Sens. Bennet (@mbennet) and Gardner (@SenCoryGardner) find common ground on a set of bills

Mountains reflect off of Bolts Lake as seen from US 24 S in Colorado. Photo via
Mountains reflect off of Bolts Lake as seen from US 24 S in Colorado. Photo via

From (Joey Bunch):

Gardner’s office described the bills this way:

  • The Bolts Ditch Access and Use Act would authorize special use of the Bolts Ditch headgate and the segment of the Bolts Ditch within the Holy Cross Wilderness Area, allowing Minturn to use its existing water right to fill Bolts Lake. This would solve a problem created in 1980 when Congress designated Holy Cross Wilderness area, but inadvertently left Bolts Ditch off of the list of existing water facilities.
  • The Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument legislation will allow for enhanced wildfire protection as well as additional habitat for wildlife and recreational opportunities for visitors. Established as a national monument in 1969, the Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument is located west of Pikes Peak and less than 40 miles from Colorado Springs. The monument is home to diverse fossil deposits, maintaining a collection of over 12,000 specimens. It also provides recreational experiences and curriculum-based education programs for its visitors. A private landowner submitted a proposal to donate 280 acres of land adjacent to Florissant Fossil Beds Monument, but due to current law the land donation cannot take place. This commonsense legislation would permit a landowner to donate private land to Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument.
  • The Wedge Act would aid the Forest Service in acquiring several parcels of land adjacent to Rocky Mountain National Park. This Act would help preserve critical wildlife habitat, Colorado River headwaters, and a highly visible view shed in the area commonly referred to as the Wedge.
  • The Crags, Colorado Land Exchange Act is a federal land exchange where the Forest Service would acquire pristine land in the Pike National Forest allowing for more outdoor recreation near Pikes Peak.
  • The Elkhorn Ranch and White River National Forest Conveyance Act would correct the discrepancy that took place from conflicting land surveys and require the Forest Service to convey acreage to private ownership that is rightfully private property, according to the Forest Service’s own conclusion and recommendation. For nearly 100 years, 148 acres of land has been used as private land even though it is included in Forest Service survey maps, and this legislation allows for the resolution between the Forest Service and the private landowner.
  • “Colorado’s public lands are national treasures and I’m proud to work across the aisle to protect our state’s natural beauty,” Gardner said in an afternoon statement. “Each of these measures proposes a legislative fix that will have a lasting impact on Colorado and ensure future generations are able to enjoy Colorado’s great outdoors. I look forward to working with my colleagues to advance these bills through the legislative process.”

    Bennet added. “Our public lands define Colorado and help drive our outdoor recreation economy. These bipartisan, commonsense measures will help to preserve our pristine lands, protect wildlife habitats and expand outdoor access for years to come.”

    @usbr: Aspinall Unit operations update: 600 CFS in Black Canyon

    Fog-filled Black Canyon via the National Park Service
    Fog-filled Black Canyon via the National Park Service

    From email from the US Bureau of Reclamation (Erik Knight):

    Releases from Crystal Dam will be increased from 600 cfs to 1200 cfs between Monday, February 6th and Tuesday, February 7th. This increase is in response to the high runoff forecast for Blue Mesa Reservoir this spring. The latest runoff forecast predicts 925,000 af of runoff to Blue Mesa Reservoir between April and July, which is 137% of average. The current content of Blue Mesa Reservoir is 586,000 acre-feet which is 71% full.

    Flows in the lower Gunnison River are currently above the baseflow target of 1050 cfs. Flows are expected to remain above the baseflow target for the foreseeable future.

    Pursuant to the Aspinall Unit Operations Record of Decision (ROD), the baseflow target in the lower Gunnison River, as measured at the Whitewater gage, is 1050 cfs for February through May.

    Currently, diversions into the Gunnison Tunnel are at zero and flows in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon are around 600 cfs. After this release change Gunnison Tunnel diversions will still be at zero and flows in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon should be around 1200 cfs. Current flow information is obtained from provisional data that may undergo revision subsequent to review.

