Mount Emmons: Restoration of iron fen update

Photo credit from report “A Preliminary Evaluation of Seasonal Water Levels Necessary to Sustain Mount Emmons Fen: Grand Mesa, Uncompahgre and Gunnison National Forests,” David J. Cooper, Ph.D, December 2003.

From The Crested Butte News (Cayla Vidmar):

The restoration of a unique wetland on Mt. Emmons is wrapping up this summer season. This special wetland—specifically called an iron fen—was designated in 1999 as a Natural Area by the state of Colorado because of the unusual chemical makeup of the water and soils that provide an ideal ecosystem for rare carnivorous plants and unusual dragonflies. The iron fen has likely been around for about 8,000 years, according to fen expert and senior research scientist and professor at Colorado State University Dr. David Cooper.

According to a report compiled for the Coal Creek Watershed Coalition by Dr. Cooper, “Where perennial ground water discharges to saturate wetlands all year, dead plant leaves, stems and roots only partially decompose and accumulate to form peat soils, and these ecosystems are fens.”

What makes the Mt. Emmons fen unique is that it contains a pyrite-rich bedrock and talus, characteristic of only a few fens in the region. When the pyrite oxidizes it produces sulfuric acid, “which, when dissolved in water, forms a strong acid that can leach ions from the rock, including iron,” Cooper states.

According to Colorado Parks and Wildlife, “Mount Emmons and a few other iron fens in the southern Rocky Mountains … are rich in mineral ions (especially iron and sulfur) but have a very low pH, which results in an unusual flora,” including small orchids and one of only four populations of roundleaf sundew in Colorado. Roundleaf sundew is a carnivorous plant that lures insects into a sticky trap, then digests its meal with enzymes before unfurling its trap once again.

The Grand Mesa, Uncompahgre, and Gunnison National Forests District (GMUG), along with the Army Corps of Engineers and Coal Creek Watershed Coalition, are working to restore the iron fen to pre–wagon road days, which runs parallel with Kebler Pass. The iron fen is located to the north of Kebler Pass Road on Mt. Emmons, and spans 15.1 acres across a sloping hillside.

The dewatering of the fen is mostly being caused by water being diverted into a historic ditch away from the old wagon road. According to Ashley Hom, a hydrologist for the GMUG Forest Service, “Without that ditch the water would destabilize the hillside,” which poses a risk for Kebler Pass Road.

In 2015 a storm on Kebler Pass dumped rain on top of snow, causing “substantial surface flow” across the fen, down the hillside and onto the road, which prompted emergency action by the National Forest personnel to widen the ditch between Kebler Pass Road and the fen, according to the Mt. Emmons restoration and mitigation plan.

While the ditch helped stabilize the hillside by diverting water out of the ground, it also resulted in significant dewatering of the iron fen. This issue is what prompted the restoration project through the GMUG Ranger District, which began in fall 2016.

“The goal of this project is to restore the surface and groundwater hydrology, along with the native vegetation, on the portion of the Mt. Emmons iron fen that was impaired by the emergency action that extended portions of the historic ditch… and included construction of a rockery wall, spillway, culverts, and rip-rap on Kebler Pass Road to protect the road yet allow for natural surface and sub-surface water flow from the fen,” according to the restoration and mitigation plan.

There is still some work to be done, states Hom, including more ditch work, planting, feeding and monitoring in the area, which will resume this summer.

Eight monitoring wells have been placed in the fen, four above the ditch and four below the ditch, and hydrologists will monitor the ground water levels in the wells, and the restoration “will be considered successful if [the wells] below the ditch show the water table depth there to be decreasing or rising closer to the surface,” according to the restoration and mitigation plan.

The plan states that “restoring the presence of a shallow water table within the area should provide for fen-like hydrology,” which will, in turn, restore historic vegetation to the iron fen below the ditch.

“Overall the rehabilitation of the drainage ditch within the Mt. Emmons iron fen appears to be successful. Ground water levels have already risen to within 30 centimeters of the surface and water table levels below the ditch are within at least 15 centimeters of those above the ditch,” according to the GMUG watershed team.

There have been many agencies involved in the restoration of this unique swath of wetland, including the Army Corps of Engineers, which permitted the project, and the Coal Creek Watershed Coalition that allocated $45,000 for phases 1 and 2 of the restoration and mitigation project.

You can follow progress of the project and direct questions to Ashley Hom at the Gunnison Ranger District, (970) 642-4406 or

Ruedi Reservoir operations update

The Fryingpan River, above Basalt. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

From email from Reclamation (James Bishop):

At 1 p.m. today, Oct 1, Reclamation plans to decrease the releases from Ruedi Reservoir to the Fryingpan River from 300 to 270 cubic feet per second until further notice.

Congressional Republicans allow the Land and Water Conservation Fund to expire

Looking downstream from Chasm View, Painted Wall on right. Photo credit: NPS\Lisa Lynch

From Colorado Public Radio (Grace Hood):

A federal fund that’s paid for public land improvements across Colorado’s national parks and built trails on the Front Range expired over the weekend — and environmental groups are crying foul.

