Click here for all the inside skinny on the Colorado River Basin.
Click here to go to the Colorado Foundation for Water Education website for all the inside skinny.
Innovative Water Education in the 21st Century: Visual storytelling, using technology to share Colorado’s Water Stories
Join the Water Educator Network of the Colorado Foundation for Water Education to explore exemplary visual storytelling techniques for water and river education and outreach. Presenters include Will Inveen, Director of Education at the Murray-Darling Basin Authority in Australia; Tracy Ferdin, creator of the Waters to the Sea program at Hamline University; the Open Water Foundation, Open Media Foundation, and others. Learn how you can implement visual storytelling using technology to expand your message and reach new audiences across Colorado and beyond.
- Beyond the Mirage, Filmstacker, University of Arizona
- Watershed Mapping, Colorado Geographic Alliance
- Texas Water Explorer, Nature Conservancy
- Murray-Darling Basin Authority, Australia
- Open Water Foundation
- ColoradoChannel.net, Open Media Foundation
- Model My Watershed, Stroud Water Research Center
- Waters to the Sea, Center for Global Environmental Education
When: November 17th, 2016 8:15 AM through 4:30 PM
Location: 1628 Sts John Rd, Keystone, CO 80435
From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Tom Roeder):
Peterson Air Force Base sent water laced with toxic firefighting foam into Colorado Springs Utilities sewers as often as three times a year, the service said in an email response to Gazette questions.
The service said the practice of sending the wastewater mixed with perfluorinated compounds from the firefighting foam into sewers stopped in 2015 and said criminal investigators are looking into a discharge of 150,000 gallons of chemical-laden water from the base announced last week…
The Air Force contends its earlier discharges of contaminated wastewater were “in accordance with (utilities) guidelines,” which Colorado Springs Utilities disputes.
“I’m not aware that we have ever authorized them to discharge that firefighting foam into the system,” Utilities spokesman Steve Berry said.
The chemicals in the firefighting foam, which can’t be removed by the Utilities sewage treatment plant, flowed into Fountain Creek, which feeds the Widefield Aquifer. Unlike other contaminants which settle out of water into sediment, perfluorinated compounds remain in solution, increasing the likelihood of contamination stemming from a release into the sewer system.
The impact on other water users is unclear. Colorado Springs’ and Pueblo’s drinking water does not come from the creek…
Berry said the last release of contaminated water from Peterson flowed through the Las Vegas Street sewage treatment plant before the utility was told of the 150,000-gallon discharge from a holding tank on the base. That means utility workers had no way to measure the toxicity of the water.
“Once we were notified, that stuff had long moved through our system and out of service territory,” Berry said.
The Air Force said an investigation into the discharge is ongoing and involves the service’s Office of Special Investigations and experts from the Environmental Protection Agency.
Last week, Peterson officials said releasing the contaminated water from a holding tank near the base fire training area required opening two valves and activating an electric switch, making it possible that the release was intentional.
The fire training area includes a collection system meant to contain the foam in a pair of holding tanks…
Berry said in the wake of the latest incident, Utilities has told the Air Force that its firefighting foam isn’t welcome in city sewers.
He called on the Air Force to release the alleged “guideline” the service cited to justify its earlier releases.
“That does not sound right to me at all,” he said.
The Air Force on Friday reiterated its contention that the service has been a good neighbor. The service has contributed $4.3 million toward filtering water for Security, Widefield and Fountain. Peterson is also replacing the foam in its firetrucks this week with a substance deemed less hazardous. The old foam is being disposed of as toxic waste.
But scrutiny is building for the Air Force, which faced fire from Pikes Peak region politicians this week after a Gazette investigation showed the service ignored decades of warnings from its own researchers in continuing to use the foam. Air Force studies dating to the 1970s determined the firefighting foam to be harmful to laboratory animals.
“We are working together with the community as a good neighbor who has a portion of our 12,000 employees in the affected area,” The Air Force said Friday.
From 9News.com (Matt Renoux):
“This has been a meager October for snowfall we’re about 50 percent of average for snow,” said [Rick Bly].
In fact in his 120 years of records this October ranks as about the 18th driest which may not be a great sign for the season. Seventy percent of the time October reflects the snow season.
A dry October leads to a dry snow season while above average October moisture often means an above average snow season.
“Statistically over the years October is a good indicator of the amount of snow we will get for the season,” said Bly.
It’s big percentage but not set in stone. October of 2008 was dry but the following ski season ended well above average.
“Good 2008, 2009 season probably 25% above average,” said Bly.
From The Greeley Tribune (Burt Knight):
When Greeley’s new water rates take effect in early 2017, more than 80 percent of the city’s single-family residential accounts will likely see a drop in their monthly bills — thanks to a water budget rate structure that rewards efficient usage.
For three years now, Greeley Water and Sewer has included an informational water budget on customers’ statements, showing them how much they actually needed for their indoor and outdoor use. Based on family size, yard area, and real-time Greeley weather, each water budget is personalized; each is more than enough to provide for both indoor and outdoor needs.
While you’ll still be charged only for the water you use, you’ll pay the lowest rate when you stay within your water budget. It’s a completely personalized approach that, combined with a rate structure that starts lower than the current uniform rate, makes it the most equitable way to promote and reward water efficiency.
But the question on most customers’ minds is probably … Why?
It all comes down to planning, because as our population increases, so will our need for water. Greeley alone has grown threefold in the last 50 years, and all estimates point to that trend continuing — not only within our city limits, but also throughout northern Colorado. In fact, the Weld County and Fort Collins-Loveland metropolitan statistical areas ranked sixth and 10th in the nation for population growth in 2014 and 2015.
Because competition for water supplies increases along with this rapid growth — not to mention the fact that actually acquiring that water is getting more and more expensive — the ability to provide for the future has to begin with conservation.
That’s in part why Greeley Water and Sewer, under the leadership of the Greeley Water Board, developed a long-term and comprehensive Four Point Plan.
Designed to ensure that our community has a safe and reliable water supply for years to come, the plan focuses on improving conservation through audits, rebates, and education; strengthening infrastructure through regular maintenance, upgrades, and the addition of new capacity; continuing acquisition through buying water ahead of demand; and expanding storage to both protect against drought and to hold spring runoff for use in the summer.
The water budget program is an integral part of the Four Point Plan, just as it is a continuation of Greeley’s legacy of forward-thinking water stewardship.
But even if the region weren’t facing rapid population growth, the water budget program would still be the right thing to do. Securing safe and sufficient water supplies for future generations of Greeley residents, particularly in the face of uncertainties like drought and climate change, remains a major challenge. And ensuring that we’re as efficient as possible — while still having access to the water we need — is an important part of mitigating that challenge.
We all know that, as a limited natural resource, water should be used wisely. Greeley’s water budget program helps all of us do just that. By focusing on conservation and efficiency; by reducing unnecessary strain on the city’s water infrastructure, some components of which have been in use for 75 years or more; and by rewarding efficiency with the lowest rates, it’s good not only for our community and its future water supply, but also for you and your family.
To learn more about Greeley’s water budget program, visit http://www.EfficiencyRewarded.com.
— Burt Knight is the Director of the City of Greeley Water and Sewer Department.
From The High Country News (Matt Jenkins):
It’s been 30 years since Marc Reisner’s landmark history of Western water, Cadillac Desert, was first published. The book’s dire tone set the pattern for much subsequent water writing. Longtime Albuquerque Journal reporter John Fleck calls it the “narrative of crisis” — an apocalyptic storyline about the West perpetually teetering on the brink of running dry.
When the book’s second edition was released in 1993, on the heels of a particularly dry string of years in California, Reisner saw fit to characterize the drought as a “punishment meted out to an impudent culture by an indignant God.”
Thanks to books like Cadillac Desert, Fleck writes, “I grew up with the expectation of catastrophe.” Yet in his own reporting, Fleck, who recently became director of the University of New Mexico’s Water Resources Program, discovered a very different story.
“Far from the punishment of an indignant God,” he writes, “I found instead a remarkable adaptability.”
Fleck’s new book, Water is for Fighting Over … and Other Myths about Water in the West, chronicles the remarkable and often-overlooked adaptive capacity of the farmers and millions of urbanites who depend on the Colorado River. He highlights several irrigation districts and cities that have substantially reduced water use while enjoying higher farm incomes and supporting bigger populations, despite more than a decade and a half of serious drought.
The most fascinating parts of the book focus on river politics. One of Fleck’s great insights is that the Colorado is essentially a decentralized system where “no one has their hand on the tap.” The fundamental challenge is “problem solving in a river basin where water crosses borders, where it must be shared, but where no one is in charge.”
The book draws its title from the old saw — often misattributed to Mark Twain and endlessly reiterated — that whiskey is for drinking but water is for fighting over. This is the primary “myth” Fleck takes on. The ferocity of Colorado River politics has been likened to the Middle East conflict, but Fleck notes that over the last two decades, a surprising spirit of collaboration has arisen on the Colorado.
Rather than fighting, he writes, the river’s water bosses have crafted a series of agreements that have increased water-use flexibility and buffered some of the effects of extreme drought. The members of the “network,” as Fleck puts it, are able to do that because they have a deeply rooted distrust of the vagaries of court, and have “come to the shared conclusion that arguing over legal interpretation is the wrong path.”
Indeed, the network’s members haven’t taken each other to court since 1952. But in arguing that collaboration is the great untold story, Fleck overlooks one of the most fascinating aspects of the Colorado’s recent history: the aggressive brinkmanship that also drives its politics.
Far from being averse to fighting, some members of the network — most famously Pat Mulroy, the former head of the Southern Nevada Water Authority — have actively used the threat of litigation to force their counterparts to compromise and cooperate. That coercive pressure is the antagonistic yang to the cooperative yin. And therein lies the great paradox of the 21st century Colorado River: The credible threat of legal assault, artfully deployed, has provided the anvil against which many of these cooperative agreements have been hammered out.
In fact, it was just such a provocation that ultimately catalyzed the agreements that Fleck lauds. In 2004, as the drought worsened, some water managers began telegraphing meticulously coded threats to each other over disputed interpretations of critical parts of the law of the river. The network effectively stood at the brink of legal war.
Not long ago, John Entsminger, who worked as a lawyer for Mulroy at the time and is a prominent figure in Fleck’s story, told me: “It was unclear at that point whether we were going to negotiate, or whether we were headed toward the U.S. Supreme Court.”
It wasn’t a fight, but the plausible prospect of a fight, that forced water managers out of their entrenched positions to begin developing the series of agreements that, they hope, will keep us one step ahead of climate change and the still-deepening drought.
These days, the network’s members are loath to talk about this coercive element in river politics. That’s largely because after their acrimony in 2004 spilled into public, they made a pact to keep their differences out of the media. But in spite of the apparent outbreak of peace, the water bosses continue to prepare for the possibility of war.
The story that Fleck tells is a hopeful one, and a very important one. But it’s not quite the whole story. Two and a half years ago, Entsminger replaced Pat Mulroy as the head of the Southern Nevada Water Authority. Entsminger is far more conciliatory than Mulroy. Yet in a candid moment not long after he took charge, he acknowledged to me that, sometimes, water really is for fighting over. Those who think otherwise do so at their own peril.
“We don’t want to fight,” Entsminger said. “But if we fight, we want to win.”
John Fleck’s book is a great read, click on the cover graphic above and order a copy. You can subscribe to The High Country News here.
From The Longmont Times-Call (Karen Antonacci):
The Longmont City Council opted for the middle-of-the road option for funding Longmont’s portion of the Windy Gap Firming Project, despite survey responses of residents that indicated most favored an all-cash option.
The decision, along with the March decision to participate in the water storage project at 10,000 acre-feet, will likely mean water rate increases of 8 percent in both 2017 and 2018, above the 9 percent increases in both years that have already been approved.
The council had three funding options to choose from, while many residents in a survey commissioned for the city expressed doubt that Longmont needs the 10,000 acre-feet of water storage instead of the 6,000 that was originally proposed.
The money for the 6,000 acre-feet is already in the bank and the rate increases and debt come into play to pay for the additional 4,000 acre-feet of storage, Longmont general manager of public works and natural resources Dale Rademacher said Tuesday.
Rademacher said the city needed an extra $16 million to pay for the extra water storage. The council chose to raise $10 million of that cost in “cash” that will come from the rate increases. The remaining $6 million will be debt, which will need to be approved by the council but won’t need to go on a ballot like a larger amount of debt would require.
Some council members expressed surprise that of the 848 households who returned a random city survey on the issue, most favored an all-cash option. Survey data was weighted to more closely match Longmont demographic data. The survey has a 3 percent margin of error.
The all-cash option to raise the money would have raised rates 13 percent in 2017 and 12 percent in 2018 above the already-approved 9 percent increases in both years.
Most people who completed the scientific mail survey favored this all-cash option, with 46 percent of respondents saying they either “strongly support” or “somewhat support” it.
The city also released a web comment form where any resident — not just the ones who received the mailed survey — could tell the council about their preferences. While not scientific, most people online said they didn’t want any of the three options, but of the three, most supported a high-debt, low-rate increase option.
The third option would have required a vote of the people to issue $16.7 million in debt and mean water increases of 5 percent in both 2018 and 2019 above the already 9 percent increase.
Former Mayor Roger Lange spoke during the public-comment portion of the meeting, urging the council to keep water rates as low as they can by reducing the participation in the project back to the 6,000 acre-foot level and use debt.
“It’s surprising that option 1 — the all-cash option — appeared to be favored by the people who got the survey,” Lange said. “In the web response survey, option 1 got the least favorable comments and many said they want none of the options. So it seems these surveys are diametrically opposed.”
Former City Manager Gordon Pedrow also spoke and reiterated that he thought the city should have stayed with the 6,000 acre-feet participation level rather than the increased 10,000 acre-feet level.
“With that rash decision, you have forced upon your residents options along with these horrible rate increases,” Pedrow said. “When residents receive their bills and realize what you’ve done, it will result in a complete loss of trust in you elected officials.”
The Times-Call published a letter to the editor from Pedrow in September that touched on many of the same points, plus urged residents to recall any “draconian” water rate ordinance so it can be put to a general vote. Nine of the respondents in the web survey referenced the letter and said they don’t see the need for the extra 4,000 acre-feet of water storage.
The amount of participation in the Windy Gap decision was strange in that the Longmont water board recommended 10,000 acre-feet while city staff recommended 6,000 acre-feet. The higher participation level passed the council 5-2 with Councilwomen Polly Christensen and Joan Peck dissenting.
Water board Chair Todd Williams spoke during the public-comment portion of the meeting on Tuesday, defending the board’s March recommendation.
Windy Gap is a relatively low-cost option to add water to the collector system, plus is the project that is farthest along in the lengthy approval process, Williams said.
“By the time Windy Gap stores one drop of water, it will have been 20 years since the project started because of all the studies and permits associated with starting it. All other projects have much more uncertainty in terms of implementation, cost and timing,” Williams said.
Williams added that the variables determining how much water Longmont will need in the future are not set in stone. If other entities that Longmont trades water with walked away from the agreement, for example, Longmont would lose some sources of water, Williams said.
Mayor Dennis Coombs said if new information becomes available on whether Longmont needs 6,000 or 10,000 acre-feet of participation, he would like it presented to council. Christensen said she didn’t vote for the 10,000 acre-feet and she would be happy to return to the lower level, but none of the other council members seemed to support the idea.
Coombs said he noticed that people older than 55 years old wanted debt while younger people seemed to lean toward cash.
“My job is to do what I think most people in the city want and not favor one age group over another,” Coombs said. “Option 2 seems to thread the needle and satisfies the most people.”
From The Sterling Journal-Advocate (Jeff Rice):
A joint meeting of the South Platte Basin and Metro water roundtables Thursday served to generate much-needed optimism that projected water needs can be met by mid-century…
Most of the meeting time was taken up with updates on the six water projects that are under way in Colorado already, and an update on the South Platte Basin study that is supposed to identify even more water storage and conservation measures.
