Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Eastern Colorado Water Adventures

I've been meaning to make a trip out to eastern Colorado to check out a few reservoirs. More specifically, the sites of two former reservoirs and a reservoir that has the potential to be the second largest reservoir in Colorado, but is instead a pond. I was finally able to get out there last week, leaving early on Wednesday, March 19 and returning the next day. Not nearly enough time, but I'm happy with what I saw.

The first reservoir site I visited was the centerpiece of the former Bonny Lake State Park, located in eastern Colorado outside of Idalia. This park was the furthest east state park in Colorado. Construction of this South Fork Republican River dam wrapped up in 1951, bringing regular water and flood control to the area. Additionally, for over 60 years, water recreation was brought to an area of the state that previously had little.

Bonny Reservoir was fairly modest in size. This diagram illustrates the different capacities of the reservoir. To give that diagram context, here is a picture of the spillway with the former body of the reservoir in the background.

Bonny Reservoir had the capacity to hold a huge amount of water. In reality, the reservoir never came close to reaching the spillway crest. According to the United States Bureau of Reclamation's Hydromet application, the highest in elevation that the reservoir ever got was 3678.10, all the way back on May 17, 1957, just six years after the dam was completed. In terms of volume, the reservoir held as much as 55,034 acre feet on the same day. This is a hair below the advertised capacity 64,200 acre feet.

The reservoir held greater than 50,000 acre feet one other year - in June of 1974. Since then, the maximum content generally got up to somewhere around 42,000 acre feet. In terms of elevation, the reservoir generally topped out right at the gated sluiceway elevation, give or take a foot. Up until 2003, that is.

In that year, the Supreme Court decided that Kansas was not receiving its fair share of water from the South Fork Republican River.[1] It was determined that not enough water was making its way to Kansas based on the Republican River Compact, which was implemented in 1942. After the Supreme Court decision, the debt was initially attempted to be paid by sending more water than usual through Bonny Dam. While more water was sent versus years in the past, it was not enough to satisfy the Republican River Compact.

In the year 2000, the maximum elevation of the reservoir was 3,666', close to the average maximum since the reservoir was filled for the first time. From here, the annual maximum slowly slid as more water was sent to Kansas. The following four year maximums are as follows:

2001: 3,668'
2002: 3,662'
2003: 3,660'
2004: 3,657'

This pattern continued until 2011. After years of deliberation and trying to find an alternative to draining the reservoir, no better option was found. Any other option would have been prohibitively expensive and taken too much time to implement. So it was decided that the reservoir would be drained, with the water ultimately making its way to Kansas to satisfy the Republican River Compact. The draining of Bonny Reservoir began at the close of water year 2011 (September 30) and concluded in April of 2012. Since then, the "reservoir" has fluctuated between zero and one acre feet.

Here is a side by side satellite image of Bonny Reservoir at two stages. On the left is an image of the reservoir from June 7, 1995, and on the right January 2, 2014. In the left photo, the reservoir is at an elevation of 3,674', just above the bottom of the gated sluiceway, and holds 44,866 acre feet. In the right photo the reservoir is at an elevation of 3,638 and holds zero acre feet.

June 7, 1995 on left, January 2, 2014 on right.

I visited the drained reservoir because I was curious. I've seen many full and partially full reservoirs, but never one that was (intentionally) drained. Especially one that was such an anchor in local recreation. Without knowing any better, I started driving over the dam. The first thing that I saw of note was the concrete spillway pictured above.

Back of dam and spillway.
The picture to the right is my favorite that I took from the spillway. The black shadow in the bottom left corner is where the gated sluiceway comes through the spillway. The dam is the hill coming from the right side of the picture and running toward the center. In all, the dam is over a mile and a half long. Interesting that even in the very best year (way back in 1957!), the water barely got six feet high in the gated sluiceway. The dam could have easily been built smaller with a less imposing spillway. It'd be interesting to know what the river was doing to persuade the engineers to go so big.

Other than the spillway, I found the high and dry boat ramps to be most interesting. It's been a couple years since any of the boat ramps were used on this reservoir, and they will likely never be used again. It will take an awfully wet period for enough water to both satisfy the Republican River Compact and fill the reservoir. In the meantime, we will have to make do with the area being turned into a state wildlife area.

