#Snowpack news: #GunnisonRiver Basin SWE = 91% of normal

Gunnison River Basin High/Low graph March 12, 2020 via the NRCS.

From The Montrose Press (Michael Cox):

According to the figures from SNOTEL and the Colorado Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) this week, the snowpack in the Southwestern Colorado mountains is nothing close to the 700% of normal we experienced last year, although it is well above the low mark set in 2018.

As of Tuesday this week, even with a relatively active snow season on Colorado, it turns out that the most intense snowpack is in the northern part of the state, while the San Juans and other more southern ranges did not fare as well.

There were 39 SNOTEL sites across northern Colorado that received above the 90th percentile of February precipitation on the period of record, with nine of these being the record high. Conversely, 24 SNOTEL sites in the southern half of the state were in the bottom 10th percentile with six sites observing record low precipitation…

As of this week the SNOTEL numbers for the Gunnison Basin are ranging somewhere between the 2018 low and the averages over the past couple of decades.

The basin watershed has an average of about 13 or 14 inches of snow water equivalent and rests at about 103 percent of normal, as opposed to even lower numbers in the Dolores River Basin…

The good news tends to be the level of the reservoirs, like Blue Mesa and Ridgway…

Following the trends of snowpack and precipitation, stream flow forecasts predict considerably higher values across Northern Colorado than in the southern half of the state, with respect to normal. On the low end the average of forecasts in the combined San Miguel, Dolores, Animas, and San Juan basins is for 64 percent of normal, followed closely by the Rio Grande at 68 percent.

The Gunnison is doing a little better with all forecast points averaging out to 72 percent of normal. The most plentiful forecasts in the state reside in the South Platte Basin with some exceeding 130 percent of average in the main stem headwaters. The Arkansas, Colorado, and combined Yampa and White basins are forecasted to have near normal runoff volumes with the basin-wide average of forecasts ranging from 96 to 106 percent of normal.

The Dolores Town Board approves water and sewer rate increases

Dolores

From The Cortez Journal (Jim Mimiaga):

The Dolores Town Board [March 9, 2020] raised rates for water and sewer services, increased funding for the farmers market, and preliminarily approved property transactions and a solar project.

Beginning May 1, the water rate will increase by $5 per month, to $30.84 per month, a 19.3% increase. The sewer rate will rise $2.25, to $30.91, a 7.8 percent increase. Rates were last increased in 2015, 2009 and 2006.

The board and town staff said increases are needed to fund rising maintenance costs and system upgrades to the 50-year old infrastructure. It passed by a 6-0 vote.

The increase will help finance a $650,000 project to replace deteriorating water lines beneath Colorado Highway 145. Nine deteriorating lines need to be replaced before the Colorado Department of Transportation repaves the highway in 2021.

To help pay for the project, the town has applied for a $292,630 grant from the Colorado Department of Local Affairs. To cover the 100% grant match, the town would pull from reserves and take out a 4% interest loan, with payments covered by the monthly $5 water rate increase. Revenues from the increases will also help build water and sewer budget reserves for future maintenance and improvements.

The town board created a task force to research a potential tiered water use billing system that would incentivise water savings.

Southwestern Water Conservation District: 38th Annual Water Seminar, April 3, 2020

Click here for all the inside skinny and to register:

The 2020 Annual Water Seminar is titled “Wading into Watershed Health,” and there’s plenty to talk about. Water supply and water quality are inextricably linked to the health of our watersheds–from forest to valley floor. Irrigators, municipalities, tribes, and fish populations are among those impacted by recent wildfires. Efforts to bring significant financial support to southwest Colorado for forest management and wildfire mitigation have been successful. Also, the regional forest products industry is gaining momentum as economic incentives shift.

Norwood Water Commission board meeting recap #PFAS

Lone Cone from Norwood

From The Norwood Post (Harley Workman):

Each year, the board votes on a new chairperson that is from either location; a town member is appointed to lead on odd years, and a rural member is appointed on even years. The opposite happens for the vice chairperson.

For 2020, the board voted Jim Jensen, who represents the surrounding rural area, as chair. He replaces Finn Kjome, who lives in town limits. Kjome was appointed as the new vice chair at last week’s meeting.

Other water commission board members are Mike Grafmyer, Jim Wells, Ron Gabbett and John Owens.

Tim Lippert, the town’s public works director and operator, gave the board several updates. The first item was the repair work needed on a town vehicle and the possibility of purchasing a new vehicle as a replacement. Lippert said the repairs would cost approximately $1,000.

