Dam dilemma looms for planners — The Pueblo Chieftain

September 1, 2014
Fountain Creek Watershed

Fountain Creek Watershed

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Building dams to slow down the pace of floodwater could save lives and reduce the destruction of property. But, it might also deprive a farmer of irrigation water or even deliver more to neighbors with more senior water rights. It could cause conflicts with neighboring states that have entered into compacts with Colorado.

Dams, detention ponds and even debris basins meant to trap sediment while allowing water to flow freely in areas ravaged by wildfire could be subject to state water rights administration. That’s the opinion of officials at the Colorado Division of Water Resources.

“I think we’ve clearly articulated how we view the law and there are not any gaps from an administrative standpoint,” said State Engineer Dick Wolfe.

But districts formed to control stormwater are discussing whether state water law could block efforts to stem the worst effects of floods. And they’re looking at changing the law to give more weight to arguments to detain water.

The Urban Drainage and Flood Control District, which was formed to assist Denver metro area counties with stormwater protection, has asked the state to clarify its position on whether flood control would have priority in any instance. Meanwhile, the Fountain Creek Flood Control and Greenway District is preparing a series of conversations with water rights holders on the same topic.

“If we as a district are going to be successful, we have to become involved,” Executive Director Larry Small told the Fountain Creek board at its August meeting.

The state’s position is that detaining water in a regional project could injure junior water rights.

In 2011, the state explained that its policy of allowing 72-hour detention of floodwater applies only to single-site projects, rather than regional detention ponds, said Kevin Rein, deputy state engineer. The rule has often been invoked in flood control discussions and usually misinterpreted. The Fountain Creek district found out about this firsthand when it constructed a demonstration project along Fountain Creek in Pueblo behind the North Side Walmart. It was required to file a substitute water supply plan.

But there are no hard and fast rules governing flood detention.

“We do not find a legal basis to make an absolute finding that diversions of stormwater into regional water quality detention are allowable, nor do we find a basis to determine that such diversions would cause no injury,” Rein concluded in his letter to the Urban Drainage district.

Even the debris basins built by Colorado Springs after the Waldo Canyon Fire have the potential to run afoul of state water law, said Steve Witte, Division 2 engineer. “If they encounter groundwater, they have to be augmented with a SWSP,” Witte said. “If it’s in a normally dry stream, it may qualify as an erosion control dam, which if it holds less than 2 acre-feet of water is statutorily exempt.”

So far, the state has looked at about 30 of those structures in the Colorado Springs area.

Flood control is not impossible. One of the stated benefits of Pueblo Dam under the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project is to provide protection from floods. The operating rules of the dam allow holding back water if the Arkansas River is above 6,000 cubic feet per second at the Avondale gauge — a level that satisfies most water rights downstream.

However, Fountain Creek officials know they could have a tough time trying to unravel the water rights questions that will accompany any dam or detention pond project.

“It’s going to be a tough fight, but the best way is to confront it,” said Pueblo County Commissioner Terry Hart. “We have to put an effort together to try to negotiate it up front. The only way to identify the issues is to speak to those who might be hurt downstream.”

More stormwater coverage here.


Lincoln Park/Cotter Mill de-commissioning comment period extended

September 1, 2014

From The Pueblo Chieftain:

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and state health officials have extended public comment periods on Cotter Corp. Uranium Mill decommissioning documents. Public comments are due by Oct. 27. All documents and addresses for comments to be submitted can be found on the state’s website at http://recycle4colorado.ipower.com/Cotter/docspubcomment.htm.


Water storage ‘absolutely’ part of #COWaterPlan — Grand Junction Daily Sentinel

September 1, 2014

unionpark
From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Gary Harmon):

Western Slope water storage is “absolutely” a part of the Colorado water plan that is to be complete in just over a year, said the head of the Colorado Water Conservation Board. James Eklund, however, declined to offer specifics about any discussions.

U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Colo., this week told the editorial board of The Daily Sentinel that he and Gov. John Hickenlooper have discussed the possibility of high-elevation water storage to benefit the Western Slope. He was unable to offer specifics, but said the conversation began in late August at the Colorado Water Congress.

Eklund, who is in charge of drawing together the suggestions of water roundtables from the state’s basins to draft the statewide plan, said it recognizes the need for storage.

“Colorado’s water challenges require that we consider options that include both conservation and storage,” Eklund said in an email. “Conservation and storage go hand-in-hand in addressing our water-supply gap.”

The state water plan also contemplates the idea of a transmountain diversion, but no specific proposal has been made.

Hickenlooper’s office didn’t respond directly to inquiries about conversations with Tipton.

A Western Slope storage project, however, is “an intriguing idea,” said Bonnie Petersen, executive director of Club 20, the Western Slope advocacy district, noting that the idea has long been recognized as a need. Club 20, however, has no information about such a project, she said.

The Colorado River Water Conservation District, likewise, had no information about any such project, though spokesman Chris Treese said several projects are being pursued.

