CDPHE: Water Quality Information Bulletin

Click here to read the bulletin. There will be an informational briefing concerning Clear Creek at the December 12, 2016 meeting.

Clear Creek, Standley Lake watersheds including the Standley Lake Canal Zone via the Clear Creek Watershed Foundation.
Clear Creek, Standley Lake watersheds including the Standley Lake Canal Zone via the Clear Creek Watershed Foundation.

#ColoradoRiver: @USBR Lake Estes and Olympic Dam operations update #COriver

First water through the Adams Tunnel. Photo credit  Northern Water.
First water through the Adams Tunnel. Photo credit Northern Water.

From email from Reclamation (Peter Soeth):

On Monday at 5:30 pm of this week diversions through the Adams Tunnel to the east slope of the Colorado-Big Thompson Project began. While this picks up, Lake Estes will rise slightly and is expected to be return to typical levels by next mid-week.

The Olympus Dam slide gate remains set to release low-level winter flows to the Big Thompson River.

This rate of fill will be maintained for several days to ensure safe operations below the Estes Power Plant. The majority of the water in Lake Estes enters through the power plant via the C-BT Project.

Track Lake Estes’ water elevation at our tea cup page:

Olympus Dam photo via the US Bureau of Reclamation.
Olympus Dam photo via the US Bureau of Reclamation.

The CWCB Confluence — @CWCB_DNR @ColoradoWaterPlan

Colorado Water Plan website screen shot November 1, 2013
Colorado Water Plan website screen shot November 1, 2013

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

Colorado’s Water Plan turned one year old in November.
This CWCB Confluence issue is dedicated to celebrating the work of Coloradans across the state to implement the plan and ensure that the state’s most valuable resource is protected and available for generations to come.

November Election Recap — Colorado Central Magazine

Browns Canyon via
Browns Canyon via

Here’s my column from the latest issue of Colorado Central Magazine:

November Election Recap

Normally this column deals with water issues and water folks in Central Colorado, but in the aftermath of the weirdest election season in my lifetime this iteration will take on a statewide and national flavor.

Del Norte rancher Travis Smith, currently serving on the Colorado Water Conservation Board, likes to remind folks in the water business, that “We are more connected than we’d like to admit.”

With all the uncertainty before us, is it possible to glean some idea of the effects the voters have wrought upon themselves?

President-elect Trump is rumored to be about to install a non-scientist, Myron Ebell, as the head of the Environmental Protection Agency. Mr. Ebell has spoken out against the “hoax” of global warming, and many hail his ascension as necessary to clip the wings of a federal government run wild under President Obama.

Martha Henriques writes in The International Business Times, “Climate deniers have been on the sidelines for years. What will happen now they’re in charge?”

A lot will happen no matter who is in power. Chris Mooney writes in The Washington Post:

“It’s polar night there now – the sun isn’t rising in much of the Arctic. That’s when the Arctic is supposed to get super-cold, when the sea ice that covers the vast Arctic Ocean is supposed to grow and thicken.

“But in fall of 2016 – which has been a zany year for the region, with multiple records set for low levels of monthly sea ice – something is totally off. The Arctic is super-hot, even as a vast area of cold polar air has been displaced over Siberia.”

Local Environmental Protection Agency Projects

The Arkansas headwaters up at Leadville were an acid mine drainage collection system in the days before the EPA’s California Gulch Superfund designation. Now there is a treatment plant run by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation at the mouth of the Leadville Mine Drainage Tunnel and a gold medal trout stream below the site.

There was a massive fish kill in the Alamosa River downstream from the gold cyanidation operation at Summitville.

Some folks blame their cancer and loss of friends and family down the Arkansas River at Cañon City where the Cotter Mill uranium processing operation polluted the groundwater.

These are Environmental Protection Agency Superfund sites, all of them. The Feds are the only organization capable of this type of cleanup. Colorado can’t afford projects of this magnitude due to the restraints of TABOR, and most counties are clipping off workers or freezing payroll just to keep plowing snow and managing roads.