Joe Frank, manager of the Lower South Platte Water Conservancy District headquartered in Sterling, co-chaired the meeting. He opened with the information that a contractor for the South Platte Basin Study will be named on Friday. That study was mandated by the state legislature during its 2016 session and is scheduled to begin next month. It should take about a year to complete.
After the updates came comment from those attending, most of which were requests for clarification or details on the project updates. But there were also words of encouragement and recognition that attitudes have changed from the days of bitter water fights.
Marc Wagge, manager of water resources planning for Denver Water, told the group he’s encouraged by the fact that the metro and agricultural interests are not just talking to each other, but planning and developing projects to their mutual benefit.
“I want to stress again that the best thing that came out of the (statewide) water plan is this right here, the (South Platte) basin study and these two roundtables working together,” Wagge said. He referred to population growth projections for Colorado between now and 2050 and said, “We all recognize that 78 percent of that growth is going to happen right here (on the northern Front Range) and here we are, working together toward a common goal for that.”
Joe Frank echoed those words later, saying that success with the projects already identified and being actively worked on, called Identified Projects and Processes, or IPPs, gives hope that the water shortfall projected by 2050 can be eliminated.
“You saw tonight, that we already have IPP success rates of 88 percent for the metro projects and 65 percent for the lower South Platte,” Frank said. “If we can see that high a success rate with those IPPs, we can see some real progress.”
According to the Colorado Water Plan, by 2050 water demand in the South Platte River watershed, which includes everything north of the Palmer Divide and east of the Continental Divide, to the Nebraska state line, will outstrip supply by 300,000 acre feet per year, or almost 97 billion gallons a year. The existing IPPs could yield up to 98,000 acre feet, leaving more than 200,000 acre feet that has to be found somewhere in the basin.
Jim Yahn, manager of the North Sterling and Prewitt reservoirs, and a member of the Lower South Platte roundtable, said he, too, is encouraged by the cooperative attitudes expressed during the meeting.
“In the end, we’re a lot like-minded in the South Platte basin, as a group,” Yahn said.
But Yahn did sound a word of caution about water studies that seem to be “fast-tracked” on the Western Slope, possibly with the intent of showing that there’s no more water available.
“We have as big or bigger stake in those studies as anyone has,” Yahn said. “I want us to work together to find solutions that will benefit both sides.”
Denver Water and irrigators in the Thompson River and South Platte River valleys all depend heavily on water diverted from the snow-laden Western Slope to the arid Eastern Plains. The Colorado-Big Thompson system diverts up to 310,000 acre feet of water a year to cities and towns northeast of Denver while the Moffat/South Platte system diverts another 284,000 acre feet of water from the Western Slope to the Denver Metro area.
Don Ament, former Colorado Agriculture Commissioner and state senator, was in Loveland for other water-related meetings and sat in on the joint meeting for a time. He said later that Yahn’s concern is a valid one and that, for all of the optimism voiced at Thursday’s meeting, he’s still worried about future water supplies.
“If this (Colorado Water Plan) doesn’t come to fruition, ag water is still vulberable, and I’m worried about that,” Ament said. “When a project takes 13 years and we still don’t have a resolution, that worries me. I just think there’s a lot of risk out there.”
Still, he said there’s hope as long as disparate water users are talking amicably among each other.
“As a group, the lower South Platte and the metro area are working to find solutions together,” he said. “Now we’re talking to each other. And that’s a good thing.”
More coverage from Jeff Rice writing for the Sterling Journal-Advocate:
Most of the meeting time during the joint roundtable meeting in Loveland Thursday night was taken up with updates on the six water projects that are under way in Colorado already. Here is a rundown of those six projects, or IPPs:
• The NISP/Glade project — The Northern Integrated Supply Project is a proposed water storage and distribution project that will supply 15 Northern Front Range water partners with 40,000 acre-feet of new, reliable water supplies.
• Chimney Hollow Reservoir — A 360-foot high dam that will hold 90,000 acre feet to help supply the thirsty Thompson Valley urban area. The water will come from the Windy Gap Project, a diversion dam and pumping station completed in 1985 to provide extra irrigation and municipal water out of the Colorado River. The water originally was stored in Grand Lake, but when that is full, the water cannot be stored. Chimney Hollow, also known as the Windy Gap Firming Project, solves that problem.
• Halligan reservoir enlargements — Halligan Reservoir near Fort Collins is about 100 years old. Its capacity is about 6,400 acre feet of water and the City of Fort Collins wants to add 8,125 acre feet to the reservoir by raising its dam about 25 feet.
• Milton Seaman Reservoir enlargement — Greeley originally had wanted to expand Seaman Reservoir in conjunction with Halligan, but because of diverging goals Greeley withdrew from the joint project. The expansion of Seamon now is targeted for design in 2028 and construction by 2030.
• Gross Reservoir enlargement — Gross Reservoir is one of 11 reservoirs supplying water to the City of Denver and surrounding urban areas. It is on the city’s Moffat System, which diverts water from the Western Slope to the metro area. Denver Water has proposed raising the dam height by 131 feet, which will allow the capacity of the reservoir to increase by 77,000 acre feet.
• Chatfield Reallocation Plan — The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has determined that Chatfield Reservoir, built primarily for flood control after the 1965 South Platte River flood, can accommodate an additional 20,600 acre feet of water storage for water supply without compromising its flood control function. This additional storage space will be used by municipal and agricultural water providers to help meet the diverse needs of the state. No actual construction is required, but the legal, environmental, and engineering concerns of allowing the reservoir to hold more water all have to be satisfied.
From Aspen Journalism (Allen Best) via The Aspen Daily News:
Denver Water implements ‘Learning By Doing’ program in the high country
A decade ago, Kirk Klancke had hard, cold feelings about Denver Water. A stonemason for 35 years who moved to the Fraser Valley in 1971, he was passionate about the outdoors, particularly fly-fishing, and was outraged by depleted flows of the Fraser River and tributary creeks below a network of transmountain diversions.
Listening to Denver Water’s plans to step up diversions from these Colorado River tributaries, Klancke would seethe.
Today, Klancke almost gushes with compliments.
“Denver has been a treat to work with,” Klancke said one day in August at his home near Tabernash, located eight miles from the Winter Park ski area.
Denver Water still intends to divert more spring runoff. But what has won Klancke’s support is the utility’s commitment to an adaptive management program called Learning By Doing.
Part of the program includes about 30 people conferring weekly to address water issues in the upper Colorado River basin upstream from Kremmling, where up to 80 percent of the water may soon be diverted to the arid side of Colorado along the Front Range.
The conference call is modeled on a similar weekly call used to coordinate water deliveries, including from Ruedi Reservoir, to protect endangered fish in the Colorado River in the Grand Junction area.
During those calls, information is exchanged by water managers, and sufficient deliveries are usually ascertained. And decisions are made by consensus.
So far in the Learning By Doing effort, Denver Water has shown a willingness to juggle its diversions in response to conditions on the once-pristine streams in Grand County.
For example, in late July, Klancke noted warm water and dying fish in Ranch Creek, a tributary of the Fraser River. He told Denver Water about the low flows, but he didn’t really expect a response. To his surprise, utility officials offered to rejigger its diversions to make the flows in Ranch Creek last longer.
“It really helped Ranch Creek a lot,” says Klancke, the president of the Colorado River headwaters chapter of Trout Unlimited.
Learning By Doing is partly about manipulating diversions in the most environmentally friendly way possible, Klancke says. In the past, that wasn’t a concern “because they have just been operated like plumbing.”
The program is now gaining some notice in other headwater valleys, including the Roaring Fork, which is also substantially dewatered by transmountain diversions built in the 1930s and 1960s.
Pitkin County Commissioner Rachel Richards, who has focused for years on water issues, says Learning By Doing “clearly is a sound concept, modifying approaches based on science and data feedback. But we’re not sure we’ve seen enough actual implementation to judge whether it’s a valid tool.”
As you go
Learning By Doing is like a river trip without a precise itinerary. It acknowledges broad impacts to water-dependent ecosystems from Denver Water’s existing transmountain diversions and those of others. However, it doesn’t presume to know exactly how to lessen the impacts of existing diversions, let alone impacts of new ones.
The Moffat Firming project, which sparked the Learning by Doing effort, is being proposed by Denver Water. The nearby Windy Gap Firming project, on the main stem of the Colorado River below Granby, is a proposal from Northern Water. Both projects are part of Learning By Doing, although Northern is not a signatory to the underlying agreement for the program, the Colorado River Cooperative Agreement.
Both firming, or expansion, projects were conceived many years ago, but they were pushed forward after the 2002 drought. The drought crystalized Denver Water’s worries that it couldn’t supply enough water to its northern service area.
As such, Denver Water has proposed to divert more water from tributaries of the Colorado River and send it through its existing Moffat Tunnel system to an expanded Gross Reservoir, which is in the mountains southwest of Boulder.
The two big transmountain diversion systems in Grand County managed by Denver Water and Northern Water, plus several smaller ones, have annually removed an average of 67 percent of the water in the Colorado River below Windy Gap, according to the final environmental impact statement on the Windy Gap firming project.
The two proposed expanded diversions would bump that up to a combined 80 percent. By comparison, about 40 percent of water in the upper Roaring Fork and Fryingpan headwaters goes east, not west. That’s significant, but the upper Colorado River has been hit even harder.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the final decision-maker on both the expanded Moffat and Windy Gap diversions, now expects to issue decisions on the proposals in 2017.
The political landscape
The agreement that yielded Learning By Doing is grounded in political realities.
Denver Water needed Western Slope support to get more water. But to get it, the utility had to acknowledge a moral responsibility to address the impacts of existing diversions. That responsibility is now reflected in a legal agreement.
Denver Water initially submitted models about the effects of its proposed increased diversions. Trout Unlimited and other environmental groups were skeptical.
“A lot of water has been taken out of these rivers,” says Mely Whiting, an attorney for Trout Unlimited. “We were not convinced any model was going to be able to predict what would happen [with increased diversions] or what will happen with climate change.”
The message to Denver Water, she says, was “if you want more water, you have to fix problems we already have, and you have to make sure we don’t have more problems. That’s what we believe Learning By Doing is all about.”
Will the Colorado River actually end up being better off after the diversions?
“I think so,” Whiting says. “That’s the goal. That’s what we’re shooting for.”
But the upper Colorado River basin may never be as pristine as it once was.
“The goal is not to make it natural,” says Whiting. Instead, Learning By Doing aims to “make it better.”
Other environmental advocates reject this reasoning.
“Grand County got bad legal advice,” says Gary Wockner, executive director of Fort Collins-based Save the Colorado. “The river is already drained and depleted, and climate change is just going to make it worse. When you’re heading for a cliff in your car, the first thing to do is take your foot off the accelerator.”
Water conservation, Wockner contends, “is always cheaper, easier and faster than trying to build a massive new dam, as is buying and sharing water with farmers.”
Trout Unlimited sees things differently.
“We have said ‘yes, let’s conserve,’ and we do everything we can to really engage in pushing forward conservation,” Whiting said. “But we also need to figure out how to best protect the river with its projects moving forward.”
Might the parties that divert water from the Roaring Fork River watershed, which include Colorado Springs, Aurora and Pueblo, as well as irrigators in the Arkansas River Valley, ever feel a moral obligation to address the impacts of their diversions?
Chris Woodka, a former water reporter and the new issues management coordinator for the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District in Pueblo,
was at least willing to consider the question last week.
Southeastern manages the Fry-Ark project, which diverts water from Hunter Creek and a string of tributaries in the upper Fryingpan River basin.
“We’re probably not going to suggest anything that would take less water,” Woodka says. “But if we are asked to do something, we would certainly look at it. But our primary obligation is to bring supplemental water to the Arkansas basin.”
And an important factor for the Roaring Fork watershed to consider may be this: Learning By Doing is the result of a proposal to increase transmountain diversions and is not simply born of a desire to better manage the streams already depleted by them.
Denver Water, the Western Slope, and environmental groups have long had an adversarial relationship.
And when the utility initiated the federal review process in 2003 for expansion of its transmountain diversions through the Moffat Tunnel, Eric Kuhn, general manager of the Colorado River Water Conservation District in Glenwood Springs, sent a proposed “global settlement” to Denver Water.
Denver Water rejected the specific proposal, but not the idea and submitted a counter-proposal in what then became an extended negotiation.
Soon, headwaters counties — especially Grand, Summit, and Eagle — came to agree that there had to be a global agreement among the affected counties in response to Denver Water’s proposal. Mediated negotiations began in 2007 involving 43 parties, most of them located on the Western Slope.
A key figure representing Grand County in the process was Lurline Underbrink Curran, a county native who became a planner and then the Grand County manager, a position she recently stepped down from.
Working with Denver Water, Curran decided, could yield more benefits than a courtroom brawl. But developing trusting relationships took time.
Curran, known for being plain-spoken and direct, credits the directors that Gov. John Hickenlooper appointed to the Denver Water board when he was mayor of Denver. She said they were able to acknowledge an important truth.
They were “willing to step back and go, ‘Well, we have had a huge impact and if at all possible we need to improve the area that we take the water from,’” she said.
Denver Water, in turn, shared modeling studies with Grand County after securing a promise that the models wouldn’t be used against it legally.
‘A really big deal’
Grand County also commissioned its own expensive stream management plan that brought science to the argument.
Paul Daukas, environmental planning manager for Denver Water, was impressed by that plan.
“It givers them the science, so they can frame their needs and wants in a scientific way,” he said. “That plan became the foundation for Learning By Doing.”
Learning By Doing is included in the 2013 Colorado River Water Cooperative
Agreement, the result of the long negotiating process with Denver Water.
And Curran says Learning By Doing puts Grand County, with its multiple tasks, on par with Denver Water, an agency with a singular focus.
“That is a really big deal,” Curran says.
Denver Water and the Windy Gap sponsors aren’t legally required to participate in Learning By Doing until they get all their federal permits.
Nonetheless, in 2011, they joined the state, Grand County and other partners to begin to explore how to do more for rivers with less water.
Diminished flows distress the web of life found in rivers. Macroinvertebrates — bugs — live in the gaps between rocks in rivers. Reduced flow means less velocity, and sediments are not swept from between the rocks. Less room for bugs means fewer of them, and fewer bugs means fewer fish.
Klancke, the avid fly-fisherman, can point to reaches of river in Grand County where President Dwight Eisenhower snagged big trout during summer vacations in the 1950s.
But now he can also point to segments of the Fraser River where summer flows, depleted by diversions, are too shallow for the width of the channel, resulting in water dangerously warm for fish and the bugs they depend upon.
“They heat up in ways they never did before,” says Klancke of the tributaries in Grand County. “Seventy degrees is the limit trout can withstand.”
One recent response has been to narrow a section of the Fraser River’s channel for nine-tenths of a mile and add riffles and pools. The ongoing Fraser Flats project will cost $201,000, with various parties, including a private landowner, chipping in.
Denver Water’s portion of the Fraser Flats project is only $50,000, part of $2 million earmarked for aquatic habitat improvements under the Colorado River Cooperative Agreement. The agreement says that Denver Water will provide $11 million to Grand County in all.
That agreement also obligates the utility to bypass 1,000 acre-feet that it could divert. The water is to be used for environmental purposes in the Fraser Valley.
After the work is done at Fraser Flats next year, stream temperatures and other indicators will be monitored for several years.
The procedure, explains Denver Water’s Daukus, is to see what benefit has occurred, “so that when we go to the next project, we can see what has worked and what won’t work.”
But Wockner of Save the Colorado thinks Grand County settled for a “terrible deal.”
“The two dam and diversion projects would take over a billion dollars of water over to the Front Range,” he says, referring to the Moffat and Windy Gap firming projects.
“Grand County settled for about one percent of that in mitigation costs, which is a fleecing of money as well as water.”
As for the “channel enhancement” at Fraser Flats, he sees only a narrowed irrigation ditch.
“The Fraser and Colorado rivers need more water, not less,” Wockner says.
