Aspinall Unit operations update: Gunnison Tunnel diversions ending for season

From email from Reclamation (Erik Knight):

On Wednesday, November 1st, diversions to the Gunnison Tunnel will end for the season. Releases from the Aspinall Unit will be adjusted in coordination with the ramp down schedule for Gunnison Tunnel diversions in order to keep Gunnison River flows near the current level of 750 cfs. There could be fluctuations in the river throughout the day until the Gunnison Tunnel is completely shut down.

On Thursday and Friday, November 2nd and 3rd, releases from the Aspinall Unit will be reduced to 300 cfs during the day time hours in order to allow for completion of the sonar survey of the Crystal Dam stilling basin. Gunnison River flows will drop down towards 300 cfs during the day while returning to 750 cfs during the non-working hours. After the sonar survey is completed at the end of the day on November 3rd, river flows will return to the current level of 750 cfs.

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 October through December.

Currently, diversions into the Gunnison Tunnel are near 850 cfs and flows in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon are around 750 cfs. After the shutdown of the Gunnison Tunnel and completion of the Crystal stilling basin sonar survey, flows in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon will return to 750 cfs. Current flow information is obtained from provisional data that may undergo revision subsequent to review.

Sneffels Creek water quality concerns delaying Ouray County mine

Mount Sneffels

From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Marianne Goodland):

Ouray Silver Mines wants to reopen a mine that produces silver, gold, lead and copper and would bring 152 jobs to Ouray County, along with, its proponents say, a 10 to 20 percent boost to the county’s tax base.

But that mine is on hold, due to issues with water quality at a nearby creek tied to the mine that the mine owners say they have worked on for 18 months without any concerns raised by CDPHE until now.

Sneffels Creek, the surface water source near the mine, is about halfway between Ouray and Telluride, as the crow flies. The creek has a long history with mining, going back 140 years.

The mine dates back to 1876 and ran until its mill burned down in 1912. During its early operations, the mine produced 25 million ounces of silver.

Sneffels Creek joins up with another creek and then into Canyon Creek downstream, and then into the Uncompahgre River. Briana Greer, an environmental consultant with Ouray Silver Mines, said when the water originating in Sneffels Creek reaches the Uncompahgre, water quality in that river improves by 50 percent. It’s better water quality than area drinking water, she told the committee.

The idea of starting the mine back up for its silver, gold, zinc and copper began in the 1980s. The mine passed through numerous hands until 2014, when Fortune Minerals of Canada bought it hoping to mine its silver veins. But the company couldn’t sustain production and defaulted on its loans. The chief investor, Lascaux Resource Capital of New York, took over the mine and renamed it Ouray Silver Mines.

Mine CEO Brian Briggs told the General Assembly’s interim Water Resources Review Committee Wednesday that the company has invested $70.5 million to get the mine up and running, and it will take another $36 million to get up to full production. The payoff? Fourteen million ounces of silver, which costs $7.89 per ounce to mine and can bring in about $17 per ounce on the market. The mine also has rich veins of gold, lead and zinc, and the company expects a net a profit of around $76 million, along with 152 well-paying jobs for experienced miners, according to Briggs.

A fifth-generation Ouray native, Briggs has several decades experience in mining, called Ouray “a very, very good mine, the best I’ve every worked on for economic results.”

Ouray County could benefit more than just how the mine will improve its tax base. Briggs explained that Ouray has no gravel pits or other sources for road base. So mine tailings and waste rock, which metallurgical tests show are “benign,” are ground up by the company and provided to the county for road base.

Starting up an old mine has not been without its problems. According to a chart from the company, lead, zinc and cadmium discharges briefly exceeded state standards in 2014, leading to a violation notice last year from CDPHE. Lead discharges exceeded the standards again this past summer due to the failure of a lining in a mine tunnel that is being replaced.

Then there’s the water quality issue, and that’s delaying the mine’s startup.

The mine’s previous owner had a permit to discharge water to Sneffels Creek. The new owners set up a passive water system that could discharge either to surface or to groundwater (underground) water sources.

Briggs explained to the committee that the passive system is not only one for today’s mining but for 50 or 60 years from now. Briggs said the system, which has been piloted in Wyoming, for example, should prevent the kinds of problems that happened at the old Gold King Mine near Durango two years ago, when contractors for the Environmental Protection Agency accidentally released more than a million gallons of toxic mine waste into the Animas River.

