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

Upper Colorado River Basin month to date precipitation though October 18, 2016.
Upper Colorado River Basin month to date precipitation though October 18, 2016.

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

Scientists in Colorado work on predicting ‘flash droughts’ — 9News.com

West Drought Monitor October 11, 2016.
West Drought Monitor October 11, 2016.

From 9News.com (Maya Rodriguez):

Flash droughts, much like flash floods, are sudden. It happens when dry conditions seemingly coming on without warning. However, a new study from the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder found that there may be a way to better predict this kind of drought.

“In terms of when you look at drought forecast, you also should look towards the ground, in addition to the sky,” PaiMazumder said.

What comes from the sky? Snow — in particular, snowpack. It’s the added ingredient to an equation that could help predict flash droughts months in advance.

“Because in 2012, we had such a lack of snowpack, which influenced our soil moisture,” PaiMazumder said.

Scientists at NCAR found that by looking at the usual drought measurement – soil moisture — and then also analyzing snowpack, they could increase their prediction of a flash drought from one month in advance to four months. That could help water managers in a dry state like Colorado know how much water they have to work with. It’s a lead time could make a big difference in predicting future flash droughts.

The National Science Foundation funded the study, which was just published in the Journal of Geophysical Research, Atmospheres.

La Plata County Open Space and Southwest Conversation Corps take the fight to Russian Olive trees

Russian Olive
Russian Olive

From The Durango Herald (Jonathan Romeo):

Two years ago, a partnership between La Plata County Open Space and Southwest Conversation Corps removed Russian Olive, along with two other invasive species – tamarisk and Siberian elm – from more than 300 acres of the Animas River valley.

However, lands targeted during that project focused only on property owners who had placed their land under a conservation easement. There remained the need to address other landowners in the valley, Mountain Studies Institute’s Amanda M. Kuenzi said.

As a result, MSI applied, and was awarded, a $195,000 grant from the Colorado Water Conservation Board and an additional $52,000 from Colorado Parks and Wildlife for a three-year project to remove invasive plants from Bakers Bridge to the New Mexico line.

This week, crews from Southwest Conservation Corps embarked on the first leg of the project: a three-week effort on about 15 properties in the Animas Valley, including James Ranch and the Zink farm.

This fall’s removal, Kuenzi said, also serves as a pilot project aimed to garner interest from adjacent landowners.

“We really hope to get property owners who haven’t been involved to get aggressive on this,” Kuenzi said.

Kuenzi said because of diligent past efforts from Animas Valley landowners, as well as the city of Durango, among other entities, the presence of Russian olive and other invasive species isn’t nearly as problematic as in neighboring communities.

“If you go to Farmington, the Russian olive is wall to wall,” she said. “But we’ve worked on the problem here for decades, and that’s why our area isn’t overwhelmed. Still, we need to nip this problem in the bud so future generations don’t have to deal with it.”

Indeed, Cathy Metz, parks and recreation manager with the city of Durango, said the city has strategically fought Russian olive and other non-native plants on its property for years.

“We still have an ongoing monitoring situation, but we really don’t have many remaining on city property,” she said. “But certainly, we really advocate for collaborative effort to remove these species just because they are so invasive.”

Megan Graham, spokeswoman for La Plata County, said Russian olive is not on the list of weeds the county targets, but that the issue may be a topic of conversation later this month.

Russian olives are considered a “List B noxious weed,” which requires local governments to manage and limit their spread under Colorado state law.

Regardless, work carried out this week by Southwest Conservation Corp’s eight-person crew aims to cut down the plant. They then drop riparian-safe herbicide on the root so the plant doesn’t grow back.

“The hard part is really trying to spot all of them,” crew leader Alyssa Engdahl said while scouring the Zink property Wednesday. “And, of course, the thorns.”

The project next year will be four months, with the aim of extending into the Florida River watershed, a tributary of the Animas. The effort as a whole, Kuenzi said, largely depends on the community’s response.

