Graduate watershed seminar discusses water quality regulations — @ColoradoStateU

The Poudre River is one of the sources of water used in the city of Fort Collins (Jack Starkebaum | Collegian)

From The Rocky Mountain Collegian (Julia Trowbridge):

Watershed science majors listened to and discussed water quality control and clean water regulations for an interdisciplinary water resources seminar class Monday evening.

Patrick J. Pfalzgraff, the director of the Water Quality Control Division of the Local Public Health and Environment Resources Department, spoke to watershed sciences majors for a GRAD 592 interdisciplinary water resources seminar class, which are open to the public. Pfalzgraff works with regulations of water quality control in terms of clean water and drinking water.

According to the syllabus, the purpose of this course is “to prepare students in water resources by increasing their understanding of how water is actually managed in Colorado.” The seminar class brings in professionals in the water resources industry to speak about their work in the field.

The Water Quality Control Division issues regulations on water treatment, pollution control, and does some water tests, with regulation standards finalized by state politicians.

“Almost all of the decisions we make are based on some form of data, whether that is science data or weather data, we pull the data from these sources to determine the stream or lake health,” Pfalzgraff said.

The division also aides smaller communities with meeting water regulation standards by providing funds or services if the communities do not have access to them.

“A lot of small towns don’t have a lot of revenue because they don’t have a big population or industry, and they may or may not have the resources or revenue in order to do necessary upgrades,” Pfalzgraff said. “That’s where we can step in and get them back on their feet.”

Patrick J Pfalzgraff, the Director of the Water Quality Control Division of the Local Public Health and Environment Resources Department (Julia Trowbridge | Collegian)

Clean water, like the water in the Poudre River, have to pass regulations regarding pollution levels. A common pollution level issue is the concentrations of nitrogen and phosphorous in water levels, which can either come from human pollution or agricultural pollution.

High concentrations of these elements in water, called nutrient loadings, can make the crops have excessive amounts of these elements, and the crops might not pass regulation standards for consumption.

“We try to maintain that environmental balance with how pollutants are discharged throughout the state,” Pfalzgraff said.

Clean water and clean drinking water are completely different standards. Drinking water is regulated through chemically treating clean water to insure that the water is safe and clean to distribute out to the public to prevent things like waterborne diseases being distributed in the drinking water.

“In Puerto Rico, there are waterborne diseases,” Pfalzgraff said. “That’s not an issue in Colorado. We haven’t had a wate borne disease in the last five years.”

The study of watershed sciences and the design of water flow is especially important in Colorado. According to Pfalzgraff, the population of Colorado is predicted to double by 2050, which creates a strong need in water quality regulation and the delegation of water resources.

“There are a lot of uses on what are already stressed resources,” Pfalzgraff said.

Stressed resources has been brought up by groups like Save the Poudre, who advocate that diversion plans made by the Northern Integrated Supply Project would drain even more water from the already depleted river. The river also has to pass a minimum water flow, which could cause problems with these diversion plans.

Regardless, the growing population of Colorado needs to access water, whether it is by the proposed plan or another alternative.

Cache la Poudre River from South Trail via Wikimedia Foundation.

@ColoreadoStateU students help restore areas devastated by 2013 Boulder floods

CSU junior Brad Simms gets to work with his shovel in efforts to restore the area around Left Hand Canyon from the floods. Brad is a member of CSU’s Watershed club. (Jenna Van Lone | Collegian)

From The Rocky Mountain Collegian (Samantha Ye):

Humans who rebuild an environment which nature destroyed seems like a backwards scenario.

And yet, dozens of Colorado State University students partnered with the Wildlands Restoration Volunteers Saturday to restore Left Hand Creek, an area devastated by the 2013 Boulder floods.

According to Brad Simms, vice president of the Watershed Club and intern at WRV, the project was made specifically for college students by Luke McNally, the WRV watershed restoration manager. Simms, who had participated in a previous restoration, helped several CSU clubs mobilize their members.

Roughly 60 people attended in total: 17 came from the Environmental Sustainability and Science Club, 10 from the Watershed Club, six from the Fly Fishing Club and several others from CSU and around the community.

Volunteers arrived at 8 a.m. and stayed until 4 p.m. They were divided into five groups with each group taking on a different area of the riverbed and the tasks which came with it.

Eliot Hawkes, a sophomore ecosystem science and sustainability major, spent her morning spreading native seeds and mulch by the downstream bank.

“You feel like you’re getting a good day’s (worth) of hard work in,” Hawkes said. “I’ve wanted to volunteer with the WRV since last spring, and I got an email about it and decided just to sign up over email.”

