July 31, 1976, Steamboat Springs: I had been wandering around the Flat Tops Wilderness for a week or so with Mrs. Gulch. Drizzle in between downpours during the monsoon. We were holed-up in a hotel to dry out and I phoned my mother to check in.
She asked, “Johnny are you anywhere near the Big Thompson Canyon? There’s been a terrible flood.”
And it was a terrible flood. After the September 2013 floods Allen Best wrote about being part of the disaster response in The Denver Post. It’s a good read on this 40th anniversary. Here’s one passage:
I was at the Big Thompson disaster. I was living in Fort Collins then and was among scores of young men (sorry, women, those were different times) with strong backs who could be summoned in case of forest fires. My only fire was at an old sawmill site in the foothills. The joke was that one of us had set the fire because we were so desperate for minimum-wage work.
Then came July 31. It was hot that night in Fort Collins. It hadn’t rained a drop.
I was living above Gene’s Tavern, just two blocks from the Larimer County Courthouse. When the call came, I was at the sheriff’s office almost immediately. It was 9 p.m.
Being among the first at the command center at the Dam Store west of Loveland, near the mouth of Big Thompson Canyon, I was assigned to a pickup dispatched to look for people in the water near the turnoff to Masonville. Already, the river was out of its banks. From the darkness emerged a figure, dripping and confused. “I went fishing at Horsetooth (Reservoir) and was driving home and then there was all this water,” he sputtered. He was befuddled. So were we.
Our leader decided we’d best get out of there. From what I saw the next morning, that was an excellent decision. Water later covered the road there, too. I spent the night at the Dam Store as the water rose. Helicopters were dispatched, but there was little that could be done. Our lights revealed picnic baskets, beach balls and propane bottles bobbing in the dark, roiling water that raced past us, but never any hands summoning help.
In the morning, we found those hands. The bodies were stripped of clothing and covered with mud. The first I saw was of a woman who we guessed was 18, not much younger than I was then. This thin margin between life and death was startling in my young eyes.
Eventually, 144 people were declared victims of the flooding that night (although one turned up alive in 2008 in Oklahoma).
Estes Park got some rain, but not all that much. The larger story was partway down the canyon, in the Glen Haven and Glen Comfort areas, where the thunderstorm hovered. In just a few hours, it dropped 10 to 14 inches of water.
Downstream in the canyon, just above the Narrows, some people were unaware that anything was amiss until they went outside their houses and saw the water rising in their yards. It hadn’t even rained there. One cabin I saw a few days later was stripped of doors and windows but stood on its foundations, a mound of mud 5 or 6 feet high in the interior. I seem to recall a dog barking as we approached, protecting that small part of the familiar in a world gone mad.
At the old hydroelectric plant where my family had once enjoyed Sunday picnics, the brick building had vanished. Only the turbines and concrete foundation remained. In a nearby tree, amid the branches maybe 10 or 15 feet off the ground, hung a lifeless body.
The river that night carried 32,000 cubic feet per second of water at the mouth of the canyon, near where I was stationed. It happened almost instantaneously — and then it was gone. It was a flash flood.
Here’s an excerpt from a look back forty years from Michelle Vendegna writing for the Longmont Times-Call.
Night on the ledge
“We, Terry Belair-Hassig and Connie Granath-Hays, graduated from Berthoud Jr. Sr. High School the month before, and were anxious to begin the summer. We spent the beautiful, sunny day of July 31, 1976, at a Hewlett-Packard company picnic at Hermit Park not far from Estes Park. After the picnic, we drove up to Estes Park and had dinner at Bob and Tony’s Pizza.
The clouds started moving in about 6 p.m., so we began the drive down to Loveland via U.S. 34. Within minutes, Connie had to pull her car over because the driving rain was causing zero visibility. We needed to get home, so she started out again, but we didn’t get too much farther before we were blocked by trees, boulders and debris washing down the canyon sides. We had just passed the Loveland Heights area — barely three miles since entering the canyon. The closest town, Drake, was miles away.
Connie pulled over to the side of the mountain as far as she could. There were a few other cars in this section doing the same, but we all sat in our cars — planning to wait out the storm. However, once the river began to rise and the water was hitting the tires, we decided to leave the car and start climbing. Connie’s dad had taught her to always ‘be prepared,’ so she had a tarp and a few extra jackets stored in her trunk. We grabbed them before climbing. It was a dark, treacherous climb.
A small group of people scrambled up the mountain near us. Connie gave one of the men her extra jacket. She also had a flashlight which came in handy later in the evening when the lightning wasn’t lighting up the canyon. The other people were lucky enough to find an overhang of rocks to sit under. We tentatively settled on a ledge out in the open, and wrapped ourselves in the tarp. Of course, the tarp was just an old tarp, not waterproof like the ones are today. It protected us for a while, but with the downpour of rain and runoff from the hillside, it too became drenched.
After only a little while, we watched her car, during the lightning flashes, being lifted up and carried down the river. We decided at this point we should climb higher, so we found a ledge where we spent the long, cold night. We had spent many winters skiing and had never been as cold as we were that night.
We sat on that little ledge (3 foot by 1 foot) with our knees drawn up to keep us from sliding off. We sang, shivered, cussed and did anything we could to keep our minds off of how cold and achy we were. We heard and saw cars, houses and propane tanks floating down the river during flashes of lightning. We thought by now it must be about morning time, but looking at our watch, it was about 10 p.m. We had a long night ahead of us.
The next morning was another blue bird day and we were freezing and soaked to the bone. We decided it would be warmer to take our jackets off and left them on the ledge. The road below us had been washed away, but the river had receded enough that we could get off the ledge and move around a little on the steep mountainside. We heard the helicopters for a long time before we saw one. Finally, we were rescued off the side of the mountain by a four-seat helicopter,and dropped off up river on a section of the highway that had survived. There were several other people there. I remember we were all surveying the canyon in a daze. There wasn’t much conversation. I leaned over and picked up a small piece of asphalt and put it in my pocket.
Click here to read the Fort Collins Coloradoan special about the flood.
On July 31, 1976, during the celebration of Colorado’s centennial, the Big Thompson Canyon was the site of a devastating flash flood that swept down the steep and narrow canyon, claiming the lives of 143 people, 5 of whom were never found. This flood was triggered by a nearly stationary thunderstorm near the upper section of the canyon that dumped 300 millimeters (12 inches) of rain in less than 4 hours (more than 3/4 of the average annual rainfall for the area). Little rain fell over the lower section of the canyon, where many of the victims were.
Around 9 p.m., a wall of water more than 6 meters (20 ft) high raced down the canyon at about 6 m/s (14 mph), destroying 400 cars, 418 houses and 52 businesses and washing out most of U.S. Route 34. This flood was more than 4 times as strong as any in the 112-year record available in 1976, with a discharge of 1,000 cubic meters per second (35,000 ft³/s).
Officials on Friday detailed how a Big Thompson River that was flowing at 30 cubic feet per second increased to 30,000 by the time it got to the narrows near Sylvan Ranch and the Dam Store.
The 2013 flood, by contrast was flowing at 16,000 cubic feet per second at the same point. But Bob Kimbrough, from the U.S. Geological Survey, said that number can be misleading. Just because it was flowing at less than half the rate, doesn’t mean the water was half as high as it was in 1976. It could have been a foot or two lower, Kimbrough said.
Further, the 2013 flood lasted longer. Where the 1976 flood dissipated nearly as quickly as it rose, the 2013 flood flowed over saturated ground for days, causing foundation failures and greater erosion than the 1976 flood.
Click here to read the extensive coverage from The Estes Park Trail-Gazette.
Stored ocean heat will be released for centuries to come
Warming of at least 1.5 degrees Celsius over most of Earth’s land areas is probably already locked into the climate system — even if greenhouse gas concentrations were capped at today’s levels.
The new climate change warning came from UK scientists who, in a new study, differentiated between the warming over land areas and the average global temperature increases often used in discussions about efforts to limit emissions of CO2 and other greenhouse gases.
Spray irrigation on a field in the Imperial Valley in southern California. This type of irrigation is a lot better than the extremely water inefficient type of flood irrigation that is popular in this region. Still, in the high temperatures of this desert region a lot of the water evaporates, leaving the salts, that are dissolved in the colorado River water that is used, on the soil.
Colorado River Delta
A map of the Aqueduct route from the Colorado River to the Coastal Plain of Southern California and the thirteen cities via the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California.
Why we need the water – pro-Colorado River Aqueduct bond map from the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California.
How much water reaches the Westwater stretch of the Colorado River, and then Lake Powell, is taking on increasing importance to Colorado water officials. A new study is underway to look at much more water is available to develop on the Western Slope, and it’s caught the attention of east slope water officials. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism
The Colorado River supplies water to Lake Mead, the largest man-made reservoir in terms of capacity in the United States. New research from The University of Texas at Austin has found natural variability, not humans, have the most impact on water stored in the river and the sources that feed it. U.S. Geological Survey
Colorado River Basin, USBR May 2015
Herbert Hoover presides over the signing of the Colorado River Compact in November 1922. (Courtesy U.S. Department of Interior, Bureau of Reclamation)
Young girl enjoying the river restored temporarily by the pulse flow March 2014 via National Geographic
Colorado River pulse flow (Minute 319) reaches the Sea of Cortez for the first time since 1998 on May 15, 2014 via the Sonoran Institute
Hayfield message to President Obama 2011 via Protect the Flows
Water is politics — you’ll hear that phrase used in the often-fascinating Discovery Channel documentary “Killing the Colorado,” airing Thursday, Aug. 4.
The film teams five award-winning directors to explore what happens when people alter the course of waterways such as the Colorado River. The impact of diverting, damming or otherwise interfering with how water flows can be felt far beyond the area immediately around the water. And in many cases, it has led to environmental fatalities…
California fostered the growth of its major metropolitan areas by taking more than its fair share of water from the Colorado River, whose watershed extends minimally into the state, but enough to make it perhaps too readily available…
As water has become scarce, the demand for it has increased along with the population. That’s simple math, but deciding who gets water and how they’ll get it is anything but simple. Water has become so valuable that several interview subjects declare that water is to the current century what oil was to the last.
In fact, the soaring value of water has sparked the rise of several companies that buy and sell water as they do with other commodities such as gold and pork bellies. Firms such as Water Asset Management have made the water business a billion-dollar industry.
The film is kind of a patchwork of chapters overseen by different directors, including Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman (“Common Threads: Stories From the Quilt”), Barbara Kopple (“Harlan County: USA”), Jesse Moss (“The Overnighters”) and Alan and Susan Raymond (“Doing Time: Life Inside the Big House”).
“Killing the Colorado” is based on an investigation of water issues published through ProPublica by Abrahm Lustgarten, who appears with useful insight and commentary at various points in the film.
The film offers a detailed example of the implications of water diversion when it looks at a proposed project for the Gila River in Arizona. The river is the subject of a squabble between Arizona and New Mexico, which wants to use a greater share of the water. A diversion plan is in the works, but given how precious water is, especially in the American Southwest, opponents haven’t given up trying to block it…
The plan is going to be costly but will only benefit a relatively small number of people. At least that’s what folks on the Arizona side of the border argue.
We also see what happens when a community with water tries to make a buck off of it. In the case of Crowley, Colo., a lot of bucks. The town sold so much of its water that it decimated its own economy and went from being one of the state’s better-off areas to one of its most impoverished…
Farmers have always been either victims or scapegoats in water issues. They are often blamed for water shortages because they are by far the dominant consumers of water in this country. Yet, to get an idea of how little clout farmers have with regard to water decisions, just drive along Interstate 5 in California, especially as it cuts through the Central Valley. You’ll be greeted by signs along the road expressing outrage at Congress for leaving farmland high and dangerously dry.
Alfalfa, for example, is one of the best ways of feeding cattle. If farmers can’t grow alfalfa, it affects dairy farming and the beef cattle industry. Yet they are targeted for growing a plant that needs a lot of water to thrive.
However, if we think of water as a regional problem for the West, we’re missing an important point. Much of the food Americans consume is grown in California, which is slowly emerging from a drought. The Imperial Valley, in the southeastern part of the state, is part of the Colorado watershed. If someone in New York complains about the cost of a fresh kale salad, they can direct their irritation at the scarcity of water in the West.
“Killing the Colorado” is very good. It isn’t comprehensive, though, and parts of it are so clogged with arcane information, it’s sometimes hard to follow. Or swallow, as it were.
Nonetheless, the film is an eye-opener, even for those who think they already know how serious the country’s water problems are.
Governor Mead’s formal comments strongly oppose the Department of the Interior’s (DOI) moratorium on new coal leases. The Governor outlined the State’s concerns in a letter to Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell and Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Director Neil Kornze. The moratorium began January 15, 2016.
“States like Wyoming, where coal is produced and environmental stewardship is a model for the nation, were not consulted and were caught by surprise,” wrote the Governor. “Now, national revenues, energy users across the nation, coal miners and their families are at risk. The justification for this moratorium and the manner it was unveiled are unjustifiable.”
The Governor states this Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (PEIS) process is an attempt by the DOI to bypass Congress and impose a Carbon Tax. The moratorium will dramatically impact jobs, energy security and energy independence. It targets Wyoming as the nation’s leader in coal production. Wyoming produces roughly 40% of the nation’s coal – 80% of that comes from federal land.
“The BLM needs to stop the PEIS, but at a minimum it needs to commit in writing what it has promised repeatedly, that the PEIS will be completed by January 15, 2019 and, completed or not, that the moratorium will expire on that date,” said Governor Mead. “I will continue to oppose the administration’s unjustified approach to coal.”
Click here to read the newsletter. Here’s an excerpt:
Reservoir Storage in Great Shape
Colorado-Big Thompson Project reservoir levels are in great shape. As of July 1, total C-BT Project reservoir storage was approximately 99 percent of capacity. On the West Slope, Lake Granby had 536,061 AF in storage, while on the East Slope, Carter Lake and Horsetooth Reservoir held 108,383 AF and 154,386 AF in storage, respectively.
The relatively high storage volumes in July were partially due to low water deliveries. From the beginning of the water year through July 1, only 39,602 AF was delivered, including quota, carryover and Regional Pool Program water. Deliveries have increased in the past two weeks as a result of agricultural users requesting more water to meet peak irrigating season demands.
Click here for all the inside skinny. From the website:
The City of Fort Collins Utilities is sponsoring the 15th annual Xeriscape Garden Party on Friday, August 5, 2016. Come celebrate the Art of Landscaping from 5:00 – 9:00 p.m. at the Xeriscape Demonstration Garden at City Hall (300 Laporte Ave.)
Visit with local experts to learn about improving your sprinkler system, selecting low-water use plants, composting, recycling and more.
• Performance art by Fire Gate Productions, 6:30—8:00 p.m.
• Food trucks
• Interactive booths
• Activities for kids & families
Fri., August 5, 5:00—9:00 p.m.
Xeriscape Demonstration Garden
300 Laporte Ave.
Fort Collins, CO 80521
*Please kindly RSVP to help us prepare for the event.
