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

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Friday, January 2, 2009

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Here's a look back at Alamosa's salmonella outbreak in the spring -- the top story of 2008 in the San Luis Valley -- according to the Valley Courier (Ruth Heide). From the article:

This spring literally hundreds of San Luis Valley residents became ill - and one died - as a result of a salmonella outbreak linked to Alamosa's municipal water supply. By official estimates as of May 1, 417 salmonella cases had been reported of which 116 were culture confirmed, 20 people had been hospitalized, and 1 person had died. Many other cases were never confirmed medically...

Alamosa County Nursing Service Director Julie Geiser first discovered the problem in mid-March, and city officials began encouraging city residents to drink bottled water as a precautionary measure. Once the link between the salmonella outbreak and the city's water supply was confirmed, however, the bottled water order became more than precautionary. The city then commenced a system-wide flush with levels of chlorine so elevated that residents were advised not to use city water for any purpose while the chlorine flush occurred.

During the city's water emergency many volunteers from throughout the city, surrounding areas and the state offered their assistance to the city and its residents in a variety of ways ranging from technical assistance with the chlorine flush and investigation into the salmonella contamination to donations of large quantities of potable water. Water distribution sites were set up throughout Alamosa where residents could pick up bottled water or fill their own containers with potable water. Since the East Alamosa water system was not affected, residents also acquired water there...

The exact source of the contamination was never pinpointed...

Late in the year the city was still dealing with the aftermath of the incident. More than 40 claims for damages ranging from $100 to $1 million were filed with the city including claims from the family of the single fatality, Romeo resident Larry Velasquez, Sr., 55.

More Coyote Gulch coverage here.

Category: Colorado Water
6:16:42 AM    

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The State Engineer, Dick Wolfe, is appointing an advisory committee to help with developing groundwater rules and regulations in the San Luis Valley. If you're interested in a copy of the order email us at coyotegulch [AT] mac [DOT] com.

Here's an article about the new order from Matt Hildner writing for the Pueblo Chieftain. From the article:

The state engineer issued a formal order Wednesday, addressing the makeup of a groundwater rules advisory committee for the San Luis Valley that could include as many as 40 members. The committee will help the engineer's office devise rules through the winter and spring with a tentative deadline of May 31. "While this process takes more time, I believe it leads to rules and regulations that stakeholders in the basin can support, thereby avoiding the time and expense of litigation that may arise if I were to proceed in a more traditional manner," State Engineer Dick Wolfe wrote in a letter to county commissioners accompanying the order.

In that letter Wolfe added that subcommittees to address legal and technical questions may also be developed following the group's initial meeting, which is expected to come sometime at the end of this month. Wolfe's order states that the rules will have to protect senior water rights, prevent unreasonable groundwater level declines, establish dates for the valley's irrigation season and not interfere with the state's obligations under the Rio Grande Compact. Moreover, the rules also will encourage the use of subdistricts to manage groundwater.

The engineer's office will seek nominees from the valley's four water conservancy districts, The Rio Grande Water Conservation District and the San Luis Valley Irrigation District. The order calls for county commissioners from each of the valley's six counties to appoint a member. It also calls for representatives from the towns of Alamosa, Center, Creede, Monte Vista, Saguache, San Luis and one representative to represent both Blanca and Fort Garland. The engineer's office will seek another batch of committee members from ditch companies, water user associations and acequia associations in Costilla and Conejos counties. Five vacancies will go to state and federal governmental agencies.

Category: Colorado Water
6:07:30 AM    

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Here's a recap of the current status of Colorado Springs' proposed Southern Delivery System from Ben Noreen's column in the Colorado Springs Gazette. He write:

It's so far, so good for the biggest public works project in Colorado Springs history. City officials think they're close to clearing a pair of regulatory obstacles en route to the $1.1 billion Southern Delivery System. In January they expect to get a federal sign-off on the environmental impact statement for the project and by early February they hope to have a key land use permit from Pueblo County...

Together, the two communities appear ready to work on a plan to ensure that higher flow rates won't cause too much erosion or pollution. The costs of such mitigation will be borne by Colorado Springs ratepayers, who will see substantial rate increases to pay for SDS.

A potential sticking point involves the Pueblo County commissioners' desire to make sure Pueblo-area contractors get a piece of the pie when construction starts. But only a handful of companies are qualified to perform the work and a couple of them are not only in Pueblo, but have done work for Utilities in the past. Dividing the work among a few contractors would be required, anyway, Fredell said, because the job will be too big for one firm's bonding power to cover it all.

