#AnimasRiver: Truck hauling sludge from the Cement Creek water treatment plant crashes and spills into Cement Creek

From The Associated Press via The Colorado Springs Gazette:

The driver wasn’t severely injured, but about 9 cubic yards of waste sludge spilled into the creek.

The sludge is a byproduct of a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency treatment plant that is cleaning up water draining from the inactive Gold King mine. The EPA has said the sludge is not hazardous.

Authorities say it doesn’t appear the truck spilled any fuel.

It turns out that streamflow in the #AnimasRiver near Farmington was a monster 5 CFS rather than the 0 CFS reported

West Drought Monitor July 3, 2018.

From The Durango Herald (Jonathan Romeo) via The Cortez Journal:

A U.S. Geological Survey river gauge in Farmington that recorded the Animas River flowing at nearly non-existent levels was the result of human error, the scientific agency said Friday.

Fletcher Brinkerhoff, a supervisory hydrologic technician for the USGS in Albuquerque, said the reading of 0 cubic feet per second at the gauge was the result of incorrect information entered into the USGS’s database.

The Durango Herald reported about record-low reading in a Page 1A story Friday.

Still, water levels the past few weeks have been incredibly low, Brinkerhoff said, hovering around 5 cfs.

@CWCB_DNR and Southwest Basin Roundtable award $220,000 for wetlands near Navajo Lake

One of the existing wetlands at Sambrito that is in need of repair. Photo credit: Southwest Wetland Focus Area Committee

From The Durango Herald (Jonathan Romeo):

Although wetlands account for only a small portion of the landscape, it is estimated that 75 percent of all wildlife in the state depend on the thriving ecosystems, according to the Colorado Wetland Information Center.

However, because of development and other human impacts, researchers say that number has been effectively cut in half.

In recent years, wetland scientists and conservationists have undertaken the task of restoring and creating wetlands where possible, in the hopes of bringing back the instrumental ecosystems.

Earlier this month, the Southwest Basin Roundtable and the Colorado Water Conservation Board awarded $50,000 and $170,000, respectively, to fund efforts to restore an estimated 100 acres of wetlands near Navajo Lake.

“The project will greatly enhance waterfowl and hundreds of other wetland species,” said Tom Brossia, former state chairman for Ducks Unlimited. “It will provide both watchable wildlife and hunting opportunity.”

When Navajo Dam was built in the 1960s to provide water and flood control for the growing town of Farmington and surrounding communities, more than 15,600 acres across the Colorado-New Mexico state line were inundated.

On the Colorado side, in the southwestern corner of Archuleta County, several agencies, including the Colorado Department of Natural Resources and Colorado Parks and Wildlife, restored about 80 acres of wetland.

The area is called the Sambrito Wetlands Complex, which has public access, a few hiking trails and a parking lot at the end of County Road 988, a dirt road off Highway 151, just outside of the unincorporated community of Allison.

Around 2012, those interested in expanding the complex, through the Southwest Wetland Focus Area Committee, started planning a project that would add another 100 acres of wetlands.

But that effort was abruptly derailed when the New Mexico jumping mouse was listed as an endangered species in 2014. Because Sambrito is considered critical habitat for the mouse, plans to alter the landscape must not adversely affect the species.

In the interim, the infrastructure around the wetlands, as well as ditches and embankments, fell into disrepair, said Catherine Ortega, a wildlife biologist and ornithologist who used to teach at Fort Lewis College.

But in recent months, the project regained steam, and with the formal announcement of the grants totaling $220,000, plans to restore the wetland are set to begin either in fall 2018 or early next year.

Now, not only will the project be a benefit to the jumping mouse, it will also provide more habitat for the diverse range of wildlife that depend on the ecosystem, as well as other imperiled species, such as the southwestern willow flycatcher and the yellow-billed cuckoo.

Brossia said there’s an estimated 980 species that can be found in Sambrito.

Pagosa Area Water and Sanitation District board meeting recap

Photo credit: Colorado.com

From The Pagosa Sun (Chris Mannara):

During a special meeting held on June 7, the Pagosa Area Water and Sanitation District (PAWSD) board was presented with the re- sults of a rate study conducted by Stantec…

Rate presentation

Lay began the presentation by explaining the financial goals of the rate study. Some of the goals included:

• Maintaining a combined debt service coverage ratio of 1.25 per- cent.
• Maintaining adequate reserve requirements.
• Water and wastewater analysis performed as separate utilities and minimizing the rate impacts for both.
• Fund future utility operations and capital investments in the most financially prudent way possible.
Lay also explained that when it came to the water utility there were some assumptions factored into the rate study.
Those assumptions were:
• Utilizing annual cost escala- tion factors, 3 percent for both capital projects and operations and maintenance (O&M) fixed/variable expenses.
• Using a 2 percent growth rate for account growth based on PAWSD’s projections.
• Accounting for a consumption decrease in 2021 and 2025 to plan for a potential drought period.
• A decreased capital improve- ment fee in 2019 to $1,509 per equivalent residential unit (ERU) from $2,658 currently.
• Also decreasing the raw water acquisition fee to $1,726 per ERU from $1,959.

