R.I.P. Katie Lee #ColoradoRiver #COriver

Katie Lee. Photo credit: Glen Canyon Institute.

From KNAU (Gillian Ferris):

Long-time environmental activist and folk singer Katie Lee has died at the age of 98 at her home in Jerome.

Lee was born in Tucson and graduated from the University of Arizona. She traveled to Hollywood for a career as an actress and singer, working with the likes of Burl Ives. But after a rafting trip down the Colorado River in the early 1950’s, and the exploration of Glen Canyon upstream, Katie Lee became a staunch opponent of the construction of the Glen Canyon Dam. She helped document the beauty of Glen Canyon before it was submerged under Lake Powell, and was featured in the recent documentary Damnation, detailing the political history of the dam. She was dubbed “The Goddess of Glen Canyon” for her activism and grit.

Sterling: Water use drops

North Sterling Reservoir

From The Sterling Journal-Advocate (Sara Waite):

Sterling City Manager Don Saling said Tuesday that water use in September was lower than a year ago, but revenue was up.

Saling shared graphs with the Sterling City Council at their meeting that showed monthly water production and demand for 2013-2017. Those figures have dropped for September in each of the last two years.

However, Saling said monthly revenue for the water enterprise fund was $564,014 for 2017, up from $501,946 in 2016. He attributed some of the increase to the flat $5 per 3/4-inch tap rate increase the council implemented in 2017, which accounted for around $21,000.

The rest of the increased revenue, he said, comes from 11 new accounts for the city as well as more accurate readings due to the new radio read water meters the city installed in 2016. The $1.5 million project was intended to make reading meters more time-efficient and also identified numerous leaks in the water system.

2014 #ColoradoRiver Delta pulse flow analysis

Martha Gomez-Sapiens, a monitoring team member and postdoctoral research associate in the UA Department of Geosciences, stands on a riverbank next to willows and cottonwoods that germinated as a result of the pulse flow. (Photo: Karl W. Flessa/UA Department of Geosciences)

From KUNC (Luke Runyon):

A group of scientists, including those from the U.S. Geological Survey, are also gaining insight into how the flow was felt by plants, animals and the overall delta ecosystem.

Using a mix of groundwater monitoring and satellite imagery, scientists say even the pulse’s modest flow of water — approximately one-twentieth the amount that spilled into the delta before humans built the river’s massive upstream dams — recharged aquifers, greened plant life and spurred the return of bird species.

Years before the flow, Mexico and the United States agreed to the experiment, and to the idea that the water was not just for human use, but can and should be used to revive ecosystems. The agreement — an update to a 1944 treaty between the two countries — gave Mexico the ability to store more water in American reservoirs and, just once, flood the final miles of the dry river bed to see what happened.

From above you can use the naked eye to see the water’s effect. Before and after photos show plant life greening not just in the river’s bed where water actually flowed, but beyond the banks, which Leenhouts says is a sign of recharged groundwater.

“In the two years following the flow it was possible to measure increased green up,” using satellite images, he says.

During that same period both the number of and varied species of birds increased, he says, a side effect of the revived vegetation.

Even though the pulse flow only lasted a few months in 2014, its effects lasted for years. The greenness of vegetation wasn’t as vibrant the following year, but it was still greener compared to 2013. That indicates the single sustained flow provided enough water to keep plants alive for at least a year…

Scientists’ chance to study and test the effect of simulated floods isn’t over. A new update to the 1944 treaty signed this year allows for more pulse flows when Mexico stores surplus water.

