Water catchment: phase 4

12 07 2021

We’re now up to about phase 4 on the basin’s newest water-catchment project, though the phases are sort of, kind of starting to overlap a bit. It’s a big project! And my blogging is slightly behind our actual work, which is ongoing (it is hotter ‘n hell out there, I’m not kidding … last weekend, the mercury hit at least 104 in lower Disappointment Valley, which didn’t even set a record in the state of Colorado (because it was even hotter elsewhere, and other records WERE broken)).

On this day, Garth Nelson and Daniel Chavez, two of our BLM’ers-extraordinaire, welded the purlins in place that they’d previously brought out to the site. They wanted to make sure that the roof structure is super-solid and secure, so they welded them at fairly close intervals. This will come as a shock to … absolutely no one: It gets windy out here! The roof needs to be uber tight.

So Daniel got to welding.

And Garth got to welding. (By the way, for those worried about fire danger, the ground below the whole structure still is very much dirt. We are VERY aware of potential fire risk.)

Here’s an overview of where we were in the building process. It’s a bit hard to see from this perspective (and I’ve been trying to take pix from various perspectives!), but they’re just finishing the purlins across the middle section of the roof section. That’s the longest span – across the two middle tanks. West is behind Garth, and that part is done *now* … but at the time of this work day, they still had to get the remaining purlins from Durango (steel shortages affect everyone!).

In a project like this, there are loads of leading lines …

… and graphic lines! And it’s fun to take advantage of those arty bits, even in a serious project like this one. 🙂 Behind Garth there, you can see the third/western section of the roof structure, which got “purlin’d” another day (that post is coming!).

When Garth and Daniel got the middle section of purlins welded, they started on the ROOF! These are the propanel (metal) sheets that will catch the rain and snow and convert it to drinkable water for the mustangs (via the gutter and pipes and other pipes and trough and float (!)). Exciting stuff!

Now, I have to tell you one of the most interesting things that I did NOT photograph about the getting of the propanel sheets to the basin. The day Daniel hauled out the pile of sheets (they’re 25 feet long from the top (right side of the pic) to where Garth is measuring in the pic above), he got stymied at the first Spring Creek crossing in Spring Creek Basin (which is probably about six-ish miles from the main county road). Why, you ask?

BECAUSE SPRING CREEK WAS RUNNING WITH WATER!!!!!!!!!!! 🙂 It rained in the eastern part of the basin, and the creek arroyo ran for a little while.

So on this day, after the purlins were welded in place, we went back to get the propanel sheets and take them to the catchment site. Right before lunch. Perfect. 🙂 (Also interesting note: Until we got the propanel sheets in place, which provided shade, our lunch spot was a short distance away, across the road and up a little slope under a lovely juniper tree. On our last work day, when it was almost a billion degrees, we lunched in the shade of the roof structure. :))

The first sheet, of course, was important to get screwed down straight on the frame to the steel purlins.

See those round green pieces? Those are going to be the lids for the black culvert pieces in front of each tank, at the bottom of which are the valves. The guys, those master welders, even made me a custom “key” so I can turn the valves on and off without crawling down on my belly to stick my arm down into the spider holes (they’re too deep for that anyway!). (I’ll get a pic of that key later.) The thicker green part will be a “riser” to go over the culvert, and the lid (with the white ring) will screw down on top. What are the silver “sticks” sticking up out of the culvert? Those are “drip edge” pieces of thin aluminum that will go all along the front line of purlins, under the propanel sheets. On another project like this that the guys have built, they found that rain water would sometimes just splash over/under the edge, missing the gutter. They installed these, and voila – problem solved. So we’re putting these edges under the propanel as we go along.

Interesting factoid: There’s still a bit of “bounce” to the roof, so being up there and walking around – staying on the purlins – was a little like walking on a trampoline. Daniel’s best quote from the entire project (thus far): “Now we know the roof can support 300 pounds of dude.” 🙂 And they’ve said that about an inch of rain on this span of roof will put about 1,000 gallons of water in the tanks. There’s a particular formula – don’t ask me because I am NOT a math person – but Daniel and Garth ARE super smart dudes, and if they say it, I believe them! (Now we just need a whole gosh-darned inch of rain! … Wait … after the gutter is installed and piped to the tanks!)