Still, proponents say Learning By Doing provides a model. They say it requires commitment by people to be stewards of rivers in their backyards. It requires mechanisms for addressing problems. It requires cooperation among diverse partners. And it requires compromise.
Denver Water’s most important change, says Klancke, may be a new focus. Instead of a singular focus on delivering water to customers it may now have a broader focus that includes maintaining the health of the basin of origin, he says.
“That’s the culture they’re changing,” he said. “I won’t say it’s successful until the scientists say it’s healthier than it used to be. But we’re headed in the right direction.”
Richards, of Pitkin County, is still not sure Learning By Doing has sufficient teeth to compel change.
“It will depend,” Richards said, “on whether what is learned actually ends up changing what the water diverters do.”
Editor’s note: Aspen Journalism and the Aspen Daily News are collaborating on coverage of rivers and water. More at http://www.aspenjournalism.org.
From Science Daily (Blaine Friedlander):
Scientists have begun to account for the topsy-turvy carbon cycle of the Colorado River delta – once a massive green estuary of grassland, marshes and cottonwood, now desiccated dead land.
“We’ve done a lot in the United States to alter water systems, to dam them. The river irrigates our crops and makes energy. What we really don’t understand is how our poor water management is affecting other natural systems – in this case, carbon cycling,” said Cornell’s Jansen Smith, a doctoral candidate in earth and atmospheric sciences.
Smith is lead author of “Fossil Clam Shells Reveal Unintended Carbon Cycling Consequences of Colorado River Management,” published in the journal Royal Society Open Science, Sept. 28.
The new research, in collaboration with the University of Arizona and the Cornell-affiliated Paleontological Research Institution, provides a novel approach that combines biological and paleo methods to understand how a nearly dead river delta presents evidence of vast amounts of carbon being added to the atmosphere.
Smith said the river’s tidal flats should teem with clams. But thanks to 15 dams on the main river and hundreds more on its tributaries, the 1,400-mile-long, once-mighty Colorado drips to a trickle before emptying into Mexico’s Gulf of California. Based on estimates of washed-up clamshells that lived hundreds of years ago and the number of clams alive today, the researchers calculated the change of the river delta’s annual carbon cycle.
“You used to step on clams with every step you took,” he said. “Now, you don’t.”
While their shells are a natural carbon sink, living clams belch carbon dioxide as they breathe. A thriving delta can emit the carbon equivalent of about 15,000 cars annually, but the Colorado River’s clams have died off, emitting less carbon dioxide. Said Smith: “It would be tempting to say, ‘Look at this positive effect,’ but it is not positive.”
Large western cities like Los Angeles, Phoenix, Tucson and Las Vegas draw the Colorado’s water, while the carbon cost of transporting that water to cities and farms far outweighs the humble clam’s own emissions.
For example, the Colorado River’s waters cool the coal-fired Navajo Generating Station in Page, Arizona, a 2,250-megawatt power plant that supplies energy to California, Arizona and Nevada. The coal-fired electricity station emits the equivalent of 4.5 million cars annually – one of the largest carbon dioxide emitters in the United States.
Beyond the power plants, water is pumped from the river to places like Las Vegas to feed lavish water fountains or Arizona to water golf courses.
“The reduced carbon emissions at the delta – resulting from diverted flow, conveying water to Southwestern cities – are vastly outweighed by the carbon emissions to divert that flow,” said Smith. “We’ve supplanted a small, natural carbon emitter – the clam – with something far more detrimental to the atmosphere.”
The study’s authors include Daniel Auerbach, Office of Wetlands Protection and Restoration, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency; Alexander Flecker, professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at Cornell; Karl W. Flessa, professor of geosciences, University of Arizona; and Gregory Dietl, Cornell adjunct assistant professor of earth and atmospheric sciences, and the Paleontological Research Institution, Ithaca. Cornell’s College of Engineering funded Smith.
On Thursday Brad Udall briefed attendees about the current state of the earth’s warming climate. The planet is warming and that is causing the increase in uncertainty about water supplies. The bottom line, regarding humanity’s most important resource, water, is — stationarity (the past predicts the future) is dead.
He mentioned that in December he will be attending a meeting in California with 25,000 other scientists. He said, “I don’t know one scientist that thinks Climate Change is a hoax.”.
Of course there will still be variability in climate, and of course we had floods and droughts in recorded and paleo-history, but, the physics illustrated above is sound and policy should take it into account.
Udall detailed some of the extreme climate events that happened just this year. The April Texas and August Louisiana floods:
Temperatures above normal, May 4, 2016:
The California snowpack in 2014-2015. Despite a decent amount of precipitation the nighttime low temperatures were not cold enough to store the snow for spring. (California got through there drought, so far, by drawing on the Colorado River and pumping more groundwater):
Udall then explained the ramifications of large-scale ice loss in Antarctica. Sea level rise puts millions around the world at risk and will have devastating effects on the coastal economies around the world:
Brad explained the recently published work from Science Magazine predicting mega-droughts in the Southwestern U.S. and what that might mean for the economy and environment. Most of the water suppliers in Colorado depend on Mountain snowpack and healthy forests to store that snowpack for the runoff season. We need to be planning now for earlier runoff to ensure supplies. Most Coloradans depend on it for municipal, agricultural, and industrial supplies. Healthy watersheds have to be a priority:
Brad’s message was not all gloom and doom. “How do we solve climate change?” he asked, rhetorically. “Electrify everything,” he answered, along with, “We need more enforcement of the Clean Air Act.”
Renewable energy is already replacing fossil fuels for electrical generation due to cost savings and EPA regulation:
Renewable energy is cheaper that fossil fuels despite the fact that the fossil fuel companies pay no cost for their air pollution:
There is no “Planet B” and economics and research, along with the amazing amount of energy bestowed on the planet by the Sun, can replace fossil fuels for electric generation if the governments will just exhibit the political will.
The next focus needs to be on the transportation sector since it has now overtaken the electrical generation sector as the biggest emitter of CO2:
And, there is good news there:
Udall told everyone that if they drove their vehicle to the meeting that each one of us release, “around a 100 pounds of carbon,” into the atmosphere. It is only because the atmosphere is so massive in scale that those emissions do not cause a measurable rise in atmospheric GHGs.
Here is the path to renewables:
And the world’s political will seems to be shifting in a positive direction. Last December virtually every country on Earth signed on the Paris climate agreement:
President Obama’s “Clean Power Plan” is crucial if the U.S. is to keep its commitment:
“We have the technology to solve this problem but enormous forces are aligned against us,” he said.
Statement by Ryan Cooper (The Week):
After Udall’s presentation forum speakers focused on Colorado and Climate Change.
Keith Paustian (CSU) focused on agricultural GHG emissions:
Laurna Kaatz (Denver Water) talked about Denver Water’s research on Climate Change and the utility’s new commitment to reduce their impact, “Something very new — we are adding mitigation to the conversation — we don’t want to add to the problem,” she said.
Her presentation detailed Denver Water’s plans in light of the 5 stages of Climate Change grief:
And Denver Water’s lessons learned:
Julie Traylor (Wright Water Engineers) closed out the Climate Change session with information about what is known about the current and future effects of warming on Colorado:
Projected seasonal warming 2035-2064:
Just in case you’re thinking the the South Platte Forum was just about Climate Change this year I’ll go back to other topics presented.
Groundwater, ASR, and quality were at the forefront on Wednesday morning.
Rhett Everett (USGS) detailed a study of declining levels in the Denver Basin Aquifer from which Douglas County uses 184 MGAL a day from some 9, 150 domestic wells. They’ve determined that water levels are not declining in all wells.
Rick McCloud talked about Centennial Water and Sanitation’s efforts at aquifer storage and recovery with junior surface water rights from the South Platte River watershed. They inject water treated to drinking water standards (minus disinfection chemicals) as a hedge against drought and to reduce operating costs from pumping in times of need.
According to Bob Peters, Denver Water has embarked on a project to evaluate the Denver Basin under the city for ASR.
John Stulp (Govenor Hickenlooper’s Office) spoke about the implementation of HB12-1278 (South Platte groundwater study). He said that the funding for the bill improved the groundwater monitoring system and proved up the concept of de-watering areas of high groundwater near La Salle.
Acid mine drainage is a top water quality problem for Colorado. “You’re never going to be able to stop acid mine drainage”…it will take…”continual cleanup that will never go away,” according to Bob Runkel (USGS):
In addition, Superfund was not designed for mining cleanups, according to Runkel.
Mining cleanup is a focus of the Clear Creek Watershed Foundation according to Dave Holm. He took attendees on a tour of the efforts in the North Empire Creek watershed.
Mining cleanups have been a focus of the Coalition for Upper South Platte since 2009 according to Carol Ekarius. Challenges include mixed ownership of the land (federal and private) and the unsuitability of some areas due to high natural background mineralization in some areas making them unsuitable for mitigation.
The floods of September 2013 opened up an opportunity to build fish friendly structures on the the affected rivers, according to Boyd Wright (Colorado Parks and Wildlife). Folks stepped back to see if they could improve the habitat along with the rebuilding effort. Of course the timing and availability of funding was a primary impediment:
The flood recovery efforts focused efforts on stream resiliency, according to Chris Sturm (CWCB):
There was a lot more presented at the forum. The organizers provided ample time for networking between attendees and presenters. If you missed it make sure to attend next year. I think it would be great to see more attendees from the other Colorado basins to get details about the challenges and successes the South Platte Basin.
The forum concluded with a presentation about the history of Colorado Water law from Greg Hobbs. He talked about the foresight of folks in the basin and how they developed the “Colorado Doctrine” which continues to evolve and how they set the groundwork for the most active water market in the U.S.
Here’s the link to the Twitter posts about the forum.
From The Durango Herald (Jonathan Romeo):
“This is the first time in recorded history of a report of fish existing in the headwaters of Mineral Creek,” said Bill Simon, a retired coordinator of the Animas River Stakeholders Group. “We are a bit surprised by the great results so soon after remediation.”
Over the past few weeks, U.S. Geological Survey crews were out in the streams and tributaries within the Animas River watershed around Silverton collecting fish for the Environmental Protection Agency.
Andrew Todd, research biologist with USGS, said about five rainbow trout and five brook trout were collected from select stretches of the creek, and will be used for the EPA’s “ecological and human health risk assessment,” as the agency seeks to better understand the region in its Superfund efforts.
“We’re also looking at what’s likely fish habitat, and what’s not,” Todd said. “It’s about setting realistic expectations for what could be gained in the Superfund process, from a perspective of trout habitat in the headwater reaches.”
Upstream of Burro Bridge – which crosses Mineral Creek going up to Ophir Pass – USGS crews found brook trout in multiple age classes in a stretch not known to support fish populations.
“Brook are not stocked, so those fish are there on their own volition,” Todd said.
Peter Butler, a coordinator of the Animas River Stakeholders Group, said when the group started addressing the negative impacts of mining around Silverton more than 20 years ago, Mineral Creek was devoid of aquatic life.
Since that time, he said 12 mine remediation projects affecting upper Mineral Creek have been completed: eight by ARSG, two by Sunnyside Gold Corp., which also provided funding for one other project, and one by the Forest Service.
“We knew that water quality in the upper part of Mineral Creek had dramatically improved, but we didn’t expect it to support trout,” Butler said. “We’re thrilled with the result. This may be the first time in one hundred years that fish have been seen in this stretch.”
Butler and Simon speculated the trout came from Mill Creek and its headwaters at Columbine Lake, which is upstream of the Burro Bridge and has good water quality. Because the fish spanned various ages, the men said it’s likely the population is resident to Mineral Creek.
Mineral Creek has been a success story. Since remediation began, there’s been a 70 percent reduction in zinc and copper, and a 50 percent reduction in cadmium. Because of natural circumstances, Butler said, there hasn’t been a reduction in levels of iron and aluminum.
The EPA has listed seven mining-related sites within the Mineral Creek drainage basin out of its total 48 sites that make up the Bonita Peak Mining District Superfund listing.
During the summer, the agency embarked on an “early action” task at a Brooklyn Mine pipeline that reduced the discharge of 15 gallons a minute of acid mine drainage to 1 gallon a minute.
Rebecca Thomas, project manager for the Superfund site, said over the winter the agency will identify other early actions it can take, as well as draft an overall plan for each source of pollution in the basin.
All in all, the summer was filled with good news for trout in the Animas: The state health department found no bioaccumulation in fish tissue after last year’s Gold King Mine spill; Colorado Parks and Wildlife found encouraging signs in fish populations around Durango; and anglers around the area noted the better-than-usual fishing year.
The USGS also found brook trout for the first time in a short stretch of the upper Animas River between Denver Lake and Burrows Gulch, below the Lucky Jack mine, which the ARSG remediated about 10 years ago.
However, there’s much room for improvement, officials agree, as fish populations are impaired below the Burro Bridge, and on a large stretch of the Animas River below Silverton to above Bakers Bridge, among other areas.
As the EPA increases its focus on the basin, it’s likely researchers as well as the public will learn much more about the Animas River.
“Understanding is the point of this exercise,” Todd said. “By exploring and understanding, we can get a sense of where we might head.”
Here’s the release from the US Bureau of Reclamation (Lesley McWhirter):
The Bureau of Reclamation has released the final Finding of No Significant Impact and Environmental Assessment evaluating if Reclamation will provide partial funding to the North Fork Water Conservancy District to make repairs to the Paonia Dam intake structure and bulkhead, part of the Paonia Project located near Paonia, Colo. Repairs are expected to begin in September 2017.
During construction, work crews and an excavator will be operating at the dam. Crews will dismantle the damaged upper concrete bulkhead of the intake structure and replace it with a modified aluminum trash rack and support members. These repairs are necessary to help ensure continuation of normal dam operations and water delivery to downstream users.
Prior to repairing the intake structure, increased turbidity downstream of the dam will be noticeable due to normal reservoir operations and drawdown. Turbidity will temporarily increase in Muddy Creek and the North Fork of the Gunnison River downstream of Paonia Dam, and sediment deposition will occur primarily in Muddy Creek from the dam to the confluence of Anthracite Creek until high flows begin the following spring.
The final Finding of No Significant Impact and Environmental Assessment are available online at http://www.usbr.gov/uc/wcao/progact/paonia/documents.html
To learn more about the Paonia Project, upcoming repair work or sedimentation issues in the reservoir, visit our website at: http://www.usbr.gov/uc/wca/progact/paonia/index.html. You can also join our email list for project updates by clicking the “Contact Us” link.
From KRCC (Maeve Conran):
It’s been almost a century since the Colorado River Compact was created, divvying up the resources of this mighty waterway between seven states and Mexico. That means almost 40 million people are dependent on the river in some way. Traditionally, the economic value of the river was based on what the water could be used for when extracted—things like agriculture, mining, and industry. Now, more people are pointing to the economic value of keeping water in the river itself.
The Fraser River in Grand County is a tributary of the Colorado River, which starts in Rocky Mountain National Park. It runs through the heart of the town of Fraser and neighboring Winter Park. These towns attract skiers in winter and fly fishers and outdoor enthusiasts the rest of the year.
“The recreation is all based around the river… it’s the absolute base of the recreational system,” says Dennis Saffell, a real estate broker in the mountain communities of Grand and Summit Counties. Saffell says there’s a direct connection to property values and proximity to the river…
Saffell says a loss of flow in the river would likely decrease the values for all properties in these mountain communities that are dependant on the river for a tourism economy.
That’s something that others in western slope communities are well aware of, including Jim Pokrandt with the Colorado River District, the principal water policy and planning agency for the Colorado River Basin within the state.
“We understand that water left in the river is important to the economy,” says Pokdradt, “and if we have dried up rivers then we’d have degradation to our western slope economy.”
Pokrandt says the fortunes of many western slope towns hinge on understanding that the strength of local economies is beginning to shift from taking water out of the river to leaving it in.
“Rafting, that’s a big deal, skiing that’s a big deal now, hunting, fishing… this is our economy here on the west slope,” says Pokrandt. “Yes, ag is still big, and yes there’s still some mining, but our new economy is based on water in the rivers in western Colorado.”