North Arm boat ramp
Primary boat ramp
Deepest boat ramp
As a parting shot of Bonny Reservoir, here is the length of the reservoir from the dam. It's hard to believe that water stretched nearly three miles at full pool. Now, a marsh during wet periods.

Bonny Reservoir as of March 19, 2014
Next on my agenda was to travel to Eads to spend the night before heading to my last two reservoirs. Eads is the largest town and county seat of Kiowa County, with a population of just over 600. 

Out of Eads, I took highway 287 south to get to Neenoshe Reservoir. Or what was left of it. As stated by the USGS, Neenoshe Reservoir was created in 1896 with the purpose of conserving water from the Arkansas River. Neenoshe is actually quite impressive in size, at least at the rare times it is full. According to the same USGS document, the reservoir holds a maximum of 94,850 acre feet, with 73,360 being usable. Additionally, the reservoir has a surface area of 4,562 acres at full capacity. For those familiar, Horsetooth Reservoir outside of Fort Collins has a surface area of only 1,900 acres at full pool. For those who aren't familiar, Neenoshe is up to 9 times bigger than the largest natural lake in Colorado, Grand Lake. Neenoshe has the potential to be a big reservoir, especially when combined with the rest of the reservoirs in the area.

Because Neenoshe and the rest of the reservoirs in this clump are privately owned by the Amity Mutual Irrigation Company, there is little information about them. Other than the USGS article already mentioned, I am unable to find more information on the water data of these bodies of water. What I do know about these reservoirs is from word of  mouth and satellite images. The water from these reservoirs comes from the Arkansas River via canals. During the most recent wet period in the late 90s, the reservoirs were mostly full. In an email from Amity Mutual, I learned that on average these reservoirs fill up every twenty years. After the current drought began, the reservoirs shrank as diversion from the Arkansas River ceased. The following picture compares these reservoirs from the last time they were full (no way to know for sure) to their levels less than two weeks ago. 

June 25, 1999 on left, March 14, 2014 on right.

The contrast in water levels between these periods is staggering, and illustrates why I wanted to check this area out. I got here on the start of what was to be a beautiful day. I entered the reservoir from the north entrance and drove down the boat ramp as far as the road would allow. I made it probably a quarter of a mile before the condition of the road forced me to park. I continued to walk from there. Very interesting scene from the bottom.

This is from approximately here in the reservoir. (The Google Map image is from 8/31/2012, which is why there is more water than when I went.) No idea for sure, but I think I'm facing the southeast. At least I meant to. At this point in my walk the silt was very soft and it was physically demanding to walk. Not quite muddy, and not like walking on a beach. I tried to walk further toward the center of the reservoir, but the silt was getting softer and softer. I decided there was not enough to be gained from walking to the center.

Wind-blown surface
North boat ramp on Neenoshe
Before I left, I took this picture of the surface. This picture was taken in roughly the same place as the previous, just a little further towards the center. Very interesting texture -makes me think of a lunar landscape. Not much else to say about this cluster of reservoirs. I really wish I could have had more time to explore this area, but I had about seven hours of driving left to do that day. The picture on the right is from the north boat ramp looking out over the reservoir. Straight out from this picture, the reservoir would have stretched over two miles, and over three miles to the furthest point towards the southeast.There's little about this reservoir on the Internet, but back in 1973 someone did catch a 33 pound catfish (page 10).

Next I headed to John Martin Reservoir. Often forgotten, and incorrectly attributed as the third or fourth largest reservoir in the state by capacity, John Martin sits on the Arkansas River in the southeast corner of Colorado. To clear up the size issue, here is the correct order of the four largest reservoirs by capacity in the state of Colorado:
  1. Blue Mesa Reservoir - This is undisputed and fairly well known. Blue Mesa has a live storage capacity of 829,500 acre feet
  2. John Martin Reservoir - Poor John Martin never gets love. Second largest reservoir in the state with a maximum capacity of 603,500 acre feet at top of spillway gates.
  3. Lake Granby - Third largest in state with a maximum capacity of 539,758 acre feet. Often attributed as second largest, occasionally third.
  4. McPhee Reservoir - Total capacity of 381,195 acre feet makes this reservoir fourth largest in Colorado by capacity.
While John Martin is the second largest reservoir in the state by capacity, it has never actually reached the capacity listed above. In fact, the most water John Martin held at any one time was 450,000 acre feet for about ten days in May of 1999, which is pictured below. Since then, the water has been as low as 2,800 acre feet. On the other hand, Lake Granby has averaged 364,146 acre feet over the last ten years. I think the remoteness of John Martin and the fluctuating water levels, which trend on the low end, have caused people to not recognize its capacity. And really, capacity is only meaningful if you can actually fill the reservoir, which the other three on this list do regularly. 

