Montrose County shuts down mechanized streambed mining in the San Miguel River near Uravan

Manhattan Project 1944, Uravan. Photo credit: Uravan.com

From The Montrose Press (Katharhynn Heidelberg):

t’s been about 35 years since the mill at Uravan closed and about 33 since the former West End town was designated a Superfund site, eventually to be bulldozed, burned and buried. But roughly 2 miles away is the Ballpark at Historic Uravan, Colorado, which was never contaminated by uranium and vanadium mining — and the one place people who grew up there still have to gather and remember.

The ballpark, with its primitive camping, has also attracted its share of hobbyist gold miners who access the San Miguel River from there. But when some began showing up with machinery, locals sounded the alarm and on Thursday, Montrose County passed an ordinance prohibiting unauthorized, mechanized mining along the river acreage it owns there. The ordinance can go into effect May 28…

A problem reared its head, though, when she discovered a video on the Facebook page of a hobbyist prospecting group. Thompson said the video showed compressors and a hose that was pumping the river — plus the site was promoting the location to other hobbyists, as was a prospecting book, which has since delisted the location.

“There was a big group that was going to come. They were all going to bring their machinery and have a big weekend there. We decided we probably better let the county know what was happening,” Thompson said.

Although it’s one thing to pan for gold in the river, or put up a small sluice box — that’s still allowed under the new ordinance — mechanized mining imperils the river and the habitat it provides.

“We contacted the group and told them … it belongs to the county. We lease it to the historical society. They have spent many countless hours down there and have turned that into a beautiful little park we encourage people to use. We don’t want it destroyed,” said Montrose County Commissioner Roger Rash, a former Uravan resident.

The county also put up a sign barring machinery in the river.

“But we needed to have some teeth,” Rash said. “We don’t want mechanized mining going on in our park.”

The new ordinance allows panning within the river channel, as long as it occurs at least 2 feet from the bank. Among other provisions, the ordinance prohibits motorized mining activities, including motorized suction dredging.

It also bars activity that undercuts or excavates banks and the ordinance further restricts access to the channel to existing roads and trails.

People cannot disturb more than 1 cubic yard of soil per day and anything that cannot be removed by hand must remain undisturbed.

All digging has to be filled in and the work area must be cleaned up before departure.

Violations are treated as a petty offense, which carry fines between $100 on first occurrence and up to $1,000 for repeat offenses.

If the county property, river or surrounding area sustains damages in excess of $100, violators can be charged with a class-2 misdemeanor punishable by stiffer fines and up to a year in county jail.

Thompson said she and other Rimrockers didn’t understand why anyone would be mining the river with machinery to begin with. The park is open to the public — although it relies upon donations to sustain the picnic structures and fire pits former residents paid for — and has had only minor vandalism issues prior to the mechanized mining.

Current #snowpack and #runoff potential bode well for McPhee releases #ColoradoRiver #COriver

The Dolores River, below Slickrock, and above Bedrock. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism.

From The Cortez Journal (Jim Mimiaga):

Aquatic biologist Jim White, of Colorado Parks and Wildlife, spoke at a community meeting in Dolores about planned fish surveys, population data and survey techniques.

Parks and Wildlife works with McPhee Reservoir managers to manage downstream flows for three native species that reside in the Lower Dolores – the roundtail chub, bluehead sucker and flannelmouth sucker. The first several miles below the dam to Bradfield Bridge is managed as a cold-water fishery for brown and rainbow trout.

“Roundtail populations have been good,” White said, “and bluehead and flannelmouth are not as abundant.”

The reservoir holds a 33,500 acre-foot reserve for the native fish needs. The “fish pool” is released gradually throughout the year base on biologists’ input. In the winter, flows below the dam are 20-30 cubic feet per second. During summer, they reach 60-80 cfs if there is no whitewater release.