    Ogallala Aquifer: “We’re burning up our savings account” — Jay Garetson

    Map sources: Houston, Natalie. 2011. Hydrogeologist, Texas Water Science Center, U.S. Geological Survey. Personal communication, October 2011. Houston, Natalie, Amanda Garcia, and Eric Strom. 2003. Selected Hydrogeologic Datasets for the Ogallala Aquifer, Texas. Open File Report 2003-296. August 2003.
    Map sources:
    Houston, Natalie. 2011. Hydrogeologist, Texas Water Science Center, U.S. Geological Survey. Personal communication, October 2011.
    Houston, Natalie, Amanda Garcia, and Eric Strom. 2003. Selected Hydrogeologic Datasets for the Ogallala Aquifer, Texas. Open File Report 2003-296. August 2003.

    From the Las Vegas Daily Sun (Ian James):

    By permanently barring the use of two wells in an area where farmers rely on the Ogallala Aquifer to grow corn, the judge concluded the Garetson family’s senior water right had been “impaired” by their neighbor – a company that holds a junior water right.

    “What made this case so important is the precedent that is now set,” said Jay Garetson, who filed the lawsuit in 2012 together with his brother Jarvis. The Garetsons have said they sued not only to defend their livelihood but also to press the state to enforce its water laws, and to call attention to the urgent need for action to preserve the aquifer.

    “Our goal was to force this to the forefront,” Garetson said in an interview on Wednesday. “The best-case scenario would be it forces people to recognize that the status quo is no longer an option.”

    Kansas’ “first-in-time, first-in-right” water rights system gives priority to those who have been using their wells the longest. And farmers are actually using much less water than they would be permitted under the system of appropriated groundwater rights established decades ago.

    But with aquifers levels dropping and a limited supply left that can be economically extracted for farming, the Garetsons and others argue that the state and water districts should step in to establish limits on pumping…

    Garetson said the decision should help bring order to a chaotic situation, and he hopes the case will be a catalyst for management of groundwater. He said he thinks the local groundwater district should establish a water budget and institute a sort of “cap-and-trade” system, in which water use would be scaled back based on established rights and could be sold between farmers, thereby allowing the market to sort out the scarcity problem.

    He thinks such a system could serve as a model across the Ogallala Aquifer and in other areas of the country where aquifers are declining due to excessive pumping.

    Garetson has seen some wells go dry on his farm, where he and his brother grow corn and sorghum. And he acknowledges his own pumping contributes to what is effectively the “mining” of groundwater.

    He wants state officials and the region’s water managers to establish limits to move “in the direction of sustainability” – even though that’s a high bar to reach given the area’s limited water supplies and slow rate of aquifer recharge.

    Garetson said he hopes the court decision will help Kansas farmers move away from the pattern of unchecked pumping that is draining the aquifer. Under the status quo, he said, “we’re actually just borrowing from the future. We’re burning up our savings account.”

    @ColoradoStateU: #Colorado Blueprint project to engage with ag stakeholders across the state


    Here’s the release from Colorado State University (Jason Kosovski):

    As Colorado’s land-grant university, Colorado State University is responsive to the needs of agricultural producers, the food industry, and consumers throughout the state. Because Colorado is such a large state in terms of land and natural resources, and its agriculture is so diverse, CSU recognizes the best way to learn about pressing agricultural issues is to bring our partners from these diverse regions together to share perspectives and form priorities.

    That is why CSU has launched the Colorado Blueprint project. This statewide effort will focus on collecting and sharing data to foster a discussion about the role and vision for food and agricultural programming at CSU and many partner organizations.

    “It is essential that we actively engage our communities if we are going to focus our food and agricultural research in the ways that are most beneficial to our stakeholders,” said Dawn Thilmany, a professor of agricultural and resource economics and one of the project’s leaders.

    Goals of the project

  • Understanding opportunities and challenges resulting from changing public attitudes about agriculture and food;
  • Assessing opportunities for Colorado food system policy to address challenges and needs;
  • Documenting, assessing and highlighting key linkages in Colorado’s food supply chain, its key players and infrastructure;
  • Developing priorities for capacity-building, investment and innovation across Colorado agriculture and food stakeholders; and
  • Enhancing CSU’s knowledge of Colorado-specific research and engagement needs to support opportunities for all research and outreach units, both on and off campus
  • The project team will travel around the state, holding meetings and listening sessions that will be open to the public. The first session will take place Feb. 6 in Salida at the Chaffee County Fairgrounds from 2 to 4 p.m. Additional sessions will occur throughout February and March, and the full schedule of meetings can be found on the project website calendar. The project is a year-long process, so the website will include updated events and materials.

