Fountain Creek: CSU-Pueblo scores additional $32,000 for water quality study

The Fountain Creek Watershed is located along the central front range of Colorado. It is a 927-square mile watershed that drains south into the Arkansas River at Pueblo. The watershed is bordered by the Palmer Divide to the north, Pikes Peak to the west, and a minor divide 20 miles east of Colorado Springs. Map via the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District.

From KRDO.com (Katie Spencer):

But now, with an additional $32,000 in research funding from the county, researchers are hoping to find out exactly what lurks below the water’s surface.

CSU-Pueblo staff and students have been collecting water samples, and they say there are large amounts of mercury and selenium in the water.

“Mercury can be a problem. It has a whole syndrome, a whole set of symptoms if you see mercury levels getting too high,” [Scott] Herrmann said.

County Commissioner Terry Hart said he just wants the Pueblo community to be able to enjoy the creek, as the people of Colorado Springs do.

“Citizens are invited down to play in and around the creek and it’s a beautiful thing. We can’t do that in Pueblo County and we have not been able to do it because of our pollution concerns,” Hart said.

He also wants to make sure the Pueblo commissioners and the city of Colorado Springs are keeping up their promises to clean up the creek.

The researchers are also looking at the fish in Fountain Creek to determine what issues they are facing and if contaminants are being passed on to people who catch and eat them.

Cañon City could see lawsuit from two ditch companies for routing stormwater to ditch easements

This graphic shows the estimated cost for upgrades, repairs and maintenance of each stormwater basin. (City of Cañon City)

From The Cañon City Daily Record ( Carie Canterbury):

A second local ditch company is making preparations to potentially sue the City of Cañon City for allegedly utilizing irrigation ditches as a stormwater utility.

During Monday’s city council meeting, former mayor George Turner, who also serves as the secretary/treasurer for the Cañon City & Oil Creek Ditch Company, said the city has been putting off stormwater improvements for the last 150 years and utilizing the irrigation ditches in the community as its stormwater utility…

He said the Hydraulic Ditch Company has increased its assessment by $2 a share and the Cañon City & Oil Creek Ditch Company has increased its assessment by $5 per share for the sole purpose to generate a fund to hire water attorneys to potentially sue the city.

Mannie Colon, the president of the Cañon City Hydraulic & Irrigating Ditch Company, initiated litigation last year against the city when he felt his solutions to the decades-long stormwater problems had been dismissed and not adequately implemented.

In response, a stormwater task force consisting of representatives from the City of Cañon City, Fremont County and local ditch companies was formed in March 2017 to look at solutions.

The city, county and the Hydraulic & Irrigating Ditch Company recently mutually have agreed to fund a $180,000 study to investigate and mitigate stormwater flooding of the ditch. The city council earlier this month approved a tolling agreement that preserves any legal right the ditch company believes it may have against the city and county for stormwater flooding while also maintaining the rights, claims or defenses of the city and county.

The city contends that the cost of stormwater mitigation has gone up, but fees haven’t.

The fee hasn’t increased in 10 years, and the city has an operating fund deficit in the stormwater fund that is compounded by a $75 million capital project backlog.

In order to get the utility back in the black, fees would need to double, which also would provide for about $4 million in capital improvements during the next 10 years. Second reading of an ordinance that would double stormwater fees was tabled during Monday’s meeting.

Some members of the public said they don’t mind increasing the fees, but they felt doubling them was much too excessive. However, City Administrator Tony O’Rourke said to meet the entire capital needs for the stormwater problem, the rate would have to increase in a rate in excess of 1,000 percent.

During Monday’s meeting, there was much discussion about an effort to get county officials to take more of an active role in the stormwater problem.

Stormwater is collected in eight drainage basins within the city and Fremont County. The city physically only represents 18 percent of the area within these eight drainage basins, the other 82 percent is in the unincorporated area of Fremont County, which does not impose a stormwater fee for those residents.

“The drainage basins are in the county, and that’s who should be helping us pay for this,” Mayor Preston Troutman said.

Councilman Mark Gill pointed out that on a $220,000 home, Cañon City receives about $46 in property taxes while the county receives about $197…

The city is looking to create a regional stormwater basin authority, where all the residents within the eight basins would share the cost of stormwater management. This requires the support and concurrence of the Fremont County Commissioners who would have to approve a service plan before it could go before voters for approval.

Former Councilman Dennis Wied said doubling the stormwater fee is particularly unfair to businesses. He said there are 1,000 business properties in town, and 5,000 residential properties, but the businesses pay 52 percent of the total stormwater fee. Additionally, he said a proposed stormwater impact fee would go from about $750 per acre to about $11,000 an acre…

Other citizens asked for an explanation on how money in the stormwater fund is spent, specifically a $620,600 transfer to other funds.