Historically, most Colorado water rights have involved uses that divert water from the streams, but back in the early 1970s lawmakers began to recognize the need to create rights allowing water to remain in the river, to help protect ecology. But that was just a first step. Now 43 years later, a lot of water is still being taken out of the Colorado River basin and diverted to the east. There are 13 major trans mountain diversions and many other smaller ones.
It’s a concern for advocates like Craig Mackey, co-director of the non-profit Protect the Flows.
“In the 21st century we have an economic reason to have the river itself, the recreation economy, the tourism economy and I think the hardest one to quantify is a quality of life economy,” says Mackey.
Protect the Flows advocates for conservation of the Colorado River Basin, pointing to the connection between a healthy river and healthy economies.
“People want to live here, they want to locate here, they want to grow businesses here, they want to raise their families here,” says Mackey. “And water and our snow in our mountains, which becomes the water in our rivers, is a huge driver in that quality of life economy that we’re so lucky to have here in the state of Colorado.”
Protect the Flows worked with Arizona State University in 2014 on the first study on the economic impact of the Colorado River. It found that the major waterway generates $1.4 trillion in economic benefits annually throughout the entire seven state river basin. In Colorado, the tourism and outdoor recreation economy tied to the river brings in more than $9 billion annually.
The Colorado Water Plan acknowledges the need to keep water in streams, but it also acknowledges the water needs of growing cities.
Realtor Dennis Seffell says even more needs to be done.
“Now it’s time to take a new fresh look as to why it’s important to keep rivers full of water,” Saffell says.
A prolonged drought in the south west, paired with over allocation, has left the Colorado River in a sorry state. Front Range communities, largely dependent on that western water, are having some success with conservation. But with an additional 2 million people expected to move to the Denver metro area over the next 25 years, demand will only increase.
Connecting the Drops is a collaboration between Rocky Mountain Community Radio stations and the Colorado Foundation for Water Education, with support from CoBank.
From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Tom Roeder):
Drilling has begun on a test well near Peterson Air Force Base to assess how military firefighters contributed to water contamination south of Colorado Springs, and an investigation into a recent, massive release of water tainted with toxic firefighting foam at the base remains ongoing.
The first of 18 test wells was being drilled Thursday near the Colorado Springs Airport terminal close to a runway on the south side of the base. The Air Force said soil samples will be checked for perfluorinated compounds contained in the firefighting foam and groundwater contamination will be monitored…
[The Colorado Department of Health and Environment] said it was waiting for the conclusion of the Air Force’s investigation into the discharge to determine impacts.
The Air Force is in the process of installing $4.3 million worth of filters to scrub the chemical from the aquifer’s water with charcoal. The service has also paid nearly $900,000 for a Colorado School of Mines study into more efficient ways to remove the chemical from drinking water.
“The Air Force is still determining the ideal site for conducting the demonstration test,” the school said in a news release. “Due to the benefits of proximity, Mines researchers hope the chosen site will be in Colorado.”
Click here to go to the US Drought Monitor website. Here’s an excerpt:
This U.S. Drought Monitor week saw deterioration in drought conditions across the South and Southeast in an area extending from South Carolina westward to eastern Texas and northward into Tennessee. In the Southeast, a persistent dry weather pattern during the past 60 days continues to negatively impact the agricultural sector as well as hydrologic and soil moisture conditions across much of the region. Elsewhere, significant rainfall accumulations (two-to-six inches) were observed in the Northeast during the past week helping to improve drought-affected areas of western New York, Connecticut, Maine, and Rhode Island. In eastern Ohio, western Pennsylvania, and West Virginia, locally heavy rainfall accumulations led to improvements on the map. Out West, one-to-five inches of precipitation fell in western portions of Oregon and Washington. Recent storm events in the Pacific Northwest during the past 30 days led to improvements on the map in drought-affected areas in Oregon and Washington…
Across the Plains, short-term precipitation deficits during the past 30–60 days led to expansion of areas of Abnormally Dry (D0) and Moderate Drought (D1) in the Oklahoma Panhandle and South Dakota. In South Dakota, some agricultural and wildfire-related impacts are being reported. In northeastern Colorado, short-term precipitation deficits during the past 30 days led to expansion of Abnormally Dry (D0). Overall, the region was very dry during the past week with average temperatures ranging from two-to-eight degrees above normal…
During the past week, most of the West was very dry with the exception of portions of northern California, western Oregon, western Washington, and the northern Rockies. The heaviest precipitation accumulations were observed in coastal areas and the Cascades of Washington where two-to-five inches were observed. According to the Natural Resource Conservation Service SNOTEL network, Water-Year-to-Date (beginning Oct 1st) precipitation is above normal across the central and northern Sierra, Cascades, and most of the northern Rockies. Also, SNOTEL observations show below normal precipitation across much of the Intermountain West, central and southern Rockies, and the mountains of northern and central Arizona. On this week’s map, improvements were made in south-central, central, and northeastern Oregon as well as in southeastern Washington in response to precipitation events during the past 30 days. In north-central Colorado, mounting precipitation deficits during the past four months led to expansion of an area of Moderate Drought (D1)…
The NWS WPC 7-Day Quantitative Precipitation Forecast (QPF) calls for significant precipitation accumulations in northern California (two-to-ten inches) and western portions of Oregon and Washington (two-to-six inches). One-to-two inches of precipitation are forecasted for northern portions of the Midwest, while one-to-four inches are forecasted for the Northeast. Conversely, most of the southern tier of the conterminous U.S. will be dry. The CPC 6–10 day outlooks call for a high probability of above-normal temperatures across the entire conterminous U.S., with the exception of California and western Nevada where there is a high probably of below-normal temperatures. Below-normal precipitation is forecasted for the eastern third of the U.S. as well as the South and Desert Southwest. A high probability of above-normal precipitation is expected across the remainder of the West, Plains, and the western half of the Midwest.
Here’s the latest statewide snowpack map:
Here’s the release from the US Bureau of Reclamation (Marlon Duke):
The Bureau of Reclamation will increase water releases from Glen Canyon Dam beginning on Monday, November 7, 2016 to support a high flow experiment (HFE) in partnership with the National Park Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and U.S. Geological Survey. This high flow experiment will include a peak magnitude release of approximately 36,000 cubic feet per second (cfs) for 96 hours to move accumulated sediment downstream to help rebuild beaches and backwater habitats. The decision to conduct this HFE was made following substantial consultation with Colorado River Basin states, American Indian tribes and involved federal and state agencies.
Reclamation and National Park Service officials remind recreational users to use caution along the Colorado River through Glen and Grand Canyons during the entire week of November 7. Flow level information will be posted at multiple locations in both Glen Canyon National Recreation Area and Grand Canyon National Park. Note that it will take several hours following the beginning and end of the HFE for high flow waters to reach and then recede at downstream locations in the canyons.
High flow experiments benefit the Colorado River ecosystem through Glen and Grand Canyons by moving sand in the river channel and re-depositing it in downstream reaches as sandbars and beaches. Those sandbars provide habitat for wildlife, serve as camping beaches for recreationists and supply sand needed to protect archaeological sites. High flows may also create backwater areas used by young native fishes, particularly the endangered humpback chub.
The HFE will not change the total annual amount of water released from Lake Powell to Lake Mead. Releases later in the water year will be adjusted to compensate for the high volume released during this high flow experiment.
Members of the media who wish to view the high flow experiment should contact Marlon Duke at 385-228-4845 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Additional information about this high flow experiment will be posted and updated online at: http://www.usbr.gov/uc/rm/gcdHFE/index.html.
From The Cortez Journal (Jim Mimiaga):
The call was initiated to satisfy in-stream flow rights below McPhee Dam of 78 cubic feet per second, but local water managers say the water will never get there.
In-stream flow rights are administered by the water board to preserve the natural environment in state rivers to a reasonable degree. They are a priority water right senior to some, but junior to others.
A call is made to maintain a water right’s priority in the Colorado system of prior appropriation, commonly referred to as “first in line, first in right.”
Because of the call initiated this month, a man-made ditch diverting water from Little Fish creek and Clear creek to Groundhog was shut off, allowing the creeks to flow naturally into the Dolores River via the West Fork.
Marty Robbins, District 32 water commissioner for the Department of Natural Resources, said the call caused water administrators to enforce Groundhog’s one-time fill system that legally allows the reservoir to only fill from Nov. 1 to May 1. Groundhog Reservoir, owned by the Montezuma Valley Irrigation Co., typically diverts the streams into the reservoir year-round.
“Just because it has been done before, does not mean it can when there is a call,” Robbins said. “These calls may happen more regularly.”
On Nov. 1, the reservoir will go back on priority for filling, and the diversion ditch will be reopened, officials said.
The administrative call sends the creek water into the upper Dolores River and McPhee Reservoir, managed by the Dolores Water Conservancy District.
But Dolores Water Conservation District general manager Mike Preston says the extra water will stay in the reservoir and not flow through the dam to the lower Dolores River.
“McPhee’s water rights are senior to that in-stream flow right, and we have a storage right that allows for refill,” he said.
The in-stream flow water right on the Lower Dolores River is intended to preserve habitat for native fish, including the round-tail chub, bluehead sucker, and flannelmouth sucker. Federal and state biologists have reported that an increase in flows below the dam is needed to improve native fish habitat.
But the unexpected call by the state for delivery of in-stream water rights had an unintended consequence of threatening trout elsewhere, said Montezuma County Commissioner Larry Don Suckla.
The diversion ditch from Clear Creek to Groundhog Reservoir supports trout population, he said, but they became doomed when the water was cut off.
“Explain to me how water can be diverted for native fish, but is allowed to hurt trout?” he said.
Brandon Johnson, manager for the Montezuma Valley Irrigation Co., said the Colorado Water Conservation Board’s administrative “call presents issues at Groundhog we were not anticipating.”
The Colorado Water Conservation Board also made administrative calls for in-stream flows rights on other rivers in the state to establish that the rights exist and to reveal if any water users are out of priority, officials said. The calls were made after irrigation season so they would be the least disruptive.
The additional water flowing into McPhee as a result of the call will be divided among allocation holders in 2017, Dolores Water Conservation District officials said.
From 9News.com (Next with Kyle Clark):
There’s another orange, rusty flow of water coming from our Colorado mountains, this one on the North Fork of Clear Creek near Black Hawk.
A viewer sent Next a question about this, asking what was going on.
We found out that environmentalists know about it, and have known for a few years.
It happens when rocks, which have been buried for years in Colorado’s mines, reach ground water. These rocks have likely never been exposed to oxygen because of that. Once rocks touch groundwater, iron is oxidized and acid is formed. The oxidized iron turns the water orange, but the acid is the concern. Acid dissolves necessary metals in the water, and can kill off wildlife in a stream.
The substance dilutes once reaching the main stem of Clear Creek, but there is not currently wildlife living in that fork.
The water treatment plant being built will take care of all that by treating the water with lyme, which will neutralize the acid in the water. The plant opens in January.
The good news is we won’t have a repeat of the Animas River incident from 2015.
“The two point sources that are contributing to this right now have been open and they are just openly leaking into the stream continuously, and so there’s not that build up like we saw with the Animas River,” said Elizabeth Traudt, from the Colorado School of Mines. “Instead, since these have been continuously leaking, that’s why this stretch of the stream has been continuously orange and continuously contaminated.”
That’s right. The water has been orange for a while.
From the Colorado Springs Independent (Pam Zubeck):
Springs Utilities told LawnStarter that one reason rates are higher in Colorado Springs stems from the fact the city is not located on any major waterway, meaning the city has to import water from elsewhere. That includes a transmountain pipeline, and those don’t come cheap. The other is a 50-mile pipeline from Pueblo Reservoir, recently completed.
Here’s a listing provided in the blog of highest to lowest rates in Colorado:
Colorado Springs Utilities: $469.73
City of Aurora: $460.92
City of Greeley: $376.80
City of Fort Collins: $347.76
City and County of Broomfield: $292.20
City of Aspen: $285.00
City of Boulder: $277.20
City of Westminster: $270.24
City of Arvada: $246.78
Denver Water: $245.88
City of Thornton: $242.04
Board of Water Works of Pueblo: $220.80
Centennial Water District: $183.00
Water rates here will take another leap if a rate increase is approved next month by City Council.
I’ll be at the South Platte Forum Annual Meeting for a couple of days. Follow my live-Tweets @CoyoteGulch.
Click here to check out the agenda.
From The Telluride Daily Planet (Justin Criado):
The 2017 General Fund budget is approximately $200,000 more than the current year’s amended budget, with the biggest difference being indirect project costs.
Areas of focus next year will be water and wastewater projects as the city continues to replace outdated water lines, update treatment plant technology, and develop better ways to store and treat water and wastewater.
Water and wastewater projects are covered through separate enterprise funds, which use taxes and service fees to raise capital.
“People don’t want to talk about pipes. It’s just not sexy,” Town Manager Greg Clifton said of the current pipe-replacement project. “But when water doesn’t come out of the faucet, our phones will ring.
“There’s so much work behind the scenes just to make sure water comes out of the faucet.”
For 2017, projected Water Fund revenues are $2.6 million, while projected expenditures are $3.5 million.
The town currently is replacing a 60-year-old pipe along East Colorado Avenue as part of a comprehensive project to revamp the infrastructure.
Plans to replace more pipes around town and the Bridal Veil Basin are in the works for next year, including repairs to pipes that carry water through the Lewis and Blue lakes areas.
“We’re chipping away on these things,” Clifton said. “(Colorado Avenue) was our worst pipe.”
Efforts to improve the water system have been ongoing for some time now, Clifton explained, including construction of the Pandora Water Treatment Plant in 2014.
The Mill Creek Water Treatment Plant is in need of equipment and holding tank updates, which are projected to be $278,500, according to city officials.
A new computer-monitored control panel will be installed to help regulate the lines, and one of the two holding tanks will be relined.
Telluride Public Works Director Paul Ruud explained that water lines need almost constant maintenance.
“I think we’re doing pretty good in that regard, but we do have some differed maintenance,” Ruud said.
Karen Guglielmone, environmental and engineering division manager for the town, explained during a recent budget workshop session that replacing pipes and fixing leaks in the Bridal Veil Basin and surrounding areas is difficult given the potentially treacherous location.
“It’s a hodgepodge of various pipe types. Much of it still has to be replaced,” Guglielmone said. “It’s very dangerous to get up there during avalanche season.”
The projected Wastewater Fund revenues for 2017 are just under $2.3 million, while projected expenditures are $2.8 million.
Treatments to remove chemicals from wastewater will be an area of focus in an effort to comply with new state regulations regarding wastewater care, Clifton said.
From The Albuquerque Journal (Ollie Reed Jr.):
“Too many local families are losing money because they lost their crops,” San Juan County Commissioner Margaret McDaniel said. “They are afraid to water their crops. There are some wells along here people are afraid to drink from.”
Kirtland Mayor Mark Duncan said some farmers could not sell hay they had raised because potential buyers feared it might have been poisoned by mine-spill contaminated water used to irrigate the crop.
New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas presided over the news conference, which also included other state officials and elected municipal and county officials in northwest New Mexico. The Journal took part via conference phone call.
Balderas said the state is committed to a long-standing litigation strategy ensuring that the people of New Mexico are fully compensated for the mine spill that dumped 3 million gallons of water laced with heavy metals, including lead and arsenic, into a Colorado creek on Aug. 5, 2015. That creek flowed into the Animas River, which took the tainted water into New Mexico and into the San Juan River near Farmington and through the Navajo Nation.
From 9News.com (Matt Renoux):
Powderheads might be grabbing their skis and snowboards with the opening of Arapahoe Basin, but warm weather in the mountains is helping to keep the summer sports going a little longer.
Saturday is the second day of A-Basin’s winter season, even though it feels a lot more like spring with weekend temperatures in the 60s.
It’s so warm on Lake Dillon that Joanne Stolen with the Frisco Rowing Club says their season is still afloat.