    “The Colorado Blueprint project is an excellent example of our college’s research, outreach and engagement to enhance Colorado’s agriculture and educate consumers as to how their food is produced in a safe and efficient manner,” said Ajay Menon, dean of the College of Agricultural Sciences.

    About the Colorado Blueprint Project

    The Colorado Blueprint Project is a collaboration among the CSU College of Agricultural Sciences, the Colorado Agricultural Experiment Station, CSU’s Office of Engagement, CSU Extension, the Colorado Department of Agriculture, the Colorado Food Systems Advisory Council and LiveWell Colorado. For more information on the project, visit the website.

    @NewsDeeply: Developing an understanding of atmospheric rivers and the West


    From (Matt Weiser):

    Atmospheric rivers are just what they sound like: a column of water carried aloft by a narrow band of wind. The moisture usually originates in the tropics of the eastern Pacific Ocean and travels all the way across the sea in a narrow band before striking the U.S. coast – usually somewhere in California.

    These events can deliver as much as 50 percent of California’s water supply in as few as eight storms every year. But until recently, predicting them has been difficult. Meteorologists had no way to tell where an atmospheric river would strike, how wet it would be, or for how long. Now they have a variety of tools that help provide those answers. Here’s a look at some of the progress:

    1. Rock you like a hurricane? Yes, atmospheric rivers really do.

    Experts on atmospheric rivers sometimes use the phrase “horizontal hurricane” to explain how these storms work. And it’s apt, because atmospheric rivers usually manifest as a long, narrow band of high-intensity rainfall that reaches across the Pacific Ocean before targeting California.

    Now we know these storms are also just as wet as a hurricane or tornado.

    The big storms that hammered California from January 7-10 amounted to at least three and possibly four separate atmospheric rivers. The precipitation they delivered approached 20in (51cm) at some locations along the coast and in the Sierra Nevada, said Michael Dettinger, a research hydrologist at the U.S. Geological Survey who studies atmospheric rivers. That equals the rainfall often delivered by major hurricanes in the southeast or tornadoes in the Midwest.

    “Very often in California, we have a big storm and it’s sort of like, ‘Well, I’m sure somebody in the Midwest wouldn’t think much about this storm. We’re just these Californians who are used to sunny weather,’ and all that,” Dettinger said. “But factually, our biggest storms are hurricane-scale storms. And there’s no place other than the hurricane belt that you get storms this big. So really, when we have a big, bad storm here, there’s no reason to apologize. Our big, bad storms are as bad as anyone else’s.”

    2. How big? Scientists now have a way to rate them.

    Weather experts use the Saffir-Simpson scale to rate hurricane intensity and the Fujita scale to rate tornado strength.

    Now there’s a way to rate extreme precipitation events like atmospheric rivers. It’s called the R-Cat scale, short for “rainfall category.” Dettinger helped develop it as a way to objectively rank rainfall events, no matter where they occur.

    If more than 8in (200mm) of rain falls at any measuring station over a three-day stretch, that earns an R-Cat 1 rating. The scale steps up from there with every additional 4in (100mm) of rain. An R-Cat 3 event, for instance, means a weather station got 16-20in of rain over three days. R-Cat 4 (the biggest, at least so far) means more than 20in over three days.

    During the January 7-10 storms, many areas on the coast and in the Sierra Nevada saw R-Cat 2 rainfall levels, or more than 12in of rain. A handful saw R-Cat 3 levels, or more than 16in, including the town of Venado, near the coast in Sonoma County; and Downieville in Sierra County.

    One location, Strawberry Valley in Yuba County, near Sly Creek Reservoir, saw 20.51in of rain, or 521mm, in three days. That puts it in R-Cat 4 territory, one of the largest rainfall events ever recorded in California.

    “The extremity and rarity of the largest events is quite comparable to hurricanes and tornadoes,” Dettinger says. “So when we say it’s an R-Cat 4, that’s a big thing. It could be as far back as 2006 that we last had one of these show up.”

    3. Extreme rainfall is strongly linked to atmospheric rivers.

    The number of R-Cat 3 or 4-rated rainfall events every year roughly matches the number of major hurricanes that occur annually in the Atlantic or the number of extreme tornadoes in the Midwest.

    Dettinger used the new rating scale to look back at previous storms over the past 60 years. He found there have only been about 48 events that ranked as big as R-Cat 3 or 4. Of these, Dettinger said, 92 percent were associated with atmospheric rivers, and 90 percent were in California.

