Fire and water connect the West — Hannah Holm

Here’s a guest column from Hannah Holm that’s running in The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel:

Lately, I’ve been savoring clear skies like never before. My appreciation was magnified by days of feeling trapped in the smoke from California fires, even as our own Pine Gulch Fire calmed down. Meanwhile, friends and family in Washington and Oregon are choking on airborne soup thicker than anything we’ve had to deal with this summer.

I feel vaguely guilty that the same weather system that finally brought us rain, cooler temperatures and clear air earlier this month also fanned the heartbreakingly destructive flames farther west. We share the air, and that gives us in western Colorado a direct, tangible connection to the fate of West Coast forests and fires.

Water connects us, too, even if the connections aren’t as immediate and visible as wildfire smoke. Most of the water that flows into the Colorado River comes from Colorado’s mountains, so a bad snow year (or decade, or two) for us means less water for the 40ish million people that depend on the river, from Denver to Phoenix, Los Angeles and Mexico. Likewise, more snow in California’s Sierra Nevada Mountains and the eastern side of the Rockies reduces the draw on the river by giving Los Angeles and Denver more source water closer to home. Conservation actions in those cities benefit the river, and the whole river community, for the same reason.

Downstream conditions affect the headwaters in other ways, too, as desiccated, beat-up rangeland in the Four Corners area sends dust to the mountains that melts the snowpack earlier and reduces the amount of water that runs off into our streams.

Food also connects us, and food is very directly connected to water. If you like to eat salad in January, you need to keep water flowing to the Southern California farms that produce it.

Firefighters on the march: The Pine Gulch Fire, smoke of which shown here, was started by alighting strike on July 31, 2020, approximately 18 miles north of Grand Junction, Colorado. According to InciWeb, as of August 27 2020, the Pine Gulch Fire became the largest wildfire in Colorado State history, surpassing Hayman Fire that burned near Colorado Springs in the summer of 2002. Photo credit: Bureau of Land Mangement-Colorado, via InciWeb and National Interagency Fire Center.

To bring us back to where we started, fire and water are also connected, just as both fire and water connect far-flung communities. When the Pine Gulch Fire was at its most active, incident managers reported that the moisture content of the vegetation in the fire area was less than what you would typically find in a (perfectly flammable) piece of paper. That was a direct consequence of the same high temperatures and precipitation deficit that have diminished our streamflows and runoff into Lake Powell. Post-fire, we can expect ash and naked soil to run off into waterways, fouling fish habitat and drinking water intakes.

All of these connections are important to keep in mind as the states that share the Colorado River prepare to embark on a new round of negotiations over how to manage it. Representatives from all the states will face pressure to focus narrowly on enabling local water users to secure access to as much of the shrinking river as they can. That’s fair enough — no one wants to diminish their own future just to be the nice guy. But over the long term, it will help all of us to pursue actions that benefit the Colorado River system as a whole. That includes reducing the greenhouse gas emissions that are warming the atmosphere and intensifying both drought and wildfire.

Hannah Holm coordinates the Hutchins Water Center at Colorado Mesa University, which promotes research, education and dialogue to address the water issues facing the Upper Colorado River Basin. Support for Hutchins Water Center articles is provided by a grant from the Walton Family Foundation. Learn more about the center at http://www.coloradomesa.edu/water-center.

Pitkin County groups concerned about marble quarry’s impacts on waterways — @AspenJournalism

The Crystal River runs parallel to County Road 3 as it flows past the town of Marble. The Pitkin County Healthy Rivers board has expressed interest in a water quality monitoring program to see if the diversion of Yule Creek, a tributary of the Crystal, is having downstream impacts. Photo credit: Heather Sackett/Aspen Journlism

From Aspen Journalism (Heather Sackett):

Pitkin County groups are keeping a close eye on a local marble-mining company that violated the Clean Water Act, as the company prepares to submit a permit application.

In March, the Army Corps of Engineers determined that Colorado Stone Quarries — the operator of the Pride of America Mine, above the town of Marble — violated the Clean Water Act when it relocated Yule Creek to make way for a mining road. CSQ is now retroactively applying for a permit from the Army Corps, which will require a 30-day public notice, public review and comments.

