And it is. But not only because greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise. What we are also observing is the long-predicted water vapour feedback within the climate system.
Since the late 1800s, global average surface temperatures have increased by about 1.1℃, driven by human activities, most notably the burning of fossil fuels which adds greenhouse gases (carbon dioxide and methane) to the atmosphere.
As the atmosphere warms, it can hold more moisture in the form of water vapour, which is also a greenhouse gas. This in turn amplifies the warming caused by our emissions of other greenhouse gases.
Some people mistakenly believe water vapour is a driver of Earth’s current warming. But as I explain below, water vapour is part of Earth’s hydrological cycle and plays an important role in the natural greenhouse effect. Its rise is a consequence of the atmospheric warming caused by our emissions arising especially from burning fossil fuels.
Water vapour: the other greenhouse gas
For every degree Celsius in warming, the water-holding capacity of the atmosphere increases by about 7%. Record-high sea temperatures ensure there is more moisture (in the form of water vapour) in the atmosphere, by an estimated 5-15% compared to before the 1970s, when global temperature rise began in earnest.
In many ways, water vapour is the most important greenhouse gas as it makes Earth habitable. But human-induced climate change is primarily caused by increases in the long-lived greenhouse gases carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide, methane and chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs).
As a general rule, any molecule with three or more atoms is a greenhouse gas, owing to the way the atoms can vibrate and rotate within the molecule. A greenhouse gas absorbs and re-emits thermal (infrared) radiation and has a blanketing effect.
Clouds have a blanketing effect similar to that of greenhouse gases but they are also bright reflectors of solar radiation and act to cool the surface by day. In the current climate, for average all-sky conditions, water vapour is estimated to account for 50% of the total greenhouse effect, carbon dioxide 19%, ozone 4% and other gases 3%. Clouds make up about a quarter of the greenhouse effect.
Why is water vapour different?
The main greenhouse gases – carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide and ozone – don’t condense and precipitate. Water vapour does, which means its lifetime in the atmosphere is much shorter, by orders of magnitude, compared to other greenhouse gases.
On average, water vapour only lasts nine days, while carbon dioxide stays in the atmosphere for centuries or even millennia, methane lasts for a decade or two and nitrous oxide a century. These gases serve as the backbone of atmospheric heating, and the resulting rise in temperature is what enables the observed increase in water vapour levels.
The rise in carbon dioxide doesn’t depend on weather. It comes primarily from the burning of fossil fuels. Atmospheric carbon dioxide has increased from pre-industrial levels of 280ppmv to 420ppmv (an increase of 50%) and about half of that increase has happened since 1985.
This accounts for about 75% of the anthropogenic heating from long-lived greenhouse gases. The rest of human-induced atmospheric warming mainly comes from methane and nitrous oxide, with offsets from pollution aerosols.
The extra heating from water vapour has been on a par with that from increased carbon dioxide since the 1970s.
Water vapour and the water cycle
Water vapour is the gaseous form of water and it exists naturally in the atmosphere. It is invisible to the naked eye, unlike clouds, which are composed of tiny water droplets or ice crystals large enough to scatter light and become visible.
The most common measure of water vapour in the atmosphere is relative humidity.
During heatwaves and warm conditions, this is what affects human comfort. When we sweat, the evaporation of moisture from our skin has a cooling effect. But if the environment is too humid, then this no longer works and the body becomes sticky and uncomfortable.
This process is important for our planet, too, because about 70% of Earth’s surface is water, predominantly ocean. Extra heat generally goes into evaporating water. Plants also release water vapour through a process called transpiration (releasing it through tiny stomata in leaves as part of photosynthesis). The combined process is called evapotranspiration.
The moisture rises into the atmosphere as water vapour. Storms gather and concentrate the water vapour so that it can precipitate. As water vapour has an exponential dependence on temperature, it is highest in warm regions, such as the tropics and near the ground. Levels drop off at cold higher latitudes and altitudes.
The expansion and cooling of air as it rises creates clouds, rain and snow. This vigorous hydrological cycle means water vapour molecules only last a few days in the atmosphere.
Water is the air conditioner of the planet. It not only keeps the surface cooler (albeit at the expense of making it moister) but rain also washes a lot of pollution out of the atmosphere to everyone’s benefit.
Precipitation is vitally important. It nourishes vegetation and supports various ecosystems as long as the rate is moderate. But as the climate warms, higher moisture levels increase the potential for heavier rainfall and the risk of flooding.
Moreover, the latent energy that went into evaporation is returned to the atmosphere, adding to heating and causing air to rise, invigorating storms and making weather extremes greater and less manageable.
These changes mean that where it is not raining, drought and wildfire risk increase, but where it is raining, it pours.
Lyons and Estes Park community members reflect on damage and recovery from deadly natural disaster
In early September 2013, after a storm stalled over the Front Range, rivers rose out of their beds and rushed right through several Northern Colorado communities, resulting in one of the state’s worst floods.
Meteorologists classified it as the kind of flood that happens only once every 500 or more years.
From Sept. 9 until Sept. 16, the Front Range experienced uncharacteristically heavy rainfall, which flooded several communities, resulting in nine deaths, 11,000 people evacuated, 1,850 destroyed homes and about $4 billion in damages across the state, with 18 counties declared federal disaster areas, according to the Colorado Encyclopedia.
From the initial damage of the flood and the difficult recovery period to later commemorations, the 2013 flood has stayed with many people as a painful memory 10 years on. On this anniversary, communities are reflecting on lessons of the flood and its story of resilience amid tragedy.
A ‘biblical’ flood
Sitting at the intersection of the North St. Vrain and South St. Vrain creeks, the small mountain town of Lyons was one of the hardest hit communities.
Victoria Simonsen, the town administrator for Lyons, stepped into the role in 2013 prior to the flood and stayed in the position, helping the town recover ever since.
She said the whole town went to bed the night of Sept. 11, 2013, with the creeks at a normal level and no suspicion of the disaster that was to come.
“We were watching the creek, but we were not in any kind of panic mode at all,” Simonsen said.
It was in the late hours of that night, however, when the flooding started. At about 11 p.m. the water rose above the river beds, Simonsen said.
Usually local creeks hit low flooding levels when the water flows at 1,200 cubic feet per second, she said. By the end of the event, Lyons’ two creeks were flowing at 26,000 cubic feet per second. Simonsen said it was true flash flooding, and the water went from ankle deep to 12 feet deep very quickly.
“This was classified as between a 500 and 1,000 year event. The National Weather Service actually called it biblical in Lyons,” Simonsen said.
But it wasn’t until 2 a.m. that the town’s flood sirens actually went off, Simonsen said.
That was also when the water, which was rushing down from 14,000-foot mountains to the town at 5,300 feet, completely isolated neighborhoods and took out all three access points into town.
“The water came through the town at 2 a.m. and it literally divided our community into five islands,” Simonsen said.
The siren system sounded based on population, not location along the rivers, and when many residents woke to the sirens, Simonsen said she got calls from people saying the river was flowing in front of their homes, trapping them.
“We were stranded on our island for about 36 hours before we were able to get contact, and then the National Guard started arriving by helicopter and high water vehicles,” Simonsen said.
About 20 miles northwest, further into the Rocky Mountains, the Big Thompson River rushed through Estes Park and communities along the Big Thompson Canyon around the same time.
“It was the middle of the night I got a call saying it’s gonna be bad, so we opened up an emergency operations center,” Frank Lancaster, the Estes Park town administrator at the time and current trustee.
In the tourist town outside of Rocky Mountain National Park, two rivers and several creeks run through town, and one after another started flooding.
“We were dealing with one and then the other one came up and then basically all hell broke loose everywhere and couldn’t get in or out of town,” Lancaster said.
The only road in or out of Estes Park was Trail Ridge Road, a winding, small road that goes through the national park.
“Because the flooding was so widespread, the county was affected everywhere. So we really didn’t have much assistance from the county, because they couldn’t get up here and they were dealing with other places,” Lancaster said.
The National Park Service became their lifeline. Rangers helped sandbag the town to protect vital infrastructure and bring in materials.
Lancaster said the population in Estes Park is older, and when he went door-to-door to check on people he was surprised to find a lot of residents who were isolated and didn’t realize there was flooding.
Around Boulder County and Larimer County, communities large and small started calling for help.
Joe Pelle, then the Boulder County sheriff, said it was the first time in his career that deputies were unable to get to people in need.
He said during his tenure, he helped create a robust emergency management system and even went through several simulations of floods. None of these simulations could have prepared deputies for this kind of catastrophe, because almost all access to mountain communities was wiped out. In all of the simulations, Pelle said, first responders were able to create an alternate route.
“That night, one after another, all of the canyon roads failed or washed away in places and within a matter of a few hours,” Pelle said. “There was literally no access to our folks who live in the mountains.”
First responders couldn’t reach people in medical emergencies for a day and a half, Pelle said.
The unusual weather pattern, a prolonged rain storm in early September, that loomed over Northern Colorado was what experts call a cut-off low pressure system, according to Andreas Prein, a scientist with the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder.
Prein said these systems can be dangerous, because whatever weather the system brings, it will last for days.
The storm lasted from Sept. 9 to Sept 16 with persistent rain throughout the seven days, accumulating into torrential rain Sept. 11 and 12.
At the end of the event, Boulder County recorded 18.1 inches of rain and Larimer County recorded 12.4 inches.
“That night, Sept. 11, when those two storms collided over the top of our county, the rain was something I’d never seen happen throughout my entire life. It was just torrential,” Pelle said.
Prein said there are two factors that created that much rainfall. The first was the cut-off low pressure system that didn’t move, and the second was the warm sea surface temperatures in the Pacific Ocean and the Gulf region, which contributed to the amount of moisture in the atmosphere and then the amount of rainfall over Colorado.
“It’s almost unimaginable how strong the force of nature is in these kinds of events and how fast this can evolve, because there was a heat wave and very warm temperatures before the event,” Prein said.
Communities coming together
Lesly Fajardo-Feaux and her family lived in downtown Lyons at the time of the flood. She had two children, and one of them was just two-and-a-half months old.
It was the noise that woke her up that night.
“I thought this is so weird, and I heard the sirens and I went to see it, and there was water all over,” Fajardo-Feaux said. “I couldn’t believe what was happening.”
The whole street had flooded, she said. The river rerouted itself in front of their house, which trapped them that night and early the next day. Her house sat on a hill, which she said made it difficult to get up to in the winters with icy roads, but she was thankful for the hill during the flood.
That night she watched the street flood and her neighbor’s furniture flow past her.
“We were seeing refrigerators coming down the street and sofas and people’s furniture and people’s lives floating by,” Farjardo-Feaux said.
By the next afternoon, they were able to leave their home, and she saw the aftermath of the flood in the daylight.
There was no running water, no electricity, no internet and no phone service. About 20% of the town’s housing was destroyed, Simonsen said.
Although Lyons didn’t look like a town anymore, Farjardo-Feaux said the community really came together. There was even a community barbecue to use the food that would have gone bad.
“Lyons was a town where people are so happy all the time having music and people and all. There was a feeling that like, OK, everything is gonna be good, things are gonna be OK,” she said.
During those first couple of days, Simonsen said the community, which was already close-knit, came together to survive the isolation.
“When you’re facing actual life and death situations, you get pretty close, and our community really pulled together,” Simonsen said.
Pelle said he made it a priority to get a declaration of a federal disaster as soon as possible to get funds for what would be an expensive search, rescue and recovery operation.
An emotional sight he remembers was when the National Guard units were sent from Kansas and Utah. He couldn’t believe the size of the convoy and the amount of equipment they brought with them, he said.
“It was just incredible, and it was a couple of miles long with a military police escort, and it’s like the cavalry had arrived,” Pelle said. “Then within a matter of days or weeks all those roads that had been washed out were at least temporarily recovered.”
The National Guard coordinated one of the largest air lift evacuations since Hurricane Katrina to get people out of the mountains, according to Pelle.
For Fajardo-Feaux and everyone in town, that was just the beginning.
Fajardo-Feaux and her family cried as they drove down the mountain, unsure of where they would go and for how long. They spent the next few months couch-hopping and staying in hotels and rentals.
When Simonsen told residents they had to leave, she had no idea how long it would take to repair the damage and put in utilities. It ended up being about seven weeks, and Simonsen said families started coming back by Thanksgiving, and most were home by Christmas.
But for those whose homes were destroyed, coming back to Lyons wasn’t in their future.
Road to recovery
The process of repairing and recovery was another mountain of challenge the communities had to face.
Where to even start — that was the first obstacle. But Simonsen and her team created a comprehensive plan that she now sends to flood victims across the country as an example.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency showed up in Lyons in October, and the town got to work putting in temporary utilities.
Simonsen said it was a difficult process, because the flood in Boulder County was different than others FEMA had dealt with. Permits, permissions and impact studies stood in the way of recovery.
Lancaster experienced similar challenges with Estes Park’s recovery. He said FEMA understood flooding in the midwest and coastal areas, where water rose and went back down, not where water rushed through destroying anything in its path.
Both communities had to fight for recovery of recreational attractions that fueled much of their towns’ economies — white water rafting features, trees, wildlife habitats and parks. These were things FEMA didn’t originally cover.
During the early period of recovery from the flood, Simonsen set a goal of being back to normal in four years. But Simenson said FEMA agents told her it would take much longer.
“I said, ‘No way, we’re really close, we’ll get it done.’ And they said, ‘No, you’re not understanding the financial part, this will be a six to 10 year event.’ And it was nine years,” Simonsen said.
The small town of Lyons was able to leverage $75 million in federal funds to recover from the flood, according to Simonsen. At the time, its annual budget was $1.2 million with $4 million in reserves. The recovery funds, though, are all reimbursement-based, and it is still waiting for reimbursement from the federal government for some projects.
Simonsen said there were very positive moments throughout the recovery process, but the community went through many low points.
“You start this rebuilding phase and then you, of course, have setbacks. They say anniversaries are usually low points for people where they’re reflecting. But, you know, very gradually you make your way back up. But it’s a long, long process,” Simonsen said.
One of those low points was when neighbors realized some people weren’t going to come back.
“At some point, you have to move on with your life if you aren’t able to rebuild,” Simonsen said.
The issue of affordable housing haunts Lyons. The flood wiped out the town’s mobile home park, Riverbend, and 32 families lost their homes there.
For Craig Ferguson, founder and owner of Planet Bluegrass, which hosts beloved bluegrass and folk music festivals in Lyons, the flood was an attack on his home and business. He decided to stay when the whole town evacuated and started right away on the road to recovery.
“Once you clean it up,” Ferguson said of his house in Lyons, “it’s pretty comfortable. I’d rather live here. I’d rather camp in my house and take showers elsewhere than go live somewhere else.”
Ferguson didn’t wait to ask for permission before getting to work on his Planet Bluegrass property. He said he had a deadline in sight to be open for the next festival in the summer.
Before him was about $2 million in damages, mountains of flood-deposited sand and damaged utilities.
So, Ferguson said he bought one of the last available backhoes in the state and got to work.
“We fixed up our place pretty aggressively and we just had to do it that way in order to survive,” Ferguson said.
Ferguson put on the bluegrass festival that summer as usual.
“That was the biggest celebration you can imagine. You know to the bluegrass world this is a pretty special place,” Ferguson said. “No one thought it would happen during the first two months, seeing the pictures, even most of my partners (said) we couldn’t do it.”
Lancaster said during this period, people’s creativity really shined.
He said the Estes Park community also came together and during its annual Thanksgiving parade, when people decorated their neighborhood-assigned Porta Potties to bring some joy to the difficult times.
“You know, people could be really frustrated and angry instead, but they said my Porta Potty is prettier than your Porta Potty and they decorated them and some of them put them on wheels and brought them in the parade,” Lancaster said.
Estes Park took severe hits to its roads, especially up the Big Thompson Canyon, which was severely damaged during the flood of 1976, when the road was completely wiped out. It was rebuilt with a promise it was floodproof, but in 2013 it was again wiped out.
The water undermined the canyon walls and rockslides completely covered the roads in certain areas.
“There was a section down in the Big Thompson in the narrows where you couldn’t tell there was ever a road there,” Lancaster said. “It wasn’t like the road was missing or damaged, there was no road and there was no sign of it either.”
