Fort Lewis College launches the Four Corners Water Center — The Durango Herald @FLCwater

Swim class on the San Juan River. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

From The Durango Herald (Mary Shinn):

Group to focus on San Juan and Dolores watersheds

The new Four Corners Water Resource Center at Fort Lewis College aims to help educate professionals and bring the community together to make good water management decisions, Director Gigi Richard said.

“(Water) is a problem that is not going to go away as the population grows, as the climate warms, as we place greater demands on our existing systems and our infrastructure ages,” she said.

Richard co-founded the water center at Colorado Mesa University and is launching a similar center at FLC that will focus on the Dolores and San Juan river watersheds.

“We have called it the Four Corners Water Center because we don’t want to stop at the state line; the rivers don’t stop at the state line,” she said.

The center expects to educate students, convene community discussions and create an online data hub collected on the Dolores and San Juan river watersheds, she said.

Richard hopes to help highlight FLC water research and connect students with water-related classes, projects, research opportunities, internships and careers, she said. Fifteen FLC faculty are involved in water-focused research…

Richard also plans to assess the college’s water-related courses over the next year and determine how the school could expand its water-related curriculum. The school could offer minors, majors or certificates related to water studies…

The center also plans to create an online hub for data on the San Juan and Dolores river watersheds, such as native fish, sediment and channel morphology. She would like some of the data to be made into graphs that could be accessible to decision-makers, she said.

The center also hopes to convene forums that could promote education and discussion, Richard said.

For example, on Sept. 13, the center will host a forum called “Burned, Buried and Flooded: Water Resources Excitement in Southwest Colorado.” Panelists will discuss water topics including how the 416 Fire may affect the watershed, reservoirs and avalanches.

The center expects to work with many of the groups already working on water issues in the region such as Mountain Studies Institute and the Water Information Program.

@USBR advances water delivery project for Navajo and Jicarilla Apache Nations #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

Survey work begins for the Navajo-Gallup Water Supply Project on the Navajo Nation. Photo credit: U.S. Bureau of Reclamation via The High Country News

Here’s the release from the Bureau of Reclamation (Justyn Liff, Marc Milller):

The Bureau of Reclamation invites members of the press and public to a meeting to continue negotiations with the Navajo Tribal Utility Authority. The purpose of these negotiations is to agree to terms for an operations, maintenance and replacement contract for the federally-owned Cutter Lateral features of the Navajo-Gallup Water Supply Project, located near Bloomfield, New Mexico.

This operations, maintenance and replacement contract for Cutter Lateral will facilitate water delivery to the Navajo and Jicarilla Apache Nations. The negotiations and subsequent contract provide the legal mechanism for delivery of the Navajo Nation’s Settlement Water in the state of New Mexico. WHAT: Public meeting to negotiate the Cutter Lateral operations, maintenance and replacement contract.

WHEN: Friday, September 13, 2019, at 9:00 a.m. at 1:00 p.m.

WHERE: Navajo Tribal Utility Authority, Walter F. Wolf Conference Room 2nd Floor GM Suite, Indian Navajo Route 12, Fort Defiance, AZ 86504

WHY: The contract to be negotiated will provide terms and conditions for the operation, maintenance and replacement of specific project features. All negotiations are open to the public as observers and the public will have the opportunity to ask questions and offer comments pertaining to the contract during a thirty-minute comment period following the negotiation session.

The proposed contract and other pertinent documents will be available at the negotiation meeting. They can also be obtained on our website at: http://www.usbr.gov/uc/wcao/index.html, under Current Focus or by contacting Marc Miller at 185 Suttle Street, Suite 2, Durango, Colorado, 81303, 970-385-6541, mbmiller@usbr.gov.

The Water Information Program August/September 2019 Newsletter is hot off the presses #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

Click here to read the newsletter. Here’s an excerpt:

Southwestern Water Conservation District Hires New Executive Director

Southwestern Water Conservation District (SWCD) is pleased to announce the confirmation of their new Executive Director, Frank Kugel.