It was the fluctuating water level of John Martin that made me add it to the itinerary. I got there sometime around noon after leaving Neenoshe. The reservoir was holding approximately 48,000 acre feet the day I got there. Low, but it had more than doubled since November 2013. The following is a satellite image comparison of John Martin reservoir when it was at its highest and lowest since. 

May 8, 1999 on top; July 30, 2006 on bottom
The reservoir is huge in the top picture. It measures over ten miles from the dam to Arkansas River, and anywhere between 1.25 and 3.5 miles wide. At capacity, the reservoir has a surface area of over 17,000 acres. At the same time, the reservoir is only 80 feet deep at the dam in the top picture. Fairly shallow given that it contains 450,000 acre feet. On the other hand, in the bottom image the reservoir holds only 2,810 acre feet, is about 1.2 miles long, 0.8 miles wide, and approximately 12 feet deep at the dam. The bottom image, unfortunately, is a better representation of the reservoir for the past fifteen years.

There are three concrete boat ramps on the John Martin, all on the north shore. Two of the boat ramps are located on the east end, not too far from the dam. In most water conditions both are usable. If the water dips below about 30,000 acre feet, though, only the furthest west ramp will be in the water. Both of these ramps are in the heart of the state park that surrounds the reservoir. The boat ramp that is the most interesting to me is one furthest west.

This boat ramp is located approximately 6.75 miles from the dam (green arrow). As you may haven guessed from the previous information, this ramp has been high and dry for years, and will likely never see water again, especially enough to launch a boat. I drove down this ramp and went as far as I could toward the river. Turns out the park system put up a gate, blocking people from driving too far into the reservoir bed.

Facing west boat ramp from 1/2  mile away
Here's a picture from about a half mile or so down the boat ramp. On the far side of the red line of tamarisk is where I had to park the car. The concrete stripe in the middle of the picture is the boat ramp. I'm under probably 30-40 feet of water at full reservoir in this picture, maybe more. It's hard to believe that the reservoir used to stretch miles west of this point. There were no signs beyond the boat ramp that this area used to be under water. And why should there be? It's been over 15 years since this area has been wet. My goal coming down this ramp was to walk to the Arkansas River. I thought it would be fairly simple to follow the vehicle tracks down to the river. Turns out I was wrong. Not only did the tire tracks branch off many times and become too thin to follow, but the tamarisk got thicker and thicker as I got closer to the river. Looking at satellite images of the area, it's apparent that I would not have been able to just stroll up to the river like I was hoping. 

Back at the top of the boat ramp, here's the view looking over what used to be the reservoir. At full pool, the reservoir used to be about a mile and a half wide at this point.

Facing dam
The picture to the left is from the western most boat ramp facing the direction of the dam. The boat ramp is at the bottom of the picture, and the current water level is barely visible below the horizon. I really like this picture, as it nicely demonstrates how much longer and broader the reservoir could be.

I'm interested to find out whether or not the reservoir will even be over 200,000 acre feet again. My guess is that it won't ever reach that level again, and probably not even 100,000 acre feet. In its current form, John Martin Reservoir is a very important resource in southeastern Colorado. At nearly any level, it provides valuable resources for the area. As a parting shot, here is the reservoir at 48,000 acre feet as viewed from the dam. Although the reservoir is a shadow of what is has been and could again be, it still provides a decent surface area for recreation.

John Martin Reservoir from dam as of 3/20/2014.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Second January Century Attempt

Today was the day I made my second January century attempt. The way things were shaking out with my schedule, it was looking like this was my last chance, too. Had to make it a good one.

