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Boxelder Basin Regional Stormwater Authority has a cash flow problem

Boxelder creek watershed

From The Fort Collins Coloradoan (Kevin Duggan):

The Boxelder Basin Regional Stormwater Authority is seeking permission to make interest-only payments in 2017 on three loans it has from the Colorado Water Conservation Board, or CWCB.

The authority, which is made up of the city of Fort Collins, the town of Wellington and Larimer County, has a cash-flow problem.

It owes $588,728 by the end of the year to the John W. Day Family Partnership as the final payment on a $1.67 million settlement finalized in April that ended legal wrangling over a flood-control project the authority built east of Interstate 25 and south of County Road 52.

The authority doesn’t have the resources to pay the settlement and the principal on its CWCB loans this year, said Gerry Horak, president of the authority board and member of the Fort Collins City Council.

It will be able to make interest and principal payments in the years to come based on revenue projections, he said.

Putting to rest the dispute with the Day Family Partnership was critical for the authority, Horak said. The court fight could have gone on for years with no guarantee the authority would prevail.

“This was all about cost avoidance,” he said. “To not settle would have been insane.”

The authority wound up owning the 62-acre site that makes up its East Side Detention Facility, or ESDF. The project is designed to dramatically restrict flows on Boxelder Creek during a 100-year flood event, which is defined as having a 1 percent chance of occurring.

Changing the flows would remove numerous downstream properties from the creek’s 100-year floodplain and potentially open them up to development. Roads, bridges and other infrastructure also would be protected from damaging floods.

Sites downstream include the areas around the interchanges of I-25 with Mulberry Street and Prospect Road. The reduced floodplain also would benefit the town of Timnath and its plans for development, said Stan Myers, district manager of the stormwater authority.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency is reviewing the modeled impact of the authority’s projects on flood flows and is expected to revise its map of the floodplain in 2018.

The balance on the CWCB loans, which helped fund construction of three authority projects, is $8.8 million. The authority has proposed paying $240,620 in interest and deferring $484,030 owed in principal.

The restructured loans would be paid off in 14 years as originally planned. With stormwater fees coming from new developments in the authority’s service area, the loans might be paid off earlier than scheduled, Myers said.

When the loans are paid, the authority will be dissolved. Boxelder members are negotiating how facilities built by the authority will be operated and maintained after it ends…

In addition to the ESDF, the authority made $5 million in improvements to and around Clark Reservoir north of Wellington. The project took hundreds of homes and dozens of businesses in Wellington out of the Coal Creek floodplain.

The authority also built a crossing structure of the Larimer-Weld Canal for Boxelder Creek that will be maintained by the ditch company.

The county is open to taking responsibility for Clark Reservoir and the ESDF, Blomstrom said. But details, such as setting up funds to cover ongoing maintenance costs, have yet to be negotiated among the authority’s members…

Properties in unincorporated Larimer County in the authority’s service area are charged annual stormwater fees based the type of property and the amount of impervious surface, such as parking lots and rooftops, it has.

In 2017, the fee on a residential property is $66, up from the $60 that was charged since the district began.

The authority has been controversial from its inception, with many residents saying it was not needed. But officials said with the history of flooding within the Boxelder Creek Basin, which stretches from southern Wyoming to the Poudre River, flood-control was needed to protect people and property.

Horak said the CWCB is willing to restructure its loans to Boxelder on the condition it receives legal assurance the governing board has the authority to change conditions of the loan.

Wellington officials aren’t sure about that, according to a letter sent to the CWCB by a Longmont law firm representing the town. The letter states modifying the loan agreement would result in $104,734 in additional interest.

The authority’s members – not its board – would have to approve the restructuring the loan, according to the letter from attorney Jeffrey Kahn.

Wellington officials did not immediately respond to calls for comment.

Myers said Wellington officials have expressed several concerns regarding what they see as escalating costs for the Boxelder authority and have sought a cap on how much the town would contribute.

With its spike in residential development, Wellington contributes about 40 percent of the authority’s annual $1 million budget.

