WaterNews: November 2016 is hot off the presses from @DenverWater

Chatfield Reservoir
Chatfield Reservoir

Click here to read the newsletter. Here’s an excerpt:

5 things you may not know about Chatfield Reservoir

Chatfield State Park is an outdoor sanctuary in Denver’s backyard. But it’s more than a beautiful place — this is one hard-working reservoir. Here’s why.

Chatfield was built for flood control by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, after the 1965 South Platte River flood. During drought, Chatfield water can be pumped to our Marston treatment plant to supplement drinking water supplies. Only water from Denver Water is currently stored behind the dam, even though the dam is federally owned. Colorado State Parks leases the land and oversees park operations.

Chatfield is used for water exchanges to trade downstream users with rights to the water, which allows Denver Water to keep water in the mountain locations of our reservoir system.

Chatfield provides recreational benefits beyond the obvious. In addition to preserving levels for recreation, we use the reservoir to capture water released from Strontia Springs Reservoir. These flows keep the river at optimum levels to support Waterton Canyon’s trout fishery.

Chatfield is about to take on even more responsibility. The Chatfield Storage Reallocation Project will increase water levels by about 12 feet. But this won’t be Denver’s water. Instead, it will help meet demands for growing Front Range communities and downstream farmers. Denver Water will still maintain its original storage pool in the reservoir. The Chatfield Reservoir Mitigation Company also is working with state agencies to develop a plan for a storage “pool” within the reservoir for the environment.

A Plan for the High Line Canal — Confluence Denver

From Confluence Denver (Jamie Siebrase):

Measuring 71 miles from canyon to plains and touted one of the nation’s longest linear parks, the 130-year-old High Line Canal is evolving with Denver. Planning for its future is underway.

You’ll find the High Line Canal’s first headgate just north of Waterton Canyon’s rocky mouth, at a diversion dam on the South Platte River. That dam’s been closed for repairs, though, since the original structure was wiped out in a flood in 2013. Construction on the dam should wrap up next month — too late for this year’s run.

Denver Water owns the High Line, and contracts with seven parks and recreation agencies from Douglas County to Aurora to maintain the canal’s bordering trails and greenways. “Other than where the diversion dam broke, High Line is 100 percent functional,” says , says Tom Roode, Denver Water chief of operations and maintenance.

Despite rumors to the contrary, Denver Water intends to continue running its canal, sending irrigation water to 70 or so active contract holders situated between Waterton Canyon and Fairmount Cemetery, located at about mile 48 on the 71-mile High Line Canal Trail.

Canal users range from wildlife refuges and golf courses to private citizens filling small ponds on their private property. “Current customers,” Roode says, “will always have a water supply, no matter what the future beholds for the canal.”

Running the canal is simple: Denver Water puts water in at the canal’s headgate, and the High Line takes care of the rest. Named for the engineering principle on which it was designed, Denver’s High Line — like others in the state — follows the natural contours of the terrain, dropping a couple of feet each mile, transporting water with gravity, as opposed to a pump or electricity. “Picture a marble rolling down a smooth path really, really slowly,” says Roode.

In good water years, when it has the rights to do so, Denver Water runs its canal two or three times — in the spring and fall, and the summer, perhaps — transporting 120 to 150 cubic feet of water per second, or roughly half the quantity of water it delivered in its heyday, when the canal had 140 headgates and twice as many customers.

Historical interpretations

The English Canal Company — through one of its subsidiaries, Northern Colorado Irrigation Co. — began working on the High Line in 1879, after striking a deal with Kansas Pacific Railway to purchase up to 400,000 acres of excess railroad-grant lands for $1.25 to $2 per acre in exchange for the construction of a canal that would convey water for irrigation.

“Railroads couldn’t sell arid land in the middle of nowhere,” explains Barbara Stocklin-Steely, founder of Denver-based Square Moon Consultants, a historic preservation and planning consulting firm. “The railroad company came up with the idea of building a canal, and selling water rights at the same time it sold land.”