And the water test. Yep! (Bonus, you can see the silver drip edge here, too.) You just have to imagine the gutter at this point… !

With a sky like that, I tried to get the guys to do their best Superman impressions. … They were too shy for that, but they’re still super heroes to me – and to the mustangs! 🙂

On this particular day, we SUPER lucked out with the cloud cover and breeze that kept things relatively cool (OK, at least not HOT). With the two of them up there, zz-zzing the screws that fastened the propanel to the purlins beneath, it went pretty quickly.

Teamwork. 🙂 Another of my favorite pix of the project! And that pole sticking out in the foreground of the pic marks the eastern third of the roof, which means that on just the first day of roof-attachment, they got a third of the panels in place.

Lest you all think it’s all work and no fun, let me disabuse you of that notion right now. 🙂 Laughter is a big part of our camaraderie. I’m not totally sure what Daniel was doing here – I think the edge of the propanel sheet was just barely on enough of the purlin edge for Garth to tap a screw into, and the purlins, though welded, still have some give to them (hence the trampoline effect mentioned earlier), so he’s using his great and amazing strength (!) to pull the end (top) purlin closer to help Garth with the attachment.

The next day we worked in the basin (which was this past week) was crazy hot, but the guys showed up smiling, as always, and we got the rest of the purlins welded, and now the roof is just more than half covered in propanel sheets. Depending on continuing heat (the forecast shows some relief coming …) and availability, work will continue on the propanel attachment and getting the gutter in place and piped to the tops of the tanks.

One more little tidbit: I arrived first the last day we worked because the guys had to go to Durango to get the remaining purlins (to be welded) – from Dolores – and then all the way back out to Disappointment Valley. A band of horses was at the far east end of the little “mini valley” in this part of Spring Creek Basin, and their hoofprints were on the road, which is just, maybe, 50 yards from the catchment. … And not only there, but some brave pony or ponies came within about 10 yards of the eastern end of the structure. Eventually, we’re going to put up a fence around the structure so the horses won’t rub on things and chew on things, but they’re curious! … Gettin’ closer with each work day. 🙂

Desert drinker of the water

1 07 2021

Skywalker drinks from a tinaja in a rocky drainage in Spring Creek Basin. The water must have collected from the last rainfall, last week, and this clever boy has found it.

Tinaja is a term originating in Spain (Spanish for clay jar) and used in the American Southwest for surface pockets (depressions) formed in bedrock that occur below waterfalls, are carved out by spring flow or seepage, or are caused by sand and gravel scouring in intermittent streams (arroyos). Tinajas are an important source of surface water storage in arid environments.

“These relatively rare landforms are important ecologically, because they support unique plant communities and provide important services to terrestrial wildlife.” ~ from Wikipedia

Water catchment: phase 3 (teaser)

30 06 2021

What in Spring Creek Basin have our wily and handy BLM’ers been up to lately?

I’d been out of the valley for a little while, visiting my folks for the first time since the pandemic started (they had visited me just *before* the pandemic started), and I came back to find two of my favorite BLM guys wandering toward the basin one morning with a little tractor in tow! I had some chores to catch up on, so I didn’t meet up with them until their last day of work last week. There was a little crowding of tools and things in the bed of their pickup.

After stretching a string from one end of the roof structure to the other (new horizontal steel-pipe post pieces had appeared since I’d been there last!), Daniel Chavez (pictured) and Garth Nelson got to work welding purlins to those pipes.

They welded three purlins over the three sections of roof structure over the four tanks. As they said, that line of purlins was critical to get straight because the gutter will go under the roof under those purlins. Into that gutter will go the rainwater and melted snow … life-giving water from heaven … into pipes into the tanks into the trough for the mustangs!