The town has withheld its allotment for 2017 until its issues can be addressed, Horak said.

#Runoff news: Boating season mostly over for the Dolores River

Mcphee Reservoir

From The Cortez Journal (Jim Mimiaga):

By midnight May 23, flows will ramp down to 600 cubic feet per second, hold for 24 hours, then drop to 400 cfs after midnight on May 24. From there the river will drop to 200 cfs, then 75 cfs by Sunday May 28.

“Spring runoff forecasts have steadily dropped with the drier-than-normal weather,” said Ken Curtis, an engineer with the Dolores Water Conservancy District. “It is time to fill the reservoir.”

Curtis said there is a chance that early hot June weather could bring down the remaining snowpack very quickly, which could force a mini whitewater spill of boatable flows for four to six days in June…

A solid winter snowpack allowed for the reservoir to fill for farmers and provide for 52 days of whitewater boating below the dam. In mid-May, 4,000 cfs of flushing flows were released for 72 hours to benefit river ecology, including sediment clearing and channel scouring, which improves native fish habitat. There were seven days of optimal flow releases of around 2,000 cfs.

A year-in-review meeting is being planned by reservoir managers, boaters, and environmental groups to evaluate the season.

Bass flush
A plan by Colorado Parks and Wildlife to flush out small-mouth bass opens up a slight window for kayakable flows later in the summer.

In mid July, biologists want to use part of their reserved fish pool in McPhee reservoir to release 400 cfs for 3-4 days and disrupt the bass spawn. The bass are a threat to the flannelmouth and bluehead suckers and roundtail chub, preying on their young and competing for food sources.

#Runoff news

Meadows were greening up in Colorado’s Egeria Park by early May [2017] even as snow held on in the Flat Tops. Photo/Allen Best

From CBS Denver (Chris Spears):

As of May 29, all eight major river basins across the state had a snow-water-equivalent well above 100 percent of normal, with the South Plate River basin running over 200 percent of normal.

It’s unclear if flooding will become a concern because it largely depends on how fast we warm up in the days ahead. A slow and gradual warm up during June would be ideal to minimize flood potential.

The forecast for flooding also depends on any future rain or snowfall.

In addition to the melting snow some rivers on the Eastern Plains remain high due to heavy runoff from recent rainfall.

#Colorado Front Range topography sets up ideal conditions for hail

Hail Wheat Ridge May 8, 2015. Photo credit TreeRootCO.

From The Denver Post (John Ingold):

Topography creates updrafts, keeping stones aloft longer

The largest hailstone ever recorded in America spent close to an hour aloft in a cloud growing to the size of a small volleyball, then plunged to earth at more than 100 mph, struck the ground in South Dakota weighing nearly 2 pounds, left a divot, was scooped up by a local rancher and placed in a freezer, melted a bit during a power outage, was packed in dry ice and driven cross country, and finally arrived at a lab in Boulder where Charles Knight, one of the nation’s premier authorities on hail, added it to a research collection that also included the two previous record-setting hailstones.

Even by Knight’s high standards, though, the golf ball-sized hail that hammered the western metro area earlier this month was something to behold.

“Large hail is pretty rare this close to the Front Range,” said Knight, a senior scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research. “It’s really pretty rare anywhere.”

But when the clouds twirl just right, Colorado’s unique geography and climate are capable of producing spectacular amounts of hail.

The state resides in what meteorologists call “Hail Alley,” a swath of land that also includes parts of Nebraska and Wyoming that is frequently bedeviled by hail. Areas of the Front Range and Eastern Plains can see 10 or more days of severe hail per year, on average. A study published last year by the National Insurance Crime Bureau ranked Colorado second nationally, behind Texas, for hail loss claims between 2013 and 2015.

And if it sometimes seems like hail is nature’s way of betraying you, there’s a reason.

The science of hailstone formation reveals that you have been told a lie your whole life: Water – really, really pure water – doesn’t necessarily freeze at 32 degrees Fahrenheit. It can, in fact, stay in liquid form at temperatures down to almost minus 40 degrees, a phenomenon that scientists call “supercooled water.”

