Although wetlands account for only a small portion of the landscape, it is estimated that 75 percent of all wildlife in the state depend on the thriving ecosystems, according to the Colorado Wetland Information Center.
However, because of development and other human impacts, researchers say that number has been effectively cut in half.
In recent years, wetland scientists and conservationists have undertaken the task of restoring and creating wetlands where possible, in the hopes of bringing back the instrumental ecosystems.
Earlier this month, the Southwest Basin Roundtable and the Colorado Water Conservation Board awarded $50,000 and $170,000, respectively, to fund efforts to restore an estimated 100 acres of wetlands near Navajo Lake.
“The project will greatly enhance waterfowl and hundreds of other wetland species,” said Tom Brossia, former state chairman for Ducks Unlimited. “It will provide both watchable wildlife and hunting opportunity.”
When Navajo Dam was built in the 1960s to provide water and flood control for the growing town of Farmington and surrounding communities, more than 15,600 acres across the Colorado-New Mexico state line were inundated.
On the Colorado side, in the southwestern corner of Archuleta County, several agencies, including the Colorado Department of Natural Resources and Colorado Parks and Wildlife, restored about 80 acres of wetland.
The area is called the Sambrito Wetlands Complex, which has public access, a few hiking trails and a parking lot at the end of County Road 988, a dirt road off Highway 151, just outside of the unincorporated community of Allison.
Around 2012, those interested in expanding the complex, through the Southwest Wetland Focus Area Committee, started planning a project that would add another 100 acres of wetlands.
But that effort was abruptly derailed when the New Mexico jumping mouse was listed as an endangered species in 2014. Because Sambrito is considered critical habitat for the mouse, plans to alter the landscape must not adversely affect the species.
In the interim, the infrastructure around the wetlands, as well as ditches and embankments, fell into disrepair, said Catherine Ortega, a wildlife biologist and ornithologist who used to teach at Fort Lewis College.
But in recent months, the project regained steam, and with the formal announcement of the grants totaling $220,000, plans to restore the wetland are set to begin either in fall 2018 or early next year.
Now, not only will the project be a benefit to the jumping mouse, it will also provide more habitat for the diverse range of wildlife that depend on the ecosystem, as well as other imperiled species, such as the southwestern willow flycatcher and the yellow-billed cuckoo.
Brossia said there’s an estimated 980 species that can be found in Sambrito.
Click here to read the briefing (scroll down). Here’s an excerpt:
The latest monthly briefing was posted today on the Intermountain West Climate Dashboard. The highlights, also provided below, cover current drought, runoff and reservoir conditions, June precipitation and temperature, and precipitation outlooks.
Utah and Colorado are seeing increasing hydrological, agricultural, and ecological impacts associated with the severe (D2) to exceptional (D4) drought conditions now covering over half of both states. Recent and current streamflows in the drought-affected basins are generally 5-30% of normal, including mainstem gages on the Duchesne, Yampa, Lower Green, Colorado, Gunnison, Dolores, San Juan, and Rio Grande.
Streamflows in Utah and southern and western Colorado are rapidly and prematurely receding to baseflow levels, with the observed monthly flows for June at or below the 10th percentile for the vast majority of gages. In northeastern Colorado and southern and eastern Wyoming, June flows were below normal at most gages despite near-normal peak snowpack. Due to the very low April-June inflows, storage in Lake Powell was 12.73 MAF as of July 1st, compared to 15.41 MAF one year ago.
While Tropical Storm Bud brought decent rains to some portions of southwestern Colorado, the month of June was drier than normal for most of Colorado, and bone-dry across Utah. Most of Wyoming had near-normal or wetter-than-normal conditions. June was another unusually warm month for the region, with many parts of Colorado and Utah seeing temperatures 4-6 degrees F above normal.
Since early June, drought conditions have worsened in central and southern Utah and southern Colorado. D4 conditions have expanded in the Four Corners region and have emerged in central Utah. The total area in the region affected by drought is similar to three weeks ago. As of June 26, 61% of Utah is in D2 or worse, and the remainder in D0 or D1; in Colorado, 52% is in D2 or worse, and 27% in D0-D1; and in Wyoming, only 14% is in D0-D1, with no D2-D4.
The CPC seasonal precipitation outlooks for the month of July and the July-September period show enhanced chances for above-normal precipitation for Utah and western Colorado, reflecting that the forecast models used for guidance are nearly unanimous in showing an active southwestern monsoon.
The 20-acre fire, which flared up Thursday afternoon, stopped short of residences after hundreds of homes had already been evacuated. The blaze reached 100 percent containment Saturday.
