@fortcollinsgov plans open house on NISP

Northern Integrated Supply Project (NISP) map July 27, 2016 via Northern Water.
Northern Integrated Supply Project (NISP) map July 27, 2016 via Northern Water.

From The Fort Collins Coloradoan (Kevin Duggan):

The public is invited to an open house on the Northern Integrated Supply Project, or NISP, from 5 to 7 p.m. Feb. 13 at the Lincoln Center, 417 W. Magnolia St.

The open house will provide information regarding a proposal by Fort Collins staff members to explore the potential for negotiated outcomes for NISP with Northern Water, the primary proponent of the…project…

Fort Collins has not supported the project as described in a draft Environmental Impact Statement for several reasons, including its potential impacts on city water facilities and the health of the river through the city.

City staff members have proposed discussing mitigation for the project with Northern Water officials and possibly entering into negotiations…

City Council is scheduled to consider staff’s recommendation during its Feb. 21 meeting.

@OmahaUSACE: Flood risk management open house meeting scheduled in Longmont, Colorado

St. Vrain Greenway Trail washout September2013 via Longmont Times-Call
St. Vrain Greenway Trail washout September2013 via Longmont Times-Call

Here’s the release from the USACE Omaha office (Jeff Bohlken):

An open house to share details about a flood risk management study between the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Omaha District and the City of Longmont will be held from 4:30-6:30 pm (MST) Thursday, Feb. 16, at the Longmont Museum, 400 Quail Road in Longmont, Colorado.

The flood risk management study will build on Resilient St. Vrain, Longmont’s extensive, multi-year undertaking to fully restore the St. Vrain Greenway and improve the St. Vrain Creek channel to mitigate future flood risk to the community. The Resilient St. Vrain project was created in response to the catastrophic flooding that damaged much of Longmont in September 2013.

The open house, which will also serve as a public scoping meeting per the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), will give residents and others interested in the project a chance to learn why the study is important, learn what will be done during the study process, learn about the possible benefits, and provide specific concerns and input.

Through the study, the Omaha District will analyze conditions within a portion of the St. Vrain Creek’s city reach. The study area consists of the St. Vrain Creek and surrounding area between Golden Ponds Park (at the upstream confluence of the St. Vrain Creek and Lykins Gulch) to the BNSF railroad bridge (near the pedestrian bridge that connects Price Road). The study will evaluate the engineering feasibility, economic benefits, and environmental considerations for potential flood risk management improvements within the study area.

If a qualifying segment is identified within the study area, the Omaha District could ultimately partner with the City to complete a construction project as part of the Section 205 program of the Flood Control Act of 1948.
For more information, contact Jeff Bohlken with the Omaha District at (402) 995-2671 or Longmont Floodplain Administrator Monica Bortolini at (303) 651-8328.

NRCS: Substantial January Precipitation Boosts #Colorado’s #Snowpack

Here’s the release from the NRCS (Brian Domonkos):

Calendar year 2017 started out with more than twice the normal amount of January precipitation falling across the mountains of Colorado, at 217 percent of average statewide. This month of substantial precipitation was also reflected in the snowpack, which rose from 114 percent of normal on January 1st to 157 percent on February 1st. Nine Colorado SNOTEL sites were holding their maximum snow water equivalent (SWE) on record for February 1st and 10 more had their second highest. As of February 5th, mountain snowpack was already 93 percent of its normal seasonal peak which generally occurs in early April. “While there is still a lot of winter left, this substantial January precipitation has put the Colorado snowpack at well above normal levels and well within reach of achieving at least normal peak values, even if below normal precipitation occurs over the coming months” noted Brian Domonkos, Snow Survey Supervisor for the Natural Resources Conservation Service.

statewidebasinhilo02052017nrcs

Streamflow forecasts across the state also reflect these well above average snowpack conditions, with all forecast points in the state predicting near to well above normal seasonal streamflow volumes. Values range from a low of about 100-110 percent of average for several points in the South Platte basin to as high as 175-185 percent of normal for some streams in the Upper Rio Grande basin. Across the rest of Colorado forecasts generally range between 110-150 percent of their average seasonal volumes. Reservoir storage across the state has remained relatively constant across the state throughout this water year to date. Statewide, reservoir storage is 106 percent of average with storage in all basins ranging between 89 and 121 percent of average, with the Rio Grande continuing to be the only basin in the state with notably below average storage.

