Greeley leaders express concern about Weld County water pipeline regulations — The Greeley Tribune

pipeline

From The Greeley Tribune (Catharine Sweeney):

Greeley leaders are leery of the county’s proposed water rules.

The Board of Weld County Commissioners is working to regulate water pipeline construction. The board discussed the proposed rules during a meeting Monday morning, and a handful of Greeley officials expressed their concerns.

As they are written now, the proposed rules would make many organizations get a special permit before they start building. This permit requires a lengthy application process and two public hearings.

There are exemptions, though. One of them says municipal users don’t have to go through the process.

That’s not specific enough for Greeley leaders, said Mayor Tom Norton.

“The fact of the matter is there’s a lot of legal language in there that allows for attorneys to argue and debate,” he told the board.

Future commissioners might take advantage of the vague wording to fight the city’s water development, he said. So could water project opponents, like the ones northern Colorado saw during the public hearings for the Northern Integrated Supply Project, or NISP.

NISP aims to help cure the region’s water woes by diverting from the Cache la Poudre River via pipeline into two newly constructed reservoirs. Fifteen organizations, including towns and water districts in Weld, will benefit from the addition if it gets approved.

Most opponents are in Larimer, but the infrastructure would cut through both counties.

“I’d hate to see them use your own rules against you,” Norton said.

He proposes naming all organizations that are exempt by name.

“It seems to me it would be a lot more straightforward and simple to say, ‘city of Greeley is exempt,’ ” he said.

The county commissioners said they found the recommendation confusing. The current language excludes all Weld County municipalities, including Greeley, just not specifically by name.

“That’s exactly what this says,” said Commissioner Mike Freeman. “The way it’s currently written, you don’t have to get any kind of permit.”

Greeley leaders might be predisposed to getting nervous about water pipeline regulations after the snags they hit during the Bellvue project.

They’re working to build a 30-mile, 60-inch pipeline from the city’s water treatment plant in Bellvue, north of Fort Collins, down to Greeley. Residents near the pipe’s path have been fighting the project for years in various creative ways, including getting parts of the proposed site listed on historic registers.

Greeley got permission for the project before Larimer County adopted its water pipeline rules, and some say the rules were only adopted because of the Greeley project. Residents wanted Larimer to get Greeley to go through the new process, retrofitting the rules, in an attempt to block Greeley’s project.

“As commissioners are supposed to do, they responded to their constituents,” said Jon Monson, who was the water and sewer director at the time.

In the end, Greeley didn’t have to go through the process.

Situations with disgruntled residents like these have put the Bellvue pipeline project years behind. Originally, planners said it would be finished in 2013. It’s still under construction.

The Weld County commissioners didn’t seem on board with Mayor Norton’s idea.

They said the current exemption is already clear enough, and that exempting only Greeley by name wouldn’t be fair.

“I think the exemption he’s seeking is already there,” said Commissioner Sean Conway.

As for future county leaders, Commissioner Julie Cozad said they would have an arsenal of tools to interpret the law, not just the law’s language.

“If there’s ever a question on the intent, there’s always the public record to go back to,” she said.

The latest “The Current” newsletter is hot off the presses from the Eagle River Watershed Council

Eagle River Basin
Eagle River Basin

Click here to read the newsletter.

#Snowpack news: June 6, 2016 Basin High/Low graphs, the melt is on

The June 1, 2016 Water Supply Outlook Report is hot off the presses from the NRCS

borco0616cover

Click here to read the report. Here’s an excerpt:

Statewide Water Supply Conditions

Snowmelt in the mountains of Colorado is in full swing and now more than half of Colorado’s SNOTEL sites no longer retain snow. In April, statewide snowpack had peaked and it appeared runoff was on an early trajectory. Fortunately, premature runoff was slowed in all of Colorado’s basins by a cool wet May weather pattern with some considerable snowstorms. This increased snowpack at upper and middle mountain elevations and allowed some watersheds to reach greater snowpack peaks. Later peaks were achieved in basins such as the South Platte and Arkansas. May 2016 precipitation, while only half of last year’s accumulation, was integral to the preservation of snowpack of the tributaries that drain the San Juan Mountains. Future streamflow projections do vary across the state. In the Rio Grande and combined San Miguel, Dolores, Animas and San Juan basins forecasts are below average, while conversely, both the North and South Platte basins do have above normal forecasts. At the beginning of June, year to date precipitation, snowpack and reservoir storage are all above normal statewide and have Colorado poised for a positive start to summer runoff.

