Profile in Soil Health: Alan Mindemann

From the NRCS:

Oklahoma farmer Alan Mindemann describes the soil as his business’ most important asset. After over 20 years of continuous no-till, his soil health and crop yields have never been better.

Watershed group’s study confirms high arsenic levels in Uncompahgre River

Uncompahgre River Valley looking south

From email from the Uncompahgre Watershed Partnership (Tanya Ishikawa):

Watershed group’s study confirms high arsenic levels in Uncompahgre River
Uncompahgre Watershed Partnership releases sediment release study results

RIDGWAY, COLO.– A recently released study by the Uncompahgre Watershed Partnership (UWP) confirmed that arsenic levels in the Uncompahgre River in Ouray County continue to exceed state water quality standards for human health. Though not a direct source of drinking water for homes and businesses in Ouray, Ridgway, Loghill and other downstream neighborhoods, the river is used for agriculture and recreation and may be connected to underground sources that feed nearby wells.

UWP Board Member Dennis Murphy, who volunteered on the study, will make a presentation of the report’s findings to the Ouray County Board of Commissioners on Tuesday, Jan. 30. The nonprofit watershed group has secured $1,000 from the county and $500 from Ridgway to partially fund a followup hydrodam sediment release study, and has discussed the possibility of collaborating with the county on a study of well water on properties along the Uncompahgre River between Ouray and Ridgway.

The Uncompahgre River is known to have relatively high concentrations of several heavy metals such as manganese, aluminum and iron, since it has many tributaries that pass through both naturally high mineral content in the mountains as well as minerals exposed by past mining activity. The water flowing through the river between Red Mountain Pass and Ridgway Reservoir turns various shades of green, yellow and orange at different times throughout the year, due to human-caused and natural events that increase the flows of heavy metals.

For years, the Ouray County government has fielded calls from concerned people when the river’s color was brightest. One annual event that elicits such a public response is the sluicing of the Ouray Hydrodam, when a gate at the bottom of the dam is opened to release sediment from the reservoir. The sediment flows into and builds up in the reservoir each year, and must be released to improve operations. This release, usually once a year, sends an orange plume down the river.

“The hydrodam has a storage capacity of less than one acre-foot, which fills quickly with sediment and precipitated metals from the inflow. The annual sluice event releases accumulated sediment and metals in hours rather than slowly, over the period of a year,” said Murphy, a retired Bureau of Land Management hydrologist.

Some community members have wondered if the plume with its higher concentrations of metals has negative impacts on the Uncompahgre River. Last March, UWP studied the plume by taking water and sediment samples before, during and after the dam release at three locations along the river by a group of volunteers with hydrology expertise, led by UWP Project Manager Agnieszka Przeszlowska.

Analysis of the sampling data showed that the water and sediment released from the hydrodam raised water levels in the river for a short period. The stream flow in the Uncompahgre River near Ouray increased from 141 cfs (cubic feet per second) to 174 cfs for less than 30 minutes. Downstream near Ridgway, the streamflow peaked at 170 cfs for approximately three hours and 30 minutes, only 2 cfs higher from the 168 cfs peak the previous day.

During the release, measurements showed substantially raised total metal concentrations, including manganese, aluminum, arsenic, cadmium, copper, iron, lead, nickel, selenium, silver, and zinc. All metal concentrations met aquatic life standards and most metals met human health standards, according to state water quality criteria.

However, both manganese and arsenic were at unsafe levels. The release is not suspected to be an original source of the manganese and arsenic concentrations, so UWP recommends additional study to better understand sources and concentrations within the watershed.

Manganese exceeded water safety standards before, during, and after the release at the sampling location below the dam, but attained levels within safety standards at the other two sampling locations at certain times around the release. No drinking water sources including wells are located near the dam, and the overall manganese concentrations were considered relatively benign.

However, the arsenic concentrations, which exceeded the human-health criterion before, during and after the sediment release at all three sampling locations, are considered more of a concern. “The EPA classifies arsenic as a Class A carcinogen, meaning it may pose the highest risk of cancer. This classification results in a very low human-health standard (0.02 microgram per liter of total arsenic),” according to the report produced for UWP by Ashley Bembenek and Julia Nave of Alpine Environmental Consultants in Crested Butte.

The arsenic concentrations are not new in the Uncompahgre River near Ouray and Ridgway, which have occasionally exceeded the human-health and raw water supply criteria in other measurements taken over the past 15 years.

The UWP study did not directly investigate the potential effect of the sediment release on public water supplies. The raw source waters for local utilities are all upstream from the Uncompahgre River and do not receive any flows from the releases. While those supplies would be unaffected by the sediment release, wells in the area may be affected. They were not studied in 2017, but plans are being considered to study them in 2018.

Murphy concluded, “This initial study was conducted under significant time, labor, and financial constraints, so did not provide as complete a picture as we had hoped. However, using what we learned from this study will be beneficial to better design future studies and monitor potential water quality issues in the Upper Uncompahgre Valley. As an example, the metal arsenic, a class A carcinogen, shows to be elevated at times in the Uncompahgre River. Sampling the water quality of domestic wells in the valley bottom, that may be pumping water connected to the river, might expose some potential health issues previously undetected.”

As far as the health impacts of arsenic on recreational users of the Uncompahgre River, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment put out an advisory after the 2015 Gold King Mine spill into the Animas River, stating that it “does not anticipate adverse health effects from exposure to contaminants detected in the sediment during typical recreational activities or through incidental contact with the sediment.”