Jason Pohl hits a home run with his 40th anniversary story about the July 31, 2016 Big Thompson Flood. Click through and read the whole article. Here’s an excerpt:
But Jerry Shaffer has learned to close his eyes and breathe deeply when memories surface of flailing through the milky, murky torrent of the Big Thompson Canyon. He can’t shake the mental scars of dodging missiles disguised as spewing propane tanks, crunched homes, and the bodies lifeless men, women, and children that overtook a popular tourist route to Estes Park the night of July 31, 1976.
And he’ll never forget holding a loved one’s body in his arms before the water whooshed him away, too.
All told, Colorado’s deadliest natural disaster claimed 144 lives, injured scores of others, and permanently altered memories and landscapes alike. It prompted new talks about living in flood country and became the “where were you” moment for a generation, ranking alongside Dec. 7, 1941, and Sept. 11, 2001.
It started about 9 p.m. Saturday night, on the eve of Colorado’s 100th birthday.
Big Thompson Flood, Colorado. Cabin lodged on a private bridge just below Drake, looking upstream. Photo by W. R. Hansen, August 13, 1976. Photo via the USGS.
Looking west into the narrows after the Big Thompson Flood July 31, 1976
Flood damage Big Thompson Canyon September 2013 — photo via Northern Water
A sporadic 12-day boating release from McPhee dam into the Dolores River in June was hampered by uncertain runoff forecasts after a late-season snowfall, reservoir managers said at community meeting Tuesday in Dolores.
Boaters faced on-again, off-again announcements of whitewater releases from the dam, which complicated their plans for trips down the river. It was the dam’s first whitewater release since 2011.
A 22-day rafting season was forecast as possible in March when snowpack registered at 130 percent of its median normal. A two-month dry spell erased the advantage, and the release was adjusted to five to 10 days of boating for late May. The forecast then dropped to a three-day release in early June, and after it was confirmed days later, hundreds of boaters flocked to the Dolores as it filled below the dam.
“Small spills are the most difficult and tricky to manage,” said Mike Preston, general manager of the Dolores Water Conservancy District, which manages the reservoir.
But on the fourth day, managers said they realized the volume of river inflow was more than the reservoir could handle, and the dam release was extended nine additional days.
“The second spill was highly under-utilized,” said boater Kent Ford, who added that the lack of notice “killed a lot of multi-day trips.”
Vern Harrell, of the Bureau of Reclamation’s office in Cortez, attributed the uncertainty to the narrow margin of runoff expected to exceed reservoir capacity.
The runoff forecast has a margin of error of 10 percent, “and this year, the spill was within that 10 percent,” Harrell said.
Decisions about dam releases rely on forecasts from the Colorado River Basin Forecast Center, which depends on Snotels that measure snowpack in the Dolores Basin.
When there is possibility for a small spill, managers don’t have the tools to give a lot of notice, Harrell said, so decisions are made day-to-day based on river inflow and reservoir levels.
“By May, all the Snotels are melted out, and we are in the blind,” he said.
In small spill years, managers said they err on the side of caution when announcing the number of days available for boaters. They want to ensure that the reservoir remains full, but they don’t want to end a dam release prematurely.
“We have to be careful we don’t leave boaters stranded on the river,” Harrell said.
Ken Curtis, an engineer with Dolores Water Conservancy District, said the priority is to fill the reservoir, and if there is excess water, it is managed for a boating release.
It was especially difficult to forecast runoff into the reservoir this year, he said, because much of the late-season precipitation came as rainfall.
“In May, we called off the spill because we were not reaching our reservoir elevation,” he said. “Then the forecasters bumped us up by 30,000 acre-feet,” enough for a small spill.
At the end of a five-day release, the forecast center showed a dip in river inflow, “so we started to shut the gates, but the river inflow was hanging in there,” and the spill was extended several days.
Managers acknowledged that they were rusty managing the release. They’d faced many dry winters that hadn’t filled the reservoir, and the unusual winter of 2015-16 complicated the matter.
Sam Carter, president of the Dolores River Boating Advocates, said boaters and the reservoir managers cooperate on potential spills, and this year was a learning experience.
Local developer Gary Miller donated a total of 1.833 cubic-feet-per-second (cfs) in water rights to the town, the rough equivalent of 13.71 gallons per second, or 1,185,000 gallons per day.
Sawmill Gulch is diverted from Willow Creek, within the Eagles Nest Wilderness, Linfield said. The diversion, appropriated in 1918, was originally intended for irrigation.
“I’ve owned this water for a long time,” Miller said. “I think the town of Silverthorne has done such a great job. I thought, ‘I’ve got the water; they’ve got a lot of people moving into the town.’ I thought the best thing for me to do was to give it to them.”
Though the town has not assessed the value of the water rights, the fact that they are dated before the Colorado River Compact adds inherent value. An agreement formed in 1922 among seven U.S. states in the Colorado River Basin, the Colorado River Compact allocates water rights between the states.
“Water with earlier dates is not subject to that compact and the rules related to water use within the Colorado River Basin, including the Blue River Basin,” Linfield said.
Since the water remains untapped, the town would put in the necessary infrastructure once an appropriate use is determined.
“The town of Silverthorne has millions of dollars invested in our water rights portfolio and we work diligently to manage and maintain those rights,” Linfield said. “While we feel our water portfolio is strong, we are always looking for ways to improve and protect this valuable resource.”
The auction of family-owned Reynolds Farm outside Mead raked in $12.6 million Thursday, as farmers, developers and five cities bid for land and the attached water and ditch rights.
The auction room was packed with bidders, but only 13 emerged from the Larimer County Fairgrounds with a piece of the Reynolds portfolio. Municipalities, developers and farmers all grabbed some units of Colorado-Big Thompson water, while developers and growers signed deals for land.
The auction was of high interest, given the land’s location in the path of northern Front Range development and the large amount of water attached to it.
Although the numbers are still preliminary, Hall and Hall Auctions partner Scott Shuman said 276 CB-T units brought in the largest chunk of money, about $7.6 million or an average of $27,356 each. The CB-T units, already trading for high sums, were expected to be the most pricey given their scarcity and the ability to use the water for uses such as agriculture, development and industrial processes, including oil and gas extraction.
But on a per-share basis, the 15.75 Highland Ditch shares stole the show, averaging $148,900 each for an estimated total of $2.3 million. All the shares were sold to farmers or investors.
Galeton was slated to go east of Ault and south of Colo. 14, but during the lengthy permitting process, a landowner in the area ended up leasing to Noble Energy.
Now there are 24 active wells on the site.
“You can’t fault the landowner, if somebody’s going to come in and offer (them) money,” said Brian Werner, a spokesman for Northern Water Conservancy District, which acts as the project’s lead agency.
Now the organization has to decide: mitigate or move.
“It can get mitigated,” Werner said. “We can cap those wells.”
But it will be expensive and difficult. In some areas moving might be the more difficult choice, but it’s looking as though that isn’t the case for the Galeton reservoir.
“(There’s) a very similar site across (Colorado) Highway 14 to the north,” Werner said. “And it doesn’t have 24 oil and gas wells in the footprint.”
More coverage from Jacy Marmaduke writing for the Fort Collins Coloradan:
To mitigate contamination risk, wells on the proposed reservoir site would need to be plugged according to state regulations, said Ken Carlson, an environmental engineering professor at Colorado State University.
“As long as they do what (the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission) says, there’s not a risk,” Carlson said. “There’s over a million wells drilled in this country. This is not a new situation.”
The plugging process is highly regulated and basically involves inserting huge plugs — at least 100 feet long and usually made of cement — into the drilled hole of the well. The top of the well is then sealed and covered with dirt. Carlson said the process cancels out any risk of contamination, although some research suggests that abandoned wells emit small amounts of methane.
However, plugging a well can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. The 15 communities and water districts signed on to use the additional water stored by NISP would probably have to foot the bill, and the costs wouldn’t stop there.
If the wells haven’t reached the end of their useful lives by the time construction of the reservoir begins, Noble could reasonably demand additional reimbursement for plugging them, Carlson said. Noble Energy representatives didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
The wells were built in 2010 or later, Northern Water spokesman Brian Werner said. The average lifespan of an oil and gas well in the Weld County area is about 11 years, according to data analysis by Colorado Public Radio. So although the construction timeline for Galeton is several years away — assuming NISP gets federal approval and wins the court battle that would almost assuredly come after — construction could prompt closure of the wells before they’re done producing.
Werner said the decision to move the proposed reservoir location remains up to the project participants.
Environmental Protection Agency officials said Wednesday in a meeting with La Plata County and Durango city officials that funds will be awarded to the governmental entities within the next couple of weeks, though the precise amounts to each won’t be apparent until next week…
Reimbursement to businesses, such as local rafting companies, which took a hit last summer when the river was temporarily closed to recreation, is a separate matter, which Durango City Councilor Dean Brookie said will be in the spotlight next week on the spill’s one-year anniversary…
In other updates:
EPA officials said in the coming months, crews will be investigating polluted tributaries around the Bonita Peak Mining District and whether they have the potential to support fish habitat.
Dan Wall, an environmental risk assessor on the Superfund team, said these studies will be “more specific to the physical habitat” than data collection done in previous years by other entities, including the U.S. Geological Survey and the Animas River Stakeholders Group.
In the months ahead, Superfund site manager Rebecca Thomas said the agency is planning a process called an engineering evaluation cost analysis, which will determine the need for and feasibility of continued operations at the Gladstone water-treatment plant.
The plant is a temporary facility intended to operate until fall 2016.
Click here to go to the US Drought Monitor website. Here’s an excerpt:
Despite heat and high humidity levels, parts of the Midwest received significant rain. Specifically, showers and thunderstorms produced at least 2 to 4 inches of rain in parts of the upper Mississippi Valley and environs. However, rain mostly bypassed some Midwestern locations, including the lower Great Lakes region. Outside of the Midwest, showers were generally light and scattered, although spotty rainfall provided local relief from hot weather in the Four Corners States and the lower Southeast. Late in the drought-monitoring period, coverage and intensity of shower activity increased in the Gulf Coast region as a weak disturbance over the Gulf Mexico moved inland and helped to focus rainfall. Most of the remainder of the country experienced hot, mostly dry conditions, leading to an expansion of short-term drought in the south-central U.S. and contributing to an increase in wildfire activity in parts of the West. Temperatures above 100°F were commonly observed early in the period on the Plains, but Midwestern temperatures above 95°F were limited to the southwestern fringe of the major corn and soybean production areas. Late in the period, heat replaced previously cool conditions in the Northwest, while temperatures fell to near- or below-normal levels in much of the Plains and Midwest…
Hot, mostly dry weather persisted on the southern Plains, although showers wrapped around the region through the southern Rockies and the central Plains. Locally heavy showers also developed in the western Gulf Coast region. The general trend was for a large increase in abnormal dryness (D0), with moderate drought (D1) returning in some areas. On July 25, Midland, Texas, set a July record with its 19th day of triple-digit heat. Previously, Midland had recorded 18 days with high of 100°F or greater in July 1964. Midland also set a July record with 9 days of 105-degree heat—all from July 3-14—eclipsing its July 1995 standard of 6 days. By July 24, topsoil moisture rated very short to short had increased to 81% in New Mexico and 74% in Texas. On the same date, the Texas cotton crop was rated 17% very poor to poor, the highest in the nation ahead of Mississippi (11% very poor to poor)…
Meanwhile, heat briefly compounded the effects of patchy drought across the northern and central Plains. In South Dakota, triple-digit, daily-record highs for July 20 soared to 108°F in Dupree and 107°F in Timber Lake. On July 24, South Dakota led the nation with 15% of its spring wheat rated in very poor to poor condition, followed by North Dakota at 10%. However, some areas received significant rain during the monitoring period, helping to trim drought coverage in parts of North Dakota and environs…
Several days of cool weather in the Northwest were followed by increasing heat. By July 25, daily-record heat returned to portions of the interior Northwest, where Yakima, Washington, posted a high of 102°F. Some of the West’s most significant short-term drought covered the Black Hills and adjacent areas, where moderate to extreme drought (D1 to D3) persisted. Portions of Wyoming also continued to note deteriorating short-term conditions. Farther south, heat also returned to southern California, where record-setting highs for July 23 rose to 110°F in Riverside and 108°F in Campo. By July 26, two wildfires in California were of particular concern: the 38,000-acre Sand fire near Santa Clarita and the 24,000-acre Soberanes fire near Big Sur. Farther east, monsoon-related showers were mostly confined to the Four Corners States, although rainfall in most cases was not heavy enough to result in improvement in the drought depiction. Still, Douglas, Arizona, received 2.92 inches of rain from July 17-24, with significant totals also observed in neighboring southwestern New Mexico. For much of the Southwest, however, the trend was toward increasing drought coverage and intensity, in part due to hot weather. On July 19, Salt Lake City, Utah, noted its first-ever minimum temperature above the 80-degree mark—the low was 81°F—with records dating to 1874…
During the next few days, an active weather pattern will feature the interaction between a disturbance in the Southeast and cold fronts crossing the Plains and Midwest. As a result, 5-day rainfall totals could reach 2 to 4 inches or more from the Mississippi Delta into the Mid-Atlantic States. Surrounding areas, including the northern and central Plains and the Midwest, could see 1- to 2-inch totals in a few spots. In the West, showers will be heaviest across Arizona and New Mexico, with most other areas remaining hot and dry. Elsewhere, lingering heat will be mostly confined to the lower Southeast, although hot weather will build eastward and return to the High Plains during the weekend.
The NWS 6- to 10-day outlook for August 2 – 6 calls for the likelihood of above-normal temperatures across the eastern half of the U.S., while cooler-than-normal conditions can be expected in parts of the Northwest and Southwest. Meanwhile, odds will be tilted toward above-normal rainfall in much of the Southeast, Southwest, and the upper Great Lakes region, while drier-than-normal weather should occur in the Northeast, Northwest, and south-central U.S.
We have been pumping greenhouse gases into the atmosphere in ever increasing quantities since the industrial revolution. Some countries in the developed world are, of course, responsible for the bulk of this. Since 1850 the US and the nations which are now the EU have been responsible for more than 50% of the world’s carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions.
So shouldn’t they pay to fix the problem? The inhabitants of The Maldives – made up of more than 1,200 islands, most of which are no more than one metre above sea level – are already feeling the effects of climate change. They are victims. But they didn’t cause the problem. Should those countries with historical responsibility for emissions be obliged to compensate The Maldives?
The old industrialised world might respond that for much of the period since the 1850s nobody knew about man-made global warming. Does that mitigate its responsibility? And why should the current generation be punished for the crimes of its forebears? Is that really fair?
Then there’s the question of who’s polluting now – when we do know the damage it’s doing. China belts out more CO2 than the United States, and the gap between the two is expected to grow as China continues to develop. So perhaps it is China, not the United States, which should bear the greatest burden?
Proposed Hermosa Creek watershed protection area via The Durango Herald
Cutthroat trout historic range via Western Trout
Greenbacks and Colorado River cutthroat via DNR
FromThe Durango Herald (Jessica Pace) via The Cortez Journal:
Next week, Colorado Parks and Wildlife officials will be treating a two-mile section of the East Fork of Hermosa Creek as part of ongoing efforts to eliminate invasive fish species and restore native Colorado River cutthroat trout to the watershed.
The section, which stretches from below Sig Creek Falls to just above the confluence on the main stem, will be treated with an organic pisicide, Rotenone, to rid the creek of brook trout.