statewidesnowpack06012016

Snowpack

statewidesnowpackmap06012016

Favorable mountain weather conditions during the first half of May continued to delay snowmelt at many SNOTEL sites. As of June 1st, many high elevation sites, especially along the northern half of the Continental Divide, continue to maintain snowpacks that are greater than half of their total accumulation for the season. All of Colorado’s major river basins, except the Rio Grande, have an above normal basin-wide snowpack and the statewide snowpack is 201 percent of the median. Overall snowpack trends for winter 2016 were split between the northern and southern basins. All basins had developed above normal snowpacks by January 1st, which were substantial enough to prevent snowpack amounts from dropping too far below normal during an especially dry February. However, warm temperatures and dry conditions persisted in the southern river basins through March, which decreased the snowpack to below normal levels on April 1st in the Arkansas, Rio Grande, and combined San Miguel, Dolores, Animas, and San Juan River (SMDASJ) basins. Snowy conditions returned in April, boosting normals for the Arkansas and parts of the SMDASJ river basins, but the snowpack continued to deplete for all but the highest elevation SNOTEL sites in the Rio Grande River basin, bringing it to 85 percent of normal on June 1st. Additionally, basin-wide snowfall amounts in the Gunnison, Rio Grande, and SMDASJ failed to reach typical peak snowpack amounts. Alternatively in the northern regions of the state, abundant snowfall fell during March through much of May, which has kept snowpack levels above normal this spring in the South Platte, Colorado, and combined Yampa, White, North Platte River basins. These basins reached peak accumulations above normal and continue to hold the most snow in the state.

Precipitation

monthlyprecipitationsummarywy2016

Precipitation amounts varied widely across Colorado throughout the month of May but statewide ended up above normal, at 118 percent of average. Water year to date precipitation is slightly above normal as of June 1st, at 102 percent of average. The mountains of Southwest Colorado received the most May precipitation in the state relative to their normal amounts. The combined San Miguel, Dolores, Animas, and San Juan basins received 154 percent of average May precipitation and the Upper Rio Grande received 144 percent. The next highest precipitation amounts occurred in the Yampa, White, and North Platte basins of Northwest Colorado, which collectively received 135 percent of average May precipitation. The Gunnison and Arkansas basins received similar amounts of precipitation as they did in April, at 123 and 120 percent of average, respectively. The Colorado River basin received 107 percent of average May precipitation and the South Platte was the only basin below normal, at 90 percent. Across the basins water year to date precipitation varies but not widely compared to the most recent monthly values, with all major basins being near normal; ranging between 96 and 108 percent of average since October 1st. It is interesting to note that while May 2016 did have well above average precipitation across much of the state only one group of basins (Yampa, White, and North Platte) received much more than half of the precipitation that was received during the extremely wet May of 2015.

Reservoir Storage

reservoirstoragewy2016

Percent of average statewide reservoir storage dropped slightly from the beginning of May but is still above normal levels, at 108%. The Gunnison and the Upper Rio Grande are the only basins in the state that currently have below average reservoir storage. The Gunnison is only slightly below, at 97 percent, but the Upper Rio Grande was already the lowest in the state and dropped an additional 12 percent from last month and is now at 79 percent of average reservoir storage. On the opposite end of the spectrum, the Arkansas currently has the highest value in the state at 116 percent of average. This is followed closely by the Yampa basin that is currently at full capacity, which is 114 percent of its average for the beginning of June. Reservoirs of the South Platte basin are currently storing 112 percent of average and 92 percent of capacity, even with Antero Reservoir being very low due to construction being done on the dam. The Upper Colorado and combined San Miguel, Dolores, Animas, and San Juan basins are both storing 110 percent of their average volumes for this time of year. There is however a notable difference in their current storage as a percent of capacity, with the basins of Southwest Colorado being at 96 percent of reservoir capacity while reservoirs in the Colorado basin are storing 82 percent of capacity.

Streamflow

streamflowforecast06012016

Streamflow forecasts for the remainder of the runoff season continue to follow the same general trend that has persisted this winter since January: streamflows in the northern half of the state have a better outlook than those in the southern portion. Forecasts for the northern streams have largely creeped up or stayed the same each month, while forecasts for southern streams have mostly decreased since January. Due to a lingering snowpack and plentiful May precipitation, runoff volumes for streams in the South Platte, combined Yampa, White, and North Platte, and northern tributaries of the Colorado River basin are largely expected to exceed normal flows. Forecasts are highest for tributaries in the South Platte River basin, where all streams are predicted to have flows above normal, and most are expected to be greater than 110 percent above the average. Many streamflows in the Yampa, White, and North Platte basin are also forecast to be greater than 110 percent of average. The lowest streamflows are currently predicted for the Rio Grande and combined San Miguel, Dolores, Animas and San Juan River basins. The above average May precipitation slightly boosted streamflow forecasts for the April – July period, but this was not enough to make up for the lackluster snowpack experienced in much of these basins. There is a range of variability for streams in the southern basins, but most forecasts range from 60 to 85 percent of average. Forecasts for the Gunnison and Arkansas River basins are mostly predicted to be somewhat below normal, in the 75 to 100 percent of average range, with a few outliers exceeding normal runoff volumes.

