At 25 years old, Ouray’s ice festival continues to foster — and anchor — the winter sport’s rise — The #Colorado Sun

Ari Schneider ice climbing in Ouray, Colorado. Julia McGonigle [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D

From The Colorado Sun (William Woody):

If the passion of ice climbing lies in the ascent, then Ouray has succeeded in fostering the rise of this winter sport. Climbers and spectators from around the world will celebrate the 25th Ouray Ice Festival, Jan. 23-26.

What started out as a few rowdy locals climbing frozen leaks from an old water pipeline has turned into a world-class ice climbing destination…

About a quarter-mile south of downtown, the Ouray Ice Park spans the Uncompahgre Gorge. Combined with the Uncompahgre River below, the box canyon forms a dramatic backdrop that is spectacular and functional for adventurers picking their way up fangs of ice using axes and wearing boots fitted with spikes on the toes.

OURAY — At the bottom of a cold crevasse in the Uncompahgre Gorge, where sunlight reaches but only a few minutes a day, the climb to the surface begins.

The darkness is broken with the clicking echoes of steel penetrating ice. Slowly a small figure emerges on the icy wall, tethered by a rope.

If the passion of ice climbing lies in the ascent, then Ouray has succeeded in fostering the rise of this winter sport. Climbers and spectators from around the world will celebrate the 25th Ouray Ice Festival, Jan. 23-26.

What started out as a few rowdy locals climbing frozen leaks from an old water pipeline has turned into a world-class ice climbing destination.

During the ice festival, all of the hotel rooms in Ouray are booked, restaurants are packed, and a slew of foreign languages can be heard around town. Ouray’s population of just over 1,000 residents triples in size.

About a quarter-mile south of downtown, the Ouray Ice Park spans the Uncompahgre Gorge. Combined with the Uncompahgre River below, the box canyon forms a dramatic backdrop that is spectacular and functional for adventurers picking their way up fangs of ice using axes and wearing boots fitted with spikes on the toes.

Climbers work their way up and down columns of ice in Box Canyon on a northern section of the Ouray Ice Park Jan. 5, 2020. (William Woody, Special to The Colorado Sun)
The park uses about 7,500 feet of irrigation pipe to drip and spray more than 200,000 gallons of spring water from nozzles, usually starting just after Thanksgiving. The effect is a blue, man-made icescape.

Temperature is everything, as the freezing process begins in late fall. Ice farmers try to get the park open after Thanksgiving, yet unpredictable temperatures can keep climbers off the ice for days and even weeks…

Located at 7,792 feet, Ouray historically is a mining town. The Uncompahgre River that runs through it can have unique colorations due to heavy mineral influences from the San Juan Mountains. The minerals, combined with sediment from the constantly eroding landscapes, is not a conducive mix for successful ice climbing.

In those early years of the festival, the ice, heavy with minerals and sediment, would not freeze well. The ice would become soft, melt quickly and break easily, creating “gross looking climbs,” Chehayl said. Worse, it could be dangerous for climbers.

The early ice farming system rough, Whitt remembers.

The park had to move from the old water supply to a reservoir that supplies the City of Ouray’s potable water. Now, water from the city’s reservoir, through the farming system, makes hardened blue ice on a massive scale.

“Compared to the orange water, the water now is eons better. Now we have that perfect blue ice,” Whitt said.

The City of Ouray is partnered with the ice park, whose board of directors and Jacobson lease part of the property to the city for $1 per year. In 2012, 24 acres of the park was transferred to the City of Ouray from the U.S. Forest Service, which led to more improvements and a sense of permanency…

Chehayl said accessibility makes the Ouray Ice Park a success. Located just off U.S. 550, the park is walking distance from a parking lot. Multiple viewing platforms have been built and the water-delivery infrastructure has improved. This has helped grow the popularity of the ice park.

Chehayl expects the annual elite climbing competition, scheduled for 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday, to be one of the best ever, thanks to the 25-year milestone. Whitt is one of the judges.

Shavano Conservation District: The past and the present — The Montrose Press

Photo credit: Shavano Conservation District

Here’s a report from Michael Cox that’s running in The Montrose Press:

Prior to the Great World War (great only signifying size and intensity), one of the most productive pieces of land on the Western Slope of Colorado was regularly converted to a destructive river of Spring snow or Summer storm runoff from the Uncompahgre Plateau.

The Shavano (shav-a-no) Valley was named for a Ute Chief, and was either visited or inhabited by native peoples as early as 3,000 years ago. The Ute’s came about a thousand years ago. It was fine winter ground and in spring and summer the grass was lush, affording excellent feed for the tribe’s livestock.

