#Snowpack news: South Platte Basin drops to 91% of normal despite recent snowfall

Westwide SNOTEL basin-filled map February 23, 2018 via the NRCS.

From The Independent (Colton Branstetter):

Low snowpack in Southwest Colorado could affect spring runoff and the local economy if levels do not rise.

The Southwest corner of the state’s snow water equivalent is 54 percent of normal, according to recent data from the Natural Resources Conservation Service.

Snow water equivalent measures how much water is in the snowpack and is the standard for keeping track of snowpack, John Andrew Gleason, lecturer of geosciences at Fort Lewis College, said.

A potential downside of the snow water equivalent measurement is that it uses a 30-year moving average, Gleason said. As the years get drier, what is considered normal is drier too.

The Snowpack

The snowpack for 2018 is very low, Gleason said. Currently, the snowpack is lower than in 2002, the driest year on record in southwest Colorado and when the Missionary Ridge Fire happened.

The snow year is already halfway over, Gleason said. However, March and April is when this region generally gets the most snowfall, he said.

“The best thing that could happen is that it’ll snow,” he said

A heavy, wet snow is the best type of snow for the snowpack because it compacts and contains lots of water, he said.

A low snowpack and warm spring can lead to problems during the rest of the year. A colder spring is ideal so that the snow doesn’t melt off too fast, Gleason said.

Warm spring weather has been occurring earlier in the year, Julie Korb, a professor of biology at FLC, said. This dries out vegetation and leads to dangerous wildland fire conditions in the summer and fall, she said.

“In 2002, one of the reasons we had such a bad fire season here was the low snowpack and very little runoff,” Gleason said.

Dust, which decreases the reflectivity of snow, increases the rate of snowmelt in the spring, Gleason said.

As the snow melts and uncovers more exposed ground, there is more potential for wind picking up and carrying dust onto the snow, Gleason said.

Another possible problem is water supply. Reservoirs are currently close to normal, but water managers will drain the reservoirs in preparation for spring run off, Gleason said. It could be a problem if the runoff doesn’t fill the reservoirs back up, he said.

Low snowpack also increases avalanche danger because the snowpack is unstable. This was seen in the January avalanche death of a FLC alumnus, Gleason said.

La Niña

Low snowpack this year can be attributed to the La Niña weather pattern. La Niña years happen when water is cooler in the Pacific Ocean, which sends storms more north of Southwest Colorado, Gleason said.

La Niña years are normal or drier than normal for the Durango area, Gleason said. We are also in the second La Niña year in a row, and the second year tends to be drier, he said.

The perfect storm for this area is a low-pressure storm that sits above us rather than moving east too quickly, Gleason said.

“If you see rains in Los Angeles, and the winds are out of the southwest, that usually will predict a pretty big storm for us,” he said.

Local Economy

The Animas River could see lower flows, impacting rafting and water sport tourism in the summer, Tim Walsworth, Business Improvement District executive director, said.

It is hard to keep track of economic effects of warm winters in real time, Walsworth said. The best indicator of downtown patronage is sales tax, which isn’t immediately available.

Current sales tax figure are only available from last November, he said.

Winter is already a slower time of the year for Durango, Walsworth said.

January and February are usually the slowest tourism months in downtown, Theresa Blake Graven, public relations consultant at the Durango Area Tourism Office, said.

“We’re in a bit of a different situation here in Durango because we’re not like Crested Butte that’s completely dependent on skier tourism,” Graven said. “We have a lot of other stuff going on,” Graven said.

Polar express train bookings were up 10 percent over last year, Christian Robbins, marketing manager at the Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad said.

The railroad estimates that 70 percent of the 33,000 passengers come from outside of the area, which leads to money being spent in Durango from lodging and other hospitality, Robbins said.

Downtown Durango’s peak activity occurs in July, and the second-best month is in December, Walsworth said. The winter festival Snowdown can bring needed business to town at the beginning of February, he said.

Snowdown was originally created to bring more more business into town during the slow winter months, Graven said. However, Snowdown tends to bring a more local crowd rather than people from out of town, she said.

From The Cortez Journal (Jim Mimiaga):

[February 20, 2018] A western shift of a high-pressure ridge over the Pacific Ocean is allowing more storms to reach Southwest Colorado, according to the National Weather Service.