PAWSD projections

The presentation then moved to what PAWSD’s water rate revenue projections are, as well as projec- tions for funds with no rate adjust- ments for water utility.

Regarding water rate revenue projections, Lay explained that these projections are based on 2 percent account growth rates, but lso include a 5 percent reduction for consumption.

Lay also added that these water rate revenue projections do not include any rate increases from a revenue standpoint.

From the graph within the pre- sentation, PAWSD is projected to increase its water rate revenue each year aside from the fiscal years of 2021 and 2025 in which that 5 per- cent consumption decrease occurs.

Despite those decreases in those two years, in the fiscal year for 2028, PAWSD is projected to have about $4.2 million in water rate revenue.

Conversely, with no rate adjust- ments or debt in regard to water utility, PAWSD is projected to spend more funds than it currently has in the fiscal year for 2018.

This deficit is only projected to grow larger with each fiscal year, and, by 2022, PAWSD is projected to use about $10 million while only having about $4 million available.

For the years 2023-2028, PAWSD would be using about $6 million whilst having only about $4 mil- lion available with no debt or rate adjustments.

Water utility rate scenarios

Lay then presented the board with the three rate scenarios for water utility.

The first rate increase proposed would utilize a 12.5 percent rate adjustment, which was described by Lay as the “baseline scenario.”

This scenario would see rate increases from 2019 to 2021, three months of O&M reserve with no re- duction, 100 percent or $500,000 in annual waterline expenditures and the Snowball treatment plant project being debt funded by $3 million.

Waterline expenditures can also be described as waterline replace- ment, PAWSD District Manager Justin Ramsey added.

The proposed financial impact of this scenario on PAWSD custom- ers could raise their bill an addi- tional $19.35 from the current total of $68.16 to $87.51 in 2028.

All three proposed financial impacts also include the proposed rate increase for wastewater as well.

For all three scenarios, the Snowball treatment plant is debt funded, Lay added.

The second scenario presented by Lay was a 5 percent rate adjust- ment, which was described as the “alternative scenario.”

This scenario would have rate increases from 2019 to 2023, O&M reserves would be reduced below a three-month threshold in 2021- 2024, and waterline expenditures would also be reduced to 20 per- cent or $100,000.

Within the second scenario, PAWSD customers could see their bill increase from the current amount of $68.16 to $82.17 in 2018, an increase of $14.01.
The final alternative, which Lay noted as the “preferred” scenario, involves a 6.5 percent rate adjust- ment.

This scenario has the same rate increase and O&M reductions as described in the second scenario.

However, in this final scenario, only 50 percent or $250,000 would be allocated for annual waterline expenditures.

The financial impact within the preferred scenario would see PAWSD customers average bill in 2018 go from $68.16 to $85.56, an increase of $17.40.

The June 2018 Newsletter is hot off the presses from the Water Information Program

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

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

How Municipalities are Dealing With Drought

As one of the worst droughts on record continue to create havoc throughout Colorado, counties in the southern half of the state and along the western border are starting to see impacts to their water supplies.

The Water Information Program connected with a few authorities in the region to see how they are dealing with the drought conditions and what they are doing about it.

The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation projects a 52 percent chance of a water shortage on the Colorado River in 2020. In a statement from KNAU’s Melissa Sevigny’s report, Marlon Duke of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation says reservoirs are depleted from 19 years of drought. He says, “This is the worst drought in at least the last 100 years of our recorded history, and as we look back further than that, we can see signs that this one of the worst droughts probably the last 1,200 years of the paleo-record.”

The city of Durango is in the process of drought planning for this season as well as long term. They are in the early stages of working with their 10 largest commercial water users for water conservation. Right now, the Florida River is meeting the city’s water demand, however, should that change, Fort Lewis College, the city’s Parks and Recreation, Durango School District 9-R and Hillcrest Golf Course will voluntarily cut back on irrigation by 10 percent.

“We can save a lot more water by working with our larger water user groups, be more productive and have a better relationship with them than by implementing voluntary or mandatory water restrictions on residents. That is the direction we want to go. Asking for voluntary water cutbacks from residents doesn’t work as a water management practice,” stated Levi Lloyd – City of Durango Utilities Director.

They are watching the flows being released from Lemon Reservoir and are anticipating by mid- June the release will be cut off and will then run the pumps out of the Animas River. At that point the city will work with Parks and Recreation and other users on conservation measures. The city is working to get grasses, turfs and vegetation health robust enough to get through any restrictions that may be implemented.