Rotenone poses no threat to terrestrial wildlife or humans, according to a news release issued Monday by Parks and Wildlife. Biologists also plan to use a neutralizing agent just below the treatment area to prevent any fish kills downstream.
“It’s important to do what we can to ensure that we have native trout and they can thrive in Colorado water, because in our age of climate change, our age of forest fires, there is the risk of having them wiped out by catastrophic events,” said Buck Skillen with Trout Unlimited, a stakeholder in the project along with Parks and Wildlife and the U.S. Forest Service.
“This is one step in creating roughly 23 miles of cutthroat water on the East Fork and main stem of Hermosa Creek,” he said.
Signs will be posted at areas closed to the public during the process, which is slated from Aug. 2 to Aug. 3.
As the agency did last summer when this section was treated, Parks and Wildlife crews will use a neutralizing agent, which may cause a rusty discoloration of the water temporarily, below the treatment area to prevent fish kills downstream.
A rock barrier will be installed at the completed section to prevent the infiltration of non-native fish species.
If no brook trout are found in the section when it is checked later this summer, Colorado River cutthroat could be stocked this fall.
Hermosa Creek and the upper section above Sig Falls are open to anglers, but they must release cutthroat trout.
The project is among the largest native trout restoration projects in the state, and it has been underway since the early 1990s. Since then, Parks and Wildlife has been able to restore cutthroat populations to the upper East Fork and the main stem above Hotel Draw.
When complete, officials hope trout are restored throughout the watershed, ending just below the confluence of the East Fork and main stem.
“This project is especially important because it connects several streams in a large, complex watershed,” Jim White, an aquatic biologist for Parks and Wildlife, said in a statement. “The connectivity provides what biologists call ‘resiliency’ to the system. There are more stream miles available to the fish which allows for more genetic exchange. It also makes the fish less susceptible to disease and to large sedimentation events such as fires, mudslides or avalanches.”
Congress must still approve the deal, but the key players – the federal Bureau of Reclamation, the Navajo Nation and the state of Utah – are in agreement on a settlement they say is both fair and likely to calm uncertainty on a major tributary to the Colorado River. The San Juan, popular with river-runners, traverses 383 east-west miles in the Four Corners area before it empties into the Colorado near Glen Canyon.
Daniel Cordalis, Navajo, is an advising attorney hired by the Navajo Nation to analyze the settlement along with his wife and fellow attorney Amy Cordalis, Yurok. “That analysis led us to believe the settlement is fair and provides the Navajo Nation a favorable resolution of their Utah water rights claims,” he said.
Earlier this month, Navajo Nation president Russell Begaye issued a tentative stamp of approval.
“The Office of the President and Vice President commend the Utah chapters along with their respective delegates for working hard to draft the settlement,” Begaye said in a statement.
The Navajo Nation was established by treaty starting in 1868, long before many of the regional rivers’ current users began drawing water. By law, the reservation theoretically holds rights senior to most competing uses, according to the “first in time, first in right” bedrock principle of Western water law. But for the Navajo Nation, as with many tribes, quantifying those rights – and thereby turning them from “paper” to “wet” water – has meant decades-long slogs through political negotiations and, sometimes, the courts. The Navajo Nation Council first announced in January that it had reached an agreement with the state of Utah and other stakeholders, entitling it to 81,500 acre-feet of water for use on the relatively small part of the reservation in Utah. Based on average per capita water use, 81,500 acre-feet of water could support 300,000 people a year, or irrigate between 25,000 and 40,000 acres.
The settlement includes a waiver of any past legal claims by the Navajo Nation against the state of Utah and the United States within the state of Utah, which is standard in Indian water settlements. In addition, the Utah-Navajo settlement contains an agreement by the Navajo Nation that, if there is not enough water to fill its needs, it will not assert priority over pre-existing, non-Native water users.
This alarms some in the conservation community, who question the value of water rights that can’t be enforced. “It kind of tells me that the state of Utah understands that there’s no water left for the tribes,” said John Weisheit, conservation director for Living Rivers, a Utah-based water advocacy group. “They’re first in rights, but last in line for water.”
But Cordalis said while water supplies are questionable by some measures on the Colorado River as a whole, the situation on the San Juan is more nuanced. “The San Juan River is not burdened with downstream water rights such that those existing water rights present a significant detriment to Navajo’s 81,500 acre-feet a year (AFY) right,” he said. “In our opinion, there will be enough water in the San Juan River to achieve the full settlement value on a yearly basis.”
Wayne Pullen, the Bureau of Reclamation’s Provo area manager and chairman of the federal negotiating team, added that there are few pre-existing uses on the San Juan River. He said small towns like Mexican Hat draw modest supplies, as do some small wells and agricultural irrigators.
Cordalis pointed to state of Utah and Bureau of Reclamation figures indicating that in the Upper Colorado River Basin Compact, Utah was apportioned 23 percent of the water available to the Upper Basin, or roughly 1.37 million AFY of Colorado River water. The Upper Basin includes all or part of the states of Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming that draw water from above Glen Canyon Dam, while the Lower Basin users draw their water downstream of the dam. In 2009, Utah used just over 1.07 million AFY, leaving about 300,000 AFY in Utah’s Upper Basin apportionment. Navajo’s allocation will be counted against that share.
“What the settlement does is provide that flexibility for tribal members to both use water now and have enough water for future development, which ultimately is most important,” Cordalis said…
“We want to be part of the decision-making, but we are not,” said Anna Frazier, a long-time activist with the Navajo grassroots group Diné CARE. Still, there has not been public opposition to the Utah San Juan settlement as there was to the Little Colorado proposal in 2012.
Leonard Tsosie, a Navajo Nation Council delegate representing the Baca/Prewitt, Casamero Lake, Counselor, Littlewater, Ojo Encino, Pueblo Pintado, Torreon, and Whitehorse Lake chapters, has been promoting the settlement among his colleagues and constituents, as a way to support existing and future Navajo communities in southeastern Utah. “We can dream all we want but if there is no water, there is no development,” he said.
In addition to the water rights, the settlement calls for a Congressionally allocated, $200 million Utah Navajo Water Development Fund for Utah Navajo water projects.
So far, all seven Navajo chapters in Utah have approved the settlement, and the Navajo Nation Council voted 13-7 to approve it. President Begaye’s office pointed out that if the Navajo Nation is going to push for a legislative package, it must do so before the September Congressional lame duck session.
…a new study by University of Florida, University of Arizona, Yale University and University of Washington researchers shows the water [from the 2014 pulse flow] also caused the ground to rapidly emit carbon stored for years beneath the riverbeds, which could have an impact on the global carbon cycle and affect future river restoration.
“It’s still a big unknown on the true magnitude of these fluxes, but these large river(beds) are turning out to have really high concentrations of carbon dioxide and methane,” says David Butman, an environmental science and engineering professor at the University of Washington who worked on the study. “Looking at the exchanges of carbon gasses between landscapes, the atmosphere, and water as we look to restore these disturbed ecosystems may be important.”
The study, funded in part by the National Science Foundation, is a step toward understanding carbon balance in water systems and the impact it could have on carbon levels on land and in the ocean. It’s still unclear why carbon was released, but the study documented that 30 percent more greenhouse gases came out of the riverbed and dissolved into the water at one site during the Minute 319 flow than before it (they’re still working to determine how much was released into the atmosphere). Several researchers who worked on this study say most of the gas was stored underground in sediment, and sand-dwelling microbes created the rest when the water reached them. The riverbed normally releases greenhouse gases gradually as part of the typical carbon cycle, but the Delta released a significant amount in a matter of just eight weeks during the pulse flow, though the researchers aren’t yet sure exactly how much.
The consequences of that are still tough to quantify, says Karl Flessa, a co-author of the study and co-chief scientist of Minute 319, but he doesn’t think the risks of emitting greenhouse gases outweigh the benefits of watering a parched ecosystem and growing new plant life. Since the pulse flow event, vegetation has thrived in the riparian zone where the land meets the river in the Colorado River Delta – cottonwoods and willows have turned the space greener than it had been in years.
The U.S. and Mexico are currently in negotiations about more restoration efforts when this one expires in 2017. And now, the researchers plan to look into how the duration of floods like this one affects water chemistry, how controlled flooding could support coastal stability, and how the consequences of flood pulses compare to a steady, minimum water flow in rivers like the Colorado.
This study may actually strengthen the case for consistent flow of the Colorado River.
FromThe Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):
Opponents of a proposed nuclear power plant near Green River, Utah, are considering whether to appeal to the state’s high court after the state Court of Appeals upheld a district judge’s ruling approving the plant’s water supply.
A three-judge panel ruled last week in favor of Blue Castle Holdings, the project developer, and two water districts that are seeking changes to existing water rights so Blue Castle can withdraw 53,600 acre-feet a year from the Green River for cooling and steam production at the proposed plant.
The conservation group HEAL Utah challenged the state water engineer’s approval of the proposal, but that approval has now been upheld twice in court.
“In sum, HEAL Utah has not shown that the district court erred in concluding the change applications were filed in good faith and are not speculative or for monopoly of the water,” the appeals court ruled.
HEAL Utah’s challenge had been based partly on concerns about environmental impacts to the watershed, including to endangered fish.
Blue Castle CEO Aaron Tilton said in a news release, “We recognize our responsibility for strong environmental stewardship throughout the lifetime of the project, which includes working diligently to assure protection of the Green River environment and endangered species. Our project has been scrutinized at many levels, including the state engineer, the district court and now the appeals court. We have fully complied and satisfied all the requirements of the law. We can assure the public the high level of scrutiny that has been applied to the process is welcomed.”
Matt Pacenza, HEAL Utah’s executive director, said Monday that despite the setback, “we don’t think the project is moving forward in any legitimately or significant way.”
He said Blue Castle hasn’t attracted interest from utilities for the power it would supply, nor, as far as HEAL Utah can tell, from investors. He said the company hadn’t met with the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission since 2011…
The appeals court said in its written ruling, “Despite the relatively early stage of the Project, the Applicants offered considerable evidence that the Project is feasible, including a detailed business plan, purchase contracts for land, lease agreements for the Districts’ water rights, and evidence that shows it has had discussions with eighteen utilities expressing an interest in the plant’s power.”
It added that while the project “is a risky venture” and hasn’t yet been licensed through the NRC, “the Applicants presented evidence that the Project is both physically and economically feasible.”
Blue Castle says it has begun the contractor selection process for some $8 billion worth of construction work with an expected start date of 2020.
It projects that construction would require some 2,500 workers over some six or seven years, and the plant would employ about 1,000 people permanently. The 2,200-megawatt plant would increase Utah electricity generation by about 30 percent, the company says.
Eric Kuhn paints a big picture of changing realities in the Southwest
rom his office in Glenwood Springs overlooking the Colorado River, Eric Kuhn has become one of the West’s most prominent thinkers about the intersection of water, climate change, and allocations for farms, factories and cities, including ski towns.
He joined the Colorado River Water Conservation District as an engineer after working in the private sector as a nuclear engineer. He has been manager of the water district since 1996. The district encompasses all of the Colorado River drainage in Colorado upstream from Fruita. As such, the district is a primary source of water not just for the bulk of Colorado ski towns and Front Range cities but also downstream farms and cities, including Phoenix, Los Angeles, and San Diego.
Mountain Town News collaborated with Kuhn on a reader-friendly Q&A to probe the growing evidence that warming temperatures have started upsetting the apple cart of Colorado River operations.
Was it a good snow year in the upper Colorado River Basin? It varied, of course, but generally it was average to a little above average in the Gunnison, Yampa, Green and other basins of the upper Colorado River.
Does that mean the reservoirs in the Colorado River Basin are filling? We’ve been hearing a lot about declining levels of Lake Powell and Lake Mead, the two giant reservoirs on the Colorado River. Water runoff is a more complicated story than snowpack. This year, for example, the runoff reached about 94 percent of average. So, average or above-average snowpack but below-average runoff.
The best way to understand snowmelt is to study the inflow into Lake Powell. You can call this reservoir the savings account for the Upper Colorado River Basin. It is this savings account that allows the upper division states of Colorado, Utah, Wyoming and New Mexico to consistently meet water supply obligations to the Lower Basin at Lake Mead as spelled out by the Colorado River Compact of 1922. The lower division states are California, Nevada, and Arizona.
There is no such thing as an average snow year—nowhere, no place. Snowpack varies wildly from year to year. That said, in an average water year, about 10.7 million acre-feet flows into Powell. Three-fourths of that occurs during April through July.
Average snowpack but below-average runoff? That poses an obvious question. But first, would you explain this savings account more? The 1922 compact requires the upper division states to not deplete the flows downstream to Lake Mead below a certain volume. Powell most often releases 8.23 to 9 million acre-feet, as required by the 2007 interim agreement among the seven basin states and the federal government, a side agreement to the compact. But ordinarily, because of evaporation, that means the effective demand on Powell is 8.6 to 9.4 million acre-feet.
What this means is that in any year with an 85 percent of average runoff, Lake Powell just about breaks even. In other words, water levels are not gaining but neither are they declining.
For local supply reservoirs in most of Colorado, we can get by with an 85 percent or better inflow year without too many concerns.
So nothing to worry about in the upper basin?We’re meeting our obligations, end of story? We are OK for now and probably for the immediate future, but if the current conditions transition into a drought over the next several years, as happened after the 1998 El Niño event, we could be in serious trouble because unlike in 1998-99 when system reservoirs were plumb full, today they’re only about half full.
How much of the water in Lake Powell and Lake Mead comes from upstream of Grand Junction (or Moab)? And how much of that originates as snow in places like Steamboat Springs, the Eagle Valley, and the San Juan Mountains? Most of the run-off in the upper basin originates from about 20 percent of the land: those watersheds above about 9,000 feet in elevation, where snowpack accumulates and sticks through the snow season.
The Green River drainage contributes 36 percent of the flow into Lake Powell, the Colorado mainstream 36 percent, the San Juan 24 percent, and the others 4 percent, according to the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation. This is the long-term average.
We’ve heard a lot about drought in the 21st century. Are we still in drought? Colorado as a whole is definitely not in a drought. From the entire Colorado River Basin perspective, it depends on the period one looks at. From 1906 through 2015, the mean annual flow at Lee’s Ferry (between Lake Powell and the Grand Canyon was 14.8 million acre-feet (maf). From 1930 forward, it’s been less, 13.9 maf, according to the National Flow Data Base kept by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation (available on its website)
For the period of 2000 though 2015, the mean natural flow was 12.4 maf. That’s well below average. During the first part of the century, from 2000 through 2004, it was even less, just 9.4 maf.
Bottom line here: Nearly all the water in the Colorado River comes from upstream of the Grand Canyon, and the average in the 21st century has lagged below the longer-term averages of the 20th century.
Why are Lake Powell and Lake Mead continuing to decline? The recent declines in Mead have been caused by annual demand levels that exceed supply. By the end of 2016, I expect that total storage in Lake Powell and Lake Mead will be close to what it was at the end of 2005. Keep in mind that the major decline in runoff and hence storage was from 2000 through 2004.
