#Snowpack news: Telluride’s low-snow-winter experiment — The Mountain Town News

The storm on [January 10, 2018 provided a badly needed thin blanket of snow at Telluride. After a ski season of virtually no snow, the resort received 23 inches in five days. Photo/ Telluride Ski & Golf

From The Mountain Town News (Allen Best):

Making lemonade in Telluride during a winter of very little natural snow

It finally snowed during the last week in Telluride, 23 inches in five days, enough to whiten the landscape and cloak some of the grass. At least for a bit, the lab experiment is on hold.

That unwitting experiment being tested at Telluride and a good many other resorts this winter has been whether a ski resort can operate and have great success without snow falling from the heavens?

Snow surveys conducted last week in the San Juan Mountains of southwestern Colorado found snow depths 22 percent of normal. To the north in Colorado, they were reported to be 65 percent of normal. Aspen got nine inches over the weekend, hardly worth mentioning in most years. This year it’s the equivalent of a man biting a dog.

In Telluride, the chief executive of the community’s promotional arm reports no grim hits to the community tourism economy—not yet at least. “It’s not all about snow,” says Michael Martelon, of VisitTelluride. “But if we had it, it would make everything else better.”

Martelon is quick to note that Telluride differs from resorts close to cities in that its customers mostly come from long distances. Denver is six hours away, Phoenix eight. Snow is somewhat less important to its visitors than weekend skiing customers on Colorado’s I-70 corridor or those from Utah’s Wasatch Front.

Telluride still has skiing, thanks in part to $15 million in snowmaking investments in the last six years. But for many visitors, skiing is not the end all, be all. There are galleries, restaurants, and even the Jud Wiebe Trail. Located on the south-facing slopes above Telluride, it was still accessible even after the first storm in the recent sequence.

Christmas was strong, and the only repercussion so far has been a softening in bookings for spring break. Lodges require 45-day advance payment, he notes. But for the moment, bookings are pacing to be ahead of last year.

Martelon sees lemonade when others, especially locals accustomed to daily blasts of powder, see lemons. “It might be a blessing in disguise,” he says. “Taking care of the guest becomes the absolute priority, because the snow isn’t doing it for you.”

That said, he suggested checking back in May, to see if his optimism was fully justified.

Wednesday morning [January 10, 2018] at Telluride. Photo/Telluride Ski & Golf.

Elsewhere in the West’s ski towns, Ketchum and Sun Valley reported a lucrative holiday season, better in most cases than the year before. Before, there was powder to ski in the morning. This year, there was little compelling reason to arise, so people stay out at night, explained the Idaho Mountain Express.

At the foot of the ski area, the Ketchum Ranger Station had no measurable snow on the ground on Jan. 1. That’s a first since record-keeping began in 1938, according to the National Weather Service.

But on Wednesday, the Mountain Express proclaimed that the valley “finally looks like winter.”

In Aspen, there was optimism that snowmaking—helped by cold nights—will save the day for the X Games Aspen on Jan. 25-28.

“It really is impressive what the snowmaking and grooming teams have been able to do,” Jeff Hanle, spokesman for the company, told the Aspen Daily News.

In California, an early January snow survey near the entrance to the Sierra-at-Tahoe ski area revealed an average depth of 1.3 inches of snow. The water in that snow is 3 percent of the long-term average for the location, at about 6,640 feet (2,020 meters) in elevation, reported Lake Tahoe News.

Will this change? “There is still a lot of winter left,” Frank Gehrke, who conducts the survey, said. “January, February and into March are frequently productive.”

That said, there are concerns about whether the warming Arctic could in coming decades produce changes in the Pacific Ocean that will more frequently create the high-pressure ridges that have plagued California in recent years. This same high-pressure ridge was blamed for the lack of snow across the West until this past week. See Dec. 7 story in Mountain Town News.

Animas High School chemistry students take a look at surface water and wastewater

Silverton, Colo., lies an at elevation of 9,300 feet in San Juan County, and the Gold King Mine is more than 1,000 feet higher in the valley at the left side of the photo. Photo/Allen Best

From The Durango Herald (Patrick Armijo):

Marilyn Short and Luke Mick are gumshoes of sorts: They’re trying to solve the mystery of why the Animas River near Silverton has more caddisflies than would be expected after the Gold King Mine spill.