Lancaster said he remembers after the 1976 flood the road wasn’t back to normal for years, so he could not imagine the road being back up for a while after the 2013 flood. But crews got U.S. 34 repaired by the new year.
“They got it up, and they did it right this time, and that’s why they made so many changes. They worked a lot on making the road a lot more resilient,” Lancaster said.
He said resiliency was their priority. Everything was about how to repair and make infrastructure more resilient. Bridges, riverbeds and buildings all went through a process to ensure the community could last through more floods.
“There’s still some other things we really need to do. We need to deepen this channel (along the local riverwalk) and have it handle more water. There’s a couple more bridges we need to replace even 10 years later,” Lancaster said.
For Lyons, Simonsen said the last flood-recovery project wrapped up in October, but she is still waiting for reimbursements from the federal government.
With the end of the last recovery project, she said the town can finally move on.
“Now that the projects are actually all done, we can actually kind of close that chapter, but we will always be recovering in different ways,” Simonsen said.
The town plans to hold a commemoration and remembrance of the flood this year for the 10th anniversary.
Simonsen said, however, community members remember the flood in different ways. For some, every time it rains they get nervous. Others still hold a barbecue on the night of Sept. 11, like they did 10 years ago.
Simonsen said she knew she had to see the recovery through in Lyons during the last decade.
Now, she said the community can focus on other parts of town that need attention.
“Pretty much the rest of town was kind of neglected the last 10 years. So now we have lots of work to do on streets, sewer and water lines, where we simply did not have funds to put toward it the last 10 years,” Simonsen said.
The issue of affordable housing still looms over Lyons, which lost nearly all its affordable housing to the flood.
Many families couldn’t afford to come back to the community. With disagreements on how to achieve affordable housing, the town is just now starting to see less-expensive units come in.
Ferguson worked to provide affordable housing downtown at a property that used to be a bank. He worked with Habitat for Humanity to bring back people who lost their homes to the flood.
Recently, Simonsen said the town started on a project to get 40 units of affordable housing built on a property donated by someone who lives in Kansas and has land in Lyons. The first eight opened and more are due to open soon.
“The community thought there’s not going to be anyone left who wants to come back because people had to move, but I’m happy to say that over 30% were here 10 years ago,” Simonsen said.
Looking to the future
After the rebuilding and mitigation efforts, communities still consider what would happen if another event like the 2013 flood were to happen.
“It’s not a question of will this happen and will we be ready or even when it does happen again. Will it not be as devastating?” Lancaster said.
Prein, of NCAR, researches climate change’s effects on major weather events like the flood. He said if another low pressure system stalls over the Front Range, there is likely to be even more rainfall because of the effects of a warming climate.
“The answer will almost certainly be there will be way more rainfall, because it’s really this moisture that you get from the south from the Gulf. Moisture increases with warming,” he said.
Researchers are not certain about how climate change affects the likelihood of cut-off low pressure systems, he said. But, if one does happen again, it is likely to be more devastating.
Colorado authorities built bridges higher, moved buildings out of the floodplains, carved further into the mountains to lay roads, and completely rebuilt stream banks. Yet, Simonsen, Lancaster and Ferguson all said another flood will happen, and they can’t fully prepare for what it will bring.
“What you try to do is minimize the risk, but you can’t avoid the risk, there will always be risk, and you have to balance that with the other needs of the community,” Lancaster said.
Preparing for the damage that comes with flooding of that magnitude isn’t possible, but in the last 10 years communities focused on mitigating what risk they could.
“It’s been a wonderfully challenging 10 years, and I think my goal always as a city manager is you leave the community better than you found it, and I think we did,” Simonsen said.
A tragic night in Fort Collins 26 years ago birthed what grew into the single largest daily precipitation network in the U.S. The July 1997 Spring Creek Flood killed five people, injured 54 and caused millions in damages. The catastrophe turned into a grassroots collaboration that served as impetus for the creation of the Community Collaborative Rain, Hail and Snow Network, which has grown from its humble Fort Collins beginnings into 26,000 volunteer citizen scientists across the country and beyond.
“I had never seen a storm like that in my entire life,” said Nolan Doesken, Colorado’s state climatologist at the time and founder of CoCoRaHS…
It wasn’t just the copious amount of rain that caused one of the city’s most damaging natural disasters July 27-28, 1997, but also the wide variance in rain received across the city. Western parts of the city saw more than 14 inches of rain in 31 hours, while the center of the city saw 6 inches and eastern areas 2 inches. The 14.5 inches was nearly as much precipitation as the city sees in an average year. But those measurements weren’t known because there wasn’t a way to reliably measure torrential rains in Colorado, Doesken said.
“The state had just completed a study of extreme rain events at the time,” he said. “The conclusion was we didn’t for sure know how much rain fell during past storms producing rain that creates flooding. I felt this was my chance.”
Click the link to read the article on the Vail Daily website (Ali Longwell). Here’s an excerpt:
Supported by a Colorado Department of Health and Environment Grant, Frog Creek Partners installed 278 new Gutter Bins throughout town
Last week, a crew from Frog Creek Partners traveled throughout Vail to install Gutter Bin stormwater filtration systems across a quarter of the town’s stormwater drains to capture debris and pollution before it reaches Gore Creek. Each year, these 278 Gutter Bins will stop approximately 27.8 tons (or 55,600 pounds) of pollution from reaching Gore Creek, according to Brian Deurloo, Frog Creek’s president and founder. Vail has a total of 1,100 stormwater inlets — the open grates in the street — that flow to about 550 outfalls in Gore Creek. These open grates are different from sanitary sewers, which take water from items like sinks, toilets and washing machines through a wastewater treatment process before being discharged to the creek…
What this equates to is “a lot of opportunities for pollution to be introduced into Gore Creek through our stormwater system,” said Pete Wadden, the town’s watershed health specialist.
This pollution comes both directly from people dumping things into the stormwater drains or indirectly from the pollutants that run off the roadways, Wadden said. The latter include road salt, sand, cinders, dust from brakes, leaked oil from cars, and more…
…for many years, the town has been seeking cheaper alternatives to capture pollutants. In 2018, Vail discovered Frog Creek Partners’ Gutter Bins and installed several at the public works site and at Stephens Park…
“We’ve been really happy with how they’ve performed. They’re capturing something like 40 to 80 pounds of sediment and trash every six months when we go out and empty them,” Wadden said.
The Grand Junction Fire Department has conducted five river rescues since May 1, according to spokesperson Ellis Thompson-Ellis. Training for river rescues has been a priority for the department of late, as people have underestimated the current conditions and their own skill levels. The Colorado River near Palisade was discharging at between 17,000 and 17,500 cubic feet per second, well above the median for this time of year, which is around 8,000 cfs, and the Gunnison River near Grand Junction is discharging at around 13,000 cfs, also well above the median of around 6,500 cfs. Those high waters have closed multiple sections of the Riverfront Trail, and the city of Grand Junction is warning people away from the River Park at Las Colonias.
Throughout the Colorado River Basin, it’s been a wet winter. There is great snowpack in the Rocky Mountains, where the Colorado River and many of its tributaries begin. And in Arizona, the Salt and Verde Rivers benefited from the above average winter precipitation. This spring, Phoenix Valley residents received a beautiful reminder that there is a river running through the heart of the region—the Salt River, or Rio Salado.
The river, which is typically dry due to damming and water demands in the Valley, has been flowing through the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community and the cities of Mesa, Tempe, and Phoenix since late March. The Nina Mason Pulliam Rio Salado Audubon Center sits on the south bank of the river, just two miles south of downtown Phoenix.
Spring flooding used to be a regular occurrence before dams were built in the 1900s on the Verde and Salt Rivers. Indigenous communities have thrived in the region for millennia thanks to these rivers. Spring floods benefit the ecosystem by hydrating the soil, germinating riverside plant seeds, replenishing groundwater, and attracting birds like Great Egrets and Green Herons.
Here are some questions asked and answered about the Salt River/Rio Salado:
Why is the Salt River flowing now?
The Salt River Project (SRP) manages the Salt and Verde reservoir systems that bring water into the Phoenix region. This winter created an impressive snowpack that resulted in a special occurrence—the SRP reservoirs filled up to near-capacity. In early March, to prepare for spring’s rising temperatures and increasing snowmelt, SRP began releasing water—from the Verde River through Bartlett Dam and on the Salt River through Roosevelt Dam—to create additional storage capacity within the reservoirs to safely capture the upcoming snowmelt and river runoff.
How much water has flowed down the river so far?
According to SRP, more than 700,000 acre-feet of water from the Salt and Verde Rivers has been released from their reservoirs downstream. This has meant there is enough water to flow to the Gila River, and the Gila River has rejoined with the Colorado River near Yuma. One acre-foot of water can provide for approximately 3.5 Arizona households per year.
Will the Salt River flow like this every time we have a wet winter?
It depends. When there is more water than the reservoir systems can hold, SRP has to release water into the riverbed (yay!). SRP is also planning infrastructure projects to raise the height of Bartlett Dam to increase the water storage capacity in Barlett Reservoir. This will capture and store more water on the Verde River, for delivery to water users. This could also mean less water released downstream into the Salt River, depending on rain and snowfall amounts.
Will this wet winter bring us out of drought?
While this winter provided relief to our short-term drought conditions in Arizona and throughout much of the Colorado River Basin, it would take many years of greater-than-average snow and rainfall to recover from the record-breaking megadrought we are experiencing. To stabilize Lake Mead and Lake Powell, we need to use less water.
What can we do to support birds, people, habitat, and rivers?
We can also manage groundwater throughout all of Arizona. Right now, in more than 80% of the state (outside of the “Active Management Areas”), a landowner can drill a well and pump unlimited amounts of groundwater, even if it causes declines in or dries up neighboring wells; even if it leads to the depletion of a nearby community’s water supplies; and even if the pumping depletes the water flowing in connected rivers.
Where can I enjoy the Salt River near downtown Phoenix?
You can visit the Rio Salado Audubon Center at no cost. Located along the Rio Salado Habitat Restoration Area, you can use the accessible trails. Come experience native plants and wildflowers, wildlife like racoons and beavers, and of course, birds—more than 200 species of birds have been sighted along the area. Blue-gray Gnatcatchers and Abert’s Towhees are frequent visitors to the Rio Salado Audubon Center.
We are grateful for years like this one when we see the Salt River come back to life. And while we don’t expect years like this all that often, it reminds us of the importance of rivers, lakes, and steams—for people and birds.
Watch the recent local news coverage of the flowing Salt River / Rio Salado near the Nina Mason Pulliam Rio Salado Audubon Center:
According to a statement issued by Logan County Emergency Management Officer Jerry Casebolt Monday afternoon, the river level at the Atwood Gauge had peaked at 7.45 feet, nearly two feet below any level requiring action.
Casebolt said the high water had made it to the Crook bridge on County Road 55 early Monday, with river flow rising from 323 cubic feet per second on Sunday to 2,180 cfs on Monday. He said the Fort Morgan gauge was reporting 12.11 feet on Monday afternoon, down from 13.72 ft yesterday at this time. Meanwhile, the gauge at Kersey also had leveled off at 5.45 ft, which is down from its peak of 8.41 ft on Saturday morning. The high water was caused by nearly two days of continuous rain along the Front Range, The hardest rainfall seemed to occur in the central metro area, with Aurora recording 5.1 inches of rain between May 9 and May 12. In that same time period Denver reported 5 inches, Boulder 2.5 inches, Longmont 2.3 inches, Broomfield 3.5 inches, Loveland 2.4 inches, Fort Collins 2.25 inches and Greeley 4 inches.
While the runoff will subside over the next day or so, it will be followed by snowmelt as temperatures become warmer in the coming week. Daily highs along the Front Range should be in the upper 60s and upper 70s the rest of the week, with periods of possible thunderstorms at the end of the week.
Click the link to read the article on the Pagosa Springs Website (Monica Nigon). Here’s an excerpt:
As of 2 a.m. on May 10, the San Juan River at Pagosa Springs was flowing at 238 percent of normal at 2,940 cubic feet per second (cfs), measured at 9 feet at the gage, according to the San Juan River Basin SNOTEL site, which measures snowpack and river flows and is operated by the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS).
A graph from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) clocks the snow water equivalent (SWE) on Wolf Creek Pass at 135.5 percent of normal as of May 10.
The inflow of water into [Navajo Lake] was 5,791 cfs, as opposed to May 9, 2022, when the inflow was 2,575 cfs…Furthermore, the Navajo River near Chromo sits much higher than average, running at 239 percent of normal as of May 10.
“The reservoirs are full,” said District Manager Justin Ramsey of the Pagosa AreaWater and Sanitation District (PAWSD), “and there’s still a lot of snow up there. I think it will probably be a good year.”
In order to begin moving sediment in advance of the spring peak release, and to slow the reservoir rise, the Bureau of Reclamation has scheduled in the release from Navajo Dam from 500 cubic feet per second (cfs) to 1200 cfs for the evening of Friday, May 12th , and from 1200 cfs to 2000 cfs on Monday, May 15th, where it will remain for much of the week. The release changes will occur as per the following schedule:5/12 (Friday)
10:00 PM: Increase from 500 to 700 cfs
12:00 AM: Increase from 700 to 900 cfs
2:00 AM: Increase from 900 to 1100 cfs
4:00 AM: Increase from 1100 to 1200 cfs
8:00 AM: 1200 to 1400 cfs
10:00 AM: 1400 to 1600 cfs
12:00 PM: 1600 to 1800 cfs
2:00 PM: 1800 to 2000 cfs
This increase is being made in advance of the ramp up to the spring peak release, which is still scheduled to begin at the end of next week. PLEASE STAY TUNED FOR UPDATES AS THIS OPERATION IS DEPENDANT ON ON-THE-GROUND CONDITIONS AND WEATHER.If you have any questions, please contact Susan Behery (email@example.com or 970-385-6560), or visit Reclamation’s Navajo Dam website at https://www.usbr.gov/uc/water/crsp/cs/nvd.html
Waters from a creek in Parachute continue to rise and threaten nearby residences, a town official said.
Town Manager Travis Elliott said Thursday [May 4, 2023] morning that the flow of Parachute Creek is currently at its highest it has been in nearly 50 years. The creek runs from the high country north of town into the Colorado River.
During a high runoff season in 1976, the creek reached a depth of 9.47 feet. As of 11 a.m. Thursday, a monitor showed the creek had reached a depth of 9.42 feet deep. The creek also reached a flow of 1,120 cubic feet per second, as of 3 p.m. Thursday.
The rising water level has caused flooding in multiple spots throughout town, which is threatening up to 16 buildings and residences. This includes neighborhoods along Cardinal Way, near Grand Valley High School, Cottonwood Park and Russey Avenue on the north side of Interstate 70.
“In some places it looks like the swamplands of Louisiana,” Elliott said. “But, overall, I think we are in good shape thanks to the generosity and resiliency of our community members.”
There have so far been no indications of evacuations. Community members have spent this past week setting up sandbags and barriers in the hopes of keeping the rising water levels at bay.
“We’ve gone through about 1,000 sandbags,” Elliott said.
Structures being directly threatened by water include sheds, shops and various outbuildings, as well as homes. One residential basement is already flooded in three feet of water, Elliott said.
The city is also concerned the rising waters could reach the bottom of local bridges while the city is monitoring its sewer lift station at the wastewater treatment plant.
One Cardinal Way resident, Brandon Renck, said his backyard is currently being threatened by water.
“That’s definitely swirling around our house,” he said. “Some of the neighbors down the street have it worse than us. It’s definitely scary.”
Renck said his backyard is adjacent to Parachute Creek and the water damaged his landscaping. He also said he had a “really nice fence that got swept away.”
“We have a row of sandbags on our property,” he said. “If it gets high onto our grass, it would get to our back door.
We have friends we can stay with. Other than that, there’s not a whole lot that we can do.”
Mayor Tom Rugaard said, instead of going to practice, he brought members of his wrestling team to help put up sandbags. The Grand Valley Fire Protection District, Grace Bible Church, other high school kids and various residents have helped with mitigation efforts. The Garfield County Sheriff’s Office, its emergency manager, and the city of Rifle have made it clear they’re on standby, ready to help when necessary, the town said.