Prominent Colorado engineer Edwin S. Nettleton was brought on for planning, and the canal was built between 1879 and 1883, during Denver’s original gold boom. It was an overly ambitious project from the get-go. The canal was designed to irrigate 120,000 acres. That number, explains a spokesperson for Denver Water, was pared down to 80,000 acres, then 40,000 acres; only 20,000 acres are actually under cultivation.

“The High Line was a major water system when it was first created, but even then it wasn’t very profitable because it’s a leaky little canal,” says Harriet Crittenden LaMair, executive director for the High Line Canal Conservancy.

What’s more, Northern Colorado Irrigation Company was late filing for water rights; by 1879, 87 holders were already senior to the High Line. “The canal has always struggled as a good, solid water source,” explains Roode, noting that it often went empty during dry periods. Located about 100 miles southwest of Denver near Hartsel, Antero Reservoir was built to supplement the High Line’s supply, and still operates today, except in “really tough drought years,” says Roode, pointing to 2002 and 2012.

The High Line changed hands a couple of times, until Denver Water purchased it — along with Antero Reservoir — from the city in 1924. The leaky canal delivered water to many of its original contract holders for the next six decades, until customers gradually began coming off of the canal in the 1980s.

“We’ve always known the canal is an inefficient way to deliver water,” Roode says, noting that 60 to 80 percent of water put into the canal is lost to seepage and evaporation. “Now,” LaMair adds, “there are better, more sustainable and economically feasible ways to bring water to customers. For example, the Rocky Mountain Arsenal, once a major canal customer, converted to a recycled water system in 2003.

“The canal’s original purpose has changed,” Roode says. To that end, the High Line Canal Conservancy and Denver Water have undergone a comprehensive planning project to identify new long-term uses for the space.

From irrigation to recreation

As far as LaMair is concerned, “Recreational use has surpassed functional use” for the canal. Spanning 11 governmental jurisdictions (including Denver, Aurora, Greenwood Village and Highlands Ranch), winding through residential neighborhoods, public parks, golf courses and industrial spaces, the High Line’s abutting shaded path is one of the longest continuous urban trails in the country. Over 350,000 residents live within a mile of it, and, according to data reviewed by the Conservancy, more than 500,000 people use the canal path annually, for walking and hiking, biking, horseback riding and picnicking.

That path was a maintenance road that was closed to the public until the 1970s. A few years later, in 1978, the High Line Canal Trail was designated a National Recreation Trail by the U.S. Department of the Interior. “That was the beginning of the canal’s evolution into a higher purpose as a greenway,” LaMair says, adding that the trail “is more than a recreational amenity. It’s a wildlife habitat, a community connector and a mobility corridor.”

As the canal’s original purpose wanes, LaMair and her cohorts have come together through the High Line Canal Conservancy, to create a vision plan for future use. Formed in 2014 and comprised of 14 board members plus 50 advisors, the Conservancy’s members see a need for private investment in public spaces. “There aren’t enough taxes ever to do what everyone wants,” says LaMair. “Parks,” she adds, “Don’t get the funding other agencies do.”

While Denver Water will continue to manage the canal for the foreseeable future, it gave the Conservancy permission to create a vision plan for the High Line, and that plan began to materialize by way of a four-part series of Conservancy-sponsored open houses that kicked off in June.

Through October, the Conservancy hosted a dozen public gatherings, and engaged about 3,500 residents through meetings and online surveys. The idea, LaMair says, it to figure out what matters most to community members.

Visions for the future

Resident priorities, LaMair says, have been the Conservancy’s “guiding principles” when creating its vision plan. The public’s highest priority, LaMair begins, is keeping the canal natural. “From Douglas County to urbanized Denver, everyone wants a natural refuge,” she says.

Preservation is key in executing this element of the vision plan, and land acquisition isn’t out of the question, either. The canal corridor, LaMair explains, isn’t very wide. “Another goal,” she says, “is to preserve additional open spaces, and create pocket parks around the canal.”