“The forestry work and fuels mitigation the Colorado State Forest Service has administered in the Grand Lake community without a doubt saved the Columbine subdivision,” said Grand Lake Fire Chief Mike Long.
The Colorado State Forest Service has completed 217 acres of targeted fuels treatments since 2015 adjacent to subdivisions that were impacted by the fire, including Columbine, Winding River Ranch and Winding River Villas. Treatments have involved such measures as removing beetle-killed trees and the creation of fuelbreaks to reduce wildfire risk, according to the forest service.
Three contracts have been administrated to implement fuels treatments within the Grand Lake community. Key partners include local forest products industries, the Grand County Wildfire Council, Grand Lake Metropolitan Recreation District and adjacent landowners, with funding support from Northern Colorado Water.
The local water agencies that stand to benefit from the tunnels have formed a joint powers authority (JPA) to oversee construction, rather than let the Department of Water Resources handle that, as it has historically.
Local governments have formed hundreds of JPAs for various municipal purposes. But this is a new undertaking for a massive state-owned water project.
WaterFix includes two giant tunnels, each 35 miles long, which will divert water from the Sacramento River, the state’s largest river. Three massive new intakes along the river, near the town of Courtland, would siphon water into the tunnels, then to existing state and federal canals near the city of Tracy.
The goal is to reduce harm to endangered fish species in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, caused in part by existing water diversion plumbing. The project remains hugely controversial among environmental groups and local residents in and around the Delta, who are concerned it will disrupt the sensitive estuary and not live up to its promise of helping native fish.
Adding to their anxiety is the new joint powers authority. Officially called the Delta Conveyance Design and Construction Authority.
More than 2,500 homes are under evacuation orders in Colorado as firefighters battle over a half dozen wildfires around the state.
Most of the evacuations in effect Monday were due to a 78 square mile wildfire in southern Colorado that authorities believe was human caused.
The Costilla County Sheriff’s Office announced Saturday that 52-year-old Jesper Joergensen of Denmark was arrested on arson charges. Investigators haven’t released other details except to say they don’t think he intentionally started the fire…
About 570 homes are evacuated near a 2.4 square mile fire that started Friday near Florissant. About 360 children at a camp also had to be evacuated by the Chateau Fire.
FromThe Durango Herald (Jonathan Romeo) via The Cortez Journal:
The 416 Fire is on track this week to become one of Colorado’s largest wildfires in state history.
According to a Monday morning update from the National Incident Management Organization, the 416 Fire grew by 1,767 acres Sunday, bringing the total area burned to 51,068 acres.
With no signs of slowing down, the 416 Fire is set to break the top five largest wildfires in Colorado state history. Currently, the Last Chance Fire that burned 52,000 acres in 2012 in eastern Colorado holds that spot.
The fourth spot is held by the Missionary Ridge Fire, which ripped through 71,739 acres, also north of Durango.
As of Monday afternoon, the Spring Fire in Costillo County jumped ahead of the 416 Fire in terms of total area burned, scorching more than 56,000 acres.
The Colorado State Forest Service, which keeps track of these numbers, does not add fires to its list until the burns are fully contained.
Julie Malingowski, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Grand Junction, said weather conditions this week will continue to be hot and dry, creating continued risk of fire danger and fire spread…
Over the weekend, however, weather conditions allowed for significant progress on the 416 Fire, according to the Monday report, with firefighters finishing burnout operations on the fire’s southwestern edge.
Crews will remain holding the fire line west of Forest Road 171 to Sheep Head Basin, southeast of the Hermosa Creek wilderness area, with the assistance of helicopter water drops.
With burnout operations concluded, firefighters have moved to the north edge of the fire in an effort to strengthen existing fire lines and prepare for future burnout operations to protect Purgatory Resort…
To date, the 416 Fire, which started June 1, has cost $27 million to fight. As of Monday morning, the fire was 37 percent contained. The cause of the fire is listed as “under investigation.”
Meanwhile officials worry about the aftermath of wildfire and the effects on watersheds. Here’s a report from Monte Whaley writing for The Denver Post. Here’s an excerpt:
Damage to water supplies in reservoirs can be disruptive and cost millions in repairs down the line. To reduce that risk, Denver and its partners are spending $66 million for tree thinning and reforestation above critical watersheds.
Their work comes as a new report, by researchers at the University of Colorado at Boulder, warns that wildfires spreading over the western United States already taint nearby streams with unhealthy sediments and organic materials, and may someday overwhelm municipal water supplies. It also comes as dry weather and high temperatures have sparked a spate of wildfires in the mountains, and as authorities brace for fires sparked by July 4 celebrations.
“A great number of drinking water utilities draw water from forested watersheds,” said Fernando Rosario-Ortiz, an associate professor at CU’s Department of Civil, Environmental and Architectural Engineering. He is also the study’s lead author.
