Pagosa Springs: Weminuche Audubon Society, May 17 — Stream resiliency

Photo via Audubon (Abby Burk).

From The Pagosa Springs Sun (John Duvall):

Abby Burk, Western Rivers Pro- gram lead for Audubon Rockies, will be the featured speaker at the Weminuche Audubon Society’s meeting on Wednesday, May 17.

Burk brings extensive ecological land management experience to her work with state and federal agencies, conservation organizations, businesses and community leaders. She is committed to advancing riparian habitat and stream resiliency through environmental river flow awareness and advocacy.

She will review Audubon’s work for western rivers and will address the goals and the implementation of crucial aspects of the Colorado water plan.

The meeting will be held at the Community United Methodist Church at 434 Lewis St. Refresh- ments and socializing begin at 6 p.m. Burk’s presentation will be- gin shortly afterwards. Everyone is welcome to attend what will be an interesting and rewarding evening.

Pagosa Springs sixth grade student renewable energy day

San Juan River from Wolf Creek Pass

From The Pagosa Springs Sun (David Smith)

Meeting this demand with fossil fuels will be increasing dif cult as reserves become depleted. More important, we know that massive burning of fossil fuels damages our environment. Renewable energy sources, such as solar and wind, provide an inexpensive and clean alternative to burning fossil fuels.

To prepare the next generation for this change, Kristin Hentschel, Pagosa Springs Middle School sixth-grade science teacher, orga- nized a Renewable Energy Day.

This project was funded by a $1,000 grant from the Foundation for Archuleta County Education (FACE).
The 120 sixth-grade students were divided into eight groups which visited eight renewable energy projects. Parents and com- munity scientists manned each of the eight stations.

At the end of the day, the stu- dents wrote about their experiences…

“I liked all the stations. This was perfect.” — Daniel B.

Iliff Board of Trustees will likely raise water and sewer rates

From The Sterling Journal-Advocate (Jeff Rice):

During the board’s regular May meeting Wednesday night the Board of Trustees discussed rate hikes of $10 a month in September and another $7.50 a month in January 2018, with an increase of $2.50 a month in water rates to accompany the January sewer hike.

Mayor Amy Sorensen said she’d negotiated two loans with the U.S. Department of Agriculture totaling $414,000 to pay for new lined sewer lagoons and related structures. Iliff residents now pay $38.75 a month for water service and $26.28 for sewer for a total of $65.03. In September, under Sorensen’s plan, that would go up to $75.03 and then rise to $85.03 in January 2017 to pay off those loans.

Iliff last raised its water rates in 2015.

The town is not alone in facing skyrocketing utility rates. Fleming could be forced to virtually double their sewer rates if they end up having to build new sewer ponds; Merino already has raised water rates to pay for its new reverse osmosis water system and is looking at significantly higher sewer rates; and Peetz has been told to brace for giant leaps in rates if they, too, have to build new wastewater evaporation ponds.

Trustees were not happy with the numbers Sorensen handed them but didn’t blame the new mayor; a survey of towns the size of Iliff in Colorado shows steadily increasing sewer and water rates across the board, and Iliff is still below the average.

South Platte Master Plan: Will require a “coalition of stakeholders” — Kevin Houck

South Platte River near Kersey September 13, 2009.

From The Sterling Journal-Advocate (Jeff Rice):

The SPMP is a year-long study of flood mitigation on the lower South Platte River. Authorized and funded by the Colorado Department of Local Affairs, the plan will try to find ways to make the river more “flood resilient,” both to handle the flooding as it occurs, with minimal damage to property and structures, and to quickly recover from a flood in the aftermath.

The project area includes 130 miles of the South Platte River from the Weld-Morgan County Line to the Nebraska state line.

Friday’s meeting was organized primarily by Logan County Commissioner Dave Donaldson and hosted by Morgan County Commissioner Jim Zwetzig, but was attended by commissioners from all four counties and a variety of other water interests.

Donaldson opened the meeting by saying, as he has in the past, that he would like to see some “channelizing” of the South Platte in areas where sand bars and other sediment accumulations have caused some blockage to the river, which worsens flood damage.

Kayla Uptmor, chief of civil works for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Omaha District, said any COE work done on flood mitigation would have to have a return on investment.

“Our first question is, ‘What is the need for federal investment,'” Uptmor said. “The thinking in Congress is that for projects like this, there needs to be a dollar-for-dollar return to the federal government on the investment made.”

She said that doesn’t necessarily mean revenue; in the case of flood mitigation the return would be in terms of less damage.

In any event, Uptmor said, it would be at least 2020 before any funds could even be budgeted for DOE projects on the South Platte River.