The EPA took a beating from Republicans after the Gold King Mine Spill into the Animas River in 2015. The agency always admitted that opening up the mine was a mistake and they’ve steadily worked on mitigation planning and water quality control.

“San Juan County Administrator Willy Tookey, too, heaped praise on the EPA for reimbursing the more than $349,000 the county spent in response to the spill, as well as contributing to the local economy,” – The Durango Herald.

The recreation economy has benefitted from EPA projects and the Clean Water Act, so a dismantling of the regulations adds to business uncertainty and environmental angst.

State Control of Water Resources

Every candidate from the top of the Colorado ballot to the bottom stood firm regarding water resource administration. Colorado water rights law and administration should be continued as controlling over federal water rights, they say.

Amendment 71 and Power to the People

There may some certainty with respect to Amendment 71. Colorado may not see another citizen initiative due to it. The oil and gas industry and Denver politicians hoodwinked Coloradans into giving up power. Here’s what the Colorado Legislative Council had to say before the election:

“Amendment 71 adds a requirement that signatures be collected statewide for the citizen-initiative process and increases the percentage of votes required to adopt changes to the constitution in most situations …

“Of the total required signatures, some must be collected from each of the state’s 35 senate districts in an amount of at least two percent of the registered voters in each district.”

The new signature requirement will be quite a trick to pull off. The last time that many registered voters agreed on something was while voting down Referendum A in 2003. The referendum would have established a two billion dollar fund for water projects to ease some of the pain incurred during the historic 2002 drought. Proponents didn’t have a project list and the referendum failed in all 64 counties.

The opponents of the oil and gas industry could have roped in the entire industry with their 5,000-foot setback requirement initiative and they may be back. I wonder if two percent of Weld, Routt, or Moffat will sign on?

Watershed Health and Fire Sharing

The U.S. Forest Service budget has been taking a beating with the massive wildfires in the West over the past few seasons. As we go to press the new administration has not named their choice for Interior Secretary.

State governors are stepping up to advocate against “fire borrowing” in the new administration. The Western Governors’ Association recently wrote:

“Western governors have urged timely action by Congress to end the practice of ‘fire borrowing’ used by the U.S. Forest Service and the Department of the Interior to fund wildfire suppression activities.

“We strongly urge Congress to resolve this enduring issue as among its highest priorities when it returns to complete the business of the 114th Congress.

“Fire borrowing is a budgetary practice that occurs when federal agencies divert funds from forest health and fire prevention programs to fight wildfires.”

John Orr lives in Denver. He became interested in writing the “rough” history of Colorado water after the failure of Referendum A during the November 2003 election. No one was aggregating water news for Coloradans so John stepped into the void. He works as a water resources administrator for a Front Range utility when he isn’t linking and writing.

Support Colorado independent media, please click here to subscribe to Colorado Central.

2016 Colorado Ag Water Summit recap


From the Community Agriculture Alliance (Todd Hagenbuch) via Steamboat Today:

On Tuesday, people from across the state convened for the 2016 Colorado Ag Water Summit at the Jefferson County Fairgrounds near Denver. Northwest Colorado was well-represented by folks who live and work in both the Yampa and White River basins.

The subject of this year’s summit was ATMs. No, not the machines that dole out cash, but Alternative Transfer Methods. ATMs are creative ways to work within the confines of Colorado water law to enable water rights to be used temporarily for uses other than what they are decreed for.

You might remember that there are specific uses attached to an individual’s water right in Colorado – an irrigation right can only be used to grow crops, and a municipal right can only be used to provide water for a specific, set-area of residences, business, etc. If a water right is purchased for a use other than the decreed use, the owner must go to Water Court to get the decreed use changed.

When approved, these change cases typically take agricultural uses and turn them into municipal uses, enabling thirsty cities to provide water for an ever-increasing number of customers. This ‘Buy and Dry’ approach takes irrigated farm land out of production. Because these rural areas are losing agricultural productivity, they also lose farmers, farm implement dealers, local bankers, the local grocery store, etc. Eventually, entire communities disappear.