Normally by this time of year they have put their shells up for the season, but warm weather has kept rowers on the water longer and even in short sleeve shirts.
“I work for the Nordic Center — they were trying to make snow and it’s been too warm but its beautiful rowing weather,” Stolen said.
From The Durango Herald:
Sunnyside Gold Corp. filed a motion last week to be dismissed from its inclusion in a lawsuit brought by the Navajo Nation for the August 2015 Gold King Mine spill.
“We are hopeful that the case against Sunnyside will be promptly dismissed, as we see no basis for us even being named in this litigation,” spokesman Larry Perino wrote in an email to The Durango Herald.
In August, the Navajo Nation filed a lawsuit that included Sunnyside, the Environmental Protection Agency and its contractor, Environmental Restoration LLC, for the mine spill, which sent 3 million gallons of wastewater down the Animas and San Juan rivers.
The lawsuit also named Kinross Gold Corp. (Sunnyside’s parent company), Gold King Mine Corp. (the entity that owns the Gold King mine) as well as Harrison Western Corp., and John Does 1 to 10.
The reasons Sunnyside asked the U.S. Federal Court in New Mexico to dismiss its inclusion are manifold: the company was not involved on the work last summer, the New Mexico court lacks jurisdiction and the bulkheading of the American Tunnel was done at the direction of the state of Colorado.
Sunnyside argued that for those reasons, the state Colorado should have been also named in the lawsuit.
“In essence, the point of Navajo Nation’s lawsuit is to hold Sunnyside liable for following the directives of Colorado and for intending to store water in Colorado,” the motion says. “The fact that an accident at the Gold King Mine – of which Sunnyside had no part – carried water into New Mexico is irrelevant for a personal jurisdiction analysis.”
In July, Sunnyside filed a similar motion to dismiss concerning the state of New Mexico’s lawsuit for impacts to that state regarding the spill.
Questions have been raised whether the bulkheading of Sunnyside’s American Tunnel has caused mine waste to back up and discharge out adjacent mines, namely the Gold King and Red & Bonita.
The EPA has said it will conduct further evaluations this summer to better understand the network of mines in the complicated drainage.
The Navajo Nation has 60-days to respond to the motion to dismiss, though it has asked the courts for an extension of that deadline.
From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Tom Roeder and Jakob Rodgers):
Local, state and federal politicians Monday called for accountability and more investigation into the military’s use of firefighting foam after a Gazette investigation showed the Air Force ignored decades of warnings from its scientists about a toxic chemical in the foam. The chemical is suspected in widespread water contamination.
The investigation, published Sunday, found that the Air Force ran a series of tests dating back to the 1970s that found the foam harmed laboratory animals. The service also ignored warnings from the Army Corps of Engineers and continued to use it for 16 years after a major manufacturer and the EPA agreed to phase it out, citing environmental and health dangers.
“That’s the definition of negligence,” said Colorado Springs Democratic state Rep. Pete Lee, whose district spans Fountain Creek…
“We cannot be in a situation where we are allowing this to continue,” said Fountain Republican state Rep. Lois Landgraf, whose district also spans Fountain Creek…
What accountability could look like is up in the air.
Landgraf said she wants a state inquiry and may call for a hearing at the General Assembly.
“We need to be looking out for our citizens,” Landgraf said. “That’s the No. 1 priority.”
Lee said he wants the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment to investigate the Air Force as a likely polluter, saying the agency should “also impose, if appropriate, fines and a sanctions.”
Fountain Mayor Gabriel Ortega said he is focused on working with the Air Force to improve the city’s water supply.
“My hope is they’re in for the long haul,” Ortega said.
Unlike the Security and Widefield water districts, Fountain switched entirely to cleaner surface water last year. Security stopped using the fouled aquifer last month, and Widefield has yet to announce such a move.
Ortega voiced confidence the Air Force would follow through with its promise to spend about $4.3 million helping the impacted communities install well water filters.
“We can’t really go back and change what has happened in the past,” Ortega said. “It’s upsetting, but we’re going to work with what we can.”
From The Financial Times (Pilita Clark):
About 500,000 solar panels were installed every day last year as a record-shattering surge in green electricity saw renewables overtake coal as the world’s largest source of installed power capacity.
Two wind turbines went up every hour in countries such as China, according to International Energy Agency officials who have sharply upgraded their forecasts of how fast renewable energy sources will keep growing.
“We are witnessing a transformation of global power markets led by renewables,” said Fatih Birol, executive director of the global energy advisory agency.
Part of the growth was caused by falls in the cost of solar and onshore wind power that Mr Birol said would have been “unthinkable” only five years ago.
Average global generation costs for new onshore wind farms fell by an estimated 30 per cent between 2010 and 2015 while those for big solar panel plants fell by an even steeper two-thirds, an IEA report published on Tuesday showed.
The Paris-based agency thinks costs are likely to fall even further over the next five years, by 15 per cent on average for wind and by a quarter for solar power.
It said an unprecedented 153 gigawatts of green electricity was installed last year, mostly wind and solar projects, which was more than the total power capacity in Canada.
This was also more than the amount of conventional fossil fuel or nuclear power added in 2015, leading renewables to surpass coal’s cumulative share of global power capacity, though not electricity generation.
A power plant’s capacity is the maximum amount of electricity it can potentially produce. The amount of energy a plant actually generates varies according to how long it produces power over a period of time.
Because a wind or solar farm cannot generate constantly like a coal power plant, it will produce less energy over the course of a year even though it may have the same or higher level of capacity.
Coal power plants supplied close to 39 per cent of the world’s power in 2015, while renewables, including older hydropower dams, accounted for 23 per cent, IEA data show.
But the agency expects renewables’ share of power generation to rise to 28 per cent by 2021, when it predicts they will supply the equivalent of all the electricity generated today in the US and EU put together.
It has revised its forecasts to show renewables’ capacity will grow 13 per cent more between 2015 and 2021 than it had thought would be the case just last year, mostly because of stronger policy backing in the US, China, India and Mexico.
Paolo Frankl, head of the IEA’s renewable energy division, said efforts to address climate change were only part of the reason for this policy drive.
Air pollution worries were also spurring growth in countries such as China, a renewable energy juggernaut that alone accounts for close to 40 per cent of capacity growth.
From Reclamation via the Estes Park Trail-Gazette:
The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation has announced that it will begin shutting down this week the Colorado-Big Thompson Project east slope system for winter maintenance and system inspection.
Peter Soeth, a Bureau spokesperson, said in an e-mail that beginning Oct.27 diversions will first be stopped through the Adams Tunnel followed by the draining of Marys Lake and Lake Estes by the morning of October 31.
Flatiron Reservoir will be drained by November 4.
Maintenance activities include annual maintenance for Marys and Pole Hill powerplants, as well as the Charles Hansen Feeder Canal.
The inspection and maintenance is expected to last through the middle of December. Once complete, the system will begin diversions through the Adams Tunnel and preparing for the 2017 water year.
From NOAA (Susan Buchanan):
Drought expected to persist in California and expand in the Southeast
Forecasters at NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center issued the U.S. Winter Outlook today, saying that La Nina is expected to influence winter conditions this year. The Climate Prediction Center issued a La Nina watch this month, predicting the climate phenomenon is likely to develop in late fall or early winter. La Nina favors drier, warmer winters in the southern U.S and wetter, cooler conditions in the northern U.S. If La Nina conditions materialize, forecasters say it should be weak and potentially short-lived.
“This climate outlook provides the most likely outcome for the upcoming winter season, but it also provides the public with a good reminder that winter is just up ahead and it’s a good time to prepare for typical winter hazards, such as extreme cold and snowstorms,” said Mike Halpert, deputy director, NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center. “Regardless of the outlook, there is always some chance for extreme winter weather, so prepare now for what might come later this winter.”
Other factors that often play a role in the winter weather include the Arctic Oscillation, which influences the number of arctic air masses that penetrate into the South and create nor’easters on the East Coast, and the Madden-Julian Oscillation, which can affect the number of heavy rain events in the Pacific Northwest.
The 2016 U.S. Winter Outlook (December through February):
Wetter than normal conditions are most likely in the northern Rockies, around the Great Lakes, in Hawaii and in western Alaska Drier than normal conditions are most likely across the entire southern U.S. and southern Alaska.
Warmer than normal conditions are most likely across the southern U.S., extending northward through the central Rockies, in Hawaii, in western and northern Alaska and in northern New England.
Cooler conditions are most likely across the northern tier from Montana to western Michigan. The rest of the country falls into the “equal chance” category, meaning that there is not a strong enough climate signal in these areas to shift the odds, so they have an equal chance for above-, near-, or below-normal temperatures and/or precipitation.
Drought will likely persist through the winter in many regions currently experiencing drought, including much of California and the Southwest Drought is expected to persist and spread in the southeastern U.S. and develop in the southern Plains. New England will see a mixed bag, with improvement in the western parts and persistence to the east. Drought improvement is anticipated in northern California, the northern Rockies, the northern Plains and parts of the Ohio Valley.
This seasonal outlook does not project where and when snowstorms may hit or provide total seasonal snowfall accumulations. Snow forecasts are dependent upon the strength and track of winter storms, which are generally not predictable more than a week in advance. However, La Nina winters tend to favor above average snowfall around the Great Lakes and in the northern Rockies and below average snowfall in the mid-Atlantic.
NOAA produces seasonal outlooks to help communities prepare for what’s likely to come in the next few months and minimize weather’s impacts on lives and livelihoods. Empowering people with actionable forecasts and winter weather tips is key to NOAA’s effort to build a Weather-Ready Nation.
A video of NOAA’s 2016 winter outlook is available here.
From The Farmington Daily Times (Noel Lyn Smith):
A defendant in the Navajo Nation’s Gold King Mine spill lawsuit has filed a motion to dismiss its involvement in the case.
In the motion filed last week, the Sunnyside Gold Corp. claims the company had no involvement in the Aug. 5, 2015, spill that released more than 3 million gallons of toxic-laden wastewater into the Animas and San Juan rivers.
On Aug. 16, Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye announced the tribe had filed a lawsuit against Sunnyside, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Environmental Restoration LLC, Harrison Western Corp., Gold King Mines Corp., Kinross Gold Corp., Kinross Gold USA Inc. and John Does 1-10.
Sunnyside, which is based in Silverton, Colo., owns and operates several mining properties, according to a company overview listed on the Bloomberg website.
The company states in its motion that claims against it must be dismissed for several reasons, including that the U.S. District Court of New Mexico lacks jurisdiction in the matter. The court lacks jurisdiction because only the alleged injury occurred in New Mexico, and none of the activities related to the mine happened in the state, according to the motion.
“In this case, there is no suggestion that Sunnyside’s activities were ever directed at New Mexico. All of Sunnyside’s conduct and activities, everything it did or did not do relevant to this case, occurred in Colorado. Nothing Sunnyside did was in or aimed at New Mexico,” the motion states.
Sunnyside argues the state of Colorado must be a party to the lawsuit because the mine and associated work was done within the state.
According to the motion, the company claims bulkheads installed at the mine were completed through specific directives issued by the state of Colorado and by a consent decree approved by a Colorado district court judge in May 1996.
Any fault associated with the installation of bulkheads must include Colorado, the motion states.
Another reason the motion asks to dismiss Sunnyside is due to a section of the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act, which established the Superfund program, that deprives the court’s jurisdiction over the tribe’s abatement claims.
On Sept. 9, the EPA designated the Bonita Peak Mining District, where the Gold King Mine is located, a Superfund site.
Because the area has received the Superfund designation, any abatement activities would be determined by the EPA, and the tribe is not entitled to punitive damages from Sunnyside, according to the motion.
From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Tom Roeder and Jakob Rodgers):
The Air Force ignored decades of warnings from its own researchers in continuing to use a chemical-laden firefighting foam that is a leading cause of contaminated drinking water for at least 6 million Americans, including thousands of people south of Colorado Springs. Multiple studies dating back to the 1970s found health risks from the foam, and even an agreement 16 years ago between the Environmental Protection Agency and the foam’s main manufacturer to stop making the substance did not curtail the Air Force’s usage. Until drinking water tests announced by health officials this year revealed contaminated wells here, the Air Force did almost nothing to publicly acknowledge the danger of the firefighting chemical.
That contamination sent residents across southern El Paso County scrambling to buy bottled water and to test their blood for the toxic chemical, which, when ingested, can remain in the body for decades.
The Gazette’s investigation into the military’s research of perfluorinated compounds, the intensely powerful chemical in the foam, found:
– Studies by the Air Force as far back as 1979 demonstrated the chemical was harmful to laboratory animals, causing liver damage, cellular damage and low birth weight of offspring.
– The Army Corps of Engineers, considered the military’s leading environmental agency, told Fort Carson to stop using the foam in 1991 and in 1997 told soldiers to treat it as a hazardous material, calling it “harmful to the environment.”
– The EPA called for a phaseout of the chemical 16 years ago and 10 years ago found the chemical in the foam “likely to be carcinogenic to humans.”
Despite the warnings, the Air Force still uses the chemical in Colorado Springs, with at least 600 gallons of the firefighting chemical at Peterson Air Force Base. While that might not sound like much, it is mixed as a 3 percent solution with water. At that ratio, 600 gallons of chemical would combine with about 20,000 gallons of water to make 80 tons of fire suppressant.
The service plans to phase out the chemical in its firetrucks in coming weeks, but the Air Force still hasn’t determined when it will remove the chemical from firefighting foam systems at Peterson’s hangars.
The urgency of the issue came clearly into focus last week when Peterson Air Force Base announced the release of an additional 150,000 gallons of water polluted with the chemical into the Colorado Springs sewage system and from there into Fountain Creek.
After acknowledging the spill, Peterson officials said they weren’t required by law to notify downstream users of the water in the contaminant’s path.
“At this point, this is a nonregulated substance,” Peterson environmental chief Fred Brooks said…
Air Force Undersecretary Miranda Ballentine highlighted the Air Force’s $24 million effort to deliver clean water to the Pikes Peak region and elsewhere and defended the toxic foam as the “only fire-fighting product that met military specifications used to protect people and property from aviation fuel-based fires.
“The Air Force takes ownership of the possible negative impacts of our fire-fighting mission, and where we are responsible we will do the right thing to protect people and the environment,” she wrote in an email to The Gazette.
But even as the Air Force spends millions of dollars to filter water from the fouled aquifer below Security, Widefield and Fountain, the problem could last for generations…
EPA-mandated testing found at least 6 million Americans are dealing with water contaminated by the firefighting chemical and similar compounds – with many of them drinking from wells that likely were fouled by the Air Force, other military services or manufacturing sites.
Studies show that such chemicals can slowly kill. They can cause immune system and liver damage and have been linked to cancers, especially of the kidneys and testicles. Fetal development problems and low birth weight are a concern. And at a minimum, the firefighting foam can cause high cholesterol, a precursor to heart disease.
Exactly how the foam’s chemical harms people remains unclear, though scientists have strong theories. Researchers generally agree the chemical doesn’t directly damage human genetic material. Rather, it has largely been shown to suppress the immune system – allowing disease and ailments to surface over time.
Each person’s risk is based on myriad factors, including one’s genetic makeup, lifestyle, gender and the length of exposure to the chemical.
“It just tells us that it’s not possible under our current testing guidelines to fully capture every potential toxicological effect that could occur from exposure to a synthetic compound,” said Jamie DeWitt, associate professor of pharmacology and toxicology at the University of East Carolina’s Brody School of Medicine.
“I think it’s important that the people who are getting exposed understand that these exposure levels are based on probabilities,” DeWitt said. “So exposure does not equal toxicity – it equals probability of toxicity at a sustained exposure.”
While the Air Force has offered $4.3 million to help filter water in the Security, Widefield and Fountain areas, it claims that serious concerns first arose in 2009 – 30 years after its first known studies into the toxic effects of the chemical and 16 years after the EPA and the chemical’s largest manufacturer, 3M, issued a strong warning. By that time, such man-made chemicals had been found on every continent.
