Here’s the release from the City of Boulder (Samantha Glavin):
The City of Boulder has kicked off its update to the Comprehensive Flood and Stormwater (CFS) Master Plan.
The master plan was last updated in 2004 and guides city policy for flood management; stormwater quality and drainage; emergency preparedness and resilience; regulations; project prioritization; and education and outreach.
To support the update to the plan, the city is seeking community members to join a Community Working Group (CWG). The CWG will provide feedback to city staff and the project consultant during the master planning process. It will be comprised of individuals who live in Boulder who bring a broad range of perspectives to flood and stormwater management (i.e., residents, property owners, community advocates, water professionals). The CWG will be asked to:
Identify and examine issues related to stormwater and flood management;
Review and comment on technical documents;
Provide feedback about plan completeness and alignment with community goals and values;
Assist with community outreach; and,
Participate at public events, including at advisory boards and City Council meetings.
Interested individuals can apply by submitting an application online by Oct. 14, 2020. Hard-copy applications can be requested by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or calling Laurel Olsen at 720-456-8819. Chosen applicants will be informed of their selection by Nov. 30, 2020. Working group meetings will begin in early 2021.
The Waldo Canyon Fire changed the way our community looks at natural disasters. A project designed in response to side effects of the blaze is now completed, and aims to be proactive, rather than reactive.
Near Garden of the Gods lies the Camp Creek Drainage Improvement Project. It’s a 17-acre floodwater detention and sediment collection facility…
After the Waldo Canyon Fire, the burned vegetation was not able to absorb moisture in the way it normally would. Consequently, the area saw flooding, with sediment rolling down the hillsides as well.
So, the Camp Creek Drainage Improvement Project was designed, with the help of federal, state, and local agencies. A Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) grant for $8.9 million bankrolled the project, as well as $844,000 from the city.
Representatives from FEMA and the state visited the completed project on Monday. “If we could do more mitigation across the country, we’d be a much safer country, we’d be a much more resilient country,” said Peter Gaynor, the FEMA Administrator…
In addition, approximately 100 people no longer live in the floodplain. “We’re really not moving people out of the floodplain, we’re moving the floodplain right? And so, we’re changing the shape and the footprint of the floodplain,” said Klein.
The 169 acre-foot storage reservoir is estimated to hold around 360,000 gallons of water, according to the Stormwater Enterprise Manager for the City of Colorado Springs, Richard Mulledy.
Mulledy said the project has made around 100 residents who previously lived within the floodplain safer. He also said they now do not have to pay for floodplain insurance, which can be expensive.
Plus, it will create better evacuation routes during floods if necessary.
Click here to read the newsletter. Here’s an excerpt:
FIRE AND WATER
The Grizzly Creek Fire has incinerated dessicated vegetation on the steep canyon walls on both sides of the Colorado River in Glenwood Canyon, engulfing the usual intakes for the domestic water supply for the City of Glenwood Springs. This Colorado Sun article discusses the potential long-term impacts on the river.
In 2012, the state of Colorado passed Regulation 85, or Reg 85, which dealt with point source and nonpoint source water contaminants. Point sources, like wastewater treatment plants, were hit with strict measures for managing pollutants. Nonpoint sources, like parks, golf courses and agriculture, were not.
However, Reg 85 began a 10-year period where the agricultural community is encouraged to do voluntary measures for managing nutrients, such as nitrogen and phosphorus. Agricultural organizations like the Colorado Livestock Association and Colorado Corn Growers Association were involved in those early discussions and pushed back against the assumption that agriculture is the main contributor of nutrients to streams and rivers in Colorado.
In 2022, the Water Quality Control Commission will determine if the agricultural community needs regulations or if we will continue voluntary measures. The first hearing on Reg 85 is in October, and it is an opportunity for the agricultural community to tell their story and keep Colorado as a voluntary state.
The main issue is not the voluntary measures. Farms and ranches throughout the state have been changing and adapting their practices constantly. Many practices, which have been implemented to simply keep a farm or ranch efficient or profitable, have also improved the management of nitrogen and phosphorus. Colorado producers will continue to invest and adopt practices that manage nutrients and are compatible with their operations.
The issue is telling this story to those outside of the agricultural community, and there are multiple opportunities to do just that.
A team with Colorado State University is conducting multiple edge-of-field studies to show the benefit of specific operations and practices on nutrient management. These studies provide us with valuable data to show the positive benefit of practices on the majority of farms and ranches today.
Additionally, these studies can help the landowner have a better understanding of their own application rates of nitrogen and phosphorus and how well those are being used by the crop.
There is also work being done to demonstrate past improvements through programs like EQIP — Environmental Quality Incentives Program —administered by Natural Resources Conservation Services. Every year, millions of dollars in federal and private funding are spent on Colorado farms and ranches that have had positive impacts on managing nitrogen and phosphorus. These studies can show us how much work has been done throughout the state in reducing loads of nitrogen and phosphorus because of new agricultural practices.
If there is a project that will benefit your farm or ranch and have a positive water quality impact, there is a lot of funding out there. We want to focus that money on projects that are compatible with farms and ranches, making them even better.
If you are interested in participating in any of these opportunities, want to know more about Reg 85 or are interested in project funding, please contact Greg Peterson at the Colorado Ag Water Alliance at email@example.com or 720-244-4629.
Greg Peterson is the executive director of the Colorado Ag Water Alliance.
Infrastructure built more than a century ago still endures, but some of Colorado’s old irrigation ditches have been repurposed to meet the moment. The High Line Canal—a 71-mile-long former irrigation conveyance turned greenway and stormwater filtration tool—winds its way through the Denver metro area as an artery of infrastructure boasting a story of adaptation.
The canal, built in the 1880s to move irrigation water, was purchased by Denver Water in the 1920s. But the metro area changed around it. By the 1960s, people were sneaking onto the service road alongside the ditch and using it as a walking trail, says Harriet Crittenden LaMair, executive director of the High Line Canal Conservancy, a nonprofit working to preserve, protect and enhance the canal.
By the 1970s, municipalities and special districts began negotiating with Denver Water to allow residents to legally enjoy the tree-lined trail. While this opened the canal up to public enjoyment, it also divided it through a series of leases and use agreements. “[The public] saw it as a greenway but it was being cared for as a utility corridor,” Crittenden LaMair says.
So sparked the development of a working group, and eventually the Highline Canal Conservancy, to create a larger, unified vision for the waterway. “In urban areas, people are rethinking the uses of old infrastructure that has outlived its original purposes,” Crittenden LaMair says. “Parks advocates are working with utilities and thinking, ‘Wow, what additional benefits can be seen from this infrastructure?’”
With the public using the trail as a recreational resource, Denver Water has been weaning customers off of water delivered through the canal, having them instead rely on more efficient conveyances. While there are still a few dozen customers receiving water via the High Line Canal, they will switch to different sources within the next few years. In the meantime, the canal will capture and filter stormwater. “It’s amazing that parts of the actual infrastructure built in the 1880s can be used, with modifications, for stormwater management,” Crittenden LaMair says.
The Conservancy’s 15-year plan for the canal, completed in 2018, comes with a price tag of more than $100 million in improvements, including the stormwater management infrastructure, underpasses, interpretive signage, and more. Work will be incremental, but four individual stormwater projects are already underway to filter runoff before it makes its way to receiving streams, helping municipalities and special districts meet their stormwater discharge permitting requirements.
That stormwater benefit is even lessening the new infrastructure that some developments and cities would have had to build, says Amy Turney, director of engineering for Denver Water and the utility’s stormwater lead on the High Line Canal work. “As development and roadway projects get designed close to the canal, developers and cities are realizing that using the canal is a better option than having to build new detention ponds and storm sewers.’”
Work on the High Line Canal hasn’t been without its challenges. Public perception has been high on that list with people cherishing the canal as a recreational greenway while the utility was using the canal as a piece of water delivery infrastructure.
“We had a maintenance road that turned to a path and [neighbors] didn’t want maintenance trucks anymore. There’s been no shortage of public ownership. This is their backyard—literally,” Turney says. But it will be worthwhile in the end. “The long-term success of the infiltrated stormwater helping the greenway prosper and improving receiving stream health is a legacy for us, as well as an amenity throughout the Denver metro area that thousands enjoy every year. We’re really proud of it,” she says. “Anyone who hears about this and cares about water gets excited about how we are saving water, and simultaneously using water for the best purposes.”
Caitlin Coleman is the Headwaters magazine editor and communications specialist at Water Education Colorado. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Recent heavy rain is testing draining in Colorado Springs, and so far improvements seem to be working…
The city made a commitment four years ago to improve infrastructure, including redoing drainage and bringing the system up-to-date.
That work is ongoing, but so far the efforts seem to be making a difference.
“A lot of that too is coordination with us and the 2C program, so when they go in to repave roads, they’re rebuilding curb and gutter, we’re working with them to replace pipe, fix that conveyance as we go,” said Stormwater Enterprise Manager Richard Mulledy.
City leaders say runoff appears to be cleaner because less trash is making its way downstream.
Controlling the speed and the amount of water is also helping.
A new report from the First Street Foundation provides a national analysis of flood risk in states and cities across the United States, including in Colorado.
The nonprofit, dedicated to the research and development of flood prevention, released a model that allows users to assess flood risk in the past, present and future at the individual property level by location. The risk assessment takes into account sea-level rise, rainfall and flooding along smaller bodies of water.
The new in-depth report estimates that 14.6 million properties across the United States are at substantial risk of flooding, which is a staggering 5.9 million more properties than the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) shows on federal government flood maps…
When looking at all levels of flooding risk in our state, the data shows 200,400 properties at any type of risk over the next 30 years. Of these, 16,900 are categorized as facing almost certain risk.
Here are the cities and towns in Colorado that have the highest number of properties at risk of flooding.
Colorado Springs: 15,440 properties in 2020
Denver: 10,136 properties in 2020
Fort Collins: 4,559 properties in 2020
Aurora: 4,058 properties in 2020
Longmont: 4,023 properties in 2020
Boulder: 3,237 properties in 2020
Arvada: 2,730 properties in 2020
Loveland: 2,169 properties in 2020
Lakewood: 2,069 properties in 2020
Greeley: 1,885 properties in 2020
Denver will see the most significant increase in flood risk over the next 30 years, according to the data.
You can use the nonprofit’s new Flood Factor tool to check the flood risk of your exact address.
Here’s the release from the First Street Foundation:
A new national report from the First Street Foundation provides a comprehensive national analysis of the state of flood risk in the continental U.S. The findings are the result of the First Street Foundation’s new Flood Model, a high precision, climate adjusted model that assesses flood risk at the individual property level today and into the future. These results are being made publicly available for the first time through a new tool, Flood Factor™, a free online source of high-quality probabilistic flood risk information.
The model represents the culmination of years of research and development made possible by building upon existing knowledge and peer reviewed scientific applications regularly used in the identification of flood risk. This effort was undertaken with the goal of making flood risk transparent, easy to understand, informative, and available to all. The model was produced in partnership with researchers and hydrologists from Fathom, Rhodium Group, and leading researchers from the country’s top academic institutions.
Significantly, the model allows for an understanding of risk from any type of flooding event, including fluvial (riverine), pluvial (rainfall), storm surge, and tidal sources, and addresses the reality that these sources have been, and continue to be, impacted in different ways by changing environmental factors. First Street Foundation’s modeling process has integrated those factors directly into the final risk statistics. In doing so, the model evaluates flooding from multiple risk sources (fluvial, pluvial, surge, and tidal) while also integrating current and future environmental considerations, all at the property level.