The Land and Water Conservation Fund has pumped nearly $270 million into the state over the last 50 years. The money comes from offshore drilling royalties.

“There’s no good reason to let this expire. Congress needs to act, get this done and provide for permanent reauthorization, and full and dedicated funding,” said Jim Ramey, Colorado director of the Wilderness Society.

Right now, Ramey said it’s unclear where money will come from for future public land improvements…

Here are some highlights from project grants over the years:

Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, land acquisition near Park boundary, $5.3 million, 2013.
Milk Run Trail, Salida, $178,890, 2011.
Ute Pass Trail Work, El Paso County, $77,200, 2005.
Cherry Creek State Park, Dog off-leash area, $547,565, 2011.
Riverside Park, Englewood, $767,781, 1975.
Poudre River Trail, improvements near &1st Ave in Greeley, $250,000, 2003.
Vanderbilt Park, No. 2 Ballfields Denver, $138,927, 1975.
Rampart Park, Colorado Springs, $80,501, 1980.
Nederland Recreational Facility, Nederland, $42,500, 1988.
St. Vrain Greenway, Longmont, $200,000, 2006.

Lower #ColoradoRiver Basin #Drought Contingency Plan update

Out of the Grand, and into Lake Mead. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

From The Arizona Republic (Ian James):

With reservoir levels falling along the Colorado River, Arizona’s top water officials say they are making progress in talks toward a set of agreements for cities, farmers and tribes to share in water cutbacks and join in a larger proposed deal to prevent Lake Mead from dropping even further.

Since July, state water managers have been leading a series of biweekly meetings to work out details of the proposed drought-contingency plan. After their latest three-hour session Thursday, the two officials leading the talks said they are optimistic about finalizing agreements within Arizona in November so that the Legislature can sign off in January.

The proposed three-state plan would involve California, Arizona and Nevada jointly taking less water out of Lake Mead to give the reservoir a boost.

Based on Arizona’s priority system of water rights, complying with the plan without an additional adjustment would cut off water for farmers who depend on deliveries from the Central Arizona Project.

The idea is to reach an agreement that “more equitably spreads around the pain and the benefits” of the drought-contingency plan in Arizona, said Tom Buschatzke, director of the state Department of Water Resources.

“People are getting their real issues out on the table,” Buschatzke told The Arizona Republic. “People are really looking for solutions. They really are. There are some who are still holding their cards close to their vests, but I think the vast majority of people are trying to find ways to make this happen.”

Buschatzke spoke alongside Central Arizona Project General Manager Ted Cooke, who said he’s also optimistic about finishing a deal during the next two months.

“Nobody wants to see anybody lose any water, but people are going to,” Cooke said. “Nobody wants to see that hardship come to anybody, but there is going to be hardship and we need to spread it around.”

Cooke said it will be critical to get buy-in and widespread support to prepare for Buschatzke to take an agreement before the Legislature for approval.

“We need to get everybody on board,” Cooke said, “so that when he needs to go to the Legislature and say, ‘Give me the authorization to enter into this multistate deal,’ that everybody — or as many people as possible — can stand up and say, ‘We support this.’”

Some of the hurdles lie in negotiating agreements between the players to conserve water in places and free up some for the lowest-priority water users — such as farmers in central Arizona — to prevent them from losing their water supplies completely. Those talks about where the water will come from, and about the compromises needed to achieve such a deal, have been underway in a series of smaller meetings, Cooke said, and working through the details takes time…

One potential approach for freeing up water to make an agreement work, Buschatzke said, would be paying a higher-priority entity like a tribe to leave some farmland fallow and send that water elsewhere. He said officials are talking about ideas of where they might get the funding needed to compensate parties that would conserve water…

Arizona officials have said the goal now isn’t to prevent a shortage, which is looking very likely in little more than a year from now, but rather to prevent even more severe shortages…

Managers of water districts from across the region met in Las Vegas earlier this month for talks on the plan. James Hanks, the board president of California’s Imperial Irrigation District, said there was a “full-court press” by federal officials to get an agreement finished…

Hanks said federal officials talked about releasing drafts of the main agreements around Oct. 10.

Federal officials have made it clear they hope to have a deal finished by the annual conference of the Colorado River Water Users Association in mid-December, and that Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke wants to be there to “sign the deal,” Buschatzke said. He said federal officials know he won’t be able to formally sign until the Arizona Legislature passes a resolution granting him that authority…

“Progress has been good and steady, and I think we’re close,” said Jeffrey Kightlinger, general manager of the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California. “I think in California we have conceptually resolved all our intrastate issues and now we’re in the process of drafting them up.”

Kightlinger plans to brief the Metropolitan board on the proposed deal on Oct. 8. The way the agreement will work in California, he said, is that districts will leave water in Lake Mead according to how much they have used historically…

In Arizona, Kevin Moran of the Environmental Defense Fund has been participating in talks since early 2016 promoting the drought-contingency plan.

“Our view is that it’s better to plan ahead and avoid crisis if you can, because in a crisis, the environment will often lose,” Moran said. “It’s in the interest really of the entire region.”