“We really need all landowners’ participation to make this program a success and to ensure the health of our watershed for years to come,” she said.

La Junta scores $246,000 for wastewater infrastructure upgrades

Wastewater Treatment Process
Wastewater Treatment Process

From the La Junta Tribune-Democrat (Bette McFarren):

With Mayor Pro Tem Jeffri Pruyn conducting the meeting, the La Junta City Council on Monday evening formally accepted the loan/grant of $246,000 from the Colorado Water Resources and Power Development Authority to the City of La Junta Wastewater Enterprise of not to exceed $246,000. The loan is to be forgiven at its inception. It is for the purpose of dealing with the problems facing the installation of the new wastewater plant, thus enabling construction to get under way. Construction is unlikely to begin until late winter or next spring, said Director of Water and Wastewater Joe Kelley.

Fountain Creek: 150 KGAL of PFC-laden water released into #Colorado Springs sewer system by Peterson AFB

The Fountain Creek Watershed is located along the central front range of Colorado. It is a 927-square mile watershed that drains south into the Arkansas River at Pueblo. The watershed is bordered by the Palmer Divide to the north, Pikes Peak to the west, and a minor divide 20 miles east of Colorado Springs. Map via the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District.
The Fountain Creek Watershed is located along the central front range of Colorado. It is a 927-square mile watershed that drains south into the Arkansas River at Pueblo. The watershed is bordered by the Palmer Divide to the north, Pikes Peak to the west, and a minor divide 20 miles east of Colorado Springs. Map via the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District.

From The Denver Post (Bruce Finley):

The spill, which Air Force officials said they’re investigating, happened as the Air Force increasingly faces scrutiny as a source of groundwater contamination nationwide.

The surge of waste containing elevated perfluorinated chemicals (PFCs) — used at military airfields to douse fuel fires and linked by federal authorities to kidney cancer, testicular cancer, low birth weights and other health problems — flowed through a Colorado Springs Utilities wastewater treatment plant before crews could try to block it. Then it trickled into Fountain Creek.

“Even if we would have been able to head it off at the plant, we’re not equipped. I don’t know of any wastewater plants in the country equipped to remove PFCs,” utilities spokesman Steve Berry said. “We would not have been able to remove that chemical before it was discharged back into the environment from our effluent.”

Fountain Creek flows south toward Pueblo and into the Arkansas River.

Pueblo Board of Water Works spokesman Paul Fanning said Pueblo didn’t hear about the spill until reporters made inquiries Tuesday.

“We don’t use any groundwater or surface water from Fountain Creek. We use water from the Arkansas River taken upstream from where Fountain Creek flows in,” Fanning said. “But it is not a good thing to have those contaminants anywhere in our water. There are some reported health effects. It is in our interest to protect our public.”

[…]

The PFC-laced waste was held in a tank at a firefighter training area on the base, located at the southeastern edge of Colorado Springs. PFCs are a component in the aqueous film-forming foam used to extinguish fuel fires.

Air Force officials said in the statement that they discovered the spill Oct. 12 during an inspection. They notified Colorado Springs Utilities the next day. The tank was part of a system used to recirculate water to a firefighter training area…

In Colorado, government well test data show PFCs have contaminated groundwater throughout the Fountain Creek watershed, nearly as far south as Pueblo, at levels up to 20 times higher than that EPA health advisory limit of 70 parts per trillion.

Public-water authorities in Fountain, Security and Widefield have scrambled to provide enough alternative water. Security has been purchasing millions of gallons of diverted Arkansas River water from Colorado Springs, installing new pipelines and minimizing pumping from contaminated municipal wells. Since Sept. 9, Security has not pumped any water from wells, water and sanitation district manager Roy Heald said. “This spill does not affect us immediately,” Heald said. “Our only concern would be the long-term effect on Fountain Creek and the Widefield Aquifer.”

Some parents south of Colorado Springs began paying for bottled water — to be safe. A contractor delivers emergency bottled water to at least 77 households.

