#Colorado Springs responds to @EPA/CDPHE lawsuit

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Robert Boczkiewicz):

The city’s denial is its first response in court to a lawsuit that claims discharges of pollutants into Fountain Creek and other tributaries violate the laws. The discharges are from Colorado Springs’ stormwater system…

Colorado Springs asserted in Monday’s filing that it “has at all times been in compliance” with permits issued by the state agency to govern the discharges and the stormwater system.

The city contends it should not be subjected to court orders or monetary penalties that the environmental agencies want a judge to impose.

Colorado Springs also contends that allegations in the lawsuit misrepresent the facts of issues in dispute.

Colorado Springs with the Front Range in background. Photo credit Wikipedia.
Colorado Springs with the Front Range in background. Photo credit Wikipedia.

@NASAClimate: SnowEx — space-based SWE estimation

SnowEx aircraft, February 17, 2016.
SnowEx aircraft, February 17, 2016.

Snowex is hoping to determine how to measure the effect of the tree canopy on snowpack, snow depth, and snow density, all from space. This is the first year for SnowEx and is an intense data collection phase. An airplane is used as a proxy for satellite observations during this phase which also includes a ground effort on Grand Mesa (forest canopy site) and in the Senator Beck Basin (high altitude alpine site).

The team will spend next year examining the data and hoping to model a combination of sensors (multi-sensor approach) that correlates with the ground data sites. Edward Kim (NASA) called this, “ground-truthing.”

Years 3, 4, and 5 are lined-out for more data collection.

The other two speakers, Karl Wetlaufer (NRCS), and Frank McCormick (USFS), spoke about current snowpack estimation methods, the importance of estimation of the tree canopy effect, and the potential benefits of SnowEx.

Kim listed the benefits:

1. Water is critical to society — the project aims to measure the water in the snowpack to estimate runoff.

2. Forecast the potential for snowmelt floods — (9 of the most devastating floods in US history were snowmelt driven). Forecast drought.

3. For national security reasons it is important to know who has snow, and therefore water supply.

4. Forecast changes in climate.

Wetlaufer explained the science behind current snowpack estimation efforts. SNOTEL sites include a snow pillow to weigh the snow and the Federal Snow Sampler is used by the snow survey crews.

Snow surveys have always been a cooperative effort in the water community, he explained, citing participation by ditch companies, the NRCS, municipal providers, and others. Federal funding fired up in 1934.

Rani Gran (NASA) said that the science was at the frontier of snow science.

President Theodore Roosevelt
President Theodore Roosevelt

Frank McComick said that the USFS has been the lead agency concerned with snow water equivalent for over a century. In the West, he said, 80% of water supply comes from snowmelt from forested mountain areas.

He talked about the difficult and exacting work going on by the 100 or so ground folks including digging snow pits, from the surface to bare ground, with hand tools. At times the temperatures are well below zero. He said work in the Senator Beck basin was suspended earlier this week due to 60mph winds and white-out conditions, even though it was not snowing at the time. The field crews have been working since February 6th and plan to end the field work on the 20th.

I really liked talking to the Navy crew.

The survey requires low-level flying over the mountains. One of the pilots talked about the Rockies and how she was psyched at the chance to catch some of the views.

The other pilot was enthusiastic about his role on the team, helping the scientists aboard the aircraft accomplish their goals.

Oroville, the aerospace engineering program at CU, water rights, Colorado’s position as a the “Headwaters State”, the flood of September 2013, and how mountains concentrate streamflow, all came up in my conversations with the team members.

Thanks to Rani for organizing the event.

Click on a thumbnail graphic below to view a gallery of photos from the event.

Fountain Creek: Pueblo County commissioners approve county joining @EPA, CDPHE lawsuit

Fountain Creek erosion via The Pueblo Chieftain
Fountain Creek erosion via The Pueblo Chieftain

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Anthony A. Mestas):

The Pueblo County commissioners on Wednesday asked staff to file a motion to intervene in a lawsuit filed Nov. 9 in U.S. District Court in Denver by the Environmental Protection Agency and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment against Colorado Springs.

Pueblo County wants to join the case to protect its interest during the litigation.

“We did it primarily to make sure we have a seat at the table,” said Pueblo County Commission Chairman Terry Hart.

“It’s one of those issues that whenever any kind of conversation is going on that concerns Fountain Creek or the water volume or quality that’s in the creek, we feel it affects the citizens in our community.”

[…]

By intervening in the lawsuit Pueblo County hopes to:

Support the EPA and CDPHE in its regulatory mission.

