamburgers, French fries and a soda).”
That’s downright cruel to a kid who hasn’t eaten lunch yet and can look forward only to the peanut butter and jelly sandwich in the cooler. Still, one young lady had the gumption to answer: 1,500 gallons?
Correct, or roughly half a fire truck.
Water festivals are becoming more popular. Trinidad hosted its first in 2012, at the height of a drought. Salida and Colorado Springs are looking at starting their own.
After 17 years, Pueblo’s version continues to give kids a chance to soak up water knowledge.
From the Middle Colorado Watershed Council (Dan Ben-Horin) via the Glenwood Springs Post-Independent:
Now that winter is mostly behind us, it’s time to look at our snowpack and make some estimates of what spring runoff may actually look like. The National Weather Service’s Climate Prediction Center (CPC) has forecasted an increased chance for above average precipitation for the entire Upper Colorado River Basin, which is expected given the existing El Niño conditions.
Last year, Miracle May gave our reservoirs a giant boost. Whether that will happen again is still difficult to determine. Recent rains have been a welcome occurrence for the drought-starved Southwestern U.S.: As of May 1, the Colorado snowpack was 111 percent of average. The CPC further reports no signs of any drought development over the next three months and has recommended the removal of the official drought status in the southeastern part of the state.
Over the next month and a half, the Colorado River Water Conservation District will be holding its annual State of the River meetings throughout the Upper Colorado River Basin. Meetings will be held here in Garfield County, as well as in Summit, Mesa, Grand, Eagle and Delta counties. These meetings provide an opportunity for water experts to sketch out how this winter’s snowpack will translate to spring runoff volume and reservoir levels both locally and downstream. With these meetings still a few weeks away, here are some predictions for the larger reservoirs in the Upper Colorado River Basin from the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation:
• Blue Mesa Reservoir: The March flow into Blue Mesa was at 177 percent of average, but forecast inflows over the next three months are all projected to be lower than average, with volumes of 71 percent, 73 percent and 82 percent of average for April, May and June, respectively.
• Flaming Gorge Reservoir: Flaming Gorge saw an inflow at 83 percent of average for the month of March, and inflows for the months of April, May and June are all forecast to be below average, with volumes projected to be 82 percent, 71 percent and 77 percent respectively.
• Navajo Reservoir: March inflow into Navajo was at 90 percent of average. Inflows for the next three months are projected to be below average, with April, May and June forecasted inflow volumes of 70 percent, 79 percent and 72 percent of average, respectively.
• Fontenelle Reservoir: March inflows at Fontenelle on the Green River in southwestern Wyoming totaled 50,000 acre-feet (AF), or 95 percent of the historic average. Daily inflow averages are on the rise with the beginning of spring runoff, with a seven-day average of 1,330 cubic feet per second as of April 14. The Colorado Basin River Forecast Center predicts spring inflows all to be below average. April, May and June forecasted inflow volumes are 82 percent, 67 percent and 84 percent of average respectively.
• Lake Powell: In March, the flow into Lake Powell totaled 553,000 acre-feet, or 83 percent of average. The reservoir elevation is close to the projected seasonal low, and will soon begin increasing as spring runoff enters the reservoir. The April to July 2016 water supply forecast for Lake Powell projects that the most probable inflow volume will be 5.3 million AF, or 74 percent of average. There is much variability in the forecast water supply for the season, with predictions ranging from 3.85 million AF (54 percent of average) to 7.65 million AF (107 percent of average).
While much of the forecasted inflows in the Upper Colorado River Basin are below average, there is still much uncertainty about what the next few months will actually produce. These data come from a report from the Bureau of Reclamation from mid-April, and we are now in a cycle of above normal precipitation. Let’s keep our fingers crossed that this cycle continues well into the spring, swelling our rivers with some much-needed relief for the Southwestern U.S., and putting our Gore-Tex jackets to good use.