City Engineer Adam Lancaster said the majority of the money is spent on maintenance and a great deal is spent on compliance with the city’s MS-4 stormwater permit. Some funds are spent for a local contractor for maintenance and an inter-fund transfer also is used for the city’s street crews to do some maintenance…

Wied said when the stormwater fee was first instituted, it was for the purpose to build up funds to address stormwater problems, not day-to-day operations. He said 100 percent of the city’s street sweeper is being charged to the stormwater fund, which he alleges just started recently…

Wied also said that 20 percent of the time spent by 14 people in the street department is charged to the stormwater fund…

A study analysis being conducted by an independent consultant is looking into how inter-fund transfers have been calculated. O’Rourke said preliminary results indicate that the city has not been charging the stormwater fund sufficiently, and the general fund is continuing to subsidize that fund by about $180,000 in addition to what it currently transfers. It is in violation of TABOR for the city to supplement the stormwater fund with the general fund, he said.

Wied said the city, staff and the council the last 11 years have been fully aware of expenses that can and must be charged to a utility and those that don’t. He took exception to the comments made that certain fees have to be charged to the stormwater fund…

Finance Director Harry Patel said since 2006, cost allocations have been moved from the general fund into the stormwater fund, and he will provide documentation during an upcoming meeting. The fund transfers were in council-approved budgets and on audited statements, he said.

The council agreed to table the discussion to the next general government meeting that will be at 4 p.m. March 7 at City Hall.

Councilwoman Ashley Smith asked that city staff bring back an in-depth analysis of spending and allocation requirements, as well as a state of future plans and proposed projects.

Cañon City photo credit DowntownCañonCity.com

@UN_Water: Say hello to the IIWQ World Water Quality Portal

In central Wisconsin water moving into Lake Puckaway from the Fox River, collected on the right is relatively clear. As water moves through the lake it becomes more and more turbid. The main cause of this turbidity is algae followed by resuspension of sediment from wave action and the activities of Common Carp. Photo credit: Lake and wetland ecosystems.

Here’s the release from UN Water:

Water quality affects human health, as well as ecosystems, biodiversity, food production and economic growth.

The IIWQ World Water Quality Portal, which was developed in the framework of UNESCO-IHP’s International Initiative on Water Quality (IIWQ), is a pioneering tool to monitor water quality using Earth Observation. The Portal addresses an urgent need to enhance the knowledge base and access to information in order to better understand the impacts of climate- and human-induced change on water security.

It aims to provide water quality information, facilitate science-based, informed decision-making for water management and support Member States’ efforts in implementing the Sustainable Development Goal on water and sanitation (SDG 6), as well as several other Goals and Targets that are linked directly to water quality and water pollution.
Access the IIWQ World Water Quality Portal.

The latest “The Current” newsletter is hot off the presses from the Eagle River Watershed Council

Gore Creek is healthy as it emerges from the Eagles Nest Wilderness Area, but has problems soon after, via The Mountain Town News. All photos by Jack Affleck.

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

Where does all the traction sand go on Vail Pass?

The arrival of snow means traffic on I-70 over Vail Pass bustles with skiers and visitors to and from the Front Range, with cars braving storms and bumper-to-bumper traffic in search of a powder day. Without the help of traction sand or de-icers, our ability to constantly travel across the state would not be possible.

Roughly 5,000 tons of traction sand are laid down on Vail Pass each year, but where does all that sand end up? Originating from aggregate mines from the Western Slope and stored in the igloo tent atop Vail Pass, the sand is sprinkled along the highway corridor to ensure safer travel along the pass. Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) enlists contractors each year to come through in the late summer with vacuum trucks to suck up the remaining sand on the road ways and median. The used sand is then brought down to the berms that line the north side of the highway in East Vail. Sand is also flushed by rain and snow over the embankments and carried into sediment-catch basins or into Black Gore Creek, which closely parallels about 10 miles of the interstate from its headwaters at Vail Pass to the confluence of Gore Creek.

Extensive sediment loading to Black Gore Creek from nearly three decades of I-70 operations have severely impaired the stream, resulting in losses of aquatic habitat, impacts to wetlands and an overall reduction in water quality. In addition, the accumulation of sediment in Black Lakes near Vail Pass encroaches upon the storage capacity of water supply reservoirs that serve Vail and are used to maintain instream flows.