Because of my slow-Internet issues that make drafting blog posts a long-term commitment these days (!), this is a short teaser post about what they’ve been doing. I do promise at least another post to show the progression of purlin welding (because it’s fascinating and shows how handy our guys are!)! This last-for-now pic shows water dripping out of the steel pipe at one end of the roof structure after Garth poured some of his water in from the top end. When the project is all done and the roof is on, water will NOT flow through these steel-pipe posts; it’ll hit the roof and flow to the gutter and thus to the tanks. But he and Daniel illustrated that there IS a slope to the roof (though it deceivingly looks fairly flat), and you can see the now-welded-in-place purlins across this section of roof structure and Garth grinning in the background, and it’s never a bad sight to see water dripping from above in the desert. 🙂

More to come. Promise.

Another highlight of note: Did you notice the cloudy sky in some of the pix? Thankfully for Daniel and Garth, it was cloudy and relatively cool most of the day while they were in their welding jacket and Nomex (?) shirt for welding. I wore my headnet to keep the gnats at bay (they were worse some times than other times) while I helped hold purlins in place with my great and amazing strength (!) until the welds held (!). The previous two days – and the whole of the previous week! – had been HOT (like, 100-degrees hot). … And at the end of this day and the evening after the next day, we got some sprinkles from Mother Nature. Welcome relief. 🙂

Water catchment: phase 2, part 2

9 06 2021

This was a short day because of the concrete in the post holes. It has to set/cure before more work can be done. Our part of the world is heating up, one of the guys will be on fire detail, and another person will be on vacation, and there’s monitoring to do on a lotta range – not just Spring Creek Basin.

So without further ado, let’s continue with the last bit of work that happened in the basin a week ago.

More measuring had to happen to ensure that the structure will be “square” in its rectangular layout. I can’t remember the dimensions, but there’s going to be a lot of roof space on which to catch rain and snow!

Also the inner measurements had to be taken.

Then more drilling and more cutting. …

And more concrete pouring (and Jim was back from his weed spraying).

We did have a bit of excitement when the augur got stuck in the hole. They used the section of steel pipe to try to leverage it out of the hole, and even I lent my muscles to the task (now THAT would have been a pic – all five of us heaving on the augur, which was stuck fast in the hole). in the end, they had to dig it out from where it had gotten stuck on rocks.

While the guys continued to set posts and pour concrete, they acquired a bit of an audience. Do you see them?

How ’bout now? 🙂

The posts are in. Next, the purlins have to be welded in place to complete the structure for the roof panels. As it happens, I’ll document it!

Water catchment: phase 2, part 1

8 06 2021

Our range guys were back in Spring Creek Basin last week for some more work on the water-catchment project, this time, to start on the support structure for the roof that will eventually go over the tanks to catch rain and snow (no snow for a while … we have a few 100-plus-degree days on tap!).

I took at least one billion and one half pix (if you know me, you know that’s really not a ginormous exaggeration), so while I’ll try to keep the images to a minimum, I’m also so proud of our guys and this project that I want to highlight it. That said, I’m going to stretch the post into two days.

The day started with measuring. When you’re this far out from Ace Depot Lowe’s Improvement Store (aka *civilization*), you measure LOTS and then cut confidently (if you’re our dream team; if you’re me, you rely on your dream team!). First, they set rebar stakes and ran strings and measured up and down and side to side and in between so they could start with a square-angled rectangle frame to then be able to augur holes for the steel-pipe posts.

Garth and Mike – the young guys – watch Mike dig out the hole they just drilled with the augur. The dirt is soft and dry, and the (dreaded) post-hole digger wasn’t a whole heckuva lotta help.

The first pipe is in!

Daniel has a well-known aversion to working in gloves. … But those pipes were HOT. I helped carry a few of them, WITH gloves, and my gloves were only barely a protection against the heat from that steel.

The guys were all in love with THIS particular tool – a battery-powered band saw. It cut through that steel pipe … if not like butter, pretty darn well.

They brought a supply of water to mix with cement to make concrete to pour in the holes to hold the pipes (at least partly because the soil is so dry and soft and crumbly).