The Air Force has contributed $4.3 million to help communities deal with the contamination.

Colorado Springs utilities crews will work with the military “to keep PFCs out of our system. That is the goal,” Berry said. “How do we protect our customers and our system from this chemical? That is the focus. It goes beyond the Air Force. It is any industrial process that may use that chemical.”

El Paso County Public Health “takes this discharge seriously and will coordinate with the Colorado Department of Public Health and the Environment to collect water samples along Fountain Creek, if warranted,” spokeswoman Danielle Oller said.

CDPHE has been informed, agency spokesman Mark Salley said, adding: “It is under investigation by the Air Force, and the department is waiting for information. … The Air Force has demonstrated its commitment to identifying and addressing PFC contamination at Peterson Air Force Base and facilities nationwide.”

From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Tom Roeder and Jakob Rodgers):

The release last week posed no threat to Colorado Springs drinking water.

The base said the release was discovered Oct. 12. The cause hasn’t been determined, but Fred Brooks, Peterson’s environmental chief, said the holding tank was designed to be difficult to discharge.

“It’s not a direct connection,” Brooks said. “This tank would have to have numerous valves switched to actually discharge.”

Was it intentional?

“That’s a possibility,” Brooks said…

An investigation has been opened to determine the cause of the discharge, said Col. Doug Schiess, who commands Peterson’s 21st Space Wing, in the statement.

Colorado Springs Utilities said the chemical-laden water passed through the utility’s Las Vegas Street sewage treatment plant and was released into Fountain Creek. The plant does not have the capacity to remove the chemical.

“There was no risk to the drinking water,” said Steve Berry, a Utilities spokesman. “This did not impact the drinking water, the finished water system, in any way. It went directly into the wastewater system.”

While Peterson notified Colorado Springs, base officials didn’t warn others downstream. Brooks said the base isn’t required to issue a wider notification, noting that the chemical is “unregulated” – a term used for substances that haven’t drawn enforceable drinking water standards…

Peterson had scheduled a public firefighting demonstration on Oct. 12, the day the discharge was discovered. The fire training exercise was canceled, with a spokesman at the base blaming the delay on a “bad valve”

Brooks, the base environmental officer, said two mechanical valves and an electric one must be switched to allow water to flow out of the tank, which held the outflow from fire training exercises dating back as far as 2013.

He said the water wasn’t tested for levels of the firefighting chemical.

A second tank on the base holding fire training residue wasn’t discharged.

The Air Force banned use of the foam outside fire emergencies last year and last month announced a plan to replace the product at all of its bases around the globe. Brooks said the foam at Peterson will be replaced in about two weeks.

The water contamination in Security, Widefield and Fountain has drawn a pair of lawsuits against the manufacturers of the firefighting foam alleging they sold it to the Air Force despite its toxic risks.

Although downstream, no drinking water supplied to Pueblo residents by the Pueblo Board of Water Works comes from Fountain Creek, said Paul Fanning, the agency’s spokesman. The Pueblo Reservoir does not pull from Fountain Creek.

The Widefield Water and Sanitation District is the only water system immediately downstream of the treatment plant now using the Widefield Aquifer, which leaches water from Fountain Creek, where the chemicals flowed.

Widefield officials have previously said they plan to shut off their wells by sometime in October.

Other communities have shut off their wells to the tainted aquifer.

All the water flowing to homes supplied by the Security and Fountain water systems now comes from the Pueblo Reservoir – meaning that last week’s spill should not affect those communities.

“The long-term effects would be concerning,” said Roy Heald, Security water district’s general manager. “But short-term immediate effects – there wouldn’t be any for us.”

The EPA said it wasn’t involved with the spill.

The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment gave the Air Force a vote of confidence despite the chemical discharge.

“The Air Force has demonstrated its commitment to identifying and addressing (perfluorinated compound) contamination at Peterson Air Force Base and facilities nationwide,” the state agency said.

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