Kelly Nelson, a member of the Ecosystem Science and Sustainability Club at CSU, drops wood chips to compact the soil near Left Hand Canyon in attempts to restore the land from the floods. The flood restoration event was open to members of the ESS Club, the Watershed Club, the Fly Fishing Club, and the Boulder community on Saturday. (Jenna Van Lone | Collegian)

Natalie McNees, sophomore natural resources management major, signed up independent of any clubs. Her morning consisted of backfilling trenches and pounding down stakes to keep erosion control fabric in place.

“(The riverbank) would just be this dirt pile if we weren’t doing anything,” McNees said. “And, it was fun hitting things with (a) little hammer.”

The September 2013 floods scoured large parts of the riverbanks and caused sediment deposition. According to McNally, floodwaters ripped out riparian vegetation, heightening chances of further erosion.

With funding from the National Resource Conservation Service, the WRV has been rebuilding the Left Hand Creek since February, and they expect to finish by the end of October. Before Saturday, the group focused on river channel reconstruction and realignment.

CSU students participated in the final implementation stage of restoration: revegetation, the laying down of native seed mixes, soil amendments, erosion control blankets and mulch. They also planted a palette of native wood plants such as junipers, alders and cottonwoods among others.

“We have more diversity of native plants on this project than we’ve probably ever had on a project,” McNally said. “We’re really pushing the envelope with Left Hand Creek to make this as biodiverse as possible.”

WRV will return to the site next year to evaluate the effectiveness of the restoration and look for how to improve in the future.

As a CSU alumnus, McNally said he enjoyed seeing so many young people involve themselves in environmental projects, especially students from the Warner College of Natural Resources.

“This work is directly relevant to what they’re going to school for and can help to supplement their education with some field experience,” McNally said.

Even though the Saturday was done through several CSU clubs, students can sign-up for any WRV project they want by going to http://www.wlrv.org.

At the end of the day, Jess Jackman, president of the ESS Club, said she enjoyed the experience.

“I love watching students get engaged in restorations,” Jackman said. “I think it was productive and successful, and I think everyone had a lot of fun as well … We’re proud of our work.”

Left Hand Creek September 2013 via Piper Bayard

Fraser River restoration: “The biomass [in the river] has more than tripled, just from last year” — Mely Whiting

From The Sky-Hi News (Lance Maggart):

The Fraser Flats Habitat Project is a cooperative venture conducted by Learning By Doing, an amalgamation of local water stakeholders who several years ago formed a committee in an effort to increase cooperation and decrease litigation between Front Range water diverters, local governments and High Country conservation groups. The Fraser Flats Project is the group’s pilot project, restoring a roughly one-mile section of the Fraser River.

Work on the project, which was conducted on a section of the Fraser River between Fraser and Tabernash, wrapped up in late September and the members of Learning By Doing are, to put it mildly, thrilled with the success of the project.

“We are elated,” said Mely Whiting, legal counsel for Trout Unlimited. “This is amazing. The biomass [in the river] has more than tripled, just from last year, and only in the matter of a couple of weeks since the project was completed.”

Denver Water Environmental Scientist Jessica Alexander explained the intention of the project.

“To start, we wanted to improve the habitat of the river for fish and aquatic insects,” Alexander said. “We saw problems with the way the river channel looked and behaved before the project and we wanted to improve those things, to provide more habitat.”

Alexander went on to explain that the Fraser River channel was too wide and shallow to provide good habitat and resulted in high sedimentation in the river rocks that are essential to development of bug life, which in turn serves as base of the food web within the river. Additionally there was little large vegetation on the river banks at the project site, resulting in river bank erosion and higher stream temperatures due to lack of a shade canopy.

To fix these problems work on the project centered on a few key areas. Project organizers wanted to deepen and narrow the river’s main channel, allowing the water that does flow down the Fraser to flow deeper and faster, helping clear sediment out of river rocks. Additionally they planted roughly 2,500 willows and cottonwoods on the river’s banks, to address erosion and shade concerns.

The project got underway last fall as Learning By Doing secured permits for the project and conducted design work. In May this year about 150 local local and regional volunteers spent two days harvesting and planting willows and cottonwoods along the banks of the Fraser in the project area.

Over the summer and fall contracting firm Freestone Aquatics, specializing in aquatic habitat restoration, conducted the physical work of narrowing and deepening the river channel…

The total cost of the project was roughly $200,000. The cost was broken down between several stakeholders including the Colorado River District, Northern Water, Trout Unlimited, and more. Denver Water pitched in roughly $50,000 and the project received a Fishing is Fun grant from Colorado Parks and Wildlife. Moving forward Learning By Doing is looking at a few different projects in Grand County and is trying to decide which project it will tackle next.

From Colorado Public Radio (Nathaniel Minor):

For decades, the Fraser River in Colorado’s Grand County has turned into a trickle every fall as the snowmelt that powers the river dissipates. The low flows have led to warmer water temperatures and less wildlife.

