Underwater undertaking to fix Cheesman Dam almost underway

CHEESMAN RESERVOIR — Next week, Denver Water embarks on an $18.3 million plumbing overhaul of corroding fixtures on 105-year-old Cheesman Dam, requiring jackhammers, blowtorches, drills, blasting — and divers dispatched to live underwater for a month in a compression chamber.

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Fungus threatens Rocky Mountains’ ancient bristlecone pines

An exotic fungus spreading southward through Rocky Mountain forests is threatening Colorado’s oldest trees — the gnarled limber and bristlecone pines that can live longer than 2,000 years.

White pine blister rust fungus afflicts hundreds of those trees on national forest land and in the Great Sand Dunes and Rocky Mountain national parks.

There is no known cure for the fungus, which penetrates pine needles, then covers branches with clamshell-shaped cankers and orange pustules, eventually girdling tree trunks.

“It’s killing trees in Colorado. And it is still spreading,” said Anna Schoettle, a U.S. Forest Service scientist.

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Experts testing tactics to keep harmful mussels from muscling their way in

A Denver-based federal team fighting invasive freshwater mussels is investigating new and hopeful treatments, including poison, blasts of ultra-violet light and shock waves, and the introduction of a mussel-destroying predatory sunfish.

The researchers testing these tactics say some seem to work and, if proved, could save tens of millions of dollars by protecting western hydropower and water delivery facilities against the proliferating Eurasian quagga and zebra mussels.

“Once the mussels are there, this would help control them,” said U.S. Bureau of Reclamation mussel program coordinator Leonard Willett, who this week was supervising tests at dams along the lower Colorado River.

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Opponents of Grand Lake diversions muddy water plan

Front Range authorities poised to divert more western Colorado water to the east face opponents rallying around the mountain lake.

With current diversions already suspected by some of mucking up Grand Lake’s water, any new water removals — such as those proposed by Denver Water and the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District — could degrade the lake intolerably, opposition groups and Grand County officials contend.

“I know (Front Range residents) want to take showers, but we have to co-exist. They can’t destroy the beauty here — which is probably part of why they came to Colorado in the first place,” said Pat Raney, 66, one of a dozen or so volunteers who test water quality.

Lying on her belly on the deck of a rocking pontoon boat on the lake, Raney lowered a disc used to measure underwater visibility: “7 feet 4 inches,” she reported to fellow volunteers. “Color is brown.”

That’s less one third of the 30-feet visibility documented in 1941 before diversions here began.

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Puzzling Russian case reminds that spying in U.S. is still active

Deep-cover Russian spies posing as suburban Americans. Money covertly changing hands. Supposedly secret information moving via encryption software.

It’s an elaborate replay of Cold War intrigue that leaves some experts puzzled. But the FBI case against 11 people charged with conspiring to spy for Russia also raises concerns among counterintelligence veterans about new ways adversaries — including terrorists — may be seeking informational advantages.

Spying for foreign powers in the U.S. “is still active. Many, many countries are still engaged in it,” said David Szady, the FBI’s former top spy catcher and assistant director of counterintelligence, who retired in 2006 and works for a global security firm. “The threat now is probably as serious as ever.”

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$760 million flowing into metro water-treatment projects

Denver-area authorities are embarking on $760 million worth of massive water-treatment projects, to convert substandard water into drinkable new supplies.

The projects are driven by scarcity — the growing difficulty of drawing sufficient new supplies from mountain snowpack — and by rapid depletion of groundwater wells that some metro residents rely on.

Water providers say they also increasingly are detecting new contaminants, such as pharmaceutical residues from birth-control pills, cosmetics and antidepressants, that they anticipate might have to be removed.

“We’re preparing for the future. There’s still expected to be a lot of growth along Colorado’s Front Range. That’s what these plants are for,” said Steve Witter, water resources manager for the Arapahoe County Water and Wastewater Authority.

“And there may be more contaminants in the water, which we will need to treat,” Witter said.

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