Black Gore Creek Steering Committee’s Efforts

Since 1997, the Black Gore Creek Steering Committee (BGCSC), headed by Eagle River Watershed Council, has worked to mitigate the impacts to Black Gore Creek and the health of its aquatic life. The committee is made up of a number of important partners in the community, including Eagle River Watershed Council, Colorado Department of Transportation, Eagle County, U.S. Forest Service, Town of Vail, Eagle County, Eagle River Water & Sanitation District, Lotic Hydrological, River Restoration, Colorado Parks & Wildlife, Colorado Department of Public Health & Environment, and concerned citizens.

In 2002, Black Gore Creek was listed on the State’s 303(d) list of impaired waters for sediment—which is different than Gore Creek’s more recent listing in 2012 for aquatic life impairment. Although the State has yet to come out with a limit of how much traction sand can enter the creek, CDOT, in collaboration with the other BGCSC partners, has taken great initiative to address these issues over the past 10 years.

Recent Accomplishments

To date, CDOT is picking up nearly the same amount of traction sand as they are putting down annually, which has improved since the years when no cleanup occurred, and the basins slowly filled.

Besides capital improvement projects such as repaving the medians and bike path enhancements, one of the most significant improvement projects has been the identification of a long-term maintenance solution for the Basin of Last Resort. A 3-acre section of Black Gore Creek around mile marker 183 on I-70, the Basin is a control structure that traps sediment missed by upstream catch basins. There has been concern with its effectiveness as the basin fills with sediment. In the fall of 2017, construction of a road allowing for easier access to excavate the basin more regularly and efficiently was finalized.

More work is to be done, however, as the goal is to have less sediment reach the Basin of Last Resort in the first place. Through field assessments, mapping activities, and sediment transport modeling, consultants to Eagle River Watershed Council, namely River Restoration and Lotic Hydrological, are working to identify opportunities for capturing traction sand before it leaves the highway corridor and enters the creek.

Traction Sand vs. Mag Chloride

CDOT has also installed sophisticated software in their plowing vehicles that senses how much traction sand or de-icer they should be applying on any given segment of the highway. The increased prevalence of de-icers, commonly referred to as “mag(nesium) chloride,” has been an inevitable outcome from the pressure on CDOT to reduce the amount of traction sand applied. Although very effective at melting snow and preventing ice formation, de-icers aren’t without their downsides. Studies have shown that elevated levels of chloride in rivers can be detrimental to aquatic life. The Watershed Council and CDOT both conduct chloride-loading studies to understand how chloride concentrations differ in Black Gore Creek and Gore Creek and whether they are approaching harmful levels.

“We don’t see the kinds of widespread impairments of the biological communities on Black Gore Creek that you would expect if they were really being negatively impacted by chloride. The health of those communities may be somewhat limited, but they do not meet the Colorado State definition for impairment right now,” reports Seth Mason of Lotic Hydrological. That is not to say that we shouldn’t be concerned about chloride levels in Black Gore Creek. While macroinvertebrate communities in Black Gore Creek may look better than those on Gore Creek through Vail, they may be stressed by elevated chloride concentrations and more vulnerable to other impacts on the creek. While more studies chloride’s effects are needed, the BGCSC is committed to not replacing one pollutant with another.

Related to Gore Creek’s Woes?

With all the recent attention on the Restore the Gore effort surrounding Gore Creek, some long-time locals believe the impacts from Black Gore Creek are at fault. Up until 2012, the State associated high sediment levels automatically with impaired aquatic life. In conducting macroinvertebrate sampling in our watershed, we are finding that aquatic bug scores on Black Gore Creek are healthier than those in the highly developed sections of Gore Creek through Vail. This along with other evidence leads to the belief that stormwater runoff from impervious surfaces in town and the loss of riparian areas along Gore Creek from development are a greater contributor to Gore Creek’s impairments.

The important efforts on Vail Pass have not slowed–in fact CDOT has spent about $7 million since 2013 to clear out the catch basins and sweep our roadways. The Watershed Council will continue the collaborative dialogue and mitigation efforts of the stakeholders to ensure the important progress continues in keeping our waterways healthy and clean.

#Colorado vulnerable to mudslides

Grand Mesa mudslide May 2014 via The Denver Post

Here’s a guest column from Paul Santi that’s running in The Denver Post. Here’s an excerpt:

The ingredients for deadly debris flows are steep mountain slopes, a loose mantle of soil and rocks covering the hillsides and choking the valleys, and occasional severe rainstorms. These things converge surprisingly often, and most canyons around here have an apron of both ancient and fairly recent debris flow deposits at their mouths, revealing a historic legacy of these events. However, the next ingredient is the kicker: wildfire. Suddenly, the tiny bit of stabilization offered by our patchy arid-climate vegetation is gone. On top of that, rainfall on burned areas runs off faster and in much greater volumes, since any sort of interception by plants or infiltration into the ground is drastically reduced. Oh, and by the way, the changing climate means that wildfires have been more frequent and larger, and intense rainstorms are more likely. More water, more tumbling rock and debris, and more danger.