This little tool, a magnetic level, turned out to be one of the main tools of the day and was used to ensure all the pipes were straight.

Glop! They put two bags worth of concrete in each hole to hold the pipes.

Jim was in the basin, too, and he was out spraying weeds along the roads and some of the ponds, so I got to be in charge of pole leveling duty for a bit.

And of course, we had some fun. 🙂

Water catchment: phase 1, day 4

3 06 2021

This was the last day of work a couple of days ago because – wonder of wonders! – we got nearly a full day of drizzle that Friday. To catch you up, the tanks are now installed, and the trenches mostly dug, so the guys put together the pipes from the tanks to a main line, then connected that line to a line down to the location where the trough will be located.

The guys brought a length of heavy-duty plastic culvert, and Daniel and I cut it in 4.5-foot lengths to serve as valve protectors. He also cut little “mouse holes” so the pipe could sit down on the dirt over the valve and pipe.

See how it goes? The dirt around the tanks then was filled to just below the top of the culvert section, and Daniel will construct lids so no critters fall in (remember snakey?).

There’s Jim with the tools of the piping trade: primer and glue and the sawzall for cutting lengths of PVC pipe.

See how it’s all going together? Culverts like that seen at the end tank will go over the rest of the tanks, too.

Mike and Daniel then talked about how to attach the black hose (not as supple as a garden hose, bendier than the PVC). That’s the one that will run from the end of the pipe – which comes straight out of the tank at my immediate right and is immediately below me – down the slope to the eventual trough.

Daniel and Jim attached the black hose and tightened it with clamps while Mike supervised.

It should be noted that it was EXTRAORDINARILY WINDY that day, and the dust and dirt and sand and silt was in the glue and primer. Hopefully that will just make the “welds” extra sticky (!?).

Here we are looking down the slope (it doesn’t look like much, does it?) along the trench from the tanks (behind me) to the location of the trough. The last piece of culvert will help protect the pipe and fittings as it comes up out of the ground … from, you know, freezing weather … curious mustangs … that kind of thing. 🙂

Mike and Garth had their coordinated shoveling in sync to fill in the trench over the pipe from the tanks. You can see a bit of the dust from the wind, as well as the culverts in place over each valve at each tank.

Now all four of our guys – Mike at left, Jim and Garth at right and Daniel on the excavator – are working to cover the pipe trench (this is looking back up the slope from the trough location to the tanks) and the holes where the tanks sit.

The tanks and their valve-protector culverts in place, still to be filled with dirt.

Get to shovelin’, Daniel! 🙂

Garth was back on the excavator to push dirt over the pipe trench and into the tank holes. They had to be careful not to crumple the plastic tanks. By this time of working at the site, the dirt was sooooo powdery.

And *just like that* (!), the guys were almost done with phase 1 of the newest water-catchment project in Spring Creek Basin! I want to be sure to mention that all the trenches and holes were covered before they left. They did some more smoothing of the dirt Monday when they returned to retrieve the excavator.

Just a few days later, the first band of horses was checking things out:

There’s no water yet, ponies, but soon!

The next phase will be the construction of the roof structure over the tanks.

Huge thanks to Mike Jensen (our most excellent herd manager), Garth Nelson, Daniel Chavez and Jim Cisco for all their work! We really do have the BLM’s best here in Disappointment Valley! The sun was bright, the wind was strong, but the gnats were blown away (!). Phase 2 will be a little toastier … !

Water catchment: phase 1, day 3

2 06 2021

The third day of the water-catchment build story finds us back in Spring Creek Basin with the full team. Daniel used the excavator to widen the holes for the tanks, and the other guys used shoves and rakes to clean out the crumbly bits (into the excavator’s bucket). Then the holes were primed – literally – for the dumping and aligning of the tanks.

Let’s get to work!

Daniel had already combined the two middle holes to one and is cleaning out more dirt, and Jim checked the depth.

Mike and Jim took a quick check of the depth of the hole (and this image gives readers a better look at the ingress/egress ramp).