Santa Fe: 18th Annual Congreso de las Acequias, November 4, 2017

An acequia along the Las Trampas in northern New Mexico is suspended on a trestle. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

From From the Taos Valley Acequia Association:

18th Annual Congreso de las Acequias

Time Sat Nov 04 2017 at 08:00 am
Venue Santa Maria de la Paz Catholic Community
11 College Ave, Santa Fe, United States

Created by New Mexico Acequia Association

The Congreso de las Acequias is a dynamic and vibrant gathering that celebrates the acequias as part of our way of life and our livelihood. Our theme this year is “La Sabiduria del Agua” or “Wisdom of the Water” followed by “Stories of Enduring Acequias.” We celebrate the people who keep our acequias flowing and the deep connection to land, family, and community. The NMAA convenes the Congreso, which is our statewide governing body, to learn about current issues affecting acequias, to pass resolutions that guide our policy positions and strategic direction, and to elect leadership. Each year, the Congreso contributes to our ongoing history with honoring community leaders and collectively identifying organizational priorities for the coming year. NMAA works to continue building the acequia movement by protecting our land and wáter resources for future generations of acequia farmers and ranchers.

Raton Basin Earthquakes Linked to Oil and Gas Fluid Injections — @CIRESnews

Raton Basin map via the USGS.

Here’s the release from CIRES (Jim Scott):

A rash of earthquakes in southern Colorado and northern New Mexico recorded between 2008 and 2010 was likely due to fluids pumped deep underground during oil and gas wastewater disposal, says a new University of Colorado Boulder study.

The study, which took place in the 2,200-square-mile Raton Basin along the central Colorado-northern New Mexico border, found more than 1,800 earthquakes up to magnitude 4.3 during that period, linking most to wastewater injection well activity. Such wells are used to pump water back in the ground after it has been extracted during the collection of methane gas from subterranean coal beds.

One key piece of the new study was the use of hydrogeological modeling of pore pressure in what is called the “basement rock” of the Raton Basin – rock several miles deep that underlies the oldest stratified layers. Pore pressure is the fluid pressure within rock fractures and rock pores.

While two previous studies have linked earthquakes in the Raton Basin to wastewater injection wells, this is the first to show that elevated pore pressures deep underground are well above earthquake-triggering thresholds, said CU Boulder doctoral student Jenny Nakai, lead study author. The northern edges of the Raton Basin border Trinidad, Colorado, and Raton, New Mexico.

“We have shown for the first time a plausible causative mechanism for these earthquakes,” said Nakai of the Department of Geological Sciences. “The spatial patterns of seismicity we observed are reflected in the distribution of wastewater injection and our modeled pore pressure change.”

A paper on the study was published in the Journal of Geophysical Research: Solid Earth. Co-authors on the study include CU Boulder Professors Anne Sheehan and Shemin Ge of geological sciences, former CU Boulder doctoral student Matthew Weingarten, now a postdoctoral fellow at Stanford University, and Professor Susan Bilek of the New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology in Socorro.

The Raton Basin earthquakes between 2008 and 2010 were measured by the seismometers from the EarthScope USArray Transportable Array, a program funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) to measure earthquakes and map Earth’s interior across the country. The team also used seismic data from the Colorado Rockies Experiment and Seismic Transects (CREST), also funded by NSF.

As part of the research, the team simulated in 3-D a 12-mile long fault gleaned from seismicity data in the Vermejo Park region in the Raton Basin. The seismicity patterns also suggest a second, smaller fault in the Raton Basin that was active from 2008-2010.

Nakai said the research team did not look at the relationship between the Raton Basin earthquakes and hydraulic fracturing, or fracking.

The new study also showed the number of earthquakes in the Raton Basin correlates with the cumulative volume of wastewater injected in wells up to about 9 miles away from the individual earthquakes. There are 28 “Class II” wastewater disposal wells – wells that are used to dispose of waste fluids associated with oil and natural gas production – in the Raton Basin, and at least 200 million barrels of wastewater have been injected underground there by the oil and gas industry since 1994.

“Basement rock is typically more brittle and fractured than the rock layers above it,” said Sheehan, also a fellow at the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences. “When pore pressure increases in basement rock, it can cause earthquakes.”

There is still a lot to learn about the Raton Basin earthquakes, said the CU Boulder researchers. While the oil and gas industry has monitored seismic activity with seismometers in the Raton Basin for years and mapped some sub-surface faults, such data are not made available to researchers or the public.