American settlers came in the late 1800s and found the Valley to have the most fertile and easy-to-till soil in the area. There was also a bit of water from an artisian spring that feed a meandering creek. There is an excellent explanation for how the soil developed in the valley. In all probability, it was those regular floods that swept from the plateau and covered much of the Valley, at various times of the year, in water. Along with the water, the floods were depositing a new layer of silt to the already deep soil.

But enough is enough already. By the late 1930s and early 1940s the farmers in the Valley grew weary of rebuilding and reclaiming after the floods. The damage to their infrastructure was immense and included dead livestock, ruined roads, and lost homes. The locals tried some small diversions, dykes, and flood ways, which had only minimal effect. The task was tantamount to parting the sea, but Moses and his stick were nowhere nearby. Enter the Shavano Conservation District, a cooperative of farms and ranches joining together and forming the district with the idea of petitioning the Bureau of Reclamation to help put up some defenses against the floods.

“The farmers had figured out that they needed some serious diversion dams along the west side of the Valley,” says Mendy Stewart the Shavano District chief of education and communication. “But they had neither the tools nor the money to build them.”

In May of 1937, the Shavano Soil Conservation District (SSCD) was organized under the Colorado Soil Conservation District Act. By October of 1941, the intensifying world war not withstanding, the district plan got the nod from 111 landowners, representing 20,200 acres in Montrose County.

Eventually, two other smaller districts, the Uncompahgre and the Cimarron, joined the Shavano group – soil conservation became a way of life. Now the district covers 1.2 million acres in Montrose, Ouray, Gunnison and Delta counties. The Delta County segment is a tiny bit of acreage on the Montrose/Delta County line. In 2002 the District dropped the use of the word “soil” from the name as did other such entities across the country…

Eventually, with grants from the Bureau of Reclamation and using the equipment and manpower pool of the district, three diversion dams were built to stop the wild flow off the plateau and divert it into ditches. This kept the flood waters off the farm land and out of the homes and barns in the Valley.

The largest of the three dams is at the south head of the Valley and involves an earthen structure measuring more than a half mile from one end to the other. The spillway and some of the dam are concrete reinforced. The runoff from the Plateau collects behind the dam. The flow out of the pool is controlled and put into ditches, such as the M&D canal below the dam…

According to Stewart the list of things the SCD is involved in includes irrigation water management, flood control, technical assistance with conservation efforts, youth and adult environmental education, and special projects such as the Western Colorado Soil Health Conference. The 2020 conference is scheduled for February 20 and 21 at the Delta Center for the Performing Arts.

Montrose: City approves more funds to help refurbish aging water tank as decades-old structure needs more work — The Montrose Press

Water tower in Orr, Minnesota.

From The Montrose Press (Andrew Kiser):

City Council voted unanimously Tuesday for $87,000 to Farnsworth Group for out-of-scope design services associated with the Sunset Mesa Tank Replacement project.

The below-ground water storage tank on Sunset Mesa has been around the 1960s. The storage was nearing the end of its usage as structural damage has caused the need for a new tank, located next to the Sunset Mesa Sports Complex baseball fields…

Throughout this design effort, numerous out-of-scope items were required for the completion of the project.

In the city council packet, the Farnsworth Group provided detailed information into what changes needed to occur for the water tank project.

The company listed more evaluations and extras services for increased interconnectivity, operational flexibility, operator access and safety needed to be included.

The structure also needed easier access in locating interconnecting piping in the lower level of pump station as that will provide more convenient expansion in the future and safer access for operations staff.

The design will also help staff as it’ll provide a mounted valve actuator system and housing which will be safer and more convenient access. This will require increases in building size and electrical and instrumentation system designs.

It will also complete several design iterations to efficiently connect inlets, outlets and drains of the proposed and future standpipes; as well as additional pumps and drains.

The Farnsworth Group also suggested the project should have designs for potential future additions of disinfection residual control system and forced air ventilation system for THM removal.

The company said the water tank should have added flow metering for both inflow and outflow pipes. Control descriptions should be prepared for the operation of the pumps and the standpipe inflow valve and valving operations, Farnsworth Group wrote.

Finally, the Farnsworth Group determined a splitting project into two separate bid packages while adding contractor coordinator requirements. The intent is to stay away from the general contractor price markup on the tank portion of the project.

Montrose: City hires engineering firm to study temp and flow of #UncompahgreRiver at the #wastewater plant — The Montrose Press

River Bottom Park Uncompahgre River. Photo credit: PhilipScheetzPhoto via the City of Montrose

From The Montrose Press (Andrew Kiser):

The city council voted unanimously Tuesday to hire Wright Water Engineers out of Durango $50,000 to design a data collection system.

The city is required to collect continuous temperature data on the Uncompahgre River upstream from the treatment plant found north of town, said City of Montrose utilities manager David Bries. This is needed as part of the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit — which was provided by the EPA — that the city recently received, he added.