That’s scary. Some decent snow years in the Rocky Mountains, where most of the Colorado River water comes from, but yet the storage in Mead is declining. Why the decline in Lake Powell?Lake Powell has actually gained a little bit of storage since 2013 and is well above the low point it reached in the winter of 2005. But because of obligations to deliver a little extra water to Lake Mead and because of OK-but-not-great inflows of 90 to 95 percent, the storage is not going up as rapidly as the snowfall in the Rocky Mountains suggests it should.
People talk about a “structural deficit.” What do they mean by that? The structural deficit is the difference between inflow to Lake Mead and demands at Lake Mead when Lake Powell is delivering a “normal” 8.23 maf/year. The math works this way: 8.23 maf from Powell plus native inflow between Powell and Mead of about 700,000 acre feet gives a total inflow of about 9 maf. Demands are 7.5 maf for the three Lower Basin states plus 1.5 maf for Mexico plus about 1.2 maf of evaporation and system losses for a total of 10.2 maf. Thus, the structural deficit is about 1.2 maf. Evaporation varies based on Lake Mead levels. When Lake Mead is fuller, evaporation plus system losses can be as high as 1.5-1.6 maf.
In a recent paper, you cited evidence that warming regional temperatures have turned above-average or abundant precipitation into just average runoff, kind of a reverse alchemy. How can this happen, turning more into less? Temperature is a major variable in the hydrologic cycle. As temperatures go up, evaporation goes up, crops and native vegetation consume more water (transpiration), and the runoff occurs earlier, which exposes native vegetation earlier. The net result is lower stream flows for the same precipitation levels. Brad Udall suggests that about one-half of the reduction in flows we’ve seen since 2000 in the Colorado may be due to temperature alone.
Good snow years means so-so water years in the Colorado River? Wow, that seems to have a lot of so-what! What do you think are the most important so-whats? For water supply purposes, it’s more than a so-what. If temperatures continue their upward trajectory (with year to year variability, of course), we may be in for a new normal. That normal may not have a ground floor.
I like statistics. Does one statistic leap to mind that illustrates what’s going on in the Colorado River Basin? Yes, the number is 1.2 million acre-feet, the amount that the Lower Basin (and Mexico) must reduce their demands if they are to stabilize levels in Lake Mead—at least for the moment. If temperatures continue to warm, they may have to reduce their demands even more.
Why do California, Arizona and Nevada have to cut back—and we in the headwaters area don’t. The 1922 Colorado River Compact gave the upper basin states 7.5 million acre-feet, and the lower-basin states 8.5 maf. It was always assumed that California, in particular, but also Arizona would develop more rapidly, and they did, while the upper-basin states would be slower to put their allocated water to use. But, by the 1970s California was using far more than its 4.4 million acre-foot allocation. Since then, they have been reducing their diversions, but they remain above their allocation.
What are the implications for the headwaters in Colorado and Wyoming? We could continue to see good snow years and decent regional water supply conditions, but due to increasing regional temperatures and system-wide demands that exceed supplies, the Colorado as a whole may continue to be in crisis. There is an old saying that water flows uphill toward money. My biggest concern is that the continuing supply deficit may trigger efforts that will impact our quality of life, especially upper basin agriculture, which may be seen as the “low-hanging fruit.”
In your recent paper, you issue a warning. What is that warning—and is more than just one exclamation mark justified? My warning is that often, but not always, after we’ve had big El Niño years, in the next year, or two (or even three), we end up with drought in Colorado. 1997-98 and 1957-58 are good examples.
In Colorado, we need to quit talking about continuing drought and acknowledge that conditions in much of the state since the fall of 2013 have been wet (the Southwest and Rio Grande have not been as lucky). This means we need to be prepared for the NEXT drought. As (Colorado Water Conservation Board director) James Eklund says “wishing for the drought to end is not a successful strategy.”
For the basin as a whole, we need to be prepared to survive another 2000-2004 period. The difference is that in 1999 reservoirs were full to the brim. Now, they’re at levels of 40 to 50 percent of capacity.
It sounds like we will really need to rethink our use of water from Colorado and Wyoming to Arizona and California. Who’s in charge of this Plan B? The good news is that many entities are actively engaged in seeking solutions. The State of Colorado has just issued a water plan, for the first time ever. The lower division states appear to be on track to implement significant additional water savings if Mead levels continue to decline. Nobody is really in charge. The U.S. Secretary of the Interior has a significant role because of her authority over the operation of the major projects, but the states, affected water users, environmental groups, and the Native American tribes are all at the table.
Northern Water picked the spot for Galeton Reservoir before Noble built wells there, Werner said. The agency couldn’t do anything to stop the wells from being built because it didn’t own the land.
“We just hadn’t gotten that far yet,” Werner said.
The wells were drilled within the last decade. If Northern Water wanted to keep the reservoir location, the wells would have to be capped before construction, which could be costly.
That’s why Northern Water is now leaning toward a different location across Colorado Highway 14 to the north. The location doesn’t contain any wells but still needs to be vetted, Werner said. He added the move wouldn’t be much more expensive than first plan because the new spot is nearby the original proposal…
The decision to move the proposed reservoir site is up to project participants, Werner said, but he added the move “probably” won’t happen if it would mean a significant cost increase or extension of the project’s timeline. He couldn’t provide an estimate of when participants will decide what to do…
About Galeton Reservoir
Galeton Reservoir would take water from the South Platte River, while Glade Reservoir would take water from the Poudre River. The Poudre flows to join the South Platte near Greeley.
Galeton Reservoir could hold up to 45,600 acre-feet of water, roughly one-fourth of Glade Reservoir’s projected capacity of 170,000 acre-feet.
For reference, one acre-foot is enough water to meet the needs of two to three households a year, and Horsetooth Reservoir holds 157,000 acre feet.
The current proposed location for Galeton Reservoir is just east of Ault on the southeast side of Colorado Highway 14.
Official opening of the Gunnison Tunnel by President Taft at the west portal, Montrose, Colorado, September 23, 1909. Photo by Almeron Newman.
Before irrigated agriculture in the Uncompahgre and North Fork Valleys, there was chico brush. These woody desert plants covered vast swaths of land in southwestern Colorado until the late 1800s and early 1900s, when works like the Gunnison Tunnel diverted water that was used to transform these valleys into the agricultural hubs they are today—leaving chico brush on the dusty sidelines.
As water resources in the region have grown more stretched in recent decades, many stakeholders recognize the need to update operations to improve their odds in the face of future water scarcity. The Colorado River Compact of 1922 dictates that water from the Colorado River must be shared between seven Colorado River Basin states and Mexico. Further, this compact “obligates the upper basin states (Colorado, New Mexico…
Click here to read the newsletter. Here’s an excerpt:
The Little Cimarron and McKinley Ditch
Exciting news from the Gunnison Basin this month! A few weeks ago, the Water Trust implemented a unique project aimed at exploring the effectiveness of water conservation tools and voluntary measures to protect Colorado River Compact entitlements.
You may recall that in 2014, the Colorado Water Trust purchased a portion (5.8 cfs) of the McKinley Ditch to restore late summer flows to the Little Cimarron, while keeping agricultural land in production. Earlier this year, the Water Trust received approval from the Upper Colorado River Commission for a Pilot Program project for our water.
Under the project, McKinley Ditch water was used to irrigate approximately 195 acres of pasture grass from April through July 6th. We’re pleased to report that the pilot project was implemented as planned, and on July 7th, we ceased irrigation for the rest of the season. Water is now being returned to the river for the remainder of the irrigation season.
Water conserved by this pilot project will help improve habitat conditions, and ultimately will benefit both the Little Cimarron and Colorado Rivers. We are excited to be a part of this Pilot Program and are hopeful the study results will lead to a more secure future for Colorado’s rivers.
After a wet spring, summer has been relatively dry, and drought conditions are creeping back into Colorado, particularly over the Rocky Mountains in the center of the state and the Rio Grande basin.
River flows have dropped, so Reclamation and Pueblo Water are running water from accounts in upper reservoirs to Lake Pueblo. This serves two purposes: Creating space for imports next spring and providing water for the voluntary flow program that extends the commercial rafting season.
Finding the additional space in Clear Creek, Twin Lakes and Turquoise reservoirs was problematic this year, because reservoirs still were full from a very wet 2015. Twin Lakes filled early with native water and delayed imports from the Western Slope.
The Fryingpan-Arkansas Project has delivered more than 58,760 acre-feet so far, about 90 percent of what had been expected when allocations were made in May.
The Southeastern District, which determines allocations, will adjust agricultural deliveries, because cities already had requested less water than they were entitled to receive.
Pueblo Water imported about 13,500 acre-feet of water, about 92 percent of normal. Part of the reason was the lack of free space at Twin Lakes, and part was due to maintaining long-term limits since storage space was scarce anyway, said Alan Ward, water resources manager.
Pueblo Water will lease more than 21,700 acre-feet of water this year because of the potential storage crunch earlier this year.
Even so, Pueblo Water had 49,133 acre-feet of water in storage at the end of June, which was down from last year, but 17,600 acre-feet more than was in storage at the end of May. Most of the gain came in the upper reservoirs, and is now being sent to Lake Pueblo, where it is needed for leases and to make space, Ward said.
“Those releases help keep the rafting industry afloat,” Ward said.
This summer, with sea ice across the Arctic Ocean shrinking to below-average levels, a NASA airborne survey of polar ice just completed its first flights. Its target: aquamarine pools of melt water on the ice surface that may be accelerating the overall sea ice retreat.
NASA’s Operation IceBridge completed the first research flight of its new 2016 Arctic summer campaign on July 13. The science flights, which continue through July 25, are collecting data on sea ice in a year following a record-warm winter in the Arctic.
The summer flights will map the extent, frequency and depth of melt ponds, the pools of melt water that form on sea ice during spring and summer. Recent studies have found that the formation of melt ponds early in the summer is a good predictor of the sea ice yearly minimum extent in September: if there are more ponds on the ice earlier in the melt season, they reduce the ability of sea ice to reflect solar radiation, which leads to more melt.
“Although there have been previous airborne campaigns in the Arctic, no one has ever mapped the large-scale depth of melt ponds on sea ice using remote sensing data,” said Nathan Kurtz, IceBridge’s project scientist and a sea ice researcher at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. “The information we’ll collect is going to show how much water is retained in melt ponds and what kind of topography is needed on the sea ice to constrain them, which will help improve melt pond models.”
This short flight campaign is operating from Barrow, Alaska. The flights are low at an altitude of 1500 feet (450 meters) aboard an HU-25C Guardian Falcon aircraft from NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia. The plane carries three instruments that measure changes in the ice elevation and surface temperatures and create color maps of sea ice.
Operation IceBridge provides connectivity between the measurements of polar ice between two NASA satellite campaigns: the Ice, Cloud and land Elevation Satellite, or ICESat, which operated from 2003 to 2009, and its successor, ICESat-2, scheduled to launch by 2018. The Barrow campaign will give a glimpse into what ICESat-2 will be able to observe in the Arctic in the summertime, since the laser altimeter IceBridge carries is similar to the one that will be aboard ICESat-2.
Kurtz expects that flying in the summer will allow his team to find areas of sea ice not covered by snow, which will let them take direct measurements of the freeboard, the fraction of sea ice that floats above the waterline. This measurement would improve studies of sea ice thickness in the Arctic.
Flights will be shorter than the usual IceBridge Arctic flights, due to the Falcon’s smaller fuel capacity compared to the P-3 aircraft that IceBridge normally uses in the Arctic. In total, IceBridge scientists are expecting to carry out five 4-hour-long flights, each one covering 1000 nautical miles (1150 miles) and focusing on the Beaufort and Chukchi seas north of Russia, Alaska and Canada.
“The advantage of being based in Barrow is that we’ll be starting the flights right from the water’s edge,” Kurtz said.
For its annual Arctic and Antarctic campaigns, IceBridge flights follow pre-established lines selected by the scientific community. But in Barrow, due to weather uncertainty, the mission will pursue targets of opportunity.
“The day before the flight we’ll be looking at weather imagery and models, and I’ll try to plan a flight line that basically gets into any hole in the clouds there is, rather than following a specific path,” Kurtz said.
NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia provided the laser altimeter and the infrared camera that are being used during this summer campaign. IceBridge’s Digital Mapping System came from NASA’s Ames Research Center at Moffett Field, California.
For more about Operation IceBridge and to follow the summer Arctic campaign, visit:
Here’s the release from the Barr-Milton Watershed Association (Amy Conklin):
To help celebrate National Lakes Appreciation Month, passengers at Denver International Airport (DEN) can connect with Colorado’s water through a new temporary art exhibit, “Water Brings Life to Land.”
The exhibit, which can be seen at the southeast end of the Jeppesen Terminal on Level 5 through October, is a collaboration among the Barr Lake & Milton Reservoir Watershed Association and Colorado Parks and Wildlife.
Display cases feature different educational topics about water, including: watersheds; how too many nutrients degrade water quality; why it’s important to keep Colorado’s water clean; things to do at nearby Barr Lake State Park and other state parks; and different ways to safely enjoy Colorado’s water.
The exhibit seeks to inspire travelers to be aware about living within or traveling to other watersheds, and why it’s important to protect water quality everywhere.
The Bureau of Reclamation has released the Draft Environmental Assessment (EA) for the proposed Tri-Districts Long-Term Excess Capacity Contracts for public review and comment.
The Draft EA evaluates environmental impacts associated with Reclamation’s proposed approval of 40-year excess capacity storage, exchange, and conveyance contracts between Reclamation and East Larimer County Water District, Fort Collins-Loveland Water District, North Weld County Water District (collectively referred to as Tri-Districts).
“Excess capacity contracts are very important,” said Eastern-Colorado Area Manager, Signe Snortland. “These provide a needed benefit of water management flexibility, so Districts are better equipped to address drought, changes in municipal demand, and temporary changes in the watershed affecting water quality.”
Tri-Districts have annually requested annual excess capacity contracts to mitigate poor water quality conditions in the Cache La Poudre River due to increased particulate matter due to the High Park and Hewlett wildfires in 2012. The long-term contracts would allow Tri-Districts to utilize excess capacity in Horsetooth Reservoir for storage, exchange and conveyance of the Tri-Districts’ water supplies for delivery to the Soldier Canyon Water Treatment Plant. Each district would execute a separate contract with combined total exchange and storage contract volumes not to exceed 3,000 acre-feet (af).
Comments on the Draft EA can be sent to: firstname.lastname@example.org; Terence Stroh, Bureau of Reclamation, 11056 West County Road 18E, Loveland, CO 80537; or faxed to 970-663-3212. For additional information or to receive a printed copy of the Draft EA, please contact Terence Stroh at 970-962-4369 or email@example.com. Reclamation requests comments on the Draft EA on or before August 5, 2016.
The Vasquez Canal Project is a multi-year multi-million dollar project that continues efforts by Denver Water to improve existing water diversion infrastructure. Work on the Vasquez Canal Project focuses on removing sections of the existing Vasquez Canal and replacing removed sections with a 114-inch diameter concrete reinforced pipe.
Work on the project has occurred in previous year with Denver Water replacing between 5,000 and 6,000 feet of the Vasquez Canal over the past two decades. Officials from Denver Water say they plan to replace about 2,000 feet of the Vasquez Canal in 2016, leaving roughly 15,000 feet to be replaced in the future.
