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From American Rivers:
THE UNITED STATES HAS MORE THAN 2.9 MILLION MILES OF RIVERS.
They range from small streams and wetlands to large waterways. No two of these rivers are the same. Each river is unique to its landscape, winding through low foothills and valleys, rushing clear and cold from mountain forests, or sweeping warm and muddy down desert canyons.
ANATOMY OF A RIVER
No matter how different our rivers are, however, all rivers share some basic anatomy features.
From The Associated Press via The Fort Collins Coloradoan:
Wildfires have ravaged the West this summer with 64 large fires burning across 10 states as of Thursday, including 21 fires in Montana and 18 in Oregon. In all, 48,607 wildfires have burned nearly 13,000 square miles (33,586 square kilometers) in forests so choked with trees that they are at “powder keg levels,” as one Forest Service ecologist put it.
Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue said the severe fire season means officials “end up having to hoard all of the money that is intended for fire prevention, because we’re afraid we’re going to need it to actually fight fires.”
The emphasis on firefighting means that money for prescribed burns, insect control and other prevention efforts is diverted to putting out fires in what Perdue called a self-defeating cycle. The end result is that small trees and vegetation remain in the forest for future fires to feed on…
The spending figure announced Thursday marks the first time wildfire spending by the Forest Service has topped $2 billion. The previous record was $1.7 billion in 2015.
The figures do not include spending by Interior Department agencies such as the Bureau of Land Management and National Park Service, nor do they include spending by state and local governments.
The Interior Department says it has spent at least $391 million with several weeks left in the fire season. The previous record for combined federal firefighting costs was $2.1 billion in 2015.
From The Sterling Journal-Advocate (Jeff Rice):
The Lower South Platte Water Conservancy District’s budget will exceed $1 million for the first time in 2018.
The district’s Board of Directors Executive Committee got its first look at the proposed budget during Tuesday’s meeting.
District manager Joe Frank pointed out that the budget is somewhat inflated by two grants totaling more than $341,000 the district has received, one from the Colorado Water Conservation Board and one by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation. The CWBC grant will be used to match the USBR grant to help develop a marketing plan for the Northeast Colorado Water Cooperative.
The district also will enjoy about a 4 percent increase in general property tax, mostly from increased valuations on real estate.
Total increase in the budget is about $70,000, or roughly 6.8 percent over this year’s budget, which also contained large water study project grants.
The Bureau of Reclamation grant of $236,245 is one of nine the bureau awarded earlier this month as part of its WaterSMART Water Marketing Strategies program.
LSPWCD will use the funds to help the NECWC find ways to develop infrastructure for water exchanges, primarily when water augmentation plans are involved…
…pumps and pipelines cost money, Frank said, and a lot of it, and that means heavy participation by everyone who needs water. The “water marketing strategy” the NECWC has in mind would try to expand participation with municipalities and industrial water users who are not yet part of the cooperative.
That’s all part of an effort established by the Colorado Water Plan unveiled in November 2015 to address a looming gap in water supplies. Without water development, the gap between supply and demand in the South Platte River Basin is expected to grow to 196,000 acre feet by 2050. That, according to the Bureau of Reclamation’s statement on the grants, “is creating a growing incentive to identify creative solutions, driving up interest in water marketing by multiple types of water users.”
From The Colorado Springs Independent (Pam Zubeck):
The city’s stormwater measure on the Nov. 7 ballot has stirred a lot of debate. Some don’t like the flat-fee concept — $5 per household, and $30 per acre for commercial land. Others say too many details remain unresolved.
But one thing is beyond dispute: Colorado Springs’ stormwater system sucks, and it’s going to take many years and a lot of dough to fix it. Far from a sexy topic, stormwater drainage gets no respect, and the consequences of that came into full focus during a tag-along with Water Resources Engineering Division Manager Rich Mulledy on Aug. 31.
To grasp the gravity of the problem, you have to get down in the weeds, literally, to see what’s going on along channels that border roads where tens of thousands of cars whiz by daily, their drivers unaware of possible catastrophes waiting to happen.