Dan Ben-Horin is a watershed specialist with the Middle Colorado Watershed Council. His column, Your Watershed, appears on the second Sunday of each month. The council works to evaluate, protect and enhance the health of the Middle Colorado River Watershed through the cooperative effort of watershed stakeholders. To learn more, go to http://www.midcowatershed.org.
Dust storms that can accelerate snowpack runoff hit the Rio Grande basin at about an average level this year, although recent snowstorms may have delayed their impact.
“This year is about average,” said Jeff Derry, who heads the Center for Snow and Avalanche Studies in Silverton. “We’ve had about six dust events and all of them, except for one, were pretty moderate.”
Dust layers can ramp up runoff when they emerge at the surface of the snowpack by decreasing the snow’s ability to reflect sunlight.
But Derry said that emergence has been delayed by snowstorms and cloudy skies at the end of April and the beginning of May.
Knowing the extent of dust in the snowpack is important for water managers in the basin trying to stay in compliance with the Rio Grande Compact, which divvies the river’s water between Colorado, New Mexico and Texas.
Without that knowledge, water managers could wrongly interpret the timing and amount of runoff and curtail water users in an attempt to comply with the compact.
“For us — boots on the ground — this is a very big decision-making tool to help us understand why we’re above or below average flows for that day,” Nathan Coombs, who heads the Rio Grande Basin Roundtable, said.
Information about when the dust is about to accelerate runoff also is important to reservoir operators, said Travis Smith.
Smith serves on the Colorado Water Conservation Board and is head of the San Luis Valley Irrigation District, which owns the Rio Grande Reservoir southwest of Creede.
“We want to know as a reservoir operator when the next big inflow is going to happen,” he said.
The center has charted dust storms in the state’s high country for the past 10 years.
Derry said the source of the dust stems from northern Arizona, southern Utah and the Four Corners area where grazing, off-road vehicles, drought and, to a lesser extent, oil and gas development have combined to destabilize the soil.
This year the northern part of the state has gone largely untouched by the dust storms that have hit the San Juans.
Derry said a disparity between the San Juans and the northern part of the state is not uncommon, given the former’s proximity to the source of the dust storms.
“They usually hit the San Juans first,” he said. “They usually hit the San Juans the hardest.”
Or maybe it was when professional landscapers and horticulture professors wrote disgruntled letters about billboards and radio spots that joked, “Grass is Dumb.”
At some point in the past decade, Denver Water’s signature orange box asking customers to Use Only What You Need became advertising legend in the metro area, winning countless awards, prompting dozens of requests to buy the rights for the campaign, and even eliciting interest for use on…
Colorado’s Water Plan was crafted with hundreds of meetings and thousands of comments on a grand public scale with the type of unbridled enthusiasm usually reserved for a Broncos game.
Well, OK. Maybe a Rockies game.
By contrast, the Colorado Climate Plan was like an after-school pickup game for scientists, attempting to lay some sort of public policy groundwork for a series of unpredictable events. Even so, water is still the star.
“Water is one of the most vulnerable sectors,” Taryn Finnessey, of the Colorado Department of Natural Resources, told the Arkansas Basin Roundtable last week. “Streamflow decreases and the peak runoff shifts. The frostfree season is longer and there are more frequent wildfires. We are seeing these things already.”
She presented the evidence of warming: Colorado’s average temperature has increased 2 degrees (Fahrenheit) in the last 30 years; 2.5 degrees in the last 50. The average temperature will increase 2.5-5 degrees by 2050. A 2-degree increase would make Denver more like Pueblo; 4 degrees more like Lamar; and 6 degrees more like Albuquerque.
“After 2050, we can’t predict,” she said.
Future precipitation is uncertain. Colorado is an inland area, with mountains and at mid-latitude — the trifecta for uncertainty. Less snow? More rain? No one can tell. But both extreme floods and droughts already are becoming more common.
