Tri-State doesn’t feel a ‘sense of urgency’ in deciding water rights — The Craig Press

Ice breaks up on the Yampa River as Spring invites warmer temperatures. Should the water that the nearby Hayden and Craig power plants use be allowed to stay in the river once the plants cease to operate, native and endangered fish species in the river would have a higher chance of survival. Photo credit: Bethany Blitz/Aspen Journalism

From The Craig Press (Dan England):

Tri-State Generation and Transmission doesn’t feel a sense of urgency in deciding what will happen to its water rights after 2030, when the plant closes. But it does feel everyone else’s.

“Tri-State and our members are acutely aware of the importance of water to communities,” the company said in a January statement, “as a key element of future economic drivers.”

…Tri-State uses 16,000 acre-feet of water a year…Residents are concerned about it being pumped over to serve the Front Range based on the Western Slopes past water history, and others hope that it’s reserved for local agriculture or even for turning Dinosaur Monument into a national park.

Tri-State had a meeting with those community leaders to start the process of figuring out who may get those water rights and was planning more when the virus hit, meaning things are on hold for now. But that is OK, Stutz said, as he’s reminded officials, repeatedly, that the plant has quite a bit of time to reach a decision.

That’s a decade, if you’re counting, and even after the plant closes, it will need the water to complete reclamation, which should last until early 2030 and maybe longer, Stutz said. That was the tone of the first meeting, said Moffat County Commissioner Ray Beck, one of the more heavily involved local officials in Tri-State affairs, as well as one of its biggest supporters…

As with any discussion about water, it’s complicated, as Tri-State’s water rights are junior, meaning others have rights that take priority, and are for industrial purposes and therefore cannot be automatically transferred to another user, Beck said. Tri-State acknowledges that, stating that there’s more than one owner of the station as well as those other water rights to consider.

Yampa River Basin via Wikimedia. Ranchers and farmers in the valley have largely ignored Division Engineer Erin Light’s order to install measuring devices as of December, 2019.

Big Thompson Parks all open for the first time since 2013 floods — The Loveland Reporter-Herald

Fishing the Big Thompson River. Photo credit: Larimer County

From The Loveland Reporter-Herald (Pamela Johnson):

The Narrows is one of a handful of small parks owned and operated by Larimer County in the Big Thompson Canyon, now known as the Big Thompson Parks. They opened for the season on May 15, most of them for the first time since the 2013 floods devastated the canyon.

“This is a big milestone for us,” said Chris Fleming, Big Thompson district manager for the Larimer County Department of Natural Resources.

The Big Thompson Parks start just west of Loveland with Glade Park and continue 17 miles west along U.S. 34 including Narrows, Forks and Sleepy Hollow. Over the past seven years, Larimer County worked with other land agencies to restore these parks properties to allow for river access…

The Big Thompson River is home to native trout, and forests and wildlife surround the water.

The parks are different than they used to be before the flood, but they are open.

Glade, for example, previously had a parking lot and picnic area. Now, there is a pullout and a path to the river for fishing.

Narrows is accessed by a small pull-out and features a short trail to the water’s edge.

Most of the land in the park is fenced off with signs that it has been planted by the Big Thompson Watershed Coalition as part of a restoration project. But there is access to the river, and a peaceful place to fish, to picnic without tables, to read a book or to sit and watch the birds fly and the water flow…

The Forks, which is just east of Drake, is probably the most dramatic change. A moonscape after the flood, the park now has a paved parking lot and bathroom, stairs down to the river and a rocky bank to walk along and fish. During the reconstruction of U.S. 34, the park was essentially home base for construction crews and filled with mounds of construction materials.

It no longer has picnic tables, but people can access the river and enjoy nature there.

Flood damage Big Thompson Canyon September 2013 — photo via Northern Water

The Pagosa Area Water & Sanitation District approves its half of intergovernmental agreement with Pagosa Springs Sanitation General Improvement District — The Pagosa Springs Sun

Wastewater lift station

From The Pagosa Springs Sun (Chris Mannara):

At a regular meeting on May 14, the Pagosa AreaWater and Sanitation District (PAWSD) Board of Directors approved its half of an intergovernmental agreement (IGA) with the Pagosa Springs Sanitation General Improvement District (PSSGID).

The IGA pertains to the two entities sharing equipment. The PSSGID approved its half of the agreement at a meeting on May 5…

A new vacuum truck would cost about $600,000, Ramsey explained. According to Ramsey, the PSS- GID just bought a new vacuum truck and uses it about two times
a month.

“We would use it half a dozen times a month. Neither of us use it all that much, but both need to have it because you’ve got a lift station that’s failing and backing up you’ve got to suck that stuff out,” he said. “It just kind of makes sense that we share a vac truck as opposed to both buying two $600,000 pieces of equipment.”