Sadie Vance, Abby Allsopp and Faith Mewmaw created an interactive fishing game where anglers using a yardstick converted to a fishing pole can test their luck catching wood cutouts of fish and attendant pollutants and heavy metals found in the Animas River.

Ryan Colley, Chole Walsh and Cole Elliott devised an interactive video game where players can learn how the upgrade to the wastewater-treatment plant at Santa Rita will cleanse the urban waste stream so it can be safely returned to the Animas.

They were among 65 Animas High School juniors in Steve Smith’s chemistry class who plunged into a subject that brings nervous jitters to many a former high-schooler as they delved into the world of ionic and covalent bonds and spectroscopy through the lens of studying water quality.

On Thursday evening at the Powerhouse Science Center, students presented projects from their study of water quality in the Animas River. About 150 people attended.

“Students get exposed to water quality in this town, and this allowed them to look at the issue in a different manner,” Smith said.

The students, he said, spent about two weeks on the projects, and the city of Durango and Mountain Studies Institute partnered with Short during the unit…

Chole, who joined Ryan and Cole in creating a video game based on upgrades to the wastewater-treatment plant at Santa Rita, said the city of Durango helped with research – and even provided a tour.

“We were introduced to how the water-treatment plant works. We were able to ask questions. It really helped me more than a basic lecture,” Chole said of her group’s Santa Rita tour.

The trio’s video game is only in its rudimentary stages, and the students want to develop more levels: As players advance, they gain more knowledge of the chemistry behind processes as wastewater moves through treatment stages before its eventual return to the Animas.

When asked if the trio could, on its own, do the necessary work to complete the video game, Ryan said, “If we had more time, I think we’d get decently close.”

Cole said the chemistry proved relatively easy to understand; the hard part of video game development was getting the game to operate properly on all three members’ laptops.

Marilyn’s study of caddisflies left one big impression: “I was surprised by how much life is in the river that I didn’t even know about.”

“Microinvertebrates are useful in determining water quality,” Luke said, adding he was stumped why the Animas near Silverton has more caddisflies than expected based on its water composition.

“No one really knows what’s up,” he said.

Lower Ark District board meeting recap

Arkansas River Basin — Graphic via the Colorado Geological Survey

From The Bent County Democrat:

Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District welcomes new member, keeps same officers, hears three reports.

The Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District welcomed new board member Phillip Chavez at Wednesday’s meeting. Chavez is manager of Diamond A Farms and also has Chavez Family Farms. He was appointed by Judge Mark MacDonnell, and replaces Willard Behm, who completed the term of the late Wayne Whittaker.

All of the LAVWCD officers were retained – Lynden Gill of Bent County as chairman, Leroy Mauch of Prowers County as vice chairman, Melissa Esquibel of Pueblo County as secretary, and Jim Valliant of Crowley County as treasurer. Mauch was reappointed as LAVWCD member on the Fountain Creek Watershed, Flood Control and Greenway Board.

Three PowerPoints were presented on Wednesday. The first was by Chris Woodka on the Arkansas Valley Conduit, the second by Krystal Brown of the United States Geological Survey on a joint survey of USGS and LAVWCD on groundwater in the Lower Arkansas Valley, and the third by Larry Small, a study of Fountain Creek Flood Control.

Woodka went over the history of the Conduit project, which goes back to letters of support from 1952 and 1953 and was created officially when President John F. Kennedy came to Pueblo to sign the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project Act, which contained the Conduit. Through many years of struggle and $22 million spent, the final Environmental Impact Statement was completed in 2013 and recorded in 2014. The lengthy and expensive detour around Pueblo by the Conduit may be bypassed by the new concept put forth by the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District which would use the capacity in Pueblo Water’s system to deliver water at the eastern boundary of Pueblo to the Arkansas Valley Conduit, saving about 10 years in the construction process.

Brown’s presentation was a study in discrete groundwater measurements at 125 sites measured biannually. The data will be used to study climate, land-use practices and water-management practices. The proposed 2018 program involved: 1. Biannual groundwater level measurements of 125 alluvial and basin-fill wells – LAVWCD contributes $211,349 and USGS $9,241; 2. The operation of real-time continuous water temperature and specific conductance monitor to which LAVWCD contributes $10,750 and USGS, $4,605; 3. Seven sites of discrete specific conductance measurements – LAVWCD $4,043, USGS $869.