The Norwood Water Commission put into effect a conservation measure with a mandatory water cutback on outside watering. The provision stated that outside watering is to be conducted before 9AM or after 5PM on even calendar days for town customers and odd calendar days for rural customers. At the water fill station card holders are only allowed 5000 gallons at this point. “Wells are starting to dry up in the area. The Gurley Reservoir is releasing limited water for irrigation. This will be on our agenda in our town water commission meeting this week to discuss further water restrictions,” stated Patti Grafmyer – Town Administrator.

“We have not put restrictions in place yet but we have been planning drought contingencies (including water use restrictions) since April,” noted John Sites – Public Works Director, Town of Silverton. “We are gauging triggers for restrictions based upon the flows of our two main sources: Boulder and Bear Creeks. We have installed staff gauges and visually monitor the intakes twice a week. When the flows begin to show visible signs of deterioration, we will begin instituting staged restrictions. At this time, the Town of Silverton is using such a small amount of water (about 70 gallons per minute) that the vast majority of both stream flows reach the Animas.”

The #416Fire reminds us there’s no escape from #climatechange — @HighCountryNews

The 416 Fire started at about 10 a.m. on June 1, 2018, approximately 10 miles north of Durango, CO. Rocky Mountain Type 1 Incident Management Team is managing the fire. The fire is burning on the west side of State Highway 550 on some private land and on the San Juan National Forest. The fire is burning in grass, brush, and timber. The Weather conditions remain critical and fuels are ideal for significant fire growth. The fire has been very active and continues to burn in rough and inaccessible terrain. Many homes have been evacuated and structure protection is in place. Map via Inciweb

From The High Country News (Jonathan Thompson):

For longtime Southwesterners, this year’s low snowfall and high temperatures bring back memories of 2002, a year that seemed to stand as the region’s come-to-Jesus climate moment. The snow cover was thin to nonexistent, even in the high country. Fields dried up and Lake Powell began its big shrink. Record-breaking fires burned across the region.

But as the warm spring of 2002 moved into a scorching summer, I wasn’t worried. I lived in Silverton, Colorado, at 9,318 feet in elevation, where extreme drought for everyone else just meant a more pleasant summer for us. We could actually barbecue on Memorial Day instead of suffering through a blizzard, ride our bikes up the high passes before July 4, and swim in the Animas River without instantly contracting hypothermia. I believed that Silverton, which at the time was looking for new economic engines after the loss of mining, offered a refuge people would flee to, not from, when climate change manifested elsewhere in the form of drought, fire and desertification.

And so, on an early June afternoon in 2002, while the lowlands broiled, my friends and I sat in the lawn sipping cold beverages and enjoying perfect temperatures in our T-shirts and shorts. It was an uncommon pleasure during any month in Silverton. If this is global warming, I declared, then bring it on.

Just moments later, we noticed what looked like a puffy cumulonimbus cloud rising up in the gap formed by the Animas River gorge. It wasn’t a cloud at all, but a billowing tower of smoke from what would become known as the Missionary Ridge Fire. Over the coming weeks the blaze would eat through 73,000 acres of parched scrub oak, aspen, ponderosa pine and spruce forest, burn 83 structures, and batter the regional economy.

Flash forward to June 2018. Much like the Missionary Ridge Fire, the 416 Fire has been ripping through forests north of Durango since June 1, sending up roiling clouds of smoke and diminishing the air quality for miles around. The current fire was sparked almost exactly 16 years after the former in similar vegetation. This time, though, the flames were no surprise. We knew that the dry winter of 2018 would usher in an explosive fire season, which is not to say that the region took enough precautions.

During the Missionary Ridge Fire, and in its immediate aftermath, Silverton did not become a destination for refugees fleeing fire, heat and drought. To the contrary, despite the fact that the flames never got anywhere near Silverton, the mining-turned-tourist town’s economy took the biggest blow of all the region’s communities.

This year looks to be no different. The Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad — the primary artery for delivering tourist dollars to Silverton — has suspended service for the month of June because the coal-fired locomotives are a fire hazard. (In fact, the train is suspected of igniting the 416 Fire, though the official cause remains “unknown.”) One of just two highways connecting Silverton to the outside world has been closed on-and-off due to the fire, further hampering the ability of tourists to get to the town. Now, the Forest Service indefinitely closed the 1.8 million-acre San Juan National Forest, cutting off mountain bike and hiking trails, campgrounds and jeep roads —along with a major revenue stream for the entire region’s outdoor recreation-oriented businesses.

Eventually, the rains will come and the fire danger will diminish and television screens will no longer be alight with images of southwestern Colorado’s forests engulfed by hellish flames. But the pain undoubtedly will resonate through the rest of the summer, just as it did in 2002 after the Missionary Ridge Fire subsided.