In the event that the PSSGID allows PAWSD to use the vacuum truck and also supplies a driver, PAWSD would pay the PSSGID’s driver.

he IGA also applies to sharing staff, Ramsey explained, adding that PAWSD had recently hired a supervisory control and data acquisition engineer that PSSGID would like to utilize sometimes…

The IGA between the PSSGID and PAWSD was approved unani- mously by the PAWSD board.

A big dam problem: The disaster in #Michigan and solutions for the future — @AmericanRivers #ActOnClimate #KeepItInTheGround

Edenville Dam failure May 2020. Photo credit: American Rivers

From American Rivers (Brian Graber):

A dam failure and a flood, in the middle of a global pandemic: it’s a worst-case scenario.

A dam failed in Michigan [May 19, 2020], forcing thousands of residents to evacuate their homes. The Edenville Dam, which failed, and the Sanford Dam, which was compromised, are on the Tittabawassee River, a tributary of the Saginaw River. The failures followed days of heavy rainfall and sent floodwaters into downstream communities. Residents of Edenville, Midland and Sanford were evacuated.

A dam failure and a flood, in the middle of a global pandemic: it’s a worst-case scenario. The immediate focus needs to be protecting public health and safety. Governor Whitmer encouraged people to seek shelter with friends or relatives, and to take precautions to prevent the spread of coronavirus.

How did this happen?

Why did these particular dams fail? Was it because of heavy rains? Climate change? Faulty, aging infrastructure? Lack of action by the dam owner? Right now, we know the following:

  • The Edenville Dam was plagued by concerns and safety violations. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission revoked its hydropower license in 2018 due to concerns that the dam could not withstand a significant flood. FERC flagged problems for the dam’s owner starting in 1999.
  • Climate change is bringing more severe and frequent flooding at a time when our nation’s infrastructure is aging and outdated.
  • The American Society of Civil Engineers has repeatedly given our nation’s dams a grade of D in their “Report Card for America’s Infrastructure” – citing age, downstream development, dam abandonment and lack of funding for dam safety programs. More dams will fail, endangering people and property, unless we act to repair essential infrastructure and remove dams that no longer make sense. The Association of State Dam Safety Officials estimates there are more than 2,000 high-hazard dams nationwide in deficient condition.
  • The dam failure in Michigan isn’t the first “wake up call” when it comes to the need to address aging infrastructure. Dozens of dams failed in the Carolinas five years ago; thousands of residents were evacuated due to the partial failure of nation’s tallest dam, Oroville Dam on the Feather River, three years ago; and last year the Spencer Dam failed in Nebraska forcing evacuations. These disasters aren’t specific to one region, they are impacting communities nationwide.
  • View of both spillways from just above the Feather River. Note the location of the catastrophic spillway failure center top of photo and the new channel to the right. Emergency spillway can be seen left of the failed spillway with the discharge coursing through the hillside to the left. Photo credit @ProComKelly.

    While we’re still learning about the specifics of this disaster which is still unfolding in Michigan, the following three actions are necessary to protect communities in the future:

  • Increase, don’t decrease, public safety and environmental safeguards – The safety of federally licensed hydropower dams is overseen by FERC. While FERC revoked the dam’s license in 2018 due to safety concerns, that clearly was not enough to prevent this week’s catastrophe. Moreover, on the same day the dams failed, President Trump signed a new executive order to roll back more regulations under the guise of restarting the economy. Further gutting the regulations that safeguard human lives and safety and protect the environment is the wrong way to produce a sustainable economic recovery.
  • Strengthen evaluation and enforcement – Michigan has a working dam safety program. Even so, state dam safety offices are historically underfunded with a limited number of staff responsible for inspecting thousands of dams. We must improve these efforts by making it the responsibility of dam owners to inspect and maintain their dams; requiring more frequent, detailed inspections of deficient dams and increasing penalties for unsafe dams and violations; and, requiring dam owners to ensure that funds are available to repair or remove dams in the event they can’t or won’t meet safety standards. As communities continue to grow and development expands, many dams may also be misclassified as infrastructure and development increases downstream.
  • Increase funding for dam removal and water infrastructure – Dam removal can be the best way to address a dam that poses a safety risk. There are tens of thousands of dams across the country that no longer serve the purpose they were built to provide and whose removal could eliminate the cost and liability associated with owning a dam. Unless they are well maintained, their condition only gets worse every year. The most cost-effective and permanent way to deal with obsolete, unsafe dams is to remove them.
  • Healthy rivers are the lifeblood of our communities and our environment, and we depend on essential infrastructure to provide water, power and other services. It’s time to prioritize river protection, and investment in smart infrastructure. Our communities, our economy and our lives depend on it.

