Colorado Water
Dazed and confused coverage of water issues in Colorado

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Tuesday, December 12, 2006

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All you water nuts out there know that Colorado depends mightily on the winter snowpack for water. Here's a nice primer about snow from The Rebel Yell. They write, "A snow crystal, as implied by the name, is a single crystal of ice. According to, the term 'snowflake,' is more inclusive, referring to individual crystals as well as multiple crystals grown together (aggregates). Contrary to what one might expect, snowflakes are not frozen raindrops. Although rain can freeze, the result is sleet, which lacks the noticeable six-sided (hexagonal) symmetry characteristic of snowflakes. Snow is the result of water vapor, a gaseous constituent of the atmosphere that 'skips' the liquid phase of H2O and changes directly into a solid.

"Phase changes are carried out within clouds, or large collections of water droplets that have visibly condensed due to high humidity. In order for droplets to form, they must have cool temperatures and a surface area around which to coalesce. Much like a cold beverage cools the surrounding moisture-laden air and accumulates water droplets, particulate matter in the cool atmosphere (smoke, dust, pollen, bacteria, etc.), act as condensation nuclei, or collection centers for water molecules.

"Although water is denser than air, the droplets remain aloft due to atmospheric uplift and turbulence. In the mid latitudes, particularly during the winter, clouds experience plummeting atmospheric temperatures. The clouds are still composed of liquid water droplets even though they have cooled below 32 degrees Fahrenheit. If the temperature drops to approximately 14 degrees F, minute droplets of this supercooled water do begin to freeze. Given the role of condensation nuclei themselves, the tiny ice particles begin to accumulate fellow ice particles as surrounding water vapor cools rapidly and passes directly as the solid phase. In order to fuel the growth of this ice, the remaining supercooled water evaporates, replenishing the dwindling supply of water vapor.

"As the water vapor condenses, the six facets of a hexagonal crystal develop. Branches can bud from the six corners, creating classic dendrites, or branch-like crystals. Since the temperature and pressure are nearly constant across the crystal surface, the six arms grow at similar rates, forming a somewhat symmetrical (but rarely perfect) shape. Each crystal is blown around within their cloud, falling through layers with slightly different humidity levels and temperatures. These variable conditions directly impact the complexity, design and growth rate of each snowflake. Hence, the old saying that no two snowflakes are alike may very well be true. However, as pointed out by Kenneth G. Libbrecht, Caltech physicist and creator of, with one septillion snow crystals (1 followed by 24 zeros) presumably falling each year, it is nearly impossible to know whether or not exact duplicates exist or ever existed.

"When the crystals grow, accumulating frozen water molecules, they increase in weight. If this force overcomes the suspending forces that keep them aloft, they begin to fall from the cloud. If the air below the cloud is too warm or too dry, the crystals can melt and fall as rain or turn directly into water vapor (sublimate)."

Category: Colorado Water

6:59:19 AM    

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Construction operations are finished at Elkhead reservoir, according to the Craig Daily Press. From the article, "When the final inspection of the outlet works is completed later this month, the construction phase of the expansion project will be officially finished. Control of Elkhead operations will transfer from Ames construction to the Colorado River District at that time. 'We could fill the reservoir to the old level right now,' said Jim Pokrandt, education specialist with the Colorado River District. 'Once we have that final inspection, we can fill it to the new brim.' The $31 million project will increase the capacity of the reservoir by 11,750 acre-feet. The project began with planning phases in 2001...

"The new dam's concrete work was completed in September. The dam's height raised 25 feet, and the old dam remains in place. The water level will rise 20 feet higher than the previous level. The spillway at the reservoir was completely replaced, and a new outlet works tower was constructed that will allow the reservoir to be drained completely in cases of emergency or extreme draught...

"The Colorado River Water Conservation District funded a large portion of the expansion project in an effort to provide water for endangered fish species during low water-flow periods."

6:47:45 AM    

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The president of Pure Cycle, Inc. met with Fort Lyons Canal shareholders Monday, according to the Pueblo Chieftain. From the article, "Mark Harding, president of Thornton-based Pure Cycle Inc., talked with shareholders about increasing opportunities to lease water within and outside the valley. Reaction from those who farm along the ditch ranged from polite interest to some lingering hostility on a canal that has faced tough questions about its future in the past five years. 'I don't want to come to you as the enemy, but to bring you something that creates value in the system,' Harding told shareholders. 'We have to chip away at making improvements over time. Before we look at drying up farms, we have to look at some of our options.'[...]

