#Runoff news: #ArkansasRiver running very high, commercial rafters are avoiding some reaches

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Tracy Harmon):

High water advisories are in place in Pine Creek and The Numbers, both located between Granite and Buena Vista, as well as the Royal Gorge section of the river just west of Canon City. The advisories mean commercial rafters are voluntarily avoiding those sections of the river because water levels are considered dangerous.

For example, in the gorge, that cutoff level is 3,200 cubic feet per second. The river initially exceeded that level Saturday at the Parkdale gauge when it hit 3,220, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. By Sunday, the level was 3,720; and on Monday, the level was pushing 4,000 cubic feet per second.

“I talked to the Board of Reclamation Sunday and the cool weather Sunday helped, but there is still an awful lot of snow up top. They said they are going to have to release additional water from Twin and Turquoise Reservoirs this week and then they should be able to hold steady,” said Rob White, who manages the Arkansas Headwaters Recreation Area on behalf of Colorado State Parks.

The Arkansas Headwaters offers access to water ranging from Class II (moderate) rapids to Class V (extremely difficult) rapids so when the water levels exceed the safety cutoffs in some sections, outfitters move their guests into different sections. That means boaters are taking on Browns Canyon north of Salida and the Big Horn Sheep Canyon west of Canon City where high water is ensuring there are still plenty of thrills.

Browns Canyon via BrownsCanyon.org

From KOAA.com (Zach Thaxton):

The water keep rising in the Arkansas River, bringing with it the promise of the best whitewater river rafting season in years, but also the threats that come along with deep, cold, fast-flowing water.

Discharge through Centennial Park now exceeds 4,000 cubic feet per second, or the equivalent force of 4,000 basketball passing a single point per second. “It’s awesome for our tourism, it’s great for the boaters, rafters, and fishermen as well,” said Fremont County Emergency Manager Mykel Kroll. “With the historic snowpack we had in the high country, we’re seeing all of the runoff from that as our temperatures have warmed up.”

The fast, rough waters are the ideal conditions for swift-water rescue training as well. Members of the Colorado Springs Fire Department heavy rescue team practiced rescues from the foot bridge spanning the river on Monday. “For us rescuers, it’s pretty treacherous water, so we’re just getting some experience in swimming in this water,” said Brian Kurtz, head of the program. “This is a good training day that we can see lots of hydrology, different things that the river is doing, different things that we go through as rescuers, and different ways to put systems across the river so we can safely affect a rescue.”

The water is also extremely dangerous. “If you don’t have to be in the water right now, don’t be,” Kroll said, “but if you do, make sure you’re prepared, be safe, know how to swim, wear your life jacket, your helmet, have a plan.” Three sections of the Arkansas River — Pine Creek Rapid, Numbers, and Royal Gorge — are under a High Water Advisory, meaning commercial rafting companies are recommended not to run those sections due to dangerous conditions.

Photo essay: Crossing the Divide through Three Watersheds, the Platte, the Arkansas, the Colorado, Elk are on the move one day in May — Greg Hobbs

South Park Dawn, Upper South Platte Watershed

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Moving up Monarch Pass in the Arkansas River Watershed

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Across the Divide into the Upper Gunnison watershed of the Colorado River

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Returning across the Divide at Monarch Pass in snowstorm down into the Collegiate Peaks Range of the Arkansas River Basin

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Full Moon reveals itself moment-by-moment along Colorado’s Front Range in the South Platte River Basin

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Greg Hobbs 5/17/2019
(Travelling from Denver to attend the Water Education Colorado board meeting at Western Colorado University, Gunnison)

Centuries-old irrigation system shows how to manage scarce water — @NatGeo

Selection of the 2015 native heirloom maize harvest of the seed library of The Acequia Institute in Viejo San Acacio, CO
Photo by Devon G. Peña

Here’s an in-depth look at acequia culture and administration from Robert Neuwirth writing for National Geographic. Click through to read the whole thing and to take in the illustrations and animations. Here’s an excerpt:

It’s spring again, the time of year—for the 300th time in some instances—when New Mexico communities come together to clean the acequias, irrigation channels that carry snowmelt from the mountains to newly tilled farm fields. Each annual cleaning is one more demonstration that at least here, in these close-knit communities arrayed across arid and rugged rangeland, it’s possible for people to share scarce resources to achieve a common goal—in this case, making sure everyone in the group has enough water.