That changed this year, at least along a short stretch of the Fraser. And it’s due to an unusual partnership that includes Denver Water, which diverts most of the river to the Front Range, and Trout Unlimited, which has fought for decades to protect it. The group, dubbed Learning by Doing, focused its efforts on nearly a mile of the river near Tabernash. Work wrapped up on the $200,000 project earlier this fall.

“I had man tears when I saw this for the first time,” said Kirk Klancke, president of the Colorado River Headwaters Chapter of Trout Unlimited. “It was very emotional to see the river look healthier than it has in the 47 years I’ve lived there.”

Now, instead of a wide shallow creek, the low-flow Fraser River drops into a narrow channel that allows to run deeper, faster and colder. That led to a nearly immediate rebound in the fish population, according to a preliminary assessment by Colorado Parks and Wildlife.

“We found about a four-fold increase in trout population,” said Jon Ewert, an aquatic biologist at CPW who surveyed the river both before and after the project was finished. “It was pretty exciting to see that.”

Ewert was cautious not to get too far ahead of his data. He plans to survey the fish population again next year to see if they reproduce like he hopes they will. But he says he’s very encouraged by what he’s seen so far.

Klancke credits cooperation by Denver Water, Trout Unlimited, Grand County and others for this initial success. Before his Trout Unlimited days, Klancke said he was “radical” in his opposition to the diversion of water to the Front Range. He even used to urinate in diversion ditches, he told me last year. He’s since changed his tactics.

“Working with the people who have impacts on your river is far more effective than trying to fight them, or just trying to stop them,” he said.

Fundraising goal met for a 500 AF environmental pool in Chatfield Reservoir

Proposed reallocation pool — Graphic/USACE

From The Denver Post (Bruce Finley):

Denver’s project to ensure at least some water for fish in a 40-mile urban stretch of the South Platte River — even during the winter low-flow months when people practically drain it — is gaining momentum.

A fundraising goal has been met to buy space in Chatfield Reservoir, southwest of Denver, to store an “environmental pool” of water – about 500 acre-feet (163 million gallons), Denver Water officials confirmed last week.

Starting next year, state aquatic biologists plan to release that water strategically, concentrating on 65 or so low-flow days each year. The South Platte still will be one of the world’s most tightly controlled rivers, unable to be a natural river that meanders through a flood plain moving sediment…

Water releases will begin “after the completion of the Chatfield Reallocation Project,” Denver Water officials said, with the water moving from Chatfield through a Colorado Parks and Wildlife fish hatchery. Fish grown there, including rainbow trout, may be used to stock river pools where fish currently struggle to reproduce on their own.

Storing water at Chatfield, built for flood control but now in the process of “reallocation” for water supply, costs $7,500 per acre-foot (325,851 gallons). Denver Water officials agreed to spend $1.8 million and match 19 contributions made by metro county and municipal governments, the Greenway Foundation and the Walton Family Foundation. “The pledge drive was successful and complete,” Denver Water spokeswoman Stacy Chesney said…

The Colorado Water Conservation Board will serve as the owner of the water held in Chatfield for environmental purposes. Water rights owned by the agricultural Central Colorado Water Conservancy District are being used to create that pool.

Aquatic biologists say that, by putting more water into the river, river managers can mimic natural flows, lost after the channelization of the Platte following a ruinous 1965 flood that destroyed structures built in the floodplain.

Denver: City Park Golf Course is scheduled to close for stormwater project on Nov. 1, 2017

Storm drain and open channel improvements between the East Rail Line (38th & Blake Station) and the South Platte River (Globeville Landing Outfall), Stormwater detention/conveyance between the East Rail Line (38th & Blake Station) and Colorado Blvd, (Montclair Basin)
Stormwater detention/ conveyance immediately east of Colorado Blvd. (Park Hill Basin).

From 9News.com (Dan Grossman):

The $270 million project is part of a proposal to improve drainage and prevent catastrophic flooding to neighborhoods north of the park.

“Water goes where it wants to go and it wants to go here,” said Denver Department of Public Works communications manager Nancy Kuhn.

Kuhn was one of several city employees at the City Park Golf Course clubhouse Saturday for an informational session on the project.

It was the final one before the course closes on Oct. 31 until 2019.

“[This project] will greatly minimize the flooding potential to the homes to the north of here,” said Denver Director of Golf Scott Rethlake.

The project has been in the works for two years. The city says the course is the largest basin in Denver without a natural waterway. It means most of the area’s rain water trickles into it, where it pools and floods.

The plan would cut 261 trees on the course to make room for the ditches, but it would also replant nearly 750 more to make up for the lost canopy in 10 years.

The city would also relocate the club house and driving range, increasing the yardage from 240 to 320, which would allow for drivers, a club that can’t be used on the current driving range…

Eight people are suing the city over this project. A ruling hasn’t been made by the judge but the attorney on the case, Aaron Goldhamer says they are meeting with the judge for an update on Oct. 26.