I ended up hitting the road at 8:16 am, about 30 minutes before my last attempt. In addition to leaving at a better time, the temperature was more favorable this time around. At my time of departure, the temperature was about 29 degrees, and it was actually sunny. It was shaping up to be a good ride.

I had no idea where the hell I wanted to spend the next 100 miles, so I started to head toward my favorite surface: gravel. That is, to the north and east. I did about 15 miles of gravel before I decided that I didn't want to spend any more time slogging through gravel. Typically the gravel of western Weld county is pretty firm and allows for good speed, but not today. I was having a hard time cruising at 14 mph. Once I got back on pavement, I saw an immediate improvement in my speed. This convinced me that gravel was out for the day.

At this time I decided upon a destination: I would take the Poudre Trail all the way to Greeley. As I had never been on it outside of Fort Collins, I thought today would be a good opportunity, since I am not in the shape for a lot of elevation. After getting to Windsor, I spend some time trying to find a trail-head, but no such luck. I ended up stopping at the library to get some directions - found out I was only a few blocks away from a good place to get on.

For the first 45 miles of the ride I was feeling great. It was before noon, I was making good time, and my legs were feeling fairly fresh. Most importantly, it hadn't gotten too hot yet, so I was also comfortable.

The trail surface was in very good condition for its entire length from Windsor to Greeley. Every bump or hole in the cement had spray paint indicating it would be fixed in the future. I was not expecting such a well cared for trail. Most of the trail follows right along-side the Poudre River. This provided for a very scenic ride. In addition to the river providing scenery, looking to the west provided a great view of the mountains.

When I got to Greeley I had hoped to explore the city a little bit, but the path disappeared into the city. I figured it wasn't worth my time to find what I was looking for, so I doubled back to head home. It was pretty interesting to ride over cattle guards on a bike path. This was a first for me. Gotta keep these guys in somehow, though.

The last 30 miles ended up being quite the drag. As good as I felt for the first 45 miles, I felt that bad for the last 30. But I was eventually able to slog home. I hope to be in better shape for the rest of the centuries for the year.

Miles: 100.38
Riding Time: 6:36:51
Elapsed Time: 7:45:00

Sunday, January 20, 2013

First January Century Attempt

I had decided right around New Year's that I wanted to attempt the Century-A-Month Challenge. After looking at my schedule for the month, it looked like Saturday the 12th would be the best day to attempt my January century. Looking at the weather forecast, I learned it was going to be the coldest day of 2013 up to that point. The forecast was calling for a high approaching 20, with a low of about 7. No worries, I thought, I'll just look that much tougher when I actually complete it.

Since I had previously commuted in temperatures as low as -4, I didn't think it would be that crazy to do 100 miles in warmer temperatures. I guess I forgot that my commutes were only 6.5 miles, and how cold I really was on them.

I began the day by leaving the apartment at about 8:15 in the morning, 15 minutes later than I wanted. Not a big deal. After I got my bike ready for the day, it was 8:25. Then I was having MAJOR issues clipping in. It was so bad I almost gave up and went back to bed. Took me about 10 minutes to be able to clip in, and that was no easy feat. It wasn't for a couple hours that clipping in became easy again. Not a good start.

Hey look! - this is where I biffed.
Once I got moving, though, things were going pretty well. I had a 14.5 mph goal in mind for the ride, and during the coldest part of the day I was exceeding that. That good feeling didn't last very long. At about mile 15 I was riding on a bike path in Boyd Lake State Park. There was a light dusting of snow on the trail, maybe a 1/4 of an inch - just enough to give the path a nice coating. I took a corner too fast, as if it was a clear summer day. Down I go. Nothing major, just slid out on the drive-train side of the bike. All I got out of this was a bit of snow on my pants, and a lesson reinforced. Not a good first hour and a half of the ride.

My plan was to do about 55-60 miles before I stopped home, ate lunch, and warmed up a bit. But because I under dressed my feet, I had to take my break after just 46 miles. My toes were so numb it was as if I came from the doctor's office. I spent about 45 minutes at home getting warm and eating lunch. Changed shoes, too.