The ridge has been blocking winter snowstorms from the northwest from reaching Colorado, but two weeks ago, it moved out of the way, said meteorologist Megan Stackhouse, with the weather service office in Grand Junction…

On Tuesday morning, towns across southwest Colorado woke up to a fresh blanket of snow from Monday’s storm. Dolores registered 4 inches, Cortez had 2 inches, Mancos had 2.7 inches, and Farmington got 1 inch.

Ski areas are celebrating. The Hesperus ski area received 6 inches of fresh powder. In the past 24 hours, 9 inches of snow dumped onto to Telluride, which has seen 2 feet of new snow in the past seven days. Purgatory reported 10 inches yesterday’s storm, with a total of 33 inches of new snow in the past seven days.

Snowpack for the Dolores Basin is gaining ground because of the recent storms, and reached 50 percent of average as of Feb. 20. That is up from 40 percent of average on Feb. 12.

Pagosa Springs councillors approve seventh whitewater feature on the San Juan River

San Juan River from Wolf Creek Pass

From The Pagosa Sun (Marshall Dunham):

On Jan. 18, the Pagosa Springs Town Council unanimously voted to engage Wolf Creek Ski Area and Riverbend Engineering to complete a seventh whitewater feature on the San Juan River.

“Over the past several years, Wolf Creek Ski Area has donated heavy equipment and operators to build six of the seven whitewater features that were planned out many years ago through public input,” explained Town Manager Andrea Phillips to the council. “At this time, they are able and ready to complete the last feature, which is between the 1st Street bridge and Cotton Hole.”

Phillips stated that the feature would provide challenging condi- tions to kayakers and tubers.

She added that the project would involve concrete as well as stone work.

“In the past, the ski area has donated a lot of the equipment and the operators. The town’s covered the fuel costs as well as a pumper truck,” Phillips said. “This go around, the ski area is not able to provide as much of a donation as they have in the past. They’re still providing operators and assisting us with maintenance on our existing items and providing some of the equipment. However, they are asking for the town to step
up a bit more than we have on this other feature.”

Phillips went on to explain that $10,000 for construction manage- ment would be allotted, and that it would go to Riverbend Engineering.

#AnimasRiver: Federal Judge denies contractor’s motion in #GoldKingMine spill

The orange plume flows through the Animas across the Colorado/New Mexico state line the afternoon of Aug. 7, 2015. (Photo by Melissa May, San Juan Soil and Conservation District)

From The Farmington Daily Times (Noel Lyn Smith):

A federal judge in Albuquerque ruled Monday that certain claims can proceed in consolidated civil lawsuits filed against a contractor for the August 2015 Gold King Mine spill.

U.S. District Judge M. Christina Armijo dismissed part of a motion filed by Environmental Restoration LLC, one of the companies contracted by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to conduct environmental remediation at the mine.

The St. Louis-based company was among those named in separate lawsuits filed in 2016 by the state of New Mexico and the Navajo Nation.

The state and the tribe claim environmental and economic damages have occurred due to the EPA and its contractors releasing more than three million gallons of acid mine drainage and 880,000 pounds of heavy metals into the Animas River watershed as the result of a breach at the mine.

The state and the tribe are seeking compensation for the claims filed under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act, or CERCLA.

Environmental Restoration sought to dismiss the complaints and argued it was not liable for damages because it was not an operator, arranger or transporter as defined under CERCLA.

Armijo ruled Environmental Restoration cannot be released from the lawsuit, and the state and the tribe’s claims can proceed.

She also denied the company’s motion to strike the tribe’s request for punitive damages…

New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas and New Mexico Environment Department Secretary Butch Tongate issued a joint statement on Wednesday regarding the court decision.

“We are pleased that our lawsuit against EPA’s contractor, Environmental Restoration LLC, will proceed and we look forward to continuing to work alongside the Navajo Nation to recoup the damages done to our environment, cultural sites and our economy,” the statement said.

The tribe called the decision “victorious” in its press release on Wednesday.

San Juan National Forest Announces Release of the Final Hermosa Creek Watershed Management Plan

Here’s the release from the San Juan National Forest:

The San Juan National Forest has released the Final Hermosa Creek Watershed Management Plan. This is the “go-to” document for how the Hermosa Special Management Area and Wilderness will be managed. This document is different from the Environmental Analysis because it combines the proposed action with recently-signed decisions. It does not contain alternatives that were not chosen or much background information or rationale, which can be found in the EA.