The Crystal River Caucus sent a letter to Gunnison County and Pitkin County commissioners on July 17 urging them to get involved during this upcoming public process to ensure the protection of local waterways Yule Creek and the Crystal River.

“Residents of the valley are concerned that future negligent or illegal actions taken by this company may put both Yule Creek and the Crystal River at additional risk,” the letter reads. “Even remedial actions, if not properly designed or carried out, could result in negative impacts downstream.”

Caucus chair John Emerick said that his group is supportive of protecting the water quality of the Crystal River and that the board plans to submit comments to the Army Corps.

“The place, to me, looks to be a mess, and they need to have a plan before they are allowed to operate,” Emerick said, referring to the state of the new channel.

Portals to the marble galleries of the Pride of America Mine can be seen in this still photo from drone footage. Quarry operators Colorado Stone Quarries relocated Yule Creek in 2018 to build an access road. Photo credit: Maciej Mrotek via Aspen Journalism

Creek diversion and diesel spill

In the fall of 2018, CSQ diverted a 1,500-foot section of Yule Creek from its natural channel on the west side of Franklin Ridge, a rock outcropping, to the east side of the ridge so it could build an access road. Operators piled the streambed with fill material, including marble blocks.

Although this move probably spared Yule Creek the impacts of a diesel spill last October, it was done without the proper permits or oversight, according to the Army Corps. CSQ was fined $18,600 by the state Division of Reclamation, Mining and Safety for the 5,500-gallon diesel spill.

Under Section 404 of the Clean Water Act, a project requires a permit from the Army Corps if it includes the discharge of dredged or fill materials into waters such as rivers, streams or wetlands. CSQ did not initially obtain a permit because company officials believed the work was exempt, citing the temporary nature of the access road and creek diversion.

Army Corp officials disagreed and determined the lack of a permit was a violation of the Clean Water Act.

CSQ now plans to submit a permit application next week, according to company spokesperson Lisa Sigler. The application will include alternative alignments for Yule Creek, including leaving the creek in the new channel or rerouting it back to the natural channel. At the Army Corps’ request, the application will include a biological assessment, cultural-resource survey and aquatic-resource delineation, Sigler wrote in an email.

The mine, known locally as the Yule Quarry, is owned by Italian company Red Graniti and employs 30 to 40 people. CSQ says there are enough marble reserves contained in its six galleries to continue mining at the current rate for more than 100 years. The quarry has supplied the pure white marble for renowned monuments such as the Lincoln Memorial, the Colorado Capitol building and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

The creek diversion and access-road construction came after the quarry was granted a permit by DRMS in 2016 for a 114-acre expansion for a total of 124 permitted acres in the Yule Creek drainage.

This photo from September 2020 shows how quarry operators moved Yule Creek into a channel lined with marble blocks. Pitkin County groups are concerned the creek diversion could have downstream impacts. Photo credit: Heather Sackett/Aspen Journalism

Healthy Rivers concerns

Although the quarry sits in Gunnison County, about 3 miles up County Road 3 from the town of Marble, the relocation of the stream could have downstream impacts in Pitkin County. Yule Creek flows into the Crystal River, which flows through Pitkin County before it joins the Roaring Fork River in Carbondale.

Members of the Pitkin County Healthy Rivers board have said they support water-quality monitoring, especially regarding turbidity, or water clarity.

“We are concerned about sedimentation and water-quality impacts on the Crystal down in Pitkin County,” said Andre Wille, chair of the Healthy Rivers board. “We try to think on a watershed basis, so we don’t just focus on county lines.”

Heavy equipment in the streambed could kick up sediment, which is then suspended in the stream’s flow, Wille said.

“More concerning is probably the way those sediments then settle down and fill in the spaces in the gravel and in the rocks and smother insects,” he said. “If they are spawning, it smothers eggs of trout and fish, so it really kind of wrecks the habitat.”

CSQ general manager Daniele Treves said in a prepared statement that the quarry already has a water monitoring program at three locations on Yule Creek and has installed groundwater monitoring wells related to the diesel spill. The marble blocks placed in the new stream channel are intended to create step pools that encourage fine sediment to settle, he said.

“CSQ’s diversion of the Yule Creek simply redirected a portion of the creek from its then-present western channel to a historical channel approximately 200 feet to the east,” Treves said.