Landscapes also change from an environmental and scenic perspective when they are no longer irrigated. John McKenzie, who represented the Ditch and Reservoir [Company] Alliance at the summit, summarized it well when he said, “We’ve created a constructed landscape and environment we all really like.” That change was because we started irrigating otherwise arid lands.

ATMs aim to let one user (usually a municipality) use another’s right (usually a farmer’s) temporarily. Legislation passed recently allows for these arrangements three out of every ten years.

Since the legislation was passed, several new ATMs have been created. The Ag Water Summit featured panels of speakers who shared their experiences of participating in ATM projects. Ag producers, municipality and industrial, and environmental and recreational interests were represented.

Most of the panelists were pleased with their ATM experiences, although panelists also talked about the challenges that need addressed if this type of water sharing is to succeed in the intermountain west. Some of those challenges include: cost, risk and uncertainty, lack of infrastructure to store and convey water from one user to another and the need for all parties to have a long-term agreement in order to make plans for the future (investments, contracts, etc.).

Regarding those challenges, Andy Jones, a lawyer specializing in water law out of northern Colorado, said “Think of ATMs as a big water supply project: they will need the same infrastructure, investment, etc. as any ‘new source’ project.”

Colorado will continue to be challenged by more demand for water than we have supply to accommodate, but thinking of new ways to share it will help us to meet more of those needs. And continuing to bring people together to discuss it will help, too.

Todd Hagenbuch is the agriculture extension agent for Colorado State University Routt County Extension.

#Drought news: #Colorado, 60% of topsoil and 59% of subsoil rated short to very short of moisture

Click here to go to the US Drought Monitor website. Here’s an excerpt:


This USDM week began with an upper-level ridge bringing above-normal temperatures to much of the central third of the CONUS. Short-wave troughs moving through the ridge brought surface lows and cold fronts as they moved across the country. By the end of the week, a large upper-level trough and its associated surface low and front were bringing cooler temperatures and much-needed precipitation to many drought areas. Drought contracted in parts of the Ohio to Lower Mississippi Valleys and Southern Plains. Drought expanded in parts of the Central to Southern Plains which missed out on the frontal precipitation. The early week fronts fell apart before reaching the Southeast drought area, and the late week front did not reach most of the Southeast before the cutoff date for this week’s USDM. As a result, drought expanded in southern Alabama to southeast Georgia, and in eastern Kentucky, and did not improve in the Southeast much from the frontal passages…

The Great Plains

Precipitation from the low pressure systems that moved across the middle of the country fell as snow in the northern Plains with rain in parts of the central and southern Plains. Precipitation amounts ranged from 0.5 to 1.5 inches from parts of Nebraska to North Dakota, as well as parts of Texas and southeast Oklahoma, while northeast Texas to the southeast tip of Oklahoma received over 2 inches and locally over 4 inches. But little to no precipitation fell from northwest Texas to much of Kansas. D0-D3 were pulled back in eastern and southern Texas, D2-D3 contracted in southeast Oklahoma, and the central Nebraska D1 blob was trimmed. But D0-D1 expanded in western Nebraska to central Oklahoma and the Texas panhandle, and an oval of D2 was added to southwest Kansas into the Oklahoma panhandle. As of November 27, the USDA reported that 41% of the topsoil was rated short to very short in Nebraska and Texas, and subsoil moisture was short to very short in 42% of Nebraska and 39% of Texas. Topsoil moisture short to very short increased in Kansas from 41% last week to 45% this week, while 35% of the subsoil moisture was rated short to very short. In Oklahoma, topsoil moisture short to very short increased from 50% last week to 55% this week, with 44% of the subsoil short to very short of moisture…