On Tuesday, the town had at least 40 volunteers helping fill sandbags, some as young as six as well as senior citizens.
“It’s been really cool, and I’m really proud of the people in our area who have come out of the woodwork to help the people in need,” Rugaard said.
“It’s really nice to be a part of a community that jumps in and helps others out.”
While the help has been nice, Rugaard did express some frustrations over the lack of data keeping for creeks and other elements.
“We have all these agencies that watch the Colorado River for us, but as far as tributaries? There’s not a lot of information out there,” he said. “There’s tools out there, but it would be nice to know how much snowpack is left and how that’s going to affect us yet.”
Elliott said there’s cooler weather in the forecast, which can hopefully help bring down the rising levels of Parachute Creek.
“We know there’s a lot more coming,” he said. “It’s all a matter of how fast it melts.”
Here’s a drone video of the flooding:
Garfield County is providing sandbags to residents in unincorporated areas who may be at risk of flooding as the local snowpack melts and rivers and streams rise. Up to 20 filled sandbags may be available on site at Garfield County Road and Bridge locations or residents can pick up 50 empty sandbags that they can fill off site.
The bags area available from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Rifle Road and Bridge campus, 0298 County Road 333A, and by appointment only from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Glenwood Springs facility, 7300 Highway 82. Residents of unincorporated western Garfield County can also pick up unfilled sandbags at the De Beque Fire Protection District station, 4580 U.S. Highway 6. Those bags can be filled at the Cowboy Chapel at the corner of county roads 204 and 211, just north of De Beque.
Residents living within cities or towns should contact those municipalities directly for assistance with issues related to potential flooding. Contact Garfield County Road and Bridge at (970) 625-8601 for more information or to schedule an appointment to pick up sandbags at the Glenwood Springs location.
Visit garfield-county.com for local updates on flood conditions and possible impacts and sign up for Garfield County Emergency Communications Authority (GarCo911) alerts at garco911.com/.
The Colorado Department of Transportation is strongly considering closing Colorado 141 between Naturita and Gateway Friday evening, May 5, due to water levels on the Dolores River and extra caution over the structural integrity of the bridge at Roc Creek.
If the river reaches expected levels, CDOT plans to close the highway at 5 p.m. Friday, with the highway remaining closed until the flood danger has subsided. According to a CDOT news release, the closure is dependent on various factors, including snowmelt and reservoir releases. As flow amounts fluctuate, the bridge over Roc Creek may require additional closures
“River flows in the area have not been observed at these levels in 18 years. With the flood event expected to peak this Friday, we are taking proactive and cautionary measures at this particular bridge. Engineers and maintenance personnel will be assessing the structural integrity throughout this high-flow event,” Regional Transportation Director Julie Constan said in the news release.
For safety, CDOT has determined that the bridge structure at Roc Creek should be closed to traffic while peak water flows are occurring. The structure is located approximately 27.5 miles north of Naturita at mile point 88.5. The northbound closure point is located north of Naturita and the County Road CC junction at mile point 64. The southbound closure point is just south of Gateway, at mile point 110.
CDOT hydraulics engineers are closely watching forecasts, as well as tracking the anticipated releases from McPhee Reservoir in Montezuma County, CDOT spokeswoman Lisa Schwantes said.
“It’s going to be a combination of those things that really have an effect on how high the water flow is,” she said. With respect to whether CDOT in fact closes 141: “We’re leaning toward the side of caution.”
The National Weather Service (NWS) has issued a flood advisory for the Dolores River due to the increased release of water from McPhee Reservoir. The flood advisory also includes the Dolores and San Miguel Rivers due to heavy runoff from snowmelt. The flood advisory is in place until further notice and covers Montrose County, as well as the counties of Montezuma, Dolores and San Miguel.
CDOT is less concerned that water will overflow the top of the bridge — projections have the river hitting about 2 to 4 feet below. Rather, the concern is how the bridge structure might respond to a high flow at a rate not seen in close to 20 years, Schwantes said. There is some concern about the bridge piers, as well as large debris that could wash down and lodge beneath it.
“We’re confident of the integrity of the bridge, but we don’t want anyone driving over it when those high peak flows are occurring,” she said.
The northbound closure point is located north of Naturita and the County Road CC junction at mile point 64. The southbound closure point is just south of Gateway, at mile point 110.
The National Weather Service (NWS) has issued a flood advisory for the Dolores River due to the increased release of water from McPhee Reservoir. The flood advisory also includes the Dolores and San Miguel Rivers due to heavy runoff from snowmelt. The flood advisory is in place until further notice and covers Montrose County, as well as the counties of Montezuma, Dolores and San Miguel.
Routt County Emergency Management is warning residents to expect flooding Thursday, May 4, into Friday, May 5, with the Yampa River anticipated to reach its highest level yet this season. Emergency Operations Manager David “Mo” DeMorat told Routt County commissioners on Monday, May 1, that the river had hit 6,500 cubic feet per second, and warm temperatures are expected to continue through the week, which could cause the river to reach 7,000 cfs by Friday. DeMorat said this amount of water for the Yampa River is considered “action level” flooding by the National Weather Service. Action levels generally require municipalities to keep a closer eye on flooding and have potential mitigation plans and flood warnings in place…
To gauge what flooding will look like, the county uses snow-water equivalent gauges that provide estimates for the amount of snowmelt that could occur three to four weeks out. This looks at the amount of snow on the ground, but cannot predict at what rate it will melt. Because of this, no exact estimates can be given, as it is ultimately the weather and the freeze-and-thaw cycle that will determine at what rate the snow melts.
DeMorat explained to commissioners that these gauges show areas north of Steamboat and the Stagecoach Reservoir currently have the highest potential for flooding. Three snow-water equivalent gauges stationed north of Steamboat have helped emergency management identify these regions as problem areas for flooding due to the snowpack that could melt. All three are north of Steamboat with one near Dry Lake, one near Lost Dog Creek and another slightly farther northwest. DeMorat noted these locations range from 165-185% of the average snowpack. He told commissioners that Stagecoach Reservoir is another area of concern with 140% of its average snowpack.
Alongside the problem areas DeMorat named, the National Weather Service issued a flood warning for Elkhead Creek, particularly where the creek meets the Yampa River. This flood warning began on Monday and will end Friday unless communicated otherwise by the National Weather Service.
The Mid-Atlantic Regional Integrated Sciences and Assessments (MARISA), a NOAA CAP/RISA team, principal investigators Jordan Fischbach, Debra Knopman, and Klaus Keller published a new tool to mainstream green infrastructure planning in the publication, “Rhodium-SWMM: An open-source tool for green infrastructure placement under deep uncertainty.” Green infrastructure measures are stormwater management practices that mimic natural hydrological processes that are used to mitigate negative impacts of urban development and climate change adaptation. While these practices are increasingly being used, there is a challenge to evaluate their effectiveness due to some deep uncertainties and require navigating tradeoffs between multiple objectives. Advanced decision-making tools and methods such as Robust Decision Making (RDM) and Many-Objective Robust Decision Making (MORDM) have been applied to green infrastructure sparingly, but there has still been a lack of open-source tools to support decision-makers.
The MARISA investigators have developed Rhodium-SWMM that connect two open source tools: the Stormwater Management Model (SWMM) and Rhodium, a Python library for MORDM. This new open-source Python library provides an interface for taking SWMM files and applying them to a wide range of parameters identified as uncertainties or levers. . It helps to efficiently search and sample GI decision alternatives and identify vulnerabilities in the system for better multifunctional solutions to future changes.
After a quick weather jump from cold to warm over the past week, there have now been multiple areas of mud and debris flow throughout Glenwood Springs and the surrounding area due to the rapidly melting snow on Red Mountain and elsewhere. On Tuesday morning, a major debris flow blocked access to the wastewater treatment facility in West Glenwood, along with covering the Union Pacific Railroad train tracks in West Glenwood, causing a freight train to get stuck…
On Monday, local trails on Red Mountain and at Wulsohn Mountain Park, and on the higher trails of the South Canyon trail system were closed from mud flows, and the city was urging people to stay off the closed trails…
In addition, Garfield County emergency management officials reported late Monday that County Road 127 (3 Mile Road) was covered with water and mud and a private bridge was washed out at the half mile mark due to flooding on Three Mile Creek. Several residences were also being impacted. And, the Colorado Department of Transportation was reporting mudflow activity in Glenwood Canyon near Interstate 70.
Last year, Elkhead Reservoir operators carefully managed the reservoir that straddles the Routt and Moffat countyline due to low water issues, but this year reservoir managers are facing challenges due to high water from abundant snowmelt in the Yampa Valley. Managers predict Elkhead Reservoir will top its spillway in mid-May with water exiting the spillway and outflow at a combined rate of about 2,000 cubic feet per second, or cfs, or about the same level of peak water as in wet 2011, said Don Meyer, senior water resources engineer with the Colorado River Water Conservation District based in Glenwood Springs.
“The current outflow is about 550 cfs with valves 100% open,” Meyer said. “When (the reservoir is) full, the release will be 590 cfs. When spilling, we will likely keep the outlet discharge at 590 cfs, and the rest will go over the spillway.”
Meyer, who has managed Elkhead Reservoir releases since 2007, said high water flows in 2011 recorded 1,800 cfs on May 8 and more than 2,000 cfs on May 16, May 24 and June 4. He expects 2023 spillage will follow a similar path…
The watershed upstream of Elkhead Reservoir drains a 205-square-mile basin, according to the river district that owns or controls water supplies that are available for contract to agricultural, municipal, industrial and other water users.
The county Department of Public Works says in a news release that the threat of flooding in the county from rapid snowmelt primarily poses a flood threat on the Colorado and Gunnison rivers, but several creeks and washes also can be at significant risk of flooding.
Colorado’s snowpack on Friday was at 133% of median for that date, according to the Natural Resources Conservation Service. Snowpack is at 143% of normal in the Yampa/White river basins, 123% in the upper Colorado River Basin in Colorado, 159% in the Gunnison River Basin and 184% in the combined San Juan/Dolores/San Miguel/Animas basins…Snowpack at three measurement sites on Grand Mesa ranges from 137% to 238% of normal. The Columbine Pass site on the Uncompahgre Plateau is holding four times the normal amount of snow for this time in April.
Flooding already has occurred in places such as Dolores, Montrose County and Hayden in Routt County. Delta County and the city of Delta have been making preparations for high waters on waterways including the Gunnison and Uncompahgre rivers, through measures ranging from checking and cleaning culverts and storm drains…Gudorf said anywhere from Palisade to Fruita along the Colorado River has potential for flooding in lower-lying areas…Among other areas she is concerned about are Plateau Creek, and the Dolores River in Gateway. She said drainages in the Redlands area also may be susceptible to high waters from snow melting at higher elevations…
Gudorf said that when temperatures started warming up quickly a while back she got nervous about rapidly increasing runoff, but the cooldown that followed gave her some hope for a slow but steady runoff season. But she said a lot of snowmelt needs to come off Grand Mesa. Another concerning factor is a recent windstorm that deposited dust on a lot of Colorado’s mountains, which can accelerate snowmelt as the dark dust absorbs heat from the sun.
When Luz Marquez returned to her Heritage Estates home off Marine Road Wednesday morning, she was prepared for an ordinary day. What she found was water — lots of it, pooling in her backyard, flowing under a raised shed, and carving small trenches through her parking area to dump the gravel there into the street…
Montrose County had been anticipating flooding this year, based on high snowpack and the potential for a quick melt and runoff. The county was getting sand and sandbags ready for distribution, cleaning ditches and had a contractor lined up for the work. But the water came even sooner than expected.
“It came a little quicker than we thought,” Montrose County Road and Bridge Superintendent Brandon Wallace said, as he and other county staff worked at Heritage Estates. “We watched all night and it decided it really wanted to release. We were trying to get a game plan to clear out some of these drainage ditches cleaned out to alleviate some of this water.”
Montrose County was on alert for weeks, in light of intense snowpack, which just weeks ago stood at record highs in parts of the Gunnison River Basin…The water came roaring about a week sooner than was expected, upending the county’s plans to clear out drainage ditches when things are a bit drier. “The water just beat us to it. We really thought we had a little bit bigger window to get it cleaned when it was dry,” Hawkins said.
A way-above-average snowpack has already begun melting, meaning rivers on the Western Slope will likely be rushing this year — and some nearby adventure outfitters will be happy to see it. The increased flows will likely have both positive and negative impacts on the services, but owners and managers agreed: southwestern Colorado needs water, and nobody’s complaining about it…
As of March 21, the Daily Press reported SnoTel sites above nearby waterways and their reservoirs show big-time snowpack, with the gauge at Columbine Pass sitting at 262% of normal and more than 41 inches of snow water equivalent on the Uncompahgre Plateau. It’s already melting, as evidenced by the flooding seen earlier this week at the Heritage Estates neighborhood off Marine Road.
COLORADO is estimating 750,000 acre-feet on the Rio Grande and 405,000 acre-feet on the Conejos River, both dramatically up from a year ago thanks to healthy snowpack in the San Juan Mountains, State Engineer Kevin Rein told the Rio Grande Compact Commission on Friday.
“Forecasted river flows are much better this year, especially for the rivers starting in the San Juan Mountains,” Rein said. “Streamflows from the San Juan Mountains are estimated to be 130 to 250 percent of the last 30-year average.”
The Sangre de Cristo Mountains are at near average snowpack conditions, but still better than recent years, Rein said.
Streamflows on the Trinchera, Culebra, and Crestone creeks are forecasted at 90 to 120 percent of the last 30-year average, he said.
In 2022, the Rio Grande had 442,000 acre-feet and the Conejos 266,000 acre-feet for a third straight year of below average stream flows.
Rein’s presentation to the Rio Grande Compact Commission, which manages water on the Rio Grande for the states of Colorado, New Mexico and Texas, included a report on the San Luis Valley’s subdistrict system and Colorado’s groundwater pumping rules that Valley irrigators have to follow.
Subdistrict 1, which is the biggest land subdivision in the San Luis Valley with 3,000 water wells and where farmers hold contracts with entities like Coors, Walmart and Safeway, has submitted a fourth plan of water management to Rein and the Colorado Division of Water Resources in its effort to meet the sustainability requirements for Upper Rio Grande’s unconfined aquifer.
“It is struggling with meeting its sustainability requirements in the unconfined aquifer,” Rein told the Rio Grande Compact Commission.
The proposed fourth plan of water management by Subdistrict 1 would require irrigators to cover groundwater withdrawals with natural surface water or through the purchase of surface water credits. The plan calls for a 1-to-1 augmentation, meaning for every acre-foot of water used, an acre-foot has to be returned to the unconfined aquifer through recharging ponds.
In the San Luis Valley, well owners must replace their injurious river depletions by participating in a subdistrict or by getting a court-approved augmentation plan. The subdistricts, governed by the Rio Grande Water Conservation District, must get state approval for annual replacement plans that show how farmers and ranchers are covering their water depletions.
There are three upcoming state water court cases involving irrigators in Subdistrict 1 who filed their own augmentation plans in an effort to stay out of the subdistrict.
The largest of the three cases involves the Sustainable Water Augmentation Group (SWAG), which consists of 17,000 irrigated acres in Subdistrict 1. That case is set for a five-week trial in July and will be closely watched to see how a proposed augmentation plan this large is reviewed by state water court.
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March, which is typically Utah’s best month for precipitation, outdid itself this year. By the time it was over, precipitation was 250% of normal, more than twice what the month generally delivers.
“I don’t know what we did to deserve March, but it was something. I don’t know what to say about March. I know our forecast staff was extremely tired. It was just phenomenal,” said Glen Merrill, senior hydrologist with the National Weather Service in Salt Lake City, adding not only was the wet weather outstanding, but the cool temperatures as well…
The warmer temperatures last week kick-started the melt from lower and mid-elevations of a snowpack that exceeded that of the early ’80s and even, cautiously speaking, the big snow year of 1952, although at that time measurements were not taken as often and measure sites were not as plentiful…That snow coming off the mountains means extraordinarily high stream runoff forecasts in some areas and flooding that is already happening at Emigration Creek, resulting in the closure of some recreational trails near waterways and wary eyes cast on the Weber and Ogden rivers…
All that water needs to go somewhere and reservoirs are already in an operational mode of controlled releases to make room for the coming melt. The precipitation has also delivered enough water to lift the ailing Great Salt Lake by 3.5 feet and forecasters predict Lake Powell will receive 11 million acre-feet of water due to inflows. Neither of those amounts are enough to get the Great Salt Lake or Lake Powell Reservoir out of trouble, but it will help. And as the berm dividing the north arm of the Great Salt Lake from the south arm is expected to be eclipsed by the precipitation, water experts said some of that additional water will make it into the north arm — a good thing.