The full report consists of a high-level methodological overview, national summary and state-by-state analysis of the lower 48 United States and D.C., with a focus on providing insight into new findings around flood risk, adaptation, and how changing environmental factors impact future flood risk. The risk identified by the First Street Foundation Flood Model highlights significant variations within and across regions, states, and cities in the U.S. Most relevant for this report is the uneven risk identified across and within these localities, and the regular deviations in identified risk when examining properties located in FEMA’s Special Flood Hazard Areas (SFHA).
Key Finding:Many more American homes and businesses are at risk of severe flooding than previously understood.
At the national level, the First Street Foundation Flood Model identifies around 1.7 times the number of properties as having substantial risk* compared to the FEMA 1-in-100 SFHA designation. This equates to a total of 14.6 million properties across the country at substantial risk, of which 5.9 million properties and property owners are currently unaware of or underestimating the risk they face because they are not identified as being within the SFHA zone.
Washington D.C. (438%), Utah (419%), Wyoming (325%), Montana (311%), and Idaho (290%) show the greatest difference between the First Street Foundation Flood Model estimates and FEMA SFHA designation, due mainly to First Street’s nationwide coverage while FEMA’s mapping in some of these locations is not yet complete.
There are locations where First Street estimates risk is less than that designated by the FEMA SFHA, and while there are differences in this deviation county-by-county and city-by-city, at a state-wide level Arizona, New Jersey, and Louisiana are the only states that show a lower count of properties currently with substantial risk in the First Street model in comparison to the FEMA SFHA. However, when adjusting for future environmental changes, in Arizona, additional properties fall into that risk categorization. In Louisiana, after adjusting for sea level rise that approaches or exceeds protective levee heights, the deviation shifts as the First Street methods uncover an additional 332,700 properties with substantial risk by the year 2050, in turn showing 248,800 more properties with substantial risk than FEMA defines currently. Similarly in New Jersey, adjusting for environmental changes shifts the First Street estimate from 8,100 fewer properties currently at substantial risk than FEMA, to identify73,600 more properties at substantial risk in 2050 than current FEMA estimates.
While the aforementioned states show the biggest deviation between First Street and FEMA in terms of the number of properties facing significant risk, the First Street Foundation Flood Model also calculates the number of properties facing any risk** of flooding. When looking at this broader level of risk, which is beyond the FEMA SFHA definition, the data identifies 23.5 million properties in the U.S. as at-risk over the next 30 years. Of these properties, 3.6 million were categorized as facing almost certain risk, with a 99% chance of flooding at least once over the next 30 years.
At a more granular level, the results shed light on the unevenness in which changing environmental factors will impact regions of the country differently, and prove the need to incorporate more localized data at a property level in order to fully understand flood risk. Viewing risk at a summarized city, county or state level looks very different than the property-level data Flood Factor will deliver. A property’s Flood Factor is an indicator of its comprehensive flood risk, ranging from 1–10. Properties with higher Flood Factors are either more likely to flood, more likely to experience high floods, or both.
USES & IMPLICATIONS: NOW AND INTO THE FUTURE
The availability of the First Street national property-level data enables a wide range of adaptation and policy efforts, including making it possible for individuals, as well as industry and government leaders to:
Understand the risks associated with their property and take active steps to mitigate them.
The real estate, mortgage, insurance, and investment communities to have a consistent property-level dataset to judge the severity and value of the risk associated with the properties in their portfolio.
Federal, state, and local governments to have a new tool for informed policymaking to guide public investment towards adaptations to reduce the risk and build resilience to flooding.
Additionally, First Street has created the First Street Foundation Flood Lab, a collection of academic and industry researchers who will drill into our data to derive the information necessary to further our understanding of flood risk, its consequences, and possible solutions.
These experts represent a wide swath of disciplines, including finance, economics, public policy, risk management, hydrology and engineering who will examine the implications of flood risk data on the mortgage industry, coastal communities, government policy, the National Flood Insurance Program, housing market, low-income and disadvantaged communities, and other related topics. Enabled by data sharing agreements among the data providers and participants, the insights generated by the Flood Lab researchers will enable the data to be applied more rapidly and to greatest effect.
FromThe New York Times (Christopher Flavelle, Denise Lu, Veronica Penney, Nadja Popovich and John Schwartz):
Across much of the United States, the flood risk is far greater than government estimates show, new calculations suggest, exposing millions of people to a hidden threat — and one that will only grow as climate change worsens.
That new calculation, which takes into account sea-level rise, rainfall and flooding along smaller creeks not mapped federally, estimates that 14.6 million properties are at risk from what experts call a 100-year flood, far more than the 8.7 million properties shown on federal government flood maps. A 100-year flood is one with a 1 percent chance of striking in any given year.
The federal government’s flood maps guide where and how to build, whether homeowners should buy flood insurance, and how much risk mortgage lenders take on. If the new estimates are broadly accurate, it would mean that homeowners, builders, banks, insurers and government officials nationwide have been making decisions with information that understates their true physical and financial risks.
Numerous cities nationwide — as diverse as Fort Lauderdale, Fla., Buffalo, N.Y., and Chattanooga, Tenn. — show the startling gap in the risks. In Chicago alone, 75,000 properties have a previously undisclosed flood risk. And minority communities often face a bigger share of hidden risk…
Federal flood maps, managed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, have long drawn concerns that they underestimate flood risk. Part of the problem is keeping the maps up to date, which is not only costly and labor intensive, but further complicated as climate change has worsened the dangers.
In addition, FEMA’s maps aren’t designed to account for flooding caused by intense rainfall, a growing problem as the atmosphere warms.
When FEMA does issue updated maps, politicians and homeowners often object, hoping to avoid higher federal flood insurance rates. “You can’t appeal your rate. You can only fight your map,” said Roy Wright, who ran the National Flood Insurance Program until 2018. “It turns it into house-by-house combat.”
The First Street Foundation created its flood model, called Flood Factor, using federal elevation and rainfall data, and coastal flooding estimates from hurricanes. The foundation then checked its results against a national database of flood claims and historic flood paths.
Overall, the results, which cover the contiguous United States — including areas the government hasn’t yet mapped for flooding, and places where the federal maps are decades old — show a vast increase in risk compared with official estimates. Many inland areas, including swaths of Appalachia and numerous major cities, saw big jumps.
However, there are exceptions, particularly along the Mississippi River and the Gulf Coast, where the government has more thoroughly studied and planned for floods. There, the federal maps show more buildings at risk than the new model suggests.
First Street said that in some areas, including small municipalities, the model may overestimate flood risk because it doesn’t capture every local flood-protection measure, such as pumps or catchment basins.
As people head out on the waters of Chatfield Reservoir, many probably don’t realize the lake is there now because of what happened 55 years ago on June 16.
“It was a 20-foot wall of water when it hit Littleton,” Jenny Hankinson said.
She is Curator of Collections at the Littleton Museum and helped put together an exhibit about the 1965 South Platte River Flood…
On June 14, 1965, Hankinson said about 14 inches of rain fell upstream near Castle Rock and Deckers adding too much precipitation to Plum Creek and the South Platte River forcing water over the banks collecting debris along the way…
Hankinson said 13 bridges were washed out along with 2,500 homes causing more than $500 million in damage at the time across Colorado. In 2020 dollars, that is the equivalent of more than $4.1 billion…
Due to the flood, Hankinson said development along the river is now smarter with fewer buildings, more parks and open land that can absorb the water. But, the biggest protection is the dam at Chatfield Reservoir built eight years after the flood.
FromThe Denver Post (Bruce Finley) via The Broomfield Enterprise:
Company officials say tests show contaminants did not exceed state standards for surface water
Contaminated water has been seeping into Sand Creek just up from where it meets the South Platte River near the Suncor Energy oil refinery north of Denver, and company officials on Wednesday said they were monitoring conditions and “will make any necessary repairs” to a spill containment pool behind sandbags where crews were pumping out water.
A sheen of benzene and other chemicals was detected on the surface of Sand Creek on May 7 and again on May 15, company officials said.
Sunday’s heavy rains raised water levels along the creek, leading to a breach of the containment area.
Suncor contractors have drawn water samples from Sand Creek and the South Platte, and tested these for benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, xylene and methyl tertiary butyl ether, company officials said. The results showed concentrations did not exceed state standards for surface water in those waterways, officials said.
Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment officials did not respond to queries about conditions at the refinery. It is located just north of Denver in Commerce City, along the creek and the Sand Creek Greenway public bicycle path, near where the creek flows into the South Platte.
“Who is watching this?” Adams County Commissioner Steve O’Dorisio said. “I’m concerned about the problems that continue to occur.”
The Narrows is one of a handful of small parks owned and operated by Larimer County in the Big Thompson Canyon, now known as the Big Thompson Parks. They opened for the season on May 15, most of them for the first time since the 2013 floods devastated the canyon.
“This is a big milestone for us,” said Chris Fleming, Big Thompson district manager for the Larimer County Department of Natural Resources.
The Big Thompson Parks start just west of Loveland with Glade Park and continue 17 miles west along U.S. 34 including Narrows, Forks and Sleepy Hollow. Over the past seven years, Larimer County worked with other land agencies to restore these parks properties to allow for river access…
The Big Thompson River is home to native trout, and forests and wildlife surround the water.
The parks are different than they used to be before the flood, but they are open.
Glade, for example, previously had a parking lot and picnic area. Now, there is a pullout and a path to the river for fishing.
Narrows is accessed by a small pull-out and features a short trail to the water’s edge.
Most of the land in the park is fenced off with signs that it has been planted by the Big Thompson Watershed Coalition as part of a restoration project. But there is access to the river, and a peaceful place to fish, to picnic without tables, to read a book or to sit and watch the birds fly and the water flow…
The Forks, which is just east of Drake, is probably the most dramatic change. A moonscape after the flood, the park now has a paved parking lot and bathroom, stairs down to the river and a rocky bank to walk along and fish. During the reconstruction of U.S. 34, the park was essentially home base for construction crews and filled with mounds of construction materials.
It no longer has picnic tables, but people can access the river and enjoy nature there.
A dam failure and a flood, in the middle of a global pandemic: it’s a worst-case scenario.
A dam failed in Michigan [May 19, 2020], forcing thousands of residents to evacuate their homes. The Edenville Dam, which failed, and the Sanford Dam, which was compromised, are on the Tittabawassee River, a tributary of the Saginaw River. The failures followed days of heavy rainfall and sent floodwaters into downstream communities. Residents of Edenville, Midland and Sanford were evacuated.
A dam failure and a flood, in the middle of a global pandemic: it’s a worst-case scenario. The immediate focus needs to be protecting public health and safety. Governor Whitmer encouraged people to seek shelter with friends or relatives, and to take precautions to prevent the spread of coronavirus.
How did this happen?
Why did these particular dams fail? Was it because of heavy rains? Climate change? Faulty, aging infrastructure? Lack of action by the dam owner? Right now, we know the following:
The Edenville Dam was plagued by concerns and safety violations. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission revoked its hydropower license in 2018 due to concerns that the dam could not withstand a significant flood. FERC flagged problems for the dam’s owner starting in 1999.
Climate change is bringing more severe and frequent flooding at a time when our nation’s infrastructure is aging and outdated.
The American Society of Civil Engineers has repeatedly given our nation’s dams a grade of D in their “Report Card for America’s Infrastructure” – citing age, downstream development, dam abandonment and lack of funding for dam safety programs. More dams will fail, endangering people and property, unless we act to repair essential infrastructure and remove dams that no longer make sense. The Association of State Dam Safety Officials estimates there are more than 2,000 high-hazard dams nationwide in deficient condition.
The dam failure in Michigan isn’t the first “wake up call” when it comes to the need to address aging infrastructure. Dozens of dams failed in the Carolinas five years ago; thousands of residents were evacuated due to the partial failure of nation’s tallest dam, Oroville Dam on the Feather River, three years ago; and last year the Spencer Dam failed in Nebraska forcing evacuations. These disasters aren’t specific to one region, they are impacting communities nationwide.