#ClimateChange: New study shows a snowline creeping higher in the Rockies — Inside Climate News

A view on June 2, 2014,  from “Windy Point”, on Slumgullion Pass, looking west across the Lake Fork drainage at Uncompahgre Peak (14,309’) in the distance.  Snowcover was confined to terrain at or above treeline on these east and south aspects. Photo via the National Snow and Ice Data Center.
A view on June 2, 2014, from “Windy Point”, on Slumgullion Pass, looking west across the Lake Fork drainage at Uncompahgre Peak (14,309’) in the distance. Snowcover was confined to terrain at or above treeline on these east and south aspects. Photo via the National Snow and Ice Data Center.

From Inside Climate News (Bob Berwyn):

Low-elevation snowpack across the Rocky Mountains, the Sierra Nevada and the Cascades will disappear in the coming decades if global warming continues unabated, according to a new study. The changes will cause water shortages in the region and dry out forests and grasslands, the study’s authors say.

According to the research, the snow line—the altitude above which it snows, and below which it rains—will climb as much as 800 feet in the Colorado Rockies, and 1,400 feet in the Rockies of Idaho and Wyoming by 2100 if greenhouse gas emissions continue at the current rate. The snow line will rise by an average of 950 feet across six Western mountain regions by century’s end. The study, by a team of University of Utah scientists, was published online in the journal Geophysical Research Letters last month.

A shift of that magnitude means less spring runoff for millions of square miles of watersheds in the lower elevations of the West. The melting of the spring snowpack determines how much water feeds critical reservoirs in 11 Western states. That water helps sustain Phoenix, Los Angeles, Las Vegas and other cities, as well as farms and mountain ecosystems, through hot, dry summers.

Less spring snowpack means water managers will have to capture runoff earlier in the season, and dried up forests, brush and grasslands will increase early season wildfires. Western ski resorts will also be affected, because the snowline will rise above the base elevation of many of them, according to the study.

“We identified an elevation threshold above which precipitation is the main driver of springtime snowpack,” said University of Utah climate researcher Court Strong, who led the study. Right now, that line is at about 6,500 feet but it will rapidly march up the mountain during the coming decades if global warming continues unchecked, Strong said.

Along with melting Arctic ice and vanishing glaciers worldwide, declining snow cover is a powerful gauge of global warming impacts, researchers say.

“Snowpack is one of the most pure forms of a climate indicator,” said John Abatzoglou, a University of Idaho geography professor who studies climate impacts but was not involved in the study. “We can see our snowpack, we can see when it decreases, or moves up and down the mountain…It’s one the best independent measures when it comes to climate change.”

Climate change has already reduced snow cover in the Rockies by 20 percent since 1980, and pushed up the peak of spring runoff by as much as two weeks in parts of the Mountain West, recent studies have shown. All global climate models have projected steadily increasing temperatures, and some suggest a slight increase in precipitation for the region.

Gov. Hickenlooper Appoints Bob Randall as Executive Director of Dept. of Natural Resources

Bob Randall photo via the Colorado Department of Natural Resources..
Bob Randall photo via the Colorado Department of Natural Resources..

Here’s the release from Governor Hickenlooper’s office:

Gov. John Hickenlooper today announced the appointment of Bob Randall as the executive director of the Colorado Department of Natural Resources. Randall has served as the interim director of the department since February 2016.

“Bob’s record of outstanding strategic decision making and his remarkable ability to work collaboratively with the diverse interests at DNR make him uniquely qualified for the job,” said Hickenlooper. “With 20 years of experience in the field, he has proven to be an exemplary and committed steward of Colorado’s natural resources. We look forward to continuing the good work.”

Prior to the interim director role, Randall served as the deputy executive director since 2010, and assumed the additional role of chief operations officer in 2014. Randall was responsible for advising the executive director on the development and execution of the Department’s policy, legislative, operational and communications initiatives and has played instrumental roles in numerous DNR projects, ranging from new regulatory standards at the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission to shaping Colorado’s approach to natural resource management on federal lands.