When Denver’s early settlers built the High Line Canal back in the 1880s, little did they know what the future would hold for the 71-mile man-made waterway that stretches from Waterton Canyon southwest of Littleton all the way to Aurora.
The High Line Canal was originally designed to deliver irrigation water to farmers on the dry plains of Denver. While Denver Water still owns and uses the canal to deliver irrigation water to customers, the canal corridor also has grown into a recreational asset and an ecological resource for the metro area.
On the recreational side, each year around 500,000 people walk, run and ride the canal’s 71-mile maintenance road that also serves as a popular trail. As an ecological resource, some sections of the canal structure itself are now being used for stormwater management.
The evolution of the public’s use of the canal for recreation and stormwater management, along with its original role as a water delivery method, is one of the reasons why Denver Water and regional partners, including cities, counties, park and flood districts and stormwater management entities, have partnered with the High Line Canal Conservancy. The nonprofit organization’s mission is to preserve, protect and enhance the 71-mile canal in partnership with the public.
Denver Water plays an active role in the ongoing discussions about the canal’s future as it continues to serve its High Line customers. Because the canal has a junior water right and experiences high seepage and evaporation losses over large distances, Denver Water is looking for more reliable and efficient ways to deliver water to some of the High Line customers.
“As the canal’s role in the metro area evolves, Denver Water is committed to making sure it remains a beneficial asset to the community,” said Jeannine Shaw, Denver Water’s former government relations manager. “That’s why in 2020, the Denver Water Board of Commissioners approved an historic $10 million pledge to the High Line Canal Conservancy to invest in the long-term care and maintenance of the canal corridor.”
Included in the pledge is a piece of property and an office building located adjacent to the canal in Centennial for the Conservancy to use as its new headquarters.
As part of this evolution, the Conservancy, Denver Water and canal stakeholders are creating a new management structure called the Canal Collaborative to formally connect the regional partners as they guide the future of the canal.
“The collaborative helps us do more together than any one entity can do alone,” said Suzanna Fry Jones, senior director of programs and partnerships for the High Line Canal Conservancy. “The collaborative management structure will ensure this treasured resource is preserved, protected and enhanced as a regional legacy for future generations.”
The formalized structure will benefit citizens and the environment along all 71 miles of the canal as it winds its way through Denver as well as Adams, Arapahoe and Douglas counties.
The Canal Collaborative includes the High Line Canal Conservancy, Denver Water, Arapahoe and Douglas counties, the cities of Aurora, Denver, Cherry Hills Village, Greenwood Village and Littleton, the Highlands Ranch Metro District, the Mile High Flood District, the Southeast Metro Stormwater Authority and South Suburban Parks and Recreation.
“The collaborative is important because we need to have a group that brings together all of the jurisdictions so we can hear from each one of those entities and their communities about what’s most important to them,” said Nancy Sharpe, Arapahoe County Commissioner for District 2, which includes Centennial, Greenwood Village, a portion of Aurora and unincorporated central Arapahoe County.
The Conservancy was formed in 2014 and has developed “The Plan for the High Line Canal,” which lays out guidance for repurposing the corridor along with over 100 recommendations for new projects.
Here’s a look at some of the developments along the canal in recent years.
Under the new Stormwater Transformation and Enhancement Program, High Line Canal partners are looking at ways to allow and move stormwater through areas of the canal to improve water quality and manage local flooding in the South Platte River Basin. This is in addition to the canal’s existing irrigation delivery purposes.
Stormwater is any rain and snow that eventually flows off any impervious surface and into the canal.
Several structures have been built in or on the side of the canal to help manage the flow of stormwater through the channel.
The new structures that are located on the side of the canal help improve drainage on city streets and collect debris and trash before water enters the canal.
The structures being built inside the canal also help catch and stop debris and trash from flowing down the channel. They also temporarily slow down and detain water to filter out sediment.
These structures are designed to improve water quality before the water reaches receiving streams. Moving stormwater through the canal could provide an additional 100 days that the canal could be wet in some parts of the channel, which would benefit vegetation along the corridor while also enhancing the recreational user experience.
“Often times across the country, old utility and railroad corridors become degraded once their primary uses have been reduced, so we’re happy to see areas of the High Line Canal being maximized and transformed into green infrastructure,” Shaw said.
Along with Littleton and Denver, stormwater projects are also being implemented in Centennial, Douglas County and Greenwood Village with additional projects in progress. Learn more about the Stormwater Transformation and Enhancement Program in this video.
Denver Water and its regional partners also are exploring other opportunities to allow the canal structure to be used. In areas where it has adequate stormwater capacity the canal could provide additional benefits to the neighboring communities and their surrounding environment to improve water quality in the South Platte River basin.
“As we navigate the evolving future for the lands the High Line Canal irrigates, Denver Water is excited to further the work with our regional partners to find additional utility for this cherished resource,” Shaw said.
Tree canopy health
There are more than 23,000 mature trees along the High Line Canal, but many are at the end of their life span. The Conservancy is working with Denver Water and regional partners to remove dead trees and trim others to improve overall tree health and safety along the canal’s recreational trail.
To maintain the canal’s urban forest, the Conservancy’s Plan recommends planting 3,500 new trees by 2030. The species of trees being planted will be more drought tolerant than many of the old cottonwood trees currently along the canal.
A major goal of the Conservancy and the Canal Collaborative is to make it easier, safer and more fun to walk or ride on the canal’s recreational trail. The Conservancy is working with local jurisdictions to add new pedestrian bridges, trailheads, underpasses, mile markers and wayfinding signs.
Canal Improvement Zones
Under The Plan, the Conservancy has worked with the community and jurisdictional partners to identify nine Canal Improvement Zones. These are locations where residents asked for trail enhancements to increase physical activity, foster community connections and create access points to nature.
Many of the sites are in diverse neighborhoods where the canal corridor has been historically under-utilized and lacked investment.
Enhancements may include pedestrian bridges, improved trail access, benches, signs, gathering spots and play areas.
The first location to see new projects is the Laredo Highline neighborhood in Aurora, thanks to a $180,000 grant from the Colorado Health Foundation and an additional $180,000 from Arapahoe County.
“I grew up in the Laredo Highline neighborhood and the canal has always helped bring the community together,” said Aurora resident Janak Garg. “We’re really looking forward to the new bridge and other improvements coming to the neighborhood.”
New mile markers
A very noticeable and welcome improvement to the trail is the addition of new mile markers. In the past, there were a variety of mile markers with different mileage from each jurisdiction, which made it confusing for hikers and bikers.
Now there are new Colorado red sandstone mile markers that line the trail from start to finish, paid for through donations by the Conservancy’s founding partners.
Most of the markers have a quote or message from the founding partners, like Al Galperin who lives near the South Quebec Way Trailhead, whose message reads: “Be the reason someone smiles today.”
“I hope it brings a little bit of extra joy to people on the trail,” Galperin said. “It’s nice to be able to help out and see all the new features coming to the canal.”
“It’s inspiring to see all these improvements and we’re excited for the future of the canal,” Shaw said. “The Conservancy and all of the partners are doing a great job leading the way and working with Denver Water and the community.”
Visit highlinecanal.org to sign up for monthly emails for information on events throughout the year. The website also provides information about history of the canal, new projects and volunteer opportunities.
New Mexico officials received 17 proposals totaling more than $28 million for the $10 million in Gold King Mine spill settlement money between the state and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that has been set aside for restoration projects. The deadline for submitting proposals for the settlement money was Oct. 28, a date that was extended from its original deadline of Sept. 30 by the New Mexico Office of the Natural Resources Trustee, the state agency that is coordinating the process. Maggie Hart Stebbins, the New Mexico natural resources trustee, said her agency has begun the process of vetting the proposals and will be analyzing them to determine if additional information is needed from any of the entities seeking the funding…
The $10 million is part of a $32 million settlement the state reached with the EPA earlier this year to compensate New Mexico for damages related to the August 2015 incident, during which millions of gallons of toxic waste were released from the abandoned Gold King Mine near Silverton, Colorado, eventually winding up in the Animas and San Juan rivers. A total of $18.1 million from that settlement was designated for response costs, while $3.5 million was set aside for water quality and cleanup activities through Clean Water Act and Superfund grants. The remaining $10 million has been earmarked for restoration of injured natural resources, much of which state officials said would be used to fund outdoor recreation opportunities in northwest New Mexico…
The list of proposals includes several projects submitted by government entities in San Juan County, as well as those associated with the Navajo Nation and the state of New Mexico. San Juan County submitted three proposals, while the City of Aztec submitted two, and the cities of Bloomfield and Farmington submitted one each. New Mexico State Parks led the way with four proposals, while the New Mexico Tourism Department submitted one.
Part one of two in Circle of Blue’s series on abandoned coal mines.
Dan Fisher’s father was a coal miner. So was his grandfather. So was his wife’s father and grandfather. So was just about everyone’s grandfather in Gillespie, Illinois, a town that was born to power the Great Chicago & North Western railway system.
West of the Appalachian shadow, the Midwest isn’t thought of as coal country. But until about half a century ago, coal was king in southern Illinois. Home to the largest deposit of steelmaking metallurgical coal in the country, Illinois was one of the cradles of the nation’s labor movement. It employed hundreds of thousands of people at its peak in the 1920s. And though the number of Illinois mines has dwindled to double digits, it remains the fourth-largest coal producing state in the U.S.
Spoiled lands and waters was the cost of doing business. Coal companies routinely walked away from gaping chasms in the land, polluted streams, and deforestation. As hotspots for this early, unregulated mining, the three states which make up the Illinois coal basin — Illinois, Kentucky, and Indiana — have some of the highest environmental burdens from abandoned mines.
For the last 45 years, the U.S. chipped away at these cumulative environmental damages. Since the country began regulating abandoned mines in 1977 under the Abandoned Mine Land program, the country spent $5 billion, and about $400 million in the Illinois basin, to repair clogged and polluted streams, recontour steep highwalls, and reforest denuded landscapes.
But the program, funded by a per-ton tax on coal extraction that was not tied to inflation, was never going to be enough. The Illinois basin still has over 30,000 acres of unreclaimed land and waters, joining over 3 million acres nationwide.
(A separate program regulates mines abandoned after 1977, the subject of the next article in this series.)
In 2021, the Biden administration and Congress responded to the deficit. The infrastructure package enacted earlier this year adds $11 billion into the pre-1977 mine cleanup program to be spent over the next 15 years to finish the job. It joins the Inflation Reduction Act, enacted last month, in a renewed commitment by the country to address systemic ecological challenges and economic stress in former energy strongholds.
The latest infusion into the program, the largest in its history by far, could be enough to reclaim the vast majority of remaining pre-1977 abandoned mine sites. Accompanied by other federal and state jobs programs, it could breathe new life into affected communities, and the land and waters they depend on.
“This is huge. It is a historic investment in restoring the land, eliminating the hazards in coal country,” said Joe Pizarchik, former head of the federal Office of Surface Mining and Reclamation Enforcement. “There’s been only five or six billion dollars put into reclamation over the previous 40-something years. Now you’ve got 11 billion coming in in 15 years.”
Nearly half a century after its start, the AML program produced measurable accomplishments. The program spent $4.5 billion cleaning up 5 million acres of land.
But 3 million acres—with an estimated $11 billion in damages—are still unreclaimed. Illinois has a total backlog of about 9,000 acres of reclamation, with 4,000 more in Indiana, and roughly 18,000 in western Kentucky, according to federal AML data.
Some environmental harms have been long-term and diffuse. Many old mines were retired without modern-day flooding techniques. An estimated 10 percent of emissions of methane — a gas with 34 times more planet-warming potential than carbon dioxide — come from active or abandoned coal mines. One mine in White County, Illinois that just closed is one of the country’s top 5 methane emitters.
About a third of the nation’s 4,000 hazardous water bodies on the AML list are still unreclaimed. So are 6,000 miles of clogged streams, according to federal data.
Other harms are more proximate. Disheveled land, without either the thrum of industry or the solace of the environment, represents a liability for a community struggling to find its footing as coal fades.
“When industry closes, it’s not like it packs up and leaves. You gotta deal with whatever’s left behind, like a bad divorce,” said Dan Fisher, the resident of Gillespie in Macoupin County, Illinois, a former coal stronghold.
It’s a story that Paul Robinson, a reclamation expert at the Southwest Research and Information Center in New Mexico, has seen across the country and across extractive sectors: “the company is getting the gold, the community is left with the shaft and the empty hole in the ground worth nothing.”
As former head of the federal Office of Surface Mining and Reclamation Enforcement during the Obama administration Joseph Pizarchik knows well that state regulators’ experience with the program has long been defined by triage.
“States were constantly having to make difficult choices about which AML problems to address,” he said. “Based on the numbers that were coming in from the Energy Information Administration, there was never going to be enough money for states to finish reclaiming their most dangerous mines,”
Change in Fund Financing – From Private to Public
The infrastructure act’s use of taxpayer dollars to finance the AML fund marks an abandonment of the intention of the mine cleanup law. The original law made coal companies pay for the industry’s past environmental harms. It exacted a per-ton fee on coal, and funneled tax revenue to state agencies to reclaim land and waters that were damaged before the 1977 law was passed.
The roots of the deficit that soon emerged reach back to the birth of the AML program, with the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act. After an era when land and water degradation was treated by polluters as externalities, SMCRA was on the cutting edge of environmental legislation that sought to internalize the costs of environmental damage.
“SMCRA focused on surface restoration: establishment of approximate original contour and post-mining land use,” said Robinson. “Those were innovative and aggressive, and derived from the concerns of people who lived in and near mines.”
The program made slow but steady progress, cleaning up about a hundred thousand acres every year. It was designed to be reauthorized every few years as needed, to finish the job.
But as market trends started signaling trouble for the coal industry, lawmakers began to demand less and less from coal companies and rely more on taxpayers to keep the fund afloat.
In recent rounds of reauthorization, Congress reduced the AML fee: the 2006 reauthorization reduced the fee by 10 percent in 2008, and another 10 percent in 2013. Accounting for inflation, the AML fee was equivalent to one-quarter of its original value, or less than half of the inflation-adjusted value of coal per ton, according to a 2020 report by the Appalachian Citizens Law Center. In 2021, the fee was lowered by an additional 20 percent.
The mid-2000s also marked a turning point in relying on taxpayers and not the AML fund to pay for cleanup. The political story behind this change in financing has a main character: the Wyoming congressional delegation. Appalachian and Midwest coal peaked decades earlier than in Wyoming’s Powder River Basin, which became the nation’s largest source of coal. Wyoming lawmakers represented state coal mine operators who objected to paying into the AML fund because Wyoming has few abandoned mines eligible for AML funds.
“That disconnect between who’s paying a large share of the fee, versus where fees are used, creates an imbalance,” said Shannon Anderson, of the Powder River Basin Resource Council, a community group.
A regular tug-of-war ensued. In 2006, the Wyoming delegation pushed for an amendment, which established a new, taxpayer-funded AML revenue stream for a handful of states. In 2012, though, lawmakers from other states placed a cap on Wyoming’s AML funds after news broke that AML dollars were seen as a funding source to upgrade the University of Wyoming’s athletic facilities.
The program never scaled up again to meet demand. In recent years, the closing of coal-power electric plants contributed to the deficit of the AML program. While markets for Powder River Basin and certain Illinois coal are still strong, the shift away from coal in Appalachia and the Midwest caused overall production nationally to fall to 577 million tons last year. That’s half of total US production in 2008, when production peaked at nearly 1.2 billion tons. It’s simple math: less coal means less AML revenue.