While we’re still learning about the specifics of this disaster which is still unfolding in Michigan, the following three actions are necessary to protect communities in the future:
Increase, don’t decrease, public safety and environmental safeguards – The safety of federally licensed hydropower dams is overseen by FERC. While FERC revoked the dam’s license in 2018 due to safety concerns, that clearly was not enough to prevent this week’s catastrophe. Moreover, on the same day the dams failed, President Trump signed a new executive order to roll back more regulations under the guise of restarting the economy. Further gutting the regulations that safeguard human lives and safety and protect the environment is the wrong way to produce a sustainable economic recovery.
Strengthen evaluation and enforcement – Michigan has a working dam safety program. Even so, state dam safety offices are historically underfunded with a limited number of staff responsible for inspecting thousands of dams. We must improve these efforts by making it the responsibility of dam owners to inspect and maintain their dams; requiring more frequent, detailed inspections of deficient dams and increasing penalties for unsafe dams and violations; and, requiring dam owners to ensure that funds are available to repair or remove dams in the event they can’t or won’t meet safety standards. As communities continue to grow and development expands, many dams may also be misclassified as infrastructure and development increases downstream.
Increase funding for dam removal and water infrastructure – Dam removal can be the best way to address a dam that poses a safety risk. There are tens of thousands of dams across the country that no longer serve the purpose they were built to provide and whose removal could eliminate the cost and liability associated with owning a dam. Unless they are well maintained, their condition only gets worse every year. The most cost-effective and permanent way to deal with obsolete, unsafe dams is to remove them.
Healthy rivers are the lifeblood of our communities and our environment, and we depend on essential infrastructure to provide water, power and other services. It’s time to prioritize river protection, and investment in smart infrastructure. Our communities, our economy and our lives depend on it.
FromInside Climate News (James Bruggers, David Hasemyer and Bob Berwyn):
The flooding disaster in Michigan this week emphasized, in stark reality, the warnings by scientists that climate change is causing heavier and more frequent rainstorms in many parts of the country, including the upper Midwest.
Old dams are at risk of failing under the pressure of torrential rains. And in the hours leading up to Tuesday’s failure of two dams about 150 miles northwest of Detroit, about eight inches of rain fell in the watersheds that drain into the Tittabawassee River.
First the 1920s-vintage Edenville dam broke, sending water rushing down the river to Sanford Lake. That deluge overtopped and breached the Sanford Lake dam, officials said, prompting the evacuation of 11,000 people, the flooding of the city of Midland and the inundation of its sprawling Dow Chemical Company complex.
At the Dow plant, the water flooded a containment pond, prompting environmentalists to fear that a toxic brew could spill into the river. That could set back years of downriver cleanup of the pollution from more than a century of chemical production at Dow’s chemical manufacturing plant, they said.
In a statement on its Twitter feed, the company said the flooding at the plant posed no threat to the community. “The material from the brine pond does not create any risk to residents or the environment,” the statement said.
Scientists, environmental advocates, and dam safety experts said that the heavy rains were an example of the extreme weather that scientists have linked to climate change.
“We are seeing more rain, and more precipitation in general,” said Richard B. Rood, a professor of meteorology at the University of Michigan’s College of Engineering. “The other thing we have been seeing is individual events that are more extreme and more precipitation in general.”
He added, “That is especially true the last half-decade and is a trend that has been emerging for the last 50 years.”
Here’s the release from the USGS. Click through for all the links and a great animation of one reach of the stream below the dam failures:
U.S. Geological Survey field crews are measuring record flooding on the Tittabawassee River in Midland, Michigan, following a heavy rainfall event.
The USGS Tittabawassee River in Midland streamgage measured record water levels, called river stage, at about 35 feet on Wednesday. This level is the highest ever recorded during the streamgage’s 84 years of record, and exceeds the previous highest stage by about two feet. Water levels are beginning to recede as of this morning, and two two-person USGS crews are measuring streamflow in Grayling and Lansing. They also installed a rapid-deployment gage to provide backup to the permanent streamgage at the Midland site.
Strong storms passed through parts of the Midwest starting last Thursday, causing minor-to-major flooding in some lower Michigan locations. On Tuesday, May 19, two large dams on the Tittabawssee River failed in succession, causing two lakes upstream of Midland to drain. The USGS crews will continue to monitor water levels and streamflow as flooding continues.
Elsewhere in Michigan, the USGS Rifle River streamgage near Sterling crested on Tuesday with a record streamflow of 7,460 cubic feet per second. There are currently four additional single-person crews measuring streams throughout lower Michigan, and they will continue to monitor flooding for at least another day.
Information collected by the USGS during flooding is critical for resource managers and emergency responders to help protect life and property. The USGS coordinates efforts with the National Weather Service, US Army Corps of Engineers, Bureau of Reclamation and many local and state partners.
There are about 200 streamgages in Michigan that measure water levels, streamflow and rainfall. When flooding occurs, USGS crews make numerous streamflow measurements to verify the data USGS provides to federal, tribal, state and local agencies, as well as to the public.
For more than 125 years, the USGS has monitored flow in selected streams and rivers across the U.S. The information is routinely used for water supply and management, monitoring floods and droughts, bridge and road design, determination of flood risk and for many recreational activities.
Access current flood and high flow conditions across the country by visiting the USGS WaterWatch website. Receive instant, customized updates about water conditions in your area via text message or email by signing up for USGS WaterAlert. See where floodwaters go by following a stream trace at Streamer. View water data on your mobile device. Learn how a USGS streamgage works.
Addressing flood risk after an area has already developed is complicated, expensive, and messy in every way you can imagine. This video will recap a challenging flood mitigation project that was 20 years in the making and contrast it with the Mile High Flood District’s modern approach to urban stream design – an approach we call High Functioning and Low Maintenance Streams (HFLMS)
Stormwater and flood management utility capital projects are funded primarily by monthly user charges, with costs spread out using 20-year revenue bonds. The annual debt service payments associated with such bonds are factored into utility rates through the annual budget process. So, those of us living in Boulder pay for all of these projects on our water utility bills.
Examine your own bill to see your fixed monthly charge on the line “Stormwater/Flood.” The fee is used to support flood infrastructure, regulatory compliance, water quality monitoring and hazard programs. These fees have increased by 135% since 2013, and Boulder leads the area for the highest stormwater and flood rates, not surprisingly, since Boulder is the Colorado city most at risk for flash floods.
City staff presented details to the Water Resources Advisory Board on the preferred option, Variant 1, 100-year flood protection, which was found to have the least environmental impacts, the lowest cost, and the greatest probability of permitting feasibility through the various regulatory agencies. The cost of this version is projected to be $66 million. Other alternatives, a 200-year and a 500-year, are estimated at $93 million and $96 million, minimally a $27 million difference…
…three of the WRAB board members…and voted, with two other members dissenting, to accept the city’s preferred plan, suggesting that Council move forward into more detailed planning and engineering analysis. WRAB member Ted Rose said that “this is about acting, actually moving forward to protect our fellow citizens.” Board Chair Kirk Vincent and member Trisha Oeth, brought up equity concerns of differing flood protection levels across the community, the huge backlog in aging infrastructure, and the inability of many customers — renters, churches or schools — to afford rates that could double…
Planning Board is scheduled to review the plan next week, followed by the Open Space Board of Trustees and, finally, City Council, in June.
These days the Arkansas River doesn’t seem threatening as it ripples past Pueblo’s historic district. But in early June of 1921, it was a very different story. That’s when days of heavy rains combined with mountain snowmelt to catastrophic results…
Locomotives and train cars were responsible for a lot of damage; more than 1,200 were washed away, smashing through buildings. There were fires and vast amounts of mud. Telephone lines were out, leaving Pueblo cut off from the rest of the world. And the city was littered with the corpses of livestock, adding to public health concerns.
When the floodwaters receded, Puebloans got to work to make sure it wouldn’t happen again. The engineers literally moved the Arkansas River about a half-mile to the southwest and built a massive levee to protect the city.
The former river channel through downtown languished for decades, becoming an eyesore for the city…
More than fifty years after the flood, a group of locals started working to change that, with the goal of making the old riverbed into a new attraction, something to help draw people downtown. Residents inspired by San Antonio’s River Walk worked with the conservancy district that controlled the river on an effort that took decades and resulted in the HARP, the Historic Arkansas Riverwalk of Pueblo.
City officials announced last week it received a $2.9 million grant from the Federal Emergency Management Administration for stabilization work along 9,000 feet of Cottonwood Creek, Biolchini said. The city plans to match the grant with $993,924 from funds intended to improve its stormwater management.
The work will also keep thousands of cubic yards of sediment from washing into Fountain Creek and flowing south to Pueblo, Biolchini said. The project is among 71 Colorado Springs must complete as part of an agreement with Pueblo County to better control the volume and quality of water flowing south in Fountain Creek…
Colorado Springs officials expect to spend $16 million in 2020 on stormwater improvements using fees paid by homeowners and nonresidential property owners, according to the city’s website. Officials must spend $100 million on stormwater projects, operations and maintenance from 2016 through 2020 to comply with the Pueblo agreement. Projects are on track to hit that goal, Biolchini said. The five-year benchmark is part of the requirement to spend $460 million over 20 years on stormwater improvement.
Construction to help prevent erosion of Cottonwood Creek is expected to be designed this year and completed in 2021, he said.
The construction will likely include reshaping the banks so they have gradual slopes and burying hardened structures to keep the creek from changing course, he said.
FromThe Cañon City Daily Record (Carie Canterbury):
The Cañon City Council on Monday approved by majority vote a bid for the stormwater capital improvement project in the Dawson Ranch and Wolf Park subdivisions to Avalanche Excavating in an amount not to exceed $1,081,074.
The council in 2018 authorized financing through certificates of participation to fund an $8 million stormwater capital improvement plan and specific stormwater projects.
City Engineer Adam Lancaster said the newly approved project entails the replacement and installation of culverts of various sizes and lengths at 10 separate locations within the subdivisions…
“This project will make significant improvements in Dawson Ranch,” said Mike Gromowski, the chairperson of the Dawson Ranch Homeowners Association. “Stormwater currently does damage to about 150 properties with each major storm. … If we don’t do the work now, it will only cost more in the future – it will never get cheaper.”
A new court document states that progress continues toward resolving an environmental lawsuit against Colorado Springs for degrading Fountain Creek.
The document was filed last week in Denver at the U.S. District Court for Colorado, where the lawsuit is pending.
“The parties have continued to make significant progress toward a settlement that encompasses an agreement for relief for all violations alleged,” the court filing states…
After a trial last year, a judge decided Colorado Springs had violated its permit that regulates discharges of the city’s storm water sewer system into the creek. Remaining to be decided is what the city would do to remedy the violations.
The new document states that since October, the five parties have been exchanging drafts of a proposed agreement on how to settle the dispute.
“The parties have met monthly (since November and) continued to have monthly scheduled settlement meetings so that they can continue their progress toward (a settlement),” the document states.
Last week, Senior Judge John L. Kane granted the parties’ request to keep the case on hold until May 22, so they can continue their work. Kane is presiding over the case.
He emphasized, however, he would not keep the case on hold beyond May 22 based on the same grounds that the parties have been stating.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency awarded a $10 million grant to the state of Colorado last week to help fund modifications to the Goose Pasture Tarn Dam.
The funds come as part of FEMA’s Pre-Disaster Mitigation Grant Program, which is meant to help minimize the risks of possible dam failures…
The dam — south of Breckenridge proper and north of Blue River — is classified as “high hazard” by the state, a categorization that has little to do with its condition but rather the potential loss of human life and property in the event of any type of failure. According to FEMA, a failure likely would impact more than 2,000 residences and businesses in the Breckenridge area below the dam, along with major damage to roadways and the community’s existing water supply.
