#ColoradoRiver Basin #drought update

Lake Powell via Aspen Journalism
Lake Powell via Aspen Journalism

From The Guardian (Chris McGreal):

“Glen Canyon died in 1963,” wrote the renowned conservationist David Brower, who founded Friends of the Earth. “Neither you, nor I, nor anyone else knew it well enough to insist that at all costs it should endure. When we began to find out, it was too late.”

But Lake Powell, the US’s second largest reservoir, proved its own marvel. It draws about three million tourists a year to boat, swim and take days on the water, exploring the crevices and side canyons of a lake that stretches nearly 190 miles across the border between Utah and Arizona. The otherworldly landscape of monumental rock piles and soaring sandstone cliffs has provided the backdrop for scenes in Planet of the Apes and Gravity, and for episodes of Doctor Who.

After the dam was constructed at the southern tip of the canyon, the lake took more than a decade to fill with melting snow from the Rocky mountains flowing down the 1,450-mile Colorado river. That brought its own natural phenomenon.

What locals nickname the “bathtub ring” runs for most of Lake Powell’s 1,900-mile shoreline, which is half as long again as the US west coast. The ring of white calcium carbonate absorbed into the rock from the water contrasts sharply with the deep colours of the sandstone.

These days, it also provides a dramatically visible marker of the crisis facing the Colorado river after years of diminishing snowfalls on the Rockies.

Month by month, as water levels fall, more of the bathtub ring is exposed. Today, it towers 100ft or more above the boaters as what federal officials are describing as the worst drought in the Colorado Basin in a century diminishes a river that provides water to 40 million people in seven states. Lake Powell – a crucial cog in the machinery of water delivery – is at only 45% of capacity.

Hidden treasures
The falling water level has delivered up hidden treasures, the natural arches and narrow side canyons not seen in years. Perhaps the most spectacular is the Cathedral in the Desert, a multi-coloured sandstone arch forming a huge natural amphitheatre, with a waterfall lit by narrow beams of sunlight.

In parts of the lake, new islands have emerged and old ones have become towering sandstone pillars. Shores once underwater are now lined with new beaches while old ones, left high above the waterline, are bristling with plants.

As the water levels dropped, some of the boating arteries linking different parts of the lake could only be kept open by cutting through the rock.

Erin Janicki, an aquatic biologist, has watched the change from the water’s edge. The town of Page, Arizona was built to house workers constructing the dam that flooded Glen Canyon. Janicki lives in one of the original houses, a stone’s throw from the lake. For nine years, she has seen the water rise and fall, but says the overall trend is down.

“The water’s 110ft below the top of bathtub ring,” she said. “There are parts of the lake that have pretty much become mud flats. The inlets get silted up. It takes longer to jet around the lake because some of the waterways aren’t open and you have to go around obstacles.

“There’s still a lot of water out there, but there’s been a big change. People hit rock islands all the time.”

For Janicki, this has raised questions about the nature of development in arid regions.

“I don’t like seeing big developments in the desert,” she said. “These cities growing all the time. More people and less water. It doesn’t seem sustainable to me. Page has a golf course. Here, in the desert.”

The Colorado river serves Wyoming ranches, Arizona agricultural plantations and Nevada’s gambling mecca, Las Vegas. It is crucial to the California food industry and growing desert cities across the southwest.

What goes into Lake Powell is largely decided by how much snow falls on the Rockies in winter. But what comes out is governed by complex agreements made nearly a century ago, and adjusted over the years, which divvy up the river’s water between seven states.

CPW: Harvey Gap Reservoir to be drained for inspection of dam outlet, bag, possession and size limits removed for all species

Harvey Gap Reservoir via the Applegate Group.
Harvey Gap Reservoir via the Applegate Group.

Here’s the release from Colorado Parks and Wildlife:

The Silt Water Conservancy District is announcing that they will need to drain Harvey Gap Reservoir to inspect the dam outlet structure. To save as many fish as possible, Colorado Parks and Wildlife has authorized an emergency fish salvage at the reservoir located north of Silt, effective immediately. Using conventional, legal tackle only, anglers are encouraged to catch and keep as many fish as they can, including tiger muskie, northern pike, channel catfish, black crappie, trout, yellow perch, bluegill, and largemouth and smallmouth bass…

According to the Silt Water Conservancy District, the reservoir will remain mostly empty until the dam is thoroughly inspected. Once the reservoir is permanently refilled, Colorado Parks and Wildlife will restock the popular fishery with approved species; however, when that will occur is undetermined.