Providing an overview of Colorado’s current water supply situation Domonkos went on to say, “Given current snowpack, water year precipitation, and reservoir storage conditions Colorado is well positioned to have above average water supply available this summer season.” Expanding further, Domonkos also notes “However, it must be kept in mind that a lot can change over the coming months, and while a large snowpack can be good for water availability it can also increase the possibility of flooding.”

snowpackreservoir022017nrcs

For more detailed and the most up to date information about Colorado snowpack and supporting water supply related information, refer to the Colorado Snow Survey website at:

http://www.nrcs.usda.gov/wps/portal/nrcs/main/co/snow/

Or contact Brian Domonkos, Colorado Snow Survey Supervisor at Brian.Domonkos@co.usda.gov or 720-544-2852.

@ColoradoStateU: Poudre River Forum convenes diverse viewpoints #prf2017

Poudre River Forum February 3, 2017.
Poudre River Forum February 3, 2017.

Here’s the release from Colorado State University (Jim Beers):

The fourth annual Poudre River Forum, which took place Feb. 3, brought together users of the river to hear about and discuss its challenges and victories. This year’s Forum was held in Greeley for the first time, drawing close to 300 participants representing agricultural, municipal and environmental interests.

The Cache la Poudre River begins in the mountains west of Fort Collins and empties into the South Platte River just east of Greeley. Along its route, the river provides drinking water to more than 365,000 people, irrigates crops and lawns, and is the site of many recreational activities. The forum focuses on building collaborative relationships and understanding among the rivers’ users and those concerned about its health.

The diverse audience heard from several experts during morning sessions that centered on healthier forests and their relation to water availability and quality, a cutting-edge water budget approach to residential water billing just launched by the City of Greeley, and a State of the River ecological report card for the river as it flows through Fort Collins.

Setting sustainable limits

The Forum’s keynote address came from Brian Richter, chief water scientist for The Nature Conservancy. Richter said that communities in the West could have reliable water supplies as long as they set sustainable limits. He said ways to decide those limits include engaging in community visioning, determining water availability, meeting ecological needs, and hedging against climate change. He also advocated that Western states reduce consumption by working to increase efficiency, thus creating more water availability in cities where outdoor landscaping consumes most of the water. Agriculture can do its part too, according to Richter. He cited cases in which ag producers have conserved water by switching to drip irrigation and shifting to planting less water intensive crops. Richter, author of Chasing Water, said that water trades among rights holders could help to avoid “buy-and-dry” scenarios where cropland is dried up as water rights are transferred to municipal or other uses.

Changing water uses

Afternoon sessions included one that focused on adapting to change. Along the Poudre River, change is the result of increasing urban populations, climate variabilities, water availability and fluctuations, and changes in land use. Speakers representing an irrigation company, an environmental group and a municipality all said that they believe that, though change is inevitable, effective management and collaboration can help to manage the change that is coming.

The daylong forum concluded with a breakout session facilitated by Martin Carcasson, professor of Communications Studies and director of CSU’s Center for Public Deliberation. Carcasson asked participants to respond to questions regarding the Poudre: what they most value about it, what is most concerning to them about it, and others. Attendees then met in small groups to discuss the results, and ways citizens can further collaborate to ensure the Poudre remains a healthy, working river.

A majority of participants said that they feel positive about increasing understanding between the agricultural and environmental sectors over the past few years as a result of the annual event. The forum was organized by the Poudre Runs Through It Study/Action Work Group and the event was facilitated by the Colorado Water Institute, a unit within Colorado State University’s Office of Engagement.

The latest “The Current” newsletter is hot off the presses from the ERWC

The Eagle River roils with spring runoff in June 2011 near Edwards, Colo. Photo/Allen Best
The Eagle River roils with spring runoff in June 2011 near Edwards, Colo. Photo/Allen Best

Click here to read the newsletter. Here’s an excerpt (Lizzie Schoder):

This past year will likely break 2015’s mark of being the hottest year on record. Colorado has seen a similar trend, with a 2 degrees Fahrenheit bump statewide in the last 30 years. Colorado, like much of the Southwest, has also seen drought for the past decade, which has been felt most strongly in the western part of the state.