“3M data supplied to EPA indicated that these chemicals are very persistent in the environment, have a strong tendency to accumulate in human and animal tissues and could potentially pose a risk to human health and the environment over the long term,” the EPA said in a 2000 news release.
The EPA has yet to ban the chemical. The Air Force says it will remain in use through the end of the year. The military and the Department of Veterans Affairs said they have no plans to study the effects of the firefighting chemical on airmen and other troops who may have used it…
Studies show the first laboratory rats died from exposure to a perfluorinated compound in the 1960s.
More studies have found rats in the experiments had pups with low birth weights. Some rats suffered liver and kidney damage. Some contracted cancers.
According to Air Force documents obtained by The Gazette, a study by the service’s research laboratory in 1979 linked the chemical to damaged “thymus, bone marrow, stomach, mesentery, liver, and testes in the male rats.”
The service ordered a study published in 1981 that found the chemical could cause damage to female rats and their offspring, including low birth weight.
In the second study, pregnant female lab rats died when exposed to high doses of the chemical. The researchers wrote that the 1979 study confirmed exposure danger for male airmen, “but did not depict the potential hazard in Air Force women,” necessitating the follow-up.
That study also says the Air Force was a leader in studying the toxicity of firefighting foam, with the only literature on the subject coming from the service’s laboratory at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio.
More Air Force studies came after that, with several in the 1980s and 1990s.
Despite alarming findings, the service kept using it, leading it to seep into drinking water in Colorado and around the globe.
In response to Gazette questions about its studies, an Air Force spokeswoman questioned the validity of the service’s own scientific work in the 1981 study of the foam.
“We were able to do an initial review of the report you provided and determined that specific chemical was never used in our Aviation Fire Fighting Foam and was only used for the purpose of that study,” spokeswoman Laura M. McAndrews wrote.
The study, though, says the chemical tested was a perfluorinated acid that Air Force scientists called “structurally related to a surfactant agent used in fire retardant foams by the Air Force.”
A different view
The Air Force’s view of the chemical’s history is different.
The Air Force’s top expert on the toxic chemical said the military didn’t really understand the danger of such chemicals, also known as PFCs, until 2009.
“So in 2009, taking this through 2009, EPA then issued a provisional health advisory for PFCs. And I think this is a real key point here is that’s when they issued that provisional health advisory,” explained Daniel Medina, a civilian at the Air Force’s Civil Engineer Center in San Antonio.
While the Air Force studied the firefighting foam’s toxicity, Medina said, the service would not change its chemical policies without direction from the EPA.
“Right, so again that’s where we’d look at the regulations that EPA and in this case the health advisories put out there to look to defer to that,” he said.
The toxic chemical in the firefighting foam and its sister chemical, a key ingredient in Teflon, were born out of the chemistry revolution after World War II.
The firefighting foam is a Vietnam-era military invention patented by the Navy’s Naval Research Laboratory as an alternative for battling aircraft fires aboard carriers.
The foam is credited with saving thousands of lives from shipboard and fuel fires. It seems almost miraculous for stopping burning fuel, forming a Jello- like barrier between the flames and the fuel that quickly stops the blaze.
“What it does is it helps you against flammable liquid fires,” explained the Air Force’s fire chief, James E. Podolske Jr…
Once the foam gets into the environment, though, it’s not going away.
Like fuel, the chemical’s backbone is a long string of carbon atoms – eight of them. Attached to those carbons is fluoride, forming a remarkably stable concoction using one of the strongest chemical bonds known to science. Perfluorinated compounds in the environment could outlast the sun before breaking down in a time frame normally precise scientists like Colorado School of Mines chemist Christopher Higgins can only describe as “geologic.”
Concerns about the firefighting foam were serious enough that a 1991 environmental assessment of Fort Carson by the Army Corps of Engineers concluded, “Firefighting operations that use (the foam) must be replaced with nonhazardous substitutes.”
In June, Gardner sent a letter to Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James asking the Air Force to publicly release all information it possessed on contamination in the Pikes Peak region. The senator, though, hadn’t been made aware of the repeated Air Force studies into the health risks of the foam.
“We have to have the measures taken to assure public safety,” Gardner told The Gazette. “We need the commitment of the Air Force to do a full reckoning of the documents you have cited.
“This isn’t something that can be swept under the rug,” Gardner said. “It has to be met with the full faith and credit of the United States.”
Routine use of foam for years
Even as the Air Force studied the risks of its firefighting foam, firefighters at Peterson Air Force Base sprayed the foam over and over onto the ground as practice for putting out airplane fires.
Using two unlined pits, firefighters dumped pools of jet fuel on the ground and lit it – simulating the perils of an airplane crash. The flames were extinguished by coating the pond in foam, said Kjonaas, the former base fire chief.
The practice at those pits continued until the early 1990s, when the Air Force completed a lined pit for those exercises, sending the remnants into the base’s sewer system. Scientists say a sewer system, though, is unlikely to remove the toxic firefighting chemical from water.
The foam was used routinely until 1999, when a propane-and-water system was installed.
The exact number of times the training was conducted at Peterson has not been released. Kjonaas said training was routine at Peterson during his time as chief, which ended in 2007, with foam being used as often as quarterly.
Until last year, the Air Force also put a small amount of foam on the ground for a daily check to make sure the foam system on fire trucks worked properly, said Podolske, the Air Force’s top firefighter.
“Spray testing at Fire Station No. 1 is done on the concrete ramp during good weather and at the volleyball court during inclement weather,” a report on contamination at Peterson says.
That daily testing has stopped.
“Because of the environmental concerns and the health hazard concerns right now while we were working this, we put out a cease and desist,” Podolske said.
One of the largest known local uses of the foam in recent years came on Dec. 23, 2010, when a single-engine plane crashed just north of a Peterson runway, killing the pilot and his passenger. A report on contamination at Peterson says “at least 100 gallons” of firefighting foam was sprayed to extinguish the wreckage…
Asked what he would do to clean up the new release, Peterson’s Brooks said there was little he could do because the chemical had left his base.
Pattern of contamination found
Industry has found plenty of uses for the same sturdy chemical in firefighting foam as well as similarly structured compounds. Most commonly, they’ve been used to treat carpets as a stain fighter. They were also used in nonstick cookware and at one time were used in food wrappers.
Those manufacturers harbored concerns about such chemicals decades ago.
DuPont issued an internal memo raising health concerns in the early 1960s, according to a Harvard University report. A study in the 1970s on the chemical’s effects on monkeys’ immune systems went unpublished, though other studies in the 1980s and 1990s deepened health concerns, the Harvard report said.
But the firefighting foam, so commonly sprayed on the ground in large quantities, is “likely the most important way in which we have contaminated water supplies around the globe with fluorochemicals,” said Higgins, the School of Mines chemist.
A recent study by Higgins and other researchers found that one of the greatest predictors of contaminated water systems in the U.S. is their proximity to a military firefighting training area that used the foam, along with manufacturing sites and wastewater treatment plants.
The Air Force is studying an estimated 2,800 fire training areas and other places the foam was sprayed at present and past installations around the world. That includes a half-dozen sites at Peterson Air Force Base and the Colorado Springs Airport.
Results of the Colorado Springs study are not due until March.
Near Fairchild Air Force Base outside Spokane, Wash., researchers found how the firefighting foam chemical is passed through the ecosystem, with each species accumulating more of the toxin as it moves up the food chain.
The study, by the Washington State Department of Ecology, focused on ospreys, the predatory birds that rule lakes and rivers around the Spokane base.
“The osprey come back in the spring, and they just eat a ton of fish,” said Callie Mathieu, a research coordinator for the agency.
The fish swim in Medical Lake, near the base, where a sewage outflow has pumped the firefighting chemical. Ospreys pick up more of the chemical with each fish they consume.
“When they lay their eggs a month later, they pass on that contaminate burden to their eggs,” Mathieu said.
The concept is the same for humans. When the EPA issued its latest advisory in May, Colorado health officials said women who are pregnant or breastfeeding or bottle-feeding infants may want to avoid their water. That’s largely because infants are the most susceptible to the dangers such chemicals pose. The threat includes miscarriage and low birth weight, a key factor in infant mortality.
That EPA advisory warned that water could be harmful if such chemicals surpassed more than 70 parts per trillion – significantly lower than an advisory issued in 2009. Speaking again to the power of the foam, the 3 percent chemical with 97 percent water solution used to fight fires is 300,000 parts per trillion. A tablespoon of the chemical in 20 Olympic-sized pools would easily exceed the EPA threshold.
Contamination in wells in the Security, Widefield and Fountain areas ranged from just a couple of parts per trillion to 2,000 parts per trillion, nearly 30 times the EPA’s advisory level, tests this year showed. The average reading of 108 groundwater test sites was 164 parts per trillion, according to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, more than two times the EPA’s health advisory level. The median for those groundwater tests was about 115 parts per trillion.
Philippe Grandjean, who teaches at Harvard and the University of Southern Denmark, isn’t satisfied with current limits. He wants the EPA to further limit exposure to an infinitesimal level – 1 part per trillion, because such chemicals stay in the body for years.
“These compounds are much more toxic than we thought,” Grandjean said.
‘A lot of unanswered questions’
The military has yet to face any lawsuits stemming from its use of the chemical in Colorado. For the most part, federal agencies are immune from liability.
Some local politicians have praised the military for its actions to clean Pikes Peak region drinking water while refusing to comment on how the water got contaminated.
“The Air Force is going above and beyond in their willingness to be a good community partner and neighbor with their multi-million dollar response commitment to this particular issue,” Colorado Springs Republican U.S. Rep. Doug Lamborn, a member of the House Armed Services Committee, said in a statement. “The money and time they are investing will go a long way toward addressing the needs of the citizens of our region.”
Several firefighting foam manufacturers and other companies making perfluorinated compounds have been sued.
Manufacturers of certain perfluorinated compounds have faced lawsuits since at least the late 1990s, and a landmark settlement in one case led to Dr. Brooks’ research project that collected blood samples from 69,000 people in the mid-Ohio Valley, a region east of Cincinnati centered on Parkersburg, W.Va.
Brooks said the study revealed many health problems, especially high cholesterol stemming from such chemicals. Worse, he said, the health impacts can last a lifetime because the human body can’t get rid of them.
Two federal lawsuits seeking class-action status for Security, Widefield and Fountain residents have been filed against 3M and several other companies that made the foam and supplied it to Peterson Air Force Base. They seek money for local medical studies and damages.
A spokesman for the law firm representing 3M, which phased out production of the chemical in 2002, said last month that the company will “vigorously” defend itself against the lawsuits, just as it has in the past.
The chemical that 3M included in its foam is similar – though slightly different – from what DuPont made. The EPA, however, lumped them together in its May advisory, citing similarities and health concerns about each.
A resolution to the lawsuits might take years.
For now, the people receiving contaminated water in their kitchen taps have been left with the tab…
Combined, Security, Widefield and Fountain water officials have spent millions of dollars purchasing additional, cleaner water from other agencies or to widen their existing pipes and install new ones that bring in contaminant-free water from the Pueblo Reservoir or both.
Permanently disconnecting from the Widefield aquifer is infeasible, water district leaders say, because too little water exists elsewhere to meet demand without skyrocketing costs. As a result, the water district might build new treatment plants to filter the chemicals from their well water.
Those projects, however, typically cost millions of dollars and take years to complete…
But long after the Air Force follows through with its plan to destroy its remaining stocks of firefighting foam, a toxic legacy will remain for those who drank water from contaminated wells, Dr. Brooks said.
“If you are 60 years old, you can’t live long enough to get down to a level that it is not going to bother you.”
From The Colorado Springs Gazette:
Timeline: History of contamination
1947: Perfluorinated compounds are produced at a 3M plant in Cottage Grove, Minn.
1962: DuPont issues an internal memo raising health concerns.
1967: The Naval Research Laboratory patents Aqueous Film-Forming Foam to fight shipboard fires. “This firefighting foam is now used on all U.S. Navy aircraft carriers and by major airports, refineries, and other areas where potentially catastrophic fuel fires can occur,” the lab says on its website.
About 1970: The Navy’s foam is adopted by the Air Force for airfield use, replacing earlier foams that were less effective but nontoxic.
1979: An Air Force study using perfluorinated chemicals similar to those in firefighting foam finds it damaged “thymus, bone marrow, stomach, mesentery, liver, and testes in the male rats.”
1980: A study finds high concentrations of fluorochemicals in the blood of plant workers at a manufacturing plant, though researchers found no attributable health effects.
1981: Another Air Force study finds the chemical in the firefighting foam is harmful to female rats. The Air Force says the study was needed to show “the potential hazard in Air Force women.”
1983: An Air Force study on the effects of firefighting foam chemicals on mouse tissue found they “caused impairment of clone-forming (cell replication) ability after treatment with concentrations that were non-toxic in suspension.”
1985: An Air Force study finds that perfluorinated compounds could be harmful to cellular growth. “This would imply that these perfluorinated acids are producing toxicity through a membrane interaction.”
1991: The Army Corps of Engineers tells Fort Carson to quit using the firefighting foam at the post, saying it “must be replaced with nonhazardous substitutes.”
1993: An Air Force study finds that rats exposed to firefighting foam chemicals suffer liver effects.
1997: An Army study tells soldiers to treat the firefighting foam as hazardous waste. “In large volumes, AFFF foam can be harmful to the environment. AFFF solution should not be allowed to flow untreated into the ecosystem, or into the sewage systems in large quantities.”
1997: A Navy study attempts to break down the toxic chemicals of firefighting foam using bacteria. The experiment fails.
2000: The EPA and manufacturer 3M issue joint statement warning of the chemicals’ dangers.
2002: 3M finishes phasing out its production of perfluorinated compounds.
2005: A landmark settlement is reached between DuPont and residents in the mid-Ohio Valley over water contamination near a manufacturing plant. It established the C8 Project that tested the blood of 69,000 people and led researchers to say the chemicals are associated with six health conditions: kidney and testicular cancers, diagnosed high cholesterol, ulcerative colitis, thyroid disease and pregnancy-induced hypertension.
2005-06: An EPA draft assessment finds a “suggestive” link to cancer, and a follow-up review finds one such chemical is “likely to be carcinogenic to humans.”
2006: A study finds levels of one type of perfluorinated compound “greatly exceeded general population medians,” largely due to drinking water contamination from a nearby chemical manufacturing plant.
2006: The eight leading manufacturers of perfluorinated compounds commit to ending production of the chemicals by 2015 as part of an EPA stewardship program.
2007: The Air Force says in 2007 it first learned from the EPA that firefighting foam might be dangerous. The service doesn’t take action until a stronger warning in 2009.
2009: The EPA issues its first provisional health advisories about perfluorinated compounds that say “epidemiological studies of exposure to (the chemicals) and adverse health outcomes in humans are inconclusive at present.”
2011: An Army study finds the chemical in firefighting foam causes immune system damage. “However, autism risk cannot be determined from these data alone.”
2012: A study shows perfluorinated compounds are associated with reduced vaccine effectiveness among children ages 5 and 7.
2013: Water districts – largely those serving 10,000 customers or more – begin an EPA-led effort to test their water for perfluorinated compounds through 2015.
2014: Reduced vaccine effectiveness is found in the mid-Ohio Valley population.
2015: A statement authored by 14 leading scientists on perfluorinated compounds, called The Madrid Statement, warns of the dangers these chemicals pose.
May 2016: The EPA tightens its guidance regarding PFCs, issuing a health advisory for water containing 70 parts per trillion or more of perfluorinated compounds.
August: A study is published that finds firefighting sites that used the chemical-laden foam were one of the greatest predictors of nearby water contamination.
From The Telluride Daily Planet (Justin Criado):
The water-line replacement project along East Colorado Avenue should be finished within the next two weeks, according to Town Engineer Drew Lloyd.
He cautioned that work this time of year is dependent on good weather. A turn in the weather could push back paving of the road after the subsurface tasks are completed.
