Agricultural drain replacement project a top priority for the Grand Valley Drainage District

Bicycling the Colorado National Monument, Grand Valley in the distance via Colorado.com
Bicycling the Colorado National Monument, Grand Valley in the distance via Colorado.com

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Gary Harmon):

It’s when storms break uphill that the Buthorn Drain becomes overwhelmed and the network of pipes turns from a pastoral conveyance to a pressurized system for which it was never designed.

“I’ve seen that manhole cover blow two feet off the ground,” said Bruce Palmer, who has lived for 51 years near the manhole cover on Walnut Court, through which the running water can be heard. “I’ve stood here in 9-inch engineer-type boots and the water was running over the top of those boots.”

The Buthorn Drain runs beneath the property of 50 or 60 residences, through a mobile-home park, beneath businesses and streets, and below — and through — a park.

It runs below Westlake Park downhill from West Middle School and then flows above and below a hill steep enough that concrete piles, or baffles, have been built in its path to slow floodwaters. Those same waters have dug beneath the baffles, reducing their ability to slow the floods.

The Grand Valley Drainage District made the Buthorn Drain its top priority and is expecting to spend $5 million on repairs and improvements to it, beginning with a close look at the system by Eric Krch of the engineering firm Souder Miller & Associates.

The first step in his study is to make sure that the drain still can handle its main job, then move into the question of whether it could handle a [1% probability flood].

It almost surely will not. Work already done has shown the system to be “severely undersized” for the 922-acre watershed served by the Buthorn Drain.

From there, Krch will draw up one or more solutions he’ll propose to the drainage district…

Businesses, local governments and other property owners, including churches and nonprofits, are charged $3 a month for every 2,500 square feet of impervious surface — those roofs, driveways, parking lots and so on. The district also has a $500 per 2,500 feet of impervious surface fee on new construction.

In all, the charges are expected to generate $2.7 million this year.

The fees, however, have earned the ire of Mesa County and the Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce, which have challenged them in Mesa County District Court, contending that they amount to a tax that was imposed without a vote as required by the Colorado Constitution.

A judge, however, has ruled in denying a preliminary injunction that the charges are fees and not subject to the voter-approval requirement of the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights.

A full hearing on the matter remains to be scheduled — attorneys next week are to set a schedule — even as the district is moving ahead with the Buthorn Drain by hiring Souder Miller & Associates.

County and chamber officials say they don’t question the need for improvements such as those contemplated for the Buthorn Drain, but say they prefer to tackle drainage issues — and there are plenty — on a larger scale, using the 5-2-1 Drainage Authority.

The authority encompasses an area 10 times larger than that of the district. It takes in lands north of the river that are outside the boundaries of the drainage district, as well as land south of the river.

The county also questions the leadership of the drainage district, characterizing the three-member board as self-perpetuating.

The election of Cody Davis to the drainage district board this year was the first contest in decades.

All of those issues are beside the point for Ryan, who contends that the drainage district board is dealing properly with issues inside district boundaries, which happen to include much of the most heavily populated parts of the county, as well as much of its commercial and industrial base.

Dealing with the Buthorn Drain means dealing with “a major public health hazard,” Krch said.

When the drain is overfilled by stormwater, Krch said, “People have suffered significant damages to their possessions, there has been loss of property and I don’t know how many accidents occurred on flooded streets.”

It’s algal bloom time for area surface waters

HarmfulAlgalBloomillustrationseagrantmichigan

From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Rachel Riley):

Steamy temperatures, a lack of shady trees and stagnant, shallow waters make the pond [Duckwood Pond in Fountain Creek Regional Park ] a breeding ground for the green algae, which thrives on warmth and sunlight. Another ingredient for the algae’s success, nitrogen, is added by the resident flock of Canada geese, with each bird producing about a pound of nutrient-rich feces each day…

The photosynthetic, plant-like organisms are found in practically every…body of water, from ponds to reservoirs, and can multiply rapidly under the right conditions to create algae blooms. Luckily, there are no negative effects on the body of water’s aquatic ecosystem – only its aesthetic value, Salamon said.

But it’s often hard to distinguish regular algae with its much less innocuous counterpart: cyanobacteria, also known as blue-green algae. For reasons scientists haven’t nailed down, cyanobacteria blooms can sometimes produce toxins that threaten nearby flora and fauna.

Of the 150 lakes across the state sampled routinely by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, about 30 have tested positive for blue-green algae, including 10 to 15 that regularly produce blue-green algae blooms, according to the department.

And while officials have not observed any negative consequences for wildlife connected to the presence of cyanobacteria, state agencies are taking precautions.

The department has developed an in-house testing method to determine if the blue-green algae is producing harmful toxins, what the toxins are and how concentrated they are, said Sarah Wheeler, a researcher at the state’s Water Quality Control Division…

According to Colorado Parks and Wildlife, areas where cyanobacteria blooms have occurred include Stagecoach State Park, Barr Lake State Park, and Cherry Creek State Park and De Weese Reservoir.

The cyanobacteria blooms most often occur in urban areas and agricultural regions the eastern plains that experience a lot of runoff from fertilizers – the same places that are hotspots for regular algae blooms, Wheeler said.

“Cyanobacteria do really well with high nutrients and lots of sunlight – they form when conditions are right, so when the temperatures are really hot in the summer, the water temperatures increase and you also have high nitrogen,” she said.

Unlike most other contaminants, cyanobacteria and the toxins they produce are not regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency, so it’s up to state officials to decide how to monitor its presence in recreational and drinking water sources. In June 2015, the EPA issued a drinking-water health advisory for two contaminants sometimes produced by cyanobacteria: microcystins and cylindrospermopsin.

Research has associated high levels of drinking water containing the toxins with stomach flu, liver and kidney damage. People swimming in lakes where cyanobacteria was present have reported stomachaches, allergic reactions and skin rashes. For wildlife, long-term exposure may also lead to liver and kidney damage, according to the EPA advisory.

While officials have observed some drinking-water sources that have cyanobacteria blooms, none has tested positively for levels of above-recommended levels of microcystins and cylindrospermopsin specified in the EPA’s health advisory, said David Dani, who oversees coaching and training for the Colorado Safe Drinking Water Program…

In 2014, the agency formed the Algal Toxin Team, consisting of park, district, area and deputy regional managers, as well as public information officers. Last spring, Parks and Wildlife met with environmental epidemiology officials from the health and environment department to determine at what toxin level warning or caution signs should be posted at bodies of water containing cyanobacteria blooms.

The guidelines also help park officials identify the blooms, [Mindi May] said.

One method is the stick test: If you run a stick through the water and strings of the algae cling to the stick, it’s filamentous algae, not cyanobacteria. Another is the bottle test: If you scoop up some of the water and the algae sinks to the bottom of the container, it’s probably regular algae and not cyanobacteria, which would float or remain suspended in the water.

When park officials identify a cyanobacteria bloom, there is often little they can do besides wait for the bloom to subside, which can happen within days, May said.