The earthquake patterns in the Raton Basin are similar to other U.S. regions that have shown “induced seismicity” likely caused by wastewater injection wells, said Nakai. Previous studies involving CU Boulder showed that injection wells likely caused earthquakes near Greeley, Colorado, in Oklahoma and in the mid-continent region of the United States in recent years.

Fort Morgan Times series: Narrows Dam

Screen shot of the Narrows Dam which was proposed to be built on this Weldon Valley land located one-half mile below the Narrows Bridge. (Fort Morgan Times photo)

Here’s Part One of The Fort Morgan Times series on the proposed Narrows Dam on the South Platte River from the Community History Writers. Here’s an excerpt:

Getting a nickname

In 1870, the first settlers in Weldon Valley irrigated their crops by diverting water from the South Platte River.

This river, which Mark Twain described as “sick” and “sorry,” snakes through Weldon Valley, flanked by bluffs to the north and the south.

Towards the eastern edge of the valley, the northern bluff connects with the river and comes closest to the southern bluff. This closest gap between the bluffs is called “The Narrows.”

Early water rights

Construction of the Weldon Valley Ditch was begun in 1881 and was completed in 1883.

Colorado water rights are based on the “Colorado Doctrine,” which states that whoever uses the water gets to keep on using it or “first in time, first in right.”

Sterling built its first ditch in 1873, so they have “senior” water rights over Weldona. In years of drought, the Sterling area farmers and water rights holders can “call” for the river, and Weldona may get no water at all.

In 1910, the Narrows Dam was first conceived of and filed for by the Colorado Engineering and Construction Company. The cost estimate for this project was $5 million. No action was ever taken and the filing lapsed…

Reviving the Narrows Dam idea

Yet, in 1958, a group of northeast Colorado farmers and businessmen asked the Colorado Water Board for assistance in reviving the Narrows project.

They sponsored a petition drive, which resulted in the formation of the Lower South Platte River Water Conservancy District.

Don Hamil, a prominent Atwood rancher and former head of REA during the Eisenhower administration, helped unify support for the proposed dam and became president of the organization. Its purpose was to serve as a contracting/negotiating agency with the federal government.

In September 1964, the Colorado Water Board approved the Narrows Dam site for the project.

Flood hits

In the spring of 1965, the South Platte River overflowed its banks, causing a huge three-day flood in Denver.

Colorado Gov. John Arthur Love called it the worst disaster in Colorado history.

Due to the severity of the flood, there was an outpouring of support for flood control in general and, specifically, for the Narrows Dam project.

Flooding in the Fort Morgan area wasn’t caused so much by the South Platte River, but by the higher crests flowing out of the Bijou and Kiowa creeks. Therefore, farmers and businessmen in the area called for some kind of flood protection of the Bijou and Kiowa to be included in the Narrows Dam project.

In 1966, the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers explored constructing a dam in the upper Bijou Valley. They determined that the flooding was too infrequent and so it wouldn’t be worth the cost. Due to this study, the Bureau of Reclamation dropped its original plans to divert water from the Bijou Creek into the Narrows Dam.

By 1967, the Bureau of Reclamation had completed a feasibility study of the Narrows project. The estimated cost was $61.82 million.

Colorado Congressman Wayne Aspinall held the powerful and influential office of chair of the U.S. House Committee on the Interior. He was a big supporter of the project and vowed to fight for it, but only if local water users showed that they were in favor of it.

Competing interests

In April 1970, Gov. Love complained publicly about the massive waste of water flowing into Nebraska from the South Platter River. He said he wanted the Narrows Dam built so that water could be stored for irrigation, to provide flood control, and because he claimed its reservoir would attract 1 million visitors annually.

Land speculators started buying up parcels in the Weldon Valley, and prices spiked.

Felix Sparks, director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board, complained that if land prices increased too much, the project’s expense might become prohibitive.

On Sept. 9,1975, a couple of buses set out from Brush to tour the Narrows project area. Sparks told the dignitaries and other passengers aboard that local opposition to the dam had died.

So imagine their surprise when the buses pulled up to the Narrows bridge and the passengers saw about 300 protesters carrying signs such as, “Hart, Have a Heart!” and “Don’t be a Rascal, Haskell!”