The dam does need some work to help put the minds of Breckenridge residents at ease. The need for upgrades began to emerge in 2015, during a high moisture year when town-run monitoring stations started to see significant rising water levels, according to Steve Boand, a state hazard mitigation officer with the Colorado Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management. As a result, stakeholders decided to implement reservoir storage restrictions in 2016.
Breckenridge also moved forward in seeking federal funding to address concerns. The $10 million from FEMA will cover more than half the costs of the project. The rest already has been budgeted as capital improvements by Breckenridge, Boand said. The work on the dam is scheduled to begin later this year and will lower the spillway by 4 feet to help protect the dam and everyone in its path…
Construction on the project will begin later this year and is scheduled to be completed sometime in 2022, though Boand said it could take until 2023. Breckenridge will lower water levels in the reservoir during construction seasons to facilitate the work.
FromThe Associated Press (Tammy Webber) via The Colorado Sun:
In Australia’s national capital of Canberra, authorities are keeping a wary eye on burning forests and bushland, hoping a new water treatment plant and other measures will prevent a repeat of water quality problems and disruption that followed deadly wildfires 17 years ago.
There have not yet been major impacts on drinking water systems in southeast Australia from the intense fires that have burned more than 40,000 square miles (104,000 square kilometers) since September. But authorities know from experience that the biggest risks will come with repeated rains over many months or years while the damaged watersheds, or catchment areas, recover.
And because of the size and intensity of the fires, the potential impacts are not clear yet.
“The forest area burned in Australia within a single fire season is just staggering,” said Stefan Doerr, a professor at Swansea University in England who studies the effects of forest files on sediment and ash runoff. “We haven’t seen anything like it in recorded history.”
The situation in Australia illustrates a growing global concern: Forests, grasslands and other areas that supply drinking water to hundreds of millions of people are increasingly vulnerable to fire due in large part to hotter, drier weather that has extended fire seasons, and more people moving into those areas, where they can accidentally set fires.
More than 60% of the water supply for the world’s 100 largest cities originates in fire-prone watersheds — and countless smaller communities also rely on surface water in vulnerable areas, researchers say.
When rain does fall, it can be intense, dumping a lot of water in a short period of time, which can quickly erode denuded slopes and wash huge volumes of ash, sediment and debris into crucial waterways and reservoirs. Besides reducing the amount of water available, the runoff also can introduce pollutants, as well as nutrients that create algae blooms.
What’s more, the area that burns each year in many forest ecosystems has increased in recent decades, and that expansion likely will continue through the century because of a warmer climate, experts say.
Most of the 25,000 square miles (64,000 square kilometers) that have burned in Victoria and New South Wales have been forest, including rainforests, according to scientists in New South Wales and the Victorian government. Some believe that high temperatures, drought and more frequent fires may make it impossible for some areas to be fully restored…
Very hot fires burn organic matter and topsoil needed for trees and other vegetation to regenerate, leaving nothing to absorb water. The heat also can seal and harden the ground, causing water to run off quickly, carrying everything in its path.
That in turn can clog streams, killing fish, plants and other aquatic life necessary for high-quality water before it reaches reservoirs. Already, thunderstorms in southeast Australia in recent weeks have caused debris flows and fish kills in some rivers, though fires continue to burn…
…climate change has affected areas such as northern Canada and Alaska, where average annual temperatures have risen by almost 4 degrees (2.2 degrees Celsius) since the 1960s, compared to about 1 degree (0.55 degrees Celsius) farther south. As a result, the forested area burned annually has more than doubled over the past 20 to 30 years, said Doerr, from Swansea University.
Although there might be fewer cities and towns in the path of runoff in those areas, problems do occur. In Canada’s Fort McMurray, Alberta, the cost of treating ash-tainted water in its drinking-water system increased dramatically after a 2016 wildfire.
In the Western U.S., 65% of all surface water supplies originate in forested watersheds where the risk of wildfires is growing — including in the historically wet Pacific Northwest. By mid-century almost 90% of them will experience an increase — doubling in some — in post-fire sedimentation that could affect drinking water supplies, according to a federally funded 2017 study…
Denver Water, which serves 1.4 million customers, discovered “the high cost of being reactive” after ash and sediment runoff from two large, high-intensity fires, in 1996 and 2002, clogged a reservoir that handles 80% of the water for its 1.4 million customers, said Christina Burri, a watershed scientist for the utility.
It spent about $28 million to recover, mostly to dredge 1 million cubic yards (765,555 cubic meters) of sediment from the reservoir.
Since then, the utility has spent tens of millions more to protect the forests, partnering with the U.S. Forest Service and others. to protect the watershed and proactively battle future fires, including by clearing some trees and controlling vegetation in populated areas.
Utilities also can treat slopes with wood chips and other cover and install barriers to slow ash runoff. They purposely burn vegetation when fire danger is low to get rid of undergrowth…
Eventually, some communities might need to switch their water sources because of fires and drought. Perth, on the western coast, has turned to groundwater and systems that treat saltwater because rainfall has decreased significantly since the early 1970s, said Sheridan of University of Melbourne.
Local groups call for plugging of discharging mines
Todd Hennis, owner of the Gold King Mine, is not happy about the proposed Superfund cleanup around Silverton, saying the suggestion to plug more mines only redistributes potentially toxic water and doesn’t solve the problem…
In December, two community groups formed to help guide the Superfund process – the Citizens Advisory Group and the Silverton-San Juan County Planning Group – submitted letters to the EPA with a similar recommendation.
The main message: focus on the sites – namely the Gold King, American Tunnel, Mogul and Red & Bonita – which are contributing the most amount of contaminated metals into Cement Creek, a tributary of the Animas River.
According to data from the now-defunct Animas River Stakeholders Group, almost half of all metal loading from the 120 draining mines sampled around Silverton comes from these four sources.
And the suggested solution? Place more bulkheads.
“While currently the (Bonita Peak) enjoys high-priority status as a Superfund site, the (community group) is quite concerned its priority could change in the future,” the CAG wrote. “… Bulkheads can be funded with manageable, annual budgeting, unlike a large water treatment facility, which may need a big financial infusion all at once.”
Hennis, for his part, has long maintained that the original bulkheads placed on the American Tunnel caused his mines to start to discharge mine wastewater. Sunnyside Gold has adamantly denied the Sunnyside Mine is connected geologically to Hennis’ mines.
Regardless, Hennis said he was “shocked and appalled” to learn the community groups were in favor of more bulkheads as a main treatment option.
“Bulkheading doesn’t work,” Hennis wrote. “It appears all they accomplished in the long term was to re-distribute acid mine water flows elsewhere, and in the same volume as the original problem.”
Hennis says that if the Gold King and Red & Bonita are plugged, it could shift water back into the American Tunnel, where bulkheads there could be overwhelmed.
“Rolling the dice on a potential catastrophic failure of the American Tunnel bulkheads makes no sense whatsoever,” he said. “If a release of 3 million gallons of mine water from the Gold King raised absolute havoc downstream, a potential release of billions of gallons from the Sunnyside Mine Pool would have unthinkable consequences.”
Hennis instead said the only long-term solution would be to drain the Sunnyside Mine pool, treat the water and shut off spots where water gets into the Sunnyside Mine network.
But this could be costly.
Richard Mylott, spokesman for EPA, said the agency is working to understand the impacts that bulkheading would have on water quality and water levels within the Cement Creek area…
Mylott said EPA has installed several wells to monitor the groundwater system when it tests the closure of the Red & Bonita.
Here’s the release from Colorado State University (Boris Kondratieff):
Editor’s note: Boris Kondratieff, professor of entomology and curator of the C. P. Gillette Museum of Arthropod Diversity at Colorado State University, wrote this piece for The Conversation in January 2020. Colorado State is a contributing institution to The Conversation, an independent collaboration between editors and academics that provides informed news analysis and commentary to the general public. See the entire list of contributing faculty and their articles here.
Experienced anglers recognize that for a trout, the ultimate “steak dinner” is a stonefly or mayfly. That’s why fly fishing enthusiasts will go to extreme lengths to imitate these graceful, elegant and fragile insects.
I share their passion, but for different reasons. As a an entomologist who has studied stoneflies and mayflies for over 40 years, I’ve discovered these insects have value far beyond luring trout – they are indicators of water quality in streams and are a crucial piece of the larger food web. And they are in trouble.
I have served as director of the C. P. Gillette Museum of Arthropod Diversity since 1986. The greatest thrill of my career has been collecting and adding mayflies and stoneflies to our collection.
To find specimens, I have traveled to pristine streams in every U.S. state, Canada, Mexico, Central America, Brazil, Ecuador, the Arabian Peninsula and Europe. My collecting trips have yielded more than 100 new species of mayflies and stoneflies.
One of my favorites literally fell into my lap as I was beating lush foliage along a pristine stream in southern Oregon during May 2014. The beating sheet is an efficient means of sampling dense, streamside vegetation, where adult insects hide. The sheet itself is made of sturdy canvas stretched over two wooden cross members. A stick is used to knock the insects from the vegetation onto the canvas, where they are collected.
When I saw a large yellow and black insect drop onto my sheet, I knew immediately it was a new stonefly species, previously unknown to science. I was ecstatic. My colleagues and I subsequently described it as Kathroperla siskiyou, after the Siskiyou mountains of southern Oregon.
Mayflies and stoneflies thrive in unpolluted water – a fact my colleagues and I have witnessed firsthand on our numerous expeditions. Not only do we see greater overall abundance of these insects in clean streams, but more diversity of species, as well. In polluted areas, we observe the exact opposite. Without a doubt, the presence or absence of mayflies and stoneflies in a stream is a reliable indicator of the quality of its water.
The role of mayflies and stoneflies in the food chain is fundamental, as well. Immature mayflies and stoneflies consume algae, living plants, dead leaves, wood and each other. In this nymph phase, when they have gills and live exclusively underwater, they are an important food source for many animals further up the food chain, including fish and wading birds. When the mayflies and stoneflies emerge from the water as adults, they are essential food for spiders, other insects such as dragonflies and damselflies, and many kinds of birds and bats.
Currently, scientists estimate that 33% of all aquatic insects are threatened with extinction worldwide. Many of these species are mayflies and stoneflies. The mayfly species Ephemera compar has already gone extinct in Colorado, and several other species of aquatic insects are threatened in my home state.
Life drains into a stream
Less than 1% of Earth’s water is potable and available for human use. Maintaining water quality has become an ever increasing challenge because of the large number of chemicals people use in everyday life and in commerce. Common contaminants such as sediment, organic enrichment including fertilizers and animal waste and heavy metals are constantly making their way into the waters, as well. Declining water quality is like a police siren alerting humanity to current, ongoing and emerging pollution problems.
One of my great passions is to enlighten others on how to protect the most valuable natural resource of the planet: streams and rivers. Individually, citizens can make a difference. Storm water is the number one water quality problem nationally. Enhancing and planting riparian buffers – that is, planted areas near streams – can help to prevent precipitation and sprinkler runoff. People can also prioritize using only native plants; decreasing mowing areas; recycling or composting yard waste; using less or no fertilizer; avoiding the use of pesticides; and bagging pet waste. Insisting that environmental laws be enforced and strengthened will also help reduce water pollution.
Without clean water, life on Earth will become difficult or impossible for mayflies and stoneflies, not to mention people.
FromThe Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Charles Ashby):
On drainage, the county will be busy getting its feet under it to deal with a change in how that will be managed.
Last year, Grand Junction officials decided it no longer wanted to oversee the 5-2-1 Drainage Authority, primarily for financial and logistical reasons. As a result, the county is to take over those management duties by March. In the meantime, the authority will be dissolved, and the county is to work with the Grand Valley Drainage District, the city, Fruita and Palisade to address immediate storm water needs.