    “They almost always happen in California, and they’re almost always associated with landfalling atmospheric rivers,” Dettinger said.

    4. Those ratings, and more, may soon show up in forecasts.

    The rainfall ratings aren’t just for scientists. They can also help the public gauge the intensity of an approaching storm. And they could show up in your nightly weather forecast soon.

    Ten years ago, the National Weather Service was reluctant to forecast rainfall amounts more than three days out. There was too much uncertainty to ensure useful information.

    Now, that window has grown quite a bit. Forecasters can now estimate storm intensity and rainfall as much as 10 days out. And within five days, they can start to tell us something about where the atmospheric river will strike the coast. That’s a big stride from just a few years ago, when forecasters would often liken an atmospheric river to a “loose fire hose” flailing around and gushing water unpredictably.

    “We’re beyond that now,” said Marty Ralph, director of the Center for Western Weather and Water Extremes, a branch of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at U.C. San Diego and the leader in atmospheric river research. “We have a pretty good sense of when they’re coming, and the hose isn’t flapping as much.”

    Ralph said researchers can now predict within 500-600 miles (805-965km) where an atmospheric river will make landfall, and they’re working to shrink that range. For instance, their computer models can now plot the likelihood that an atmospheric river will strike each degree of latitude on the Pacific Coast, from Baja California to Alaska.

    The next step is to include R-Cat ratings in regular forecasts. We might hear, for example, that a storm bound for California has “R-Cat 3 rainfall potential.” This could help vulnerable areas prepare for flooding, mudslides and road closures.

    “The pieces are all there to express forecasts in these terms,” said Dettinger, who is also a Scripps research associate and a principal investigator on Ralph’s team.

    5. The next frontier is duration and elevation.

    Two other factors determine how wet and wild an atmospheric river will be: The snow level, and how long it lasts.

    A warm storm with high snow levels means more of the watershed is contributing to streamflow, which can increase flood risk. It also melts a portion of any existing snowpack, boosting streamflow beyond what the clouds deliver. A 2,000ft (610m) rise in snow level, Ralph said, can triple the amount of runoff.

    “What happened as the big atmospheric river came in on Saturday [January 7] was the snow level jumped from 5,000ft (1524m) above sea level all the way up to 10,000ft (3048m) in about four hours,” Ralph said. “None of the models predicted that, but we saw that in real time.”

    That’s because Ralph’s team has 10 vertically pointing weather radar units installed at important reservoirs around the state. These record precipitation as it changes from rain to snow, and the elevation at which that occurs. They’ve been in place for several years. But because of the long drought, they are only now getting regular use in atmospheric river research.

    “This winter is allowing us to see how they perform much better, and to start to see how they might be useful for people who are affected by the snow level,” Ralph said. “Nowhere else in the world has this kind of data.”

    Duration is a similar concern. How long an atmospheric river stays parked over a particular region determines how wet things get. And it’s not a linear relationship: An atmospheric river that lasts for 40 hours, Ralph said, can deliver seven times more rainfall than a 20-hour event.

    The Center for Western Weather and Water Extremes has an enormous amount of data on its website to help predict, monitor and measure atmospheric rivers. A lot of it is not comprehensible to the layman. But they are working to bridge that gap with improved graphics, and new tools like duration and snow-level predictions.

    “I suspect by next winter, if not sometime this winter, they’ll become part of our bag of tricks we put online for everyone to see,” Dettinger said.

    Michigan Ditch: “the biggest excavators we could bring in were nearly hanging off the edge of the mountain on the way up” — John Beckos

    Aerial view of Michigan tunnel entrance via City of Fort Collins.
    Aerial view of Michigan tunnel entrance via City of Fort Collins.

    From (Jim Rush):

    The Michigan Ditch is a 5.2-mile conveyance system that brings water from the high mountains into the Joe Wright Reservoir, a part of City’s two water sources. Over the years, the Michigan Ditch, a combination of pipeline and open channel originally built around 1900 and purchased by Fort Collins in the 1970s, was subject to the whims of Mother Nature. Specifically, one portion of the water supply route that crosses an area known as “the mudslide” was subject to periodic damage when the slides occurred.

    The City was accustomed to making simple repairs that involved digging up the pipe and moving or replacing it when the slide moves. But in September 2014, crews noticed something unusual. The pipe, which typically moved only during snowmelt in the spring, had moved substantially since its repair that summer. The following spring, even more movement showed that a more permanent fix was needed.