The historic record — you don’t need to consider man-made consequences to review it — can be determined by tree-ring data. It goes back 1,000 years in the Colorado River basin, and 500-700 years in the South Platte, Arkansas and Rio Grande basins.
There have been, in every basin, decades-long droughts that occasionally have chased away civilizations.
Armed with the facts, the roundtable members were asked, by Jay Winner, general manager of the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District, if they believed climate change was real and posed a threat. About 75 percent of the people in the room raised their hands.
“So, we’ve still got some work to do,” Winner said.
That’s true statewide as well. Only 19 percent of the state’s population does not believe global warming is happening, according to recent polls.
Just 60 percent say it is a threat to the state.
Beyond water, there are other sectors of the state that are preparing for climate change.
The Colorado Climate Plan, directed by the state Legislature in 2013, deals with public health, energy, agriculture, tourism and recreation as areas that could be affected in one way or another by markedly warmer or drier weather. And one surprising area: Transportation.
The plan outlines how wear and tear on roads, runways and other transportation structures is expected to increase as temperatures warm and storm events become more severe. Colorado witnessed this already in the 2013 floods in the South Platte basin, where road replacement became the major cost after the floodwaters receded.
Those types of impacts are expected to become more common.
There are also the on-the-ground impacts of more severe snowstorms, rain events and dust.
For instance, during the 2010-13 drought in the Arkansas Valley, the National Weather Service added dust storms to their roster of weather warnings. While Colorado’s Water Plan sets specific targets or goals to manage water use, the Colorado Climate Plan deals in broader “policies and strategies to mitigate and adapt.”
The report acknowledges that Colorado, by itself, could do little to curb global effects of emissions from power plants or automobiles, but should help cut those emissions.
Sort of like a fan in the stands cheering for the home team?
But the plan does point the way for Colorado to get in the ballpark.
Colorado’s longtime ban on residential rain barrels has come to an end. Now most homeowners in the state are allowed to collect precipitation for later outdoor use.
Gov. John Hickenlooper recently signed House Bill 1005, which allows a maximum of two rain barrels — with a combined capacity of 110 gallons — are allowed at each household. The measure is to take effect on Aug. 10.
Rainwater collection, also called rainwater “harvesting,” is the process of capturing, storing and directing rainwater runoff and putting it to use. Water from roof gutter downspouts that is directed onto landscaped areas is not regarded as rainwater harvesting under this legislation.
The Colorado Legislature passed the bill last month after previously rejecting the measure in past sessions over concerns that household rain barrels would take water from the supply available to agriculture and other water-rights holders.
But a study conducted by the Colorado Stormwater Center, housed within the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Colorado State University, showed otherwise. Nearly all of the water would be absorbed in the ground by the downspout or in the ground in the garden, the CSU analysis indicated.
“We do not think any changes to the water cycle could be accurately quantified or measured,” said Chris Olson, a researcher and program manager at the Stormwater Center. “The water is going to be infiltrated or evaporated. The only difference is the timing, a day, maybe two, before the rain barrel is emptied.”
Colorado has been the only state with an outright ban on residential rain barrels and one of just four states that restrict rainwater harvesting.
Water law experts say rain barrels are only technically illegal, because proving they injure the water rights of other users is nearly impossible.
Collected rainwater may be used to irrigate outdoor lawns, plants or gardens. Untreated rainwater collected from roofs is not safe to drink.
Any container capable of collecting the rain shedding from a roof or patio can be used as a rainwater harvesting system. To comply with Colorado water law, the container must be equipped with a sealable lid. Rainwater collection systems vary from simple and inexpensive to complex and costly.
Typically, rooftop rainwater collection systems are simple — gutters, downspouts, and storage containers. Inexpensive rainwater storage systems commonly make use of an above-ground container such as a barrel or plastic tank with a lid to reduce evaporation and bar access for mosquitoes to breed. More sophisticated systems have “first flush” diverters that are recommended to exclude capture of the initial rain that might carry impurities from the roof.