A video by Redstone resident and longtime local Maciej Mrotek shows how the area looked in May 2018, before the diversion, when Yule Creek was on the west side of Franklin Ridge. Drone footage from this past May shows the creek now running on the east side of the ridge in a channel filled with cut marble chunks and a road on the west side of the ridge where the creek used to be.

Mrotek, who said he has fond memories of playing in the area as a child, said the change was devastating.

“I took it very personally when I saw that, because I think it could have been handled in a much better way,” he said. “My goal is not to stop the mining. My goal is simply to channel the future activity of this mine in a positive fashion with a lot more oversight and respect.”

Aspen Journalism is a local, nonprofit, investigative news organization covering water and rivers in collaboration with The Aspen Times and other Swift Communications newspapers. This story ran in the Sept. 28 edition of The Aspen Times.

The Upper #GunnisonRiver Water Conservancy District unanimously passed a Resolution in Support of Ballot Measure 7A

From the Gunnison River Basin News:

The Upper Gunnison River Water Conservancy District unanimously passed a Resolution in Support of Ballot Measure 7A. This measure from the Colorado River Water Conservation District, asks voters to approve a mill levy increase to continue it’s vital work protecting Colorado’s westslope water resources.

“We recognize the value of the River District as a voice for western Colorado water issues of importance to the Upper Gunnison River basin,” stated Sonja Chavez, General Manager, Upper Gunnison River Water Conservancy District.

Resolution

The Colorado River Water Conservation District spans 15 Western Slope counties. River District directors are asking voters this fall to raise the mill levy.

@Northern_Water: #Water Efficiency Programs Aim to Fill Knowledge and Financial Gaps

Photo credit: Northern Water

Here’s the release from Northern Water:

With increasingly extreme summer temperatures and continued population growth in Northern Colorado, it’s no surprise that water supplies – and their users – are feeling the heat. Colorado’s arid climate has long defined water as a scarce and valuable resource, and increased water demand makes efficient water use an even greater priority. Northern Water offers a variety of programs to help our allottees conserve water where it counts: in landscapes.

Northern Water provides supplemental water to more than 1 million people in Northeastern Colorado and 615,000 acres of irrigated farmland. More than half of the region’s municipal water supplies are used for landscape irrigation. Although awareness of “Colorado-climate friendly landscapes” is growing, most residents cite lack of knowledge as their primary obstacle for not managing their landscape to use less water. Northern Water continues to develop creative ways to address both the financial and knowledge gaps that would otherwise prevent water users from pursuing outdoor water efficiency conversions. Our irrigation audits, landscape consultations and grant program aim to do just that.

Irrigation Audit Program

An irrigation audit is a great place to begin if you’re looking to reduce your outdoor water use. Northern Water’s irrigation audit program, offered in partnership with Resource Central and Irrigation Analysis, provides information to help property owners identify water waste within irrigation systems and offer direction for optimal water use. By diagnosing a variety of water-wasting issues, audits can provide a starting point for system tuning, a retrofit, or even landscape conversion project or other water-saving pursuit.

Audits offered through Northern Water are available to commercial and residential properties within district boundaries. The audit season runs from mid-June through early October. To request an appointment, please contact amazurek@northernwater.org.

Landscape Consultations

Envisioning the next steps for a landscape can be daunting, even if a property owner understands their specific irrigation inefficiencies and opportunities. Northern Water’s landscape consultations strive to educate and assist commercial property managers in planning a water efficient landscape conversion project

Landscape consultations are available to commercial water customers within Northern Water’s district boundaries. Consultations may include several topics, including plant selection, turf conversion, soil management and more. Appointments are typically 60 to 90 minutes and are first come, first served. To schedule a consultation, complete the intake form.

Grant Program

For those seeking to take the next step, Northern Water’s Collaborative Water-Efficient Landscape Grant Program is open to new or redeveloping landscapes at public or private facilities, including cities, enterprises, nonprofits, businesses, schools, multi-family complexes and HOA-managed landscapes. Potential grant applicants are required to take part in a consultation, and possibly an audit, prior to applying for funding. To schedule a pre-application consultation contact Chad Kuhnel at 970-292-2566. Consultations for the 2020 grant funding cycle must be scheduled prior to Oct. 1.