CFWE: Collaborative Water Management Tour, Roaring Fork Watershed September 12, 2016

Map of the Roaring Fork River watershed via the Roaring Fork Conservancy
Map of the Roaring Fork River watershed via the Roaring Fork Conservancy

Click here for the inside skinny and to register. Draft agenda. From the website:

Join the Colorado Foundation for Water Education for a one-day tour of the Roaring Fork Watershed that will showcase exemplary collaborative water management projects. Gain an understanding of how multiple public and private entities are working together on water quality, water quantity, and riparian habitat improvement projects. The itinerary will showcase collaborative stream management plans and water management projects with municipalities, landowners, state and federal agencies, recreationists, watershed groups, and the local community. Tour attendees will get an in-depth look at how water managers and leaders are putting the Roaring Fork Watershed Plan into action.

stopcollaborateandlistenbusinessblog

Durango sewer plant overhaul work to start in May 2017

Wastewater Treatment Process
Wastewater Treatment Process

From The Durango Herald (Mary Shinn):

The city plans to take out a $62 million loan this month to pay for a sewage-treatment plant remodel in Santa Rita Park.

Work at the plant is expected to start in May, and it will require about two years, said consultant Bob Bolton, a vice president with Dewberry.

Work on aeration basins will be accelerated to meet the February 2018 deadline to remove more nutrients such as nitrogen, phosphorous and ammonia from water the plant puts back in the river, he said.

Design work has been ongoing all summer, and a team of consultants on Tuesday presented drawings and site plans to the Durango City Council.

The actual construction of the plant is expected to cost about $53.8 million, Bolton said. The additional money the city will borrow is needed to cover related costs, such as design, said Mary Beth Miles, assistant to the city manager.

Voters approved a $68 million bond question to use for the plant and other improvements. This will give the city a little flexibility in case the bids come in higher than expected, Miles said.

At public and stakeholder meetings, odors at the plant have come up as a major concern, Bolton said.

“We’re going to contain it and take care of it,” he said.

Air coming into the buildings will be ionized to help purify it to make it more tolerable for employees, and air coming out of the building will be filtered.

“You won’t know that it’s a wastewater plant,” Bolton said.

As part of the design process, the consultants factored in the Animas River Trail and Santa Rita Park, and they plan to use landscaping to help buffer some of the plant. In addition, the consultants are planning to use stone, metal and concrete on the outside of the buildings to make them more muted.

Navajos sue feds over Gold King Mine spill — The Durango Herald

The orange plume flows through the Animas across the Colorado/New Mexico state line the afternoon of Aug. 7, 2015. (Photo by Melissa May, San Juan Soil and Conservation District)
The orange plume flows through the Animas across the Colorado/New Mexico state line the afternoon of Aug. 7, 2015. (Photo by Melissa May, San Juan Soil and Conservation District)

From the Associated Press (Susan Montoya Bryan) via The Durango Herald:

Leaders of one of the nation’s largest American Indian tribes blasted the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as their attorneys sued Tuesday, claiming negligence in the cleanup of the Gold King Mine spill that tainted rivers in Colorado, New Mexico and Utah.

Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye stood on the bank of the San Juan River in northwestern New Mexico and explained his people’s link to the water and the economic, cultural and psychological damage inflicted in the wake of the August 2015 spill, which occurred in an inactive mine north of Silverton.

“EPA, we’re holding your feet to the fire,” Begaye said, promising that generations of Navajos are willing to fight. “We will not let you get away with this because you have caused great damage to our people, our river, our lifeblood.”

[…]

The Navajo Nation joins New Mexico in pursuing legal action over the spill. The state of New Mexico sued the EPA and Colorado earlier this year, citing environmental and economic damage.

Tribal officials at the news conference and in the lawsuit pointed to delays and resistance by the EPA, saying the agency has failed to compensate Navajos for their losses or provide any meaningful recovery efforts over the past year.