Frank Kugel. Photo credit: Upper Gunnison River Conservancy District

Kugel was the General Manager of the Upper Gunnison River Water Conservancy District for almost 13 years, and is a registered Professional Engineer with a Civil Engineering degree from the University of Colorado – Denver. Frank was involved in construction engineering in the Denver area before joining the Colorado Division of Water Resources as a Dam Safety Engineer. He served in the Denver and Durango offices of DWR before moving to Montrose where he ultimately became Division 4 Engineer for the Gunnison, San Miguel and lower Dolores Basins. Frank joined the UGRWCD upon leaving DWR in 2006. He was a member of the Gunnison Basin Roundtable since its inception and chair of its Basin Implementation Planning Subcommittee.

WIP had a brief chat with Frank to give you a bit more information. Here are a few questions and answers from our conversation.

WIP: What experience and knowledge do you bring to the District?

Frank: I have been the General Manager of the Upper Gunnison River Water Conservancy District for the past 13 years. During that time I worked on local and statewide water issues and reported to an 11-member board. Prior to that, I was Division Engineer for Water Division 4, encompassing the Gunnison, San Miguel and lower Dolores River basins. As Division Engineer, I frequently attended SWCD board meetings and the SW seminar. Before that, I lived in Durango for 11 years while inspecting dams for the Colorado Division of Water Resources.

WIP: As the new Executive Director of SWCD, what is your vision for the district?

Frank: My vision as Executive Director is to build upon the many successes accomplished by the Southwestern Water Conservation District. I intend to work closely with the board of directors in developing policies that will help guide the district. Instream flows and drought contingency planning are two of the areas that could benefit from policy guidance.

WIP: What are some of your top priorities with/or within the district?

Frank: A top priority for me is to reach out to the local communities. I plan to attend a county commissioner meeting in each of the nine counties within my first year at the district. Working on Colorado River issues will also be a high priority.

WIP: What do you foresee being challenges?

Frank: Facing a future with reduced water supplies due to climate change, coupled with increasing population, is a challenge for all of Colorado. The Southwest District can play a lead role in educating our constituents about this pending gap between water supply and demand and how the District can mitigate its impact.

We welcome Frank Kugel to SWCD and wish him all the best in his new position!

Southwestern Water Conservation District Area Map. Credit: SWCD

Monsoonal rains blocked in Southwest #Colorado — The Cortez Journal

From The Cortez Journal (Jim Mimiaga):

Monsoonal rains did not materialize much this summer in the Four Corners, and the El Niño weather phenomenon that favors a wetter than normal winter is also over.

“A more persistent high-pressure ridge than expected over the Four Corners is blocking the southerly monsoonal flows,” said Jim Andrus, a Cortez weather observer for the National Weather Service. “The dry spell will continue into next week.”

July and August were both below normal for precipitation for Cortez, he said.

July saw just .45 inches of rain, or 35 percent of the normal average of 1.28 inches. So far, August has seen just .57 inches of rain, or 39 percent of the normal 1.48 inches.

The lack of moisture has put southwest Colorado into the “abnormally dry” category on the U.S. Drought Monitor, the least severe of five drought levels.

West Drought Monitor August 27, 2019.

Year-to-date precipitation in Cortez is at 11.2 inches, or 144 percent of average, thanks to the above-average snowfall in late winter. But the high percentage continues to drop as the dry spell continues.

There is still a chance the Four Corners could get a shot of late season monsoon rains, Andrus said, if the high pressure ridge shifts to the east.

The September forecast hints at a chance for slightly above-average precipitation, said Jeff Colton, a meteorologist with the National Weather Services, as the early winter northwesterly storms drop our way.

Meanwhile, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced last week that the El Niño weather pattern — a warming of the equatorial Pacific Ocean that contributed to the extra snowy Southwest winter — has ended.

It’s in a neutral pattern that is neither El Niño, or its opposite, La Niña, which is characterized by cooler Pacific temperatures with an atmospheric tendency to push winter storms toward the Northwest.

According to NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center, there is a 55 percent chance the neutral pattern will continue through the winter, a 30 percent chance El Niño will return, and a 15 percent chance La Niña will form.