The buses drove on by the demonstrators and parked nearby at the future site of the proposed dam’s spillway.

As politicians made their speeches, a woman’s voice was heard saying, “What’s going to happen to our small little lives?” And then a man spoke out, saying, “How would you like to be on your fifth generation on a farm and have it yanked out from under you?”

The protesters questioned a speaker about politicians buying up land in the valley under assumed or corporate names, and the speaker replied, “You’re getting into questions that are not in the context of this tour!”

Later, Sparks pointed out that the greatest opposition to the project’s environmental impact were wealthy duck hunters from Denver. He also said that the towns in the valley had long since died as a result of the advent of the automobile. He explained to his passengers that the locals were angry, not because they opposed the project, but because it had taken so long for the government to start buying land.

Apparently, he was out of touch with the true feelings of the residents of Weldon Valley. The seeds of the Regional Landowners Group (RLG) had already taken root and were ready to sprout.

Landowners fight back

Don and Karen Christensen and other interested landowners had already reached out for help from student lawyers volunteering for the Colorado Environmental Legal Service (CELS).

On Sept. 10, 1975, the Fort Morgan Times described a memorandum written by the service. It claimed that an alternative site, upriver from Weldon Valley in Hardin, would be much more suitable than the Narrows Dam site. There would be less seepage in this dam because of its geology. Only about 50 families would be displaced compared to 175 in Weldon Valley, plus no school would have to be closed down, since Hardin no longer had a school. The Hardin site’s closer proximity to the front range was another advantage of this location for the dam.

On Sept. 26,1975, the Regional Landowners Group was officially organized at a meeting held at the Weldon Valley School.

Don Christensen and Corky Tomky were appointed co-chairs of the group. They discussed the success of the protest at the dam site and planned strategies for fighting the project, which included mounting an advertising campaign, speaking at Fort Morgan organizations’ meetings, writing letters to the editor and government officials, and soliciting funds. The group agreed that they were willing to go to court in order to stop the Narrows project.

Don Christensen vowed: “We’re going to kill the Narrows Dam one way or the other!”

Over the next four months the RLG attended meetings, asked questions, and took their concerns to state officials, including Gov. Dick Lamm, Director of Natural Resources Harris Sherman, and Felix Sparks. Sherman and Sparks listened respectfully, but refused to back down.

“I’m not going to argue with 30 years of history,” Sparks said.

Meanwhile, 106 local businesses donated money for the landowners group’s ad campaign.

For many months, “Dam Foolishness” ads kept popping up in the Fort Morgan Times; each one outlining the reasons why the group opposed the building of the dam.

One of the slogans found in the ads stated: “If you enjoy paying taxes for a lot of nothing You’ll love the Narrows. But if you really want to save a bundle, join us in fighting ‘Dam Foolishness’ on the South Platte.”

Trains at 14th St and South Platte River June 19, 1965. Photo via Westword.com

Here’s Part Two of the Fort Morgan Times series about the Narrows Dam. Here’s an excerpt:

Not really dead

The worries of the Weldon Valley residents and farmers about the proposed Narrows Dam project may have seemed like they were over when things faltered in 1952 and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation dropped the request for federal funding of the project.

However, the uncertainty of the Narrows project still hovered over Weldon Valley like a dark cloud.

In March 1953, a family who was interested in building a home in Goodrich sent a letter to President Dwight Eisenhower, asking him if it would be safe for them to build. They asked, “Is the Narrows Dam project really dead?”

Apparently not.

Their letter was referred to the U.S. Department of Interior, and its response to the family essentially was: Although we try to take in consideration the feelings of landowners, the Narrows site is the best site. We need your land and don’t worry, when the time comes, you’ll get paid fair market value for your property.

It was all too clear that this matter was far from over.

Still, the rest of the 1950s were fairly quiet in regard to this proposed dam, and the South Platte River continued its typical flood/drought cycles.

Yet, in 1958, a group of northeast Colorado farmers and businessmen asked the Colorado Water Board for assistance in reviving the Narrows project.