That was the story in California last week, as the fire-flood-mud sequence played out once again. That has also been the story in Colorado many times in the past. In 2012, the Waldo Canyon Fire burned hillsides above Colorado Springs, and a rainstorm the next summer brought muddy debris down Highway 24 near Manitou Springs, tragically sweeping two people to their deaths. Post wildfire debris flows have destroyed houses and damaged roads and bridges above Boulder, Glenwood Springs, Durango, and many other Colorado cities over the last dozen years.

So what can we do about this? First, you need to know if you are personally in danger. The simple answer is that if you live near a canyon mouth, you live in risk from debris flows. If the forest above you burned, you are at even greater risk for the next few years, until the vegetation comes back. The same goes for highways crossing these areas. A more complex picture can be filled out with tools developed by the U.S. Geological Survey and others that predict that probability of debris flows, how big they will be, how much rain is needed to cause them, and where they will go. The USGS now routinely produces maps showing probability and volume for debris flows in areas where there were significant wildfires (over 80 of these maps were created in 2017 alone, including the Thomas Fire in Santa Barbara County that caused the maelstrom last week).

Second, and this is just as important, if you live near a canyon below a burned forest, evacuate when it rains, as even small storms can cause debris flows in this hair-trigger setting. Natural processes are highly variable and unpredictable, so warnings and evacuation orders have to be conservative — and this means that there will be false alarms. Don’t fall prey to “evacuation saturation” and ignore a warning because the last one didn’t pan out. It is heartbreaking to think of how many lives would have been saved in California last week had those families been somewhere else at the time.

Finally, we need to carefully consider where we are willing to build. Mountain canyons concentrate geologic hazards, and increase the likelihood of accidental fires. Therefore, the encroachment of our communities into steep forested terrain must be accompanied by planning and vigilance to protect ourselves. The scientific tools help, and they are getting better all the time, but our own awareness and caution can be life saving.

‘Atmospheric rivers’ aid the West — and imperil it — @HighCountryNews

From The High Country News (Emily Benson):

When a rainstorm slammed California’s Russian River watershed in December 2012, water rushed into Lake Mendocino, a reservoir north of San Francisco. The cause? An atmospheric river, a ribbon of moisture-laden air that can ferry water thousands of miles across the sky. When the tempest hit, the state was on the brink of an exceptional drought. But instead of storing the surge the storm brought for the dry days to come, the reservoir’s owner, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, let it run downstream.

They had to. Army Corps rules say Lake Mendocino must be partly drained during the winter, leaving room for the next deluge to prevent downstream flooding. But in 2013, that space ended up being superfluous, mostly because drought conditions kicked into high gear and the rainy season essentially ended after the December downpour. “We lost that water,” says Shirlee Zane, who serves on the board of the Sonoma County Water Agency, which delivers water from Lake Mendocino to nearby homes. The agency estimates that more than $2 million slipped down the river. It was a loss that might have been prevented if the Army Corps had known they could safely store the water — and one managers would hate to repeat. “We lose millions of dollars of water if we don’t have better forecasting,” Zane says.

Atmospheric river storms swelled the American River in January 2017, inundating a footbridge near Sacramento, California.
Dale Kolke / California Department of Water Resources

Now, scientists are getting closer to solving that problem. Atmospheric rivers can cause dangerous deluges — an atmospheric river contributed to the mudslides that recently killed more than a dozen people in southern California — but they also provide up to half the annual precipitation on the West Coast. To make the most of those benefits while reducing risks, researchers are improving forecasts using computer models, weather balloons and instruments dropped from airplanes. The knowledge they’re gaining could help reservoir managers stockpile more water for dry periods without sacrificing the safety of downstream communities. And as climate change intensifies both floods and shortages in the coming decades, meeting that balance will become even more critical.

“It’s possible to predict these storms, to a degree,” says Marty Ralph, the director of the Center for Western Weather and Water Extremes, part of U.C. San Diego’s Scripps Institution of Oceanography. Meteorologists can see an atmospheric river coming a few days in advance; and, just as important, they can also see when the coast is clear after a big storm swells reservoir storage. “With good enough forecasts of no big atmospheric river coming in the next few days,” Ralph says, “then it’s plausible that one could safely keep that extra water.”