Mulledy, a slim 38-year-old engineer and Colorado Springs native sporting a Chicago Cubs cap, leads the way on a short hike behind the Goose Gossage Youth Sports Complex on Mark Dabling Boulevard. “So if you’re playing ball out here,” he quips, “you wouldn’t know about it.”
Beyond the outfield fences, he passes through trees before scampering down a steep embankment to a sandbar where Monument Creek gurgles its way along an embankment prone to sloughing, which sends sand, gravel and trash careening down the creek to its confluence with Fountain Creek, which, in turn, flows south to the Arkansas River east of Pueblo.
Fountain Creek, Mulledy says, is unlike any other in the United States due to its wild fluctuations in flows, from 125 cubic feet per second during normal times to 25,000 cfs in heavy storms. “There’s no other creek that’s a sand bottom creek that sees that kind of flash,” Mulledy says. “It’s a tough creek.”
Rushing runoff from Colorado Springs crumbles banks and sends hundreds of thousands of tons of sediment to Pueblo County, whose officials are none too pleased. There, sediment clogs levees and befouls the Arkansas River. After a 2014 regional ballot measure to fund drainage projects failed at the polls, Pueblo County officials threatened to rescind their construction permit for Colorado Springs’ Southern Delivery System (SDS) pipeline that delivers water from Pueblo Reservoir, unless the city dealt with stormwater. A deal approved by City Council in April 2016 enabled SDS’s activation in exchange for the city spending $460 million on drainage over the next 20 years. That spending eats into the general fund budget, which Mayor John Suthers says is needed to hire more cops and firefighters. Hence, the stormwater fee measure, which is intended to lift that burden.
On this August day, Mulledy doesn’t have to point out damage from Monument Creek’s raging waters. A 20- to 25-foot dirt wall towers along the east side of the creek, where waters carve the banks and threaten to undermine the wall, triggering a collapse of a plateau above. That could bring a storage business crashing down.
“The natural tendency of a stream is to move,” Mulledy explains. “Point [sand] bars move and push the water into the bank. It’s a built environment, so we built up next to it. Now, there’s nowhere for the river to move.”
The city plans to install grouted boulders along a 350-foot stretch at the base of the wall, tying into bedrock. Then, the area will be backfilled with dirt to create a slope, which will be sown with seed to encourage vegetation. “Then it can hold itself, even in big storms,” he says.
Sounds simple, but getting the right kind of heavy equipment into the creek area poses a challenge. “With road work, you can drive up, mill it and pave it,” Mulledy says. “Here, we have to create an access point. We have to bring material in, then we have to armor it for a 100-year [flood] event.” Moreover, the stream’s path itself will need to be moved west to allow workers to construct the project. Lastly, drop structures will be built to flatten the creek bed and retard the water’s flow.
After the project is completed in 2020, Mulledy says, the site should be inspected annually to assure it holds.
North Douglas Creek
As cars speed by on Interstate 25 just yards away, Mulledy hikes down a slope, through sunflowers and thistle, to the edge of North Douglas Creek where he warns visitors to stay away from the edge — a drop of 30 feet to the creek bed.
Here, the creek has eroded soils so dramatically that part of a concrete box culvert has broken off and been carried about 20 yards downstream. Gas and water lines are exposed, along with a drainage pipe, which juts some 10 feet from the canyon wall, acting as a yardstick for how far the banks have been chipped away.
“Colorado Springs Utilities is worried about that gas line and so are we,” Mulledy says.
To the north is Johnson Storage and Moving, while on the south side lies a construction materials business. Both are threatened.
“Johnson Storage is losing their lot,” Mulledy says, noting the embankment is chipping off several feet per year. Erosion is so bad, Sinton Road adjacent to the culvert could topple some day.
One of the problems stems from development practices in the 1960s and ’70s that followed the then-conventional wisdom to simply move storm flows out of the city as fast as possible. Now, best management practices call for slowing down those flows using detention ponds and drop structures. “We have a better understanding than we used to,” Mulledy says.
This segment of Douglas Creek is part of the city’s network of 270 miles of open channels and 500 miles of storm sewers — subject to inspection by federal regulators of the city’s municipal separate storm sewer system, or MS4, permit, issued through the Environmental Protection Agency.