They sponsored a petition drive, which resulted in the formation of the Lower South Platte River Water Conservancy District.

Don Hamil, a prominent Atwood rancher and former head of REA during the Eisenhower administration, helped unify support for the proposed dam and became president of the organization. Its purpose was to serve as a contracting/negotiating agency with the federal government.

In September 1964, the Colorado Water Board approved the Narrows Dam site for the project.

South Platte River Basin via Wikipedia

Here’s Part Three of the Fort Morgan Times series about the Narrows Dam. Here’s an excerpt:

The fight over building the Narrows Dam in the Weldon Valley was burning hot in the 1970s. The federal and state governments continued to pursue it, and local landowners kept trying to push it down.

On Dec. 10, 1975, the Narrows Dam Environmental Impact Statement was published, and the Fort Morgan Times then ran a seven-part story, covering its details.

A month later, the Regional Landowners Group (RLG) and 50 other supporters met at the Denver Hilton Hotel and held a press conference expressing their resistance to the project.

They complained that the environmental impact statement was a deliberate misrepresentation of the Weldon Valley community. They said the dam flunked as a flood control project, that fishing and recreation would be unsafe because of polluted water and that the claims that agriculture would be benefited by the project were wrong because in truth, rich, irrigated cropland would be taken out of production.

“If you cannot convince someone with logic, baffle him with buffalo chips,” one RLG member remarked about the environmental impact statement.

Public hearings held

On Jan. 14 and 15, 1976, public hearings were held in Denver, where 26 of 31 speakers were against the project.

Denver attorneys Barry Satlow and W.B. Tourtillot and Colorado Environmental Legal Service (CELS) representative Renelle Rae threatened to take the Narrows Dam project to court.

Responding to the opposition during a Lower South Platte Water Conservancy District board meeting, Mark Pascoe derided the idea of locating the dam at the Hardin site.

“The dam is going to be at the Narrows or there will be no dam at all,” Pascoe said.

Then, taking an apparent jab at his opponents, he added that the RLG could take the project to court – if they could get free lawyers.

Water lawyer enters

Unbeknownst to Pascoe, the RLG had already retained Glenn Saunders, who was the former chief counsel for the Denver Water Board and the most respected water lawyer in Colorado. Saunders also was known as an adamant supporter of all dam projects.

So how and why did this long-time water project supporter agree to represent this small group of landowners from Weldon Valley?

As Marc Reisner describes it in his book, Cadillac Desert, Saunders told the story of a bunch of farmers walking into his office and asking him to stop the Narrows Dam.

“What? I’m not going to stop a dam from being built!” Saunders thought.

Yet, the farmers kept throwing a bunch of facts at the water lawyer, and the more Saunders listened, the more he realized what a boondoggle the project was. He decided to represent them, and thus began an unlikely alliance between a high-powered Denver lawyer and a small group of farmers from northeast Colorado, according to Reisner.

Saunders instructed the farmers to go home and start raising funds. He said they’d need at least $100,000 if they were to bring a lawsuit against the Bureau of Reclamation.

EPA wades in

Meanwhile, the Environmental Protection Agency also found the Narrows Dam Environmental Impact Statement inadequate.

In a letter to the Bureau of Reclamation, the EPA said that the draft didn’t adequately analyze water quality issues or project alternatives. The EPA worried about eutrophication and pesticides that would make the water unsafe for swimmers and water-skiers.

Proposed Climax molybdenum limits, “would be acutely lethal to aquatic life” — CDPHE

Frozen mists over the Blue River Valley turn the sun into a diamond — Bob Berwyn

From The Denver Post (Bruce Finley):

CDPHE scientists warn Climax Mine molybdenum may pose health risk, oppose company push to raise statewide pollution limit

The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment water-quality scientists said, in a recommendation to state commissioners, that Climax Molybdenum’s proposed hike “would be acutely lethal to aquatic life” and probably not protective of people.