In the mine’s passive system, used mining water is passed through a clay liner that contains fabric with peat moss to absorb metals and then a layer of topsoil. “It makes a tremendous impact on the three metals we’re concerned about: cadmium, lead and zinc,” Briggs said.

The hangup has been just who’s in charge of making sure the system is in compliance at the CDPHE. Briggs said the mine had provided quarterly updates, explaining the passive system, to CDPHE’s enforcement division. In November 2016, the mine owners applied for a termination of its surface water discharge permit, believing it was no longer necessary since the passive system was discharging its water into underground water sources.

In July, CDPHE denied the request, stating the surface water interacts with groundwater sources. “We can’t confirm” whether that’s true, Briggs said.

That left the owners in a pickle – tear up the previous system? Install a new one? “If they want us to discharge into surface water we’ll do that,” Briggs said. But he also appeared to be frustrated that after 18 months of telling CDPHE what they were doing that the agency came back and said that system doesn’t work.

Installing another system will take another year, Briggs said.

The story from CDPHE is a tad different. In a September 3 letter to Sen. Don Coram, R-Montrose, CDPHE’s Karin McGowan said the mine had an active permit for a surface water discharge. “They are not waiting for a new permit, but may be frustrated because they have not been able to successfully modify their permit because they have not provided the necessary information needed to execute a modification. We are currently working with them to get the necessary information needed,” McGowan wrote.

McGowan further added that the mine changed its manner of discharge, from surface to groundwater, without notifying the division.

The September, 2016 notice of violation was for discharging to a new location without a permit, effluent violations, and administrative violations, McGowan pointed out. “The facility has consistently failed whole effluent toxicity testing permit requirements,” she wrote. The 2016 notice pertains to a 2014 discharge, when the mine was owned by Fortune Minerals, in which water contaminated with lead, cadmium and zinc was dumped at a rate of 400 gallons per minute into Sneffels Creek for about 18 hours.

Briggs told the committee CDPHE has never even visited the site, despite numerous requests by the mine owners…

In a statement, CDPHE spokesman Mark Salley told Colorado Politics that most enforcement is completed through evaluations of self-reported data. “Resource limitations makes it impossible to visit every site on an annual basis and hence permittees are put on a schedule for inspection,” he said.

Aspinall Unit operations update: Lower Gunnison streamflow above baseflow target

Fog-filled Black Canyon via the National Park Service

From email from Reclamation (Erik Knight):

Releases from the Aspinall Unit will be decreased by 100 cfs on Thursday, October 12th. Diversions to the Gunnison Tunnel will be reduced by 100 cfs on Wednesday, October 11th so there will be a short period of flows over 1000 cfs in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon before the river returns to a flow of 950 cfs by late Thursday morning.

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 October through December.

Currently, diversions into the Gunnison Tunnel are near 975 cfs and flows in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon are around 950 cfs. After this release change Gunnison Tunnel diversions will be about 900 cfs and flows in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon will still be around 950 cfs. Current flow information is obtained from provisional data that may undergo revision subsequent to review.

@COParksWildlife opens new State Wildlife Area east of Montrose

Joel Evans, an outdoor writer and angler from Montrose, holds the first tiger trout caught at the new Cerro Summit State Wildlife Area located east of Montrose. He caught the fish on Sept. 29. Fishing at the area is catch-and-release only. Photo credit Colorado Parks & Wildlife

Here’s the release from Colorado Parks & Wildlife (Joe Lewandowski):

An innovative project developed cooperatively by Colorado Parks and Wildlife and the city of Montrose has resulted in the establishment of a new state wildlife area for CPW and a new park for the city

The Cerro Summit State Wildlife Area, a 162-acre parcel that includes a 40-acre reservoir, opened on Sept. 29. It’s located about 15 miles east of Montrose just off U.S. Highway 50.

“This is a win-win-win for the public, the city and CPW,” said Renzo DelPiccolo, area wildlife manager in Montrose. “This is a great example of what can be done by some out-of-the-box thinking.”

CPW operated Chipeta Lake State Wildlife Area, located just south of Montrose, for many years. As the city grew it became obvious that the Chipeta Lake parcel would be more valuable as a park. DelPiccolo proposed to Montrose leaders that the Chipeta Lake property could be turned over to the city in exchange for using the Cerro Summit area as a state wildlife area.