Violations of that permit and the Clean Water Act led the EPA and the state to sue the city last year. The case is pending and could take years to resolve as the city reconstitutes its program to address water quality and conveyance, compliance with plan review and site inspection for new developments, and maintenance of its entire system.
This particular spot is so tenuous that Mulledy says crews visit it whenever heavy rains come. The fix, he says, will require installation of concrete walls along the bend in the creek to stop sloughing earth, structural fill and grouted rock. A crane will be employed to remove chunks of the concrete culvert.
Cost: $3.5 million.
Like many other projects, this undertaking will require the approval of federal flood plain managers and the Army Corps of Engineers. Work is slated for 2020.
The most spectacular sight of the day comes at a canyon just north of the Margarita at Pine Creek restaurant, which sits dangerously close to a roughly 50-foot drop-off to Pine Creek below. Another on the city’s list of 71 projects included in the intergovernmental agreement with Pueblo, this site will require stacking boulders to create a wall at least 10 feet high, from the creek bed to the bottom of an exposed limestone shear. Below that limestone is a clay layer notoriously susceptible to erosion. Under that lies pure shale, easily crumbled, especially when the creek runs up to 10 feet deep during 10-year storms. “It’s a little stream,” Mulledy says, “until it rains.”
The project was specifically identified by Pueblo County due to the large amounts of sediment washing into the creek and on to Pueblo via Fountain Creek. Pine Creek starts in Black Forest, winds through Falcon Estates and finally barrels through this canyon before it meets with Monument Creek about a quarter mile away. Power lines along the ridge top are mere feet from the canyon’s lip, and about 100 yards upstream, a bridge might be in danger eventually, Mulledy says.
Like the others, this site will be challenging to access, driving the cost up, he adds.
Cost: $2 million.
The project will be designed next year, and construction is due to begin in 2019.
Green Crest Channel
Green Crest Channel almost claimed a couple of businesses and a portion of Austin Bluffs Parkway back in 2010 before the city shored up the dissolving embankment with a project completed in 2015.
Mulledy worked on the solution to the problem while he was an engineer with Matrix Design Group, later joining the city in February 2016. By buttressing the banks and installing drop structures and grouted boulders, the stream is now healthy and lined with vegetation, such as willows, that appears historic but was placed there by Matrix as part of the project.
Because the new features, including four drop structures, slow the stream’s flow in Templeton Gap, erosion is dramatically curtailed downstream.
Cost: $2.8 million.
Another project upstream from Green Crest will further secure the waterway. At Siferd Street in Park Vista, just east of Academy Boulevard, even a small rain creates monster flooding from an over-topped Templeton Gap waterway. Plans call for crews to raise the road by several feet, lower the creek, and install a box culvert and five drop structures downstream. Work begins in 2020.
Cost: $3.75 million.
Those projects just scratch the surface of problems that become evident when face-to-face with the city’s stream system. With the price tag in the high millions, Mulledy notes he wants to maximize those dollars. That’s why his staff works hand-in-glove with Utilities and the Parks Department to find opportunities to incorporate trails and recreation facilities where plausible.
“Most of our projects are on green corridors,” he says, “so we look for opportunities for green spaces.”
From KNAU (Ryan Heinsius):
Republican Senators John McCain and Jeff Flake have reintroduced a bill that would settle claims by the Hualapai Tribe to the Colorado River. Supporters say the deal is crucial for economic development on the reservation.
The settlement between the Hualapai, federal government and other water users would allocate 4,000 acre feet, or 1.3 billion gallons, per year to the tribe. A 70-mile pipeline would deliver the water from Diamond Creek to Peach Springs and the Hualapai-owned Grand Canyon Skywalk and connecting Grand Canyon West resort.
The tribe has limited access to groundwater, and says the $170 million project would benefit tourism and boost employment. Hualapai officials say the resort employs 600 people with more than a million visitors each year.
However, Interior Department officials last year testified that the project’s costs would exceed estimates, and don’t justify the relatively small amount of water it would provide.
From The High Country News (Emily Benson):
On a sunny March morning in 2014, dam operators lifted a gate on the Morelos Dam on the Colorado River, at the U.S.-Mexico border. Water gushed toward the river’s dry delta at the Gulf of California. This “pulse flow” coursed downstream for several weeks, nourishing cottonwood and willow saplings and boosting bird and other wildlife populations.