    “It was apparent that this wasn’t something we could simply dig up and put back in place like previous years,” said Owen Randall, chief engineer for Fort Collins Utilities. “We knew we needed a long-term solution that could cost upwards of $10 million. When I told City management the response was: ‘The water is worth $180 million, so go fix it.’”

    In summer 2015, the City got to work with a geotechnical assessment that included seismic refraction as well as vertical and horizontal borings. Meanwhile, the City put together a team of consultants and contractors to help ascertain the best way to move forward. After exploring the options, the team decided that a tunnel that would re-route the water through the mountain in stable rock was the best solution…

    The tunnel option provided the long-term solution the City was looking for while having the added benefits of less maintenance, less environmental impact and a construction cost comparable to other options…

    The logistics of working on the side of a mountain also presented challenges. The project site was located 2.5 miles up a narrow, winding dirt road that dictated the weight and dimensions of the equipment that could be safely transported. Additionally, the nearest town (Walden, Colorado; population 3,000) was located 30 miles away, with Fort Collins 70 miles away. Even cell phone service had to be brought in.

    “Due to the nature of the road, we were limited to about an 11-ft wide load,” said John Beckos, project manager for BT Construction. “We were unable to get a crane to the site, and the biggest excavators we could bring in were nearly hanging off the edge of the mountain on the way up.”

    The site access also dictated the type of tunnel boring machine that could be used to excavate the tunnel. After evaluating the options, the project team elected to use an Akkerman hard-rock TBM that had a mixed face cutterhead to deal with the highly fractured, hard rock and abundant fault and shear zones. The machine was compact enough to accommodate the limited space at both the launch and retrieval pits, light enough to be handled by the available equipment, and had enough power to drill through rock that reached strengths of 15,000 psi…

    The tunnel was mined from the downstream portal to the upstream portal. The first 40 ft of the alignment was straight before it transitioned into the 630-ft radius curve spanning 726 ft. The TBM was equipped with a conveyor system and dual muck boxes to remove the spoil. Spoil was stockpiled near the site to be used by the City for future repairs to the ditch and pipeline, as well as the access road, which the City also maintains…

    Randall said the ground made tunneling a challenge. “The only thing consistent about the ground was that the rock was inconsistent,” he said. “We would find hard zones 2-3 inches thick, 2-3 feet thick and 30-feet thick. We knew we were going to get into difficult geology, but it still posed a challenge.”

    Once the TBM was completely launched into the mountainside, the team had originally planned to be tunneling for about 6 weeks from early July through the middle of August. The inconsistent rock in the middle of the drive would end up slowing productions down and delaying the hole out until Sept. 29. And, despite the challenging ground, the TBM holed through precisely on target. Project team members credited the VMT guidance systems, typically used for larger and longer tunnels, for keeping the tunnel on line and grade…

    Over the last 20 years, Fort Collins has implemented and refined its delivery system known as the Alternative Product Delivery System (APDS). Fort Collins retains a group of prequalified contractors and consultants on an annual contract basis – known as master service agreements – and when a project is needed, the City can call on its team of service providers with expertise in a particular area to negotiate a contract. This allows the City to quickly gather a team to develop the project from start to finish.

    In the case of the Michigan Ditch Tunnel, the project team was brought on board to determine the best solution for the problem. As the project began to take shape as a tunnel, the City negotiated further contracts for tunnel design, construction and TBM procurement. The project team additionally developed a risk register to help identify and mitigate potential occurrences that could impact the project.

    “Rather than trying to write a contract for the whole project up front, we can write contracts that are very well defined, knowing what our scope of work is going to be as planning and design progresses,” Randall said.

    The added benefit of having the project team in place was that the project goals were defined by the team, rather than by an individual party or parties. “This was a very challenging and difficult project, but when you have everybody working toward the same goal, it makes all the difference in the world,” Randall added.

    “The team functioned at a very high level and with great communication,” Dornfest said. “It was extremely challenging, but there was never any finger pointing and we were able to get the job done on schedule and under budget.”

    Thanks to planning, teamwork and determination, the Michigan Ditch Tunnel project was successfully completed approximately $1 million below the initial budget of $8.5 million. The ditch system is now back online, assuring Fort Collins citizens of a reliable source of water for the years to come.