Beyond preserving the canal’s natural landscape, there’s a desire to preserve its history, too. The Conservancy hired Stocklin-Steely’s Square Moon Consultants to do a reconnaissance survey, to identify the canal’s natural resources — infrastructures including dams, gates and flumes — and its historical resources, such as old farmhouses that once used the canal. Stocklin-Steely wrapped up her survey in September after examining 191 different properties along the canal; she says it’s “the first comprehensive look at canal history for its full 71 miles.”

“One big takeaway,” she says, “is that there’s a very small number of historic farmsteads left along the canal. There isn’t much in the way of historic interpretation along the trail.” Recommendations in a report issued to the Conversancy last week include a call for historic interpretation along the trail, in the form of digital apps and/or signs.

Beyond safeguarding nature and history, locals intend to protect neighborhood character, too. Hence, the vision plan outlines five distinct character zones along the canal, and requests a “varied” trail. “The public wants the trail to have its own unique elements in all of the different communities,” LaMair explains.

Her penultimate draft calls, too, for enhanced connectivity. There are 81 at-grade crossings on the canal’s trail, and some are “major challenges,” LaMair says, pointing to Santa Fe Drive in Douglas County.

Meanwhile, Denver, Cherry Hills Village and Arapahoe County have already begun to address one such crossing problem at the intersection of Hampden Avenue and Colorado Boulevard. Funding has been secured to reroute the trail underneath both busy roads next to Denver’s Wellshire Golf Course, and construction is expected to begin in 2017.

Degraded conditions have left some sections of the trail unusable; the Conservancy addresses physical repairs, along with connectivity, too, which has been an ongoing issue for recreational users who would like to see the High Line linked to other trail systems, as well as nearby retail and amenities.

Finally, there’s the question of what to do with the ditch itself. “It’s not overly efficient; it has a lot of issues,” says Stocklin-Steely. “But,” she adds, “I think that maintaining it as an earthen ditch with water flowing is really kind of spectacular.” It’s certainly hard to argue that a concrete-lined canal would have the same appeal for meandering visitors.

The Conservancy’s final vision element, then, explores ways to enhance the canal itself. “There’s a lot of concern over how vegetation will survive if Denver Water ever stops running the canal,” LaMair says. That’s prompted Denver Water to consider the canal for stormwater filtration, which could give the old, leaky waterway new life as a detention pond of sorts.

“We don’t know what the future holds,” Roode says, adding, “The first question we have to answer is what the vision for the canal will be.”

You can find a draft of the vision plan on the Conservancy’s website.

Uncompahgre Water Partnership: We’ve been slimed!

Macro Invertebrates via Little Pend Oreille Wildlife Refuge Water Quality Research
Macro Invertebrates via Little Pend Oreille Wildlife Refuge Water Quality Research

From the Uncompahgre Water Partnership:

Every year, a few weeks before Halloween, the Uncompahgre River seems to blossom with slimy, bubbling growths in areas of the lowest flow. This substance is green algae, decaying and releasing bubbles that are often trapped by iron deposits. Though the algae appears more prominently and abundantly in this season, it’s actually present in the river – even in high flow areas – year round. This fall, the slime may be more noticeable due to more pronounced bubbles caused by the unusually warm temperatures.

While this algae is a typical condition of many river systems and streams, it suffocates macroinvertebrates. According to Uncompahgre Watershed Partnership board member and River Watch volunteer Dudley Case, River Watch experts explained that the zinc in the Uncompahgre River negatively effects both fish and macroinvertebrates, and the slime clogs up areas where they might nest and reproduce.

“Macroinvertebrates are a food source for fish, so the less macroinvertebrates, the less fish. Since the slime is so endemic in the river, reducing the slime safely would be a useful project,” said Case.