How does this affect our rivers? A warmer atmosphere has a drying effect overall — meaning more precipitation falls as rain rather than snow and peak runoff and snowmelt happen earlier in the year. Although there is no significant change detected (so far) in the amount of precipitation, the change in the form of precipitation is what’s significant. Our snowpack levels, measured in snow water equivalent, act as nature’s time release to recharge our rivers. Less snowpack, or more precipitation that falls instead as rain, means less natural recharge, since rain runs through the watershed at a quicker rate.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reports show trends of peak runoff and snowmelt occurring anywhere from one to four weeks earlier in the spring. Rain is an immediate surge to our rivers, but can give way to evaporation during hotter months of the summer. Snow, on the other hand, melts slowly, recharging the rivers at a steadier pace, especially during July and August when we need it most. Though predictions of how this will affect annual runoff vary, the 2011 Bureau of Reclamation report estimates that Colorado River flows will decrease by about 8.7 percent by 2060, or roughly the annual amount diverted by canal to Los Angeles, Orange and San Diego counties. These trends along with increased evaporation due to warmer temperatures does not bode well for a region already dealing with prolonged drought.

Snowpack levels are a pivotal factor in ski communities. But it matters too for agriculture, irrigation, hydropower, river recreation and water quality. Lower water levels lead to shallower and therefore warmer rivers, affecting our plant and fish populations, as well as the aquatic bugs they need for food. Warming temperatures also mean that everything from crops to humans will need more water to compensate. The Colorado River supplies water to 40 million people in seven different southwest states. The rising temperature trend will only put more pressure on an over-allocated system, pushing both the supply and demand of the Colorado River in the wrong direction.

While communities that depend on the Colorado River have gone to extraordinary lengths to buffer the impacts of climate change, we are heading for times where water shortages will be felt more than ever. According to the New York Times, Lake Powell provides water to one in eight Americans and waters one-seventh of the nation’s crops. Like the other dams and reservoirs in the Colorado River system, it’s completely over allocated — the water levels continue to dwindle and more water is being taken out than what flows into it. If Lake Powell isn’t able to supply the 7.5 million acre feet annually to the Lower Colorado Basin as required by the 1922 interstate compact, then a river call requiring Upper Basin communities, such as Eagle County, to use less water could come into effect in coming years.

The national political debate over the legitimacy of climate change will inevitably continue. But with our county’s population projected to nearly double by 2050, we must recognize that water is a nonpartisan issue. It is important that we voice our opinions and demand action at the national level, while also encouraging action at state and local levels where it can likely happen more quickly. From the standpoint of water and river protection however, we do not need to stand around waiting for our leaders to reach consensus on the existence of climate change.

There is no arguing that the level of water in Lake Powell — and its sister, Lake Mead — continue to drop, making it clear that water conservation and efficiency is of critical importance. That can happen through legislative actions, regulatory measures, but also where you can make an impact — in your home and garden. For more information, visit http://erwc.org.

Lizzie Schoder is the education and outreach coordinator for Eagle River Watershed Council. The Watershed Council has a mission to advocate for the health and conservation of the Upper Colorado and Eagle River basins through research, education and projects. Contact the Watershed Council at 970-827-5406 or visit http://www.erwc.org.

Garfield County planning staff urge commissioners to reject Battlement Mesa injection well

Parachute/Battlement Mesa area via the Town of Parachute.
Parachute/Battlement Mesa area via the Town of Parachute.

From the Glenwood Springs Post-Independent (Alex Zorn):

The well location, the staff said, “will have unreasonable adverse effect on the surrounding area, including the safety of the Battlement Mesa Metro District public water supply intake,” which is roughly 600 feet from the area proposed for rezoning.

The well is on the agenda for Wednesday’s Planning Commission meeting, to decide whether to create a new zone district that would allow injection wells in Battlement Mesa under a special use permit.