He also presented new raw water data to the board, as they’d requested information on how the new system was impacting the town’s reserves. However, the water data is based on only the first year of operation and study for Norwood’s new system. The board agreed that additional data over several years is needed to ensure data collected on the raw water system is accurate.

Lippert informed the board of a state program, which is offering free testing of municipal water for the chemical Teflon, a substance dangerous to drinking water and frequently found in fire-fighting foam.

Lippert told the board that the testing is not mandatory, but could possibly be in the future.

Teflon testing has been occurring across the nation since 2013 and has recently started in Colorado. The test looks for Teflon in amounts as small as 70 parts per trillion.

Norwood’s board expressed willingness to do the Teflon testing if the tests are paid for by the state program. Board members said they don’t want to have to pay for the testing with the town’s money.

Currently, the state has roughly $500,000 in funding for the free testing. Lippert said on Monday the Town of Norwood did apply for funds and will know in the near future if the test will be conducted locally.

At the same time, board members also said they don’t believe that the chemical will be found in Norwood’s water, because of the lack of forest fires that have occurred on the Lone Cone. Still, they said they are open to running the test to be certain.

Montrose Councillors get briefing by @USBR and @BLM_CO regarding future Paradox Valley salinity operations

Paradox Valley Location Map. Credit: Bureau of Reclamation

From The Montrose Press (Katharhynn Heidelberg):

The main injection well for salinity control in the Paradox Valley is hearing the end of its useful life, prompting a draft document spelling out actions to take.

Montrose County commissioners, who met on Wednesday afternoon with several representatives of the Bureau of Reclamation and Bureau of Land Management, raised concerns over scenic and recreational values, seismic activity and energy use that would come into play, depending on which of four scenarios the Department of Interior selects to address salt loading.

“Some of the concerns I have is the aesthetics of it,” Commissioner Roger Rash said, referring to an alternative in the agencies’ draft environmental impact statement that calls for several large evaporative ponds.

Commissioner Sue Hansen, meanwhile, was concerned about private land bordering the proposed sites for new salinity control facilities, as well as seismic activity…

Agencies offer strategies

The first alternative in the Dec. 6 draft EIS is no action: salinity control would stop in the Paradox Valley.

Alternative B calls for a new deep injection well, under which brine would be collected and piped to the existing surface treatment facility and, from there, piped to a new deep injection well and injected into unpressurized sections of the Leadville Formation.

Two proposed areas were analyzed as possible locations for the new well. One includes a combination of BuRec land and BLM-administered land on Skein Mesa.

The second area is on BLM-administered land on Monogram Mesa or Fawn Springs Bench.

Each site would require rights of way or withdrawals of BLM land and a variety of infrastructure; additionally, the Monogram Mesa site would require BuRec to acquire 49 acres of private land.

Potential Gunnison sage-grouse habitat implications were noted, although the draft EIS did not deem these to be significant.

If Alternative B is selected, new seismic investigations would be completed to determine the final site of the well; this would require additional analysis under the National Environmental Policy Act.

Alternative C would control salinity through several evaporation ponds and piping. It would require a 60-acre landfill that could be as tall as 100 feet above ground…

The draft EIS acknowledges the ponds and landfill would “negatively affect the visual landscape of the Paradox Valley” and would not conform with the BLM Uncompahgre Field Office’s resource management plan, so an amendment to that plan would be required…

Alternative C would also have the most indirect effect on cultural resources and on wildlife, particularly migratory birds…

Rash said the proposed mitigation itself wasn’t visually appealing, either, particularly putting netting over the evaporative ponds; McWhirter said that would only be feasible for one of the ponds.

The draft EIS also looked at zero-liquid discharge technology, Alternative D.

Under it, brine would be piped to a treatment plant consisting of thermally driven crystallizers to evaporate and condense water from brine, resulting in a solid salt and freshwater stream. The salt would also go to a 60-acre landfill.

There would be 80 acres of permanent surface disturbance, requiring the withdrawal of 267 acres of BLM-administered lands, further, 56 acres of private land would have to be obtained.

Alternative D would also use the most energy — 26,700 megawatts per hour for electrical energy use and 4.2 million CCF (hundreds of cubic feet) of natural gas per year.

Hansen asked about seismic activity related to injection activities and was told it’s not usually significant — although there was a 4.5 magnitude earthquake close to the current injection well — and that seismic activity is indeed associated with the injection drilling…

Summary of alternatives

• A (no action): 95,000 tons of salt per year no longer removed from Dolores and Colorado Rivers; induced seismicity; increase in downstream salinity numeric criteria.