Larry Small, representing the Fountain Creek Watershed, presented a needs assessment for the Fountain Creek Flood Control Study. Phase 1 was an appraisal study of the feasibility of three alternatives and subalternatives (completed in Jan 2017). Phase 2 is a needs assessment of screen alternatives and involves selecting the preferred alternative, to be completed in Feb 2018. Future phases will be financing, permitting, design and construction. The recommendation is the Floodplain Management alternative. Its advantages are as follows: 1. provides multiple benefits in addition to flood management, 2. has stakeholder support, 3. could attract outside funding for certain components, 4. could be combined with localized floodplain measures in Pueblo at currently flood-prone locations to address the key flood control objectives along Fountain Creek in Pueblo. The Floodplain Management alternative is the only alternative that can be phased, but would require the longest time for completion.

Attorney Peter Nichols received $1,000 from the board toward the cost of filing in opposition to an appeal by New York over a sewage discharge matter to the U.S. Supreme Court. The board went into executive session with the lawyers.

Archuleta County agencies are discussing forming a Growing Water Smart (GWS) workgroup

From The Pagosa Sun (Chris Mannara):

Members of multiple Archuleta County agencies met on Jan. 17 to come to a consensus on working together as part of a Growing Water Smart (GWS) workgroup.

Members of the Pagosa Springs Town Council, Archuleta County Board of County Commissioners (BoCC), Pagosa Area Water and Sanitation District (PAWSD), San Juan Water Conservancy District (SJWCD), Pagosa Lakes Property Owners Association board (PLPOA) and Pagosa Fire Protection District (PFPD) were all participants of the work session.

Town Planning Director James Dickhoff and PAWSD Manager Jus- tin Ramsey began the work session by giving information on the GWS workshop held in September.

According to documentation provided at the work session, the workshop was attended by a seven member community team from Archuleta County.

The workshop was held by the Sonoran Institute and focused on integrating land use and water resource planning.

After the three-day workshop concluded, the Archuleta County team concluded that in order to implement the goals of the Colorado Water Plan, better collaboration among the separate government entities was needed…

Town council member Mat de- Graaf noted that this workgroup would be helpful for each individual organization to use funds as effi- ciently as possible.

“That happens when we’re all on the same page, understanding who is doing what and why,” deGraaf said.

PFPD board member David Blake then added that it would define the availability of water and service needs for the fire district.

“None of us want to waste time, energy, or money. Because, basically, we’re all using tax money to try and get something good done,” SJWCD board member Ray Finney said.

SJWCD board member Al P ster also added that it would allow each organization to identify challenges and obstacles earlier.

Moving forward with the work session, Curgus then asked the group about any challenges with the collaboration.


Coordinating each of the various member’s meeting schedules was noted as a challenge by town council member Nicole DeMarco.

deGraaf then noted that each organization may have differing perspectives on which way the data set is veering.

“Can anyone think of an example where one entity may like that it’s veering in one way?” deGraaf asked.

The work session then transitioned to a variety of topics ranging from the benefits of a collective data source to how the workgroup should function.

Archuleta County Multi-Hazard Mitigation Plan update available for public review and comment

West Fork Fire near Pagosa Springs June 19, 2013. Photo credit: Photo by George & Carolyn Daniels via Pagosa.com.

From The Pagosa Sun (Mike Le Roux):

Would you like to learn more about what Archuleta County is doing to minimize the impacts of floods, dam failures, wildfires, hazardous materials incidents and other hazards?

A draft of the county’s updated Multi-Hazard Mitigation Plan is being made available for public review and comment. The plan assesses risks posed by natural and man-made hazards, identifies ways to reduce those risks and allows the county to remain eligible for mitigation funding from FEMA.

A Hazard Mitigation Planning Committee that includes representatives from various county departments, Pagosa Springs, Pagosa Area Water and Sanitation District, and the Pagosa Fire

Protection District updated the plan over the past eight months with assistance from a consultant.

The plan identifies hazard mitigation goals and a variety of mitigation projects with the intent of reducing losses from hazard events before they occur again.

The planning committee is now soliciting public comment on the plan before it is finalized and submitted for FEMA review and approval.

The comment period will close Feb. 1…

The comment form can be accessed at http://www.surveymonkey.com/r/ArchHMPcomment.