The zone would be called the “Public Service, Recreation and Injection Well” zone and would set aside 37 acres along the north end of the community by the Colorado River.

Since Ursa Resources owns the mineral rights beneath Battlement Mesa, the company won approval last year from state regulators to develop 53 natural gas wells within the residential boundaries of Battlement Mesa. Injection wells, though, used to dispose of wastewater from the drilling process, are currently not permitted within Battlement Mesa.

The proposal for changes to the unincorporated area’s zoning map has seen strong opposition from community activist groups throughout Garfield County.

“We’re ecstatic about the staff rejecting the injection well permit application, but we know the members of the Planning Commission and the county commissioners are the real deciders, “ said Leslie Robinson, president of the Grand Valley Citizens Alliance. “The Planning Commission and county commissioners have their own agenda when it comes to oil and gas, so I don’t know how they will lean.”

Robinson said that she remains apprehensive heading into the vote because the county commissioners have consistently voted to approve oil and gas activities over citizen concerns.

“We just don’t know if staff arguments will be strong enough to persuade the Planning Commission, but it was definitely a pleasant surprise,” she added.

The staff report cites comments from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment last February as evidence.

“The proposed location is not well located and safe as reflected in referral comments from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) identifying risks to the Battlement Mesa Metro District public water supply intake,” the staff report states.

The letter has been consistently referenced by opposition of the injection well as the bid has progressed.

“The department believes it creates a significant contamination risk to the public water supply for Battlement Mesa,” the letter said. “The department believes Class II injection wells should not be located in urban mitigation areas.”

Asked about the letter last month, Ursa Vice President of Business Development Don Simpson said he didn’t believe it held much weight because of all the changes the company has made to the proposed well since then. Asked about it again Monday in light of the staff recommendation, Simpson said he believed changes to the proposed pad sufficiently mitigated risk.

“We’re a little surprised [by the staff comments] and intend to have more discussion on our plan, and we’ll see what happens,” he said.

“We’re always looking to improve our project if we can,” he said. “We’re going to talk it out on Wednesday and see if we can come up with a solution.”

The report, which was released late last week by the Garfield County Community Development Department staff, identifies many concerns with the proposed injection well that have been laid out by opposition within Garfield County.

“I wasn’t really surprised by the staff’s decision,” said Dave Devanney of Battlement Concerned Citizens. “In a lot of ways it’s a common sense decision because you just don’t put waste removal within a community.

“I’m just happy that they have taken this position and hope it will be taken into consideration by the county commissioners,” he added. “I’ve been doing this enough that I never get too confident.”

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):

Ursa Resources has begun the process for seeking approvals to drill 74 oil and gas wells from three pads in a second phase of drilling in the community of Battlement Mesa, while also hitting new resistance to its hopes of operating a wastewater injection well from a previously approved pad near the Colorado River.

Garfield County commissioners on Monday agreed to invoke its rights under new state rules to consult with Ursa about locations and measures to reduce impacts associated with the three additional pads.

Ursa previously received approval to drill more than 50 wells from two pads in the unincorporated community of several thousand people, but hasn’t yet begun drilling. It’s also hoping to operate the injection well on one of those two pads. But the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, and now Garfield County’s planning staff, have recommended against approval of a zoning change proposal by Battlement Mesa’s developer to allow injection wells on 37 acres, which would take in an approved Ursa pad and a proposed one.

A county planning staff document says Battlement Mesa’s public water intake from the Colorado is 600 feet west of the area proposed for rezoning.

Injection wells also would require approval by the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission. A CDPHE official recently reiterated to the county its past recommendation against approving an injection well from the approved Ursa pad near the intake because of the threat the well and associated storage tanks would pose to it.

Garfield County’s planning staff pointed to the CDPHE’s concern in urging the county planning commission to recommend to Garfield commissioners that they deny the injection well zoning.

“The proposal will affect in a substantially adverse manner the public interest by creating a risk to the Battlement Mesa Metro District public water supply intake,” the planning staff said in their recommendation.

The planning commission will consider the zoning change Wednesday night.