Officials from Denver Water did not provide an overall projected cost on the project pointing out that, “funding allocation for this project is reassessed annually”. In previous year the project averaged around $750,000 per year in costs. Future projected cost estimates on the Vasquez Canal Project total between two to three million dollars annually.
Monies used for the project come directly from Denver Water which is funding operation, as it does all operational and capital projects, through water rate fees, bond sales, cash reserves, hydropower sales and system development charges for new services.
Work on the Vasquez Canal Project consists primarily of excavation and earth moving to facilitate the canal upgrade. “Crews will demolish the old concrete liner and covers, excavate the area and install the new 114-inch pipe, piece by piece,” stated Denver Water Communication Specialist Jimmy Luthye. Luthye explained Denver Water plans to, “work aggressively to complete this project in the next few years in an effort to replace aging infrastructure and improve the safety and strength of the entire water system.”
Ames Construction is the contractor of record for the project. For the past 20 years though, as previous sections of the Vasquez Canal have been replaced, employees of Denver Water performed the upgrade work. According to Denver Water this is the first year work on the project has been contracted out.
The Arapaho National Forest prepared an environmental assessment of the Vasquez Canal Project. All construction work on the project is being conducted entirely on National Forest System Lands. According to Denver Water that environmental assessment determined, “there would be no significant environmental impacts.” Officials from Denver Water went on to state, “They approved the project along with required best management practices, design criteria and monitoring designed to protect the area during construction.”
The Vasquez Canal is part of Denver Water’s historic water diversion network that brings mountain runoff to the Front Range and Denver Metro area. The original canal was completed in the late 1930s. According to Denver Water, information on the original construction of the canal is fairly limited but officials from the municipal water supplier stated, “we suspect that some of it (Vasquez Canal) was originally dug by hand because the canal had to be cut into the side of a steep mountain… making it difficult for machines to access.”
In the late 1950s Denver Water covered the originally open Vasquez Canal, effectively creating a tunnel. A drought during the early 1950s prompted the action, which was intended to mitigate evaporation as water traveled through the diversion system.
Water utilized by the Denver Water’s diversion system follows a zigzagging path of infrastructure as it descends from snowmelt in the high Rockies to homes along the Front Range.
Diversion structures in the Upper Williams Fork River send water through the Gumlick Tunnel, formerly known as the Jones Pass Tunnel, where the water passes under the Continental Divide. From there water travels through the Vasquez Tunnel, which brings the water back through to the other side of the Continental Divide, where it enters into Grand County and Vasquez Creek. The water is then diverted through the Moffat Tunnel back under the Continental Divide for a final time and into South Boulder Creek, feeding into Gross Reservoir, a major water storage reservoir for Denver Water.
Here’s a report from Cally Carswell writing for The High Country News. Click through and read the whole article, here’s an excerpt:
If the San Juan River were a freeway, Glen Canyon Dam would be a 50-car pile-up. It forces the river to back up and spread out for dozens of miles. As the river morphs into Lake Powell, the sand in its current settles out. A rock overhang at Grand Gulch where boaters once lounged is now buried more than 30 feet deep.
Before the dam killed the current, the San Juan carried all of this silt to the Colorado, which spit much of it through the Grand Canyon, replenishing hundreds of sandbars. These expansive blonde beaches, which form in eddies, are river runners’ favorite campsites, and they provide backwater habitat for fish. But today, about 95 percent of the sediment that once washed through the canyon sits at the bottom of Lake Powell, and the sandbars have shrunk: The Colorado erodes them, but doesn’t build them back up.
This is one of the problems the 1992 Grand Canyon Protection Act was supposed to correct. It directed federal officials to figure out how to manage the dam in a way that did less harm and even protected the national park’s assets. In addition to threatened sandbars, three of eight fish species native to the Grand Canyon have disappeared since the dam went up, and two are endangered.
But can altering dam operations really help the river when the dam itself imperils it? Scientists have explored this question since 1992, and their research informs the Bureau of Reclamation’s draft management plan for the dam’s next 20 years, released earlier this year. Conservationists are optimistic that it will yield improvements downstream, but only small ones. “You’re really just trying to make the best of a bad deal,” says Utah State University watershed sciences professor Jack Schmidt…
But there might be other ways to help fish, Kennedy says. Chub spawn almost exclusively in the toasty Little Colorado, then move into nearby parts of the mainstem Colorado, where their growth is inhibited by chilly water. The water does warm as the river twists further from the dam, but though it should be good habitat, few chub live in these downstream reaches.
Scientists think that could be because there aren’t enough bugs to eat there. Aquatic insects lay their eggs at river’s edge, and when the water level drops, as it does daily when water releases fluctuate with hydropower demand, the stranded eggs shrivel and die.
The plan proposes to eliminate flow fluctuations on spring and summer weekends, when electricity demand isn’t quite as high, in hopes of keeping eggs wet and boosting insect numbers. More food might help chub populations colonize and prosper in the river’s lower reaches.
With the approach of legal use of rainwater collection on August 10th, Colorado residents are asking a lot of questions. Before you try reading the actual legislation, we’ll cover some of the basics.
New laws allow for the collection and storage of rainwater for use on the property from which it is collected. Specifically, this water is to be used for outdoor purposes, including the watering of lawns, plants and/or outdoor gardens. It excludes human consumption, filling hot tubs, and providing water for animals, along with a few other uses.
Two laws were enacted which establish allowances for the limited collection of rainwater from rooftops of residential dwellings. It’s important to follow the restrictions before you use rain barrels legally in Colorado. These two laws are HB16-1005, which speaks to the city homeowner, and SB09-080, which applies to the rural resident that qualifies for exempt wells. More information about these laws can be found in the publication http://extension.colostate.edu/topic-areas/natural-resources/rainwater-collection-colorado-6-707/.
More than 1,200 people endured 90-degree temperatures Saturday in eastern Colorado Springs to learn more about Colorado Springs Utilities’ new Southern Delivery System.
During the SDS Waterfest at the Edward W. Bailey Water Treatment Plant on Marksheffel Road, kids and adults interacted with community volunteers at hands-on educational booths. And most of those on hand were treated to a guided tour of the state-of-the art facility…
David Schara, 42, said he is a Colorado Springs native and has watched as CSU and city officials spent more than 20 years planning the Southern Delivery System which began piping water north out of Pueblo Reservoir in late April.
“It’s much needed,” David Schara said. “As the city grows, they had to do something.”
David Schara said he and others have been skeptical over the years since CSU introduced the SDS in the Colorado Springs Water Plan of 1996. According to Schara, the biggest concern was about the capacity of Pueblo Reservoir, which he said has been “pretty low at times.”
The Southern Delivery System cost $825 million. Forte said that presently the SDS takes care of about 5 percent of the Colorado Springs Utilities customers and produces about 5 million gallons of water each day.
During Saturday’s event, CSU handed out free water bottles and had refill stations throughout the event where visitors could rehydrate with water from the Pueblo Reservoir. The hands-on exhibits allowed kids to make snow, touch a cloud, shoot water from a fire hose, and learn more about how CSU uses water supplied by the SDS…
Forte said the Waterfest was designed to thank customers “for their patience” over the last couple of decades while the SDS became reality.
“Our citizen-owners have come out to see what we’ve been talking about for the last 20 years,” Forte said. “It’s just a fun day.”
Federal steps toward a Superfund cleanup still consist mostly of meetings. The EPA decision on whether to designate the Gold King and other nearby mines a national priority disaster — crucial to secure cleanup funds — still hasn’t been made.
While the Gold King blowout boosted awareness of the tens of thousands of dormant mines draining into western waterways, Congress continues to debate remedies, failing so far to create a national cleanup fund and reduce Clean Water Act liability to encourage voluntary cleanups.
And Colorado lawmakers, too, have been considering the problem but haven’t yet acted to increase state mining regulators’ capacity. State inspectors have not begun planned visits of 140 leaking mines, those causing the worst harm along more than 1,800 miles of streams classified as impaired.
“The Gold King Mine release has prompted some activities, like the draining mines inventory and characterization efforts through the Mining Impacted Streams Task Force — but no new money for the Inactive Mines Program that the program wouldn’t potentially have received absent the Gold King release,” said Ginny Brannon, director of Colorado’s Division of Reclamation, Mining and Safety.
“There’s nothing we can do now that we could not do before,” Brannon said.
So what is the overall legacy, one year later, of the Gold King disaster? It prompted Silverton and San Juan County to reverse their long opposition to a federally run cleanup. Numerous local forums have been held for planning what might be done. But conditions at the Gold King and hundreds of other inactive mines, steadily contaminating waterways to the point that fish cannot reproduce, remain the same as on Aug. 5, 2015, when EPA-led contractors botched efforts to open the portal and triggered a 3 million-gallon deluge.
“There’s much more awareness about the issue of abandoned mines,” said Peter Butler, chairman of the Animas River Stakeholders Group that for two decades drove efforts to deal the acid metals draining into mountains above Silverton.
Conservation groups acknowledged the lag but are hoping robust conversations after the disaster will lead to getting cleanups done.
“We really need a sense of urgency on this. Many of these old mines are leaching poisons into our rivers, day in and day out,” said Ty Churchwell, Trout Unlimited’s southwestern Colorado coordinator.
“It’s good to see some momentum in Washington, D.C. to address two big needs: liability protection, and funding for mine cleanups. We’re eager to roll up our sleeves and get to work on cleanups, but we need the tools to do it,” Churchwell said, referring to efforts by Colorado Sens. Michael Bennet and Cory Gardner, and Rep. Scott Tipton, to push legal changes that would hold mining companies more accountable. “The sad truth is, mining pollution is forever. We need a sustainable, long-term fund for dealing with this long-term problem.”
No one at EPA has been punished. The Gold King site coordinator, Steve Way, retired in June. He was on vacation on Aug. 5, 2015, and fellow EPA coordinator Hays Griswold led efforts to gain access to the Gold King. A Government Accountability Office investigation and an internal EPA probe, demanded by House Republicans, haven’t been completed…
Nor have owners of the Gold King and adjacent Sunnyside mines been cleared as potentially responsible parties. Gold King owner Todd Hennis, and Canada-based Kinross, owner of Sunnyside, could be forced to pay cleanup costs if the EPA decides on a Superfund cleanup…
EPA officials would not discuss their efforts.
That agency has made internal changes to be more careful around toxic mines. EPA chiefs this year issued orders that, whenever anyone is working to open up a collapsed mine that could release fluids, senior officials in Washington D.C. must sign off first. EPA assistant administrator Mathy Stanislaus issued a statement saying “additional consultation, coordination, and technical review prior to site work being conducted will help minimize the potential for uncontrolled fluid releases.”
Yet in other ways the EPA approach, working with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, still involves considerable expense and delay. EPA administrator Gina McCarthy, visiting Colorado after the spill, vowed greater transparency. The agency communicates with reporters mostly through prepared statements, discouraging direct conversations, with instructions to reporters to attribute statements to officials. Neither McCarthy nor Denver-based regional director Shaun McGrath were made available for interviews.
And requested public documents — The Denver Post asked for Gold King-related records on Aug. 20, 2015, under the Freedom of Information Act — still are being reviewed by agency lawyers who said they are limiting the requested documents to about 75 that the EPA deems “responsive” and then redacting portions of those documents.
CDPHE water qualify officials have not received any new funding to deal with mines draining into streams, the agency’s senior hydrologist Andrew Ross said. However, the Gold King Mine incident has led to “a more coordinated effort between local, state and federal agencies that will, over time, be more successful at addressing water quality impairments from abandoned mines,” Ross said.
This month, EPA officials announced they’d work at the Gold King portal and 30 feet inside, the stabilization initiated after the EPA-run crew triggered the disaster. “EPA initiated these stabilization efforts immediately following the August 5, 2015 release and continued efforts through November 2015, when winter weather inhibited further action,” according to an agency statement attributed to spokeswoman Nancy Grantham.
EPA crews have been sampling water and sediment and the agency gave funds for locals to test water. The EPA also is working on plans for “stabilizing a waste pile on site and installing steel bracing and concrete to continue stabilizing the portal,” the statement said. “This work is designed to prevent collapses and ensure safe access for future work.”
EPA officials said the portal should be safe by October.
At other toxic mines, EPA-run cleanups typically take more than 20 years.
Gov. John Hickenlooper and local leaders repeatedly have urged EPA officials to commit to keep running a temporary water treatment plant below the Gold King, reducing contamination of Animas headwaters until a final cleanup is done.
EPA officials say they’ll run the treatment system until November, but that they haven’t decided what to do after that.
“The EPA’s water treatment plant at the Gold King Mine is operating now to protect Colorado’s waterways and communities. We are assisting EPA on mine sites in the area and on the national priority listing, and we trust that cooperation will continue,” Hickenlooper said.
“We’re working with the EPA and others to ensure that an appropriate long-term plan is in place that ensures the health and safety of our waters and communities. The temporary water treatment facility is one part of that process.”
In Washington D.C., environment groups steadily pressed for a more aggressive approach to the mines that pollute western waterways.
“The main thing that has changed” is that the problem has received attention, said Alan Septoff of the advocacy group Earthworks. “In Congress, both the left and the right have focused attention on the issue of abandoned and inoperative mines in a way that hasn’t occurred since the early 1990s,” Septoff said.
The announcement on June 23 that closer collaboration between drought resiliency programs of the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Department of Interior would be coming to the Colorado River basin was welcomed by those that depend on the river and viewed by many as an opportunity for innovative, collaborative approaches.
An opportunity for increased partnerships between government, producers, recreational interests and conservation groups in our shared struggle to sustain the river in the face of a relentless drought and an increasing urban population with the associated demand from municipal water providers.
To be sure, having endured 16 years of drought and counting, much of the Colorado River basin is in need of this attention. The Colorado River is the lifeblood of the Southwest and is often called the hardest working river in the West.
These challenges to the “mighty Colorado” pose serious risks to everyone and everything that depends on the river – from agriculture to our cities to fish and wildlife to our businesses.
The welcome collaboration partners the Bureau of Reclamation WaterSMART program and Natural Resources Conservation Service Environmental Quality Incentive Program in the Colorado River Basin.
Reclamation will work with irrigation districts, helping to upgrade infrastructure and improve overall efficiency in delivering water to farmers, while NRCS works with individual farming and ranching operations to make more efficient use of the water delivered.
Many Western water users employ WaterSMART grants and EQIP funds to address water quantity and quality challenges, and we appreciate the improved coordination that this Administration is employing to make those programs work better.
In fact, the renewed commitment to coordination between NRCS and Reclamation advances the philosophy embodied in the Bush-era “Bridging the Headgates” memorandum of understanding that emphasized technical support from these same federal agencies in a comprehensive manner.
This is a fine example of how good ideas can transcend politics, and it underscores that the only solutions lasting beyond the latest and greatest funding program are those that are collaborative in nature, that rise from the bottom-up, with input and support from those most directly impacted.
The federal government certainly cannot change the hydrology of the West, but there is a role it can play to support family farmers and ranchers. There is no single, “silver bullet” solution to Western water resources challenges.
Rather, a successful water shortage strategy must include a “portfolio” of water supply enhancements and improvements, such as water reuse, recycling, conservation, water-sensitive land use planning, and water system improvements.
New infrastructure and technologies can help stretch water for all uses. State water laws, compacts and decrees must be the foundation for dealing with shortages.