To explore that possibility, Ralph and a group of scientists, water managers and agency officials are studying what would happen to water supply and flood risk at Lake Mendocino if reservoir operators didn’t always have to leave room for a winter storm that isn’t coming. Could they avoid a repeat of the December 2012 water dump, without imperiling people downstream? “It looks viable,” Ralph says.

Further improving forecasts could help. “We’re good at seeing (atmospheric rivers),” says Anna Wilson, also a researcher at the Center for Western Weather and Water Extremes. “But we are not yet good at telling exactly where they’re going to land, exactly how strong they’ll be, and, in certain instances, whether precipitation is going to fall as rain versus snow.” Wilson, Ralph and other partners, including a U.S. Air Force squadron nicknamed the “hurricane hunters,” plan to drop dozens of parachute-carried sensors measuring moisture, temperature and wind data through several atmospheric rivers early this year. Working with the National Weather Service, they hope to advance forecasts of storm location and other details.

Better forecasts could also help water managers deal with the increasingly intense atmospheric rivers climate change will likely cause. Because warmer air can hold more moisture, by the end of this century individual atmospheric rivers could drop substantially more precipitation on the West Coast than they already do, according to research done by Michael Warner, a Seattle-based meteorologist with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Those lessons won’t just apply to California reservoirs. For a place like Washington’s Howard Hanson Dam, more intense storms might demand faster reservoir releases, which could put downstream areas in peril. In addition to supplying Tacoma with water during the summer, the dam protects more than $6 billion in businesses, infrastructure and homes from flooding. “Every major flood in the coastal Pacific Northwest has been associated with an atmospheric river event,” Warner says.

Though it will take years of further research before official policies can be changed, managers at Lake Mendocino may try taking atmospheric river forecasts into account this year. This winter, for the first time, the steering committee of the Lake Mendocino project has requested that the Army Corps deviate from the rules that forced the agency to dump water in the past — if forecasts suggest it’s safe to do so. “We are in a feast or famine type of climate here on the West Coast,” says Zane, of the Sonoma County Water Agency. “If we have better data and we can do the forecasting … it’s going to improve our water management.”

This story was originally published at High Country News (http://hcn.org) on Jan. 11, 2018.

 

Rain totals from atmospheric river event in S. California January 8-9, 2018 via NWS Los Angeles.

Nederland budget approved

Mailboxes are laden with snow on April 17, 2016 in Nederland, Colorado. (Helen H. Richardson, The Denver Post)

From The Mountain Ear (John Scarffe):

A new Waste Water Treatment facility and sewer maintenance dominated the 2018, $4.9 million budget approved by the Nederland Board of Trustees during a regular meeting at 7 p.m., December 5, 2017, at the Nederland Community Center…

Estimated expenditures for each fund: General Fund: $2,793,371; Conservation Trust Fund: $16,000; Community Center Fund: $391,068; Water Fund: $708,808; Sewer Fund: $812,422; Downtown Development Authority Fund: $30,700; Downtown Development Authority TIF Fund: $2,900. Total: $4,755,269…

The Sewer fund capital improvements have multiple items such as manhole repairs, mains and a new vehicle. The design and engineering of the Waste Water Treatment Plant Biosolids project will get up to 100 percent in 2018 but will be reimbursed by a loan, Hogan said, and will hopefully be awarded a $950,000 grant for improvements. It is a $2 million project.

Capital improvements from the water fund include the other half of the new vehicle, a Micro Hydro Feasibility Study with a matching $8,000 grant, and other projects, Hogan said.

Grant activity includes a Colorado Department of Local Affairs grant for the Biosolids project, a Great Outdoors Colorado grant for Fishing is Fun; a Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment grant for Pursuing Excellence Raw Water Filtration, a Colorado Water Resources and Power Development Authority grant for the Micro Hydro Feasibility Study with an $8,000 match and a GOCO Parks grant with a $6,000 town match…

For the Water Fund, the changes in rates are explained in the fee schedule. Total revenue is $707,000, operating expenses are $475,000, capital improvements $91,000 and debt payments of $143,000, resulting in a net change in cash of negative $1,200.

The Sewer Fund will also contain a fee schedule increase. Total revenue is budgeted to be $814,000, operating expenditures $527,000, capital improvements $42,000 and debt payments of $244,000, resulting in a positive net change in cash of $2,000.

Hogan presented the 2018 Fee Schedule. Noteworthy increases include the water fee with a three percent increase, and the sewer fund with a four percent increase.