“I am honored and humbled by this opportunity, and am privileged to work alongside a remarkable staff of professionals throughout the entire Department, the people who are at the heart of our agency’s success,” Randall said. “I’m excited to carry on with the important work we do to manage and protect Colorado’s natural resources for people today and those who will depend upon the legacy we leave.”

Prior to joining the state, Randall served as a staff attorney for Western Resource Advocates and for Trustees for Alaska.

He serves on multiple boards including the Colorado Mined Land Reclamation Board, Colorado Commission of Indian Affairs and the Natural Resources Damages Trustees Council.

Randall earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Missouri and a Juris Doctor from Lewis & Clark, Northwestern School of Law.

The appointment is effective immediately.

From The Denver Business Journal (Cathy Proctor):

The department includes divisions that monitor Colorado’s mountains for avalanche danger, mining as well as oil and gas operations, parks and wildlife and the state’s water resources.

“Bob’s record of outstanding strategic decision making and his remarkable ability to work collaboratively with the diverse interests at DNR make him uniquely qualified for the job,” Hickenlooper said in his announcement.

“With 20 years of experience in the field, he [Randall] has proven to be an exemplary and committed steward of Colorado’s natural resources. We look forward to continuing the good work,” Hickenlooper said.

Randall has worked at the department since 2007, has been deputy executive director since 2010 and stepped into the lead role on an interim basis on February 1 after former director Mike King’s decision to take a job with Denver Water as that agency’s director of planning.

“I am honored and humbled by this opportunity, and am privileged to work alongside a remarkable staff of professionals throughout the entire department, the people who are at the heart of our agency’s success,” Randall said in the announcement.

“I’m excited to carry on with the important work we do to manage and protect Colorado’s natural resources for people today and those who will depend upon the legacy we leave,” Randall said.

Scientists at conference at San Juan College compare notes about #GoldKingMine spill, #AnimasRiver drainage

On April 7, the Environmental Protection Agency proposed adding the “Bonita Peak Mining District” to the National Priorities List, making it eligible for Superfund. Forty-eight mine portals and tailings piles are “under consideration” to be included. The Gold King Mine will almost certainly be on the final list, as will the nearby American Tunnel. The Mayflower Mill #4 tailings repository, just outside Silverton, is another likely candidate, given that it appears to be leaching large quantities of metals into the Animas River. What Superfund will entail for the area beyond that, and when the actual cleanup will begin, remains unclear. Eric Baker
On April 7, the Environmental Protection Agency proposed adding the “Bonita Peak Mining District” to the National Priorities List, making it eligible for Superfund. Forty-eight mine portals and tailings piles are “under consideration” to be included. The Gold King Mine will almost certainly be on the final list, as will the nearby American Tunnel. The Mayflower Mill #4 tailings repository, just outside Silverton, is another likely candidate, given that it appears to be leaching large quantities of metals into the Animas River. What Superfund will entail for the area beyond that, and when the actual cleanup will begin, remains unclear.
Eric Baker

From the NMSU News Service (Jane Moorman) via The Albuquerque Journal:

Nine months after mining sludge from the Gold King Mine turned the Animas and San Juan rivers yellow, scientists and researchers gathered here recently to share what they have learned so far regarding the contamination of the rivers from the spill in August 2015.

“Immediately during and after the Gold King Mine spill, different groups started monitoring the river water, shores and irrigation systems,” said Sam Fernald, director of the New Mexico Water Resources Research Institute at New Mexico State University.

“As they have gathered data, they realized there’s a lot of questions about the history of the watersheds, the natural state of the rivers, and the long-term impact. They immediately came up with all of these questions beyond the initial response,” Fernald said.

The conference last month at San Juan College was a time for 150 scientists from state and federal agencies, New Mexico universities, Native American tribes and numerous cities and counties to exchange information from their early stages of research.

While the spill sparked fear among those whose livelihood depends on the water, it has proven to be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for the scientists.

“This was a historic event,” said Kevin Lombard, a horticulturalist stationed at NMSU’s Agricultural Science Center at Farmington who is conducting two studies regarding the impact of the spill on the agricultural land. “We have the opportunity to record the impact of the contaminants that were in the mining sludge.”

Recording of the impact is proving to be a collaboration of researchers.

“We have a common goal of figuring out what the questions are and figuring out how to address them and how to get the information out to the public,” Fernald said.

Since the spill, the scientists have gathered data regarding river water quality before, during and after the spill; private wells accessing ground water; the impact of the water quality on the fish; and the impact of irrigated river water on the agricultural land.

The greatest challenge is the perception of health risks that the spill caused.