• B (new injection well): removal of up to 114,000 tons of salt per year; induced seismicity; drilling under Dolores River Canyon Wilderness Study Area (if sited on Skein Mesa location); 22-mile pipeline and pumping stations to transport brine with high hydrogen sulfide concentration (if sited on Monogram Mesa location).

• C (evaporation ponds): Removal of up to 171,000 tons of salt annually; 540-care surface evaporation ponds; wildlife mortality; non-conformance with BLM’s Resource Management Plan; 60-acre salt disposal landfill…

• D (zero-liquid discharge technology): Removal of up to 171,000 tons of salt annually; significant energy requirement; 60-acre salt disposal landfill…

The draft environmental impact statement is available online at http://www.usbr.gov/uc/progact/paradox/index.html.

Comments may be submitted until 11:59 p.m., Mountain Time, Feb. 4. Those interested may submit comments by email to paradoxeis@usbr.gov or to Ed Warner, Area Manager, Bureau of Reclamation, 445 West Gunnison Ave, Suite 221, Grand Junction, CO 81501.

Paradox Valley via Airphotona.com

Southwest #Colorado remains in severe #drought — The Cortez Journal

West Drought Monitor December 24, 2019.

From The Cortez Journal (Jim Mimiaga):

Much of Southwest Colorado remains listed in a severe drought although it has accumulated 130% of average snowpack.

According the U.S. Drought Monitor as of Dec. 24, all of Montezuma County and all but the northern edge of La Plata County and the eastern edge of Archuleta County remain listed in severe drought. Virtually all of Dolores, Montrose and Ouray counties were designated in a severe drought.

As of Dec. 30, the severe drought designation remained despite an above-average snowpack for Southwest Colorado.

San Miguel, Dolores, Animas, and San Juan Basin High/Low graph December 30, 2019 via the NRCS.

A SNOTEL map showed 130% of the 30-year average snowpack for the San Juan, Animas, Dolores and San Miguel river basins as of Dec. 30.

The reason the region remains in the drought category is because the drought monitor tracks precipitation over many previous months, said Ken Curtis, general manager of the Dolores Water Conservancy District that manages McPhee Reservoir.

July through October was very dry, with below-average moisture. It will take continued average, to above-average moisture to knock the area out of drought, he said…

A large part of Colorado’s Western Slope remains in severe or moderate drought.

In fact, only the northeast section of the state, including the Denver metro area and the northern mountains around Steamboat Springs, are not under some kind of drought listing.

In all, nearly 70% of Colorado is abnormally dry or in moderate or severe drought, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. A year ago, roughly 85% of the state had some kind of drought status, including 11% that was listed as being in exceptional drought.

Despite the continued dry conditions, forecasters said things are better than they were last year at this time when exceptional and extreme drought – the worst categories – had set in. Over the last three months, parts of southern Arizona and New Mexico recovered but portions of Utah and Colorado dried out…

Purgatory Resort was reporting a 54-inch base depth Monday, Telluride Ski Area was reporting a 43-inch base, and Wolf Creek Ski Area was reporting an 81-inch midway base depth.

Colorado Statewide Snowpack basin-filled map December 30, 2019 via the NRCS.

Dolores approves 2020 budget — The Cortez Journal

Dolores

From The Cortez Journal (Jim Mimaga):

The Dolores Town Board approved a $1.5 million budget for 2020 that funds a variety of services, and includes infrastructure upgrades and recreation projects…

The budgeted expenditures are $618,572 for the General Fund, $378,066 for the Street Fund, $285,584 for the Water Fund, $199,526 for the Sewer Fund, and $41,500 for the Conservation Trust Fund. Capital improvements total $278,000 for 2020 for all departments…

A major expense for 2020 is a $645,000 project to replace 50-year-old water lines beneath Colorado Highway 145. Nine deteriorating lines need to be replaced before the highway is repaved in 2021 by the Colorado Department of Transportation.

To help pay for the project, the town is seeking a $322,000 grant from the Department of Local Affairs, and may consider taking out a low-interest loan.

“Both water and wastewater treatment plants are in good condition, but repairs are necessary,” states the budget report…

The Water Fund budget includes $58,000 for a new chlorinator treatment system required by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment…

Dolores officials will be researching options for solar power in 2020 to offset electric costs, which represent nearly 6.5% of operations in all funds.