The CDPHE recommends prudent public health practices when coming into contact with sediment and surface water containing heavy metals: 1. Don’t drink untreated water from the river. 2. Wash hands thoroughly with soap and water after contact. 3. Avoid contact in areas where there is visible discoloration in sediment or river water. 4. Wash clothes after contact. 5. Supervise young children to make sure they follow these recommendations.

The full report on the Ouray Hydrodam Sediment Release is available online at:

Water in the West — @WaltonFamilyFdn #ColoradoRiver #CO

The Colorado River, not far below the Utah-Colorado state line, and flowing toward the lower basin. Photo credit: Aspen Journalism.

Here’s a series from the Walton Family Foundation:

Working Together for a Healthier Colorado River Basin

For millions across the West, the Colorado River is life. This magnificent river and its tributaries supply drinking water to communities big and small, keep thousands of ranches and farms in business and provide critical habitat for fish and wildlife. But the Colorado is a river at risk.

Water in the West is a series of stories about the people working to address threats to water supply in the Colorado River Basin and find conservation solutions that make economic sense for people and communities. The Walton Family Foundation is working with partners throughout the basin, in the U.S. and Mexico, to ensure healthy rivers by restoring riparian areas, encouraging water efficiency and pursuing flexible, market-based solutions that improve water management.

Colorado HB17-1291: Alternate Storage Not Change if Already Quantified — @WaterLawReview

Barr Lake State Park photo via Colorado Parks and Wildlife.

From the University of Denver Water Law Review (Julia Bowman). Click through and read the whole article. Here’s an excerpt:

HB 17-1291, 71st Gen. Assemb., 1st Reg. Sess. (Colo. 2017) – (allowing water users to store water in a place of storage not listed on the decree if the historical consumptive use of the water right has been quantified in a previous change).

House Bill 1291 (HB 1291) has also been called the “Another Reservoir on the Ditch” bill. Co-sponsored by House Representatives J. Arndt, J. Becker, and Senator D. Coram, the bill was introduced to the House on March 24, 2017, and signed into law by Governor Hickenlooper on June 5, 2017. Without any lobbyists or other organizations involved in its preparation, the bill was recognized by legislators and the public alike as a “common-sense” piece of legislation. The bill allows water users to store previously quantified water in an alternate place of storage not listed on their decree without going through water court in certain circumstances.

The benefits of HB 1291 are only available to water users who want to store their decreed water in alternate storage on the same ditch or diversion system (including in nontributary aquifers). The water that qualifies under the bill is limited. It must be attributable to a water right that: (i) has gone through a judicially approved change; (ii) has been decreed for storage; and (iii) has a quantified historical consumptive use. Additionally, the water must be diverted at a point of diversion already decreed for that water right—it cannot be imported from another division—and any applicable transit and ditch losses must be assessed against the water right.

Securing #Arizona’s water is a team effort — @AmericanRivers #ColoradoRiver #COriver

From American Rivers:

Arizona is a renowned leader in water management thanks to more than a century of careful planning and effective leadership. But, with drought and declining water levels in the state’s key water supplies, Arizona must do more.

View of Lake Mead and Hoover dam. Photo credit BBC.

In this episode of We Are Rivers, we discuss the collaborative efforts Arizona and other Lower Basin states and water users are taking to address challenges facing the Colorado River and solutions, including the Drought Contingency Plan.

This blog was co-authored by Jeffrey Odefey & Kathryn Sorensen, Director of Phoenix Water Services

Arizona is a renowned leader in water management thanks to more than a century of careful planning and effective leadership. But, with drought and declining water levels in the state’s key water supplies, Arizona must do more.

Lake Mead December 2017. Photo credit: Greg Hobbs

Nearly half of Arizona’s water is provided by the Colorado River via the Central Arizona Project (CAP) canal. However, the Colorado River is over-allocated. Over the past decade, the Colorado River has been the subject of a series of high-profile planning efforts and negotiations, including the recently proposed Drought Contingency Plan. These efforts reflect the widespread recognition of significant legal over-allocation and physical overuse of water in the Colorado River Basin, as well as a more accurate understanding of historic hydrology in the Colorado River Basin and the likely near-term impacts of climate change.

Due to both drought and the basic problem of over-allocation of the river, Lake Mead levels have dropped quickly, leaving Arizona at risk of a shortage declaration that will diminish the amount of Colorado River water available to Central Arizona.

System conservation is an innovative and extremely promising approach to reducing risk and building resiliency and certainty into Colorado River Basin operations. Willing funders compensate water users who are willing to voluntarily reduce their water use. Voluntary system conservation allows Colorado River users to collaborate on ways to use less water in the lower basin so that it can be stored in Lake Mead to benefit the system as a whole. This storage benefits people and communities because a model that sustains Lake Mead’s water levels will allow people and communities to predict and understand the long-term management of the Colorado River.

The Colorado Basin states have inherited this problem, and it is our inherent duty to work together to fix it. Public health, economic development, and quality of life here in Arizona are contingent upon a reliable and safe water supply. We must be committed to building resiliency and implementing innovative water management strategies to ensure dependable water supplies for generations to come.

Tune in to “Episode 10: Securing Arizona’s Water Supply is a Team Effort,” to hear how Arizona and other Lower Basin states are working together to reduce demand of the Colorado River through the Drought Contingency Plan.