“The Best Social Binding Agent We Have”
Dan Fisher’s home town of Gillespie has been spared the downturn of the last few years: the last coal mine there closed in 1968, so Gillespie absorbed the job losses about 50 years ago. Because of reclamation law, former mine sites are now soccer fields or home to new manufacturing.
But the nation’s coal-based energy overhaul will not be as kind to other communities further south in Illinois’ heartland, where most of the state’s AML acres are located, and where a prolonged dependence on coal still prevents economic diversification: Saline County in southern Illinois is one of the 25 counties hardest hit by job losses, hemorrhaging thousands of jobs in the last decade.
Economic numbers suggest that the opportunity offered by mine reclamation is substantial. In addition to neutralizing the threat of dangers, reclaimed lands are an economic asset. Analyzing data from the Department of Interior, one study by the Appalachian Citizens Law Center estimated that the AML program, on net, supported about 4,700 jobs across the country in 2013, and added half a billion dollars to the U.S. economy that year: a 137 percent return on investment.
Even more difficult might be the socioeconomic piece of the puzzle. Fisher’s interest in abandoned mine cleanup stems mostly from his role as the founder and president of Grow Gillespie, a civic group interested in revitalizing their hometown. In conversation, Fisher comes across not with the tunnel-mindedness of most issue activists, but as something of a town historian. With a keen awareness of local history and community, he knows that mine cleanup programs could provide more than just jobs: they rebuild the culture, history, and sense of community that coal once provided.
“This is an industry in which there is a social and cultural context to it,” he said. “A melting pot of European immigrants formed this area. Coal mining was the bond that tied everyone together.”
One newer feature of AML is the Economic Revitalization program, established during the Obama Administration. It funds local investments, with the goal of “sustainable long-term rehabilitation of coalfield economies.” Things like restoring parkland to attract tourism, fixing up industrial sites to attract manufacturing, or building music and event venues. With a total budget of just over $120 million, the plan currently focuses only on Appalachian states, though advocates on Capitol Hill are pushing for its expansion to other regions.
In Illinois, new transition funding from Illinois’ recent Climate and Equitable Jobs Act has a similar goal of creating training and employment programs for displaced coal workers. Likewise, the 2021 infrastructure bill funding includes a nonbinding recommendation that states and tribes use their AML cleanup dollars to put former coal miners to work.
Coal country advocates say this is a good, if modest, start.
“Brick and mortar projects are some of the best social binding agents we have. It’s like getting a new suit, or a haircut: you just feel better about yourself, and better about your community,” said Fisher. “It’s not an accident that all of these things — the legislation, social activism, et cetera — those were by-products of the coal mines. You’ve gotta find that other thing that acts as a social engine.”
Laura Gersony covers water policy, infrastructure, and energy for Circle of Blue. She also writes FRESH, Circle of Blue’s biweekly digest of Great Lakes policy news, and HotSpots H2O, a monthly column about the regions and populations most at-risk for water-related hazards and conflict. She is an Environmental Studies and Political Science major at the University of Chicago and an avid Lake Michigan swimmer.
In response to wet weather and sufficient flows in the critical habitat reach, the Bureau of Reclamation has scheduled a decrease in the release from Navajo Dam from 550 cubic feet per second (cfs) to 450 cfs for tomorrow, October 8th, at 4:00 AM.
Releases are made for the authorized purposes of the Navajo Unit, and to attempt to maintain a target base flow through the endangered fish critical habitat reach of the San Juan River (Farmington to Lake Powell). The San Juan River Basin Recovery Implementation Program recommends a target base flow of between 500 cfs and 1,000 cfs through the critical habitat area. The target base flow is calculated as the weekly average of gaged flows throughout the critical habitat area from Farmington to Lake Powell.
The precipitation gages within the canyon have been up and running all summer, reporting rainfall every five minutes. In mid-June, soil moisture sensors were collocated with 4 of the rain gages.
The chart below shows the precipitation and soil moisture from the Deadman’s Creek location. Prior to the rainfall the week of August 14, the soil moisture content was not reactive to the smaller rain events. Several storms during the week of August 14 dropped significant rain at the Deadman’s Creek rain gage. The final storm on August 16 dropped enough water to finally infiltrate down to the depth of the soil moisture sensor and cause a measurable change in the soil moisture content.
The storm events on August 20 through August 21 again increased the soil moisture at Deadman’s Creek. So far, no debris flow events have been triggered due to over saturated soil conditions.
Turbidity remained high through summer in Colorado River and returns to normal levels second half of September
Since the end of August, the turbidity in the Colorado River has slowly been trending downwards. With no major debris flow events the last week of August or in September, the turbidity has remained under 200 FNU.
The turbidity has finally returned below 20 FNU in the last two weeks of September. While we do not know exactly why the base level of turbidity in the water has remained elevated all season, it may be due to continuous re-mobilization of sediment from previous debris flow piles and from sediment that has settled previously within the riverbed.
Click the link to read the article on the Fort Collins Coloradoan website (Mile Blumhardt). Click through and read the whole article with video and photos. Here’s an excerpt:
Deaths, damage caused by 2013 flood in Colorado
– At least nine people were killed
– The flood covered 4,500 square miles, or the size of more than 10 Rocky Mountain National Parks
– The damage estimate reached nearly $4 billion
– More than 19,000 people were evacuated and 3,000 had to be rescued
– 26,000 homes were damaged or destroyed
– 200 businesses were destroyed and 750 were damaged
– 485 miles of road were damaged or destroyed statewide, including U.S. Highway 34 in the Big Thompson Canyon
– 50 major bridges were damaged
– There were 65 flash flood warnings
“The surprise of the 2013 flood was that it happened that time of year,” state climatologist Russ Schumacher said in a Coloradoan story on the eight-year anniversary of the flood. “Events like this that come to mind tend to come in late July and early August during monsoon storms or in May and June with intense thunderstorms.”
On Tuesday, August 30, Judge Armando Bonilla of the U.S. Court of Federal Claims issued a decision from the bench in favor of New Civil Liberties Alliance’s (NCLA) client and denying a motion to dismiss in Todd Hennis v. The United States of America.
“Today, the Court of Federal Claims recognized what we have long known. EPA must answer for the bad decisions it has made and the unlawful actions it has taken since 2015, said New Civil Liberties Alliance (NCLA) Litigation Counsel Kara Rollins. “We are pleased that Mr. Hennis’s case is moving ahead, and we look forward to presenting the facts about what the EPA did to him—and took from him.”
Hennis filed a lawsuit against the United States for the physical taking of his property without just compensation in violation of the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution. He took this step after years of waiting for action. On August 5, 2015, EPA destroyed the portal to the Gold King Mine, located in Silverton, Colorado. Upon doing so, the agency released a toxic sludge of over 3,000,000 gallons of acid mine drainage and 880,000 pounds of heavy metals into the Animas River watershed. According to Hennis, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) caused an environmental catastrophe that preceded and culminated in the invasion, occupation, taking, and confiscation of Hennis’s downstream property. Ever since, he has been trying to recover damages. This ruling means the U.S. Court of Federal Claims is allowing Mr. Hennis’s lawsuit to go forward to discovery, and ultimately to trial…
[The EPA] eventually mobilized supplies and equipment onto Hennis’s downstream property to address the immediate after-effects of its actions, but it apparently ignored Hennis’s explicit instructions on how to protect the land and the scope of the access that he granted. Instead, the EPA constructed a multimillion-dollar water treatment facility on his land, without permission, compensation, or even following a procedure to appropriate his property for public use. After seven years, Hennis says the U.S. Government has been “squatted on his lands”, and he wants financial compensation. Hennis says he didn’t voluntarily give EPA permission to construct and operate a water treatment facility on his property. It was built without his knowledge or consent, and it later coerced him into allowing access to his lands by threatening him with exorbitant fines (over $59,000 per day) should he exercise his property rights. When Hennis refused to sign an access document, the EPA preceded to occupy his property by operation of the agency’s own administrative order—and threatening him with fines if he challenges it.
Witnesses could hear yells for help, see trailers wash off their foundations and smell the propane that streaked the debris-filled floodwaters…
As July 28, 1997 ended and a new day began, Fort Collins was faced with a new city — one full of twisted debris, totaled cars and forever-changed families.
Twenty years later, walk through the events of that night with this timeline of the Spring Creek Flood. See how heavy rain turned a creek into a deadly river. Watch as a festival-like atmosphere — with people kayaking in the streets — gave way to a somber city the next morning. And revisit the places that were washed away and rebuilt.
How it started — Heavy rainfall pounded parts of Fort Collins, with isolated storms wetting the city on July 27, 1997. The following day, it was about to get worse…
Worries rise with water — What started as heavy rain and minor flooding took a turn as the night of July 28 wore on. With a sprinkling of students, staff and facilities workers on campus at CSU, many witnessed unprecedented damages.
The night turns deadly — “It was a night of terror at a trailer park,” televisions across Colorado boomed as footage from a 9News broadcast showed the hellish landscape along Spring Creek. Fires erupted, trailers washed off their foundations and residents clung to trees as two mobile home parks became targets for the devastation.
July 27, 1997 5 p.m. – After a mostly dry July, torrents of heavy rain begin northwest of Laporte. The storm expands southward into Horsetooth Reservoir.
6:30 p.m. – Heavy rain mostly stops. The air remains humid.
Midnight – Southeasterly winds behind a cold front push more moist air against the eastern foothills.
July 28, 1997
1 a.m. – Steady rain develops, at first limited to a narrow band along the foothills.
2 a.m. – Rainfall rates in excess of 1 inch per hour develop northwest of Laporte. Residents wake up to standing water.
8 a.m. – After early morning letup of overnight rains, a brief, soaking shower catches Fort Collins morning commuters. To the northwest, major flooding begins around Laporte.
Noon – Skies remain cloudy over the Fort Collins area Monday afternoon. Dewpoint temperatures hover in the low 60s.
6 p.m. – A first wave of heavy showers moves into Fort Collins. Rain increases with hourly accumulations of close to 1 inch in southwest Fort Collins.
7 p.m. – Rainfall rates approach 3 inches per hour, according to a rain gauge at the CSU Foothills Campus.
8 p.m. – Flooding of homes and streets in Fort Collins intensifies. The water is 2 feet deep at Elizabeth and Shields streets. Flow rate along Elizabeth is comparable to that of the Poudre River.
8:30 p.m. – Extremely heavy rain falls locally over a few square miles approximately at the corner of Drake Road and Overland Trail. Rainfall totals for a 90-minute period exceed 5 inches. The heaviest-hit area includes the Spring Creek watershed.
9:30 p.m. – The National Weather Service issues a flash flood warning for Larimer County.
10:30 p.m. – Floodwater bursts open the Lory Student Center’s west doors.
11 p.m. – The water level in a nearby mobile home park rises 5 feet in 3 minutes. Five people die. A train derails. A gas leak causes an explosion south of Prospect Road and east of the railroad tracks.
July 30, 1997
Summer classes are back in session on campus.
Fall classes at CSU begin on time.
A picnic is added to President Al Yates’ annual fall address to thank the campus and community for its resilience in the wake of the disaster. The tradition continues today.
Click the link to read the article on the KUNC website (Alex Hager):
Work to protect water quality on the northern Front Range resumes this week with a whir of helicopter blades in Poudre Canyon. For the second year in a row, those aircraft will drop mulch on areas burned by the Cameron Peak Fire in 2020 — an effort to stabilize burned soil and keep ashy debris out of rivers.
Colorado’s largest-ever wildfire left a charred moonscape, with soil turned into gray dust and shards of blackened trees and plants littering the ground. When it rains, ash and sediment can be swept downhill into rivers that supply water to town pipes. In 2021, that forced the City of Fort Collins to stop treating water from the river and switch to an alternate supply from Horsetooth Reservoir…
Last year, crews dropped wood shards on 5,050 acres in the Cache La Poudre and Big Thompson watersheds. This summer, they hope to cover nearly 5,000 more — with 3,500 acres identified near the Poudre and 1,200 acres near the Big Thomspon. Those efforts aren’t cheap. Last year’s aerial mulching work cost $11 million. Keeping a helicopter in the air costs $87 each minute, but local utilities justify the expense as a precaution against even more costly treatment that would be necessary without it.
Contractors will begin 2022’s aerial mulching campaign on Thursday, July 14, 2022 starting in the Pingree Park area. It will continue through the summer and fall.
Today, Colorado Governor Jared Polis urged the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) and other state agencies to take additional steps to improve air quality for Coloradans.
In a letter to key leaders within his administration at the agency level, the Governor wrote: “Clean air is critical to the Colorado way of life. We value protecting our environment, ensuring environmental justice, and promoting better health for all Coloradans. This past legislative session we made substantial progress toward improving our air, including:
A significant investment over three years to increase resources available to our Air Pollution Control Division (APCD) to right size and modernize the Division. Recent expansion in core responsibilities specifically related to the EPA Ozone non-attainment did not come with adequate resources. These investments now empower the Division to expand monitoring and emissions work, accelerate the transition to cleaner technologies across various industries, and to more thoroughly engage with communities across the state, particularly those most affected by air pollution.
Hundreds of millions of dollars of state money to clean up our transportation system, including resources to position Colorado as a national leader in the electrification of our school bus fleet; substantial resources to decarbonize the industrial and aviation sectors above and beyond current and future greenhouse gas emissions rules; saving people money on transit with free and reduced-cost fares, and significant investments to reduce pollution from the buildings sector.
Expanded capabilities across the State to mitigate, prepare for, and respond to disasters such as wildfires, mudslides and flooding and other devastating impacts of climate change.”
The Governor acknowledged that CDPHE and the Air Quality Control Commission have an ambitious agenda over the next 12 months to establish new plans, and standards to improve air quality, reduce greenhouse gas pollution, and reduce paperwork for Colorado businesses.
The Governor also urged CDPHE and the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) to take steps to improve air permit modeling, the permitting process, and oil and gas emissions reporting, evaluate cumulative impacts, reduce emissions from heavy duty off-road engines, improve collaboration between COGCC and APCD, and provide greater access to air quality information for the public.
Editor’s note: This story was originally posted on TAP in 2017, 15 years after the Hayman Fire, then the largest in Colorado’s history, burned 137,760 acres in the summer of 2002. But following the summer and fall of 2020, the Hayman Fire fell to fourth on the list of Colorado’s biggest fires.
Colorado’s biggest wildfires are: the Cameron Peak fire, which started Aug. 13, 2020, and burned 208,913 acres; the East Troublesome fire, which started Aug. 14, 2020, and burned 193,812 acres; and the Pine Gulch Fire, which started July 31, 2020, and burned 139,007 acres.
The ominous plume of smoke rising in the skies southwest of Denver. The ash falling on cars like large dried-up snowflakes. Many who lived in Colorado in the summer of 2002 will never forget the Hayman Fire, which burned 137,760 acres before it was over. Hayman still holds the dubious title as Colorado’s largest recorded wildfire.
This June marks the 15th anniversary of the destructive blaze, and Denver Water continues to deal with the aftermath. The fire seared through sizable portions of Denver Water’s watershed, reaching Cheesman Reservoir on its second day, where it destroyed 7,500 of the 8,500 forested acres Denver Water owns at the reservoir.
Bill Newberry, one of Denver Water’s caretakers at Cheesman, got a front-row seat to the fire’s destruction. Newberry, who retired in 2014, stood near the reservoir’s shoreline as the fire blew through the area. He said the firestorm roared like a hurricane as it approached, and there was considerable heat and smoke, though he didn’t have to go into the water to escape the blaze.
Thankfully, the fire spared all of Denver Water’s caretakers, homes and buildings at Cheesman other than three small storage sheds. But what it left in its wake was a blackened landscape with only a few trees lining the reservoir, creating a danger of erosion and sedimentation problems from subsequent rains.
Traps and racks
Immediately following the fire, Denver Water sent employees to help erect sediment traps made of straw bales and trash racks fashioned from downed trees. The traps and racks were positioned across drainages to catch ash and debris after heavy rains. Denver Water then built more permanent rock sediment traps to capture ash, sand and other debris from Turkey and Goose creeks, preventing that material from entering the reservoir and causing operational challenges.