In a letter to the county, the metro district referenced the CDPHE recommendation that alternative locations for an injection well be analyzed, and said it hadn’t had the chance to conduct an expert evaluation of the potential impacts of an injection well close to the intake.

The county’s oil and gas liaison, Kirby Wynn, recommended that the planning commission give strong consideration to health department comments, and Garfield County Environmental Health also pointed to the potential risks to the water supply and potential benefits of other sites farther away.

Dave Devanney, with Battlement Concerned Citizens, appreciates the position taken by the county planning staff and others. While activists in the community oppose oil and gas development in Battlement Mesa more generally, Devanney said that the idea of pumping wastewater underground near the river and intake “is kind of a line in the sand that they just can’t tolerate.”

#Snowpack news: Still dry on the E. plains

Westwide SNOTEL basin-filled map February 6, 2017 via the NRCS.
Westwide SNOTEL basin-filled map February 6, 2017 via the NRCS.

From KOAA.com (Bill Folsom):

Tracking what is happening with snow is important to the state’s water supply. The mountain snowpack ensures plenty of water filling reservoirs. The water supplies communities on the front range as well as agriculture happening out on the plains.

An extra snowy January piled up snow in the mountains150 percent of normal for this time of year. “A lot of really wet snow for January, we usually see these types of snow more in the March time frame,” said Colorado Springs Utilities, Water Resource Supervisor, Abby Ortega.

On the plains, snow so far has been scarce. It means little water soaking into the ground. That can end up causing higher demand on water supplies saved from all the mountain snow.

“We’re hoping that the spring brings a little more moisture to the Front Range and eastern side of Colorado, which will certainly help,” said Ortega. It is only midway through the winter tracking season and a lot can happen in the next couple of months out on the plains. March and April are important months often bringing heavy wet snow.

From the Arizona Daily Sun (Todd Glasenapp):

Heavy snowfall on Colorado’s Western Slope and Utah’s Wasatch Range in December and January boosted snowpack in the five-state Upper Colorado River Basin to 157 percent of average.

Increased spring runoff in the drainage area will make boat launch ramps more accessible and continue to help shore up the shrinking reservoir of [upstream] Lake Mead. The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation is projecting unregulated inflow to reach 126 percent of average…

But this winter started so vigorously as to rekindle memories of a “full pool” at Lake Powell. Before the drought, the surface elevation regularly approached 3,700 feet above sea level. At the depth of the drought, in 2005, the lake level dipped to 3,555 feet…

To reach 3,700 feet again, the lake would need four to five years of significantly-high inflow, assuming that many other variables line up perfectly during the period, said Marlon Duke, a spokesman for the Bureau of Reclamation in Salt Lake City.

The lake was measured this week at 3,595 feet. Last year it peaked at 3,621 feet in July. The average elevation for the life of the reservoir is 3,640 feet. The biggest single rise in recent years came following the 2005 low point, when the lake came up 50 feet. Ostapuk speculated that at least a 40-foot rise appears likely this spring.

Even if Lake Powell doesn’t rise to 3,700 feet in the near future, the reservoir is doing its job, said Ostapuk: “Lake Powell was never expected to operate permanently at full pool.”

“The reservoir has done its job quite well in dry years,” BOR’s Duke said last week. “There haven’t been any instances of shortages, due to its ability to store water.”

Complicating a movement toward full pool is the critical nature of downstream Lake Mead. The nation’s largest artificial lake continues to struggle during the drought to meet the needs of an increasingly thirsty population in the lower basin states of California, Nevada and Arizona. Mead has lost more than 100 feet in surface elevation since 2000 and is only 40 percent full.

If Lake Powell should build to 160 to 200 percent of average inflow — and reach 3,652 feet by August — a higher level of equalization with Lake Mead could be triggered, requiring Glen Canyon to boost releases from its current 9 million acre feet annually, Ostapuk said. The dam could increase to perhaps 11 MAF or 11.5 MAF under that scenario, he said…

The 30-day outlook of the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration calls for February temperatures well above normal in the southern end of the basin. The forecast also projects precipitation near average in the northern end of the basin and slightly below average in the southern end.

Colorado Drought Monitor January 31, 2017.
Colorado Drought Monitor January 31, 2017.