The EPA has dedicated more than $29 million to respond to the spill and for monitoring, but much of that is going toward stabilization and ongoing drainage at the mine. Reimbursement of state, local and tribal costs is underway, but the tribe has received only a fraction of the nearly $1.6 million doled out to all the parties.

Begaye said Navajo farmers have felt the brunt of the spill. Some crops went unplanted this year and cultural practices such as the gathering of corn pollen were skipped…

He called the actions of the agency, its contractor and the mining companies reckless and reiterated his disappointment that Navajos have yet to receive a phone call or letter of apology from President Barack Obama.

Navajo officials said the government has denied repeated requests for everything from compensation for farmers to resources for long-term monitoring and an on-site laboratory for real-time testing of river water.

“They have not done a thing,” Begaye said during his impassioned address.

While the lawsuit doesn’t include an exact dollar figure for damages the tribe is seeking, Begaye said Navajos are owed “millions” and that the scope of the contamination is still unknown.

A criminal investigation into the spill is being conducted by the EPA’s Office of Inspector General and the U.S. Justice Department, but it’s unclear how long that probe could take.

On April 7,  2016, the Environmental Protection Agency proposed adding the “Bonita Peak Mining District” to the National Priorities List, making it eligible for Superfund. Forty-eight mine portals and tailings piles are “under consideration” to be included. The Gold King Mine will almost certainly be on the final list, as will the nearby American Tunnel. The Mayflower Mill #4 tailings repository, just outside Silverton, is another likely candidate, given that it appears to be leaching large quantities of metals into the Animas River. What Superfund will entail for the area beyond that, and when the actual cleanup will begin, remains unclear. Eric Baker
On April 7, 2016, the Environmental Protection Agency proposed adding the “Bonita Peak Mining District” to the National Priorities List, making it eligible for Superfund. Forty-eight mine portals and tailings piles are “under consideration” to be included. The Gold King Mine will almost certainly be on the final list, as will the nearby American Tunnel. The Mayflower Mill #4 tailings repository, just outside Silverton, is another likely candidate, given that it appears to be leaching large quantities of metals into the Animas River. What Superfund will entail for the area beyond that, and when the actual cleanup will begin, remains unclear.
Eric Baker

Lawsuit brewing over Security-Widefield water issues — KOAA.com

Photo via USAF Air Combat Command
Photo via USAF Air Combat Command

From KOAA.com (Greg Dingrando):

Security-Widefield residents are in the midst of filing a massive lawsuit concerning contaminated water. About a month ago, the area’s water supply was found to have high levels of PFC’s, contaminates linked to certain kinds of cancers.

McDivitt Law Firm received calls from people concerned about their health and their property values and decided to take on the case. Mike McDivitt told News 5 that is it unclear who the affected residents will be suing, as the contamination remains under investigation.

McDivitt said it will be an extremely tough case to win, but the more people they get on board, the better the chances, especially if they’re up against the government or a large manufacturer.

“Those types of defendants who should be held accountable are very large and very well healed. When we get strength in numbers it presents a force front that they cannot ignore,” McDivitt said.

Weekly Climate, Water and #Drought Assessment of the Upper #ColoradoRiver Basin #COriver

Upper Colorado River Basin month to date precipitation through August 15, 2016.
Upper Colorado River Basin month to date precipitation through August 15, 2016.

Click here to read the current assessment. Click here to go to the NIDIS website hosted by the Colorado Climate Center.

FLOWS: Conserving Water and Empowering Communities

Your Water Colorado Blog

According to the Citizen’s Guide for Colorado Water Conservation, upgrading your toilets, showerheads, and faucets to WaterSense-labeled models can save a boatload of water and a nice chunk of change on your water bill. However, for people who have trouble affording rent and other necessities, upgrading to more efficient water fixtures can be cost-prohibitive, even if it would save money in the long run. There are many water conservation audit and assistance programs around the state that can help, including the CU Environmental Center’s new FLOWS program. The Foundation for Leaders Organizing for Water and Sustainability or FLOWS seeks to partner with low-income communities in the City of Boulder to conserve water, energy, and money.

“FLOWS is a partnership between community members and students,” says Michelle Gabrieloff-Parish, the program manager. “We’re working together to build capacity in low-income communities around green jobs and engage community members in sustainability. The…

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