The study, funded by The Water Research Foundation and presented at CU last month, lists challenges posed by wildfires, including short- and long-term effects of the availability and quality of drinking-water sources used by major metropolitan areas such as Denver.
The report also points to possible solutions for utilities serving fire-prone regions and planning for worst-case scenarios. They include expanding water-shortage capacity, using pre-sedimentation basins and diversifying water sources.
“When these watersheds are impacted by wildfire, the impacts on source water quality can be severe, forcing utilities to respond in order to continue to provide safe drinking water to their customers,” Rosario-Ortiz said.
Colorado’s two largest cities say they are aware of the dangers and are pooling dollars and resources to ensure much of the Front Range’s drinking water is protected from the contamination spread by wildfires.
“Denver Water has seen not only a commitment financially but also a commitment in time and energy by us and our partners to keep our water safe,” said Christina Burri, Denver Water’s watershed scientist.
A 2010 agreement — among Denver Water, the U.S. Forest Service and the Colorado State Forest Service and aimed at reducing the risk of catastrophic wildfires — will continue at least through 2021 at a cost of $66 million. The work includes thinning trees and restoring forest on more than 40,000 acres of watershed deemed critical to downstream water supplies, Burri said.
Those areas provide clean drinking water to more than 1.4 million residents in the Denver area, Burri said.
Protecting watersheds has become a top priority on the Front Range, according to Mike Myers, chief of the Colorado Springs Wildland Fire Team, as major wildfires have become almost year-round events…
The 2012 High Park fire burned sections of the Cache la Poudre watershed, which serves northern Colorado communities, including Fort Collins.
That same year, the Waldo Canyon fire burned through Pike National Forest, temporarily jeopardizing water supplies for Colorado Springs. The blaze contaminated reservoirs and caused about $10 million in damage to a pipeline in the Northfield reservoir system.
Colorado Springs, however, was able to draw on two smaller reservoirs to provide safe drinking water for residents, Myers said. “We’ve worked hard to have a diverse group of reservoirs we can call on in emergencies, and in this case, it worked well,” he said.
While ecologists and land managers have studied wildfires extensively, the scope of post-wildfire effects on drinking water remains uncertain, researchers said. Data show that fires degrade surface water quality through erosion, ash deposits and increased sediment loads. Nutrient runoff — including nitrogen and phosphorus — can spur algal blooms, which can lead to environmental and health problems and force cities to cut water to residents.
The CU researchers simulated the effects of a medium-temperature wildfire, and the resulting materials were leached into tap water and treated using conventional processes.
The results showed the heated materials increased the turbidity of the water, a key measure of water quality, and responded poorly to chemical coagulants, leading to downstream filtration problems, the CU researchers said…
Forest management work helps to prevent soil from eroding and releasing sediment into streams, reservoirs and rivers, Denver Water’s Burri said.
Tree-thinning and other mitigation work around Denver Water’s Cheesman Reservoir paid off in 2002 during the Hayman fire, which scorched 138,114 acres. A key water source for the Denver area, Burri said, Cheesman’s water stayed relatively untainted by the fire.
On October 9, 2017, the Tubbs Fire ripped through Sonoma County, California, destroying nearly 5,000 homes and killing 22 people. It was the most destructive wildfire in California’s history and the largest urban conflagration in the United States since the 1906 San Francisco earthquake fires. And it was only one of approximately 250 wildfires that sparked that same night in Northern California, causing a total of 44 fatalities and more than $9.4 billion in economic damages.
Now, nine months later, the process of reconstruction has begun. Some of the first homes have gone up on burned lots. Many of these lots are located in the “wildland-urban interface” – rural, forested areas on the outskirts of cities that are much more prone to wildfires. Commenters have questioned the prudency of rebuilding in these areas in light of existing fire hazard and predictions of how the warming climate will fuel more frequent and severe wildfires in the western United States. But there are social and economic factors which are driving reconstruction despite the risk – specifically, the emotional attachment of many property owners to the place they call “home” and the fact that property values in the areas remain extremely high (with some lots listed at over $1,000,000).
The availability of insurance is a critical factor for rebuilding. But many areas prone to wildfire are becoming too risky to insure. As noted in a 2017 report from the California Department of Insurance, premiums and wildfire surcharges have increased significantly in the wildland-urban interface, and several major insurers have stopped writing new policies and renewing plans in areas with high wildfire risk. As insurers begin to account for climate change in their wildfire risk models, they will likely become even less willing to issue and renew policies in these areas.