Ensure that stormwater control infrastructure within Colorado Springs is properly operated and maintained.

Ensure that there are no conflicts or inconsistencies between the stormwater intergovernmental agreement recently entered by the county and Colorado Springs and any remedy, judgment or settlement entered in this case.

Require Colorado Springs to become, and then remain, compliant with the Clean Water Act, the Colorado Water Quality Control Act, stormwater regulations and the conditions of Colorado Springs’ MS4 permit, and protect against future violations.

Work with Colorado Springs to develop, implement and enforce its’ Stormwater Management Program as required by the MS4 permit.

Prohibit Colorado Springs from discharging stormwater that is not in compliance with its MS4 permit or its SMP.

@fortcollinsgov plans open house on NISP

Northern Integrated Supply Project (NISP) map July 27, 2016 via Northern Water.
Northern Integrated Supply Project (NISP) map July 27, 2016 via Northern Water.

From The Fort Collins Coloradoan (Kevin Duggan):

The public is invited to an open house on the Northern Integrated Supply Project, or NISP, from 5 to 7 p.m. Feb. 13 at the Lincoln Center, 417 W. Magnolia St.

The open house will provide information regarding a proposal by Fort Collins staff members to explore the potential for negotiated outcomes for NISP with Northern Water, the primary proponent of the…project…

Fort Collins has not supported the project as described in a draft Environmental Impact Statement for several reasons, including its potential impacts on city water facilities and the health of the river through the city.

City staff members have proposed discussing mitigation for the project with Northern Water officials and possibly entering into negotiations…

City Council is scheduled to consider staff’s recommendation during its Feb. 21 meeting.

#ColoradoRiver Headwaters Project #COriver

Colorado River headwaters tributary in Rocky Mountain National Park photo via Greg Hobbs.
Colorado River headwaters tributary in Rocky Mountain National Park photo via Greg Hobbs.

Here’s a guest column from Paul Bruchez that is running in Steamboat Today:

A few years ago, I saw an opportunity to fix the irrigation problems while also improving river and wildlife habitat. My family’s ranch is in one of the most intact traditional agricultural communities remaining in Colorado. Like most ranchers, we’re independent folks — but in a pinch, we know we can count on each other.

Our neighbors came together and agreed on the need for action. Our group of 11 private ranches and the Bureau of Land Management, the irrigators of lands in the vicinity of Kremmling, received a couple of grants for a pilot project to restore a riffle/pool structure on a stretch of the river. It was an exciting start.

But I quickly realized that, given the scale of the problems, we needed to think bigger.

We worked with a variety of partners — Trout Unlimited, American Rivers, the Colorado Basin Roundtable, the Colorado Water Conservation Board, Grand County government, Northern Water, Denver Water, Colorado Parks and Wildlife, the Upper Colorado River Alliance, the Colorado River District and other river stakeholders — to put together an ambitious proposal for restoring a significant stretch of the Upper Colorado River.

In December, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service recognized that big vision, awarding ILVK and our partners $7.75 million under the Regional Conservation Partnership Program to improve irrigation systems and reverse the decline in water quality and fish habitat in the headwaters of the Colorado River.

This funding is an amazing win for all Coloradans, because a healthy Colorado River sustains all our lives.

The Colorado River Headwaters Project will install several innovative instream structures designed to improve water levels for irrigation, while enhancing critical river habitat by rebuilding riffles and pool structure. A crucial piece will be restoring approximately one mile of the Colorado River’s former channel, currently inundated by Windy Gap Reservoir. This ambitious bypass project will reconnect the river — for the first time in decades — and improve river habitat in the headwaters area.

When fully implemented, the Headwaters Project will directly benefit more than 30 miles of the Colorado River and 4,500 acres of irrigated lands and make available up to 11,000 acre-feet of water to improve the river during low-flow conditions.

What have I learned from this project? That the interests of agriculture producers can align with the interests of conservation groups, state agencies, water providers and other river users. It’s not just the waters of the Colorado River that are connected — so are the people who depend on it.

The Colorado River flows through all of our lives. By working together, we can find smart, creative solutions that keep the Colorado healthy and working for all of us.

Paul Bruchez is a rancher who lives near Kremling.