Repercussions may still be felt for years to come, too, particularly when it comes to the steam-powered train. In the wake of the 416 Fire, social media has stoked a movement pushing the railroad to switch to diesel locomotives — or not run at all — during times of extreme fire danger, before a blaze can erupt.

Such suggestions spark fervent pushback from train-reliant sectors of the economy and their supporters. Since diesel locomotives lack the authenticity and aesthetic appeal of their steam-powered cousins, they argue, such a switch could result in fewer passengers and less tourism revenue overall. “You must be a complete IDIOT,” says a representative commenter on Facebook. “This town is alive because of that steam train! You must be a transplant trust funder to think we don’t need the train.”

Replace “train” with your local industry of choice — mining, say, or oil and gas drilling — and the exchange repeats one that has resounded around the West for decades. Concerned citizens ask the mining companies to stop polluting the rivers, or the oil companies to plug their methane leaks, or the train to stop spewing sparks, and the industry and its foot soldiers always lash back: Even minor protective measures, they say, could kill the industry and bring down the whole economy with it.

This sort of short-term thinking, of prioritizing today’s bottom line over future environmental or public health, rarely pays off in the long term. Yesterday’s failure to address mining pollution is the Gold King Mine disaster of 2015, and today’s unfettered methane leaks are tomorrow’s climate change-caused water shortage. Today’s yearning for the authenticity of coal-fired locomotives is tomorrow’s economy-obliterating megafire.

Thirty years ago, coal trains could run without consequence through the “asbestos forest” of the San Juan Mountain high country. The drought of 2002, however, woke up the railroad’s owners to a changing world, one in which the ravages of climate change can — and will — affect even a quaint little tourist train and the quaint little town that relies on it. The railroad adjusted accordingly, having a firefighting team follow behind each train to extinguish blazes in their infancy. The 416 Fire — particularly if it is found to have been started by the train — will prove an even more brutal moment of reckoning, a grim reminder that yet more adaptation is needed.

I had my own moment of reckoning following that unusually toasty day back in 2002 when Silverton’s economy went up in smoke for the remainder of that summer. I realized then that Silverton will never become the sanctuary from global warming that I dreamed it would. This year the point is being driven home. There is no sanctuary, not really. In one way or another, the climate catastrophe that we have wrought reaches into every corner of our planet and our lives — even at 9,318 feet.

Jonathan Thompson is a contributing editor at High Country News. He is the author of River of Lost Souls: The Science, Politics, and Greed Behind the Gold King Mine Disaster. This article was first published on June 15, 2018 by The High Country News.

From The Farmington Daily Times:

The 416 Fire near Durango, Colorado, reached 30 percent containment [June 18, 2018] as temperatures rose and humidity dropped.

Firefighters don’t expect the fire to grow above the current 34,161 acres today, but say there’s a potential for things to pick up later this week.

“Much of the fire is now in a state of smoldering and creeping, and active flames have been infrequent,” the 416 Fire team reported in Monday morning’s roundup. “Today, however, starts a weather trend that will quickly dry out fuels and re-elevate fire potential as the week goes on.”

The fire team echoed a statement made Sunday at a community meeting in Durango: the blaze that has burned more than 50 square miles is down, but it isn’t over.

@COParksWildlife closes some state wildlife areas near #Durango; others and state parks remain open #416Fire #BurroFire

From email from Colorado Parks and Wildlife (Joe Lewandowski):

To assist federal and local agencies during the current dangerous fire conditions and recently enacted public land closures, Colorado Parks and Wildlife has announced that some State Wildlife Areas in southwest Colorado are now closed to all public access. But in addition, several other water-based wildlife areas and two state parks remain open to the public.

In and near Durango the Bodo, Perins Peak, Haviland Lake, Devil Creek and Williams Creek state wildlife areas are closed until further notice. In Bayfield the Lion’s Club shooting range, managed by CPW, is also closed.

West of Durango in Dolores and Montezuma Counties, Lone Dome and Fish Creek State Wildlife Areas are also closed.

“We regret having to enact these closures, but we do so in an effort to protect the public and protect natural resources. These measures will also help with compliance to the recent closures enacted by the U.S. Forest Service and La Plata County,” said Adrian Archuleta, a District Wildlife Manager with CPW.

CPW also wants area residents and visitors to know that there are several other State Wildlife Areas and State Parks that remain open for recreation. CPW asks that people comply with any current local fire restrictions so that these areas can remain open for recreation.

The areas that are open include: Echo Canyon SWA in Archuleta County; Pastorious SWA in La Plata County; in Montezuma and Dolores counties — Summit, Puett, Narraguinnep, Totten, Twin Spruce, Dolores River, Joe Moore and Ground Hog Reservoir state wildlife areas.

Also open are Navajo State Park in Archuleta County; and Mancos State Park in Montezuma County. Both parks offer campsites, hiking, fishing and other water recreation.