Mike and Jim had to get in the hole to do some finesse digging of the sandy dirt crumblies. By this time, the dirt was approaching the consistency of powder. (I’m not sure whether I’ve ever mentioned on this blog, but it’s dry out there … !)

In addition to cleaning out the holes, Mike and Garth checked the level of the bottom to make sure it was prepared for the tanks to sit level right when they went in the holes.

Lots of dust is created by powdery dirt when a 3,500-gallon water tank drops over the edge after four brawny guys push it into a hole! Don’t worry, the tank won’t sit like that. This is a capture of a split second before the tank rocked back to flat on its base.

While Garth took over the controls of the excavator, Daniel and Jim were in the hole to do some fine digging.

The guys had to roll the tanks from where we’d off-loaded them from the flatbed to the edge of the hole, then maneuver them to topple into the hole (this is the middle hole, with one tank already in it), in a controlled manner so the valves faced forward.

More fine work from Mike, Garth and Jim. …

This is one of my favorite pix of the whole project so far. All our BLM guys, working together for the benefit of our Spring Creek Basin mustangs. 🙂 Priceless.

When the tanks were all placed in the ground, it was time to dig the trench for the pipe.

Daniel and Jim were all over the putting together of the valves for each of the tanks. Those went in place by the end of the day …

… helped by Mike, using (I think) Daniel’s grandpa’s aluminum wrench!

Thursday: last work day (because of Friday’s rain), on which the pipes were attached to the valves, and each other, and down to the eventual location of the trough.

Water catchment: phase 1, day 2

1 06 2021

If you missed yesterday’s post, a brief recap: I’m telling the story of the first phase of the building of the first of Spring Creek Basin’s two new water catchments. In this first phase, don’t think building UP so much as digging DOWN (the up-ness will come in phase 2). There were some holes to dig before the pretty stuff – the water tanks – could be placed, and the tanks had to be placed before the moisture-gathering roof can be built.

Day 2 started with more digging of the holes. Though they measured side to side and other side to other side, to contain the roundness of the big tanks, because of the crumbliness (that’s a highly technical term in the world of dirt-hole digging) of the dry dirt, they really had to overdig, and the middle two holes eventually became one rectangular hole. Daniel is at the controls of the mini-ex, and Jim has the laser level “stick.” (For the first half of this day, Mike was meeting another group at another range site, and Garth had the day off to attend the graduation of his kindergartner!)

In the afternoon, Mike arrived with Tres Rios Field Office Manager Connie Clementson and BLM employee Whitney Carnahan (I knew her when she was a seasonal and don’t know her married name) to show off and explain the project. Daniel and Jim were just about to use the excavator to pick up the first water tank and lower it into the first hole.

Daniel and Jim finagled a way to strap the tank through the holes in the top in order to lift it with the excavator. Destination: hole in the foreground.

Once again, we had Jim in the hole (inside joke) while he steadied the tank and Mike directed Daniel. Jim’s left hand is on the lower valve opening, and straight above that is the top valve opening. There’s a much bigger hole on top of the tank (which has a screw-top lid), and those were the holes the guys used to run the strap through and lift the big bugger. Those valves also had to “face front” to align with the pipe-’em-all-together pipe that would run across the “front” of the tanks, then down to the trough.

Because of the off-center location of the top holes, though, it was hard to get the trough quite settled in the hole.

This was kinda when they realized the holes needed to be a wee bit bigger to accommodate the dirt crumbliness. I also want to point out Daniel at lower right: he dug little entrance/exit ramps into the holes for easy(er) access. As it turned out, he ended up digging the holes out a fair bit bigger for really good access, which they needed in order to align the tanks with the valve holes in the right spots after they dropped the tanks into the holes.

Tomorrow (which is to say that day’s tomorrow), they used the UTV to drag out the tank to enlarge the hole (along with the other holes) and commenced the dropping of the tanks!

