Archive - Mar 2013


March 30th

U.S. Dams

Dams generally serve the primary purpose of retaining water, while other structures such as floodgates or levees (also known as dikes) are used to manage or prevent water flow into specific land regions. The average age of the 84,000 dams in the U.S. is 52 years old. The nation’s dams are aging and the number of high-hazard dams is on the rise. Many of these dams were built as low-hazard dams protecting undeveloped agricultural land. Both are in sad shape and rated a D for dams and a D- for levees by the American Society of Civil Engineers who are the engineers who build them. If they go, homes and vast stretches of land will be flooded and the environment literally drenched.

18th Annual Children’s Water Festival

The 18th Annual Children’s Water Festival will be conducted May 1, 2013 at Fort Lewis College. We are anticipating more than 700 fifth grade kids will participate this year. If you would like to volunteer for this fun and worthwhile event, please contact the Water Information Program at (970) 247-1302.

June 26-27th Forests-to-Faucets Teacher Training Workshop

Last year the Water Information Program (WIP) cosponsored with the Mountain Studies Institute and the San Juan Mountains Association a pilot Forests-to-Faucets Teacher Training Workshop in the Durango/Silverton area. It was very successful and well received. Therefore, with funding from the Southwestern Water Conservation District, we will be conducting another training session, this year in the Pagosa Springs Area. The workshop will be June 26-27th and qualifies for one continuing education credit for educators from Adams State University. Space is limited. To register visit the WIP website at or call (970) 247-1302.

Draft Nonconsumptive Toolbox Request for Public Comment

The Interbasin Compact Commission (IBCC) requested that the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) develop a toolbox to help roundtables incorporate nonconsumptive needs into their Basin Implementation Plans. This is a resource document for the roundtables and other stakeholders and brings many documents and technical work together in one place. The draft report is available online at:


Colorado is one of the only states in the West that doesn’t allow the domestic use of graywater, but that may soon change. Rep. Randy Fischer (D-Fort Collins) has reintroduced a graywater bill allowing homeowners and businesses to reuse dish-washing, shower, and other graywater. Current Colorado water law allows just one use of water before it goes down the drain, through a wastewater treatment plant, and back into the river for others to use. Lawmakers defeated a similar bill in a 5-4 vote last year, but Fischer thinks it stands a better chance of drawing bipartisan support this year. It is estimated that Colorado could save enough water for 170,000 new suburban families if all new construction included systems to recycle bath and laundry water. Colorado State University Prof. Larry Roesner has been pushing Colorado to expand its graywater use for 10 years. He said graywater makes up 30 percent of household water use. If new homes and businesses all used graywater systems, the state could save 85,000 acre-feet a year, he said.

Expanding Spruce Beetle Outbreak

According to a recent Denver Post article, an annual aerial survey of forest health in Colorado shows the mountain pine beetle epidemic is slowing dramatically, but the spruce beetle outbreak is expanding. The mountain pine beetle epidemic has spread by 31,000 acres, down from an increase of 140,000 acres reported last year, the U.S. Forest Service and Colorado State Forest Service said. Since the first signs of the outbreak in 1996, the infestation has grown to nearly 3.4 million acres, or roughly 5,300 square miles. The infestation remains active from Estes Park to Leadville. Meanwhile, the spruce beetle outbreak spread to 183,000 new acres in 2012, bringing the total infestation since 1996 to about 924,000 acres. The most significant spruce beetle activity has been in southern Colorado in the San Juan and Rio Grande national forests, forest officials said. Spruce beetles typically attack spruce trees downed by high winds, then move into the surrounding trees as the insects' numbers grow. Beetle activity has increased as trees have been stressed by factors including dense stands of trees, ongoing drought, and warmer winters that haven't been killing off as many insects. 

Colorado River Compact: 1922 and 2010 Population

In 1922, the Colorado River Compact was signed to allocate the river’s water between the seven states and Mexico that rely on and share this water. At the time the Compact was signed, the Colorado River delivered an average of 16.5 million AF of water annually to 20 million people. As discussed in the previous article, that average is now down to 13 million AF for a population of approximately 170 million (2010). The following provides the Lower and Upper Basin states 1922 versus 2010 populations:

Silverton Avalanche(s) Block Water Supply

An avalanche or two above the headgate at Bear Creek blocked two creeks and nearly choked off Silverton’s water supply, which in turn froze their water line in February. The town’s public works crew struggled for 12 days to keep water flowing to businesses and residences. At one point, the crew had to use the fire department’s water truck to transfer water to the plant to keep the town supplied. Kuddos and congratulation to the Silverton’s public works crew for putting in long hours under miserable conditions to keep the town’s water system flowing.

New Colorado Oil and Gas Regulations

Oil and gas companies will be required to test the groundwater around new drilling operations in Colorado beginning May 1, 2013. In January, the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) approved new rules requiring energy companies to test up to four domestic water wells within a half-mile radius of all new oil and gas wells both before and after drilling begins. The rule aims to ensure that drilling and fracking are not contaminating groundwater. In addition, in February the COGCC voted to raise the minimum distance between wells and homes as well as other buildings to at least 500 feet statewide. The reason for the increased setback, among other issues (e.g., increases in dust, noise, etc.), were water contamination and quality issues. Previously, the state’s minimum distance was 150 feet in rural areas and 350 feet in urban settings. But starting August 1st, new wells drilled in Colorado must be at least 500 feet from buildings.

Arizona Water Dispute

The U.S. Bureau of Land Management, along with landowners and environmental groups, have appealed an Arizona Department of Water Resources decision to approve a Los Angeles real estate company’s request to pump roughly 3,000 acre feet of water a year from state land near the San Pedro River--the last big, free flowing river in the southwest. The real estate company plans to use the water for development, but opponents argue the company would be intercepting water that would have otherwise flowed to replenish the river and the surrounding San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area, which contains nearly 57,000 acres of federal land.