Acequias are mutually managed, irrigation channels that have been in continuous operation in the arid American Southwest since before the formation of the United States. This communal water system traces its roots to the Spanish conquistadors, who brought their traditions to the territory in the 1600s, and who themselves borrowed it from the Muslims who invaded Spain in the 8th century. Indeed, the word acequia (pronounced ‘ah-seh-key-uh,’ stress on the ‘seh’) is an adaptation of the Arabic as-saqiya, meaning water carrier.

There are close to 700 functioning acequias in New Mexico, according to the state’s Acequia Commission, and a score more in Colorado. Many of these gravity-fed ditches that bring runoff from the mountains to the fields have been operating for three centuries, and some were likely dug long before that.

Most acequias are open channels and many farmers irrigate by flooding their fields, which means that lots of water leaches away or evaporates. Yet studies show that the dirt waterways provide more robust environmental benefits than concrete culverts and metal pipes, says Sam Fernald, professor of watershed management at New Mexico State University in Las Cruces and the head of the school’s Water Resources Research Institute.

Seepage—which can range between one-third and one-half of the flow—replenishes groundwater while also fostering a rich wetlands around each ditch, Fernald says. A number of other studies suggest that irrigating with acequias extends the hay-growing season and so boosts the number of cattle that can be grazed. And the largest benefit, though much harder to quantify, is that the acequias create communities that serve as stewards of the environment.

Parciantes—members who own water rights in an acequia community—express this in a slightly different fashion. “Belonging to the land is what’s important,” says Joseph Padilla, a retired teacher who irrigates his family’s land with water diverted from the Gallinas River into the Acequia Madre de los Vigiles just outside of Las Vegas, New Mexico. Fat snowflakes float around us, falling onto his field of newly sown winter wheat. “We don’t control it. The land owns us. We’re just a small part of it.”

The acequias also protect traditional farming techniques. “I still have the same chile seed my ancestors grew and I still grow the same chile variety,” says Don Bustos, master-farmer and long-time mayordomo of the Acequia de Santa Cruz in the hills above Española.

As Bustos and I stroll the fields that once belonged to his great-grandmother, he says: “This acequia does more than distribute water. It holds the community together as a spirit enterprise.”

Trinidad Water Festival: Students celebrate ‘Aqua la Vida’ — #ColoradoSprings Military News Group

Photo credit: Trinidad Water Festival Facebook page.

From the Colorado Springs Military Newsgroup (Michelle Blake):

For the seventh year, Fort Carson staff supported the annual Trinidad, Colorado, Water Festival May 16, 2019, an event where students from kindergarten through 12th grade learn from local professionals about water conservation and the importance of water.

Event organizers said they believe investing in youth, education and the environment is a strong strategy for protecting and improving the natural environment. This year, more than 1,250 students from 14 different Las Animas County schools came to the Trinidad State Junior College campus to visit 40-50 presentations celebrating the theme “Aqua la Vida.”

Fort Carson staff provided four presentations. Jack Haflett, Directorate of Public Works (DPW) Environmental Division environmental protection specialist, used a colorful “Terminology Potpourri” poster to introduce the students to key concepts in pollution, mitigation and compliance and then encouraged them to practice soaking up mini oil spills with absorbent pads and beads.

A glass cylinder filled with cooking oil, a sports drink, isopropanol alcohol and syrup were used to demonstrate how different materials do not mix, and also how the properties of different substances determine which cleanup technique is implemented.

Students participated in the “Survey Says!” game with Craig Dengel, DPW Environmental Division Piñon Canyon Maneuver Site (PCMS) archaeologist, with the goal of identifying the seven key things that people require to survive (air, water, food, shelter, sleep, technology and family). The game was used to illustrate the historical settlement patterns of humans, which often coincide with proximity to reliable sources of water, such as oceans, rivers and lakes, and how water provides food and transportation opportunities.

DPW Environmental Division PCMS wildlife biologists highlighted some of the unique physical and behavioral adaptations that animals have developed in order to survive in a climate where water is a limiting resource. Students were able to examine a live bull snake to understand how the snake’s scales reduce water loss, reflect light and provide camouflage.

The biologists discussed the different ways that PCMS simultaneously supports the military mission and the environment through their Water for Wildlife Program, which uses solar powered wells and guzzlers. The presence of these reliable sources of water reduces the stress on individual animals, and helps offset the pressures from various training activities.