    From Inside Climate News (James Bruggers, David Hasemyer and Bob Berwyn):

    The flooding disaster in Michigan this week emphasized, in stark reality, the warnings by scientists that climate change is causing heavier and more frequent rainstorms in many parts of the country, including the upper Midwest.

    Old dams are at risk of failing under the pressure of torrential rains. And in the hours leading up to Tuesday’s failure of two dams about 150 miles northwest of Detroit, about eight inches of rain fell in the watersheds that drain into the Tittabawassee River.

    First the 1920s-vintage Edenville dam broke, sending water rushing down the river to Sanford Lake. That deluge overtopped and breached the Sanford Lake dam, officials said, prompting the evacuation of 11,000 people, the flooding of the city of Midland and the inundation of its sprawling Dow Chemical Company complex.

    At the Dow plant, the water flooded a containment pond, prompting environmentalists to fear that a toxic brew could spill into the river. That could set back years of downriver cleanup of the pollution from more than a century of chemical production at Dow’s chemical manufacturing plant, they said.

    In a statement on its Twitter feed, the company said the flooding at the plant posed no threat to the community. “The material from the brine pond does not create any risk to residents or the environment,” the statement said.

    Scientists, environmental advocates, and dam safety experts said that the heavy rains were an example of the extreme weather that scientists have linked to climate change.

    “We are seeing more rain, and more precipitation in general,” said Richard B. Rood, a professor of meteorology at the University of Michigan’s College of Engineering. “The other thing we have been seeing is individual events that are more extreme and more precipitation in general.”

    He added, “That is especially true the last half-decade and is a trend that has been emerging for the last 50 years.”

    @USGS Crews Measure Major Flooding in Lower Michigan

    Here’s the release from the USGS. Click through for all the links and a great animation of one reach of the stream below the dam failures:

    U.S. Geological Survey field crews are measuring record flooding on the Tittabawassee River in Midland, Michigan, following a heavy rainfall event.

    The USGS Tittabawassee River in Midland streamgage measured record water levels, called river stage, at about 35 feet on Wednesday. This level is the highest ever recorded during the streamgage’s 84 years of record, and exceeds the previous highest stage by about two feet. Water levels are beginning to recede as of this morning, and two two-person USGS crews are measuring streamflow in Grayling and Lansing. They also installed a rapid-deployment gage to provide backup to the permanent streamgage at the Midland site.

    Strong storms passed through parts of the Midwest starting last Thursday, causing minor-to-major flooding in some lower Michigan locations. On Tuesday, May 19, two large dams on the Tittabawssee River failed in succession, causing two lakes upstream of Midland to drain. The USGS crews will continue to monitor water levels and streamflow as flooding continues.

    Elsewhere in Michigan, the USGS Rifle River streamgage near Sterling crested on Tuesday with a record streamflow of 7,460 cubic feet per second. There are currently four additional single-person crews measuring streams throughout lower Michigan, and they will continue to monitor flooding for at least another day.

    Information collected by the USGS during flooding is critical for resource managers and emergency responders to help protect life and property. The USGS coordinates efforts with the National Weather Service, US Army Corps of Engineers, Bureau of Reclamation and many local and state partners.

    There are about 200 streamgages in Michigan that measure water levels, streamflow and rainfall. When flooding occurs, USGS crews make numerous streamflow measurements to verify the data USGS provides to federal, tribal, state and local agencies, as well as to the public.

    For more than 125 years, the USGS has monitored flow in selected streams and rivers across the U.S. The information is routinely used for water supply and management, monitoring floods and droughts, bridge and road design, determination of flood risk and for many recreational activities.

    Access current flood and high flow conditions across the country by visiting the USGS WaterWatch website. Receive instant, customized updates about water conditions in your area via text message or email by signing up for USGS WaterAlert. See where floodwaters go by following a stream trace at Streamer. View water data on your mobile device. Learn how a USGS streamgage works.

    Edenville Dam failure May 2020. Photo credit: American Rivers

    #Water and Resource Monitoring Digital Workshop, June 11, 2020 — #Colorado Ag Water Alliance

    Grants and Opportunities to Fund Infrastructure Projects Middle Colorado Watershed Ditch Inventory Protecting West Slope Water Users in Times of Uncertainty
    Range Monitoring: Strategies for Making it Happen

    Join us on Zoom! Save The Link!
    https://us02web.zoom.us/j/88971288008

    RSVP and Learn More!

    Graphic credit: Colorado Ag Water Alliance

    Flood Mitigation is Messy: An Argument for High Functioning and Low Maintenance Streams — Mile High Flood District

    Addressing flood risk after an area has already developed is complicated, expensive, and messy in every way you can imagine. This video will recap a challenging flood mitigation project that was 20 years in the making and contrast it with the Mile High Flood District’s modern approach to urban stream design – an approach we call High Functioning and Low Maintenance Streams (HFLMS)