A Climax report on molybdenum exposures in Colorado “demonstrates that current levels of molybdenum in drinking water may pose a public health risk to communities downstream” of the mine, CDPHE scientists said in filings reviewed by The Denver Post.

State data show molybdenum discharges from the Climax Mine above Leadville in recent years increased to levels 10 times higher than the current statewide limit of 210 parts per billion. CDPHE water-quality control commissioners granted Climax a “temporary modification.” When it expired, the commissioners extended the modification to provide more time to complete a study of molybdenum.

CDPHE officials Tuesday declined to discuss this issue.

Federal Environmental Protection Agency officials, who oversee Colorado’s compliance with the Clean Water Act, informed state commissioners last week that the EPA would allow a limit higher than what Climax Molybdenum is proposing, according to a document filed Friday.

A regional EPA spokesman issued a prepared statement saying the EPA’s filing is “preliminary,” confirming that “our initial review indicates that the proposed standard would protect water supply uses,” but declined to further discuss this issue

State commissioners often follow EPA guidance in setting pollution limits sufficient to protect people while accounting for variability and uncertainty…

Climax officials cited three rat studies the company helped fund in asking CDPHE to relax the statewide water quality limit for molybdenum in streams used for domestic water to 9,000 ppb billion from 210 ppb. Climax also wants limits for waterways used for agricultural irrigation raised to 1,000 ppb from 160 ppb.

EPA recommendations submitted to the CDPHE said a molybdenum limit for streams tapped for drinking water of 10,000 ppb “would be protective … and consistent with Clean Water Act requirements.” However, EPA regional officials said in the document filed Friday that they would not object if Colorado’s commission “chooses to be more conservative and adopts a more stringent table value standard of 9,000 ug/L (ppb) as proposed by Climax Molybdenum Company.”

The EPA “must review and act upon any revised standards once they are adopted by the commission for them to be in effect under the Clean Water Act,” the agency’s statement said. “If the commission chooses to retain current standards, EPA will not have an approval or disapproval role.”


The CDPHE scientists submitted their recommendation Friday to state commissioners, who are scheduled to deal with the matter in December.

Denver Water is opposing the push for a looser statewide limit, along with downstream communities including Frisco, the Copper Mountain resort and people to the west along the Eagle River…

Denver Water treatment plants lack the capacity to remove molybdenum, which in trace amounts can be healthy. While data on human toxicity is limited, chronic ingestion of molybdenum can cause diarrhea, stunted growth, infertility, low birth weights and gout, and can also affect the lungs, kidneys and liver.

Climax officials have told state water quality commissioners their proposal “is not based on any intent or need to increase molybdenum in Climax discharges, and, in particular, Climax does not intend to change its mining or water treatment process in a manner that would cause an increase in the historical discharge of molybdenum into Tenmile Creek.”

Aspinall Unit operations update: Gunnison Tunnel diversions ending for season

From email from Reclamation (Erik Knight):

On Wednesday, November 1st, diversions to the Gunnison Tunnel will end for the season. Releases from the Aspinall Unit will be adjusted in coordination with the ramp down schedule for Gunnison Tunnel diversions in order to keep Gunnison River flows near the current level of 750 cfs. There could be fluctuations in the river throughout the day until the Gunnison Tunnel is completely shut down.

On Thursday and Friday, November 2nd and 3rd, releases from the Aspinall Unit will be reduced to 300 cfs during the day time hours in order to allow for completion of the sonar survey of the Crystal Dam stilling basin. Gunnison River flows will drop down towards 300 cfs during the day while returning to 750 cfs during the non-working hours. After the sonar survey is completed at the end of the day on November 3rd, river flows will return to the current level of 750 cfs.

Flows in the lower Gunnison River are currently above the baseflow target of 1050 cfs. River flows are expected to stay 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 October through December.

Currently, diversions into the Gunnison Tunnel are near 850 cfs and flows in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon are around 750 cfs. After the shutdown of the Gunnison Tunnel and completion of the Crystal stilling basin sonar survey, flows in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon will return to 750 cfs. Current flow information is obtained from provisional data that may undergo revision subsequent to review.