What likely won’t be addressed by year’s end, McInnis says, is an idea to create a single entity to address drainage issues and an expected $100 million need in infrastructure improvements, primarily because of disagreements over how to fund it. Doing so likely could require a countywide ballot measure if a special fee is required or the effort calls for creating a new, expanded drainage district with taxing powers to encompass all five government entities.
“The big challenge for all of us is going to come when the feds come down and start putting these (water quality) standards in place,” McInnis said. “Right now, we’ve got a little period of time where the county can do it with the contributions from the city and the others. But the day will come when we’re all going to have to shimmy up to the bar.”
FromThe Cañon City Daily Record (Carie Canterbury):
A section of the Arkansas Riverwalk east of Ash Street that was damaged by last year’s high runoff has been stabilized, repaired and reopened.
Kyle Horne, the executive director of the Cañon City Area Recreation and Park District, said the water flow last summer chewed away part of the trail and underneath the levee, causing groundwater to appear in the parking lot. That section of the riverwalk has been closed since June for pedestrian safety.
The recreation district partnered with Fremont County to hire Lippis Excavating to repair the damage and stabilize the bank, which took place Tuesday…
The cost of the project is expected to be about $5,000 which will be split 50/50 between the county and the recreation district.
Click here to view the story map from Platte Basin Timelapse. Here’s the preface:
The flood event of 2019 was historic and devastating for parts of Nebraska and the Midwest.
Platte Basin Timelapse team members Grant Reiner, Carlee Koehler, Ethan Freese, and Mariah Lundgren traveled to parts of the state to explore questions they had about this historic weather event. What happens to wildlife during these big weather events? How were people affected by the floodwaters? What does this mean for the birds that nest on the river? How many PBT cameras survived? These are our stories.
After the 2013 floods devastated communities and took several lives, the state of Colorado is remapping the regulatory floodplain of the most affected waterways in Colorado.
“It’s important to provide public and local land use managers with the most accurate flood risk information so they can make better decisions,’ explained Thuy Patton, Flood Mapping Program Manager for the Colorado Water Conservation Board.
In some counties, there are areas that now have higher flood risk and other areas that now have lower flood risk, which changes which homes are in the flood plain. NOTE: these numbers are approximate, based on public information, and are subject to change.
In Boulder County, with this update, 420 new structures are in flood risk area and approx. 400 structures are now not in special flood hazard area, Patton explained.
In Jefferson County, 53 structures were added.
In Larimer County, 601 structures were added and 1,571 were removed.
In Weld County, 453 structures were added and 1,994 were removed.
In Sedgwick County, 85 structures were added and two were removed.
In Washington County, 26 structures were added and 31 were removed.
In Morgan County, 38 structures were added and four were removed.
And in Logan County, 222 structures were added, while 59 were removed.
FEMA uses Flood Insurance Rate Maps (FIRMs) to set flood insurance premiums. The Preliminary FIRMs will become FEMA’s final effective FIRMs in 2021, pending any appeals received by FEMA.
Boulder County is starting a series of public meetings about the changes. Representatives from FEMA, the mapping team, and Boulder County will be present at each session. Each open house will focus on specific reaches, but residents are invited to discuss any stream at each meeting:
Lower Boulder Creek, New Dry Creek, Coal Creek, and Rock Creek – Tuesday, Jan. 14 | 5 to 6:30 p.m. (presentation at 5:15 p.m.) Boulder County Recycling Center – 1901 63rd Street in Boulder County
Saint Vrain Creek, Lower Left Hand Creek, Dry Creek #2, and Little Thompson River – Thursday, Jan. 16 | 5 to 6:30 p.m. (presentation at 5:15 p.m.) Boulder County Parks and Open Space Ron Stewart Building – 5201 St. Vrain Drive in Longmont
North, Middle, and South Saint Vrain creeks and Cabin Creek – Tuesday, Jan. 21 | 5 to 6:30 p.m. (presentation at 5:15 p.m.) Highlands Presbyterian Church – 1306 Business Highway 7 in Allenspark
Little James Creek, James Creek, Upper Left Hand Creek, and Geer Canyon – Tuesday, Jan. 28 | 5 to 6:30 p.m. (presentation at 5:15 p.m.) Jamestown Town Hall – 118 Main St. in Jamestown. This is a joint meeting between Boulder County and the Town of Jamestown
Fourmile Canyon Creek, Two Mile Canyon Creek, Gold Run, Fourmile Creek, Boulder Creek and North, Middle, and South Boulder creeks – Thursday, Jan. 30 | 5 to 6:30 p.m. (presentation at 5:15 p.m.). Boulder Public Library Main Branch, Boulder Creek Room – 1001 Arapahoe Ave. in Boulder
In what could be a major blow to the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad, a federal judge has recommended a district court throw out the train’s motion to dismiss a lawsuit in which the U.S. government is seeking $25 million for fighting the 416 Fire.
In July, the U.S. government named the D&SNG as the cause of the 416 Fire, which started along the train’s tracks north of Durango in summer 2018 and went on to burn more than 54,000 acres of mostly national forest lands in the Hermosa Creek watershed.
After eyewitness accounts and months of speculation, federal investigators determined a cinder emitted from a smokestack from a D&SNG coal-burning locomotive, which was running at a time of extreme drought in Southwest Colorado, sparked the fire.
At the same time, U.S. officials said the D&SNG denied starting the fire, prompting a lawsuit that seeks $25 million from the railroad for damages and fire-suppression costs.
In September, the D&SNG filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit, saying there is no federal law that allows claims to recover fire suppression costs, and the only Colorado law on the issue allows for recovering actual damages from a fire on property – but not firefighting costs.
The judge overseeing the case – U.S. District Court Judge Robert E. Blackburn – asked for a recommendation from U.S. Magistrate Judge N. Reid Neureiter on interpreting the law and on whether to dismiss the case.
On Friday, Neureiter filed his recommendation, which supported the U.S. government.
“First, I reject the (D&SNG’s) argument that, as a public entity providing a civic service by fighting a forest fire, the United States is not entitled to recover fire suppression costs,” he wrote.
“The United States was protecting its own property, the National Forest, and acting like a property owner in fighting and attempting to suppress the fire … the United States is entitled to whatever protection is afforded to other landowners in Colorado – including entitlement to recovery of fire suppression costs.”
The 416 Fire near Durango, Colorado, ignited on June 1, 2018. By June 21, the wildfire covered more than 34,000 acres and was 37 percent contained. Photo credit USFS via The High Country News
The 416 Fire started at about 10 a.m. on June 1, 2018, approximately 10 miles north of Durango, CO. Rocky Mountain Type 1 Incident Management Team is managing the fire. The fire is burning on the west side of State Highway 550 on some private land and on the San Juan National Forest. The fire is burning in grass, brush, and timber. The Weather conditions remain critical and fuels are ideal for significant fire growth. The fire has been very active and continues to burn in rough and inaccessible terrain. Many homes have been evacuated and structure protection is in place. Map via Inciweb
Screen shot of Animas River debris flow July 2018 aftermath of 416 Fire (CBS Denver).
Debris flow from 416 Fire. Photo credit: Twitter #416Fire hash tag
Untreated, polluted water flowing into the Roaring Fork River in the heart of Aspen and failing underground storm water infrastructure has the municipal government looking for new revenue streams to put toward an underfunded clean river program.
The city has made progress with capturing and filtering runoff before it hits the Roaring Fork from the Aspen Mountain basin on the south side of the river, with catch basins and wetlands near the Rio Grande park and trail.
But on the north side of the river, where east end neighborhoods and homes on Red Mountain are located, untreated storm water runoff goes directly into the Roaring Fork.
That is one likely cause of why the state has put the Roaring Fork on its watch list of impaired waterways, said April Long, the city’s clean river program manager.
Long has been charged with finding new revenue sources to fund the storm water department and clean river program in which almost $19 million in capital projects have been identified.
Ramping up the program is a priority that Aspen City Council zeroed in on earlier this year as it learned it is woefully underfunded…
The main funding source for the clean river program now is a property tax passed by voters in 2007 and put in place in 2008. It generates about $1.2 million annually.
But with underground corrugated metal pipes that are more than 40 years old and are rusting out, replacing just a third of the infrastructure is anticipated to cost $4 million, according to Long…
City Engineer Trish Aragon noted it costs more to replace pipes in emergency situations, and getting out in front of it is a better use of taxpayer money…
The department has identified just under two dozen projects that would create a more robust clean river program and address some of the state’s concerns.
One of them that will get some preliminary attention next year is designing a catch basin on the north side of the river at Mill Street and Gibson Avenue, near the old powerhouse.
It would collect runoff from the east end residential complexes including Hunter Creek and Centennial and some of Red Mountain…
Long and Aragon are beginning to look at funding options based on what other municipalities do, as well as other research and brainstorming exercises.
The establishment of some type of fee, along with grants and creating special districts in neighborhoods where the infrastructure needs to be done are options on the table.
Long said she plans to bring funding options, along with prioritized projects with timeframe scenarios to council sometime next year.
In a park, nestled in a red rock canyon outside Moab, Utah — a short drive from a giant pile of uranium tailings — a crowd gathered for a celebration. Elected officials and community members mingled, and enjoyed refreshments.
Volunteers placed pieces of yellow cake in small paper bowls.
It was a facetious nod to the gathering’s purpose: to celebrate the removal of 10 million tons of toxic uranium tailings from the banks of the Colorado River.
“You never would have thought you would have all these people congratulating themselves in the community on moving 10 million tons,” said Sarah Fields, executive director of the nonprofit Uranium Watch. “They seem to be really dedicated to getting this done.”
Before cleanup efforts began about 10 years ago, elevated levels of uranium and ammonia were showing up in the river’s water near Moab. The contamination alarmed officials downstream in Nevada and California, and they called for the Department of Energy to step in.
Getting the pile out of the floodplain became a community rallying cry as well, Fields said.
“The (Department of Energy) pretty much from the beginning realized that if they decided to leave it in place they would be standing alone because the town, the city, most of the members of the community, the state, the EPA all said, ‘Move the pile,’” Fields said.
Workers began moving the pile in 2009. The tailings are loaded into train cars, and sent 30 miles north where they’re stored away from the river in the middle of the desert. With the 10 millionth ton moved, more than 62% of the pile is gone, which means many Moabites could see completion in their lifetimes.
Moab tailings site with Spanish Valley to the south
On Tuesday, Oct. 8, an informational meeting was held to inform residents along the South Platte River of the changes in the floodplain maps used by community officials, insurance providers and mortgage lenders.
This meeting was hosted by Morgan County Floodplain Administrator Pam Cherry. It was held in the Founders Room at Morgan Community College. Also present was Diana Herrera, Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Region 8 senior insurance specialist…
Herrera spoke some about the impacts of changes to the floodplain maps to insurance rates.
“Mainly what we’re talking about is the map changes that are coming along the South Platte River,” she said, with the goal being “to let the property owners know what their risk is and how they can protect their financial interests.
There are some changes coming, she said.
“The cost of insurance outside the special flood area is about $500 a year for $250,000 on buildings and $100,000 on contents,” Herrera said. “Inside the high-risk area, there are a number of factors, how was it built, number of floors and age among other factors.”
She also said that there are changes coming to the National Flood insurance Program and for how flood insurance and risk for flood is factored…
“We are modernizing the National Flood Insurance Program, and sometime at the end of next year we are hopeful that we will be able to do an individual risk for flood,” Herrera said…
To learn more about the NFIP and flood insurance, call 1-800-427-4661 or contact an insurance company or agent.
The additional discharge from the Silver Wing Mine into the Animas River did not have a negative impact on water quality, according to the New Mexico Environment Department.
The Silver Wing Mine discharged a larger amount of water than usual last week, causing some discoloration in the Animas River near Silverton, Colorado.