The game is not over and getting to this point was not easy. Utilities officials have had to deal with mostly apathetic Colorado Springs residents, a demagogic media blitz by Pueblo's daily newspaper and Pueblo officials who have little grasp of their objectives. For instance, the Pueblo County commissioners are insisting that Colorado Springs promise not to sell any SDS water outside the Arkansas River Basin, meaning that none of the water is to go to the Denver area. It's nutty to think Colorado Springs wants to build a $1.1 billion project so it can help the Denver Metro area. Colorado Springs had no problem agreeing with that.

Additional coverage from the Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Colorado Springs maintains its Southern Delivery System will actually reduce sedimentation on Fountain Creek and says the savings of building a pipeline at Pueblo Dam rather than through Fremont County are less than the amount reflected in a Pueblo County staff report...

The environmental impact statement on SDS by the Bureau of Reclamation lists the Pueblo alternative at $122 million less than the Fremont alternative. A draft EIS pegged the number at $154 million over the 40-year life of the project. Pueblo County staff, in its Dec. 3 comments, pegged the number at $216 million, before Colorado Springs revealed at a Fremont County Planning Commission meeting that it was looking at an alternative in Fremont County that would still use federal contracts, rather than the more costly "no-action" alternative...

Cordova also questioned flooding and water quality impacts. Comments from the Sierra Club, Turkey Creek Conservation District, District Attorney Bill Thiebaut and others have all mentioned the potential impact of SDS on exacerbating problems on Fountain Creek. "How are we going to be assured the water coming back is going to be contained?" Cordova asked. "What about sedimentation removal, will it be continuous or by dredging?" At that point, Mark Glidden, a consulting engineer for CH2MHill, told the commissioners the day-to-day impact of SDS will be less after an exchange reservoir on Williams Creek is in operation, perhaps 10 years after SDS is up and running. The reservoir would actually help reduce the rate of increase in sedimentation in Pueblo, Glidden said. He later defended that position under questioning from Pueblo County staff.

The reservoir is one of two planned on Williams Creek. The first, on Upper Williams Creek, would be a 30,000 acre-foot reservoir that would store water after it is pumped from Lake Pueblo. The lower reservoir would contain return flows from wastewater treatment plants and release it into Fountain Creek. Colorado Springs, in its rebuttal comments, minimized the impact of flood flows on Fountain Creek, saying SDS flows, as measured by releases from the exchange reservoir, would only be inch at Pueblo and total stormwater flows would be increased only 4 inches. That caused Commissioner Jeff Chostner to bristle. "You say the increased flows don't add that much, but there are people here tonight who suffer on a daily basis," Chostner said. "If we do approve this permit, there will be significant emphasis on Fountain Creek."[...]

McCormick, along with other Colorado Springs officials, has argued that Colorado Springs is already making a good-faith effort to improve Fountain Creek by spending millions of dollars on sewage system improvements to avoid spills, working on a Corridor Master Plan with the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District and forming a stormwater enterprise to address a $300 million backlog of projects. The city is constructing a wetlands mitigation area at its Clear Springs Ranch site south of Fountain and promises to control mosquitoes, a concern of the Turkey Creek district. Under questioning from Chostner, McCormick said those efforts would continue even if the pipeline route heads through Fremont County, but there would be no additional mitigation. In its rebuttal, Colorado Springs also argues its existing regulations are sufficient to minimize the impacts of flooding on Fountain Creek and says it would not be solely responsible for increased flows on Fountain Creek.

More Coyote Gulch coverage here, here and here.

Category: Colorado Water
5:50:47 AM    

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From the Rocky Mountain News (Jerd Smith): "Rural homeowners and even some urban dwellers may be allowed, for the first time, to capture rainwater, if Colorado lawmakers approve two proposals this year. One would give rural homeowners the right to capture rain in cisterns, while the other would allow multiyear pilot programs in subdivisions to help determine how capturing rainwater affects stream systems."

More from the article:

Still another proposal could dramatically alter the war-torn landscape between Pueblo and El Paso counties by creating a special district to jointly govern Fountain Creek, a stream that spans both counties...The district, created via intergovernmental agreement earlier this year, must be approved by lawmakers before it can begin operating...

* Byproduct water: For decades, water produced as a byproduct of oil and gas drilling has existed in a no-man's-land, with few laws governing who owns it, how it fits into the state's legal system of water rights, and how it can be sold. Rep. Kathleen Curry, D-Gunnison, along with Sen. Jim Isgar, D-Hesperus, hope to begin clarifying how that water should be handled.

* Water networks: Another bill, also sponsored by Curry, would set aside $500,000 annually from a special state property tax on oil and gas development. The money would help fund a new water quality network in the Piceance Basin in western Colorado.

* Community grants: A bill sponsored by the Colorado Municipal League would use severance taxes to provide about $10 million to help small, disadvantaged communities upgrade water supply and wastewater systems.