Two travel-themed maps are posted showing new rules for motorized and mechanized (bicycle) uses in the Hermosa Creek watershed. The maps and Final Plan are available in the “Post-Decision” tab on the webpage: https://www.fs.usda.gov/project/?project=43010

For additional information, please contact the Columbine Ranger District at 970-884-2512.

Archuleta County agencies are discussing forming a Growing Water Smart (GWS) workgroup

From The Pagosa Sun (Chris Mannara):

Members of multiple Archuleta County agencies met on Jan. 17 to come to a consensus on working together as part of a Growing Water Smart (GWS) workgroup.

Members of the Pagosa Springs Town Council, Archuleta County Board of County Commissioners (BoCC), Pagosa Area Water and Sanitation District (PAWSD), San Juan Water Conservancy District (SJWCD), Pagosa Lakes Property Owners Association board (PLPOA) and Pagosa Fire Protection District (PFPD) were all participants of the work session.

Town Planning Director James Dickhoff and PAWSD Manager Jus- tin Ramsey began the work session by giving information on the GWS workshop held in September.

According to documentation provided at the work session, the workshop was attended by a seven member community team from Archuleta County.

The workshop was held by the Sonoran Institute and focused on integrating land use and water resource planning.

After the three-day workshop concluded, the Archuleta County team concluded that in order to implement the goals of the Colorado Water Plan, better collaboration among the separate government entities was needed…

Benefits
Town council member Mat de- Graaf noted that this workgroup would be helpful for each individual organization to use funds as effi- ciently as possible.

“That happens when we’re all on the same page, understanding who is doing what and why,” deGraaf said.

PFPD board member David Blake then added that it would define the availability of water and service needs for the fire district.

“None of us want to waste time, energy, or money. Because, basically, we’re all using tax money to try and get something good done,” SJWCD board member Ray Finney said.

SJWCD board member Al P ster also added that it would allow each organization to identify challenges and obstacles earlier.

Moving forward with the work session, Curgus then asked the group about any challenges with the collaboration.

Challenges

Coordinating each of the various member’s meeting schedules was noted as a challenge by town council member Nicole DeMarco.

deGraaf then noted that each organization may have differing perspectives on which way the data set is veering.

“Can anyone think of an example where one entity may like that it’s veering in one way?” deGraaf asked.

The work session then transitioned to a variety of topics ranging from the benefits of a collective data source to how the workgroup should function.

#AnimasRiver: #UT expands lawsuit over the #GoldKingMine spill

Cement Creek photo via the @USGS Twitter feed

From the Associated Press via The Salt Lake Tribune:

Utah has added the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and a contractor as defendants in the state’s lawsuit over a mine waste spill in Colorado that polluted rivers in three states.

The Utah Attorney General’s Office said Friday it’s still negotiating with the EPA over damages from the spill but filed suit to preserve the state’s legal rights.

The state didn’t explain why it added the contractor, Weston Solutions Inc. Neither the EPA nor Weston Solutions immediately responded to after-hours emails seeking comment.

Utah sued mine owners and other contractors in August seeking unspecified compensation for the 2015 spill at the Gold King Mine.

Pagosa Springs geothermal project yields knowledge and vegetables

Graphic via Geothermal Greenhouse Partnership.

From The Durango Herald (Mary Shinn):

After about a year of gardening in a dome on the banks of the San Juan River in Pagosa Springs, the Geothermal Greenhouse Partnership plans to start construction on two more domes this spring.

Residents began planning the growing spaces in 2008 and 2009 during the Great Recession as a way to revitalize the town’s historic downtown. The vision was to provide an educational and growing space for all ages and demonstrate geothermal energy, said Sally High, the president of the nonprofit’s board of directors…

In addition to drawing in the public, it has also produced a bountiful harvest with thousands of tomatoes, leafy greens and other vegetables. The dome, 42 feet in diameter, produced enough bounty to sell at the farmers market in its first year, she said.

In the next phase of construction, the nonprofit plans a dome to house a community garden and an innovation dome, which will be used to demonstrate aquaponics – a hydroponic system that incorporates fish to help feed the plants, High said.

Construction of the new domes this spring will be funded by a $174,500 grant from the Colorado Water Plan Engagement and Innovation Fund and a $34,000 matching grant from the Colorado Garden Foundation.

When complete, the final cost of the project could be between $800,000 and $1 million, High said.

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