Bries said that as part of a review, staffers discovered a lack of good, low-measurement near or at the river, as well as the treatment plant discharge location…

With this design in place, it’ll be the first time the city will collect data of the river flow and temperature of the discharge of the treatment plant, Bries said.

He also said this process will “capture that data” so decisions can be made for the river.

“We felt it was very valuable and imperative to have both flow relationships and temperature relationships,” Bries said. “We can make sure we are doing what is environmentally the right thing to do.”

Aspinall unit operations update: Flows in the Gunnison Tunnel ~= 1030 CFS

Grand opening of the Gunnison Tunnel in Colorado 1909. Photo credit USBR.

From email from Reclamation (Erik Knight):

Releases from the Aspinall Unit will be increased by 100 cfs, today, September 9th. Reservoir contents at Morrow Pt and Crystal have sufficiently recovered to allow for higher releases. Flows in the lower Gunnison River are currently above the baseflow target of 1050 cfs. River flows are expected to stay above the baseflow target for the foreseeable future.

Pursuant to the Aspinall Unit Operations Record of Decision (ROD), the baseflow target in the lower Gunnison River, as measured at the Whitewater gage, is 1050 cfs for September through December.

Currently, diversions into the Gunnison Tunnel are 1030 cfs and flows in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon are around 500 cfs. After this release change Gunnison Tunnel diversions will still be 1030 cfs and flows in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon will be around 600 cfs. Current flow information is obtained from provisional data that may undergo revision subsequent to review.

The August “#GunnisonRiver Basin News” is hot off the presses

Click here to read the newsletter from the Gunnison Basin Roundtable. Here’s an excerpt:

August in the Basin: High and Dry!

Bountiful snowmelt and increased soil moisture conditions, resulted in “boomer” inflows, boosting basin reservoirs levels and causing an amazing recovery from last year’s low levels – this included Blue Mesa, Colorado’s largest reservoir – with over 160 percent of average inflow volume. Although most of the snow has melted, the Upper Basin rivers are still flowing at higher than average rates, even in the face of drying conditions (July and August precipitation has been generally below average).

Also, very importantly Lake Powell – the Upper Basin’s largest water storage and management facility received an inflow volume of 145% of average.

Current conditions and Aspinall Unit operations

Aspinall Unit dams

Ridgway State Park smallmouth-bass tournament yields big results — #Colorado Parks and Wildlife

A CPW staffer measures a fish last month at the Ridgway State Park Bass Tournament. Anglers caught more than 1,400 fish during the month-long tournament. Photo credit: Colorado Parks and Wildlife

Here’s the release from Colorado Parks and Wildlife (Joe Lewandnowski):

Anglers who participated in the 2019 smallmouth bass tournament at Ridgway State Park, again, helped Colorado Parks and Wildlife on its mission to preserve native fish species.

For the fifth year in a row, licensed anglers caught hundreds of smallmouth bass that are a threat to Colorado’s native fish that live downstream in the Gunnison and Colorado rivers. A total of 79 registered anglers removed 1,498 smallmouth bass in the month-long tournament that ended July 27. Smallmouth bass are non-native and were introduced illegally to Ridgway Reservoir about 10 years ago. They are predators and could wipe out populations of native fish downstream.

“In the five years of the tournament we have reduced the population of smallmouth bass in the reservoir by 79 percent,” said Eric Gardunio, aquatic biologist for CPW in Montrose and the organizer of the tournament. “It is truly amazing what these anglers can do. They are participating directly in wildlife management in Colorado.”

Before the first tournament in 2015, Gardunio estimated there were 3,632 adult smallmouth bass in the reservoir. Adult fish measure six inches in length or more. Now it is estimated that only 763 adult fish live in the reservoir.

“We are making substantial headway in suppressing the population of smallmouth that were introduced illegally to Ridgway Reservoir,” Gardunio said.

The Ridgway tournament targets smallmouth bass because they could escape from the reservoir and migrate downstream to a section of the Gunnison River that is considered “critical habitat” for native fish.

“The work by CPW staff along with the help of anglers shows that through targeted management techniques we can enhance survival of rare aquatic species,” said John Alves, senior aquatic biologist for the Southwest Region for Colorado Parks and Wildlife.

With assistance from the Colorado Water Conservation Board, CPW was able to offer $12,000 in prize money to tournament participants.

Chase Nicholson of Ouray was the big winner this year, catching 571 smallmouth and the top prize of $5,000 for most fish caught. He also won $500 for smallest fish caught – 3.3 inches. Nicholson tied with Tyler Deuschle of Delta for biggest fish caught, 17.2 inches they split the $500 prize. Second place for most fish caught went to Lawrence Cieslewicz of Montrose, who caught 283. He also won the grand-prize raffle for an additional $2,500. Chris Cady from Delta turned in 128 fish and placed third for most fish caught.