Rain barrel use under HB 1005
There are several restrictions that are important to follow in order to use rain barrels legally in Colorado. These restrictions differ depending on your residential situation.
Under House Bill 1005, rain barrels can only be installed at single-family households and multi-family households with four or fewer units. A maximum of two rain barrels can be used at each household and the combined storage of the two rain barrels cannot exceed 110 gallons. Rain barrels can only be used to capture rainwater from rooftop downspouts and the captured rainwater must be used to water outdoor lawns, plants and/or gardens on the same property from which the rainwater was captured. Rain barrel water cannot be used for drinking or other indoor water uses.
“The capture and use of rainwater using rain barrels does not constitute a water right,” said Reagan Waskom, director of the Colorado Water Institute, part of CSU’s Office of Engagement. “HB 1005 includes language that could result in the State Engineer curtailing the use of individual rain barrels if a water-right holder can prove that those rain barrels have impacted their ability to receive the water that they are entitled to by virtue of their water right.”
Colorado State University Extension has created a fact sheet with additional details on rainwater harvesting.
It’s now legal for residents to collect rain water and use it to water their gardens — something most probably haven’t thought twice about.
Before Gov. John Hickenlooper signed a rain barrel bill into law Thursday, only well owners were able to utilize rain barrels legally. A similar bill died in the Legislature last year, but with the governor’s signature on House Bill 1005, anyone can collect rainwater in two 55-gallon barrels.
The bill is only a small aspect to the larger picture of water rights in Colorado — which rain barrel owners are not guaranteed.
The bill’s passage also means — at least for now — a pause on discussion around major changes to Colorado’s water laws. There have only been grumblings and some failed attempts to put water laws to a vote, but the slight change of legalizing of rain barrels is one that puts the conversation to rest — for now.
“For the first time we really have a situation in place where we can account for and make sure water rights are protected,” said Marc Arnusch, a farmer in Keenesburg.
Colorado’s water laws, in short give water rights to people on a first-come, first-served basis. The priority goes to senior water holders — those who got rights to use the water first. The trickle-down system puts junior rights holders are the lowest on the totem pole when it comes to using and taking water sources. But if the junior water rights holder takes more then their share, the senior holder can hold them responsible for damages to the supply.
That’s where the rain barrel discussion fits in. Even with rain water coming from clouds, Colorado’s water supplies rely on runoff water from storms. Rain barrel collections could reduce the amount of runoff water, but only when a large amount of water is collected from rain barrel owners.
Hesitation during the discussion of the bill was to protect the rights of the junior water rights holder. Legislators wanted to make sure junior holders weren’t held responsible for less available water due to a diversion into rain barrels.
Colorado State University researchers studied the effect rain barrels collections might have on downstream water from the rain and found there would be little, if any, change. This also plays into how many rain barrels will, realistically, be used. Arnusch said urban residents will most likely use the barrels, and Northern Water’s Brian Werner said a good utilization of the barrels would be if 10-15 percent of Colorado residents actually used the barrels. But even that might take time.
The CSU study didn’t convince everyone, though. Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg, R-Sterling, was one of three in the Senate Agriculture, Natural Resources and Energy committee to vote against the bill. His disagreement came from a lack of solutions to make sure the barrels wouldn’t take water away from those who own it and how to keep the rights in check. There was talk of a statute that would hold rain barrel owners responsible if there was a deficit from water rights owners, but there was no consensus, as the CSU study said there would be little, if any noticeable change in runoff water.
Even though the study said there wouldn’t be much of a change, statutes to hold barrel owners responsible in case of a reduction were rejected.
“If there isn’t an impact, why would they be worried about a statue?” Sonnenberg said in March.
But there was a checks and balance system put in place in which state officials can check to see — if rain barrels prevent water owners from getting their full share — how that can be fixed and changed. Werner said the chance for a revisit, along with the results from the CSU study was a large reason why the bill passed this year, unlike past sessions.