Kevin Houck, chief of watershed and flood protection for the Colorado Water Conservation Board, said several times during the meeting that once the study is finished, early next year, would require a “coalition of stakeholders,” and solutions would have to be driven from the local communities, not from the state.

“Any solutions that are identified would have to involve the irrigation communities because they are a key component of what you accomplish in the river,” he said. “Ultimately, we would like to see solutions focused on the four counties (covered by the study.)”

Joe Frank, manager of the Lower South Platte Water Conservancy District, which includes the same four counties as the SPMP study, again stressed the need to coordinate the SPMP with the results of a CWCB-funded study of storage possibilities on the South Platte River.

“I think that has to be an important part of it, how do we tie flood mitigation to storage,” he said.

Morgan County Commissioner Jim Zwetzig asked how the panel thought the necessary coalition might form. Brian Murphy, project director for CDM Smith of Denver, the contractor on the flood study, said the stakeholder coalition for what is called the Middle South Platte Master Plan, done on a 20-mile stretch of the South Platte from St. Vrain Creek to the confluence with the Big Thompson River, didn’t begin to form until the late stages of the study.

After the meeting Zwetzig said he thought the lower South Platte coalition would look “much different from the Middle South Platte coalition.”

“That one was 20 miles and there was a lot of municipal stuff in it, it was a lot more urban,” he said. “We’re looking at 130 miles of river with 32 (irrigation) diversions, so there will be much more of an agricultural component. Also, (Colorado Department of Transportation) and the Parks and Wildlife people will be a lot more involved.”

Donaldson said he thought the three-hour meeting had been productive and had shown stakeholders that there are information resources that can be drawn on.

#Colorado Springs: Rain barrel workshop

Photo from the Colorado Independent.

From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Rachel Riley):

Twenty plastic barrels once used to ship Mountain Dew syrup were reborn on Saturday into water conservation tools for local gardeners.

The barrels, purchased from a recycled materials provider in Denver, were distributed at a “make and take” rain barrel event hosted by El Paso County’s Colorado State University Extension. The $60 class, the second that the local CSU Extension office has held since the state legalized the use of rain barrels last year, quickly filled up. Two more classes, already full, have been scheduled for the coming weeks.

Organizers said it’s a sign of residents’ growing curiosity about rain barrel use, which Colorado was one of the last states to allow. Under a law passed in May 2016, single-family homes are permitted two rain barrels with a combined storage capacity of up to 110 gallons. Rainwater can only be collected from rooftop downspouts and must be used on the same property where it was collected for outdoor purposes, such as watering lawns and gardens…

The CSU Extension estimates one rain barrel can save the average homeowner roughly 1,300 gallons of water during the hottest months of the summer, when landscape watering accounts for nearly 40 percent of all household water usage.

In addition to conserving water, collecting rainfall during downpours can help reduce the pressure on the city’s stormwater system, said Sean Holveck, who is in charge of marketing and events for The Greenway Fund of Colorado Springs.

#Snowpack/#Runoff news: Folks are upbeat for the Rio Grande boating season

Rio Grande at Del Norte gage May 14, 2017 via Colorado Division of Water Resources.

From The Santa Fe New Mexican (Sami Edge):

“We will remember 2017,” said [Steve] Harris, who from his porch on Friday could see willow trees bending in the fast-moving, brown current. “It’s been 10 years since we’ve seen this kind of water.”

The Rio Grande and other rivers in Northern New Mexico are surging. Experts say the heavy winter snowpack in New Mexico and Colorado mountains, coupled with recent cold snaps and a boost from spring precipitation, mean New Mexico will have more runoff than in past years, and it will last further into the summer season. And that is good news for irrigators, recreational users, municipal water systems and wildlife that depend on the rivers.

“We’ve had, particularly on the Rio Grande, a very good snowpack year,” said Royce Fontenot, senior service hydrologist for the National Weather Service in Albuquerque. “The positive impacts are going to be that agriculture and water users on the Rio Grande and San Juan are going to have more water than they’ve had in recent years.”

The Rio Grande currently has twice as much water flowing through it than is typical for this time of year. On Friday, the river gauge at the village of Embudo recorded 4,020 cubic feet per second, which is more than double the 85-year average for the same date.

The Upper Rio Grande snowpack, which feeds the headwaters in Southern Colorado, was at 122 percent of its historical median Friday, according to a map published by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation. Snowpack in New Mexico’s Sangre de Cristo Mountains, which shed water into the river south of the state line, measured at 150 percent.

The Rio Chama snowpack, which supplies important reservoirs and the river for which it is named, had a snowpack Friday that was 266 percent of the historical median.