Southern Utes approve hefty rate increase for water, wastewater users — The Durango Herald

Photo credit: Ute Camp in Garden of the Gods – Library of Congress

From The Durango Herald (Shannon Mullane):

The Southern Ute Indian Tribe Utilities Division will raise water and wastewater rates by more than 90% and 50%, respectively, starting Oct. 1.

The Southern Ute Utilities Division, administered by the Southern Ute Growth Fund, provides both treated drinking water and wastewater treatment for the tribal campus, local tribal members living near Ignacio and the town of Ignacio. Discussions of rates have caused a rift between the town and the tribe, said Mark Garcia, interim town manager. While the town and the tribe analyze their agreement, ratepayers are stuck paying ever-increasing water and wastewater utility rates.

“Wastewater and water rates are based on usage, and they’re going up,” Garcia said. Utility customers will be hit with the increase at different times, based on their level of use for water and/or wastewater. But for overall water and wastewater rates, “all levels of users will see probably an increase in their rates starting in 2020,” he said.

Starting Oct. 1, ratepayers will pay higher base rates for fewer correlating gallons of water. Water rates will increase from $32.80 per 8,000 gallons to $47.80 per 6,000 gallons, a 94% increase. The rates will jump again Oct. 1, 2020, to $62.80 per 6,000 gallons, a 156% increase over current rates, according to a July letter to Garcia from the tribe.

The town charges customers additional fees for billing, repairs and collections. Garcia said the town’s water fees will increase from $24.60 to $26.48 a month starting Jan. 1, 2020, a 6.4% increase.

Wastewater rates will also increase. Service users currently pay $72.09 per ERT, or Equivalent Residential Tap, per month. One ERT allows for 7,500 gallons of usage.

That billing system will change. The tribal utility will charge the town based on winter usage, not ERT. This shift will also make ratepayers pay more for fewer gallons. On Oct. 1, the rate will increase to $87.09 per 6,000 gallons, a 51% increase over current rates. Wastewater rates will jump again in 2020. Users will be charged $102.09 per 6,000 gallons, a 77% increase over current rates.

The town charges an additional $9.88 base rate to users for billing, repairs and collections.

According to Garcia, the average town customer uses 4,000 gallons of wastewater per month, so ratepayers are paying for more wastewater than they are using.

“With the new rates and winter flow basis, the rates that the tribe charges the town as a bulk customer will actually go down from the current bulk rate charged,” the tribe wrote in a June news release.

After a wildfire, a Colorado town’s residents reluctantly sue a historic railway — The Los Angeles Times

The 416 Fire near Durango, Colorado, ignited on June 1, 2018. By June 21, the wildfire covered more than 34,000 acres and was 37 percent contained. Photo credit USFS via The High Country News

Here’s a report about the lawsuit against the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad from David Kelly that’s running in The Los Angeles Times. Click through and read the whole thing. Here’s an excerpt:

…the federal government and others are pointing the finger at a local icon — the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad, which carries hundreds of thousands of passengers a year through the San Juan Mountains.

Claiming cinders from the coal-fired, steam locomotive ignited brush along the tracks during a time of heightened fire restrictions, the U.S. attorney’s office filed a suit against the train’s owners last month seeking $25 million to cover the cost of putting out the fire. Another two dozen or so citizens and businesses are also suing for damage to their properties.

Nobody wants the train to go out of business, but many fear the suits could eventually drive the railroad into bankruptcy, destroying a historic landmark and badly damaging the local economy…

“The responsible decision of train management would have been to not run the train in those super-dry conditions,” said Thomas Henderson, a Denver lawyer whose firm is representing individuals and businesses suing the train. “The train has started fires for years that the feds have had to put out. They should not get a free pass simply because they are big player in town. That’s not how democracy works.”

[…]

Few businesses are as tied to the railroad as the historic Strater Hotel, built in 1887. Roderick Barker’s family has owned it for 93 years, and he figures at least 50 to 60% of his guests ride the train.