The crews building the traps were used to spending their days laying new pipe in Denver’s streets, and many had never even used a chainsaw. But given the 2002 drought that had parched the city and led to severe watering restrictions, Denver Water had suspended new pipe installation. Each day, 40 to 45 workers were bused from Denver to Cheesman to help build the sediment traps.
“I was on a pipeline crew in Denver, and they moved us up there after the fire hit,” said Bobby Padilla, now a senior work planner at Denver Water. He worked at Cheesman for three years after the fire, helping with the restoration efforts. “I’ll always remember the devastation. The burnt trees looked like telephone poles with nothing on them, and everything was burnt and dark. When it rained, there were rivers everywhere — there was nothing to slow down the water.”
Fifteen years after his unusual work assignment, Padilla is still in awe at the damage of the fire. “I can’t believe how fire damages and ruins land. You could tell it was intense,” he said.
When Hayman tore through the watershed, Denver Water was still dealing with fire fallout from the 1996 Buffalo Creek fire, which burned 11,900 acres near Cheesman. In the aftermath of both fires, Denver Water has spent more than $27 million on water quality treatment, sediment and debris removal, reclamation techniques and infrastructure projects.
The combination of the two fires, followed by significant rainstorms, resulted in more than 1 million cubic yards of sediment accumulating in Strontia Springs Reservoir. Prior to the wildfires, the reservoir had approximately 250,000 cubic yards of sediment, which had been accumulating since 1983, when the dam was completed. Increased sediment creates operational challenges, causes water quality issues and clogs treatment plants.
Sprouts of recovery
After the fire, Denver Water spent more than 10 years working with volunteers and Colorado State Forest Service crews to plant about 25,000 trees per year on the 7,500 acres of Denver Water property destroyed by Hayman.
Following the tree-planting effort, the From Forests to Faucets partnership began in 2010 between Denver Water and the U.S. Forest Service – Rocky Mountain Region. More than 48,000 acres of National Forest System lands have been treated so far, accomplishing important fuels reduction, restoration and prevention activities.
But in many areas, the fire burned so hot it changed the chemistry of the soil in the months following the fire. Natural regeneration has been difficult, which is why Denver Water continues to work to reduce the risk of catastrophic wildfires.
After signing the renewal for the From Forests to Faucets partnership in February 2017, Denver Water CEO/Manager Jim Lochhead reiterated the need to stay vigilant. “We have a responsibility to our customers to provide safe, reliable water,” he said. “We also have an obligation to be a good steward of our natural resources. By protecting our watersheds, we’re also preserving our water.”
Some rivers and lakes wouldn’t be swimmable today without this critical law. But it could use a refresh to help meet our current challenges.
The Clean Water Act came to life the same year I did, kicking and screaming and full of promise. Now we’re both turning 50 — me and the law formally known as the Federal Water Pollution Control Act Amendments of 1972.
The half-century mark is a good time to take stock of one’s performance, and it’s fair to say that, like me, the Clean Water Act has some wrinkles and blemishes. As a longtime environmental journalist covering the Chesapeake Bay, I’ve seen the Act struggle as it reached middle age. At times, it hasn’t been all it could be, or all it should be.
It tackled the easy problems first, like factory pollution and sewage discharges, while putting off the harder lifts like agriculture and stormwater. And it’s become weak in the face of problems it doesn’t regulate, like manure runoff from small operations. It can seem, well, tired. As if it’s lost its fight, its verve, and it’s still following routines that don’t quite get the job done. We’re still wrangling over what waters fall under its jurisdiction, and what we define as a waterway. At 50, we should know what we are, right?
But I’ve seen major improvements that wouldn’t have happened without the law. So even if a blowout party is unwarranted (it’s still Covid times, after all), I think the Act is entitled to at least a nice glass of clean H20.
Fifty years after its passage, the Clean Water Act has restored fisheries in many rivers, lakes and estuaries. In Chicago, Pittsburgh, Chattanooga and Washington, D.C., residents can kayak on rivers that were once so fetid no one would dare go near them. Bostonians have taken clean water a step further; they can swim in the Charles. Musicians Randy Newman and Michael Stipe immortalized the burning smell of Cleveland’s Cuyahoga River in their songs; today, largely thanks to the Act, the river has a state scenic river designation and has become a centerpiece of Cleveland’s downtown.
With its cousin, the Clean Air Act, regulators forced polluters to stop emitting nitrogen, phosphorus, mercury and other pollutants into the air. Steel production, coal mining, oil and gas drilling, nuclear power generation — all these industries were put on notice. If they polluted the water, they wouldn’t be in business long. The government and citizens could file suit under the Clean Water Act. Not wanting to face the negative publicity or the fines, many industries worked with regulators to clean themselves up.
The Clean Water Act doesn’t celebrate its 50-year-milestone alone. It had help. On June 14, 1972 — the day I was born — the administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency banned the use of the pesticide DDT, which was killing eagles and ospreys in massive numbers. That October, Congress passed the Marine Mammal Protection Act to safeguard ocean mammals from poaching and other threats.
Thanks to these efforts, Chesapeake Bay now has more nesting pairs of bald eagles than any other place on the U.S. East Coast. The nation’s bird soars at Conowingo Dam, a power-generating station on the Susquehanna River, and at Aberdeen Proving Ground, which was once on the nation’s list of most hazardous sites for its legacy of pollution from munitions testing. Crabbers ply the waters from Baltimore to Norfolk; oyster dredgers work steadily in the Tangier Sound.
No species could thrive without clean water — nor could the fishers whose livelihoods depend on it. Aquaculture, too, has taken a hold in the Chesapeake. The most important consideration for where to locate an oyster farm or hatchery? The water’s salinity, and its cleanliness.
I’ve long admired the fortitude of the bipartisan Congress that overrode President Richard Nixon’s veto and passed the law to forever protect the waters of the United States. It wasn’t the first law to do it — the Rivers and Harbors Act of 1899 made it illegal to discharge refuse of any kind into navigable waters, and it later required federal permits to put structures in the water. But the Clean Water Act expanded protections to all waterways.
Monumental as it was, though, now the Clean Water Act at 50 needs a bit of a refresh, since the pollution it’s meant to stop has changed. In the Chesapeake Bay, our problem today is largely not industrial smokestacks but rather the detritus of how we live our lives. The Act doesn’t regulate these “nonpoint sources,” as we call them: the pesticides coming off our lawns, the motor oil and mercury in our stormwater, the nitrogen and phosphorus from the manure that farmers apply to their fields. We’ve made huge strides in sewage treatment, in standards for nitrogen emissions that end up in our waterways from cars, and in regulations for large animal facilities. But we have yet to figure out how to regulate the pollution that doesn’t come out of a tailpipe or a smokestack.
Another area that needs improvement: EPA officials regularly pass most of the Act’s enforcement to states, and states chronically understaff inspection units. Earlier this year Maryland Environment Secretary Ben Grumbles promised the legislature he would ramp up efforts, but only after lawmakers reviewed reports of how much the situation had deteriorated. If enforcement is lousy in a blue state bordering Washington, D.C., imagine how it looks in other states. All of them need to look at the teeth in their laws.
Laws like the Clean Water Act are good at stopping bad things, but they’re not always up to date for allowing good things. And that’s what we need now, whether it’s large-scale wind turbines in our oceans or manmade islands to protect crucial habitat for shorebirds. We need to eliminate barriers to beneficial uses of natural material, such as living shorelines, and not make the process of farming oysters so onerous. We need developers to understand that filling a wetland and creating another is nothing like no-net-loss; it’s a capitulation of everything we hold dear. Water ecosystems take decades to evolve and grow; laws that protect them must take into account the importance of legacy plants that hold roots together and protect land and water.
Despite the wear and tear, the Clean Water Act is holding up. The women’s magazines keep telling us 50 is still young and vibrant. And I hope that’s true for this law. There’s a lot more to do.
The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment’s Water Quality Control Division is proposing the limits for 11 Colorado River tributaries in the valley with impaired water quality because of high levels of dissolved selenium and total recoverable iron, and in the case of two of the tributaries, E. coli. The river itself along that stretch, which meets water quality standards for selenium and E. coli, but not iron, is not itself targeted by the proposal, although it would benefit from it.
As required by the federal Clean Water Act and by Environmental Protection Agency regulations, the state is developing what it calls total maximum daily loads (TMDL) that would establish how much of those pollutants can enter each of the tributaries each day while maintaining water quality standards.
The area being targeted by regulators altogether encompasses about 138 square miles, stretching from Lewis Wash in the Clifton area to Salt Creek in western Mesa County. The area is all north of the Colorado River and is bounded on the northern end by the Government Highline Canal. That location beneath the canal is noteworthy because selenium is naturally occurring in the Mancos shale geological formation in the area, but at high levels in water can be harmful to fish and aquatic birds. The Water Quality Control Division, in its draft Grand Valley TMDL public notice, says that “the predominant source of selenium in all of the watersheds is likely groundwater inflow from canal seepage and deep percolation from irrigated lands.” Put another way, the valley’s irrigated agriculture, lying downgrade of the Government Highline Canal, is mostly driving the selenium problems in the drainages.
But as it happens, state water-quality regulators have little say over that agricultural activity. The Water Quality Control Division holds permitting authority over point sources of surface water discharges. Agricultural stormwater discharges, and return flows from irrigated agriculture, aren’t considered point sources under the Clean Water Act. The state relies on incentive-based approaches to encourage partners to work on voluntary measures to address contaminants, something that grant funding is available to support. This can include measures such as lining or piping canals and changing irrigation methods and schedules to reduce the leaching of selenium…Still, a concern for some people, including Trent Prall, public works director for the city of Grand Junction, is that because of the state’s lack of authority over the agricultural side of things, it will lean on permitted sources of surface water discharges to fix a problem that is largely agriculture-driven.
Bulkheads remain relatively obscure except to those involved in mine remediation, but their purpose is to plug mines and limit the release of mine waste while reversing the chemical processes that contribute to acid mine drainage. They can be simple fixes for extraordinarily complex mining systems and produce unintended consequences. But they are also a critical tool for the EPA and those working to improve water quality and reduce the lingering effects of more than a century of mining in the Bonita Peak Mining District…
The role of bulkheads in the Gold King Mine Spill
In its October 2015 technical assessment of the incident, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation argued that bulkheads were at least partially responsible for the Gold King Mine spill. The Gold King Mine is a maze of tunnels, faults and fissures located at different elevations inside Bonita Peak and the surrounding mountains in Gladstone. The mine opening that drained when the EPA crews struck a plug holding back water was actually what’s known as the “Upper Gold King Mine,” or Gold King Mine Level 7. A short distance away lies the “Gold King Mine,” which refers to a mine adit called American Tunnel…
With oversight from the Colorado Division of Reclamation, Mining and Safety, Sunnyside Gold Corp. first installed a bulkhead in American Tunnel in 1995 to stop mine drainage from entering Cement Creek. The company closed the valve on the first bulkhead in October 1996 and would go on to install two other bulkheads in American Tunnel. With the installation of the bulkheads, the flow of toxic mine waste into Cement Creek decreased from 1,700 gallons per minute to about 100 gallons per minute. But as the impounded water rose behind the bulkheads, the water rose elsewhere, including in Gold King Mine Level 7, which sits about 750 feet above American Tunnel, according to the Bureau of Reclamation’s assessment…The EPA has yet to determine if it was faults and fractures in the rock or other internal mine workings that carried water from American Tunnel to Gold King Mine Level 7, but the EPA and the Bureau of Reclamation have both said the spill was in part the result of this buildup from the bulkheads in American Tunnel. Bulkheads have been used in mine remediation efforts in Colorado for more than three decades, and there are about 40 installed across the state, said Jeff Graves, director of Colorado Division of Reclamation, Mining and Safety’s Inactive Mine Reclamation Program…Bulkheads back up water and fill mine tunnels. When they do so, they limit the air rocks can come into contact with, preventing the chemical reaction that creates acid mine drainage…
Acid mine drainage can also still make its way into river systems. Water naturally moves through rock and can turn into acid mine drainage when exposed to oxygen, though in smaller volumes.
A long-planned project to restore healthy ecosystems along the South Platte River and two other waterways in central Denver got a major boost from the federal government this week, in the form of $350 million in funding from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
The funding for the South Platte River Project, spearheaded by Denver and Adams counties, will cover nearly two-thirds of the $550 million that civic leaders plan to spend restoring wetland habitats, improving recreation and mitigating flood risk along a 6.5-mile stretch of the river, along with Weir Gulch and Harvard Gulch.
The funds awarded Tuesday by the Biden administration are part of the $17 billion appropriated by a new federal infrastructure law to the Army Corps of Engineers to support flood mitigation projects across the country.
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“I’m delighted to welcome funding from the bipartisan infrastructure bill for the South Platte River and surrounding communities after years of urging Washington to support this project,” Sen. Michael Bennet said in a statement. “For decades, the neighborhoods bordering the South Platte River have experienced environmental hardship. This project is an important part of Denver’s efforts to protect communities and businesses from flooding, build resilient infrastructure, and help ensure that anyone who wants to live and work in Denver is able to.”
The Army Corps of Engineers finalized a feasibility and impact study on the project in 2019, concluding more than a decade of planning and environmental reviews. In addition to restoring aquatic, wetland and riparian wildlife habitats along the South Platte, supporters say the plan will create more than 7,000 jobs and protect hundreds of homes and other structures from flood risk.
In December, Denver Mayor Michael Hancock convened a coalition of two dozen interest groups that signed a memorandum of understanding on the project in order to secure federal funding. Signatories included the Colorado Water Conservation Board, Denver Water and multiple environmental and conservation organizations — as well as business and real-estate groups like the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce and Revesco Properties.
Revesco is the developer behind the massive, multi-billion-dollar River Mile project, which aims to redevelop 62 acres along the Platte south of Confluence Park over the next 25 years, adding homes for new 15,000 residents and ultimately displacing the Elitch Gardens amusement park. The river restoration project, too, is likely to take decades to complete, with city officials estimating in 2018 that the project could be finished in 10 to 20 years.
“The restoration and conservation of the South Platte River ecosystem is a phenomenal opportunity,” Hancock said in a statement. “Infrastructure investments like this do more than just improve our waterways, they build lives, they build communities and they build futures.”
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El Paso County is accepting applications for its American Rescue Plan Act Water and Wastewater Infrastructure Grant funding opportunity. According to a news release, “[t]he county has allocated $20 million in ARPA funding for necessary investments in water and wastewater infrastructure, to include improvements to drinking water infrastructure, upgrading facilities, managing sewage and other eligible uses.”
“The community has expressed great interest in this particular grant, and it truly is going to be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for many communities and projects,” Commissioner Holly Williams said in the release. “This grant will have a monumental impact for decades to come, as it increases peoples’ access to clean drinking water, and replaces many aging infrastructures.”
According to the release, “[a]ll levels of infrastructure have seen increased demands during the pandemic, and our water and wastewater infrastructures are no exception. This $20 million allocation will help El Paso County preserve and be better stewards of our most precious and scarce resource, and is an investment directly allowed under ARPA guidance.”
The application opens Monday, March 28, 2022, and will remain open through 5 p.m. Friday, April 22.
All projects must meet federal eligibility requirements, which include 17 project categories under guidelines published through the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Water State Revolving Fund and the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund.
Projects must be located in El Paso County.
The entire allocation for this funding is $20 million and the county expects to fund several projects, the release said, adding a portion of the funding will be reserved specifically for smaller communities and projects.
El Paso County will be hosting a pre-application webinar at 11:30 a.m. on April 4 to answer specific application related questions. To participate in the webinar, join using this link. Participants are encouraged to send questions ahead of time to ARPArequests@elpasoco.com. If you require accommodations or need a translator, send an email to JyotsnaKhattri@elpasoco.com by March 30.
After the 2013 flood did massive damage in Loveland, the city led efforts to do repairs to public infrastructure, spending $37 million over the next six years. But city staff members, briefing the Loveland City Council on Tuesday on the Big Thompson River Financial Plan, said there’s much more that needs to be done to make the city resilient when future floods occur…Stormwater engineer Kevin Gingery said records of flooding on the Big Thompson River go back to 1906, and show historically the river has flooded on average every eight years — 12 damaging floods in a century…Since 1987, the river has flooded twice, in 1999 and the massive flood in 2013. Both of those floods and one in 1951 are considered of a 100-year magnitude or greater, according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Flood Insurance Rate Study…
The new mapping effects future development of the 402 corridor, all bridge crossings of the river, and implementation of the Big Thompson River Corridor Master Plan, city officials said…Many of the bridges on the river are undersized, and sometimes silt builds up under them. The plan calls for removing the excess silt so more water can pass under the bridges.