“If everyone were to (buy barrels) there are the checks and balances in there so somebody can go back there and look on a regular basis to see if there is, indeed, an impact,” Werner said.
The impact comes down to whether there will be enough water when rain barrels are used. With water rights remaining as they are, Arnusch said the bill is a step in the right direction to keep the water rights structure as is.
The biggest overhaul talks have been about switching to a public trust doctrine system. Arnusch is on the Ground Water Commission for the Colorado Division of Water Resources and said talks about the public trust doctrine system would still be priority-based, but the priority would go to wherever need is seen, rather than water ownership. That could mean years with less agricultural priority, which is why farmers and ranchers oppose the system.
“If the public trust doctrine were to go into effect in Colorado, that would be just a catastrophe for agriculture,” he said.
While a change to the public trust doctrine isn’t favorable to agriculture, Arnusch said it’s still important to evaluate and make reasonable changes within the existing water use system. Rain barrels were one of those changes. Now, the micro-storage options have a place in Colorado’s complex priority system, he said.
But there is a difference between the use of rain barrels and who owns that water.
“At the end of the day, a rooftop doesn’t entitle you to a water right,” Arnusch said.
The new water line regulations would require mostly anyone trying to move water through or out of Weld County to go through the use by special review — or USR — process.
This process gives the county commissioners and surrounding residents a say in the development. The commissioners can give conditional permission — forcing the builder to alter their plans. Usually, officials require more landscaping or other mitigation. The USR process also requires two public hearings — one in front of the planning commission and one in front of the county commissioners. Here, residents get three minutes each to air their grievances.
Because Weld doesn’t require a USR permit now, no one gets to weigh in on the projects. Residents, and perhaps even county officials, can get left in the dark.
“We just need to stay up to speed with the things coming in,” County Commissioner Mike Freeman said. “It comes back to protecting our surface owners.”
It will be the first discussion of at least three before the board can pass the rules. Officials can update or change the rules at any point before they’re passed.
Under the current proposed regulations, some organizations would be exempt from the permitting process.
Only companies or agencies building pipelines 16 inches or thicker will have to apply, said Weld County Attorney Bruce Barker.
“The intent is primarily to deal with the aspects of placing and siting a big water pipeline,” he said.
Weld agencies — such as cities and water districts — get some slack as long as the water is staying in the county.
The rules are gentler now than they were in the early stages, Barker said. County officials had stakeholder meetings with those agencies, and representatives let them know that although Colorado water regulations seem like they can handle a one-size-fits-all approach, they can’t.
“Major concerns in places like the Arkansas Valley don’t really apply here,” Barker said.
There aren’t the same level of power struggles over the water, so commissioners are pumping the breaks on the harsh language against moving water out of the county.
Before, the language had Greeley water officials worried.
“We’re always concerned with things that could affect us,” said Greeley Water and Sewer Director Burt Knight. “We’ve got a connection into Windsor, and Windsor extends outside of Weld County.”
They also have pipelines into other counties in case of natural disasters. The infrastructure is already in place so one can back the other up if water supplies get damaged.
“We’re OK with where they’re heading,” Knight said. “They were receptive to some of our comments.”
Indeed they were.
“There are some municipalities in Weld that get big water pipelines into the county,” Barker said. “Those are exempted.”
Greeley is exempt, but other towns trying to use Greeley’s water aren’t.
The city of Thornton started buying farms in the Eaton and Ault areas decades ago.
“Their goal was and still is to go ahead and dry those properties up,” Barker said.
It’s called buy and dry. Organizations buy farmland with water rights, go to water court and get the use changed. Then they use it for something else — such as municipal water.
Thornton’s water would come out of Weld and get pumped south to the city.
They’re gearing up to apply for the USR later this year, Barker said.