Observing and reporting on these types of water issues is one of the goals of the Uncompahgre Watershed Partnership (UWP) as we monitor watershed conditions and communicate with stakeholders. We are reviewing our Watershed Plan this winter so we can make updates related to project and study results from recent years. We hope you will contribute your observations and ideas about priorities to the review and update process. Please feel free to contact us anytime with your thoughts, and we will be back in touch with you to collect input in the coming months, too.

Uncompahgre River watershed
Uncompahgre River watershed

NASA: GOES-R launch now scheduled for November 18

GOES-R Prepares For Launch. Photo credit NASA.
GOES-R Prepares For Launch. Photo credit NASA.

Woo hoo! We need better real-time data now that humankind has killed stationarity.

Click here to go the GOES-R website.

#Colorado Springs to invest heavily in stormwater improvements, hoping to stave off EPA action — The Colorado Springs Gazette

Heavy rains inundate Sand Creek. Photo via the City of Colorado Springs and the Colorado Springs Independent.
Heavy rains inundate Sand Creek. Photo via the City of Colorado Springs and the Colorado Springs Independent.

From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Billie Stanton Anleu):

The EPA threatened to sue after it audited the city stormwater system in August 2015 – two months after Mayor John Suthers took office – and found no improvement since a dismal state audit in February 2013.

“We have not yet resolved the issues (with the EPA),” Suthers said in an interview Wednesday. “Our emphasis of course is looking forward: Let’s make things right. We think any kind of large fine would be unproductive. We feel we’ve done a really good job at addressing all the deficiencies.”

A new Stormwater Program Implementation Plan released Wednesday outlines how the division staff will more than double, from 28 to 66 full-time employees, all dedicated to stormwater, with 49 already on board.

The annual city budget for MS4 permit compliance climbs from about $3 million to about $7.1 million this year. That Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System permit allows the flow into interstate waters, from Fountain Creek into the Arkansas River to the Mississippi River and into the Gulf of Mexico.

The $7.1 million devoted to MS4 comes in addition to $9.2 million a year being spent on capital projects, plus $3 million from Colorado Springs Utilities, for a total of more than $19 million a year.

In order to protect water quality, strict enforcement will be launched at construction and industrial sites and with private developers who don’t comply.

In all, 71 projects will be completed over the next 20 years, with channel improvements consuming the most funds. In order to speed such improvements, though, the city might use outside contractors on capital projects until all additional staff members are on board.

Suthers had a message for the community. “We have to face the fact that Colorado Springs has underfunded its stormwater program for a number of years. And we have a lot of work to do.”

Unlike most every other city in America, he said, “We don’t have a dedicated fund for stormwater.”

The City Council could create a stormwater fund unilaterally if it chose to do so. But the mayor wants more information first, so members of public works, finance and the city attorney’s office are researching how other cities’ stormwater programs are structured…

But without a stormwater fund, how will the city pay its $16 million annual obligation?

“We’re going to get it from the general fund until we can get it from another fund. If the city falls short in any five-year period with the intergovernmental agreement (with Pueblo County), Utilities makes up the difference,” he said.

“I’m not worried about that. What I’m worried about rather is the consequences to the city if this doesn’t get funded. I would hope the average Joe would want the city of Colorado Springs to be compliant. The EPA does have jurisdiction over stormwater.”

This strong push to “make things right” comes after nearly a decade of essentially ignoring stormwater concerns. The recession started in 2008, and voters in 2009 backed Issue 300, which weakened city use of enterprise funds. The then-City Council promptly eliminated the city’s Stormwater Enterprise Fund, which levied fees based mostly on a property’s impervious surface area.

The loss of that $15 million to $16 million a year infuriated officials in Pueblo County, who threatened to withdraw the vital 1041 permit for the Southern Delivery System, an $825 million project that was 20 years in the making. Pueblo County, after all, was receiving heavy sedimentation in flows from Fountain Creek.

Suthers soon found himself surfing dual waves of stormy waters – negotiating with Pueblo County to save the delivery system, and conferring with the EPA on how best to meet requirements of the MS4 permit.