Coordinated programs like EQIP and WaterSMART can help stretch water supplies, but water conservation alone has its limits in certain situations. Developing strategic new water storage is necessary insurance against shortages.
And, urban growth expansion – the elephant in the room – should be contingent upon sustainable water supplies. Using Western irrigated agricultural water as the “reservoir” of water for municipal growth is not sustainable in the long run and can damage rural agricultural communities.
This portfolio of activities for smart, effective management of Western water resources can help decision-makers deal with the harsh realities of current and future water shortages due to drought and over-allocation of water to growing, predominantly environmental and municipal, demands.
Make no mistake; USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack and Interior Secretary Sally Jewell have provided an example of how interests can collaborate in pursuit of a drought resilient future for a basin that is an economic engine for the entire country.
However, this coordination between Reclamation and NRCS is just one of many critical steps required to develop lasting solutions that will sustain our rural economies, natural resources, communities, and families across Colorado and the West.
FromThe Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Nita Gonzales):
Colorado River Day on July 25 is a special day for many Latinos. That is the day in 1921 when Congress renamed the Colorado River from the “Grand” to the “Colorado.” It is a day we celebrate and reflect what this mighty river means in our daily lives and to our history.
For Latinos living in the Southwest, the Colorado River occupies a special place. In addition to its economic and environmental contributions, the river is at the heart of our culture for centuries. Our faith communities still baptize people in the river. Protecting the river is more than just smart water management for Latinos in the Colorado River basin; it is honoring part of a rich heritage.
And as citizens of the Colorado River Basin, we must protect it.
So we celebrate our beloved river on Colorado River Day each year, to bring attention to the importance of the river and to water conservation as the greatest tool to sustain the river for today and for the next generations.
In Colorado, to help face our water challenges, we have created a state water plan which was finalized in November 2015.
The overarching sentiment for the plan came from Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper when he said, “every conversation about water should start with conservation.” Indeed, the plan has put forth an unprecedented emphasis on sound conservation measures and directs attention to keeping the Colorado River healthy and flowing.
The lack of engagement on the state water plan almost eight months later is distressing. We are going to need action from the Legislature to ensure implementation of these steps.
As we celebrate Colorado River Day on July 25, these are the Top 10 things we wish for to protect our “Mother of Rivers.”
1. Water conservation, the most cost-effective and efficient answer to our water challenges, in urban areas and agriculture.
2. More efficient management in drought.
3. Keeping the river healthy and flowing to protect wildlife and ecosystems that rely on them.
4. Education and personal responsibility for water conservation in our homes and businesses.
5. Coordination among local, state and federal policymakers to ensure long-term success.
6. No new dams or large diversions. There is no water left to divert and the price tag is too high.
7. Permanent halt on new uranium mines near the Grand Canyon that could contaminate creeks and other tributaries that flow into the Colorado River.
8. Multiple and diverse communities working together on the sustainability of the Colorado River.
9. State and local governments acting now, before the gap between needs and availability grows.
10. A new generation of river stewards from Latino youth and the guidance to become ambassadors for the Colorado River.
Chief Seattle, for whom the biggest city in the Northwest was named, once said, “You must give to the river the kindness you would to any brother.” Across Colorado and the rest of the Colorado River basin, these words have never been truer. For the sake of our heritage and our future we must protect the river from harmful forces. We must take care of this most precious Colorado River so that it may take care of us.
Nita Gonzales is Colorado coordinator of Nuestro Rio, an organization representing Latinos living in Arizona, California, Colorado, New Mexico and Nevada devoted to the protection and sustainability of the Colorado River.
A proposed national monument expansion may not receive a ringing endorsement from the Rio Grande Water Conservation District, but the district is willing to keep an eye on the process.
The board for the district, which represents water interests throughout the San Luis Valley, discussed the proposed expansion of the Rio Grande del Norte National Monument on Tuesday and met with Ana Lee Varga, project coordinator for Conejos Clean Water, which is spearheading the expansion.
Varga is currently working with Tami Valentine, one of the opponents of the expansion , to bring people together to discuss the issue. Rio Grande Water Conservation District (RGWCD) General Manager Cleave Simpson said he was willing to represent the district’s water interests in this “stakeholder” group. “There is no change in their status, no draft proclamation ,” Simpson told the water board during their Tuesday meeting. “They are trying to put together a stakeholder meeting.”
Currently the monument, designated by President Barack Obama in 1993, covers 242,000 acres in New Mexico in the Rio Grande Gorge and Taos Plateau areas up to the Colorado state line. Conejos Clean Water and others have proposed to expand the monument into the San Luis Valley.
In meeting with the RGWCD board on Tuesday, Varga said Adams State University Professor Armando Valdez volunteered to help draft language as a starting point for the monument expansion, specifically detailing traditional uses that would be protected.
“This is a staring point, not a final draft,” Varga said.
Varga said Valdez included language recommended by RGWCD Attorney David Robbins protecting traditional uses such as grazing. Other traditional uses included in the draft are fishing, piñon wood and herb gathering.
RGWCD board member Lewis Entz said that while the group proposing the monument expansion is saying traditional uses like grazing and hunting would still be permitted, that has not always occurred under monument designations in the past. Some monuments restrict grazing, for example.
“Once you develop this into a monument, you don’t know what’s going to happen,” he said.
Varga said that’s why it is important to get the stakeholders together. She said the Conejos County commissioners are supportive of a stakeholder group to discuss issues around the monument expansion.
RGWCD board member Lawrence Gallegos, a Conejos County resident, said it is true that grazing has been limited on some national monuments but not all.
“There are several national monuments that grazing and traditional uses are still allowed ,” he said.
“At this point we just need to monitor where things are going,” he added.
Varga said half of the Conejos Clean Water’s board are ranchers, and they do not want to see cattle or other traditional uses eliminated on the proposed monument.
“When we started this initiative, we did not want to drive a wedge in the community in any way,” Varga said. “What we are trying to do is bring community members together.”
Varga said she hoped the stakeholder group could meet in the next few weeks. She and Valentine are currently trying to find a neutral facilitator to lead the discussion. Conejos Clean Water will not facilitate the gathering, she said, and neither she nor Conejos Clean Water Executive Director Justin Garoutte would sit at the table, but a board member would represent Conejos Clean Water at the meeting.
Other constituencies that would be represented would include the Farm Bureau, planning commission, ranchers and small business owners , Varga said.
Varga said since the group could not find a neutral facilitator to oversee the meeting pro bono, the proponents and opponents were going to split the cost of hiring someone.
Varga said so far the dialogue has been for or against, and she would like to see people talking together about it.
She said Conejos Clean Water and other supporters feel strongly that there would be positive impacts from the monument expansion, such as protecting sacred lands. National monument designation could also bring funding with it, she said.
Entz said he was concerned about the inclusion of the already designated Rio Grande Natural Area in the monument expansion and said a map of the proposed area seemed to overlap the two.
Varga said there was no official map yet, and the proponents were willing to exclude areas such as the Pikes Stockade, which has already been taken out of the equation.
RGWCD board member Dwight Martin, a Conejos County resident, said many people oppose the monument expansion. Groups that have publicly stated their opposition to it include the Conejos County Commissioners, Conejos Water Conservancy District, Conejos County segment of the Colorado Farm Bureau, San Luis Valley Cattlemen’s Association, Colorado Cattlemen’s Association “and a myriad of individuals.”
Martin said 300 letters and 832 signatures have been sent to Colorado congressmen in opposition to this designation, and at a meeting he attended, there was a room full of landowners, who probably represented 90 percent of the land owned in Conejos County “not one jumped up and said they were in agreement this monument should be in place.”
Gallegos said there were also groups, such as three or four municipalities, that publicly stated their support for the monument expansion. There are as many letters in support for it as in opposition, he added.
“I think there’s not a reason for us to move forward in either support or opposition to it at this point until we really know what direction it’s going to go,” Gallegos said. “I don’t feel like we need to antagonize half of the community by taking a stand one way or another.”
Martin said he was concerned about the water language that might be included in the monument designation. He said his main concern was the water issues and potential impacts the designation might have on water and specifically the Rio Grande Compact.
“I think that it’s probably a water grab,” he said.
He added he understood Forest Guardians were looking for water upstream of New Mexico, and he was concerned this might be an attempt to take some of the Valley’s water.
“If water has to be given up, it’s a threat to all of us,” he said.
Martin said the federal government could determine the water needs for the monument .
Robbins said congress has and can state in a monument designation what water rights the monument would be entitled to. Those rights can also be limited in a monument designation, he added.
Martin asked if a group like WildEarth Guardians could sue the federal government if it did not like the water language that was included in the monument designation. Robbins said that would depend on how the monument boundaries were drawn. He said if the boundaries did not include flowing rivers such as the Conejos River and the San Antonio, “the federal agencies would not have any more authority than they have today.”
If those rivers are included, however, “you want to pay more attention.”
That is why the water district is paying so close attention to this issue, to make sure the existing Rio Grande Natural Area is not negatively affected, Robbins explained.
“We want to make sure any proclamation by the president or ” congress would contain specific recognition of the existence of the natural area and specific statements it would not upset or change any management prerogatives of the management area or ” water resources in the Rio Grande,” Robbins said. “If the monument touched the Conejos or San Antonio, we would want to do the same thing there.”
Robbins said the best solution would be no overlap of the monument and the natural area. He reminded the board the natural area extends a quarter mile on either side of the center of the Rio Grande.
“I really believe there won’t be any rivers within the boundaries if everything is done properly,” Robbins said. He said he believed the congressional delegation was sensitive to the district’s and the Valley’s water issues.
Robbins also explained that if the area under consideration for monument expansion were included in the Rio Grande del Norte National Monument, it would still be under the jurisdiction of the Bureau of Land Management. One of the major differences in use, he added, would be that now the BLM land could be used for gas and mining leases but under monument designation could not. That is one of the reasons proponents are recommending the monument designation.
Robbins said the same restriction was tied to the Rio Grande Natural Area as well, no mineral development.
More coverage of the recent meeting of the Rio Grande Water Conservation Board from Ruth Heide writing for the Valley Courier:
Although rain was a welcome sight during a Tuesday water meeting in Alamosa, it may not be a frequent occurrence as the year progresses.
Colorado Division of Water Resources Division 3 Engineer Craig Cotten on Tuesday shared the longterm precipitation forecast for this region, which calls for below average precipitation. He said the forecast for July through September calls for “equal chances” in this region but through November the weather service forecast calls for below average rainfall.
Water users on both the Rio Grande and Conejos River systems are currently under curtailment to meet Rio Grande Compact obligations , Cotten told members of the Rio Grande Water Conservation District board on Tuesday. The curtailment on the Rio Grande is currently about 9 percent and on the Conejos about 13 percent.
Cotten said the annual forecast for the Rio Grande is 690,000 acre feet, of which the obligation to downstream states through the Rio Grande Compact will be about 200,000 acre feet. From now through October the Rio Grande will have to deliver about 11,500 acre feet to meet that obligation, Cotten explained.
The forecast for the Conejos River system is 290,000 acre feet, of which 102,000 acre feet are obligated through the Rio Grande Compact.
Cotten reported that the Conejos River was higher through June over last year’s flows during that time period but this month is a fair amount lower than last year and significantly lower than average.
The Rio Grande showed a similar pattern, he added, with fairly high flows in May, compared to last year, and higher than average. The first part of June was similar to last year, but after the peak the river dropped hard. The latter part of June the Rio Grande was below average and has continued to be below average this month.
MEEKER – The mule in a pasture east of Meeker along the White River seemed happy to see Erin Light, a state division engineer, and Shanna Lewis, a water commissioner, when they went to take a look at the amount of water flowing through the Meeker Ditch on July 11.
Lewis, who grew up on a Colorado ranch, praised the mule’s beautiful, deer-like coloring and said they’d become friends on her frequent visits to check the ditch.
But the warm equine reception the two enforcers of Colorado water law received differed from the response they sometimes get from ranchers in Division 6, which encompasses the Yampa, White and North Platte river basins, especially when they are visiting a ditch because they think its operator is diverting more water than they need through their head gate.
“I would say I’m more telling than I am curtailing,” said Light, who has been the division engineer based in Steamboat Springs since 2006. “There have only been a few situations where I’ve actually said, ‘That’s it. We’re curtailing you.’ And they’re very obvious situations where they’ve got a lot of water going down the tail end of their ditch, where you can’t argue that this isn’t waste.
“Where the problem becomes in determining waste is that I can go out to a piece of land and say, ‘Oh my gosh, you’ve got 6 inches of water on this land. There’s ducks swimming around. This is wasteful,’” she continued. “You can go to the landowner or the irrigator and say, ‘This is waste,’ and they’ll stare you right in the face and say, ‘The hell it is.’”
Division and state engineers working for Colorado’s Division of Water Resources, as Light does, are the only officials who have the authority to determine if waste is occurring on an irrigation system. And their primary response is to curtail wasteful flows at the head gate.
But determining if there is waste in a ditch is a case-by-case exercise. It’s site specific and time sensitive, and it can take time to understand how someone manages their ditch.
There’s no state definition of waste or written guidelines, but in the end it’s a fact-based analysis focused on how much water is needed to irrigate so many acres.
An allowance is also made for customary inefficiencies on a ditch system. Water leaking out of an old ditch, for example, is not considered waste. But beyond inefficiency, which is often a physical issue, there is waste, which is usually a water-management issue.
And waste is a much bigger issue on the Western Slope than on the state’s drier eastern plains, where irrigators have long watched for anyone wasting water.
Free river, or not
In 2014, Light served the Meeker Ditch with a written curtailment order, and she also told the big Maybell Canal on the Yampa River that they had to stop wasting water.
And she did so even though neither river was “under administration,” the term for the body of water being called out by senior downstream diverters, so both were considered in a “free river” condition.
Nor was there another water right that was being injured by either ditch’s diversions.
Just in the past 10 days, Light’s office has informed rancher Doug Monger that water is being wasted in the irrigation system he manages on his Yampa River Ranch three miles east of Hayden.
Monger is a Routt County commissioner, a member of the Yampa-White Roundtable, and a director on the Colorado River Water Conservation District’s board.
When asked Tuesday, during a break in a daylong strategic retreat at the River District, about Light’s belief that he was wasting water, he responded in a way that she has heard before.
“I don’t know what the hell difference it makes if I’m wasting water or not, it’s going back in the river,” Monger said. “Who the hell cares, if it’s a free river.”
“I know he is wasting water,” Light said Monday of Monger. “And he should be the poster child of what should be done, not what shouldn’t be done.
“About 10 days or so ago, our water commissioner approached a bunch of water users in the ditch system,” she explained. “There are several ditches that combine and co-mingle there.
“They were immediately going, ‘That’s Doug Monger’s responsibility, Doug’s the one controlling that,’ which I take as Doug is the one controlling the head gates,” Light said. “One of our water commissioners, Brian Romig, went to Doug and said, ‘We’ve got a problem here. You’re diverting too much water.’ From what Brian told me, Doug somewhat recognized it. He concurred that he needed to reduce his diversions.”
But Tuesday, Monger was not willing to go that far, saying he understood from the water commissioner only that he was still figuring out how Monger’s ditch works.