Oil and gas pipelines will see similar regulations, Barker said. But because county officials are already working on USR requirements for that industry, pipeline rules will get wrapped up in those laws.
Here’s a guest column from James Eklund writing in The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel:
Heavy attention on California’s sustained and severe drought, recent coverage of water sharing agreements in the Lower Colorado River Basin, and most recently an insightful piece in this newspaper from Colorado River Water Conservation District General Manager Eric Kuhn (Sixteen years of drought in the Colorado River Basin: Reality or talking point? May 12) might have people wondering, what does this mean for our headwaters state of Colorado? What kind of actions are Colorado and the Upper Basin states undertaking in this climate of uncertainty and water scarcity?
The Lower Basin states of Arizona, California, and Nevada recognize the threat of extended drought on the Colorado River and are working on a contingency plan to responsibly take voluntary shortages in Lower Basin water use if conditions continue to deteriorate. Likewise, in the Upper Basin states of Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming, we have been working on preparations to ensure the health of the Colorado River system in sustained dry conditions. We have focused our efforts on operating our reservoirs as effectively as possible and managing our water demands.
Using these tools, our water data modeling shows we can make substantial progress toward our goal of sustaining critical water storage volumes in Lake Powell. Coupled with our continued work on cloud seeding and removal of invasive plants like tamarisk that drink too much, we can create more certainty for Colorado River water users and the environment.
And because Coloradans statewide rely on Colorado River water, we are working with water entities on both sides of the Continental Divide to ensure our headwater state is represented during these important discussions. We are proud to say that many Upper Basin water users, including Coloradans, have answered the call to voluntarily explore ways in which we would be able to manage our Colorado River water demands should the need arise. These water users are piloting temporary reductions in their water use so that we can better understand the effect we can have on Lake Powell.
While each part of the basin has its own reasons for developing contingency plans, both Upper Basin States and Lower Basin States have been meeting jointly to identify and capitalize on the benefits if both plans were to operate together. Those benefits also appear to be substantial.
The old ways of litigating and saber-rattling on the Colorado River are not viable solutions if we are to confront the very real and difficult challenges of reduced hydrology in a timely fashion. Nor can we — to extend the comments of Eric Kuhn — dismiss our dry hydrology as merely a “drought.” Doing so converts hope into a strategy. We can do better. Like Colorado’s Water Plan, the path forward on the Colorado River requires collaboration and recognition that water connects us all. In this spirit, we look forward to continued work with Coloradans statewide and the other Colorado River Basin States to craft contingency plans that add certainty and resiliency to our namesake river.
James Eklund is director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board and Colorado’s representative on the Upper Colorado River Commission.
The dam that forms Gross Reservoir, located in the mountains west of Boulder. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism
The crest of the dam across the Fryingpan River that forms Ruedi Reservoir, which can hold 102,373 acre-feet of water. Photo courtesy Bureau of Reclamation.
Sunrise at Ruedi Reservoir October 20, 2015. Photo via USBR.
Turrquoise Reservoir, which stores water brought under the Continental Divide from the Eagle, Fryingpan and Roaring Fork river headwaters.
Aurora Reservoir via Active Rain
Strontia Springs Reservoir started spilling on May 2, 2015. Between 1,200 and 1,700 cubic feet per second has been flowing out of the spillway since that time.
Dillon Reservoir via the Summit County Citizens Voice
Rifle Gap Reservoir via the Applegate Group
Green Mountain Dam via the Bureau of Reclamation
Cheesman Reservoir February 2013
Wolford Mountain Reservoir. An aerial view of Wolford Reservoir, formed by Ritschard Dam. The Colorado Water Plan outlines many different types of projects, including reservoirs and dams, that need funding.
Rampart Reservoir. Photo credit: The Applegate Group
Windy Gap Reservoir
Carter Lake photo credit Northern Water.
Homestake Reservoir circa 2010. Photo credit Aurora Water.