Mary Carlson, public affairs specialist for the Bureau of Reclamation’s Albuquerque office, says the snowmelt is strong enough that, for the first time in a few years, Heron Reservoir will be able to fully allocate the water promised to contractors, and El Vado Reservoir is again allowed to store water, which isn’t allowed when reservoirs downstream are at a critical level. Water forecasts from the Natural Resources Conservation Service estimate that El Vado inflow from March through July will be 171 percent of normal.

“We have been in extreme drought for many years here in New Mexico. All of our reservoirs are now really low. This above average snowpack is a really big deal at this point,” Carlson said. “It’s looking like it’s overall going to be a really good year for water.”

At the Santa Cruz Reservoir, water is cascading down the dam’s overflow spillways, said Kenny Salazar, water manager for the Santa Cruz Irrigation District He expects to see chile crops and kitchen gardens flourish along the eight miles of irrigation ditches in the district. He just hopes warm nighttime temperatures don’t make the Santa Cruz River jump its banks.

Garrett VeneKlasen, executive director of the New Mexico Wildlife Federation, has a similarly optimistic outlook for New Mexico wildlife. More water and more plants means more turkey, elk, bighorns and songbirds, and next year, maybe even bears with two cubs…

Santa Fe stands to benefit, too. Snows in the canyon east of the city feed the McClure and Nichols reservoirs, a significant source of water supply for the community water, which, like Albuquerque, also diverts water from the Rio Grande. On Friday, flows in the Santa Fe River before it reaches McClure were at 22 cubic feet per second, which is above the 17-year average of 17 cfs.


As of 5:30 a.m. Friday, the river stage was at 11.6 feet. If the water rises to 12 feet, water will start approaching Highway 194. At 13 feet, nearby structures will be threatened. According to the National Weather Service, the water could reach 12.2 feet as early as Friday.

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Ryan Severance):

The Beulah area received anywhere from 2 to 6 inches of precipitation from Wednesday afternoon through late Thursday morning, according to the National Weather Service’s Pueblo office…

Pueblo Mountain Park in Beulah received 4.48 inches of precipitation from Wednesday to Thursday, the NWS said, and has received 5.82 inches in the past three days. Since March 23 there has been 16.04 inches of precipitation at the park.

The rain began pelting the town late Wednesday afternoon before turning into hail for a while. The hail then became rain again and fell consistently through the night and into early Thursday morning before tapering off by late morning.

Statewide snowpack Basin High/Low graph May 14, 2017 via the NRCS.

Rifle “State of the River” meeting recap: We, “are all in this together” — Annie Whetzel

Colorado River Basin in Colorado via the Colorado Geological Survey

The Middle Colorado Watershed Council, MCWC, aims to protect the stretch of Colorado River from the mouth of Glenwood Canyon to De Beque at the western edge of Garfield County. We work with everyone who uses water from the agricultural community, to city water users (including tooth-brushers and lawn-waterers), to oil and gas developers and every governmental agency in between to encourage wise water use and ensure safe water quality for everyone involved.

Working with the Colorado River District for the State of the River was a great reminder that navigating these diverse interests and subsequent water uses is a common thread for the entire river, from the headwaters of the Colorado down to the river terminus. Through education, dialog and exchange of information we have a chance to better understand and manage the finite resource.

The MCWC has a few projects on the ground and on the horizon that aim to connect our stretch of river to the larger river system. These efforts involve riparian restoration, a nice term for fighting invasive species like tamarisk and ensuring native plants have a chance to grow back, and water quality management.


Tamarisk Coalition chose the MCWC as one of nine programs to join their Restore Our Rivers campaign. The campaign provides tools and funding for river restoration programs that combat tamarisk and Russian olive and more…

This summer the MCWC will begin a few restoration projects and will continue to monitor existing projects. It is our way of working along our 75 mile stretch of river and understanding how we fit into the larger picture.

As for water quality monitoring, we are undertaking a citizen science program to establish a baseline for what is in our water in the middle Colorado River and its tributaries. Upstream and downstream of us, many groups already test water quality, and therefore again, we are tasked with understanding how our section of river fits into the larger system. Our citizen science program is designed to find out what water quality looks like today, see how that compares to the past, and allows for the opportunity to evaluate trends into the future. How are we affecting water quality and are there opportunities to improve? The data we and our stakeholders collect will help us understand our basin better, but will also provide service to everyone downstream of us.

Our little, but significant, stretch of river is ours to take care of. Managing the entire Colorado River might seem like a daunting task, but we can be stewards for our stretch, from Glenwood Canyon to De Beque. The steps we take to protect our water helps our little basin, but also, we are working a much larger system throughout the west, because we are all in this together.

Annie Whetzel is community outreach coordinator at the Middle Colorado Watershed Council. To learn more about the council, go to You can also find the council on Facebook at