During low water years, the fish pool and farmers share in shortages. When there is a recreation dam release like this year, it is not counted against the fish pool, and the higher flows are managed for ecological benefits such as channel scouring, timing to benefit the fish spawn, and flood plain sedimentation that replenishes nutrient rich sediment on the banks for new seedlings…

Fish counts and surveys are done each year at Slick Rock Canyon, Dove Creek Pump Station, Pyramid Mountain and below the San Miguel confluence.

White explained how a “pit-tag array” installed in 2013 to monitor native fish on the Lower Dolores River works. It is just upstream from the Disappointment Creek confluence.

Native fish captured throughout the Lower Dolores are inserted with a electronic tag, and when they move past the “array” wire above the river, the movement and fish identification is recorded.

So far, 1,421 fish have been tagged. Of those, 38 percent were flannelmouth suckers, 35 were roundtail chubs, and 23 percent were bluehead suckers. Four percent were smallmouth bass, a non-native species biologists are trying to get rid of because they prey on young native fish.

Since installed, 157 tagged fish have been recorded passing under the pit-tag array. In 2018, 14 fish were detected, including eight flannelmouth that arrived after April 8. Five of the flannelmouth were tagged in Slick Rock Canyon, two in the Pyramid Mountain Reach and one tagged in 2014 in the San Miguel River.

The first native fish of 2019 passed under the array on April 5. It was last detected on Oct. 18. On April 16, two flannelmouth were recorded.

#Runoff/#Snowpack news: Dolores is sizing up snowmelt flooding potential

Dolores

From The Cortez Journal (Jim Mimiaga):

On Monday, 30 officials and residents attended an informational meeting at the Dolores Fire Station hosted by Montezuma County emergency manager Mike Pasquin.

The town has not experienced a major flood from the river since 1911, which filled the town valley with up to 3 feet of water.

But there is potential this year because of the heavy snowpack, warming weather, and wet El Niño weather pattern.

The Dolores River peaks from snowmelt between May 15 and June 15, officials said. How much comes down and at what rate depends on snowpack levels, temperature, rain and soil moisture. Runoff forecasting is an educated guess, and possible flood levels require ground truthing as well.

There are some trigger points to watch for, officials said.

Flood stage for the Dolores River in town is 8 feet. A safe maximum flow of the Dolores River is about 6,000 cubic feet per second in town, said Ken Curtis of the Dolores Water Conservancy District.

Flows above that increases the risk of flooding, and flows of 7,000 or 8,000 cfs would start to overflow the banks. Flows can be viewed by visiting the Dolores River Boating Advocates web page

Increased flows from a hot spell or rain event in the upper valley takes time to reach town and usually arrives at night, said town board member Val Truelsen, “so there should be some nighttime monitoring of the banks.”

Residents should stay tuned to the National Weather Service for regional and local flood watches and warnings.

Montezuma County Sheriff Steve Nowlin said the community will be given warnings about predicted flooding conditions through media outlets, town reports, reverse 911, Nixle and social media. The town has recently repaired emergency siren that would also be activated as a warning.

Bridges up the valley are being monitored for debris accumulation and to ensure boaters can safely get under them. Collapsed mines in Rico that collect runoff have automated sensors that warn emergency personnel if the pressure and levels are too high, triggering relief valves.

Community sandbagging projects are happening in some flood-prone towns in the state, said Karen Dixon, emergency manager for the county health department. Local agencies said they are ready to respond to a flood emergency with equipment and staff.

If needed, sand is available at the county shop on County Road 30, said county road manager Rob Englehart.

Officials said severe flooding could compromise utility systems such as water, sewer and natural gas lines, and cause them to be shut down until the water recedes and repairs are made.

Potential shelter areas for evacuees discussed were the Dolores Community Center, Dolores High School, county fairgrounds, House Creek and McPhee campgrounds, and Canyons of the Ancients Museum and Visitor’s Center.

Westwide SNOTEL basin-filled map April 16, 2019 via the NRCS.

@USBR to host public meeting on Dolores Project 2019 water operations, Thursday, April 18, 2019

The Dolores River, below Slickrock, and above Bedrock. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism.