Other problems include large trees that block river flow, and logs that fall into the river can create a safety hazard for river users.
Carlson pointed to the bridge on South Lincoln Avenue. Crews repaired damage there from the 2013 flood, but the bridge needs to be substantially bigger to withstand future floods, he said. Before the flood, the highest discharge recorded there was 19,000 cubic feet per second; the new 100-year discharge level is 20,429 cfs, so city staff wants to build a larger bridge that can handle a greater flow. Work also is needed in Fairgrounds Park and Barnes Park to better channel flood waters under the bridge, something that could help property owners in the floodplain in that area, Carlson said.
Updates to Archuleta County’s flood insurance rate maps are nearing completion. The new maps will provide Archuleta County with more accurate flood risk information that can help local officials and residents make informed decisions about reducing flood risks and purchasing flood insurance.
The mapping project is a joint effort between Archuleta County, the Colorado Water Conservation Board, and FEMA. It is part of a nationwide effort led by FEMA to increase local knowledge of flood risks and support actions to address and reduce those risks.
Before new flood insurance rate maps become effective, there is a 90-day appeal period during which local residents and business owners can provide additional data for consideration before the maps are final. This appeal period starts on March 10, 2022.
Officials encourage residents and business owners to review the proposed flood insurance rate maps to learn about local flood risks, potential future flood insurance requirements, and any concerns or questions about the information provided.
Appeal packages may be submitted during the 90-day appeal period. The sole basis of the appeal must include the possession of knowledge or information indicating that the proposed flood hazard determinations are scientifically and/or technically incorrect.
The Chaffee County Risk Mapping, Assessment and Planning (Risk MAP) Study is underway across the county through the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB). The Chaffee Risk MAP Study will collect data on field conditions in areas of the county believed to be at risk for impacts from future flooding, erosion, debris flow, or related hazard events. This information will be used to update flood risk information and floodplain mapping in certain watersheds and create tools that provide a data-driven framework for land use and other decision-making in affected areas. The study is funded by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).
The Local Risk
Based on assessments performed for the 2021 Chaffee County Hazard Mitigation Plan, overall flood risk is an important consideration due to precipitation and snowmelt runoff, and is categorized as medium to high risk in most populated areas of Chaffee County. Countywide, an estimated $34.5 million in property losses is at risk to a one-percent annual chance flood hazard. The unincorporated areas of the county together make up the majority of this exposure, with an estimated $26.7 million in losses at risk. Of the municipalities in Chaffee County, Buena Vista is at the highest risk with $6.1 million in estimated losses in a one-percent annual chance flood, followed by Poncha Springs and Salida with approximately $1.1 million and $460,000 in estimated losses respectively.
Floodplain survey activities are currently planned between March and June
The survey work will be focusing on several flooding sources in all of the incorporated communities and the unincorporated county areas. According to the CWCB, the survey crews will be collecting elevation and other basic information on the land around the waterways being studied, and will not dig around nor disturb the areas…Wood and Merrick & Company are the floodplain mapping and field surveying contractors working with CWCB for Chaffee County’s study. Wood is also familiar with Chaffee County through their work with the 2021 update of Chaffee County’s Hazard Mitigation Plan.
President Joe Biden and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is investing more than $166.5 million in 108 infrastructure projects as part of implementing the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, also known as the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA). USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) is working with local communities in 23 states to invest in new dam and flood prevention projects and in repairs on existing watershed infrastructure, which are all part of USDA’s broader national infrastructure investment.
Through this first round of projects the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law is funding, NRCS prioritized projects in communities heavily impacted by drought and other natural disasters as well as historically underserved and limited resource communities.
“The Biden-Harris Administration is committed to building back better, and this starts with our infrastructure,” Vilsack said. “Protecting our watersheds and saving lives is paramount. These investments in our watershed programs will provide much needed support for communities to build resilience in the face of climate change. We can extend financial assistance to underserved communities that live in constant fear of flooding, help with the effects of severe weather events, and put systems in place that will ensure a climate resilient future to help communities thrive in the years to come.”
Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, signed in November by President Biden, provided $918 million for NRCS watershed programs, which includes the Watershed and Flood Prevention Operations (WFPO) Program, Watershed Rehabilitation Program (REHAB) and Emergency Watershed Protection (EWP) Program. Through NRCS watershed programs, NRCS works with local, eligible sponsors, including state government entities, local municipalities, conservation districts and federally recognized tribal organizations.
REHAB focuses on repairing existing infrastructure, and examples include:
Athens, Ohio: This investment includes two rehabilitation projects for two dams on Margaret Creek near Athens, Ohio. Funds will enable the Margaret Creek Conservation District to raise the embankment of the Meeks Lake Dam, armor its spillway, and extend its lifespan by at least another 50 years. Meanwhile, for the second project, the Margaret Creek Conservation District will bring the Fox Lake Dam into compliance with Ohio’s safety regulations and restore the original flood protection benefits of the structure to last another 50 years or more.
Añasco, Puerto Rico: This investment focuses on two dams in the the Añasco River Watershed, Site 3 (Daguëy Dam) and Site 2A (Ajies Dam), which help prevent flooding. These structures were able to perform their intent and prevented major flooding to the Añasco valley communities and industries during Hurricane Maria in 2017, but both dams suffered damages. With the funds, the Department of Natural and Environmental Resources (DNER) bring both structures to compliance with current safety criteria and performance standards, extend their lifespan and in turn reduce flood risk to life and property.
Meanwhile, WFPO projects focus on new infrastructure, and examples include:
Alakanuk, Alaska: Funds will support planning, design, construction, and the removal of damaged property from the floodplain. This work will assist the Alakanuk community with flood damage reduction and mitigation measures.
Duchesne County, Utah: Funds will support projects that address water use, improve agricultural operations and reduce flood damage throughout the watershed. Specifically, the project will address drought concerns by improving irrigation canals that serve approximately 38,000 acres of cropland and increased flood protection in four communities within the watershed.
Glacier County, Montana: Funds will be used to help implement a new ag-water management strategy for the St. Mary Canal and address areas of deterioration that need to be repaired. Modernization will help the surrounding agricultural community build towards climate resiliency.
IIJA also provided EWP funds and those funds are available for communities to respond to natural disasters. NRCS will continue to assist communities as it receives disaster requests.
Click the link to read the article on the KRDO website (Jasmine Arenas). Here’s an excerpt:
The El Paso County Board of Commissioners wants to be transparent about the allocation of the American Rescue Plan Act Funds, saying $25 million will go to surface and stormwater infrastructure.
El Paso County ranks second in receiving the most funds in the state, with nearly $140 million in funds. County Commissioner for District 4 Longinos Gonzalez says they are planning to use the leftover funds on water, storm, and road infrastructure…
This comes after the U.S. Treasury Department released the final rule for the state and local recovery funds in January allowing counties to use those dollars for the provision of government services…
As for stormwater infrastructure, the El Paso County Department of Public Works has identified seven projects which amount to $10 million, an additional $5 million will be allocated for future projects…
The county is also asking the community to submit proposals for an additional $20 million in water infrastructure grants.
Click the link to read the article from Denver Water (Jay Adams and Steve Snyder):
The High Line Canal Conservancy has formalized a public-private partnership with Denver Water and 11 jurisdictions to preserve, protect and enhance the 71-mile High Line Canal.
Members of the new Canal Collaborative will work together to support the canal corridor as it evolves from its role as an irrigation channel owned by Denver Water and expands into a new linear park and emerging stormwater management system.
The agreement creating the collaborative formalizes roles and responsibilities for the long-term management, funding and governance of the canal.
“This partnership was built on the premise that together we can do more for the canal than any one entity can do alone. The deep respect for varied local perspectives, combined with the power of the community’s vision and commitment has been a winning strategy that has resulted in a common vision and new governance structure to ensure the canal is cared for as a vital backbone of our region’s open space system for generations to come,” said Harriet Crittenden LaMair, executive director of the High Line Canal Conservancy.
“Denver Water has a century-old canal that has outlived its usefulness,” said Jim Lochhead, CEO/Manager at Denver Water. “We wanted to transform the canal into a recreational and environmental crown jewel for the region and with the help of a dozen partners who shared the vision, we have come together to realize that vision through the Canal Collaborative.”
Watch the High Line Canal Conservancy’s State of the Canal news conference and learn about new projects along the canal in this TAP story.
The city plans to spend upward of $500 million over 20 years to put the brakes on the volume of water pouring into Fountain Creek and points south from storm drainage…
But while the city currently complies with the federal consent decree imposed in 2020 and the 2016 agreement with Pueblo County, city officials are walking a tightrope to avoid stiff penalties and more onerous oversight.
Rich Mulledy, as head of the city’s water resources engineering division, manages that tightrope walk, which is reshaping existing drainage systems. That’s no easy trick, considering some waterways have carved 40-foot-tall cliffs along creek beds, and others sped storm runoff into tributaries via concrete channels adding to the consequent flooding downstream.
Come April, the city will mark six years under the $460 million, 20-year intergovernmental agreement (IGA) with Pueblo County to fix the city’s drainage problems. The IGA emerged as a condition of Pueblo County’s approval of activation of Colorado Springs Utilities’ $825 million Southern Delivery System pipeline from Pueblo Reservoir to Colorado Springs.
Last fall, the city passed the one-year mark in the $95 million settlement of the lawsuit filed by the Environmental Protection Agency and state regulators alleging Clean Water Act violations stemming from its neglected stormwater system.
Mulledy and a regiment of inspectors and planners are working under those two edicts, engineered by Mayor John Suthers, who inherited the problem when elected in 2015. Besides negotiating the two agreements, Suthers persuaded voters to pony up millions of dollars to fund the city’s catch-up game.
Last week’s $90 million settlement relating to the 2015 Gold King Mine Blowout that turned the Animas and San Juan Rivers TANG-orange for over 100 miles downstream did not bring an end to the legal saga that has dragged on for more than six years (lawsuits against the federal government are still pending). But when the agreement is finalized, Sunnyside Gold Corp—the owner of the nearby, now-shuttered Sunnyside Mine—will finally be free of the mess. Extricating themselves from any further liabilities has cost them about $67.6 million: $40.5 million to the feds; $6.1 million to the State of Colorado; $11 million to the State of New Mexico; and $10 million to the Navajo Nation, not to mention the tens of millions they’d already spent cleaning up a century’s worth of mining mess.
In agreeing to the payments, Sunnyside and its parent company, Canada-based global mining giant Kinross, have made it clear that they are not admitting wrongdoing or liability. They don’t own the Gold King Mine and never did. So why did the company fork out so much money?
The simple answer is that the bulkheads Sunnyside installed in the American Tunnel in the 1990s and early 2000s caused water to back up inside Bonita Peak and make its way into the Gold King Mine, resulting in the 3 million-gallon blowout. The truth is a bit more complicated.
The real question is not whether Sunnyside’s bulkheads backed up water into the Gold King Mine. That’s pretty much a given. More important is exactly where the water came from in the first place. And to get at that answer, we need to go back in time a century and some to the days when the Gold King Mine was one of the most profitable operations in Colorado.
1887 Olaf Arvid Nelson, while working at the nearby Sampson Mine, surreptitiously locates the original Gold King claim on the slopes of Bonita Peak, and goes to work on it immediately. He eventually digs a 50-foot shaft and a 50-foot drift, but never makes money from it.
1891 Nelson dies, perhaps from pneumonia, silicosis or just overwork. A year later his widow, Louisa, patents the Gold King claim, taking title to it. And in 1894 Louisa sells the Gold King claim to Northeastern capitalists Cyrus W. Davis and Henry Soule, for a mere $15,000. They hire local Willis Z. Kinney to run the mine.
1897 About 40 employees pull ore from the Gold King mine’s 2,000 feet or so of underground workings and ships it down a 5,600-foot long tramway from the mine opening’s lofty perch on Bonita Peak’s slope to a new mill at Gladstone for processing.
1898 The Gold King owners form the American Mining and Tunnel Co. and begin construction on a lower-elevation, safer access to the Gold King Mine several hundred feet below the current access adit (Gold King Level #1). They originally name the lower access point the American Tunnel, but after it is completed in 1903 and becomes the mine’s primary portal, it will be renamed the #7 Level of the Gold King Mine. This is level that will blowout in 2015 and is not the same American Tunnel in which Sunnyside placed its bulkheads many years later.
1900 USGS geologist Frederick Ransome visits the Gold King Mine, noticing that the main adit—or opening to the mine—is not draining any water, which is highly unusual for the area. He hypothesizes that the American Tunnel #1 (aka Gold King Level #7)—which at the time was under construction—is “deep draining” the water from the Gold King’s upper operations.
1900 The Gold King Mine owners begin construction on another American Tunnel (still known by that name today) at Gladstone. They plan to burrow into Bonita Peak until they are directly below the Gold King workings, then connect the two via a 1,000+ foot shaft. This will enable them to bring ore directly to the Gladstone mill, obviating the need to move it by tram across avalanche-prone terrain. But the project is abandoned after only 700 feet of tunneling (they need to go more than a mile underground before they will be in position to link with the Gold King).
1906 (or thereabouts) A photo of the Gold King Mine #7 Level appears to show about 200 to 300 gallons of water draining from the mine adit.
1908 The structures at the mouth of the Gold King #7 Level catch fire, destroying the tram terminal, boardinghouse, compressor house, carpenter shop, and stables, killing six. The mine rebuilds, but it will never be the same. In 1909 the new boardinghouse burns, killing a waiter, and in 1911 an avalanche hits the boardinghouse, killing four people. After that operations are on-again, off-again and profits hard to come by.
1921 The Gold King miners are working again to open the Gladstone tunnel, aka. the American Tunnel, that goes from the Gold King mill at Gladstone into Bonita Peak and under the Gold King Mine, about 860 feet below the Gold King #7 Level. The intent is to provide a long haulage tunnel for Gold King ore, thereby rendering the treacherous trams obsolete, but the connection to the upper mine is never made. A later report indicates that the American Tunnel is 6,233 feet deep when work is finally halted. The tunnel “deep drains” the groundwater of Bonita Peak, leaving the Gold King mine virtually dry.
1922 The Gold King Mine’s parent company goes bankrupt, leaving the Sunnyside Mine, on the opposite side of Bonita Peak, as one of the region’s biggest mines. But it struggles because the mine opening is above the workings, meaning water and ore must be pulled up and out of the mine, against gravity, which increases operational expenses.
1960 Standard Metals takes over the dormant Sunnyside Mine and plans to revive it by extending the unused, partially complete American Tunnel to access it. The tunnel will provide gravity-assisted ore-haulage and water drainage for the Sunnyside by way of Gladstone. When it’s finished, the tunnel is 11,000 feet long, and brings mining, and prosperity, back to Silverton.
1978 On a Sunday, when no miners are working, the floor of Lake Emma collapses into the Sunnyside Mine, sending tens of millions of gallons of water shooting out the American Tunnel at Gladstone and shutting the mine down for months. To this day some folks remain suspicious of the collapse, theorizing that it was planned by a beleaguered company looking for an insurance payout: Miners had warned management about increasing amounts of water pouring into the mine and worried that they were getting too close to the lake’s floor. Ultimately, Standard Metals received $9 million, but they had to drag the insurance company to court to get it. The company will go bankrupt in the early 1980s and sell the Sunnyside Mine to Echo Bay, a Canadian company, doing business as Sunnyside Gold Corp.
1986 Meanwhile, a company called Gerber Minerals takes over the Gold King and sets about to re-open it. They apply for a mining permit for the Gold King, but not a discharge permit, because: “No drainage occurs from any of the portals—the district is deep-drained by the American Tunnel located at Gladstone.” As a result, the American Tunnel flows with about 1,600 gallons per minute of acidic, heavy-metal laden water draining into Cement Creek and, ultimately, the Animas River. Note: The first mile and some of the American Tunnel runs through Gold King Mine patented claims, meaning it belongs to the owners of the Gold King.