The Rockies and Far West

The upper-level troughs brought locally heavy precipitation to the coastal Northwest, with locally 10 inches or more measured in favored upslope areas of Washington and northwest Oregon. Two or more inches of precipitation fell from the northern California coast to the Cascades of Washington, and along upslope areas of the Sierra Nevada in California. Much of the Rockies and higher elevations elsewhere in the West received half an inch or more of precipitation, but parts of Montana and the Southwest had less than a tenth of an inch. The precipitation increased high elevation SNOTEL station snow depth almost everywhere across the West, but SWE (snow water content) values continued to be lower than average across the Pacific Northwest and most of the Rockies. The weekly precipitation totals were below normal for Montana, the interior Northwest, and parts of the Great Basin and Southwest. This was still early in the snow season, so no change to the USDM depiction was made across most of the West, except for a few locations. An oval of D0 was added in eastern Montana based on short-term drought indicators, and D0 expanded along the Rocky Front Range in the vicinity of Great Falls based on 30-day precipitation departures and low SNOTEL SWE values. In Montana, 34% of the subsoil moisture and 28% of the topsoil moisture were rated short or very short by the USDA. D0 was pulled back in north central New Mexico where short-term indicators showed wetness, especially NASA’s SPoRT LIS soil moisture tool and the USGS streamflow percentiles. Reservoirs in this area continued below 30+ year average levels, but this is due to long-term conditions mostly upstream in the basin out of state; in arid regions like New Mexico, it may take many years for some of these reservoirs to refill to these long-term average levels. November 27 USDA reports still indicated 67% of New Mexico’s topsoil, and 47% of the subsoil, were rated short to very short of moisture. As noted by the National Weather Service, November 28 SNOTEL data reflected a good start to the snow season for northern California mountain snowpack, with some basins 130-140% of median. But this is early in the snow season, so median values are easy to exceed. And basins to the south, including the San Joaquin, are still lagging, below 70% of median in more southerly locations. In California, 65% of the topsoil was rated short to very short, an increase of 5% from last week, and 65% of the subsoil was short to very short, according to the USDA. In Colorado, 60% of the topsoil and 59% of the subsoil were rated short to very short of moisture, while the statistics were 50%/60% in Nevada, 19%/32% in Oregon, 27%/30% in Utah, and 50%/50% in Wyoming…

Looking Ahead

In the day since the Tuesday morning cutoff time of this week’s USDM, the cold frontal passage dropped an inch to locally over 3 inches of rain from parts of Louisiana northeastward to western Virginia, and over parts of the Northeast. For November 30-December 5, a series of fronts and low pressure systems are forecast to drop an additional 1-2 inches of precipitation across the South from Texas to Virginia, and parts of the Northeast, with locally 3+ inches from Texas to Mississippi. One to 3 inches is progged for parts of the coastal Northwest and Northern Rockies. A tenth to half of an inch is expected across the Midwest, extreme northern Plains, and much of the central and northern portions of the West. No precipitation is forecast for southern California or much of the Southwest to central Plains. Temperatures should average warmer than normal in the East and cooler than normal in the West. For December 6-14, odds favor wetter-than-normal conditions for the northern tier States and drier than normal for the Southwest to southern Plains, with the Southeast transitioning from wet to dry. Temperatures are expected to be colder than normal in the West to Plains. The East Coast will transition from warmer than normal to cooler than normal as an upper-level trough migrates east through the period. Odds favor cooler- and drier-than-normal weather over Alaska.

@ColoradoStateU researcher studying use of ‘produced water’ on crops and livestock — Sterling Journal-Advocate


From The Sterling Journal Advocate (Jeff Rice):

Farmers and ranchers who work in close proximity to oil and gas production, especially if that extraction involves fracking, need to be aware of the effects of that process on their operations, according to a presentation made Tuesday morning during the Eastern Colorado Crop Production Conference in Fort Morgan.

While the boom in hydrologic fracturing, also known as “fracking,” began a decade ago, researchers are just now asking serious questions about the impact of fracking fluids on crops, livestock and people. Molly McLaughlin, a doctoral candidate at Colorado State University, told the 80-plus attendees at the Fort Morgan conference that she hopes her research will answer some of those questions.

The most surprising revelation from McLaughlin’s presentation is that some “produced water” from oil and gas wells is actually used to irrigate crops and water livestock.

The researcher explained that there are two kinds of fluids involved in fracking. The first is the fracturing fluid that is forced into the drilled well to widen fractures in the bore hole. The fluid consists mainly of water but also contains chemicals to reduce friction of fluids against the well casing, biocides to kill bacteria that may grow in the warm, wet environment, and “proppants” that hold the fractures open so oil and gas can flow into them to be extracted. McLoughlin said wells in eastern Colorado use an average of about 3 million gallons of water per well during the fracturing process, mixed with about 30,000 gallons of chemicals.