However, the discoloration was not visible downstream, and NMED does not see any evidence of negative impacts to water quality…
NMED has been monitoring water quality data for both turbidity and pH in the Animas River in Colorado and New Mexico. According to the slides, the Silver Wing Mine has not, to date, caused potentially harmful changes in turbidity or pH in the Animas River as it flows from Colorado into New Mexico at Cedar Hill.
Both the New Mexico Environment Department and the San Juan County Office of Emergency Management reported today that they were notified by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency of a wastewater spill from the Silver Wing Mine in the area of Eureka Gulch, north of Silverton, Colorado, which occurred Wednesday afternoon.
According to the San Juan OEM, the spill was the result of a “burp” from the mine and is unrelated to either the Gold King Mine or the Bonita Peak Superfund site.
The source is 10 miles from the Animas River and the spill was expected to dilute by the time it reached Silverton. The spill was moving slowly and was expected to reach the San Juan River.
So far, “Data do not currently indicate any evidence of water quality impacts that could affect human health and the environment,” stated NMED in a press release, adding that the department will continue to monitor the situation.
Although the EPA has not issued a notice to close municipal drinking water supplies, the cities of Farmington and Aztec, New Mexico and the Lower Valley Water Users Association have shut off water intakes to municipal drinking water supplies “out of an abundance of caution.”
Neither the volume of the spill nor the contents of the water were known as of 4 p.m. Thursday. EPA officials were conducting tests to learn more.
Yolanda Barney, program manager for the Navajo Nation Environmental Protection Agency’s Public Water Supply Program, said Thursday NNEPA is aware of spill and is still gathering information.
Sources in Durango, Colorado, reported Thursday the river appears normal.
Lessons learned from an Aug. 4 flash flood on the south side of Basalt Mountain educated a consortium of governments on what needed to be done to try to avoid a repeat performance.
A contractor for the town of Basalt is working at the intersection of Cedar Drive and Pinon Drive in the Hill District to better handle water spilling out of the Lake Christine burn scar…
He credited the Natural Resources Conservation Service, a federal agency, for looking at the road intersection and adapting a flood mitigation plan. The NRCS had to sign off on all work performed after the federal government awarded a $1.23 million Emergency Watershed Protection Program grant earlier in the year to Basalt, Eagle County and Colorado Parks and Wildlife.
Urbanization alters the delivery of water and sediment to receiving streams, often leading to channel erosion and enlargement, which increases loading of sediment and nutrients, degrades habitat, and harms sensitive biota. Stormwater control measures (SCMs) are constructed in an attempt to mitigate some of these effects. In addition, stream restoration practices such as bank stabilization are increasingly promoted as a means of improving water quality by reducing downstream sediment and pollutant loading. Each unique combination of SCMs and stream restoration practices results in a novel hydrologic regime and set of geomorphic characteristics that interact to determine stream condition, but in practice, implementation is rarely coordinated due to funding and other constraints. In this study, we examine links between watershed-scale implementation of SCMs and stream restoration in Big Dry Creek, a suburban watershed in the Front Range of northern Colorado. We combine continuous hydrologic model simulations of watershed-scale response to SCM design scenarios with channel evolution modeling to examine interactions between stormwater management and stream restoration strategies for reducing loading of sediment and adsorbed phosphorus from channel erosion. Modeling results indicate that integrated design of SCMs and stream restoration interventions can result in synergistic reductions in pollutant loading. Not only do piecemeal and disunited approaches to stormwater management and stream restoration miss these synergistic benefits, they make restoration projects more prone to failure, wasting valuable resources for pollutant reduction. We conclude with a set of recommendations for integrated planning of SCMs and stream restoration to simultaneously achieve water quality and channel protection goals.
Both stormwater control and stream restoration are proven ways to reduce erosion along water channels. Often, though, each method is managed by a different urban land-management department, measuring different success values. Efforts are rarely coordinated due to funding and other constraints.
Rod Lammers and his colleagues at the University of Georgia looked at some computerized models to see if coordinating these land management practices with common goals might have a greater positive impact on erosion. The good news? It does.
First, let’s take a look at why stormwater management systems are necessary. In nature, precipitation falls onto forests, prairies and other soil-based areas. The water is soaked into the soil, down into the water table, and out into water bodies. Eventually, through evaporation, that water gets back into the atmosphere—until the next precipitation event.
In cities, though, pavement, rooftops, and other structures break the water cycle. City managers and engineers develop stormwater management systems to collect and move water in long tunnels, under buildings, and out to waterways. The more impermeable structures and the larger the area, the more complex the system must be…
Because this stormwater hasn’t been able to take advantage of soils’ natural ability to clean water, the water can be filled with sediment, and undesirable nutrients. These can take a toll on the stream habitats and harm sensitive ecosystems downstream. In addition, the larger runoff volumes and higher and more frequent peak flows can lead to stream bank erosion. The UGA study only looked at sediments and nutrients coming from the soil eroded in the channels.
Lammers and his team looked at newer stormwater management approaches, called green infrastructure. These types of structures attempt to allow more water to soak into the soil like a natural system. “We are essentially trying to ‘restore’ the city to a more natural water cycle,” says Lammers.
Each combination of stormwater controls and restoration projects results in its own improvements. However, “piecemeal approaches to stormwater management and stream restoration miss synergistic benefits,” says Lammers. “They make restoration projects more prone to failure, wasting valuable resources for pollutant reduction.”
Stormwater management programs often focus on peak flow rates of large, less frequent storms. They also attempt to removed suspended solids, as well and nitrogen and phosphorus.
Lammers’ team developed computerized models to predict the effects of three different stream restoration scenarios and three different stormwater treatment scenarios. Thus, there were scenarios with a combination of restoration and treatment techniques. Such an “experiment” in the field would take a long time and involve a lot of expense.
“Computer modeling is a powerful tool. We can test the relative success of different management approaches, over years or even decades,” says Lammers. “These results can then be used by agencies to help with their planning. Of course, modeling has its limitations. Monitoring the actual performance of stormwater practices and stream restoration is essential. They also have to adapt management approaches based on observed successes and failures.”
“Our results suggest that watershed-scale implementation of stormwater controls that reduce runoff volume is essential,” says Lammers. “The controls need to address a spectrum of storm sizes. This is a more effective approach for reducing channel erosion than stream restoration. Aggressive, early implementation may have resulted in even less pollution by avoiding erosion early on. Much like investing early in life leads to greater financial returns, early implementation of stormwater controls and restoration can result in greater water quality and channel stability benefits.”
“Stream restoration can complement effective stormwater treatment to reduce erosion and pollutant loading,” says Lammers. “However, these approaches should be coordinated to achieve the best results. In addition, stormwater controls have a much greater potential to reduce stream erosion than channel restoration. Cities need to address the root cause of erosion—the altered urban water cycle. That is more effective than only treating the symptoms by stabilizing the channel itself.”
Since this study was done in Colorado, future research could be done to apply similar approaches in different climates. Different rainfall patterns might result in different effectiveness of stormwater controls. Also, looking at different restoration strategies, like floodplain reconnection to reduce the velocity and erosive power of floods, would be interesting. Similarly, it would be useful to compare different stormwater control strategies, to see which perform best in different scenarios.
The High Line Canal Conservancy spent the last five years developing a plan to preserve their unique and popular recreation area.
They privately raised $4 million, and they plan on raising much more to make their 15-year plan successful.
With fewer [diverters along] the canal for irrigation in recent years, Denver Water is planning to switch gears and use it for stormwater.
Highlights of the plan include easier trail access, uniform signage, tree care, and safer crossings, which provides for building a couple of new underpasses for the trail.
On Saturday, they unveiled this plan publicly for the first time.
“This plan is just a critical piece,” Conservancy Executive Director Harriet LaMair said. “It’s a guideline for all the local governments for how they can commit dollars, and we can raise private dollars for this canal.”
Warmer temperatures and higher nutrient levels in the water have led to more blue-green algae blooms, which are harmful to humans and potentially deadly to pets, said Erik Rodriguez a Health, Safety and Environmental specialist with the city. The daily temperature record in Colorado Springs has already been broken five times this year.
While the city struggles to find a fix, other Colorado towns have used environmentally-friendly machinery that helps aerate the water. Better circulation gives algae less chance to accumulate.
In the Green Ridge Glade Reservoir in Loveland, sit five SolarBee units — solar powered machines that float in the middle of the lake. They keep the water in the reservoir moving, disrupting the stagnant environment that blue-green algae likes, said SolarBee regional manager Dave Summerfield. Each unit costs about $40,000.
Since the units were installed two years ago, the 150-acre drinking water reservoir has been free of algae.
In the past, the popular method among water treatment agencies was to dump algicides such as copper sulfate into the water. But the solution wasn’t sustainable, said Summerfield.
The bacteria would slowly adapt to the sulfate, forcing maintenance to use more and more of it, racking up costs and dangerous toxin levels…
Rodriguez pointed out that several Colorado Springs lakes already have aeration features in them. Monument Valley Park ponds have a few aerators — devices that create small air bubbles to push the water around. Mary Kyer Park has a fountain in the middle that helps with circulation, he said.
Cyanobacteria, which causes the blue-green algae, thrives off nutrients in the water, specifically nitrogen and phosphorous. Nitrogen and phosphorous get into water in runoff from agriculture, fossil fuels, fertilizers, yard and pet waste, even soaps and detergents. The city’s recent warm weather and heavy thunderstorms haven’t helped, Rodriguez said.
FromThe Canon City Daily Record (Carie Canterbury):
The significant damage caused by the July 24, 2018 flooding in western Fremont County has been cleaned up and mitigation work has been done in case such an event ever happens again.
The force of the water from Butter Creek and Dinkle Ditch/Cottonwood Creek met during the heavy rainstorm, blowing out a stream channel and forcing its way through structures. Debris, trees and rocks washed through the Gillespie family’s hayfield, cutting a gulley and leaving behind a huge mess.
Crews this year cleaned the gulley and reshaped, lined and stabilized the channel.
“The water that overflows out of Little Cottonwood – if we do get a significant flow – it should come out, go right down this channel and safely make its way down to Big Cottonwood Creek,” said Greg Langer, the district conservationist with Natural Resources Conservation Service…
About $1.5 million was spent on restoration and mitigation between the two properties, Commissioner Dwayne McFall said.
Natural Resources Conservation Service funded the design of the stream bank stabilization project, which was designed for a 10-year flood event.
The Natural Resources Conservation Service Emergency Watershed Protection recovery project in the Big Cottonwood area in Coaldale officially started in early Spring and was completed in July. It required a number of agencies, property owners and experts working together to get the job done.
The project was sponsored by Fremont County with matching funds in the amount of $453,850 from the Colorado Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management as a grant match.
The Arkansas River Watershed Collaborative and the Upper Arkansas River Conservancy District also garnered a grant for more than $250,000 from the Colorado Water Conservation Board for the cleanup effort. Additionally, Chelesy Nutter, the executive director of the Arkansas River Watershed Collaboration, partnered with the Colorado Workforce Center who provided labor to remove 120 cubic yards of debris and cut fallen trees.
Luke Javernick of River Science did all of the hydrology work and brought Canon City High School students to do water quality testing. They will continue monitoring for three years, Nutter said. The Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management and Trout Unlimited also will be working to explore longterm recovery. Fremont County provided in-kind services with staff time…
Fremont County Manager Sunny Bryant said the last time there was a flood, not only were the properties damaged, but U.S. 50 was threatened and County Road 39 nearly was washed out.
Here’s the release from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers — Omaha District:
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, in cooperation with the City of Longmont, Colorado will hold a flood risk management study open house Sept. 18, from 4:00 to 6:30 p.m. at the Longmont Museum, 400 Quail Road.
There will be a brief, formal presentation at 4:30 p.m. on information contained in the recently released draft feasibility study report, followed by an open house.