"The company owns about one-quarter of the canal's shares and also inherited an agreement approved by the board in 2003 that allows for exporting water if it is taken in rotation. A shareholder asked Harding if Pure Cycle intends to honor the 2003 agreement. 'We do concur with the board's decision,' Harding said. 'It's not right to take the water out of rotation, because a drop of water down in the valley is different than a drop of water in the mountains. We plan to take this water and deliver into the urban markets.' As for improvements, Harding said Pure Cycle would be more active than High Plains in working with the canal."

Category: Colorado Water

6:35:44 AM    

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Colorado Springs has filed new documents to get the court to find in their favor over Fountain Creek pollution, according to the Pueblo Chieftain. From the article, "Colorado Springs and the Sierra Club agree - for different reasons - that two Fountain Creek pollution lawsuits don't need a trial to be resolved. They agree that U.S. District Judge Walker Miller should enter a judgment solely on the written arguments. They differ, of course, on what Miller's judgment should be. In 40 pages of new court filings, Colorado Springs makes its argument and takes swipes against Pueblo County District Attorney Bill Thiebaut. Last year's lawsuits by the Sierra Club and Thiebaut against Colorado Springs allege it has violated the federal Clean Water Act. The alleged violations are hundreds of spills of raw sewage, excessive chlorine and nonpotable water from the city into the creek since at least 1996. Last month, the Sierra Club contended the fact that the spills have occurred is sufficient for the judge to enter a judgment of liability against the city.

"The environmental group and the district attorney point out that the spills are not allowed by Colorado Springs' sewage system permit and are therefore a violation of the act. Colorado Springs' new filings say all sewage systems sometimes have spills. It cites a Nov. 2 spill of almost a half-million gallons from Pueblo's sewage system into the Arkansas River...

"The Sierra Club sought a summary judgment in last month's filings. The judge is expected to decide next year whether to enter a summary judgment (a decision without a trial) or to conduct a trial. In its new filings, Colorado Springs said the lawsuits are 'an effort to second-guess (the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, which) has taken substantial, intensive and ongoing regulatory enforcement action' on the spills. Colorado Springs said the department's action is costing the city $400,000 in penalties and is requiring the city to spend 'well in excess of $87 million in wastewater system improvements.' The city said the lawsuits are asking Miller 'for new and different relief for the same alleged violations.' The city contends the lawsuits are prohibited by a legal doctrine that bars consideration of lawsuits about disputes that already have been adjudicated. In this case, the department, the state agency with the primary responsibility to enforce the act, already has adjudicated the spills, the city said. Colorado Springs also contends the lawsuits are barred by the act for two reasons. The city first argues that the act allows 'citizen suits,' such as Thiebaut's and the club's, only if the state agency has not begun an enforcement action."

Category: Colorado Water

6:26:47 AM    

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Bloomberg: "Arctic sea-ice retreat is likely to accelerate so rapidly that the Arctic Ocean will be nearly ice-free by the summer by 2040, atmospheric scientists said. Further increases in the atmosphere of so-called greenhouse gases may lead to global warming that causes the already-retreating ice to begin melting four times faster in about 20 years' time, a team led by U.S. National Center for Atmospheric Research scientist Marika Holland says today in research published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters. 'We have already witnessed major losses in sea ice, but our research suggests that the decrease over the next few decades could be far more dramatic than anything that has happened so far,' Holland said yesterday in a statement posted on the NCAR Web site. 'These changes are surprisingly rapid.' Using climate-change models, Holland's team forecast that by 2040, 'only a small amount of perennial sea ice' could be left, according to the statement. The melting can be slowed by cutting emissions of gases such as carbon dioxide and methane, blamed by many scientists as the cause of global warming, it said. 'We don't see this sort of behavior in the absence of increases in greenhouse gas concentrations,' Holland said in an interview aired today by British Broadcasting Corp. radio's 'Today' program. The melting 'very definitely is caused in the climate model by increased greenhouse gas levels.'[...]

"Sea-ice extent, the area of ocean covered by at least 15 percent ice, was about 5.7 million square kilometers (2.2 million square miles) according to a five-day average ending September 14, when this year's coverage was at its lowest, according to the NSIDC. The 2006 minimum, the fourth-lowest on record, compared with the low of 5.32 million square kilometers from 2005. This October, temperatures across much of the Canadian Arctic were as much as 9.3 degrees centigrade warmer than the 1951-1980 average for that month, according to graphics on the Web site of NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies. Those temperatures are slowing the winter refreezing of the sea."

Category: 2008 Presidential Election

6:15:11 AM    

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