Coyote Gulch's Colorado Water
The health of our waters is the principal measure of how we live on the land. -- Luna Leopold

Urban Drainage and Flood Control District

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Saturday, November 24, 2007

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Don't miss the fall 2007 issue of Headwaters Magazine [pdf] from The Colorado Foundation for Water Education. They're taking a look at the Arkansas River Basin this time around. They have a great graphic of the Arkansas Basin Ditch System.

Category: Colorado Water

11:16:46 AM    

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Here's a long article about efforts to combat tamarisk with the salt cedar leaf beetle from The High Country News. Read the whole thing. Here are a couple of excerpts from the article:

Six weeks ago, [Dan] Bean says, there were no beetles in this particularly thick stand of tamarisk, cottonwood, and willow, but now, the tamarisk - which towers, treelike, over the scientists' heads - displays light brown tips, one of the first signs of beetle attack. "The natives are already here," [Tom] Dudley observes, looking at the native cottonwoods, some tall enough to form a canopy over the weeds. "They just need to be freed up." "And the beetles are going to free them," says Bean. But their cheer is momentary. Though Diorhabda is a powerful weapon against tamarisk, it's a very complicated one. "Whenever anyone thinks they have a silver bullet," says Dudley, again diving into the brush, "it usually turns out to be a sort of off-gray color."

The conventional wisdom is that tamarisk, with its deep, tenacious root system, sucks up much more water than its native neighbors. Reality, as usual, is more complex: Recent analyses by researchers at the University of California at Santa Cruz show that in the drier areas atop riverbanks, tamarisk does use far more water than native plants. In wetter areas near streams, stands of cottonwoods and willows often use nearly as much water as their exotic competitor. Dan Bean releases tamarisk beetle larvae along the Gunnison River in Western Colorado. Yet there's no shortage of reasons to dislike tamarisk. Even though it offers some substitute food and shelter to native wildlife - a point we'll tackle later - research shows that in general, animals living in tamarisk are less diverse, fewer in number, and less healthy than their counterparts in native vegetation. The plant's trademark dense growth is thought to increase fire risk along riverbanks, and it resprouts quickly after burns. And as any boater can attest, the weed narrows streams and rivers, and chokes out campsites...

For a decade, Jack DeLoach searched for a worthy tamarisk adversary. DeLoach, a U.S. Department of Agriculture entomologist, has traveled to Israel, southern France, China, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan, doing what is somewhat romantically known in the biocontrol business as "foreign exploration." In his quest for a natural enemy for tamarisk, he teamed up with local entomologists to collect beetles from the weed's native range, sifting through the several hundred species known to attack the plant. He and other researchers tested about 20 species overseas, and brought about half back to his lab in Temple, Texas, for further research, finally whittling the possibilities down to one: Diorhabda...

Much remains unknown, of course - over generations, it's still possible that the introduced insects could develop a taste for native species, or set off unforeseen, and effectively irreversible, cascades of consequences. Post-release studies of biocontrol insects are often spotty and inconsistent, adding to the uncertainty. But so far, these modern biocontrols have shown few, if any, side effects. In many efforts, the problem is not over-enthusiasm but underperformance: The insects simply die out, leaving the job undone...

So far, Diorhabda is behaving very well. The beetles are eating plenty of what they're supposed to, and, as watchful researchers report, nothing that's forbidden. They've survived and spread beyond expectations. But not even the most fervent biocontrol advocate calls their introduction a success - not yet. For no one is sure what will follow in their path. "Killing tamarisk is a wonderful activity, but that's not the goal," says Tim Carlson, the executive director of the nonprofit Tamarisk Coalition, a group that works to connect tamarisk-control projects throughout the West. "We want to get rivers back to a healthy state, and we don't have a plan for doing that." On the Dolores, and in other places where cottonwoods and willows still stand shoulder-to-shoulder with tamarisk, the beetle's work may be enough to encourage a boom in native species. But in other places, where natives are sparse or nonexistent, Diorhabda could easily hand the advantage not to natives but to other exotics, such as Russian knapweed and the fast-colonizing perennial whitetop.

The recipe for a healthy river is an elusive one, and differs for each site. But tamarisk adversaries agree that in most cases, the beetle is only the beginning, and that rivers will need more meddling, not less. In some places, rivers may need to be seeded or planted with native species. Beetle-killed dead tamarisk may need to be taken out with chainsaws or prescribed fire. On dammed rivers, where flood timing can favor tamarisk and other exotic species, tamarisk may be only a symptom of a deeper malaise. Lasting success may mean changing water management - never an easy task in the West. "There's a belief that all you have to do is get rid of tamarisk, and the native vegetation will come back," says U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist Greg Beatty. "But in many instances, our management choices are the reason why tamarisk is flourishing."