1987 Donald “Donnie” Goode killed when a 100-pound rock falls from the ceiling of Gold King #7 Level, about 2,500 feet underground, striking him in the head.
1988 Sunnyside overhauls the old American Tunnel water treatment plant. It uses one ton of lime per day to raise pH levels, causing toxic metals to precipitate out of solution and settle into ponds, cleaning the 1,600 gallons per minute of discharge to a level that can support sensitive fathead minnows. The process costs approximately $500,000 per year, and results in 365 tons per year of metal-laden sludge.
1991 The Sunnyside Mine closes for good. A year later the re-born Gold King suspends operations, as well, but holds onto its permits. In preparation for plugging, or bulkheading, the American Tunnel, Sunnyside Gold and Washington Mining Co. commission an exhaustive hydrological study of the Sunnyside, which concludes that bulkheads in the American Tunnel should not cause flooding of the Gold King, and that it would take 150 years for mine pool water to reach Cement Creek.
1994 Animas River Stakeholders Group is formed as a citizen-led effort to study and address mining pollution in the watershed and propose realistic water quality standards. It’s seen as a collaborative alternative to Superfund. Bill Simon is chosen as coordinator. Other notable members include Peter Butler, who had just received his Ph.D. in natural resource management, Larry Perino of Sunnyside Gold, and Steve Fearn.
1996 Sunnyside enters into a consent decree with the state, a sort of pollution trading scheme. Sunnyside will install three bulkheads in the American Tunnel, one on its property to back up water into the Sunnyside’s workings, and two more on Gold King property nearer to the surface. They will also clean up a list of abandoned mines in the watershed in order to offset the increased heavy metal loading that will result when Sunnyside turns off its American Tunnel water treatment plant. At about the same time, the state division of minerals and geology inspects the Gold King and finds that it’s draining just one to two gallons of acidic, metal-laden water per minute, a mere trickle.
1996 The valve is shut on the first bulkhead over 6,000 feet into the American Tunnel, beyond the Gold King property line. Water backed up behind this will inundate the Sunnyside Mine workings and create what’s known as the Sunnyside mine pool. By robbing the system of oxygen, it should slow acid mine drainage reactions. Sunnyside also dumped 625 tons of lime in from the top of the mine to raise pH levels.
1991 The Sunnyside Mine closes for good. A year later the re-born Gold King suspends operations, as well, but holds onto its permits. In preparation for plugging, or bulkheading, the American Tunnel, Sunnyside Gold and Washington Mining Co. commission an exhaustive hydrological study of the Sunnyside, which concludes that bulkheads in the American Tunnel should not cause flooding of the Gold King, and that it would take 150 years for mine pool water to reach Cement Creek.
1997 A Gold King Mines environmental protection plan notes that the mine is discharging between 4 gpm and 30 gpm, with a pH as low as 2.25. However, the authors of the report theorize that it’s groundwater, not Sunnyside mine pool water, based on the 1992 hydrology report. A 1998 inspection finds that the Gold King #7 level portal had collapsed, just inside the portal, and is impassible. It does not say how much water is draining from the mine.
1999 A water analysis report of the Gold King Mine finds that the mine is discharging between 11 gpm and 30 gpm with a very low pH and very high concentrations of dissolved metals. The following year Steve Fearn buys the Gold King mine from CCTC, trustee for Pitchfork “M” Corp. The state inspection later that year notes: “Though this year has been abnormally dry, the No. 7 level discharge appears to have increased significantly … from around 30 gpm to around 45 gpm.”
2001 The Sunnyside Mine Pool is thought to have reached equilibrium, based on the findings of the 1992 hydrological study. The mine pool, some 1,200 feet deep, exerts nearly 500 psi on bulkhead #1. Sunnyside then installs bulkhead #2, which is closer to the surface and, in 2002, bulkhead #3, which is right at the surface, in preparation for its exit from the area. By now Sunnyside Gold has spent upwards of $25 million on cleanup and reclamation. Discharges from both the Gold King and the nearby Mogul Mine—which was also mostly dry prior to the first bulkhead installation—continue to increase.
2003 A byzantine agreement transfers ownership of the Sunnyside water treatment plant to Gold King owner Fearn, allowing Fearn to treat Gold King water, and allowing Sunnyside to leave—in theory. Also involved in the deal is Todd Hennis, owner of the Mogul Mine in the Cement Creek drainage, who acquires most of the Gladstone townsite. The deal will go bad a year later when Hennis evicts Fearn, and thus the water treatment plant, from his property at Gladstone, shutting down water treatment for good (proving detrimental to downstream fish populations). Meanwhile, Fearn’s mining ventures have gone broke. Hennis will acquire the Gold King and in coming years set about to mine it, first with a new company called Colorado Goldfields, and then on his own.
2005 Gold King mine discharges have increased to 200 gallons per minute or more. Animas River Stakeholders Group calls in the Environmental Protection Agency to help figure out the cause and potentially fund a solution. In its annual report to the Security Exchange Commission, Colorado Goldfields says it intends to re-open Gold King #7 Level, and that it hopes to enter into an agreement with the EPA allowing it to deal with increasing flows of acid mine drainage, which the company believes are coming from the “2150 vein workings of the Sunnyside Mine.” The report also notes the danger for a “blow out of potentially impounded mine waters.”
2009 The State Division of Mining Reclamation and Safety calls the Gold King, now dumping nearly 200,000 pounds of metals into the watershed per year, “one of the worst high quantity, poor water quality draining mines in the State of Colorado.” It backfills the mine portal, or opening, because it had collapsed, and installs drainage pipe.
2014 Sunnyside Gold Corp. offers $10 million towards water treatment and other upper Cement Creek cleanup—as long as Superfund isn’t declared.
2015 EPA contractors begin excavating dirt piled up at the opening of Gold King Mine #7 Level until the operator notices a “spring” spurting from the dirt. Within minutes, the tiny fountain has grown to a 3-million gallon torrent of electric-orange, acidic, heavy metal-laden water pouring into the North Fork of Cement Creek far below.
So, yeah, I know: That made it about as clear as the Animas River was in the days following the blowout. This puzzle will never be solved definitively. Bonita Peak’s hydrology is all a tangled maze of fractures and faults and veins, a sort of lithic Swiss cheese comprised of hundreds of miles of drifts, shafts, crosscuts, and tunnels, creating innumerable potential paths the water could follow.
But from what we can glean from the history we can conclude:
• The Gold King Mine had water flowing through it early on. When the first American Tunnel, aka #7 Level, was dug, it deep drained the upper levels, making them appear to be dry.
• About 200 to 300 gallons of water per minute flowed out of the #7 Level adit until the new American Tunnel was drilled under the Gold King in the 1920s, deep draining the entirety of Bonita Peak.
• It wasn’t until after Sunnyside installed bulkheads in the American Tunnel that drainage returned to the Gold King #7 level (as well as to the Mogul Mine). It’s safe to conclude in this case that correlation is causation: The installation of the bulkheads caused drainage to return to the Gold King.
Not clear, though, is precisely where the water was coming from: Did the Sunnyside mine pool water back up, then find a pathway through to the Gold King Mine? If so, then it would seem that Sunnyside is at least partially responsible for the resulting 2015 blowout, since that nasty orange water originated on its subterranean property. Or did the lower two bulkheads—which are on Gold King property—simply return Bonita Peak’s hydrology to a pre-American Tunnel state of affairs, or a “natural flow regime,” as one Sunnyside employee put it in the early 2000s? In that case it is not Sunnyside Gold’s water, it’s the Gold King’s, which would absolve Sunnyside of responsibility.
While conclusive answers to those questions aren’t exactly forthcoming, a look at the timeline suggests that the water that spewed from Gold King #7 Level on Aug. 5, 2015, may have come from both sources. Drainage from the Gold King first started increasing—albeit only marginally—in 1997, after bulkhead #1 had been installed but before the next two were sealed. But flows remained pretty low until after the valves on bulkheads #2 and #3 were closed. It was only then that the Gold King became a major source of acid mine drainage and conditions established that would lead to the blowout.
But at this point maybe it doesn’t matter: Even if Sunnyside could prove that it’s not liable for what happened in 2015, it still would have been the last and only viable mining concern in the vicinity when it happened. Whether it’s culpable or just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time is probably irrelevant. In either case, the company would have had to take responsibility or else risk damaging its corporate image. That’s the price one pays for playing the mining game.
From the City of Loveland via The Loveland Reporter-Herald:
The city of Loveland will begin the first phase of the Garfield Harrison Storm Drainage Improvements Project the week of Jan. 17.
The city has selected Connell Resources as the project contractor and ICON Engineering for project design.
According to a news release, the four-year project is designed to:
Replace and upgrade existing stormwater infrastructure to address existing drainage issues and meet current stormwater standards.
Install 18- to 60-inch diameter storm sewer pipes.
Replace existing waterlines and valves to address aging infrastructure.
Replace pavement where project components are installed.
Rehabilitate and replace concrete as well as add necessary ADA improvements.
Provide stormwater quality treatment measures within the stormwater system.
“Local street flooding will decrease and we can also better clean the stormwater going into our waterways like the Big Thompson Canyon. The quality of the water distribution system will be improved greatly and lead to fewer leaks,” Eric Lessard, city of Loveland civil engineer, said in the release.
The project will have four separate phases; it’s anticipated one phase will be completed per year.
Phase 1 will include sidewalk and road closures for a portion of West First Street from North Taft Avenue to Cleveland Avenue. River’s Edge Natural Area and Centennial Park will remain open to local traffic.
Detours will be in place through the duration of Phase 1, but travelers should be prepared for delays, the release said.
Eastbound detours will direct traffic south on South Taft Avenue to Colo. 402 (14th Street Southwest) and north on Lincoln Avenue to First Street. Westbound detours from West First Street will direct traffic to North Lincoln Avenue to Eisenhower Boulevard and back down North Taft Avenue to First Street.
Typical working hours will be Monday through Friday from approximately 7 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Night and weekend work will be occasional and announced in advance.
The total project budget is approximately $18 million, to be funded by the city’s stormwater, water and power enterprise funds.
Greeley Water and Sewer customers can expect about 10% rate increases starting this month, as the department funds more than $200 million in investments over the next several years.
The Greeley Water and Sewer Board recently approved the new rates in a unanimous vote, according to a city news release. On average, residents can expect a utility rate increase of about $10 a month, or about 9.8%.
The increases take effect this month, but residents may not see the changes until their February utility bills.
The increases break down as follows, according to the release:
Water: An average increase of $4.16 per month will help cover the city’s participation in a new water storage reservoir to provide enough water for more than 4,500 new residents.
Sewer: An increase of $4.22 per month will cover the cost of state- and federally mandated sanitary sewer upgrades. The mandates reduce the amounts of nitrogen and phosphorous allowed in the city’s treated wastewater discharge to reduce algae growth.
Stormwater: An increase of $1.54 per month will help the city resolve downtown flooding issues. The city will upgrade its storm drainage to handle large rain events, such as the one in July that damaged businesses and homes.
In the release, Harold Evans, chairman of the water and sewer board, cited the regulatory changes and providing for the city’s rapidly growing population as drivers behind the rate increases.
FromThe Fort Collins Coloradoan (Miles Blumhardt):
Eight years ago this week, Colorado experienced one of its worst natural disasters when a week of rain flooded 20 counties, caused nearly $4 billion in damages, killed nine people and destroyed more than 2,000 homes.
Not only was the devastation staggering, but it marked only the second time in Colorado weather history that such a flood happened in September.
The National Weather Service ranked the 2013 flood its top weather story of the 2010-19 decade…
On Sept. 10, it started raining and didn’t stop for virtually a week, dropping copious amounts of precipitation from the Colorado-Wyoming border to Colorado Springs…
Fort Carson near Colorado Springs set a state record of 11.85 inches of rain in a 24-hour period, according to the National Weather Service. Boulder received 9.08 inches in one day and 18.16 inches in the week, which equates to more than the area’s average precipitation for a year.
Fort Collins reported 5.3 inches, Buckhorn Mountain west of the city 9.87 inches and Estes Park 9.31 inches for the week. For Buckhorn Mountain, 7.62 inches of that rain fell Sept. 11-12…
At one point, [Fort Collins] was cut off with all roads leading in and out impassable, including Interstate 25 where it crosses the Poudre River and the Big Thompson River near Loveland.
The flood is one of the reasons the I-25 bridge over the Poudre River is being raised 8 feet as part of the North I-25 Express Lanes project.
The devastation was staggering:
The flood covered 4,500 square miles, or the size of more than 10 Rocky Mountain National Parks
The damage estimate reached nearly $4 billion
More than 19,000 people were evacuated
26,000 homes were damaged
200 businesses were destroyed and 750 were damaged
200 miles of road were damaged or destroyed, including U.S. Highway 34 in the Big Thompson Canyon
50 major bridges damaged
Schumacher said a blocking ridge of high pressure parked over the Pacific Northwest and western Canada prevented other weather patterns from moving into the area.
A low pressure sat stationary in the Four Coroners area drawing up large amounts of tropical moisture and swinging that moisture out east then back west, creating an upslope condition against the foothills and mountains.
It rained early that week but then on the evening of Sept. 11 a weak disturbance coincided with the showers and thunderstorms, resulting in a slow and almost stationary area of heavy rain along the Front Range that lasted through much of Sept. 12.
The rain intensity lightened up, but rain continued through Sept. 16 with many areas of the Front Range receiving 6 to 18 inches of rain over the week.
Schumacher said another anomaly of the storm was at how high of elevation it rained. He said conventional wisdom is that intense rain rarely happens above 7,500 feet because in upslope conditions the moisture is pushing up the mountainsides, running out of moisture as it moves up in elevation.
However, the 2013 storm produced up to 10 inches of rain at 10,000 feet and higher…
Schumacher said the only other September rain that comes close to 2013 was in May of 1938.
He said heavy rain flooded the Republican River in eastern Colorado then. In 1938 and even in 1997 when Fort Collins was flooded, rainfall measurements were taken by measuring rain found in buckets, old tires or anything that collected rain, Schumacher said.
Some measurements in 1938 recorded more than 20 inches of rain, but the measurement never became official because the rain was not recorded in a gauge…
For more information about the 2013 flood, read the Bulletin of American Meteorlogical Society [report].
The work managed by the Fountain Creek Watershed, Flood Control and Greenway District can be “unrecognizable,” but its leaders want citizens to recognize the importance of its flood control projects, as well as understand why it’s crucial to find more funding.
One of those projects in Pueblo is the restoration of approximately 3,000 feet of the creek that runs under the US Highway 47 bridge near Jerry Murphy Road, completed in November 2018.
“It was $6.6 million for something you would drive by and not recognize, while at the same time it protects a major thoroughfare,” District Executive Director Bill Banks said while giving the annual tour of the district’s projects on Sept. 10.
In this instance, a 2015 flooding event catalyzed the Colorado Department of Transportation to partner with the district to realign the creek in order to protect the bridge. CDOT contributed $1.5 million to the project, which also included major landscaping design to provide bank and floodplain stabilization…
Another large project the district completed in June 2021 is a 2,600 feet stretch of the creek that ends at the 8th Street bridge on the East Side. That $3.4 million project narrowed the creek channel from 600 feet to an average of 150 feet. This both stabilized the channel and made it easier for the water to push sediment through, rather than dumping it haphazardly along the banks.
“A lot of conventional wisdom is to make a channel really wide in order to convey as much water as possible to prevent flooding,” said Aaron Sutherlin, who oversaw the 8th Street bridge project with Matrix Design Group. “When you make things as wide as possible, you lose the ability to transport sediment. What you get in a system is sediment that dumps out in places you don’t know where it’s going to go. That’s exactly what happened at this site.”
That project also built the creek to withstand up to 6,000 cubic feet per second, a so-called “100-year flood.”
That influx was a $50 million payout from Colorado Springs Utility to offset the impact of its water delivery system from the Pueblo Reservoir to the cities of Colorado Springs and Fountain. So far, Banks said the district has spent about $27 million from those funds and has identified over $200 million worth of projects.