The second half started out as well as it could. I hit the road again at about 1:00 pm, and it was as warm as it was going to get for the day. This good feeling lasted about 20 miles. After that I started to get very cold very fast. On top of being cold, I was becoming physically exhausted because I hadn't been riding much for the past month. By this point my cruising speed had slowed to barely 14 mph. And that was pushing it. But I was at about 70 miles, so I just told myself "only 3 more 10 mile segments." Wouldn't have normally been difficult to finish, but by this point it took all I had just to stay on the bike.

At about mile 77 I decided I was going to stop at a 7-11 to get some hot dogs and Gatorade. Once I left the bike path, I noticed my back tire was a little wider than normal. I stop and notice it's completely flat. I had the stuff to change the tube, but by this point I was too demoralized and cold to have the will-power to change the tube. In a lot of ways, I was glad I flatted, because all I could think about was giving up. I'm not sure how I would have handled 23 more miles of fighting the urge to give up. I walked to the 7-11 where I waited for my wife to pick me up as I ate two hot dogs.

Total miles: 77.49
Riding time: 5:30
Elapsed time: 8:20

I later found out from Colorado State's weather station that the temperature at 8:30 am was 7 degrees, and the high for the day was 15. It snowed lightly a couple of times and the wind was blowing fairly hard for parts of the ride. This was probably the most difficult physical feat I have attempted, just because of the added difficulty of the cold. I learned that maybe, just maybe, I should try to pick a day with more favorable weather instead of settling for looking tough. As it stands, that was my second longest ride, but that small victory feels hollow.

I was planning on making my second attempt for my January century yesterday, but I was not able to. Instead I had to settle for 41 miles before and after my engagement. There are only two more days in January that I do not work - the 24th and 31st. The weather will be beautiful on the 24th, so I have high hopes that it will work out. 

Welcome to My Blog

The purpose of this blog is for me to discuss in great detail the esoteric things that I do. The focus of the blog will be on any adventure that I have with my bike, since that is my current obsession. I have been riding a bike since I was a kid, but only recently have I become more serious about it.

2011 was my first full year of bicycle commuting full-time. It was a very satisfying year of cycling, and I learned a lot. Very few of my total miles were non-commuting. Just south of 90% of my miles were what I call replacement miles - miles for which I rode my bike for a purpose: commuting to work, getting groceries, visiting a friend, etc. Looking at the spreadsheet, there was really only one long ride that I did for pleasure, not book-ending a day at work. This was a 63 mile ride sometime in June (okay, the 25th). I thought I was going to do a lot of long rides like that one, but that was it. I ended the year with 3,004 miles.

2012 was a much different year. Because of a recent move and job change, my commute went from 12.8 miles round trip to 1.29. Initially I set a mileage goal for the year of 2,500 miles. Based on the first two months (220 miles combined), this seemed pretty realistic. Then I did over 600 miles in each of the next two months. I didn't do 600 miles/month for the rest of the year, but did finish the year with 4,225 miles. The makeup of these miles were very different than 2011. Beginning in April,  I really increased my long distances frequency. From April to August, I averaged 34, 45, 64, 52, and 41 miles per ride in each month respectively. Only 11.5% of my total miles were replacement.

I ended up with 17 rides greater than 50 miles (after two ever previously), including three rides 70+ miles and one century. Additionally, 42 rides between 30 and 50 miles. I was very happy with these numbers. I had exceeded all my expectations for mileage and learned a lot along the way. But I want more for 2013.

Goals for 2013 are as follows.

  • 5,200 total miles. I really like the idea of 100 miles/week,.
  • Century-a-Month Challenge.
  • All-gravel trip to the Pawnee Buttes.
  • Ride to and get a card at every library within 50 miles.
  • At least one other multiple day, self-sustained tour.

I don't really see having a problem with getting 5,200 miles, based on what I did (and didn't do) last year. January, February, and December were weak last year (306 total miles). August was pretty weak at only 203 miles. Now that I think about it, the entire summer was just okay. Although I did a lot of long rides, I didn't ride with much frequency. Between June, July, and August, I totaled 17 rides. During the three prime months of the year I only rode 887 miles, when I could have easily done double that. Because I left so much on the table during so much of the year, I should be able to hit 5,200 pretty easily. The other goals we will see about. But no matter what happens, this will again be a landmark year of cycling for me.