Water catchment: phase 1, day 1

31 05 2021

First, let me refresh your collective memories:

Last year, Spring Creek Basin Herd Management Area herd manager (and all-around great guy) Mike Jensen put the finishing touches on the new, updated herd management area plan (updated from 1994!) that he worked on for two years. If you follow that time-machine link back to July 2020, you’ll see that Tres Rios Field Office Manager Connie Clementson’s decision included eight items. No. 8 was to authorize “additional new water developments for improving wild horse distribution across the HMA.”

We had hoped to start the first catchment last fall, but Mother Nature had other ideas for the week Mike had rented the machine to do the digging. And as winter approached, the project got pushed to this spring.

Fast forward to this spring (which was two weeks ago!), our BLM dream-range-team of Mike, Garth Nelson (also a rangeland management specialist), Daniel Chavez (range tech) and seasonal weed sprayer Jim Cisco broke ground on phase 1 of the first of two new water catchments in Spring Creek Basin.

This week on the blog will be devoted to the progression of the project. So today’s photos depict that Monday’s work; Tuesday’s post will depict that Tuesday’s work, etc.

On to the dirt work!

Daniel, the youngest of our range team, ran the mini excavator to dig holes for four 3,500-gallon poly (heavy plastic) water tanks while Mike and Garth used an augur to drill holes for the support posts for the roof system that will go over the tanks to catch rainwater and snow.

While the digging was under way, Jim readied the laser level in order to ensure the holes are all at the same depth. Then he used it to measure the run down to the eventual location of the water trough. That laser level got a workout (as did Jim) during the week. Garth would give Daniel breaks from running the mini-ex. Like Daniel said, it was a bit dizzying to scoop (to dig) and swing (to deposit). Here’s a sad thing: They dug down about 4 feet to bury the tanks about halfway, and the dirt is dry, dry, dry, all the way down.

Here’s a closeup of Garth and Mike using an augur to drill holes for the support posts for the roof over the tanks.

As it turned out, they decided on different locations for the posts to stand, but these first holes gave us the straight line on which to align the tank holes. Another sad note: Garth later used a post-hole digger to clean out the holes … and the dirt was SO dry, it all just slid right out of the digger’s “jaws.” (Also of note, of all tools in existence, I despise post-hole diggers the most!)

Did I mention the laser level? They used it to ensure that all the tanks were buried to the same depth and were level, and they also had to make sure there was enough “drop” down the slope (which doesn’t look like much of a slope, does it?) so gravity will do the work of allowing water to flow from the tanks (even when the water level is low) to the trough. As with our other two troughs, there will be a float to keep the water level constant. And the guys also will add an evaporation cover. In the pic is Jim, master of the laser level.

Zoom in on this pic. See Mike? See Mike smiling? He’s measuring out the distance from the tanks to the trough location. Mike is always smiling! 🙂

Mark it! This will be the basic location of the trough, and this perspective is looking back up toward the tanks. You can see the first one that we delivered on the flatbed trailer behind it. Also, see the white thing behind the truck cab? That’s a 200-gallon water tank (the truck is Jim’s weed-spraying rig), and the guys filled it with water each day before they left Dolores, and each day, we emptied it to one of the aprons at the main (and original) catchment, for a total of 800 gallons! (Friday, Ma Nature graced us with rain, so there was no work that day, and she provided the water!)

Tomorrow: A bit more digging, a bit more leveling, and the holes will be ready for the tanks!


Also today, Memorial Day, we remember all those members of the U.S. Armed Forces who died in service to their country. Though they did not make it home to family and loved ones, their service and sacrifice cannot be forgotten by those of us *at* home, for whom they fought and died.


30 05 2021

I love this pic of our guys working together to push a water tank into a hole dug last week in Spring Creek Basin!

This was part of phase one of the first of two new water-catchment projects for the mustangs: digging holes for tanks, digging trenches for pipes, placing the tanks in the holes, placing and putting together the valves and pipes in the trenches (including down to the eventual trough). Next up: auguring holes and setting the supports for the roof over the tanks that will funnel rain and snow. (I really do have hopes of doing at least a brief post about phase one …!)

Left to right above: Mike Jensen, Garth Nelson, Daniel Chavez and Jim Cisco – excellent BLM’ers all!