The Colorado River Cooperative Agreement with Denver Water, agreements affecting the Eagle River, rebuilding the old Dillon Reservoir and a variety of other projects are continuing.

Collectively, “There are 65,000 to 75,000 acre-feet on the table right now,” Treese said.

Chatter about transmountain diversions could prove to be of ultimate benefit to a Western Slope project, Treese said.

“We built Wolford Mountain (Reservoir) in the shadow of Two Forks,” Treese said, referring to a now-defunct proposal to divert Western Slope water to the South Platte River drainage to be stored behind Two Forks Dam.

Wolford Mountain Reservoir near Kremmling includes compensatory storage for the Western Slope as well as storage for the Front Range.

More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.


Fryingpan-Arkansas Project update: “We can’t dry up the creeks” — Kara Lamb #ColoradoRiver

September 1, 2014
Fryingpan-Arkansas Project via the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District

Fryingpan-Arkansas Project via the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District

From The Aspen Times (Scott Condon):

The Fryingpan-Arkansas Project diverted about 80,200 acre-feet of water under the Continental Divide to the Front Range this year, according to Kara Lamb, spokeswoman for the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, which operates the system.

That is about 67 percent higher than the average diversion of 48,000 acre-feet over the 52-year lifetime of the system, she said. More water was diverted this year because of a higher-than-average snowpack and lots of rain starting in mid-July, according to Lamb.

Nevertheless, river and stream water levels have dropped to the point where diversions must be stopped to maintain minimum stream flows.

“This week and next week, we are shutting down the diversion system,” she said Friday. “We can’t dry up the creeks.”

Ruedi Reservoir is about 93 percent full right now. That’s slightly above average, according to the Reclamation Bureau’s records. The amount of water currently being released from Ruedi Dam is 267 cubic feet per second, about average for Sept. 1.

Water is still being diverted from the headwaters of the Roaring Fork River east of Aspen. The Independence Pass Transmountain Diversion System has diverted an estimated 59,400 acre-feet thus far this water year, which started in October 2013, according to water data on the Colorado Division of Water Resources website. Kevin Lusk, a water-supply engineer with Colorado Springs Utilities helped The Aspen Times interpret the data on the state’s website.

The average annual diversion over the past 79 years has been 42,000 acre-feet. This year’s diversion is already 17,400 acre-feet above average, or 41 percent higher.

The diversion system operated by the Twin Lakes Reservoir and Canal Co. taps a 45-square-mile area at the headwaters of the Roaring Fork River. The system diverts water from the Roaring Fork River near Lost Man Campground. In addition, it diverts some of the water in Lost Man Creek, Lincoln Creek, Brooklyn Creek, Tabor Creek, New York Creek and Grizzly Creek, according to a description on the website of Roaring Fork Conservancy, a Basalt-based nonprofit that monitors water quantity and quality issues.

The conservancy’s weekly watershed river report, released each Thursday, showed that Twin Lakes Tunnel was diverting water at a rate of 80 cubic feet per second on Aug. 28 from the Roaring Fork River headwaters. Meanwhile, the river was flowing at only 49 cfs in Aspen that same day.

The Roaring Fork River is dammed near Lost Man Campground. The river below the dam runs at a trickle. It’s replenished to some degree by various creeks before it reaches Aspen.

Without the diversion, the Roaring Fork River flow would be 129 cubic feet per second in Aspen, or about 2.5 times what it is running now. Superior water rights allow the Twin Lakes Reservoir and Canal Co. to divert an amount greater than the river flow.

More Fryingpan-Arkansas Project coverage here.


Climate: Wet West in July

September 1, 2014

Originally posted on Summit County Citizens Voice:

Energetic monsoon brings moisture surplus to many areas

kj

The big wet?

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — An energetic and widespread monsoon weather pattern brought above normal precipitation to much of the West in August, with a bullseye of moisture in southern Idaho, extending across western Wyoming, Montana, northeastern Utah and into northwestern Colorado. Some locations in the region saw up to 800 percent of average precipitation.

View original 294 more words


“We’re all in this together” — Anne Castle #businessofwater #ColoradoRiver

September 1, 2014

From the Associated Press (Ken Ritter) via the Casper Star-Tribune:

A top federal water administrator said Friday that several myths stand in the way of broad agreements needed to deal with increasing demand for water in the drought-stricken and overallocated Colorado River basin. Assistant Secretary of the Interior Anne Castle told listeners at the Business of Water conference (#businessofwater in Las Vegas that there’s no one-step way to avoid the possibility of cuts in water deliveries in the next few years to states including Arizona and Nevada. With the crucial Lake Mead reservoir at 38 percent capacity and the Southwest in the grip of the driest 15-year period in more than a century, Castle said it will take multiple, incremental agreements to balance the water rights of cities, farmers, Indian tribes and states.