2018 #COleg: Two bills come out of Water Resources Review Committee

HB12-1278 study area via Colorado State University

From The Sterling Journal-Advocate (Jeff Rice):

…when Lower South Platte Water Conservancy District Manager Joe Frank reviewed them for his board of directors at the board’s October meeting, there was much shaking of heads and rolling of eyes.

The first draft document, identified only as Bill 9, would attempt to address rising water tables in a couple of places on the South Platte River, and in at least one area that would mean allowing un-augmented irrigation pumping to lower the artificially high water table.

The draft legislation was triggered by a series of reports by the Colorado Department of Natural Resources on high water tables in the town of Gilcrest, south of Greeley on U.S. 85, and the Sterling area subdivision of Pawnee Ridge…

the Colorado Legislature’s Water Resources Review Committee was not. In September the WRRC drafted a bill, tentatively labeled Bill 9, that requires owners of “artificial recharge facilities” (ie. augmentation ponds) in District 2 of Water Division 1 to install monitoring wells; if their groundwater comes up within 10 feet of the surface, they have to stop augmenting, notify the state engineer’s office, and continue pumping until the water table goes down.

Water Division 1 is simply the South Platte River watershed; District 2 is an area directly north of Denver that includes Gilcrest.

Here on the lower reaches of the river, in District 64, there are two reasons that bill could cause a whole lot of trouble.

First, and most obviously, there isn’t sufficient data yet to make such a sweeping requirement of every irrigator in District 2. Bob Mari, a member of the LSPWCD, said during the board’s meeting on Tuesday that it’s a typical one-size-fits-all solution that doesn’t need to be applied so broadly.

“You’ve got just a few sections of land where there’s a high water problem, but (legislators) want a statewide law to address the problem in that one spot,” Mari said. There was almost unanimous head nodding around the table when Mari made his remarks.

The second problem, according to Frank, is that allowing un-augmented pumping is simply not legal and would almost certainly harm downstream water users.

“Don’t get me wrong, we are very sympathetic to the problem, and we know it has to be addressed,” Frank said. “But it has been proven in the past that any pumping that goes un-replaced does cause harm. Even legislation that allows (un-augmented pumping) goes against legally binding water decrees. Taking water out (of the river aquifer) and putting it on crops without replacing it and putting it on crops is taking water that would have ended up back in the stream. Since they’re upstream from us, that creates a domino effect that affects us.”

State Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg, who chairs the WRRC, said the committee wanted to address the situation legislatively because, frankly, the $11 million solution just doesn’t make sense. He pointed out that the draft bill, which still needs some work, applies only in the district where the most severe problem exists. He said the committee believed the augmentation forgiveness shows promise, but needs some improvement.

“The idea was to try to figure out how to deal with high groundwater rather than pumping the water into the river from a dewatering well,” he said. “I don’t think it makes sense to dewater when they’re augmenting. Let’s consolidate the augmentation, move it closer to the river so we can control it better.”

Thus, the second document Frank shared with his board at that meeting, a bill draft tentatively called “Bill 10,” which directs the CWCB to engage “a qualified engineering consultant” to answer those questions and others. The bill tentatively directs that a report on the scope and goals of the study be delivered to the CWCB by Aug. 31, 2018, that a five-year pilot project be designed and begun by April 2019, and that the pilot project end by June 30, 2024.

Frank is hopeful that the study will identify ways other than un-augmented pumping, and he ticked off a list of ideas including improving surface drainage, cleaning out barrow ditches, finding new supplies for augmentation sources, tile drains in the area that move the water to the river, and moisture monitoring to avoid over-irrigating.

“Unfortunately, everyone points to that one solution, which is pumping un-augmented,” he said. “For us, that’s just not a solution.”

Lawsuit filed over September 2013 Olympus Dam releases

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

From TheDenverChannel.com (Mark Belcher):

According to the lawsuit, the Department of Interior’s Bureau of Reclamation, which operates the dam, made the call to release a massive amount of water from the dam to protect its integrity, as it overflowed with floodwater from a heavy storm that continued to dump water on Sept. 12, 2013.

The plaintiffs in the suit say had they been warned of the massive release, they would have been able to move some of their property, but instead they were surprised to find homes literally washed away.

Details revealed in the lawsuit confirms the victims lost their homes and businesses in the flood, and are seeking compensation from the government for their losses.

The lawsuit says the Bureau of Reclamation “made the determination to take [the victims’] property through its actions in releasing water from the Olympus Dam due to its concern for the integrity of the dam and the greater public good in preserving the dam versus [the victims’] property.”

The victims and their attorney requested a jury trial to judge all issues laid out in the suit, however the trial has not yet been scheduled.

Colorado-Big Thompson Project east slope facilities