Like the long-running efforts to defeat tamarisk with hacksaws, bulldozers and poison, river restoration projects following tamarisk removal are small, underfunded and diffuse. There's no one agency in charge of river health, and most rivers flow through a patchwork of landowners and regulations. The Tamarisk Coalition is organizing local partnerships and encouraging state agencies to provide matching funds to groups and communities interested in river restoration. They're also negotiating with oil and gas companies to fund weed eradication and restoration projects, and pressing Congress to fund a 2006 law supporting tamarisk control and research. But for now, there's much more talk than action surrounding post-beetle restoration. "It's a giant experiment," Carlson acknowledges.

More Coyote Gulch coverage here.

Category: Colorado Water

7:46:45 AM    

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Rifle has awarded a contract for construction of their new wastewater reclamation plant, according to The Rifle Citizen-Telegram. From the article:

A contract for the biggest capital improvement project in Rifle's history was made Monday night when city council members accepted the $23.2 million bid made by Stanek Constructors of Golden to build the city's regional wastewater-reclamation facility. An additional $1 million was also awarded to the engineering company Schmueser Gordon Meyer Inc. to oversee the project over its two-year construction time. "This is the largest financial obligation the city has ever undertaken," said Mayor Keith Lambert...

The new facility will be located at the West UMTRA site off U.S. Highway 6 and will replace the city's two existing old lagoon-system wastewater treatment plants on the north and south sides of the Colorado River. "We've already gotten all the approvals from the Colorado Department of Health and the Department of Energy to construct it on that site," Stevens said. The new plant is needed in part because of the city's increase in population, along with the fact that the old plants are near capacity and no longer meet state regulations. "We don't have a lot of capacity left between the two plants," Stevens said. "I think overall this is a good project for Rifle and will meet the needs of the city for the next 10-plus years." But whether or not the city was seeing rapid growth, the old plants would have needed to be replaced anyway, Lambert said. "The need for a new wastewater-treatment facility would be upon the citizens of Rifle regardless of growth," he said. "The existing systems, if not out of compliance, are certainly on the verge with the state as far as clean water."

The new wastewater-treatment plant will be funded with $1 million from the city's wastewater fund, $1 million from a Department of Local Affairs grant, with the remainder paid for with bonds over a 20-year period of approximately $1.6 million per year. Residents in Rifle saw a 100 percent increase in their sewer rates in April, which were made to help fund the bonds for the new plant. No other major increases are expected. "Of course, there will be periodic rate increases like anything else," Lambert said. "But there won't be a dramatic change like in April. That was done specifically to give us the ability to pay back the bonds." Construction of the new regional wastewater reclamation facility is expected to start in December and be completed by December 2009.

Category: Colorado Water

7:17:10 AM    

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Here's an in-depth look at the Yampa River and its management from The Rocky Mountain News. Read the whole thing. Here are a couple of excerpts from the article:

[Erin] Light is the top water regulator on the Yampa, the first woman in Colorado history to oversee one of the state's vaunted rivers. It is a huge task. The Yampa is one of eight major river basins in Colorado that form a massive high-altitude headwaters, helping supply 19 other states, Mexico, and millions of people. Light's sprawling territory is a remote place where the river has flowed largely unfettered. Butch Cassidy once holed up here, and water users must often think of themselves as outlaws, too, holding out against a new demand by the state to regulate their river. Pressure from the Front Range, legal obligations to provide water for endangered fish, and even the basin's own growth have induced the state to step firmly in. The river must be harnessed, its diversion structures mapped, its users monitored.

Until now, gentlemen's agreements among the region's ranchers, coal companies and small towns have kept the need to formally regulate the river at bay. John Fetcher, a 95-year-old rancher who is considered a water powerhouse in the region, would like to keep it that way. "This is a damn nuisance," said Fetcher. "Once the river is under administration, there will be restrictions on what water you can take. It means you have the state of Colorado looking over your shoulder every time you take water."[...]

Light wanted this job, wanted a chance to operate a river. At 37, she is rail-thin and deep voiced. A single dark braid sweeps over her shoulder. Small turquoise studded earrings dot a curving line along her ear. Poised and collected, she will tell you she comes by her ambition honestly. The Colorado River's Lake Mead, the giant reservoir that serves Las Vegas, Phoenix and Los Angeles, was named for her great-great-uncle, Elwood Mead. Light's staff is largely female, a phenomenon almost unheard-of in the West's insular, male-dominated water culture. Because it has never been regulated, just 12 people manage the Yampa River. Eight of them are women. Most are ranchers who have worked in the mountains above Steamboat and on the sagebrush plains to the west all their adult lives.

More Coyote Gulch coverage of the Yampa River here.

Category: Colorado Water

7:04:10 AM    

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