City leaders and CPW negotiated an agreement that will protect the reservoir’s water quality and keep the property in city ownership. The reservoir is the city’s emergency water supply. CPW will regulate use at the state wildlife area, and the public will gain limited access to a property that has been closed. The agreement was signed in the fall of 2016.

No money needed to be exchanged to complete the agreement.

Patt Dorsey, southwest regional manager for Colorado Parks and wildlife, praised the deal.

“In the era we’re living in, we’re not going to get projects like this done unless we have great partnerships,” Dorsey said. “The city of Montrose has been a great partner; this wouldn’t have happened without the city’s leadership. We hope we can do more projects like this throughout Colorado.”

Also helping to assure the success of the project was Montrose Mayor Judy Ann Files, State Senator Don Coram, Montrose County Commissioner Glen Davis, and the Bostwick Park Water Conservancy District.

The new wildlife area is open for fishing, hunting and wildlife viewing. To protect water quality, dogs are not allowed on the property. All fishing is catch-and-release by artificial lures and flies only.
The reservoir was stocked last fall with fingerling tiger trout that have already grown to 12 inches.

The property is also open to big-game and small game hunting during regular seasons. Because the area provides excellent winter range for deer and elk, and Gunnison-sage grouse habitat, the property will be closed seasonally from Nov. 30 through March 31.

DelPiccolo explained that state wildlife areas are managed differently than other public lands, such as U.S. Forest Service or BLM property. The areas are paid for by revenue from the sale of hunting and fishing licenses, and the properties are managed only for wildlife conservation and wildlife-related recreation. Access to Cerro Summit State Wildlife Area is by foot only; it’s an easy half-mile walk to the reservoir.

“At Cerro Summit we’re protecting important wildlife habitat and providing an opportunity for people to hunt, fish and view wildlife in a beautiful setting,” DelPiccolo said.

An entry sign is posted on the north side of U.S. Highway 50 at the entry that leads to the parking lot. The trail to the wildlife area is well marked. Visitors are asked to be sure to read the regulation signs before entering.

Uncompahgre River watershed: Streamflow management study and plan

Ridgway Reservoir during winter

From The Telluride Daily Planet (Tanya Ishikawa):

Whitmore volunteered to oversee Ouray County’s grant application submission to the Colorado Water Conservation Board to get funding for a stream management study and plan. The study is aimed at confirming and expanding the information from a 2016 water needs study by Wright Water Engineers that concluded the county has current unmet needs and will need additional water supplies for the future, especially in the area of storage.

Last year’s study was initiated by the county and the Ouray County Water Users Association, a group organized to represent agricultural water users, and Tri-County Water Conservancy District, which manages the operation of the Ridgway Dam and supplies water to an area including parts of Ridgway, Montrose, Olathe and Delta. The county commissioners approved a memorandum of understanding between the three entities on July 11, to give the county permission “to take the lead in moving forward with development of the water rights” to supply future water projects such as building reservoirs for storage. Tri-County approved the agreement on Wednesday, and the water users group was reviewing the document this week but had not yet approved it…

The stated purpose of the stream management plan is “to assist in balancing water needs amongst various users and the development of additional sustainable multipurpose water supplies including both consumptive and non-consumptive demands.” To complete the plan, the recommended tasks include further evaluation of water needs in the upper Uncompahgre River water supply area, possible storage development, potential development of voluntary water transfer agreements between water rights holders, and identification of ditch irrigation efficiency projects.

Tri-County water rights being considered for potential storage and storage expansion projects are located on Dallas Creek and Cow Creek. Proposed project locations are Dallas Divide, Ram’s Horn and the Sneva Ditch.

The county plans to invite various stakeholders to create a steering committee to manage and implement the stream management plan and grant. Whitmore said that in creating the committee, “We want to make sure we are bringing all our knowledge and experience together so we hopefully have the support of the whole community. The support of the whole community is important because whether we look at exchanges, new water rights or storage, we need to go through water court. If everyone agrees, it’s less likely those plans will run into opposition.”

Pete Foster, Wright Water’s vice president and senior project engineer, and Cary Denison, a Ouray County resident and Trout Unlimited’s Gunnison Basin project coordinator, assisted in developing a draft grant application. Foster will be paid out of the county budget, and possibly some funding from Tri-County and the water users group, for related consulting work on the grant, steering committee administration and plan development and implementation.