It’s these tiny droplets of supercooled water, suspended in clouds towering as much as 9 miles above the ground, that start joining together to form hail. But first they need an instigator because supercooled water, Knight said, “doesn’t know how to start forming molecules into ice crystals.”

The instigator could be a fleck of dust that changes a droplet’s structure or a speck of water that freezes spontaneously at a colder elevation, said Andrew Heymsfield, a hail expert and colleague of Knight’s at NCAR. Either way, once there is an ice particle in the cloud – what scientists call a “hail embryo” – it exerts a kind of chemical peer pressure on other droplets, pulling them in, turning them into ice and gradually building up a hailstone…

The Front Range’s topography turns out to be a perfect petri dish in which to create hail.

Hailstones don’t form or grow very big without massive amounts of air billowing up from below. These updrafts keep the embryonic stone aloft long enough to gather up water into an ice ball, and the stronger the updraft, the bigger the stones can grow. Heymsfield said hailstones can spend a half hour forming in clouds, with the absolute largest in the strongest updrafts taking close to an hour.

Mountainous areas – such as Colorado’s Rockies – promote these updrafts by acting as elevated heat sources that pump warm air from the ground high up into the atmosphere. These storms might at first loom over Colorado but they also carry out onto the plains to the east, sucking in more moisture as they go.

Updrafts, though, only go so far in forming hail. The air needs to stay cold enough closer to the ground for the hail to actually fall as ice instead of melting on the way down.

This is why, Heymsfield said, some of the biggest hail comes from storms not in warm southern states like Florida that can produce huge thunderstorms but in comparatively cooler South Dakota and Nebraska. On May 8, the day the hailstorm struck the metro area, the temperature in Denver topped out in the 70s. The day the record hailstone fell – on July 23, 2010, near Vivian, South Dakota – the high temperature barely crested into the 80s, well below average for the date.

Fountain voluntary watering restrictions start June 1, 2017

Widefield aquifer via the Colorado Water Institute.

From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Jakob Rodgers):

Fountain leaders expect mandatory watering restrictions to be implemented later this summer, and they want residents to voluntarily begin conserving water Thursday.

The announcement comes as Fountain continues grappling with the presence of toxic chemicals in the Widefield aquifer – a key source of water for the community…

Fountain last pulled from the aquifer in October 2015 – a decision that dropped the city’s water capacity by about 20 percent. Since then, the city has relied more heavily on the Pueblo Reservoir and conserved water during hot summer months.

The chemicals, called perfluorinated compounds, have been used for decades in a firefighting foam at nearby Peterson Air Force Base, and for years were flushed into Colorado Springs’ sewer system and Fountain Creek. They have been linked to a host of ailments, including certain cancers, low birth weight and high cholesterol.

City officials have been working with Air Force officials to install granular-activated carbon filters on at least two wellheads. But that’s taken longer than expected, and multiple water district managers have lamented the Air Force’s response to the crisis.

Fountain’s first filter won’t likely be ready for use until July, and the second not until August, Mitchell said. As a result, the city may not be able to meet water usage demands on the hottest of summer days, Mitchell said.

City officials want residents to get in the habit of conserving water soon.

On Thursday, voluntary watering restrictions begin in the city and continue through Sept. 30…

Along with installing Air Force-supplied filters and asking residents to conserve water, city officials are upping their use of surface water from Pueblo and working with private contractors to design separate filters for other wellheads.

Mitchell also is working with Colorado Springs Utilities to create redundancies in its water system.

Stiffer penalties will accompany any mandatory watering restrictions implemented in Fountain. Residents will receive a warning for the first violation, a $50 fine for the second and a $100 fine for the third.

Security Water and Sanitation Districts also instituted voluntary watering restrictions.

The water district’s manager, Roy Heald, said he doesn’t expect to use the Widefield aquifer this year, because Security is paying a premium to Colorado Springs Utilities for more water from the Pueblo Reservoir.