Category: Colorado Water
5:41:04 AM    

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From. the Summit Daily News (Allen Best): "The Arkansas River, Colorado's most popular river for whitewater rafting, had high water for much of the past summer, the best in 20-some years. Ironically, the whitewater boating industry had a sharp decline in business, 9 percent less than the previous year. There is no sure way to know what caused the decline, but speculation on the streets of Salida, the headquarters for many boating companies, is that high gasoline prices discouraged visits."

Category: Colorado Water
5:22:36 AM    

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It's the time of year where water watchers start keeping an eye on the mountain snowpack. Much of Colorado's water supply comes directly from the snowpack, our largest reservoir, if you will. Here's a report from Paul Day writing for

The southern mountains are in terrific shape while the northeastern Front Range is still on the dry side, according to the latest snowpack survey. The South Platte Drainage is 10 percent below average. It supplies both Denver and Aurora with drinking water. But the overall statewide snowpack situation is positive. As of New Year's Day, Colorado is 18 percent above average...

...the Gunnison, Arkansas, Upper Rio Grande and San Miguel Drainages currently have snowpacks ranging from 27 to 40 percent above average for this time of year.

More coverage from the Rocky Mountain News (Jerd Smith):

"We have an underlying drought potential around the state," said Mike Gillespie, snow survey supervisor for the Natural Resources Conservation Service, as he skied from one measurement site to the next on Wednesday. "But we've got a good start on snowpack."[...]

Early snows have been heaviest in southwest Colorado. The Rio Grand Basin, for instance, is running about 140 percent of average. And the Arkansas River Basin, home to Pueblo and Colorado Springs, is also running high. But farther north in the South Platte Basin, which includes metro Denver, conditions are drier. Snowpacks in the high foothills are about 100 percent of average or slightly below, due in part to light snows and a dry fall...

Still, on top of Berthoud Pass, the skies are blue and the snow is deep. As Gillespie and hydrologist Chris Pacheco check the snow's depth and its weight at 11 sites, the readings add up to 112 percent of average. That's a good sign for the Fraser River, one of the tributaries to the Colorado River.

More coverage from the Steamboat Pilot & Today (Tom Ross):

...for people more concerned with spring runoff and filling reservoirs, the early season snowpack remains inconsistent in the mountains surrounding Steamboat Springs. For example, the water contained in the snow on the west side of Rabbit Ears Pass is 103 percent of average. But just to the north, at 10,500 feet on Buffalo Pass, the snow-water equivalent is just 69 percent of the average 20 inches for the date, according to the federal Natural Resources Conservation Service...

Snowpack is variable in North Routt County and the Flat Tops, just as it is in Steamboat. Crosho Lake, at 9,100 feet in the edge of the Flat Tops, is at 120 percent of average snow water, while Trappers Lake is at 90 percent. To the north, the Elk River measuring site at 8,700 feet on the edge of the Mount Zirkel Wilderness is at 124 percent, but the nearby Lost Dog site, at 9,300 feet elevation, stands at 84 percent of average. The upper Colorado River Basin, which includes Buffalo Park on the east side of Rabbit Ears Pass, is at 144 percent of average moisture. That figure trails the upper Rio Grande Basin, where a measuring site above 10,000 feet near the tracks of the historic Cumbres Railroad stands at 192 percent of average.

Putting it all in perspective, Red Mountain Pass between Ouray and Durango has been hammered with snowstorms this winter, and the snow water equivalent is at 141 percent of average. Yet, the 13.7 inches of moisture there is an exact match for Buffalo Pass at 69 percent of its average.

Category: Colorado Water
5:17:47 AM    

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Here's a recap of the meeting in early December that focused on the Uncompahgre River and the naturally occurring minerals that effect quality and clarity, from Christopher Pike writing for The Hub. From the article:

The less-than-attractive yellow-green hue of the Uncompahgre River has long been attributed to mining waste that has seeped into the riparian system since the 1870s. But in fact, mining need take only half of the blame for the river's current condition, according to Ouray geologist Bob Larson, who spoke at an education forum dubbed "Land Uses in the Watershed" in early December.

Natural mineralization and alteration generated by hydrothermal activity and volcanism has created what was identified by the earliest explorers in the region as "hot and ill tasting water." Larson told a packed house at the Ridgway Community Center that members of the Dominguez-Escalante Expedition described it that way as they passed through Colorado during their historic exploration of the Four Corners region in 1776. Volcanic activity created natural acid rock drainage, along with seepage of heavy metals, to impact the watershed for eons.

More Coyote Gulch coverage here.

Category: Colorado Water
5:11:18 AM    

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