The other fluid is the produced water, or fluid that flows back out of the well during the extraction of oil and gas. McLoughlin said most of the fracturing fluids are expelled from the well in the first few years of production, but that water will flow out for the life of the well, or about 30 years in most cases. During later years, most of the water is what was already in the geologic formation that contains the oil or gas being pumped out. She pointed out that this is not water from aquifers that supply water for human consumption. As oil and gas production decreases, she said, water production increases.

Most of the exposure to fracking fluids and produced water happens during spills, McLoughlin said, and virtually all spills must be reported to state authorities. She said contamination can come from spilled chemicals getting into surface water, such as nearby lakes and streams, or by leaching through soil into shallow aquifers.

McLoughlin said most of the chemicals used in fracking will degrade fairly rapidly if they are spilled into soil, but that combinations of chemicals degrade at different rates. She said the presence of salts in the produced water can retard degradation by six months or more. Her research is aimed at determining the degradation rates of various chemical combinations, and the effects those combinations have on soil, crops, livestock, and people.

Wastewater from oil and gas wells is treated, McLoughlin said, by skimming pollutants off of the top of holding ponds, by heating the wastewater, or by adding neutralizing chemicals. She said increasingly, treated water is being used to irrigate some crops and water some livestock.

McLaughlin showed research being done at the University of California at Davis that uses produced water to irrigate switch grass for biofuels or cotton for textiles.

An online article from the California Environmental Protection Agency states that produced water from oil and gas wells there is treated and then blended with other water to irrigate crops in the arid inland areas of the state. The CEPA closely monitors that water, the article said, and the state’s Food Safety Expert Panel monitors the crops grown with that water.

McLoughlin concluded her presentation by saying that much more research needs to be done on potential impacts of oil and gas wastewater on food production.

Ray Kemble holds two samples of well water from his neighborhood in Dimock, PA. He says the water was contaminated after fracking. - Amanda Hrycyna for APM Reports
Ray Kemble holds two samples of well water from his neighborhood in Dimock, PA. He says the water was contaminated after fracking. – Amanda Hrycyna for APM Reports

From (Scott Tong and Tom Scheck):

Top officials of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency last year made critical changes at the eleventh hour to a highly anticipated, five-year scientific study of hydraulic fracturing’s effect on the nation’s drinking water. The changes, later criticized by scientists for lacking evidence, played down the risk of pollution that can result from the well-drilling technique known as fracking.

Documents obtained by APM Reports and Marketplace show that in the six weeks before the study’s public release, officials inserted a key phrase into the executive summary that said researchers did not find evidence of “widespread systemic impacts” of fracking by the oil and gas industry on the nation’s drinking water.

Earlier draft versions emphasized more directly that fracking has contaminated drinking water in some places.

The documents also show that the news release accompanying the scientific study was changed on June 3, 2015, the day before it was made public. A draft displayed a conclusion that the EPA had identified “potential vulnerabilities” to drinking water. But the final release dated June 4, concluded: “Assessment shows hydraulic fracturing activities have not led to widespread, systemic impacts to drinking water resources and identifies important vulnerabilities to drinking water resources.”

In a conference call with reporters about the study on the day it was released, the EPA’s deputy administrator, Tom Burke, highlighted the lack of “widespread, systemic impacts” as the agency’s top finding.

In fact, scientists had found evidence in some places that fracking activity had polluted drinking water supplies.

In all, the agency identified more than two dozen instances in which hydraulic fracturing had an impact on water resources. The agency also identified hundreds of other spills, many of which reached soil and water.

It’s not clear precisely who inserted or ordered the new phrasing. But emails acquired via the Freedom of Information Act show EPA officials, including press officers, met with key advisers to President Obama to discuss marketing strategy a month before the study’s release. The emails also show EPA public relations people exchanging a flurry of messages between 4 and 11 p.m. on the eve of the study’s release.