Though most of the water soaked through the parched riverbed to aquifers below, enough remained aboveground to allow the river to meet the gulf for the first time since the late 1990s. That reminded people throughout the basin of the Colorado’s importance — and how humans have altered it. The 2012 international agreement that made the flow possible and addressed other river-management issues expires at the end of 2017. Officials, however, are expected to sign a new pact in the coming weeks. That deal, called “Minute 323,” will extend and expand the previous agreement — and reduce the risk of a catastrophic water shortage that could leave fields and faucets dry.
Under the new agreement, Mexico would commit to voluntary reductions in water use beyond those specified in 2012 when Mead drops, according to a summary of Minute 323 several water agencies presented to their boards. But those extra restrictions only go into effect if the U.S. Lower Basin states also agree to similar cutbacks, called the “drought contingency plan.”
That kind of cooperation is critical for the success of basin-wide plans, says Jennifer Pitt, the director of the National Audubon Society’s Colorado River Program and U.S. co-chair of the Minute 323 environmental working group. (High Country News board member Osvel Hinojosa serves as the co-chair from Mexico.) “It only works if they all jump in the pool at the same time.”
The Lower Basin states are still at least a few months away from taking that leap. While water agencies hope to have the drought contingency plan finished by mid-2018, obstacles abound, including conflicts between Arizona water managers and disagreements over the Salton Sea in California, which is fed by Colorado River water. Still, the conditional agreement from Mexico adds an extra incentive for finalizing the Lower Basin plan. After all, “(Mexico) wouldn’t owe any more than they do today if the Lower Basin fails to act,” says Chuck Cullom, the Colorado River programs manager at the Central Arizona Water Conservation District. That would leave the U.S. to face additional water shortages on its own.
From Universe Today (Nancy Atkinson):
“With Cassini, we had a rare opportunity and we seized it,” said Linda Spilker, Cassini Mission Scientist.
And on Friday, September 15, we say goodbye to this incredible spacecraft.
Since 2004, Cassini has been orbiting Saturn, exploring the magnificent gas giant planet while weaving through an incredibly diverse assortment of 60-plus icy moons, and skimming along the edges of the complex but iconic icy rings.
Cassini’s findings have revolutionized our understanding of the entire Saturn system, providing intriguing insights on Saturn itself as well as revealing secrets held by moons such as Enceladus, which should be a big iceball but instead is one of the most geothermally active places in our solar system. And thanks to the Huygens lander, we now know Saturn’s largest moon, Titan is eerily Earthlike, but yet totally alien.
“The lasting story of Cassini will likely be its longevity and the monumental amount of scientific discovery,” Cassini Project Manager Earl Maize told me last year. “It was absolutely the right spacecraft in the right place at the right time to capture a huge array of phenomena at Saturn.”
But after 20 years in space, the Cassini spacecraft is running out of fuel, and so Cassini will conduct a sacred act known as ‘planetary protection.’ This self-sacrifice will ensure any potentially habitable moons of Saturn won’t be contaminated sometime in the future if the drifting, unpowered spacecraft were to accidentally crash land there. Microbes from Earth might still be adhering to Cassini, and its RTG power source still generates warmth. It could melt through the icy crust of one of Saturn’s moons, possibly, and reach a subsurface ocean.
For a mission this big, this long and this unprecedented, it will end in spectacular fashion. Called the Grand Finale — which actually began last spring — Cassini has made 22 close passes through the small gap between Saturn’s cloud tops and the innermost ring. This series of orbits has sent the spacecraft on an inevitable path towards destruction.
And tomorrow, on its final orbit, Cassini will plunge into Saturn’s atmosphere at tens of thousands of kilometers per hour. Like the science-churning machine it has been throughout its mission, Cassini will continue to conduct science observations until the very end, sending back long-sought after data about Saturn’s atmosphere. But eventually, the spacecraft will be utterly destroyed by the gas planet’s heat and pressure. It will burn up like a meteor, and become part of the planet itself…
But I’ll also leave you with this: Instead of feeling like the mission is over, I prefer to think of Cassini as living forever, because of all the data it provided that has yet to be studied.