“I won’t acknowledge it,” Monger said of the allegation that he was diverting more water than he needs. “And if they start coming up with some scenario on it, we can always get our attorney. “
That was the same initial response that David Smith, the primary shareholder on the Meeker Ditch, had when Light curtailed his ditch in 2014.
But since then, and after spending $40,000 in legal and engineering fees, Smith has come around to see Light’s point.
“I would tell you that Erin and I started out on opposite ends on this thing, but both of us have kind of tried to work our way towards middle ground that we can both agree on,” he said.
Smith was busy this week bringing in hay on his well-tended fields along the White River just west of Meeker — the same fields his grandfather irrigated.
“I’ve had some disagreements with her, but Erin is an intelligent gal,” he said of Light, who has a master’s degree in civil engineering from Colorado State University with an emphasis in hydraulics and hydrology. “We’ve worked with her, and we’ve worked with the people that she has here, and at the end of the day it’s helped all of us, and I think we’re all better educated because of it.”
Laying down the law
The Meeker Ditch has a water right dating back to 1883 to divert 20 cubic feet per second (cfs) of water and two other later and smaller rights that allow it to divert 25.95 cfs in all.
The ditch diverts water from the White River just east of Meeker, runs it through Meeker proper, and then to fields west of town. (See map).
In her August 2014 curtailment order, Light said the historic water rights held by the Meeker Ditch represent enough water to irrigate about 1,000 acres, but today only 153 acres are actively being irrigated. And engineers at Resource Engineering Inc. calculated that the Meeker Ditch only needed 6 cfs to irrigate the fields still served by the ditch.
Attorney Kevin Patrick of Patrick, Miller and Noto, a water law firm with offices in Aspen and Basalt, had hired Resource Engineering to analyze the irrigation ditch on behalf of a client who owned commercial property under the ditch.
Since 2004, the property had been intermittently subject to flooding by water leaking from the ditch.
Patrick sent the engineering report and a letter to Light. “The ditch is diverting unnecessary water which is merely being spilled” and “the excessive running of water, over that reasonably required for the reasonable application of water to beneficial use for the decreed purposes and lands, is forbidden” under state law, the letter says.
After investigating the matter, Light found the ditch had been consistently diverting about 20 cfs at its head gate, but was then sending much of the water out of the ditch and down Curtis Creek, Sulphur Creek or Fairfield Gulch, back toward the White River.
Light then curtailed diversions at the Meeker Ditch head gate, which she has the authority to do. And when asked to do so by Smith, she put the curtailment order in writing.
“Colorado statute clearly prohibits the running of water not needed for beneficial use,” Light wrote in her order, dated Aug. 15, 2014.
Light cited a Colorado statute that reads “it shall not be lawful for any person to run through an irrigating ditch any greater quantity of water than is absolutely necessary for irrigating his land, it being the intent and meaning of this section to prevent the wasting and useless discharge and running away of water.”
And she addressed the issue of water being released from the ditch and back to the river.
“Generally when water is being wasted off the end of the irrigated acreage, through waste gates, or at the tail end of the ditch, the head gate should be turned down to eliminate that waste of water,” Light wrote. “In this case it appears that water is being diverted at too great a rate for the lands that are being irrigated, and the rate of diversion is not being reduced to eliminate waste.”
Light’s stance on enforcing waste has the backing of her boss, State Engineer Dick Wolfe.
Use it or lose it?
Both Wolfe and Light served recently on a committee, convened by the Colorado Water Institute at Colorado State University, that issued a report in February on the widely brandished piece of advice to irrigators to “use it or lose it.”
The report is called “How diversion and beneficial use of water affect the value and measure of a water right” and is subtitled “Is ‘use it or lose it’ an absolute?”
The 11-page report ends with several declarative statements about waste that give further backing to Light’s approach, and that she might well wish to see chained to every head gate on the Western Slope.
“Water that is diverted above the amount necessary for application to a beneficial use (including necessary for transit loss) is considered waste,” states the report.
“Increased diversions for the sole purpose of maintaining a record of a larger diversion are considered waste,” it says, referring to the practice of diverting toward the full amount of a decree in order to bolster the future potential value of a water right.
And, “Wasteful diversions will either be curtailed, or will not be considered as part of the water right’s beneficial use.”
Wolfe, who recently gave a presentation to the Colorado Ag Water Alliance on the “use it or lose it” report, said that Light is not being overzealous in her enforcement of waste.
“She is not going out and as a division engineer purposely looking and being more assertive or aggressive about trying to find where waste is going on,” Wolfe said. “These are ones that just came to our attention.”
Alan Martellaro, the division engineer for Division 5, has not taken the same approach as Light when it comes to curtailing waste.
“To actually actively go look for waste is not something that’s historically been done unless there’s a call on the stream,” said Martellaro, who is based in Glenwood Springs and whose jurisdiction includes the Colorado, the Roaring Fork, and the Crystal river basins. “It just hasn’t been the mode we’ve ever been in.”
Kevin Rein, the deputy state engineer who also served on the “use it or lose it” committee, said issues vary from division to division.
“In Division 6, in the Yampa-White, we’ve had periods of free river without administration for a long time, because it hasn’t been over-appropriated,” Rein said. “That means not being water short. So very often people were just diverting whatever they wanted because, why not? But she’s really directing herself to getting people to measure their diversions and pay attention to duty of water. I think you choose what’s important in your division. That’s important in her division.”
“Duty of water” is essentially how much water someone needs to grow crops on a certain amount of land, without waste. In the Yampa and White river basins, the duty of water is generally held to be that it takes 1 cfs to adequately irrigate 40 acres of land.
After giving a presentation at a water workshop in Gunnison in June about the “use it or lose it” report, Rein was asked why the state doesn’t go around and curtail people who are over-diverting.
“We do, as resources allow,” Rein said. “It’s simply a matter of looking at our water districts where we, maybe, have one water commissioner and maybe a deputy. Maybe if they each had two or three more deputies, then we could do that.”
Light sounds like she could use some help.
“When it comes down to obvious waste,” she said, “I would say we have a tremendous problem with it. I had a long-standing water commissioner — he was with us for 40 years and grew up a rancher — tell me one day, ‘The problem with irrigators today is they don’t go out and move their sets. They just open the head gate wider.’”
“Sets” refers to how irrigators have set various control points, such as check dams and internal head gates, along their ditches.
“That just blew me away,” Light said. “Here’s a longtime rancher living in the community of Meeker his entire life who is more or less telling me that his co-irrigators … just open up their head gate and don’t move sets anymore. To me, that’s where the inefficiency is. Go out, divert less water, and move your damn sets.”
After receiving Light’s written curtailment order in August 2014 on the Meeker Ditch, Smith appealed it to an administrative hearing officer, which was a rare move.
Wolfe said the appeal, which was addressed to him, “is the only curtailment order that I am aware of that has been appealed since I have been state engineer.” He’s been state engineer since since 2007 and has been with the Division of Water Resources since 1993.
An attorney for the Meeker Townsite Ditch Co., which owns the Meeker Ditch, told the state that Light was “attempting to restrict the diversion of water down the Meeker Ditch at a time when the White River is not under an administrative call and at a time when no other water rights owner is affected by the diversion.”
At that point, the state stepped in to defend Light’s curtailment order, and Philip Lopez, an assistant attorney general, prepared an answer to Smith’s appeal.
In his answer, Lopez cited a relatively straightforward statute that reads: “During the summer season it shall not be lawful for any person to run through his irrigating ditch any greater quantity of water than is absolutely necessary for irrigating his land, and for domestic and stock purposes, it being the intent and meaning of this section to prevent the wasting and useless discharge and running away of water.”
And he quoted the Colorado Supreme Court in Fellhauer v. People, where it said, “The right to water does not give the right to waste it.”
As to the matter of Light, or any other division engineer, not being able to curtail waste if there is not a call on the river, Lopez wrote “the division engineer has the authority to curtail [the Meeker Ditch’s] wasteful diversions at any time pursuant to [state law], regardless of whether or not the White River is under administration.”
Lopez did concede, though, that the water rights held by the Meeker Ditch still allowed it to divert water, as long as they did so “without waste.”
That’s an important distinction for Smith, who insists that he wasn’t technically curtailed, only that he can’t waste water when diverting.
“She hasn’t curtailed me to the amount of water that I can use,” Smith said. “All that Erin tells me is that whatever amount of water I have in the ditch, that she doesn’t want us wasting any water.”
Light has a different take.
“We curtailed them,” Light said. “We issued an order to stop wasting. They hired an attorney. They hired an engineer. It went to the hearing officer. They don’t waste anymore.”
The hearing officer in the case denied the ditch’s appeal, indicating it was a matter for water court. But Smith declined to go there.
“We kind of came to a working agreement that we were going to try to work with it, but as far as the laws, there was never a test case,” Smith said.
That may be, but on July 11, when Light and Lewis measured the flow in the Meeker Ditch, it was running at 6 cfs, not 20 cfs as it often used to.
The Maybell Canal
Light has also curtailed another irrigation ditch in Division 6, the Maybell Canal on the Yampa River near Maybell, which she found was similarly diverting more water than it needed.
The canal diverts water from the Yampa into a head gate located in a canyon on the edge of Little Juniper Mountain, about 30 miles west of Craig. (See map).
The Maybell Canal has a senior water right for 42.2 cfs that was adjudicated in 1923 and appropriated in 1899. It also has a junior right for 86.8 cfs that was adjudicated in 1972 and was appropriated in 1946.
The waste on the Maybell Canal was brought to Light’s attention by one of her water commissioners who’d visited the ditch. Light then verbally instructed the canal’s manager to stop wasting water. Mike Camblin, manager of the Maybell Irrigation District, wasn’t happy when he got the curtailment order from Light, but he’s now working to secure funding to make $197,000 worth of improvements to the irrigation system.
On July 13, the Yampa-White-Green basin roundtable approved a $108,000 grant of state funds to help fix several issues on the ditch system. One of those improvements is a modern, automated “waste gate” a mile below the head gate.
Camblin said such a remote-controlled system won’t work at the head gate, which is higher up in the canyon without cell phone service and prone to being washed out by high water.
But he is willing to use the automated gate to reduce sending more water than necessary out the bottom of the ditch, where the water returns to the Yampa River.
The arrangement for the new gate does not entirely please Light, however. She insisted that Camblin agree to send someone up to the head gate within three days after receiving information from the new automated gate that they are over-diverting.
An agreement to that end has been worked out and is poised for adoption, both Light and Camblin said.
“The whole goal is to not only help Erin out but to make us better at what we do,” Camblin told his fellow roundtable members on July 13.
In an interview this week, Camblin said, “At times we were probably taking more water than we need, but that’s what this whole process is about, to cut that down.” He said he is forging a productive working relationship with Light.
“I think it all comes down to communication, especially with Erin and the water commissioners,” he said. “If they get to know us and how our ditch can run better, and we allow them to do that, and we communicate, we can solve a lot of problems.”
Watch that stick
Dan Birch, the deputy general manager at the Colorado River Conservation District and a member of the Yampa-White basin roundtable, is supportive of the improvements that Camblin is trying make on the Maybell Canal.
“I think Mike’s really trying to do the right thing, and I think he wants to take a look at ways he can manage his diversions better,” Birch said. “I certainly don’t think he’s diverting just for the sake of diverting.”
Birch also cautioned against using a stick to beat back waste.
“You can’t go into a situation and say, ‘Hey, you guys are wasting water, I want you to reduce your diversions,’” Birch said. “You really have to be prepared to go into that situation and say, ‘Hey, look, here’s something that we’re seeing here. Let’s have a conversation. I’m interested in exploring what we might do to improve flow in the river.’”
But Light feels the Maybell Canal needed to be prodded into action.
“What has partially pushed the Maybell Canal to go the direction they have is us really putting our foot down that we’re not going to allow this waste to continue,” she said. “Again, the waste is so blatant. They were diverting about 54 cfs at the head gate, and we estimated about 18 cfs going out the tail end. It’s like, ‘No, you can’t do that.’”
Birch was asked directly if he thought the Maybell Canal would be making its proposed improvements without Light’s enforcement actions.
“That’s a fair question, and my immediate response is probably not,” he said.
While Light has been able to work with both Smith and Camblin, she knows she’s raising the hackles of ranchers in the Yampa and White river basins.
“I don’t think the irrigation community wants to be told they’re wasting,” she said. “I’d love to do more as far as waste, but I do have to tread lightly.”
Editor’s note: Aspen Journalism, the Aspen Daily News and Coyote Gulch are collaborating on coverage of rivers and water. The Daily News published this story on Sunday, July 24, 2016
There was a weird moment this afternoon when I was writing something and needed to dig out a reference from my book. (I do this a lot. It’s all there, the book has a lot of footnotes.) For a split second I started to follow the usual path on my hard drive to the final page proofs…. Click…. Pause….
Walk into living room, grab book off table, thumb through it. Yes, there it is, page 6, in the introduction.
I’ve been walking by the stack of books all weekend, reaching out and touching them, sometimes opening one up and reading a page.
During the flurry of attention around the release of Between the World and Me, Ta-Nehisi Coates at one point described the moment of terror when he was in the midst of the hard part of writing, when he realized the risk of abject public failure. To write a book is a deeply arrogant, deeply public act: “Please pay a substantial sum of money for what I have to say and spend hours reading it.” To fail at this is to fail in a very public way. I’m no Ta-Nehisi Coates, so my terror was of a different scale entirely, but it was no less real.
So I pick it up and I read a page and I’m pretty happy, and also relieved. It came out OK.
A recent sunrise saw Joe Centeno, a maintenance plumber with Jefferson County schools, already busy at work at Arvada’s Peck Elementary, changing out water cutoffs, connector lines and fixtures in hopes of improving the water quality.
The district’s effort to test water outlets at all 158 schools for high lead levels found 10 elevated level sites at the 50-year-old school — a sink in the teachers’ lounge, three sinks in the kitchen and six classroom sinks, some of which had bubbler drinking attachments.
“This is the guinea pig,” Centeno said. “We’ll see if this works.”
His best guess as a plumber was that the repairs should fix the problem, based on the scattered lead readings, as opposed to schoolwide contamination that would have required more extensive and expensive replumbing.
A State Engineer Map of 1907-8 shows the Grand River Ditch diverting from Water District 51, upper Colorado River drainage, across the Continental Divide into Water District 3 in the upper Poudre River drainage (shown in red middle left hand side); also showing Chambers Lake (upper left hand side of map)
July 20 inspection of Grand River Ditch led by Dennis Harmon, General Manager, Water Supply and Storage Company. From left to right Randy Gustafson (Water Rights Operation Manager, City of Greeley), Dennis Harmon, and Michael Welsh (Historian, University of Northern Colorado).
The Grand River Ditch has an appropriation date of 1890 for 524.6 c.f.s of water diverted from the Colorado River Basin to irrigate 40,000 acres of land in the Poudre Basin through the Larimer County Ditch. The water flow of the ditch is continuously measured at this gauging station on La Poudre Pass.
West of the Divide, the Grand River Ditch contours towards and around the Never Summer Range in Rocky Mountain National Park (established in 1915 after construction of the Grand River Ditch) for 14.77 miles to Baker Gulch.
A wetland at the western side La Poudre Pass,
gives birth to the baby Colorado River.