Businesses and residents along the stretch from Willow to Maple streets are tied-in to the new water line…
Lloyd was on hand as water pressure in the new pipe was tested Wednesday afternoon. Karen Guglielmone, environmental and engineering division manager for the town also observed the test. Norwood’s Williams Construction is performing the work.
The new line passed the water-pressure test. “The next step is to chlorinate the line for disinfection,” Lloyd said. “After that we’ll be doing our service tie-ins, which will be tying in all these businesses and residents to the new water line. That’s going to take a few days.”
The project is replacing a 60-year-old, six-inch pipe that is no longer functional in its current capacity with a 10-inch ductile iron pipe…
The total amount of the project is $600,000 with half of the funds coming from a Colorado Department of Local Affairs matching grant and the other half covered by the town.
From The Craig Daily Press (Randy Baumgardner and Bob Rankin):
Our main takeaway from the meeting and subsequent tour was that the proposed Wolf Creek Reservoir project is a gem in the making for Colorado. In light of the governor’s water plan for the state, and his recent announcement that he wants to ensure that the we improve efficiencies and streamline the regulatory process for completing water projects in Colorado, it was highly encouraging to us to see a plan and a project like this in the works. Following our visit, we are confident that the Wolf Creek Reservoir can be an example and set the standard for how such projects can work, and we also both feel strongly that, for this reason, the Wolf Creek Reservoir should be made a priority within the state’s water plan.
More specifically, this project will bring a number of important regional benefits: it will provide the Town of Rangely with the quality and quantity of water necessary to serve their needs and address the growing water crisis that they are facing; it will assist in conservation efforts, providing possible opportunities for enhancing endangered fish species recovery; and, crucially, it will provide diversification to the local and regional economy through the tremendous recreational options it affords — offering growth and economic opportunity to an area that has been hit hard due to the drop in oil and gas prices, and other external and political factors that have ravaged the local energy industry. We will, of course, continue to work together at the state Capitol to address some of the political issues facing our energy sector; but in the meantime, seeing a project of this magnitude and importance begin to spring to life in this part of our state is extremely encouraging to us, as we are sure it is to the residents of Rangely and the whole area.
This project has great potential to offer incredible returns to both Rio Blanco and Moffat counties. The recreational opportunities alone will certainly enhance the quality of life for the region as well as diversify the local economy, as it will draw people not only from around the region and the rest of the state, but from neighboring states as well.
We both believe that it is time for the state and the various stakeholders involved to get behind making this project a reality. This is a perfect example of how the state can prioritize helping western Colorado. In particular, we would ask the governor to put his support behind it, and to use this as an opportunity to prove his commitment to speeding up the permitting process…
Sen. Randy Baumgardner and Rep. Bob Rankin composed this Op-Ed.
From The Daily Mail. (Click through for more maps and video.) Here’s an excerpt:
It was created using the open-source QGIS software, and the high resolution prints are available on Etsy.
There are 18 major river basins in the 48 states of the contiguous US, but much of the map is dominated by the massive catchment area for the Mississippi River, including the Upper and Lower Mississippi River Basins, along with Missouri River Basin and the Arkansas-White-Red Basin, as seen in pink.
The top left portion of the map shows much of the Pacific Northwest basin, illustrated in a brownish-orange color.
And, the Upper and Lower Colorado River basins stand out as well, in bright yellow.
From The Valley Courier (Ruth Heide):
Although the liquid that attorneys argue about evaporates quickly, legal battles around water do not.
Rio Grande Water Conservation District Attorney David Robbins, who has been on the forefront of many of those battles over the years, updated the water district board this week on several ongoing cases of water litigation.
One of the most significant cases revolves around the groundwater rules promulgated by the state engineer about a year ago. About 30 responses were filed to the rules, some for them and some objecting to portions of the rules.
The Division of Water Resources staff has been trying to work with objectors to resolve their concerns short of trial. However, if the objections cannot be resolved, they will go to trial in January of 2018.
Colorado Division of Water Resources Division 3 Engineer Craig Cotten said, “We have met with all of the objectors at least once, most multiple times. We are working out stipulated agreements, getting closer on some of those. We will be continuing to work with those people and see if we can come up with agreements.”
Cotten said the goal is not to need the eight-week trial presently scheduled for early 2018. Robbins said the judge asked parties objecting to the rules to file notices stating specifically what they objected to, such as the model or data the rules rely upon. The parties have done that, he said, and now the state has the opportunity to respond.
Robbins said some objectors are working out stipulated agreements with the state, which will resolve their concerns short of trial. For example, water users with wells in the confined aquifer system in the Alamosa-La Jara and Conejos Response Areas, who objected to the sustainability criteria in the rules, are working out a stipulated agreement with the state. Robbins said he did not think the RGWCD would have any reason to object to the stipulation but he has asked for the documentation.
“The groundwater rules/regulations case is moving along. Judge Swift is doing a good job herding the cats. The state continues to work hard to try to resolve some of the objections so they can winnow it down to people who have concerns they want to pursue before the court,” Robbins said.
Robbins is also monitoring other ongoing cases such as:
• Bureau of Land Management augmentation plan for wells at the Blanca Habitat Area, which could potentially impact flows on the Rio Grande and Conejos Rivers and for which BLM must identify replacement sources for those impacts;
• A Saguache Creek area individual augmentation plan for which Robbins questions the sufficiency of replacements for depletions;
• The City of Alamosa change of water rights case related to the golf course, which is pending information review;
• A case south of the Rio Grande and west of Alamosa revolving around the question of whether recharge replacement can carry over from year to year;
• The Santa Maria Reservoir change case to provide reservoir water for replacement for plans of water management such as those set up in the RGWCD’s subdistricts , and for which a trial is scheduled in April 2017, with James Werner the sole objector remaining;
• Three cases proposing to move water around to provide replacements for well depletions , including one for the City of Alamosa;
• The Texas vs. New Mexico /Colorado compact compliance case, which is being overseen by a special master who has indicated he will deny a motion to dismiss the case;
• Center for Biodiversity’s suit against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to list the Rio Grande Cutthroat Trout as endangered, a case in which the RGWCD has not become involved but is considering whether it should, favoring the opinion of the Fish and Wildlife Service that the trout is not endangered.
RGWCD Board Member Bill McClure cautioned against the district spending dollars and time on cases that were already well represented by other agencies. Robbins agreed and said that is why he had not recommended that the district become directly involved in the Rio Grande Cutthroat Trout suit, as the US Fish and Wildlife Services is already handling it.
From The Valley Courier (Ruth Heide):
Colorado will end the year with a credit in Rio Grande Compact accounting.
Colorado Division of Water Resources Division 3 Engineer Craig Cotten told the Rio Grande Water Conservation District board on Tuesday it appears both the Rio Grande and Conejos River systems will end 2016 on the plus side, with the Rio Grande reflecting about 7,000 acre feet credit at this point and the Conejos River system less than 1,000 acre feet credit.
“We try to over deliver just slightly so there’s no issue with downstream states,” Cotten said.
Colorado must deliver water to New Mexico and Texas according to the Rio Grande Compact. Cotten explained that the annual flow on the Rio Grande this year will be about 670,000 acre feet, which is not a bad water year, especially considering some of the previous dry years in the Rio Grande Basin.
He said that of the 670,000 acre feet, the Rio Grande would owe 190,800 acres feet or about 28 percent, to its downstream neighbors through the Rio Grande Compact . The river has met that obligation and then some, Cotten added. At this point, it appears the Rio Grande will have over-delivered about 7,000 acre feet.
There are currently zero curtailments on Rio Grande users and slight if any curtailments since the beginning of September.
The Conejos River system came closer to its obligation without sending too much extra downstream, according to Cotten.
The annual index flow on the Conejos system will be about 280,000 acre feet, of which about a third, or 95,400 acre feet, was obligated to downstream states.
“We will be close on the Compact delivery, within 1,000 acre feet,” Cotten told the Rio Grande Water Conservation District board on Tuesday. “We are close to where we want to be on the Conejos.”
From The Valley Courier (Ruth Heide):
Southern San Luis Valley water users took charge of their future on Tuesday as they became the third group to form a water management sub-district of the Rio Grande Water Conservation District.
The sponsoring district board unanimously accepted petitions for its latest subdistrict, which encompasses 141 wells covering 170 parcels of land in Conejos County.
The sub-districts are designed to provide an alternative to individual well regulation by grouping wells in geographic or hydrological areas of the San Luis Valley (Rio Grande Basin), which as a group replaces its injurious depletions to surface water rights. Sub-districts are also beginning to repair long-term depletions to the Valley’s aquifer system caused by well pumping.
Sub-district participants pay fees, which are used to buy water and/or provide incentives to reduce pumping. In the sub-district presented on Tuesday, participants will be assessed fees per well and per acre foot of water.
Rio Grande Water Conservation District (RGWCD) Program Manager Amber Pacheco presented to the sponsoring district board on Tuesday petitions representing 141 of a potential 198 wells in Sub-district #3. Nathan Coombs and LeRoy Salazar, who were part of the group that formed the subdistrict, were also present for the petition presentation to the RGWCD board.
Pacheco told the board staff and working group members had been working on this third sub-district for many months. Once they had information from the groundwater model, which determines depletions, the group was able to move forward.
Pacheco said the group was very successful in persuading well owners to join the sub-district , which is an “opt-in” sub-district. People had to choose to join. The first sub-district, on the other hand, was drawn up to cover a specific geographical area in the Valley’s closed basin region, and the work group then had to gather petitions from at least 51 percent of the landowners and 51 percent of the land.
Pacheco said efforts were made to contact every well owner in the Conejos subdistrict to give them the opportunity to join the subdistrict. Only one well owner, whose address was in Florida, did not respond at all, and another did not want to be involved. Both of those wells had not been used in a while.
Four other well owners opted out, not because they were against the sub-district but because they had other plans for their properties, and 21 wells belonging to governments such as towns or school districts indicated they would like to contract with the sub-district but could not participate directly, Pacheco explained.
She added a number of well owners decided to move their wells to exempt status so they would not fall under the groundwater rule process, for example downgrading them to stock or domestic wells, and a couple of well owners planned to seek abandonment of their wells.
All of the irrigation wells in the third sub-district are included, however, Pacheco said.
After receiving the petitions, RGWCD staff verified ownership and legal descriptions before presenting them to the board.
“It’s a massive undertaking,” said RGWCD General Manager Cleave Simpson who commended the staff who completed that process. He also commended the residents who have been working on this for some time.
“The people have been great to work with,” Pacheco added.
RGWCD Attorney David Robbins said the process now is to file the petitions with the district court in Conejos County (because that is where the land lies in this subdistrict) and seek the court’s approval for the sub-district’s formation. The court must hold a hearing no less than 60 days and no more than 90 days after receiving the petitions , he added. Individuals with questions or challenges against the sub-district formation may express those to the court.
“With our participation basically 100 percent, we would hope we wouldn’t see much of a protest to the formation of the sub-district ,” Pacheco said.
If there are no challenges, the court will enter an order forming the sub-district , and a board of managers can then be appointed and a plan of management prepared, Robbins explained.
That plan will be submitted to the state engineer’s officer for approval.
The first sub-district , which is one of the largest and most complicated, has been in operation for a few years now, and the second sub-district in the alluvium of the Rio Grande was officially formed in March of this year and is currently working on its plan of water management.
Pacheco said progress is also being made in sub-districts in the San Luis Creek, Saguache and Alamosa/La Jara areas. She said the goal is to have the remainder of the sub-districts in front of the court by early next year.
RGWCD staff has been meeting with entities such as the towns of La Jara and Saguache and the East Alamosa Water & Sanitation District to discuss their options for contracting with sub-districts. Discussions are also occurring with federal agencies.
From The La Junta Tribune-Democrat:
A new proposal for storage in John Martin Reservoir will benefit both Kansas and Colorado, said Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District Manager Jay Winner on Wednesday
A new proposal for storage in John Martin Reservoir will benefit both Kansas and Colorado, said Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District Manager Jay Winner on Wednesday. This proposal is in line with the Colorado Water Plan. The plan was presented by LAVWCD Engineer Mike Weber. Phase I is paid for by a Water Supply Reserve Account grant supplied by the Colorado Water Conservation Board. Research by LAVWCD has determined water users which could potentially use the John Martin Reservoir Account. LAVWCD has also determined the types of water available to those entities that would be suitable for storage at JMR. Those entities include Kansas and Colorado District 67 Ditches (Fort Bent, Keesee, Amity, Lamar, Hyde, Manvel, X-Y Graham, Buffalo and Sisson-Stubbs). Amity is largest user at 49.5 percent of Colorado’s share. This would be in Phase II, if the plan is accepted at the meeting of the 2016 Colorado Kansas Arkansas River Compact. Down the line and several years in the future, other potential users of the storage in JMR might include Catlin Augmentation Association, City of La Junta, City of Lamar, Colorado Water Protection and Development Association, and water conservancy districts such as LAVWCD.
A permanent pool of 10,000 acre-feet is to be maintained at JMR and is to remain there as authorized by the 1976 resolution, for the purposes of recreation and not subject to a tax.
Several other projects were presented by Winner and commented upon by the Board of Directors, all of whom were present except Legal Director Melissa Esquibel. The North La Junta Water Conservancy District Project, Phase 2, will go before the Otero County Commissioners on Oct. 24, having passed the Otero County Planning Commission. A request has been made to negotiate the contract with the Pueblo Reservoir for 25 years rather than year by year. A commercial building in McClave has been purchased by the LAVWCD to locate some of its offices, notably the engineering having to do with Rule 10, nearer the location of the sites. Agreement with Water Quality through the Department of Agriculture is being sought. Another project had to do with sealing the irrigation ponds and testing for selenium in the ground.
The City of Fountain is contributing $24,000 more than their original $50,000 to the fund for cleaning up Fountain Creek. The other $200,000 is divided equally between the City of Pueblo and the LAVWCD. The money for the project is coming from the Aurora refund, said Winter.
From The Craig Daily Press (Kevin Rein):
You may have heard some discussion about the phrase Use It or Lose It lately. First, about how it is a guiding principle when using water under Colorado’s prior appropriation system. Then, more recently, about how it can be a misleading cliché.
It’s true that in certain straightforward situations, failure to use a water right for its decreed use will result in the loss of some or all of the water right. However, from there, it gets more complicated.
In 2015, a group of Colorado water professionals representing interests from around the state collaborated to explore Use It or Lose It’s application to water use. The discussion was initiated by the Colorado Water Institute. The Water Institute approached the concept by first identifying five areas where water users have concerns about losing their water rights.
The first three areas of concern are Maintaining a Conditional Water Right, the Continued Use of an Absolute Water Right and Abandonment of a Water Right. In Colorado a water user may obtain a conditional water right based on a non-speculative plan to use the water. If that person does not apply the water to its decreed use within a period of time, or at least maintain a diligent effort to develop the water right, it may be terminated by the water court. The water right is lost due to lack of use.
When the owner of a water right considers the risk of abandonment of some portion of a water right or the possibility of changing a water right to a different beneficial use (the fourth area of concern), the owner of the water right may consider it advantageous to divert as much water as possible — more than is needed for the applied use. The unintended consequences of doing that can range from unnecessarily taking water that could be used by water rights immediately downstream, to impacting sensitive fish and wildlife habitat, to increasing the water right owner’s own return flow obligation if the use is changed. Further, the water court doesn’t consider water diverted but not consumed as water that may be applied to a new use. So the practice of diverting more water than is needed, which is called “waste” in water administration, can actually be detrimental.
A fifth area of concern is the effect that Conservation and Sustainability Efforts can have on the value of a water right. To understand more about that area of concern and the rest of this issue, read Special Report No. 25: “Is ‘Use It or Lose It’ an absolute?” available on the Colorado Water Institute home page.
Kevin G. Rein is the deputy state engineer for Colorado Division of Water Resources.
Here’s the synopsis from Special Report No. 25 (Reagan Waskom, Kevin Rein, Dick Wolfe, MaryLou Smith):
Colorado water law is complicated and can easily be misunderstood. In particular, the component of a water right that requires it be put to a beneficial use without waste can create confusion.