Here’s the release from the USBR:

The Bureau of Reclamation will host the 2019 operations meeting for the Dolores Project on Thursday, April 18, at 7 p.m. The meeting will be held at the Dolores Community Center, 400 Riverside Avenue in Dolores, Colorado.

“This meeting is a great opportunity for our partners and the public to find out how the 2019 water year is shaping up and to have any related questions answered,” said Western Colorado Area Office Manager Ed Warner.

Meeting topics will include a review of 2018 operations, projected water supplies and runoff for 2019 and the forecasted possibility of a boatable release to the Dolores River below McPhee Dam in 2019.

The meeting will also include presentations and representation from several agencies, including: Reclamation, Bureau of Land Management, United States Forest Service, Dolores Water Conservancy District, Colorado Parks and Wildlife, Dolores River Boating Advocates, American Whitewater and Fort Lewis College. There will be opportunities for questions, comments, and discussion during the meeting.

For more information, please contact Robert Stump at 970-565-7232 or rstump@usbr.gov.

Four States Agricultural Exposition recap: Plan for an uncertain future

Cortez early 1900s via Crow Canyon Archaeological Center

From The Cortez Journal (Sean Dolan):

At a local level, Cortez adopted a conservation plan in November that seeks to reduce per capita water consumption from 200 gallons per day to 180 gallons per day. The plan includes metering water users and rebates for water-efficient appliances.

“Luckily, we had a great year this year, but if we have another couple of dry years, 2020 might be when it gets a little closer,” Padgett said. “But for right now, we’re fine.”

There might not be an immediate threat, but she said the variable hydrology and declining storage at Lake Powell pose real and immediate concerns. She said it’s best to take a proactive approach to planning to avoid getting into sticky situations.

“If we do fall out of compact compliance, it’s a pretty catastrophic event, so we always want to be prepared for that worst-case scenario,” Padgett said. “These recent droughts have really made everyone aware that we need to start planning more for that uncertain future.”

Earthquake reported at the Paradox Valley Salinity Control Facility — @USBR

Here’s the release from the Bureau of Reclamation (Marlon Duke):

The U.S. Geological Survey reported that an earthquake occurred at 10:22 a.m. MST, on Monday, March 4, 2019, near Reclamation’s Paradox Valley Salinity Control Facility near Bedrock, Colorado. Reclamation maintains a comprehensive network of seismic monitoring instruments in the area, which indicated a preliminary magnitude 4.1 for this earthquake. The quake was felt by employees at the Reclamation facility and residents in surrounding areas.

The Paradox Valley Salinity Control Facility injects highly pressurized, concentrated salt water (brine) into a 16,000-foot-deep well, preventing the brine from entering the Dolores River. The well was not operating at the time of the earthquake due to routine maintenance. Operations will not resume until Reclamation completes a thorough assessment of the situation.

High-pressure brine injection has been known to trigger small earthquakes in the past, and today’s event was within the range of previously induced earthquakes. Reclamation’s seismic network in the area monitors the location, magnitude and frequency around the Paradox Valley Salinity Control Facility. Reclamation will continue using that network to monitor earthquakes in the area.

The Paradox Valley Salinity Control Facility substantially benefits downstream water quality in the Colorado River Basin, and helps the United States meet treaty obligations with Mexico for allowable salinity levels in the river. Historically, the Dolores River picked up an estimated 205,000 tons of salt annually as it passed through the Paradox Valley. Since the mid-1990s much of this salt has been collected by the Paradox Valley Salinity Control Unit in shallow wells along the Dolores River and then injected into deep subsurface geologic formations. The deep well injection program removes about 95,000 tons of salt annually from the Dolores and Colorado rivers.

Protecting the River’s Edge from an Invasive Threat

From The Walton Family Foundation (Peter Skidmore):

In the Colorado River Basin, RiversEdge West leads a coordinated effort to restore critical habitat

Doug King’s family has been ranching the lands around the Dolores River in Southwest Colorado since the 1930’s. “It’s beautiful−I call it John Wayne country,” Doug says, proudly. “I’m the third generation on the land, my son will be the fourth generation, and his son will be the fifth.”