Finally, the students gathered around Directorate of Emergency Services PCMS Firefighter Kevin Filkins, Station 35, to learn how the Fire Department responds to wildland fires and implements prescribed burns to support a healthy, natural ecosystem. Filkins described the equipment that firefighters use on wildland fires, including water, personal protective gear and various hand tools.

2019 #COleg: Governor Polis signs HB19-1279 (Protect Public Health Firegfighter Safety Regulation #PFAS Polyfluoroalkyl Substances) and HB19-1264 (Conservation Easement Tax Credit Modifications)

Widefield aquifer via the Colorado Water Institute.

From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Marianne Goodland):

At an Arvada fire station, Polis signed into law House Bill 1279, which bans certain kinds of foam used in firefighting training. Such foam contains so-called “forever chemicals” that have contaminated drinking water in El Paso County and elsewhere…

The foam contaminated Fountain’s water supply, and it has since installed filters to deal with problem…

HB 1279 bans Class B firefighting foams that contain “intentionally added” per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, also known as PFAS. Such chemicals were used for decades at Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado Springs and have been found in the nearby Widefield aquifer, which serves Security, Widefield and Fountain.

The foam was sprayed on the ground and used in a firefighting training area that was flushed into the Colorado Springs Utilities treatment system, which was ill-equipped to remove the chemicals. The effluent ended up in Fountain Creek, which feeds the Widefield aquifer.

The Air Force since has replaced that foam with a new version that the military says is less toxic, though it still contains perfluorinated chemicals.

Pond on the Garcia Ranch via Rio Grande Headwaters Land Trust

In Salida, Polis signed House Bill 1264, which is intended to resolve some of the long-standing problems with the state’s conservation easement program.

Landowners say the Colorado Department of Revenue revoked tax credits awarded to those who entered into conservation easements with land trusts, with more than 800 credits revoked from the 4,000 granted in the program’s first 15 years.

HB 1264 is intended to make the program more transparent, with a warning to landowners that easements are in perpetuity. The bill also requires the Division of Conservation Easements, within the Department of Regulatory Agencies, to set up a committee to determine how to repay those tax credits.

The committee is to hold its first hearing June 25, an addition to the bill made by Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg, R-Sterling.

Legislative leaders in both parties are to appoint the committee members, and lawmakers say they intend to include representatives for those who have been denied tax credits as well as other program critics.

From The Ark Valley Voice (Jan Wondra):

Colorado Governor Jared Polis chose the banks of the Arkansas River in Salida as the ideal location to sign an unprecedented nine bills into law on Monday morning, June 3. The location underscored both the importance of these bills to Colorado’s rural and recreation economies, as well as highlighting Colorado’s growing preference for collaboration to get things done…

SB19-221 – CO Water Conservation Board Construction Fund Project

This bill sponsored by Donovan and Roberts, is focused on the funding of Colorado water conservation board projects, and assigns an appropriation to protect those projects…

SB19-186 – Expand Agricultural Chemical Management Program Protect Surface Water

Another bill sponsored by Donovan, Catlin, Coram and including Rep. Jeni Arndt, seeks to protect Colorado surface water from contamination by the expansion of agriculture chemical management plans.

See where #PFAS pollution has been confirmed in the American West — @HighCountryNews

The U.S. Air Force has been sued after confirmation of PFAS contamination at Lake Holloman, near the Holloman Air Force Base in New Mexico. Photo credit: J.M. Eddins Jr./U.S. Air Force

From the High Country News (Paige Blankenbuehler):

Polyfluoroalkyl chemicals exist in furniture, waterproof makeup and clothing, nonstick cookware, popcorn bags, the foam used to extinguish petroleum fires (which is different from the slurry used across the West to fight wildfires), and countless other items. Known collectively as PFAS, this class of chemicals contains more than 5,000 different compounds that are often called “forever chemicals” because they take so long to break down in the environment. PFAS chemicals are an omnipresent, if largely invisible, part of daily life.

Yet numerous studies have linked exposure to them to cancer, thyroid disease, weakened childhood immunity and other health problems, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. A 2007 study published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives estimated that PFAS are in the blood of 98% of Americans.

Because the Environmental Protection Agency does not regulate PFAS chemicals, states are left not only to research and track them, but also to develop regulations to clean up already dangerous levels of pollution. And, according to recent data from the Social Science Environmental Health Research Institute at Northeastern University and the Environmental Working Group, the West isn’t doing a great job.