The draft report provides information on the need for the project, current conditions of the project area, identification of opportunities to reduce flood risk, development of various alternatives to reduce flood impacts to life safety and property along St. Vrain Creek, and selection of the proposed plan.
The recommended plan includes a levee on the south side of the Izaak Walton Pond Nature Area, channel widening and benching to contain the 1% Annual Chance Exceedance (ACE) event, replacement of the Boston Avenue Bridge, and a grade control downstream of Sunset Street Bridge.
Email your comments on the report to email@example.com or mail to: U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Omaha District, CENWO-PMA-A, ATTN: Tim Goode, 1616 Capitol Avenue, Omaha, NE 68102-4901. Comments must be postmarked or received by Oct. 4, 2019.
This flood risk management study builds on Resilient St. Vrain, Longmont’s extensive, multi-year undertaking to fully restore the St. Vrain Greenway and increase resiliency of the St. Vrain Creek channel to reduce future flood risk to the community. The Resilient St. Vrain project was developed by the City of Longmont in response to the catastrophic flooding in September 2013.
USACE Omaha District Public Affairs
1616 Capitol Ave. Omaha, Neb. 68102
Since the 2013 floods, the Big Thompson Watershed coalition has been leveraging grant money to rebuild and improve the river corridor, making it healthier and more resilient.
Now, the nonprofit is shifting its focus to resiliency for the future, to improvements that will prepare the community for future flood and fire impacts and to ensure long-term river health.
As part of that effort, the coalition is reaching out into the community to make new connections, holding a fundraiser with a goal of $50,000 and has a community bio-blitz planned…
The Big Thompson Watershed Coalition is a nonprofit that has been operating for five years on grant money and disaster-recovery funds available after the 2013 floods. Two full-time employees handle all the community outreach, grant searches and more behind the scenes for the grant-funded projects.
To help keep a staff of two going into the future and to meet the organization’s operations needs, the coalition has a fundraiser planned for Sunday, Sept. 22, at Sweetheart Winery.
The event, which costs $60 per ticket, will feature dinner, a live cellist, fly-fishing demonstrators, tours of an adjacent watershed project, an art auction and time to soak up the river…
The theme centers on “inspirations and aspirations” of the river, and the event gives people a first-hand look at one of the completed river projects. Speakers also will talk about watershed issues…
Tickets are available by making a donation online at bigthompson.co/donate or by contacting firstname.lastname@example.org…
A major project for the watershed forum in the coming year is to create a plan for the Big Thompson River for 15 miles through Loveland with a $180,000 grant from the Colorado Water Conservation Board. The coalition will lead a team looking at river health as well as the community’s needs and wants surrounding both recreation as well as responsible development along Colo. 402.
The coalition has launched an advisory committee that includes Loveland and Larimer County officials and likely will include ditch companies as well as members of the coalition board. They plan to reach out into the community for input on needs and desires and to consider a balance between those and river health.
The goal is to create a clear understanding of the river corridor and its many demands and to end with a prioritized list of specific projects that are feasible, could be funded with grants and achieve that balance, Gutman explained…
The coalition is looking for 10 to 30 community members to participate in a bio-blitz, which is where groups fan out over different sections of the river at the same time and collect data on water quality, plants and bugs. The idea is to have a “flash understanding” of the ecosystem that morning, Sept. 28.
The Big Thompson Watershed Coalition will not be only agency participating. In fact, volunteers will be collecting data over three different watersheds in the region and then meet in Lyons to share ideas and to have a celebration.
The hope is that those residents, once taught to collect data, would be willing to volunteer with another piece of the coalition’s long-term goal — monitoring the success of completed projects…
Volunteers can sign up at bigthompson.co or by emailing email@example.com…
Big Thompson Watershed Coalition
Fundraiser: 4 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 22, at Sweetheart Winery, including music, art auction, tours of a project site, speakers, dinner and drinks. $60 per ticket, available by making a donation online at bigthompson.co/donate or by contacting firstname.lastname@example.org
Bio-blitz: 9 a.m. Saturday, Sept. 28, different locations on the Big Thompson River. Volunteers can sign up at bigthompson.co or by emailing email@example.com
While there was no time to build an ark to prepare for the “bomb cyclone” that hit Nebraska and other areas of the Midwest this spring, farmer Noah Seim said one of his fields successfully braved the storm because he had established a healthy stand of rye as a cover crop.
Noah has been planting cover crops on his cropland for over 10 years. He recently enrolled in the Nebraska Soil Health Initiative, a partnership effort between the Natural Resources Conservation Service and the University of Nebraska at Lincoln, to gain a better understanding of the science behind planting cover crops and the impact on soil health.
It turns out that the cover crop he planted served as sort of an “ark” for Noah’s bean field following the severe weather Nebraska had this past March.
“The storm went through here and it just rained and rained and rained,” Noah said. “Our ground was frozen, it could not take barely anything in at all. The creek came out of its banks and out of 75 farmable acres, 70 of them were underwater. The rye survived, and the field came out of it. I cannot imagine what that field would have looked like if the rye had not been there.”
Aaron Hird, soil health specialist with NRCS, said cover crops can provide many benefits to cropland. While not typically planted to prevent damage from flooding, he’s noted several Nebraska crop fields that would have fared far worse after March’s severe weather if not for having a cover crop established.
“Cover crops protect the soil with living plant vegetation above and below ground,” Aaron explained. “That protects the soil from heat, wind, rain – and in the case of Noah’s field – flooding.”
“Crop residue, such as corn stalks, left after harvest can provide the soil some protection from erosion. But during the recent flooding, farmers noticed that crop residue would wash or float away. Since cover crops are growing in the soil, they don’t wash away, and their roots hold the soil,” Aaron said.
Soybean crops. Photo credit: NRCS
Cover crops. Photo credit: NRCS
That was the scenario that played out on Noah’s cropland. Noah added, “The rye held everything in place. The soil stayed put and only the soybean residue had been washed around.”
Aaron works with farmers across Nebraska and knows that not all flooded acres were able to be planted this year. Instead of leaving those acres exposed and vulnerable to further damaged from wind, heat and water, Aaron encouraged producers to plant a cover crop.
Aaron added, “For Nebraska’s cropland that suffered significant damage, planting a cover crop can be a great way to help protect fields and help restore productivity.”
“That flooded field will go into commercial corn this year,” concluded Noah. “We will interseed a mix of six pounds of cereal rye and four pounds of red clover and will plant it at the V-4 stage. We are looking forward to seeing how things go this year and are so thankful for that rye crop.”
A different judge is presiding over the 2½-year-old environmental lawsuit against Colorado Springs for degrading Fountain Creek.
Senior Judge John L. Kane Jr. of the U.S. District Court for Colorado has replaced Senior Judge Richard P. Matsch, who died in May.
“This is a very, very important case,” Kane said last week when he held his first proceeding, a status conference, on the case. He has been on the bench for 41 years.
“Taking over a case (from another judge) is not very pleasant” because a lot of catching up is required, he told the attorneys. Thousands of pages of documents have been filed for the litigation.
The federal and state environmental protection agencies filed the lawsuit in 2016, and were joined by the Pueblo County commissioners and the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District…
After a trial last year, Matsch decided Colorado Springs had violated its permit which regulates discharges of the city’s storm water sewer system into the creek.
The next step would be another trial for Kane to determine what Colorado Springs must do to remedy the violations.
However, The Pueblo Chieftain reported July 30 that all sides notified the judge that they have been meeting “regularly and intensively” all year to try to agree on terms to settle the dispute, instead of going to trial again.
At their request, Kane put the case on hold until Nov. 22 to give them more time for that purpose.
At last week’s court conference, a federal attorney told the judge that the violations “are ongoing.”
Water left behind by severe weather in northeast Colorado Springs has some neighbors are concerned about rising water in ponding basins near their homes.
Taxpayers agreed to pay more money for improvements to the stormwater system in the Colorado Springs area and while some folks in Wolf Ranch were concerned about a detention pond filling up, the experts say it’s evidence the stormwater system is doing its job.
On the surface it’s calm, but the stormwater system below this detention pond in Wolf Ranch is moving thousands of gallons of water down stream. Seeing this normally dry basin full of water had some neighbors on edge. Even some of the wildlife came in for a closer look, but stormwater expert Richard Mulledy says the system is performing at a high level.
“You’ve got to give it an “A”,” said the Colorado Springs Stormwater Enterprise Manager. “I mean, it really took a hard hit and we didn’t see anything major.”
Just down the road near Research Parkway and Black Forest Road, work is going on to build another detention pond to help mitigate flooding during severe weather.
“Our stormwater infrastructure is enormous. we’re 195 square miles we’re actually the largest landwise city in the state,” said Mulledy.
It’s become a requirement for new neighborhoods because if there isn’t somewhere for the water to go it could cause major problems.
“If this facility wasn’t here you would’ve seen that giant flash flood come down erode the banks, flow over the top of roads, that’s when you see people’s backyards caving in. things like that,” said Mulledy.
The water in this Wolf Ranch detention pond will completely drain into Cottonwood Creek within 72-hours. Across the city, ponds like this are used to control the water flow making areas near waterways safer downstream all the way to Pueblo.
A storm that unleashed its power over the Lake Christine burn area beginning late Sunday afternoon triggered multiple debris flows and water on Frying Pan Road that temporarily trapped 20 different vehicles, but resulted in no known injuries, according to Scott Thompson, chief of Roaring Fork Fire Rescue…
A Pitkin Alert evacuation notice went out at 5:31 p.m. aimed at those who lived in the area of Pinon Road and Cedar Drive imploring them to “please take all necessary precautions,”which included seeking higher ground. “Do not enter flowing water or debris,” was among the initial warnings.
Frying Pan Road was closed intermittently Sunday from Riverside Drive to about 2 1/2 miles up the road, according to deputy chief Cleve Williams. The intersection of Cedar Drive and Two Rivers Road was reopened by 10 p.m. on Sunday…
According to the National Weather Service in Grand Junction, an inch of rain fell over the first hour, beginning at 5 p.m. There were reports of heavy rain after the first 30 minutes and flooding started on the south end of the Lake Christine burn scar. By 8:30 p.m. the rain had subsided and, according to Chief Thompson, was expected to let up before midnight.
FromThe Aspen Times (Rick Carroll) via The Glenwood Springs Post Independent (Click through to view the photo gallery):
One of the trigger points for the floods was at Pinon Drive and Cedar Drive, an area above Basalt from where the initial 911 calls were placed at approximately 5:30 p.m. Sunday…
All of the roads, including Frying Pan Road — where 10 vehicles had been stuck Sunday and later removed — had re-opened to traffic by Monday. Pinon and Cedar drives, as well as Two Rivers Road, also had been closed. Two Rivers Road opened late Sunday; Pinon and Cedar opened Monday morning.
Crews also on Monday determined the floods had not damaged the integrity of roads and bridges, said Birch Barron, Eagle County emergency manager.
Structural damage to the residences in the affected area appeared to be limited, according to Barron.
“We believe there were less than 10 private residences with debris in or around structures, and for the majority of those structures, the debris was in nonresidential spaces — garages and basement and property surrounding that,” he said.
The county had not received any reports of residences being uninhabitable, Barron noted.
The evacuation zone impacted about 30 residences; however, a number of individuals couldn’t evacuate because of dangerous road conditions, Barron said.
Sunday’s response was a collaborative effort among Eagle and Pitkin counties, the town of Basalt, area law enforcement and emergency response teams, as well as state and federal agencies, Barron said.
The flow out of Ruedi Reservoir was increased Monday by 50 cubic feet per second to help clear up the Fryingpan River, which had taken on a muddy hue from the flood’s debris and sediment.
“This should be a big help toward protecting fish and river health,” said Kris Widlak, Eagle County’s director of communications.