He said adopting the deal will be a critical step toward managing water sustainably. And if the three states approve their agreement, Mexico has pledged under a separate deal to contribute by temporarily leaving more water in Lake Mead.

“I think the momentum is building because the hydrology of the region is grim and people realize that,” Moran said.

#Drought continues, hopes for wet winter from #ElNiño event — Rio Blanco Herald Times #ENSO

West Drought Monitor September 25, 2018.

From The Rio Blanco Herald Times (Jennifer Hill):

According to the U.S. Drought Monitor all of Rio Blanco County is still currently classified as D3, or Extreme Drought, as precipitation around the county continues to fall well under normal rates. However, there is some hope to be found in the winter forecast.

Drought Levels in Rangely
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA, has been tracking weather and climate related data in Rangely since 1894. The station currently sits near the Rangely Water Treatment Plant. According to NOAA data, by the end of August Rangely was 1.37 inches below normal precipitation, receiving only 6.22 inches from January through August.

In 2017 Rangely received total precipitation of 8.66 inches for the entire year while the historic average total annual precipitation sits at 10.03 inches.

NOAA predicts that the below normal precipitation will continue through the rest of September.

The fact that precipitation has been well below normal for multiple years has certainly exacerbated the drought conditions.

Dry conditions in Meeker
NOAA tracks Meeker’s climate and weather at a station located at the Bureau of Land Management Office. Meeker is currently below normal for precipitation by 0.81 of an inch, receiving 9.16 inches through the end of August.

In 2017, Meeker received a total of 15.73 inches of precipitation for the year and the historical data, which dates back to 1893 for the community, places an average annual precipitation of 16.54 inches. Jim Pringle with NOAA doesn’t anticipate much change in the standings through the month of September, saying, “Although we still have to wait just under two weeks from now to obtain the September 2018 precipitation for Meeker, it is doubtful based on the latest computer-generated atmospheric model guidance that Meeker will receive normal precipitation for September.”

Winter Forecast
The good news is that the National Weather Services’ Climate Prediction Center (CPC) is anticipating an El Niño episode for the upcoming 2018-2019 winter season, with odds favoring at least near normal precipitation in northwest Colorado during the late fall, winter and spring months.

An El Niño event is characterized as bringing unusually warm waters in the Pacific Ocean. This typically produces warmer-than-average temperatures over the western and northern United States. Wetter-than-average conditions are likely over portions of the western U.S and Gulf Coast regions, while drier-than-average conditions are usually expected in the Ohio Valley and the Pacific Northwest.

Average influence of El Niño on US temperature and precipitation

Aspen Skiing Co. expects normal snowmaking operations this season despite #drought


From The Aspen Daily News (Chad Abraham):

Despite an unprecedented water restriction amid the ongoing drought affecting much of Colorado and the West, officials with the city of Aspen and Aspen Skiing Co. said the dry conditions should not impact the company’s ability to make snow at its four resorts…

SkiCo uses municipal water for snowmaking on Aspen Mountain and Aspen Highlands from the city’s 3-million-gallon reservoir up Castle Creek, water from Maroon Creek for Buttermilk, and water stored in Ziegler Reservoir for the Snowmass Ski Area. And communication between the city and the SkiCo is key, particularly now amid the drought.

Margaret Medellin, the city of Aspen’s portfolio utilities manager, said Friday that Thomas Reservoir doesn’t afford much storage for the city’s needs, and the municipality relies largely on direct flows from Maroon and Castle creeks. Still, “there are a lot of reasons why snowmaking is a water use that can be done even during this dry period,” she said.

That includes snowmaking mostly happening during November and early December, when water demand has lessened because of fewer residents, second-home owners and visitors; along with fewer times nowadays with temperatures suitable for making flakes.

In summertime, the largest use of city water, as much as 86 percent at times, goes to irrigation, but now “irrigation systems are starting to shut down, and we’re seeing the demand on the system dropping,” she said…

She also said that snowmaking overall is a pretty small use — annually less than 8 percent — of the city water supply.

“Having said that, we do constantly monitor our creeks,” Medellin said. “If SkiCo wanted to make snow, and it’s too close to in-stream flow [requirements], we’d communicate with them that they wouldn’t be able to make snow…

Katie Ertl, SkiCo’s senior vice president of mountain operations, said the drought and city water restrictions have “been on our minds,” and led to a recent, in-company meeting.

She agreed the health of the streams is paramount and echoed Medellin: “We’re putting snow on the hill when not a lot of water is being used.

“We recognize that we have a bit of time before now and then, and we’re hoping for the possibility of natural snow,” Ertl said. “We knew this conversation was going to come up with Stage 2 water restrictions. We’re paying attention to what the city requirements may be and will work in conjunction with them for Aspen Mountain and Highlands.”

She said SkiCo, being the valley’s largest employer and driver of tourism, will also consult with other businesses and interest groups about water use for snowmaking…

Ertl and Medellin both said that 70 to 80 percent of the man-made snow ends up back in the watershed during runoff, rather than being lost to evaporation.