Discarded horse slip scrapers bolted together perhaps to armor the spillway of a small now-breached dam in the vicinity of the ditch.
The Grand River ditch is located above the Little Yellowstone Canyon with spectacular views of the Never Summer Range.
The mining town of Lulu City was located down in the valley where, not far beyond, Lake Granby now gathers water for delivery east to Northern Colorado through the Adams Tunnel.
In the early 21st Century a stretch of the Grand River Ditch was washed away and repaired. Rehabilitation of the mountainside is proceeding under supervision of the National Park Service. Water Supply and Storage Company contributed $9 million in settlement of NPS claims.
The easement Water Supply and Storage Company owns for the Grand River Ditch also serves as a hiking path along a number of gushing creeks.
The ditch is fitted with gates that are opened to bypass creek water after the summer season comes to a close.
The water flowing through La Poudre Pass drops into Long Draw Reservoir located in the Roosevelt National Forest east of the Continental Divide.
Moose and deer share wetland meadows of a long summer evening.
Water Supply and Storage Company stores Poudre River water in Chambers Reservoir.
Greg Hobbs and Dennis Harmon on the Continental Divide.
While I was raised in Littleton, I grew up hearing stories from my family about their farm. They were farmers and ranchers along Bear Creek until their land was taken under eminent domain for the Bear Creek Reservoir. I have a hard time picturing an agricultural community in an area that is now suburbs, golf courses, and a park. To create a metropolitan area like Denver, the landscape has changed completely and will continue to change. Today, many other communities are concerned how much longer their way of life can persist in the wake of such change.
By 2050, Colorado’s population will almost double to 10 million, bringing with it a water shortage of more than 500,000 acre feet per year. Municipalities will look to agricultural water as a source of supply. In that same timeframe, the irrigated acreage in the South Platte Basin may decrease by…
Since March, Denver Water has replaced more than 260 lead service lines found during our construction work.
By Jay Adams
The Postal Service delivers mail to your mailbox. The power company sends electricity to your meter. And Denver Water provides safe drinking water to your service line, which connects our water main to your home.
Denver Water foreman, Johnny Roybal, overlooks Steve Foster (left) and Daniel Ruvalcaba as they work to replace a lead service line.
Venetucci Farm announced it would suspend the sale of its produce due to concerns over contamination in the Widefield aquifer.
The farm pumps its water from a well attached to the aquifer, and it was among the first properties to be tested for contamination. Those results are still pending, which led to Friday’s decision.
The EPA’s latest advisory level for PFCs is equivalent to one teaspoon of chemical in 20 Olympic-sized swimming pools. It may not sound like a lot, but in drinking water there are proven health impacts. Scientists are still studying fruits and vegetables grown with the water, but restaurants like Tapateria in Old Colorado City are hoping for the best.
“I think we just had some beets in about two weeks ago,” says Tapateria chef Jay Gust of his dealings with Venetucci Farm. He gets much of his meat and produce from southern Colorado growers.
“There’s been a huge push in getting local farmers into restaurants and I think it’s great and we definitely need it,” says Gust. “We need more of it, and hopefully this is just a mild speed bump and get back on track and just keep on pushing local cuisine.”
The EPA and Army Corps of Engineers tell Venetucci managers it could be up to two more months before there are any conclusive answers showing just how many, if any, PFCs show up in fruits and vegetables grown on the farm. So far, the EPA only advises pregnant and breastfeeding women to avoid drinking contaminated water, but there are no advisories for food at this point.
The farm’s owner, Pikes Peak Community Foundation, is acting in an abundance of caution. CEO Gary Butterworth says, “The concern was in our distribution to restaurants that we would not be able to communicate that, convey that to the end user, so we have not been providing products to restaurants directly for a period of time.”
Here’s the release from the Pikes Peak Community Foundation:
The Pikes Peak Community Foundation (PPCF) has decided to temporarily suspend sales and distribution of Venetucci Farm products until results from water, soil and produce testing are complete.
Venetucci Farm draws its irrigation water from the Widefield Aquifer, which recently was deemed to have exceeded health advisory limits for perfluorinated chemicals (PFCs) levels by the Environmental Protection Agency.
“While we do not believe there are any health risks associated with the consumption of Venetucci Farm products, it is with the best interest of the community in mind that we have decided to temporarily suspend sales and distribution of our products while we gather additional information and data,” said Gary Butterworth, CEO of the PPCF. “We are awaiting more conclusive water, produce and soil test results to inform our decisions moving forward. We feel this precautionary measure is the best course of action based on the information we have today.”
The Foundation will continue to work with officials in Widefield, Security, Fountain, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment and the El Paso County Public Health Department as these agencies and municipalities gather additional data.
ABOUT VENETUCCI FARM
Located on the southwestern edge of Colorado Springs, this historic 190-acre urban farm, known as the “Pumpkin Farm” was established by the Venetucci Family in 1936. In later years, Nick and Bambi Venetucci were known for giving away thousands of pumpkins each fall to area school children.
Wanting to preserve this valuable piece of land as a farm, the Venetuccis put it into conservancy and gifted it to the Pikes Peak Community Foundation in 2006. Thanks to the generosity of the Venetucci Family and the Pikes Peak Community Foundation, Venetucci Farm is a working farm committed to growing healthy food and providing positive experiences for the Colorado Springs community.
ABOUT PIKES PEAK COMMUNITY FOUNDATION
The Pikes Peak Community Foundation (PPCF) was founded in 1996. The Foundation creates custom-designed charitable gift funds for individuals, families, and businesses, including donor-advised funds, donor-designated funds, endowment funds, memorial funds, and scholarship funds, providing flexible and inexpensive alternatives to setting up private or family foundations. PPCF also makes grants to support nonprofit organizations and community projects for the benefit of our community and stewards Venetucci Farm and Aspen Valley Ranch. For more information, visit http://PPCF.org.
Click here to go to the US Drought Monitor website. Here’s an excerpt:
This week’s USDM period (ending on July 19) was characterized by typical hit and miss summer-time shower activity across the country, punctuated by extreme heat in the Southern Plains and the Northeast. The heaviest rains fell in southern Minnesota, southwest Iowa, much of Indiana and eastern Illinois, western Kentucky, eastern North Carolina, along the Gulf Coast and Florida. Below normal precipitation was observed in eastern Texas, northern Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and New England. A strong ridge over the southern Plains contributed to abnormally warm temperatures in New Mexico and Texas during the period. Daily maximum temperatures soared well into the triple digits, as much as 10 degrees F above normal in the area. While not as intense, temperatures 6-8 degrees F above normal were observed in the Northeast. Cooler-than-normal temperatures encapsulated much of the Northwest and High Plains…
Much of the Southern Plains suffered as stifling heat baked the soils while precipitation was non-existent. Recent rains over the northern half of Oklahoma did warrant some improvement, but there was huge disparity in the south central and southeast part of the state. A single-category degradation was needed due to the 30-day precipitation departures. In Texas, temperatures were for the most part 4 degrees F above normal during the period. The most intense heat was in western Texas where anomalies were around 8 degrees F above normal. According to the USDA, 64 percent of topsoil moisture conditions are in the very short to short category. Deterioration occurred in the north, southwest and eastern parts of the state…
Precipitation in the High Plains this period ranged from greater than 300 percent in much of Montana to well below 10 percent along the North and South Dakota state border. Temperatures were muted across the region as anomalies were as much as 6 degrees below normal. Conditions continue to be drier than normal in the western South Dakota/eastern Wyoming area. Less than half of what is normally expected, in terms of precipitation, has fallen in that area during the last 30 days. 28-day stream flows are measuring in the 5-10 percent category and lower. All other indicators, including model based and satellite derived, are pointing to an extreme localized drought in the area. Ranchers and farmers in the area are experiencing no hay production at all and the cattle are already on winter pastures. There are not only water quantity issues, but also as the stock ponds and dams dry up, the water quality is suspect. Some ranchers have to haul water in every day. Wildfires are also a large concern. Based on all the indicators and impacts, all categories of drought were expanded in the area…
Precipitation was virtually non-existent in much of the Western region during the period. Light rain (0.5 inch) did fall in central Oregon and norther Washington. The southwest monsoon provided some relief to parts of Arizona, albeit only light amounts fell. Temperatures were cooler than normal in the Northwest, but slightly above normal for the desert southwest. The cooler than normal temperatures during July have helped suppress many new wildfires from emerging. This is the dry season for the West Coast, so changes to the drought monitor are very rare this time of year…
The next 3-7 days will bring above normal temperatures for much of the CONUS with the warmest anomalies forecasted for the Midwest and along the East Coast. Negative temperature anomalies will be confined to the Northwest. The High Plains, parts of New England, the Southeast, and Florida have the best chances of greater than normal precipitation.
The CPC 6-10 day outlook calls for the greatest chances of above normal temperatures in California and the Great Basin, as well as the East Coast. The probability is high that below normal precipitation will occur in the Northwest, especially in Washington and Oregon, and the Midwest, while odds are in favor of above normal precipitation in the Southeast and East Coast.
Some 200 of the unique cutthroat trout were removed from Hayden Creek
State wildlife officers on Wednesday rescued rare cutthroat trout from a creek in the Hayden Pass fire burn area, quelling concerns about their possible extinction because of the blaze.
Colorado Parks and Wildlife says many of the rare fish — with genetic links to the iconic, pure greenback cutthroat trout — were taken from the fire zone to an isolation chamber at the Roaring Judy Hatchery near Gunnison.
Officials were worried ash and sediment from the Hayden Pass fire would wash down into the lower prong of Hayden Creek, where the fish live, strangling their oxygen and food supplies. However, videos taken from the rescue mission show wildlife officers removing several of the trout from the stream.
The trout that live in the creek share a unique genetic anomaly with a cutthroat found in the Smithsonian Museum and said to have been taken from Twin Lakes near Leadville in 1889, CPW says.
Fire commanders say the trout mission on Wednesday resulted in the netting and removal of 200 fish. One of the firefight’s main objectives has been to protect the fish as much as possible.
Here’s a guest column from Luis Benitez writing in The Denver Post. Here’s an excerpt:
Those of us who live here, and the many recreationists and visitors who come to experience our state’s incredible landscapes and waterways, know exactly what I mean. It’s a beautiful compensation that as we are having the time of our lives, our love for the Colorado outdoors powers a huge economic engine for the state. The Colorado outdoor recreation economy generates $31.2 billion in revenue on a yearly basis, $994 million through taxes to our federal and state governments, and 125,000 Colorado jobs, according to the Outdoor Industry Association. People and companies come to Colorado because they want a lifestyle that includes this unique layout of natural wonder.
At the core of our economic bounty lies a healthy river system, which allows for fishing, kayaking, healthy forests and lands, and is essential to daily life on farms, ranches, and in municipalities across the West. In Colorado alone, river-related activities account for $6.3 billion in direct consumer spending on recreation and sustain 80,000 recreation jobs. In total, according to a study commissioned by Protect the Flows, a group of Colorado River businesses, the Colorado River system is responsible for $26 billion in revenue from river-related activities across the seven basin states in the West, and supports 240,000 sustainable jobs.
Beyond the recreational activities supported by the river, more than 33 million people in Arizona, California, Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada, Utah, Wyoming and Mexico all depend on the Colorado River for their water supply. Today, more than 1.8 million acres of land are irrigated with water from the Colorado River, producing about 15 percent of the nation’s crops and about 13 percent of its livestock generating about $1.5 billion a year in agricultural benefits.
These figures illuminate the importance of the Colorado River to our quality of life and our state’s prosperity. It’s easy to understand why we celebrate Colorado River Day on July 25 each year, the day the Colorado River was officially renamed from the Grand to the Colorado in 1921.
Colorado River Basin, USBR May 2015
No Name Rapid, Class V, mile 10, Upper Animas River, Mountain Waters Rafting.
A map of the Aqueduct route from the Colorado River to the Coastal Plain of Southern California and the thirteen cities via the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California.
Evening clouds along the Yampa River in northwestern Colorado.
How much water reaches the Westwater stretch of the Colorado River, and then Lake Powell, is taking on increasing importance to Colorado water officials. A new study is underway to look at much more water is available to develop on the Western Slope, and it’s caught the attention of east slope water officials. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism
Delph Carpenter’s 1922 Colorado River Basin map with Lake Mead and Lake Powell shown. The two giant reservoirs have always been part of the governance of the river.
The Central Arizona Aqueduct delivers water from the Colorado River. Photo credit: U.S. Bureau of Reclamation
The Colorado River supplies water to Lake Mead, the largest man-made reservoir in terms of capacity in the United States. New research from The University of Texas at Austin has found natural variability, not humans, have the most impact on water stored in the river and the sources that feed it. U.S. Geological Survey
Pour offs along the Colorado River. Photo via Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen journalism
The Yampa River flows through the Carpenter Ranch. Photo courtesy of John Fielder from his new book, “Colorado’s Yampa River: Free Flowing & Wild from the Flat Tops to the Green.”
Peter McBride at the oars and camera Grand Canyon June 2015
Colorado National Monument from the Colorado River Trail near Fruita September 2014
Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program
Hayfield message to President Obama 2011 via Protect the Flows
Upper Basin States vs. Lower Basin circa 1925 via CSU Water Resources Archives
Lake Mead behind Hoover Dam December 2015 via Greg Hobbs.
Here’s the update from DNR (Taryn Finnessey/Tracy Kosloff):
June 2016, was the 3rd warmest June on record, with only 2012 and 2002 logging hotter temperatures. Much of the state experienced average monthly temperatures four to six degrees above normal. July has seen cooler temperatures, thus far, with temperatures near normal across most of the state. The forecast for the next two weeks shows continued warm temperatures and better chances for precipitation as we move into monsoon season.
Statewide water year-to-date mountain precipitation as reported from NRCS is at 99 percent of normal as of July 19th.
July is the second consecutive month with below average statewide precipitation (June was 71 percent of average, while July to-date is 64 percent), this time of year precipitation tends to be spotty due to storms, but the WATF will continue to monitor the situation closely.
Reservoir storage statewide remains unchanged from last month at 108 percent. The Arkansas basin has the highest storage levels in the state at 116 percent of average; the Upper Rio Grande has the lowest storage levels at 79 percent. All other basins are near or above normal.
Water providers all reported storage levels above 90 percent and are not anticipating any mandatory watering restrictions this season, however continued warm and dry conditions have resulted in increased demands.
The Statewide Water Supply Index (SWSI) is near normal across the majority of the state
Looking to capitalize on historic-low bond rates, Aurora Water on Thursday sold $437 million in bonds toward re-funding debt associated with its Prairie Waters Project, making it the largest municipal bond issue in the state this year.
With a net savings of $68.6 million, the issue consolidates two other issues and a state loan, water department officials said in a news release.
The Prairie Waters Project was completed in 2010 at a cost of $637 million. It recaptures water Aurora already owns in the South Platte River, beginning in Weld County, and makes full use of Aurora’s mountain and agricultural water rights, increasing the city’s water supply by up to 12 million gallons per day. The water comes from 23 wells that use a riverbank filtration process, pulling water through hundreds of feet of sand and gravel to remove impurities.
The bonds were offered on July 20 and July 21, with first priority given to Colorado residents and businesses.