Willow Creek Reservoir.
Glen Canyon Dam back in the day when the reservoir was nearly full
Long Draw Reservoir
Granby Reservoir Indian Peaks in background
Taylor Park Reservoir
Ridgway Reservoir during winter
Spinney Mountain Reservoir
Aspinall Unit dams
Glen Canyon Dam
US Flag at Hoover Dam as the Olympic Torch passed over the dam in 1996
Winter is still hanging on in the cold, high mountains around Cameron Pass.
But that hasn’t stopped Fort Collins Utilities from working on a critical project for the city and its residents.
Crews have been clearing snow from the Michigan Ditch Road and the ditch running next to it since around April 1. This is normal procedure given the need to move water along the ditch to city-owned Joe Wright Reservoir, which sits east of the pass along Colorado Highway 14.
But this year the work is a little different. It is being done in anticipation of closing a section of the road to allow construction of a tunnel that would carry the ditch to its destination.
A contractor hired by the city will use a custom-made tunnel boring machine, or TBM, to carve an 800-foot-long, slightly curved path through solid rock. The tunnel will have an 8-foot diameter.
Crews will work seven days a week, 12 hours a day on the project. The boring machine is expected to churn through up to 20 feet of rock a day, said Owen Randall, chief engineer for Fort Collins Utilities.
Once the tunnel is dug, a 60-inch pipe made from a fiberglass-type material will be installed and connected to the ditch, which originates in the upper Michigan River basin.
The TBM, which looks like it could be part of the International Space Station, will be 27 feet long and weigh 58,000 pounds. It will have an operator inside to “drive” it and a conveyance belt and ore cars running out the back to carry away rock chewed up by its massive rotating cutting head.
The machine costs $1.8 million. The city will rent it for $900,000, Randall said, since there’s really no reason for the city to own that kind of machine. When its work is done, it will be sent back to the manufacturer for refurbishing and other jobs.
All this effort is needed because a slow-moving but unstoppable landslide has been roughing up the ditch and its pipeline for some years. Rather than constantly repairing slide damage, which was especially severe in 2015, city officials decided to pay the price to protect the pipe by sending it through rock the slide can’t budge.
The project, including design and construction, is expected to cost Fort Collins Utilities about $8.5 million.
But given that the value of the water the ditch moves (and the rights to that water) is more than $100 million, city officials believe the investment is worthwhile.
The TBM is expected to be delivered and ready to launch in June. Weather and scheduling permitting, the ditch is expected to be operational in time for the 2017 spring runoff.
Study shows ocean dynamics mixing microplastics deep into the water column
There’s no question that plastics pollution in the world’s oceans is a serious and growing problem. One recent study estimated that somewhere between 5 million and 13 million metric tons of plastic waste were dumped into the ocean in 2010 alone, for the sake of comparison, one metric ton is 2,200 pounds, about the weight of a small car.
Other studies focusing on the impacts of all the debris show that plastic poses a risk to sea turtles,crabs and seabirds, while research voyages have shown that the tiny microparticles are to be found nearly everywhere, including the Arctic.
And new research released in April suggests that most estimates of plastics pollution in the ocean may…
Don’t just ‘set it and forget it.’ You may find yourself in The Twilight Zone.
By Jimmy Luthye
Sadly, I do not have a sprinkler system, nor a yard to call my own. So, you can imagine my confusion when I learned of a widespread problem among those far more sprinkler-savvy than myself; namely, people are often intimidated and, yes, even a bit nervous to go near their sprinkler control box.
Why? Frankly, sprinkler timers can seem complicated if you’re not familiar with them, but that’s no excuse to ignore them. Come with us as we uncover the mysteries of the sprinkler system and show you how to get cozy with your timer. It’ll save you money and water!
When it comes to watering your lawn, it’s critical you don’t just “set it and forget it” all summer. Be sure to check back and adjust often, depending on the month