The latest Water Information Program newsletter is hot off the presses

Click here to read the newsletter. Here’s an excerpt:

Colorado Ag Water Alliance Workshops

The Colorado Ag Water Alliance (CAWA) is hosting a series of workshops for farmers and ranchers around the state to disseminate information and discuss pertinent water issues related to Ag. This is an opportunity to discuss what is going on around the state in terms of Ag water use. It’s also an opportunity for the member organizations of CAWA to receive feedback from producers on water policy and programs.

The Basin Roundtable is generously sponsoring this event.

You can register at https://swagwater.eventbrite.com

Mancos photo credit via Green Apple Moving.

@AuroraWater Pursues New Water Source: Water rights purchase provides environmental benefits

Here’s the release from Aurora Water (Greg Baker):

On Monday evening, Aurora Water received approval from City Council to buy water rights associated with the London Mine, located near Alma, in Park County. 1,411 acre feet (af) is being purchased at a price of $22,000 per af, with additional costs of $3 million for the option to additional water rights as they are developed. An acre foot of water is 325,851 gallons, enough water to serve 2.5 households on average. The seller of the rights is MineWater Finance, LLC and No Name Investors, both Colorado companies. The total value of this initial sale is $34,042,000. As additional water rights are developed, Aurora may purchase these rights for $21,500 per acre foot. The sellers are confident that the source of the rights could ultimately result in an average annual deliverable of 5,400 af.

The source of this water is from a basin that is recharged from snowmelt on London Mountain. A geologic fault contains the water underground and prevents it from discharging into South Mosquito Creek, a tributary of the South Platte River. This water will be pumped from the basin to a water tunnel in the London Mine and from there, discharged into South Mosquito Creek. Since this water is not naturally connected to the streams, it is decreed under Colorado Water Law as non-tributary. This has special meaning as this water is fully reusable and can be recaptured utilizing Aurora’s Prairie Waters system, a potable reuse system.

Aurora Water has been a national leader in water efficiency, including an acclaimed water reuse system called Prairie Waters, and a nationally recognized water conservation program. Water acquisition is still necessary to meet future demands.

“Looking for new water supplies in the arid west requires innovative thinking,” said Marshall Brown, Director for Aurora Water. “This is a supply that historically has not been tapped by water providers, but the easier supplies are gone.”

The environmentally positive aspects of purchase have resulted in praise from organizations such as the Boulder-based Water Resource Advocates (WRA).

“New water supplies in Colorado are extremely limited and, at the same time, nearly 2,000 miles of streams in Colorado are polluted by mines,” Laura Belanger, Water Resources and Environmental Engineer with WRA stated. “We commend Aurora Water for taking a leadership role in finding this inventive and environmentally beneficial solution to meeting its customers’ water needs.”

The Aurora City Council will vote on the purchase agreement at its regular session on Monday, January 22, 2018. Aurora Water will have a 180 day due diligence period prior to the final closing. Additional water rights under the options provision will be purchased as they are adjudicated and decreed through Colorado’s Water Courts.

Video b-roll of Aurora Water staff touring London Mine with MineWater on November 1, 2017 is available at https://youtu.be/uCNLNvJsu24

Photos of mine and Tour are available from our DropBox location at https://www.dropbox.com/sh/dfv7kd1qi364910/AADyyKHcWctPZrJUy9FpH8kfa?dl=0

From The Denver Post (Bruce Finley):

CDPHE officials on Thursday declined to discuss the London Mine deal. Colorado Department of Natural Resources officials also declined to discuss it.

But “if they have a water right, they may extract the resource,” according to an emailed response that an agency information gatekeeper said could be attributed to Ginny Brannon, director of the agency’s division of reclamation, mining and safety.

State officials didn’t raise any concerns. They say their agency “partners” with others to reduce pollution “and additional partners and funding can always be used to reduce pollution from these large numbers of … inactive mines,” the statement said.

On Monday, Aurora council members, who have discussed the deal with utility officials in an executive session, will consider an initial purchase of 1,400 acre-feet of water for $32 million. That works out to about $22,000 per acre-foot, comparable with what utilities pay to acquire surface water. A second transaction would expand the pumping to extract up to 5,400 acre-feet a year, depending on a state water court determination of what is sustainable.

Money for the deal would come from fees charged to developers of new homes.