Click here to view the poster from the United States Geological Survey:
In the early evening of July 31, 1976 a large stationary thunderstorm released as much as 7.5 inches of rainfall in about an hour (about 12 inches in a few hours) in the upper reaches of the Big Thompson River drainage. This large amount of rainfall in such a short period of time produced a flash flood that caught residents and tourists by surprise. The immense volume of water that churned down the narrow Big Thompson Canyon scoured the river channel and destroyed everything in its path, including 418 homes, 52 businesses, numerous bridges, paved and unpaved roads, power and telephone lines, and many other structures. The tragedy claimed the lives of 144 people. Scores of other people narrowly escaped with their lives.
The Big Thompson flood ranks among the deadliest of Colorado’s recorded floods. It is one of several destructive floods in the United States that has shown the necessity of conducting research to determine the causes and effects of floods. The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) conducts research and operates a Nationwide streamgage network to help understand and predict the magnitude and likelihood of large streamflow events such as the Big Thompson Flood. Such research and streamgage information are part of an ongoing USGS effort to reduce flood hazards and to increase public awareness.
After the September 2013 floods Allen Best wrote about being part of the disaster response in The Denver Post. It’s a good read. Here’s one passage:
I was at the Big Thompson disaster. I was living in Fort Collins then and was among scores of young men (sorry, women, those were different times) with strong backs who could be summoned in case of forest fires. My only fire was at an old sawmill site in the foothills. The joke was that one of us had set the fire because we were so desperate for minimum-wage work.
Then came July 31. It was hot that night in Fort Collins. It hadn’t rained a drop.
I was living above Gene’s Tavern, just two blocks from the Larimer County Courthouse. When the call came, I was at the sheriff’s office almost immediately. It was 9 p.m.
Being among the first at the command center at the Dam Store west of Loveland, near the mouth of Big Thompson Canyon, I was assigned to a pickup dispatched to look for people in the water near the turnoff to Masonville. Already, the river was out of its banks. From the darkness emerged a figure, dripping and confused. “I went fishing at Horsetooth (Reservoir) and was driving home and then there was all this water,” he sputtered. He was befuddled. So were we.
Our leader decided we’d best get out of there. From what I saw the next morning, that was an excellent decision. Water later covered the road there, too. I spent the night at the Dam Store as the water rose. Helicopters were dispatched, but there was little that could be done. Our lights revealed picnic baskets, beach balls and propane bottles bobbing in the dark, roiling water that raced past us, but never any hands summoning help.
In the morning, we found those hands. The bodies were stripped of clothing and covered with mud. The first I saw was of a woman who we guessed was 18, not much younger than I was then. This thin margin between life and death was startling in my young eyes.
Eventually, 144 people were declared victims of the flooding that night (although one turned up alive in 2008 in Oklahoma).
Estes Park got some rain, but not all that much. The larger story was partway down the canyon, in the Glen Haven and Glen Comfort areas, where the thunderstorm hovered. In just a few hours, it dropped 10 to 14 inches of water.
Downstream in the canyon, just above the Narrows, some people were unaware that anything was amiss until they went outside their houses and saw the water rising in their yards. It hadn’t even rained there. One cabin I saw a few days later was stripped of doors and windows but stood on its foundations, a mound of mud 5 or 6 feet high in the interior. I seem to recall a dog barking as we approached, protecting that small part of the familiar in a world gone mad.
At the old hydroelectric plant where my family had once enjoyed Sunday picnics, the brick building had vanished. Only the turbines and concrete foundation remained. In a nearby tree, amid the branches maybe 10 or 15 feet off the ground, hung a lifeless body.
The river that night carried 32,000 cubic feet per second of water at the mouth of the canyon, near where I was stationed. It happened almost instantaneously — and then it was gone. It was a flash flood.
Officials of Pueblo County and of the Lower Arkansas Valley are making significant progress to resolve a lawsuit against Colorado Springs for years of defiling Fountain Creek.
“The parties have made significant progress toward settlement,” states a July 23 report obtained by The Pueblo Chieftain.
The report was submitted to a judge in Denver of the U.S. District Court for Colorado, where the lawsuit is pending.
The Chieftain reported in December that both sides of the dispute had begun meeting to discuss a potential resolution without further litigation.
The new report and the one in December were signed by attorneys for the litigants: the county commissioners, the Lower Arkansas Water Conservancy District, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the state Department of Public Health and Environment on one side, and the city of Colorado Springs on the other side…
After a trial last year, the judge overseeing the case decided in November that the Colorado Springs violated its permit that regulates discharges into the creek from the city’s storm water sewer system.
The next step would have been for another trial to determine what the city must do to remedy the violations.
The commissioners, the water conservancy district, plus the federal and state environmental agencies stated in December they would ask a judge to order Colorado Springs to improve its storm water system, impose monetary penalties “and other appropriate remedies” if both sides could not agree on how to resolve the dispute.
In last week’s report, all sides stated they “have been meeting regularly and intensively to reach settlement.”
They asked the judge to put the case on hold in order to give them at least until Nov. 22 “to focus on settlement.”
While the interest in cleaning up Fountain Creek through downtown Colorado Springs is building, the coalitions and money needed to do it are lagging.
Trout Unlimited, the nationwide organization known for advocating for water quality improvements to bolster recreation, has not been involved. The local chapter’s president, in an interview with The Colorado Sun, cast doubt on the possibility of a sustainable trout population in the stretch, but he said he would be interested in learning more.
There are cleanups of the area around the stream, but any visitor can clearly see that they aren’t solving the problem.
“We’re absolutely talking about it,” City Council President Richard Skorman said. “But, no, there’s not, like, $10 million in a fund today that’s involved in it.”
State Sen. Owen Hill, the Republican lawmaker Peak ventured into the creek with, said he is working to build support among nongovernmental organizations to complete a cleanup. Hill declined to identify the groups because he’s still in the early stages of talks to get them aboard.
“It is a little sketchy, but we aren’t going to change that without building the awareness,” Hill said, noting that he has returned many times to fish the creek. “When you look at our grandparents’ generation, they used to picnic down there and swim in the creek. And now we’re afraid to go down there without waterproof clothing on.”
Colorado Springs’ City Council recently passed ordinances increasing fines for littering and prohibiting camping within 100 feet of a public stream to help improve water quality in Fountain Creek. The latter, which adds to the city’s existing camping ban, has drawn pushback from advocates who say transients are being unfairly blamed for a bigger problem.
Skorman says homeless displacement is a concern of his, but that the city is working toward solutions. He said he envisions that one day the confluence of Monument and Fountain creeks downtown could be like Confluence Park in central Denver, where people swim, kayak and fish.
“We’re probably a good 10 years behind other communities,” Skorman said. “I dream about this at night. It’s my big passion. And I think we’re going to do it here. I think we’re going to do something special.”
As for Peak, he’s going to continue working to raise awareness of Fountain Creek’s potential.
“This isn’t something that the current city council or government did, but it is something that they have to deal with,” Peak said. “What to do? That’s the million dollar question.”
Lake City, the only town in remote Hinsdale County, is one of many rural Colorado communities working to prepare for potential flooding as the winter’s epic snowpack begins to melt. Mountain towns across the state are preparing sandbags and warning visitors about high water…
Although numerous mountain towns have prepared for high water, Lake City’s predicament was particularly dire and threatened lives before the emergency crews arrived, state officials said.
More than 60 avalanches, some more than a half-mile wide, pushed mountainsides of trees, boulders and snow to the floors of the two river valleys surrounding the town, which sits at the confluence of Henson Creek and the Lake Fork of the Gunnison River…
Authorities feared a wall of water could build if the logs jammed or blocked one of the two historic dams. If the debris jam or dam were to break, the surge of water sent downstream could send feet of water into some of the low-lying areas of town within 15 minutes.
At a town meeting Tuesday, officials estimated there was a 10 percent chance that the worst-case scenario could happen if weather conditions aligned perfectly and predicted that high water could begin as early as this weekend. Federal, state and local officials have worked in the city for a few weeks to mitigate the chance of such a surge, including partially deconstructing one of the dams…
Lake City residents knew the avalanches around their town of about 400 people this past winter were unprecedented. The avalanches in February and March caused voluntary evacuations and flattened the Hinsdale County sheriff’s house outside town.
But it wasn’t until crews in April started exploring the two mountain roads along the river valleys that the size of the avalanches became apparent. Piles of centuries-old trees, snow and boulders covered sections of roads up to a half-mile long…
Mitigation efforts have been broad. Personnel from the group of agencies built a berm along one of the rivers in town. They partially destroyed one of the historic dams so water could flow better. They also placed additional sensors along the rivers so the flows could be monitored in real time. They helped organize the filling and deployment of more than 18,000 sandbags around town to protect important buildings. Crews surrounded the most vulnerable homes near the confluence with 3,000-pound mega sandbags…
Engineers recommended that the town demolish the 129-year-old Hidden Treasure Dam because they worried that avalanche debris could block the dam and cause it to fail, sending a rush of water toward town. Contractors used a remote-controlled jackhammer suspended on a sling to chip away at the top of the dam and small explosives to blast away the bottom.
But engineers later determined the new gaps at the top and the bottom were big enough to avoid a jam…
Signs along the Rio Grande on Wednesday prohibited anybody — or any boat — from entering the raging water. Along Colorado 149, the river overtook tree trunks and washed out boat ramps, but left houses untouched. Campgrounds and some roads in the area remained closed.
Mineral and Rio Grande counties, as well as sections of Conejos and Saguache counties, remained on flood watch Thursday. Officials in Chaffee and Summit counties, as well as the towns of Silverthorne, Buena Vista, Avon and Ouray, have opened sandbag stations…
In Creede, about 50 miles southeast of Lake City, waters have taken over the floodplain but haven’t threatened any structures, said Kathleen Murphy, director of the town’s chamber of commerce. The city worked last week to widen a concrete flume that directs water through town. A road north of town washed out after avalanche debris built up, releasing a surge of water. Some lower-elevation hiking trails were flooded as well.
In Colorado, where snow still blankets the San Juan Mountains, the Durango Telegraph has proclaimed El Niño as the winner of this year’s Hardrock 100. The race was scheduled for mid-July.
Organizers canceled the 100-mile foot race among the peaks of the San Juans around Silverton owing to “unprecedented avalanche debris, unstable snow bridges and high water” that compromised 40 miles of the race course.
It was the third time in 27 years that the race had been canceled, the first being in 1995 because of too much snow and then in 2002 because of forest fires.
At the California Weather Blog, meteorologist Daniel Swain suggests a big view of weather extremes across North America: floods in Nebraska, tornadoes in Oklahoma, a massive forest fire in Canada and record heat in the Arctic. They’re all connected, he points out.
Emerging evidence suggests that such weather extremes may be occurring with greater frequency and intensity as the Arctic continues to warm faster than the rest of the planet.
“Interestingly, though, this doesn’t necessarily mean that the impacts we experienced in 2019 will be exactly the same the next time this pattern repeats,” Swain wrote on his blog. Every iteration of the “wavy jet stream” produces new patterns of warmth vs. coolness and very wet vs. very dry.
The Bureau of Reclamation’s monthly storage model runs, based on the latest Colorado River Basin runoff forecasts, show Lake Powell ending the water year (Sept. 30) at 13.8 million acre feet. That’s an increase of more than a million feet over the May estimate, and 2.8 million acre feet above the Sept. 30, 2018 number:
From email from Reclamation (James Bishop):
Releases from Green Mountain to the Blue River will increase according to the following schedule starting at midnight [June 15, 2019] (cusp between 15 and 16 June):
12:00 a.m. Adjust release from 1100 cfs to 1200 cfs
3:00 a,m. Adjust release from 1200 cfs to 1300 cfs
6:00 a.m. Adjust release from 1300 cfs to 1400 cfs