The early finding is that the levels of heavy metals being monitored are within federal standards. Only when rainwater increases the rivers’ water levels do the metal levels increase briefly from the riverbank contamination in Colorado.

Conference collaborators in the long-term monitoring include the state Environment Department, NMSU, UNM, New Mexico Tech, New Mexico Bureau of Geology and Mineral Resources, San Juan Soil and Water Conservation District, San Juan Watershed Group, San Juan County, the city of Aztec and the city of Farmington.

#Runoff news: Glenwood Canyon bike path closed

The Glenwood Canyon as seen from the Glenwood Canyon Bike and Hike Path. Photo via http://thewanderingchick.com.
The Glenwood Canyon as seen from the Glenwood Canyon Bike and Hike Path. Photo via http://thewanderingchick.com.

From The Aspen Daily News:

Glenwood Canyon bike path closed due to high water
The Colorado Department of Transportation has begun its annual closure of the Glenwood Canyon bike path because of high water in the Colorado River.

The closure extends from Shoshone to the Hanging Lake rest area and from Siloam Springs to Bair Ranch, according to a CDOT statement.

“Cyclists and pedestrians can still access the path from Glenwood Springs to the Grizzly Creek rest area at this time,” the statement says. “Bair Ranch rest area to Hanging Lake rest area is currently open, but crews anticipate it will be flooded in the next few days as river flows are reporting to run around 11,000 cubic feet per second.”

During recent years with high water, sections of the bike path have been washed away completely, necessitating a large reconstruction effort.

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

The Arkansas River hit 4,000 cubic feet per second at Parkdale Monday — four times greater than one week ago — and was still rising. Advisories are in effect for the river through the Royal Gorge, Pine Creek and the Numbers. For rafting companies, that means shifting operations to other parts of the river that can be equally exciting.

Releases from Pueblo Dam have been ramped up in the last few days as well in order to match the flows coming in. On Monday, the level was increased to 4,200 cfs, and could be raised even more.

“We’ll have to look at Avondale and keep watching the flows upstream,” said Steve Witte, Water Division 2 engineer.

While the snowpack for the Upper Arkansas basin was ample because of May storms, there’s no way of knowing how fast it will melt.

Releases can be scaled back if the gauge at Avondale reaches 6,000 cfs. Flows from Fountain Creek, Chico Creek, Wild Horse Creek, the St. Charles River and other smaller tributaries must be accounted for and afternoon thunderstorms can quickly change the picture.

The high flows through Pueblo are a mixed blessing: Good for professionals, dangerous to amateurs.

“This weekend, we had hordes of people from Boulder, Denver and Grand Junction for river surfing,” said Bob Walker, who owns The Edge Ski, Paddle and Pack store. “When the waves come up, everybody comes in.”

It may look like fun, but those experts have whitewater-rated equipment and training, he said.

“The river is no place for inflatable toys. Kayakers can do well. River surfers stay in one place and can quickly get out of the main current so they don’t get swept down the river,” he said. “People may think they are good swimmers until they hit 55-degree water with a current.”

At least one person drowned in the Arkansas River last year, before it was closed to boating in Pueblo County during several weeks of prolonged high flows. In 2014, there were eight drownings.

It’s also a good time to get out on the lakes in a boat. Lake Pueblo and John Martin Reservoir water levels remain high, still swollen from last year’s rain and topped off by wet conditions so far this year.

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel:

Glenwood bike path closed for high water

High Colorado River water levels due to spring runoff have forced the partial closure of the bike path in Glenwood Canyon east of Glenwood Springs.

The Colorado Department of Transportation said Monday it has closed portions of the path from the Shoshone Interstate 70 exit to the Hanging Lake rest area and from Siloam Springs at the canyon’s east end to the Bair Ranch rest area.

Walkers and bikers can continue to travel on the path from Glenwood Springs to the Grizzly Creek rest area. It’s also still open from Bair Ranch to Hanging Lake, but that stretch is expected to be flooded and close in the coming days as the river continues to rise.

The latest information on the path’s status can be found by visiting http://www.cotrip.org and clicking on the Statewide Alert tab.

From Aspen Public Radio (Elise Thatcher):

Rivers in the area are expected to hit peak flows in the next few weeks and the Garfield County Sheriff’s Office is one of several agencies warning residents to be careful when recreating in the water.

The sheriff’s office said late last week that inexperienced rafters are a big concern, and the Colorado River can often be deceiving.

“Coming from the Shoshone water plant down through Grizzly Creek is probably one of the most treacherous areas we have,” explained sheriff’s office spokesman Walt Stowe. “There’s a lot of real fast water there [and] lots of large rocks in the river.”