Months of frustrating negotiations with Pueblo County finally resulted in April in the 20-year agreement for the city to complete 71 capital projects, spending more than $460 million over 20 years.

The money will be spent in five-year increments, at a rate of $100 million the first five years followed by $110 million, $120 million and $130 million. Any developers’ projects or other efforts would be in addition to the promised amounts.

If the projects aren’t done in time, the accord will be extended five years. And if Colorado Springs can’t come up with the money required, the city-owned Utilities will have to do so.

But while negotiations with Pueblo County were tough, efforts to satisfy the EPA evidently have proven even more difficult. A decision from the federal agency is expected “relatively quickly,” Suthers said.

Whatever the EPA decides, Suthers long has insisted that the city’s stormwater shortcomings must be fixed.

“I mean this very sincerely,” he told The Gazette last April. “It’s the right thing to do. And it’s something we should do.”

#COP21: Paris Climate Agreement Starts Now — @CircleOfBlue


From Circle of Blue (Codi Kozacek):

The Paris climate agreement goes into effect today, legally requiring countries around the world to honor their pledges to cut carbon emissions. Those pledges, however, are not enough to stop climate change from reaching dangerous levels, according to a United Nations report. A separate study quantified the effect of an individual person’s carbon emissions on melting sea ice in the Arctic. In Cambodia, the government promised to investigate the sand mining industry after learning that a huge amount of illegal mining is likely taking place, putting rivers and fisheries at risk. Officials in the United States reported that the drought is over for parts of California, but many areas remain under extremely dry conditions.

“The Paris agreement sends a much-needed signal to politicians and industry that we have to build a new world, and this has to start now. However, the deal is not enough to keep people and the planet safe.” –Harjeet Singh, global lead on climate change for ActionAid, an international organization based in Johannesburg. The Paris agreement, a binding global pact to limit carbon emissions and slow global warming, goes into effect today. (Guardian)

Air Force plans to spend $2 billion to clean up PFC-contaminated water — The Denver Post

Widefield aquifer via the Colorado Water Institute.
Widefield aquifer via the Colorado Water Institute.

From The Denver Post (Bruce Finley):

A Pentagon team met leaders of Colorado communities whose water has been contaminated with a toxic chemical used to fight fuel fires — and a top official on Wednesday declared the Air Force will move aggressively nationwide, expecting to spend $250 million on studies and $2 billion for cleanup.

Meanwhile Environmental Protect Agency officials said the agency will back increased testing of groundwater in Colorado. Initial tests found the Fountain Creek watershed contaminated with the perfluorinated chemicals (PFCs) at levels exceeding a federal health limit nearly as far south as Pueblo. EPA officials also said they’ll consider developing regulations for PFCs, which have been linked by scientists to low birth weights, cancers of the kidneys and testicles, and other problems.

And military officials at Peterson Air Force Base, where contractors are drilling for 77 samples of soil and 24 samples of groundwater to try to find sources of PFC contamination, announced that their recent report of a 150,000-gallon spill into Colorado Springs sewers was erroneous. They said they now believe 20,000 gallons laced with PFCs flowed into a pond and evaporated.

Colorado residents in 25 homes south of the base whose municipal well water tested bad will receive reverse-osmosis water treatment systems, officials told utilities officials from Widefield, Fountain and Security. Military contractors have tested water in 68 homes so far.

In using Aqueous Film-Forming Foam (AFFF) containing PFCs to fight fuel fires at bases nationwide, the Air Force did not know PFCs could cause harm, said Mark Correll, deputy assistant secretary of the Air Force. While studies for decades have looked at these and other chemicals, Corell said none concluded AFFF shouldn’t be used. Correll rejected suggestions the Air Force was negligent…

The $250 million for studying contamination at bases nationwide and $2 billion for cleanups is in addition to a $900,000 research contract to the Colorado School of Mines to develop a system to destroy PFCs in water.

“This is a really big deal for the Air Force,” Correll said. “The business of the U.S. Air Force is to defend the people of this country. The last thing we want to do is put them at risk.”