Envisioning the next steps for a landscape can be daunting, even if a property owner understands their specific irrigation inefficiencies and opportunities. Northern Water’s landscape consultations strive to educate and assist commercial property managers in planning a water efficient landscape conversion project

Landscape consultations are available to commercial water customers within Northern Water’s district boundaries. Consultations may include several topics, including plant selection, turf conversion, soil management and more. Appointments are typically 60 to 90 minutes and are first come, first served. To schedule a consultation, complete the intake form.

Grant Program

For those seeking to take the next step, Northern Water’s Collaborative Water-Efficient Landscape Grant Program is open to new or redeveloping landscapes at public or private facilities, including cities, enterprises, nonprofits, businesses, schools, multi-family complexes and HOA-managed landscapes. Potential grant applicants are required to take part in a consultation, and possibly an audit, prior to applying for funding. To schedule a pre-application consultation contact Chad Kuhnel at 970-292-2566. Consultations for the 2020 grant funding cycle must be scheduled prior to Oct. 1.

When it comes to outdoor water savings, replacing water-thirsty Kentucky bluegrass with low-water plant material provides the greatest impact, while maintaining a beautiful landscape. Our Water Efficiency programs are designed to provide resources, guidance and financial support to help customers reduce their outdoor water consumption.

R.I.P. Helen Reddy: “If I have to, I can do anything”

Helen Reddy 1975. By Francesco Scavullo – eBay itemphoto frontphoto back, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=22417162

From The New York Times (Anita Gates):

Helen Reddy, the Australian-born singer whose 1972 hit song “I Am Woman” became the feminist anthem of the decade and propelled her to international pop-music stardom, died Tuesday in Los Angeles. She was 78.

The death was confirmed by her children in a message posted on her official fan page on Facebook…

“I Am Woman” reached No. 1 on the Billboard charts at the end of 1972 (a good six months after it was released — individual call-in requests helped build radio play) and earned her the Grammy Award for best female pop vocal performance. She was the first Australian-born artist to win a Grammy and the first to make the Billboard 100 record charts.

Some male observers called the song — beginning with the words “I am woman/ Hear me roar/ In numbers/ Too big to ignore,” sung by a 5-foot-3 soprano — angry, man-hating, dangerous or all three.

“That simply underlined the many things women needed liberating from,” a writer for Variety reflected in 2019. “Nobody called Sinatra a menace when he sang ‘My Way,’ a no less straightforward hymn to self-determination.”

During the 1970s, three of Ms. Reddy’s songs — including “Delta Dawn” and “Angie Baby” — went to No. 1 on the Billboard chart. Three others — “You and Me Against the World,” “Leave Me Alone (Ruby Red Dress)” and “Ain’t No Way to Treat a Lady” — made the Top 10. More than three decades later, The Chicago Tribune declared her the “queen of ’70s pop.”

Helen Maxine Lamond Reddy was born on Oct. 25, 1941, in Melbourne, Australia, the only child of Max Reddy, a writer, producer and actor; and Stella (Lamond) Reddy, an actress whose stage name was Stella Campbell. Her father was in New Guinea, serving in the Australian Army, when she was born. The Reddys performed on the Australian vaudeville circuit, and Helen began joining them onstage when she was 4…

Survivors include her two children, Traci Wald Donat, a daughter from her first marriage, Jordan Sommers, a son from her second, her half sister, Toni Lamond, an Australian singer-actress, and one grandchild…

In a 2013 interview, Ms. Reddy seemed philosophical. “I am at the age where I can just kick back and say what a wonderful life I’ve had,” she told The Sydney Morning Herald. And she laughed when one very familiar question came up: whether she was nervous the first time she went onstage.

“I don’t remember the first time I went onstage,” she said.

Happy 85th birth anniversary Hoover (Boulder) Dam

From Wikipedia:

Hoover Dam is a concrete arch-gravity dam in the Black Canyon of the Colorado River, on the border between the U.S. states of Nevada and Arizona. It was constructed between 1931 and 1936 during the Great Depression and was dedicated on September 30, 1935, by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Its construction was the result of a massive effort involving thousands of workers, and cost over one hundred lives. Originally known as Boulder Dam from 1933, it was officially renamed Hoover Dam for President Herbert Hoover by a joint resolution of Congress in 1947.