Bill Walker, with the Environmental Working Group, a nonprofit environmental advocacy organization, says that, by and large, Western states are lagging far behind, not only in PFAS regulations, but also in monitoring. “The scope of this problem is growing — not because our exposure to PFAS chemicals is growing, but because we’re finally becoming aware of the persistence of these compounds in our lives,” said Walker. “Because there is so little action from the EPA on this, addressing this crisis falls to the states.”

People can be exposed to PFAS chemicals through household cooking items, or simply by eating popcorn out of the bag after microwaving it. But the greatest source of concern involves military bases, fire departments and airports, where the chemicals are used for extinguishing petroleum fires. That leaves high levels of PFAS chemicals in close proximity to public drinking-water sources. According to recent data compiled by EWG and the Social Science Environmental Health Research Institute at Northeastern University, 610 areas in 43 states have confirmed PFAS contamination. The researchers estimate that the drinking water of approximately 19 million people is tainted.

In the West, PFAS contamination has been confirmed in water supplies in Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Washington and Wyoming. But only Colorado, California, Oregon and Washington regulate the chemicals, and among those, only California requires that public water systems monitor their levels.

Most Western states are already facing the consequences of contamination: Municipal water managers are scrambling to address high PFAS levels in drinking water, even as communities experience their health impacts, such as higher rates of kidney and testicular cancers. Still, very few have passed laws that track or regulate dangerous PFAS levels. “Northeastern states are ahead of most other states in monitoring and tracking this contamination,” said Phil Brown, the project director of Northeastern University’s PFAS monitoring project. “But in reality, if you look for it, you’ll find it most everywhere.”

Industry representatives say that while they support more oversight, a “one-size-fits-all” regulation for the class of chemicals goes too far. On May 22, the Senate Committee on Environment and Public works held a hearing to discuss appropriate legislation for addressing PFAS contamination. PFAS “play a central role in American life and not all are dangerous to public health,” said Kimberly Wise White, a toxicologist for the American Chemistry Council, an industry trade group that advocates for manufacturers of PFAS chemicals. “All PFAS are different; they have different hazard profiles. Some are not water-soluble, for example. It is not scientifically appropriate to regulate as one class.”

Advocates for stronger regulations, however, say that the EPA isn’t doing nearly enough to monitor the problem. And many disagree with White’s suggestion that the chemicals should be regulated on an individual basis, which would allow manufacturers to continue to make money from potentially dangerous chemicals. “The EPA’s current guidelines do not include a commitment to set a drinking water standard, even for a subset of PFAS chemicals that even manufacturers agree are dangerous,” said Suzanne Novak, an attorney for Earthjustice, an environmental advocacy organization.

Meanwhile, ever more Western communities are discovering troubling levels of PFAS in their water. Last month, the water district for the town of Security, Colorado, and the local Pikes Peak Community Foundation filed a $17 million lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Defense for PFAS contamination from Peterson Air Force Base, near Colorado Springs, Colorado. Shortly after that, the Centers for Disease Control identified the area as part of an upcoming study on the impacts of long-term exposure to high levels of PFAS in drinking water, with research due to begin this fall. New Mexico’s attorney general, too, has sued the U.S. Air Force after confirming PFAS contamination at Lake Holloman, on the westernmost edge of White Sands National Monument.

“PFAS chemicals are one of the most complex groups of pollutants out there,” said Chris Higgins, a professor at the Colorado School of Mines, who is researching the effects of exposure in El Paso County. “Once they are in the groundwater, it’s really hard to stop the spread, and treating them is even more difficult.”

Paige Blankenbuehler is an assistant editor for High Country News. Email her at paigeb@hcn.org.

#Runoff news: The #ArkansasRiver is still running low as compared to average, along with many #Colorado streams

From KOAA.com (Bill Folsom):

This year the run-off in Colorado is late. “The native water hasn’t started to flow yet,” said Roy Vaughan with the Bureau of Reclamation. Vaughn is part of the team that helps manage what stored and released from Lake Pueblo Reservoir.

Water released from the dam is currently much less than typical. “We’re releasing about 15 percent of what we normally do this time of year.” The number is a correlation with the amount of run-off flowing into the reservoir. Run-off is late this year. “We see it start and then the weather changes, it cools down and it slows up again. It’s about three weeks late.” For now, spillways are mostly dry.

Click on the graphic for the USGS Water Watch interactive map for Colorado.