At this time, insurance is still available to property owners who are rebuilding their homes in the aftermath of the fires. This may be due, in large part, to a California law which prohibits insurance companies from cancelling a policy while a primary residence is being reconstructed after a covered disaster, and requires them to renew the policy at least once following a total loss caused by a disaster (Cal. INS § 675.1). The law provides short-term protection for property owners affected by the fires, but it does not guarantee that insurance will be available in the long run. Most homeowners’ insurance policies are written for a term of only 12 months, and there are no laws in California which prohibit an insurer from refusing to renew a homeowner’s policy (apart from the one exception noted above). The bottom line is that thousands of homes may be reconstructed due to the short-term availability of insurance, only to become uninsurable in the near future.
These days, the historic plant is in the process of changing. Greeley is building a new water treatment plant on the same property to replace water filtration systems, marking the first major change to the facility since 1947. The $25 million project will centralize water filtration processes that currently are spread out between two buildings, and with further expansion one day could give the plant the capability to treat 40 million gallons of water per day. The initial phase of the project is expected to be completed by mid-2019.
During the city’s annual summer water and sewer tour, a group of Greeley residents saw the past and into the future, learning about the extensive filtration, miles of pipeline that bring water from Bellvue to Greeley and the construction that will upgrade the system.
“We’re kind of turning the page on what the treatment plant will look like between yesterday and into the future,” said Burt Knight, Greeley’s water and sewer director.
For Mohr, the Bellvue plant is fascinating. Between breaking down the technical process associated with treating water at the plant and showing residents decades-old filters during the tour, he stopped a few times to express his awe for the plant, first envisioned by Greeley leaders at the turn of the century, back when the city had a population of 5,000.
In 1905, 97 percent of Greeley’s voters approved a ballot measure to build the plant at the mountain location — just west of Fort Collins — to bring the city water produced by Rocky Mountain snowmelt.
“The one thing I’m overly impressed with is we’ve got over 30 miles of pipeline from this facility to Greeley, and we don’t use pumps to move water from there to there,” Mohr said.
The 36-mile pipeline envisioned by Greeley water pioneer W.D. Farr brings water to the city’s storage facilities by gravity as it flows down from the mountains. Mohr said choosing Bellvue for the plant was a strategic part of the process.
“W.D. Farr over 100 years ago worked together with a number of other very smart people and said, ‘If we’re going to serve water to the residents of Greeley, this is a great place to do it,’ ” he said. “And it is, for a number of reasons.”
For one, Mohr said, Bellvue is still responsible for filtering most of Greeley’s water more than a century later. Though the Boyd Lake Water Treatment Plant in Loveland helps supplement the city’s production in the summer when residents use more water for lawns and plants, it runs only seasonally, leaving most of the work to Bellvue.
And in 2017, water produced at the plant won the American Water Works Association’s award for best tasting water in the nation, beating 33 other regional winners. It also won the competition’s People’s Choice Award, making Greeley the first city to win both awards in the contest’s 13-year history.
But even with the recognition and the plant’s long life, Mohr said Bellvue needs to be upgraded.
Greeley City Manager Roy Otto said for the city, the job is fairly commonplace. It’s important for the water and sewer department to constantly expand and upgrade its facilities, he said, and the Bellvue project is just one of several projects the city is working on to accomplish that goal.
At Bellvue, upgrades will replace equipment that has been in place for decades.
With water filters that have been in operation since the late 1940s and early ’50s, Mohr said, Bellvue’s current buildings are going to be obsolete soon.
“It’s been working very, very hard for a very long time,” he said, “and it’s kind of time for us to think about the future.”
After the city won the American Water Works Association awards, Knight, the water and sewer director, said he called Bellvue’s Water Treatment Manager Andrew Kabot, jokingly, to suggest the city cancel the project because Greeley’s water was right where it needed to be.
“He assured me that was a bad idea,” Knight said during the tour.
The project, which broke ground in October, started after the water and sewer department found it would cost more to rehabilitate Bellvue’s vintage filters, placed there in 1948 and 1953, than it would to start from scratch to build a modern system. Mohr said the new technology will automate the filtration processes. City officials also plan to improve piping at the plant so water can enter the system more quickly.
At the current plant, the city brings water in through the system between two different buildings to complete the water treatment process.
Knight said when the new plant is completed those processes will be under the same roof. The city will maintain the plant’s old buildings, he said, and use them as gathering places for tour groups or meetings.
Before construction started, Knight said, the city decided to award the project to Fort Collins-based Hydro Construction as part of a construction manager risk contract, a form of a design-build contract. That means city officials will make decisions with the company as construction progresses.
“Our choice, predominantly, is investment in water treatment,” Knight said. “So we’ll have an attractive building, but it’s really about the equipment inside the building.”