It is a fact that wasteful water diversions and practices are not permissible under the state’s water law. Unfortunately, this has led to the adoption of the misleading adage “Use It or Lose It.”
This document clarifies how the use or nonuse of a water right affects its value.
From CBS Denver (Chris Spears):
A report released released Thursday by the U.S. Drought Monitor showed drought conditions growing across parts of Colorado.
An area of moderate drought that formed during late summer around Fort Collins has expanded south across Denver and into Douglas County, impacting over 1.5 million people. A second pocket of moderate drought can be found on the east-central plains.
In the nearby mountains and foothills conditions are abnormally dry, or in pre-drought. The same is true for parts of southern Colorado.
The current drought along Interstate 25 is what we call a meteorological or agricultural drought, meaning a short-term deficit in precipitation is having a significant impact on the landscape. Soils are dry and vegetation is not growing.
We are not in a hydrological drought which would imply a long period of below normal precipitation and major problems with water supply.
As of Oct. 20 Denver Water was reporting 89 percent water storage in their reservoir system, which is 3 percent above normal for this time of year.
The healthy number is thanks to abundant snow during 2015 and early 2016.
So what about the forecast for the upcoming winter?
Current long-range models are trending toward the development of La Nina between December and February, which can sometimes be bad for Colorado if it pushes the main storm track too far north.
From CBS Denver (Chris Spears):
As drought continues to develop along Colorado’s Front Range, Denver Water says supply is in good shape thanks to a cool and wet pattern during 2015 and continued efficient use of water by their customers.
“But while the short-term outlook is encouraging, we know we can never be sure what the next winter will bring,” said Travis Thompson.
Last week NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center reissued a La Niña Watch that was cancelled in September. Government forecasters now say there’s a 70 percent chance of the climate phenomenon developing during the upcoming winter.
A La Niña weather pattern during the winter season can sometimes mean dry and warm weather for Colorado because it tends to keep the main storm track north of the state.
From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):
Colorado’s future economic development is integrally related to availability of water, and at least one industry, agriculture, could face increasing threats as demand grows for the increasingly scarce resource, speakers said at a forum this week.
“Sometimes I really feel there is a bullseye on my back,” sweet corn grower Robert Sakata of Brighton said at a conference hosted by the Economic Development Council of Colorado.
Availability and reliability of water is important to produce growers, said Sakata, who pointed to a recent state study that predicted 700,000 acres of irrigated agricultural land in the state could dry up by 2050 if the state continues on its current path.
That would result from factors such as growers lacking sufficient water to make their operations work or selling valuable water rights to meet booming municipal and industrial demand.
Colorado has finalized a state water plan aimed at addressing looming shortfalls as the state’s population is expected to grow from about 5.5 million today to 8.6 million by 2050. The plan incorporates measures such as increased conservation and additional water storage.
But James Eklund, director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board, noted at this week’s forum that the plan requires about $20 billion in spending by 2050 for water projects.
Water service providers will pay for about two-thirds of that through the rates they charge consumers, and the state will fill in some of the remaining cost, but Eklund said there needs to be discussions about how to obtain more revenue.
Linn Brooks, general manager of the Eagle River Water Sanitation District, which provides water to much of Eagle County, called some new level of reservoir construction “a reality for us.”
“We need more water. We need more storage. The easy water we’ve already gotten. It’s just going to be harder and harder,” she said.
Hard can mean expensive and time-consuming, including for permitting, and especially when the federal government is involved in the permitting process. Eklund said some projects involve multiple project managers because the projects outlive the managers.
“That’s not agile. It’s not going to be responsive to the challenges,” he said, calling for a more efficient review process that still protects the environment.
Elizabeth Garner, Colorado’s state demographer, said the expense of providing water is a cost-of-living and amenity consideration that could influence future migration to the state. She cited a number of factors that are expected to negatively impact household incomes in the state in coming years and wonders to what degree that will affect how much people are willing to pay for water.
Meanwhile, water lawyer Steve Sims said availability of water will remain an initial question that businesses ask as they look to move to the state or expand here.
Efforts to increase water-use efficiency and cooperate with others will stretch supplies, but water presents a natural- resource challenge that isn’t a win-win one in the long term, he said.
“There are win-lose situations. … That’s always the situation when you’re allocating a very scarce resource,” he said.
He said the key to keeping agricultural operations in business is making sure they have access to capital and talent so they can make money and not feel pressure to sell out.
Here’s the release from Colorado State University (Jim Beers):
Learning more about the complexities and inner-workings of western water law is the purpose behind the 2016 Interdisciplinary Water Resources Seminar series. The series will discuss topics including the history and evolution of western water law; state compacts and federal water law; hybrid water law systems; water quality law; groundwater law; and environmental law. The seminar series will provide attendees the opportunity for in-depth discussion about water-related court cases and interaction with prominent water resource professionals.
Each seminar is held Monday at 4 p.m. in the Behavioral Sciences Building, Room 103. All faculty, students, off-campus water professionals, and members of the Fort Collins community who are interested in water and western water law are invited to attend.
For individuals unable to attend, the seminars will be recorded and uploaded online. The full semester schedule is accessible here. Or there’s more information regarding all of the Interdisciplinary Water Resources Seminars.
Linda Bassi’s talk
Linda Bassi, chief of the Colorado Water Conservation Board’s Stream and Lake Protection Section, will speak on Monday, Oct. 24. Her lecture will be “Evolution of the Law Governing Colorado’s Instream Flow and Natural Lake Level Program.” Bassi will trace the laws and court opinions that have shaped the Instream Flow and Natural Lake Level Program to address policy issues and meet evolving needs related to protecting valuable natural resources.
Bassi is responsible for all facets of the Colorado Water Conservation Board’s Stream and Lake Protection Section including: legal protection; monitoring enforcement of the Board’s new and old instream flow water rights; acquisitions of instream flow by the Board; and development of legislation, policies, and rules related to the program. Prior to working for the Board, Bassi worked in the Colorado Attorney General’s Office representing the Division of Water Resources and the Colorado Water Conservation Board on various water rights issues.
Click here to buy your tickets. Here’s the pitch from the Colorado Water Trust:
The destiny of the west is written in the headwaters of Colorado. Tens of millions of people, billions of dollars of agricultural production, and an enormous amount of economic activity across a vast swath of America from California to the Mississippi River are all dependent on rivers born in the mountains of Colorado. In this time of increasing demand and limited supply, it is essential to promote a more informed and inclusive discussion concerning decisions affecting our water resources.
VIP Reception starts at 5:30pm in Henderson’s Lounge followed by the screening.
Proceeds from the event will go to support the Colorado Water Trust:
The Colorado Water Trust is a private, nonprofit organization whose mission is to restore flows to Colorado’s rivers in need. Founded in 2001, the Colorado Water Trust coordinates market-based water transactions, water-sharing agreements, infrastructure projects, and other creative solutions to restore flows to our state’s dry rivers and streams. Together with our diverse partners throughout the state, we are restoring habitat for fish and other wildlife, improving local economic opportunities, and where lost, returning to Colorado’s landscape the beauty of a flowing river. http://www.ColoradoWaterTrust.org
Here’s the Coyote Gulch review of The Great Divide:
“I used to be a orthodox card-carrying humanities academic with contempt for the manipulations of nature that engineers perpetrated. And then, I realized how much a beneficiary I was of those perpetrations.” — Patty Limerick (The Great Divide)
This is an important film and Ms. Limerick hits the nail on the head with her statement. When folks understand the history of Colorado and how water has shaped that history, when they learn about the disease and hardship that goes hand in hand with scarcity of water here in the arid west, when they witness the bounty from plains farms and the western valleys and the economic drivers associated with Colorado’s cities, when they take time to sit down to talk and learn from neighbors and others, opinions can change, understanding can grow, problems can be solved, and opportunities can be realized.
Jim Havey and the filmmakers set out an ambitious goal, that is, the telling of Colorado’s water story, without advocacy and without pointing fingers. The Great Divide accomplishes the telling using a superb screenplay written by Stephen Grace, the stunning footage by Jim Havey, along with the old photographs and maps of Colorado (and the Colorado River Basin).
Prior appropriation and anti-speculation are big ideas that form the foundation of Colorado water law. Article XVI of the Colorado Constitution includes detail about the preferred uses and the rights of diverters to cross private land to put the public’s water to beneficial use. All water in Colorado belongs to the citizens but diverters gain a property right allowing them to use the water.
The filmmakers manage to explain these details well during the film. The film describes the law, the compacts between states, river administration, and the 21st Century world of water. They emphasize the work and pioneering efforts needed to get Colorado where it is today.
Starting with the San Luis People’s ditch (the oldest water right in continuous use in Colorado — 1852) Coloradans have built out many projects large and small to put the water to beneficial use. The Great Divide describes many of these projects including the big US Bureau of Reclamation projects, Colorado-Big Thompson, Fryingpan-Arkansas, the Aspinall Unit, and what many think will be USBR’s last big project, Aninas-La Plata.
According to the film an early project, Cheesman Dam on the South Platte River, enabled delivery of high quality water to the City of Denver which had been plagued by outbreaks of cholera and other waterborne diseases.
These projects have gotten Colorado to this point with over 5 million residents and a diversified economy. However, in the documentary the head of Denver Water Jim Lochhead states, “If we grow the next 5 million people the way we’ve grown the last 5 million — that may not be sustainable.”
There is a tension between environmentalists and water developers in today’s Colorado, highlighted by the film. The Great Divide explores the historical roots of the environmental movement starting with the Sierra Club effort to save Echo Park on the Yampa River, up through the legislation allowing the Colorado Water Conservation Board to hold and establish instream flow rights, the successful efforts to block groundwater withdrawals in the San Luis Valley for Front Range growth, and the mammoth decision to not permit the Two Forks Reservoir on the the South Platte River.
The City of Denver and many of the suburbs were counting on that project for future needs. It is interesting to note that the loss of Two Forks led to increased groundwater withdrawals from the Denver Basin Aquifer System and an increase in purchases of agricultural rights by municipal systems. Both of these alternatives are unsustainable but have led to recharge projects, water reuse projects by Denver Water and Aurora Water, along with serious efforts to allow alternative transfer methods for agricultural water that would protect farmers and keep the water with the land. The Great Divide touches on these newer more sustainable solutions.
Drought is a constant possibility in Colorado. The film shows how the drought of the 1930s spurred northeastern Colorado to line up behind the Colorado-Big Thompson Project for new supplies and storage.
When things turned around after the drought of 2002 The Great Divide informs us that municipalities had to rethink conservation efforts and that pumpers with insufficient augmentation water were shut down. Denver Water managed to cut per capita consumption by 20% below pre-2002 levels and other utilities noted similar savings.
The film examines the aftermath of the 2002 drought and the efforts by the Colorado legislature which passed the Colorado Water for the 21st Century Act. It established the Interbasin Compact Committee (IBCC) and the nine basin roundtables. The roundtables and the IBCC were formed as a forum to share needs but most importantly share values. One of the outcomes of the effort has been the realization, stated in the film by Travis Smith that, “We are more connected than we’d like to admit.”
This connectedness, along with the need to solve looming wide-ranging supply gaps were the motivation for Governor Hickenlooper to issue an executive order to the Colorado Water Conservation Board to create Colorado’s first ever water plan. The Governor has an opportunity to present his view of the need for the plan in the film. He touches on the fact that however the plan turns out it will be built by the grass roots.
During his introduction of the film Justice Gregory Hobbs advised us to listen to the words along with viewing the images. He was right, the narrative by Peter Coyote engages and informs. You cannot listen to Mr. Grace’s words without learning at the same time. And that’s the point right? Educate and inform with an accurate representation of Colorado water issues and history…
The film is a stellar vehicle for educating and generating conversation. Go see it when you can, buy the book, and then start talking and teaching.
Click here to go to the US Drought Monitor website. Here’s an excerpt:
Dry, hot conditions across the central and southern U.S. contrasted with heavy rain and mountain snow in the northwestern quarter of the nation. As a result, drought continued to rapidly intensify from the Delta to the Southeast, with drought intensification also noted over portions of the Northeast. Conversely, large swaths of drought were reduced or eliminated from the northern Rockies into the Pacific Northwest…
There were no changes to this area’s drought depiction, with light showers (less than 0.5 inch) offering no substantial relief to the Long-term Moderate to Severe Drought (D1 and D2)…
Central and Southern Plains
Dry, hot weather resulted in rapid expansion of Abnormal Dryness (D0) and Moderate Drought (D1). Temperatures during the period averaged 7 to 13°F above normal, with daytime highs reaching the upper 90s and lower 100s across the southern High Plains. The summer-like heat coupled with a lack of rainfall over the past 30 days exacerbated the impacts of the dryness, with some producers holding off on winter wheat sowing operations due to a lack of soil moisture. Conditions vary locally, with wetter soils in the east contrasting with protracted short-term dryness farther west. For example, while central and eastern Kansas has received favorable rain (100-200 percent of normal precipitation over the past 30 days), the D1 area in the southwestern corner of the state has reported little — if any — precipitation over the same time period…
Conditions remained largely unchanged in Texas during the week, with modest increases in Abnormal Dryness (D0) and Moderate Drought (D1) in northern and southern portions of the state. In the panhandle, D0 was expanded to capture areas which have received little — if any — precipitation over the past 30 days, with daytime highs approaching 100°F accelerating soil moisture losses for winter wheat. Pockets of D0 were also introduced on the Edwards Plateau and in southeastern Texas, where similar heat and dryness have been observed. In Deep South Texas, D0 and D1 were expanded where 90-day rainfall has totaled 25 to 60 percent of normal and soil moisture was likewise in very short supply…
Heavy drought-easing precipitation in northern portions of the region contrasted with dry, warmer-than-normal conditions across the south. In California, some modest drought reduction was noted in the north, with the biggest change for the week noted in the Impact Type; much of the drought in central and northern California is now a Long-term Drought (denoted on the map by an “L”), meaning that short-term impacts have been eased or alleviated but long-term impacts (ground water, reservoir supplies, etc.) remained.
From the Pacific Northwest into the northern Rockies, a steady fetch of Pacific moisture coupled with a series of disturbances triggered heavy rain and mountain snow. Event totals varied considerably based on topography, but liquid-equivalent amounts averaged 3 to 15 inches in the Coastal Ranges to 1 to 4 inches in the northern Rockies. Areas lee of the mountains received less, but amounts of 0.5 inch to locally more than an inch were observed. As a result, widespread 1- and 2-category reductions were made in areas where the heaviest precipitation fell.
Meanwhile, moderate to heavy rain and mountain snow (2-10 inches liquid equivalent, locally more) were observed in northern California, the Sierra Nevada, and along the immediate coast as far south as Santa Cruz. While the rain was beneficial for streamflow and soil moisture recharge, the state will need more cool-season precipitation to undo the far-reaching impacts of the ongoing 5-year drought.
In the Great Basin and Four Corners, a modest reduction of D0 in eastern Nevada was supported by feedback from local experts following near- to above-normal precipitation in these areas during the just-concluded 2015-16 Water Year. The rest of the region remained unchanged, though a continuation of hot, dry conditions may necessitate increases in drought intensity and coverage over the upcoming weeks…
Unfavorably dry conditions are expected to linger over many of the nation’s drought areas over the next 5 to 7 days. In particular, little — if any — rain is expected over the Southeast as well as the southern half of the Great Plains. Exceptions to the dry outlook include the potential for locally heavy rain from the central Appalachians into northern New England, and from northern California into the northern Rockies and Pacific Northwest. The NWS 6- to 10-day outlook for October 25- 29 calls for near- to above-normal temperatures over most of the nation, with cooler-than-normal conditions confined to New England and the central Pacific Coast. However, the outlook features a wetter-than-normal signal from the Pacific Coast into the Ohio Valley and Great Lakes, with drier-than-normal conditions limited to portions of Texas and from the Delta into the Southeast and Mid-Atlantic States.