“The train is the lifeblood of this whole town,” he said. “If it were to fail it would certainly be one of the most significant things to happen in the history of Durango.”

He believes the train caused the fire and needs to change its operations. But given its contribution to the economy, he questions why any local business would sue the railroad…

Bobby Duthie, an attorney, grew up on 33rd Street in Durango. The train whistle woke him each morning. He’s ridden it more than 50 times. Now he’s working with Henderson in representing those suing the train.

“I was initially reluctant to get involved because I love the train. But I also know that their decision to run it that day was reckless,” he said, sitting in his downtown office. “They had started fires on the tracks the month before and it was just a matter of time until it got out of control.”

According to the federal lawsuit, the wildfire, dubbed the 416 fire, began on Shalona Hill where the grade is steep. As the train climbed, it cast off sparks and cinders. A metal screen on the smokestack caught many but not all.

“I talked to eyewitnesses,” Duthie said. “I know the train started the fire. I’m sad they chose to run it on June 1, 2018.”

Debris flow from 416 Fire. Photo credit: Twitter #416Fire hash tag

Kristi Nelson’s home escaped the fire but suffered major damage in the mudslides.

“They took 23 dump-truck loads of mud from my property,” she said. “It was devastating. I still have a mortgage on top of $116,000 worth of damages. Let’s say I don’t want to do this work. Can I sell it?”

She said people have urged her not to ruin the train. That stings for the former vice president of sales and marketing for the railroad.

“It is with a heavy heart that I entered into this lawsuit because I love the train,” she said. “But if I crashed my car into the train depot they would expect my insurance to pay. The train’s insurance should do the same.”

#AnimasRiver: #GoldKingMine update

From The Albuquerque Journal (Therasa Davis) via The Farmington Daily Times:

[After the August 5, 2015 spill]…The EPA paid state and tribal governments for emergency water tests, but initially denied 79 economic damage claims.

In August 2017, EPA administrator Scott Pruitt – who resigned in July 2018 – visited the spill site and said the agency would reconsider the claims. The New Mexico Environment Department said Friday that it was unaware whether any of those payments have been made.

Animas River at the New Mexico/Colorado State line August, 2015.

NMED chief scientist Dennis McQuillan said there is ongoing monitoring to determine long-term effects of the spill.

“Dozens of mines are leaking acid mine water into the watershed,” McQuillan said. “Gold King was just one of those.”

Under new administrator Andrew Wheeler, the federal agency, its contractors and mining companies asked for dismissal of the lawsuits, arguing the EPA had immunity and was already working on cleanup.

Environment Department general counsel Jennifer Howard said a federal judge in Albuquerque rejected that argument in March, so the lawsuits “should definitely start proceeding at a faster pace.”

A November 2018 EPA report showed fish had elevated metal levels in the weeks after the spill, but returned to pre-spill levels by spring 2016.

Gold King Mine Entrance after blow out on August 5, 2015. Photo via EPA.

Research by the New Mexico Bureau of Geology and Mineral Resources, New Mexico Game and Fish, Mountain Studies Institute, San Juan Basin Public Health and Colorado Parks and Wildlife echo that claim.

“The farming industry is still hurting,” McQuillan said. “I’ve talked to farmers who said their sales are down 25% from before the spill because people say they won’t buy food grown on the San Juan. But our agriculture products are safe. The fish are safe to eat. The river is safe for irrigation.”

McQuillan said the federal WIIN Act (Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation) will provide money for the Navajo Nation to test fish in the spill area and start outreach to address the misconception that the river water is unsafe.

In 2016, the EPA designated the area around the spill site as the Bonita Peak Mining District Superfund site, which opens up money for cleanup and places the site on a priority action list. Howard and McQuillan agreed that was a positive development, but Superfund cleanup is a slow process.

“It was a significant issue four years ago and remains a significant issue,” Howard said. “The motivation for our lawsuit is to have EPA step up to the plate and address the economic impact this (spill) had on agriculture and tourism for our state.”

The “Bonita Peak Mining District” superfund site. Map via the Environmental Protection Agency