@usbr: Aspinall Unit operations update: 600 CFS in Black Canyon

Fog-filled Black Canyon via the National Park Service
Fog-filled Black Canyon via the National Park Service

From email from the US Bureau of Reclamation (Erik Knight):

Releases from Crystal Dam will be increased from 600 cfs to 1200 cfs between Monday, February 6th and Tuesday, February 7th. This increase is in response to the high runoff forecast for Blue Mesa Reservoir this spring. The latest runoff forecast predicts 925,000 af of runoff to Blue Mesa Reservoir between April and July, which is 137% of average. The current content of Blue Mesa Reservoir is 586,000 acre-feet which is 71% full.

Flows in the lower Gunnison River are currently above the baseflow target of 1050 cfs. Flows are expected to remain 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 February through May.

Currently, diversions into the Gunnison Tunnel are at zero and flows in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon are around 600 cfs. After this release change Gunnison Tunnel diversions will still be at zero and flows in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon should be around 1200 cfs. Current flow information is obtained from provisional data that may undergo revision subsequent to review.

Inside the Stagecoach Dam: Harnessing the Power — Steamboat Today

Photo credit Upper Yampa River Water Conservancy District.
Photo credit Upper Yampa River Water Conservancy District.

Here’s a report from a tour of Stagecoach Dam from Matt Stensland writing for Steamboat Today. Click through for the cool photo of the drain system from inside the dam. Here’s an excerpt:

It is a careful balancing act at the Stagecoach Dam, where electricity is generated for homes, fish habitat is managed and water is stored for a time when cities, ranchers and industry need it.

Behind the steel door, mineralized sludge covers the concrete walls and incandescent bulbs dimly light the narrow corridor.

These are the guts of the Stagecoach Dam southeast of Steamboat Springs, and it can be a little unnerving knowing that at the other side of the wall, 9,360 pounds of pressure push against each square foot of concrete.

Water drips from the ceiling and falls from drain pipes that collect water from the seeping concrete.

“All dams get water into them,” said Kevin McBride, adding that not having a system to drain the water would create pressure and put the dam’s integrity at risk…

“It’s pretty much paradise here,” said Blankenship, who most recently worked at a coal mine and previously worked in the power house of the USS Enterprise for the U.S. Navy.

Rogers has an electrical engineering degree from the Colorado School of Mines.

In addition to monitoring the integrity of the dam, they oversee the hydroelectric power plant, which was named the John Fetcher Power Plant in 1997. He pushed to make electricity generation part of the dam design.

“I think John was a natural conservationist and to have this capability in a project that size and not do it was a bad thing,” said McBride, referring to Fetcher, who died in 2009 at age 97 after being recognized as one of the state’s water leaders.

Above the loud turbine in the power house sits a sign warning people not to stand underneath. That is because above, there is a large, weighted steel lever that will come crashing down if the power generated at the plant needs to immediately come off the grid.

On Tuesday afternoon, the electrical turbine was generating upwards of 500 kilowatts. The system can generate as much as 800 kilowatts, but generation is limited by the amount of water that is flowing into the reservoir.

“The generation, it fluctuates wildly,” said Andi Rossi, the water district’s engineer. “If the flows get too low, we shut down for power generation. In a big wet year, we’ll make a lot of power.”

The water district had been selling the power to Xcel Energy, but Yampa Valley Electric Association began buying the power last year for six cents per kilowatt hour. In 2016, YVEA paid more than $230,000 for the 3.85 million kilowatt hours generated at the dam. That is enough energy to power about 355 homes.

Power generation varies and is dependent on runoff. During the drought year of 2002, only 1.85 million kilowatt hours was produced. When there was abundant snowfall in 2011, 4.7 million kilowatt hours was produced. Since 1999, an average of 3.8 million kilowatt hours has been made each year…

A tower of concrete in the reservoir beside the dam has three gates that allow different temperatures of water to be mixed and sent through a pipe under the dam toward the generator.

From there, the water is either sent through the generator or through a pipe called a jet flow, which shoots water out of the power plant and helps oxygenate the water for fish habitat in the section of river in front of the dam known as the tailwaters.

The area is an angler’s delight and can only be accessed by snowmobile from the Catamount area or by hiking along a county road from Stagecoach State Park.

“It’s phenomenal,” Colorado Park and Wildlife fish biologist Billy Atkinson said.

With improvements by Parks and Wildlife to the river habitat, the area has thrived for fishing, partly because of the dam and reservoir. Relatively warm water released from the dam keeps the section of river from freezing over, and the water from the reservoir is rich in nutrients for the fish.

“The system is very productive,” Atkinson said.

In 2016, 25 percent more people visited the section of river, and 4,000 trout were measured per mile.

Not all tailwaters below dams in Colorado are experiencing similar success.

“It depends on the dam and the operations of the dam,” Atkinson said.