Over the decades, Doug experienced firsthand the steady, relentless creep of invasive plant species like tamarisk and Russian olive and its impact on the land he has cared for his whole life. The damage has been extensive, threatening the larger riparian—or river bank—habitat that in the Colorado River Basin ultimately supports more than 40 million lives across two nations.

As the unwelcome vegetation pressed in on essential farmland and fish and wildlife habitat, Doug and many others in the region understood it was time to lock arms and push back.

Originally conceptualized in 1999 to discuss strategies for addressing invasive plant species along rivers in western Colorado, the then-named Tamarisk Coalition was fueled by a desire to shape a landscape-scale solution. The group had observed that conventional site-by-site eradication simply wasn’t able to move quickly enough.

“People were getting grants to do five acres or half a mile” of tamarisk removal, recalls Tim Carlson, the coalition’s first executive director. “That wasn’t going to solve the problem. We started with a bold approach: If we were going to solve this problem, it’s got to be a regional solution.”

The introduction of the tamarisk is a story of unintended consequences. Long thought to prevent erosion along the banks of western rivers, its presence was so valued in earlier days that Boy Scouts would receive badges for planting it. But the persistent shrub with scale-like leaves took to its adopted habitat like a parasite, displacing native vegetation.

Restoring and sustaining the overall health of the Colorado River Basin has been a primary goal of the Walton Family Foundation’s Environment Program since its inception nearly a decade ago. And, the program’s first grant to the Tamarisk Coalition in 2009 supported its restoration efforts along the San Miguel and Dolores river systems. Gradually, the foundation expanded its support to also include work along the Escalante, Verde and Gila systems.

“We have a great relationship with the foundation where we present innovative ideas, and they help us scale up these efforts. The investment affects a vast landscape, bolsters our work and has helped us promote best practices to other organizations,” says Cara Kukuraitis, outreach and education coordinator for the organization now known as RiversEdge West.

The organization changed its name in 2018 to reflect its broader work in Western riparian areas and the surrounding communities. But it retains its unique and core operating model—to facilitate collaboration and information-sharing across diverse groups and individuals to accomplish riparian restoration at a larger scale than any one partner can attain on its own. As a result, RiversEdge West now supports 20 ambitious multi-stakeholder partnerships encompassing federal, state, and community organizations throughout the American West, teaching best practices to over 300 local public and private restoration organizations and successfully restoring some 11,500 acres—and counting—of riparian habitat.

The state of Colorado is among the group’s core partners.

“Our relationship with RiversEdge West has allowed Colorado Parks and Wildlife to more effectively meet our mission of improving the wildlife habitat within the state,” explains Peter Firmin, manager of the James M. Robb-Colorado River State Park.

“The networking and training opportunities provided by RiversEdge West allow us to leverage intellectual and financial resources to improve habitat along the Colorado River. As a group, we are able to accomplish more than we could as individuals.”

The work of RiversEdge West and its growing network is bolstered by an array of technical tools. For example, a multi-partner geodatabase stores and shares data with land managers, so they can see how their projects connect and positively impact the landscape over time.

“The data helps us establish and measure progress against quantitative goals, so the project can jump from removing tamarisk by just cutting trees to collecting data on the extent of the problem and promoting ways to encourage the ecosystem’s overall health,” says Cara.

It is a testament to the organization’s enduring value that its annual conference attracts upwards of 200 representatives from Colorado, Arizona, Nevada, New Mexico, California, Texas, Kansas, Oklahoma, Utah and Mexico to connect on riparian restoration science.

The organization also is working to convey the broad importance of these efforts through its ongoing “Riverside Stories” web series, which tells the personal stories of people who call this land home and are working to restore this habitat for future generations. Among them is Doug and his family.

“I have a theory that we should leave the land better than how we got it,” Doug notes in sharing his story. “The Colorado River is soon going to be the most important resource in the West. We are just caretakers. You are only going to be here 50-60 years, and then somebody else is going to have this land.