The county expects to submit the application for an amount under $100,000 by early October, and if funding is awarded, complete the study by the end of 2018.

@USBR: Releases Draft Environmental Assessment for Phase II of Piping Cattleman’s Ditches

Credit: Cattleman’s Ditches Pipeline Project II Montrose County, Colorado EIS via USBR.

Here’s the release from the US Bureau of Reclamation (Justyn Liff, Jenny Ward):

The Bureau of Reclamation has released a draft environmental assessment on Phase II of the Cattleman’s Ditches Piping Project located in Montrose County, Colorado. The project would replace approximately 6.1 miles of open irrigation ditch with 5.1 miles of buried water pipeline. The purpose of the project is to reduce salinity loading in the Colorado River Basin.

The draft environmental assessment is available online at http://www.usbr.gov/uc/envdocs/index.html or a copy can be requested by contacting Reclamation.

Reclamation will consider all comments received by September 15, 2017. Submit comments by email to jward@usbr.gov or to: Ed Warner, Area Manager, Bureau of Reclamation, 445 West Gunnison Ave, Suite 221, Grand Junction, CO 81501.

10th Annual Ridgway RiverFest this Saturday, June 24, 2017

From email from the Uncompahgre Watershed Partnershiip Coalition:

10th Annual Ridgway RiverFest 20 years in the making

In 1997, when the town of Ridway applied for its first grant to restore the Uncompahgre River in town limits, a group of visionaries imagined the area becoming a river recreation attraction for the community. Little did they know that the restored length of river and the 11-acre park on its west bank would become the site of a major watershed celebration, attracting about 500 people each year for 10-plus years.

The town is celebrating the 10th annual Ridgway RiverFest, a free community festival at Rollans Park (next to the Highway 62 bridge), on Saturday, June 24.

The first riverside celebration was organized by the town government in July 2003 when a Great Outdoors Colorado grant was awarded to the town for major river restoration. But, the official Ridgway River Festival was started by a local nonprofit, the Mosaic Community Project, in 2008. The nonprofit was formed by local mothers hoping to establish a charter elementary school in Ridgway. Though they were unsuccessful, they had lots of energy and wanted to give back to the community so they raised funds through various events and awarded grants to service projects proposed by local students.

The group funded the installation of a bench by local artist Lisa Issenberg next to the river, and a bike rack by Jeff Skoloda by the pedestrian bridge in Rollans Park. The river festival became its signature event from 2008 to 2013. In addition to a watershed education area and nonprofit booths, the festivals featured live music, food vendors, Colorado beers and margaritas, including frozen ones created by Glenda the Blenda bike. The bike had been created by the Mosaic Community Project as a way of raising funds at local events.

Since 2008 until today, the festival has also featured on-river activities and races including hard shell and inflatable boats as well as standup paddleboards. The highlight is the “Junk of the Unc” where competitors race on home-made river-crafts made of all kinds of repurposed materials.

In 2011, the Uncompahgre Watershed Partnership, a local group that aims to protect and restore local water resources through collaborative projects, joined in the festival organization. The group was created in 2007 to bring stakeholders together to monitor and improve the water quality in the Uncompahgre River and surrounding watershed, and became a nonprofit in 2013.

The partnership took over the organization of the entire festival in 2014. About half the proceeds from sponsorships, silent auction purchases and drink sales at the festival pay for the entertainment and other expenses, and the other half of the proceeds funds future water monitoring, mine remediation and other related projects.

Part-time staff and volunteer board members have kept it going by enlisting the support of dozens of volunteers and nearly a hundred sponsors each year. Ouray Mountain Rescue Team and local resident Chris Haaland have kept the river races going every year and still volunteer their time to ensure the river activities are safe and fun.

While the same popular festival activities like live music from bluesman Kipori Woods and friends are repeated each year, some special additions have been made to the 10th annual event. The silent auction area, which was initiated a few years ago, has been dubbed the River Rat Marketplace and will offer more great deals than ever on donated products, services and certificates from nearly 50 companies. A Ute flute player will join Ute elder Roland McCook to share their traditional culture. Youth areas will include a River Fairy Forest with four activity stations and a bug science demonstration. Plus, a commemorative mural will be colored by the community, and drinks will be served in reusable, collectible festival cups.

The 10th Annual Ridgway RiverFest will be Saturday, June 24, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. For the festival schedule and information, visit http://ridgwayriverfest.org.

Uncompahgre River Valley looking south