“Compromise is the only way we’re going to get ourselves out of this drought,” she said. “This is difficult state politics.” [ed. emphasis mine]

Businesses can use their relationships and economic clout to require responsible water behavior, she added.

Castle is a top water administrator in the agency that oversees the federal Bureau of Reclamation, which controls dams and canals serving the region, which is home to 40 million people and has 4 million acres of farmland…

Most people understand there is a drought, Castle said. But most don’t understand the interwoven nature of water rights.

Farmers get first dibs on most of the water harnessed by the more than 100 dams in the basin, under agreements dating back to the Colorado River Compact of 1922. Since that time, cities such as Denver, Salt Lake City, Phoenix, San Diego, Los Angeles and Las Vegas have grown rapidly.

Some 16.5 million acre-feet of water is promised to the various entities. But Castle noted that’s more than the river system’s annual intake of some 15 million acre-feet of rainfall and snowmelt, an amount that has been declining during drought years…

Castle said that combined water storage in dams on the Colorado River is about 60 million acre-feet. That amount has been drawn down from full in 2000 to about 51 percent today, at 30.4 million acre-feet.

Castle said other myths are that cities just need to stop wasting water on fountains, golf courses and swimming pools, and that water is too valuable to use on farms.

Cities in the Southwest are actually models in water efficiency, reuse and conservation, Castle said. And cutting water to farms in areas such as the Imperial Valley of California would cripple vegetable and fruit production and hurt an economy that she called the foundation of the basin.

States alone won’t be able to deal with shortages, she said.

“Myths can be dangerous. They allow us to slip into complacency,” she said. “We’re all in this together.”

U.S. Sen. Harry Reid, the Senate majority leader, also was set to speak Friday at the conference, which was held at the Springs Preserve by Colorado-based Protect the Flows and Nuestro Rio, an organization of Latino elected officials in several Southwest states.

The two-day conference drew more than 100 corporations, Main Street businesses, municipal water agencies and business associations, organizers said.

John Fleck’s presentation is called “Sharing Water: What an Environmental Experiment in Mexico can Teach us About the Future of the Colorado River”. He introduces his topic over at Inkstain. Here’s an excerpt:

I’m excited to be giving a talk on the Colorado River Delta environmental pulse flow Sept. 8 at Colorado College in Colorado Springs…

The pulse flow last spring – a first-ever release of water down the desiccated Colorado River Delta’s main channel solely for environmental purposes – was a powerful symbol. For that reason alone, it was insanely cool, and it’s easy to explain and share the excitement. In a place where a river used to go to die, the Río Colorado came back to life. I’ll have pretty pictures of water flowing across a dry landscape.

But there’s something more obscure but also, I think, far more important that happened that’s proving much more difficult to articulate. At the risk of driving too fast and getting out in front of my headlights, I’m going to try to explain the nature and importance of the “social capital” that made this happen, and why I think the notion of social capital is critical to whether we succeed or fail in making a go of it as a society dependent on the increasingly scarce water of the Colorado River.

It’s illustrative of the problem that I have a hard time offering up a crisp definition of “social capital”, but here’s one I cribbed from someone else:

Social capital refers to the institutions, relationships, and norms that shape the quality and quantity of a society’s social interactions.

Some years ago, I heard a talk by former Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Bob Johnson about his efforts to mediate water battles in the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint and Alabama-Coosa-Tallapoosa river basins in the southeastern United States. He was dispatched by his federal bosses to try to help with the problems because of his experience overseeing interstate water management in the Colorado River basin. Here’s how I described the problem:

The ACT and ACF basins have far more unallocated water to play with in sorting out the conflicts. “They’ve got 60 million acre feet of excess water,” he said. “On the Colorado River, we’ve got zero.”

Upper Basin States vs. Lower Basin circa 1925 via CSU Water Resources Archives

Upper Basin States vs. Lower Basin circa 1925 via CSU Water Resources Archives

But as a direct result of that lack of water on the Colorado, we’ve got a rich legal framework – the Law of the River – and accompanying personal and institutional relationships to go with it. “We have 80 [ed. now 97 years] years of fighting and working together,” Johnson said to the audience of Colorado River Basin water officials. [ed. emphasis mine]

By comparison, in the wet climate of the southeast, water officials had few relationships with their colleagues in other states, and few institutional structures through which they could deal with problems when they arose, Johnson argued. In other words, they have plenty of water, but lack the tools they need to approach the problem of sharing. Because they’ve never had to think of it that way.

Their problem was a lack of social capital, not a lack of water. And, as Elinor Ostrom pointed out:

[S]ocial capital is hard to construct through external interventions.

Minute 319, the U.S.-Mexico agreement that made the pulse flow happen, provides a window into this “social capital” in action. It involves:

  • institutions: U.S. and Mexican governments and the agencies within them, water management agencies on both sides of the border, environmental groups, research universities and end water users
  • relationships: Individuals representing these institutions who know one another in a web that has, over time, become invested with a significant reservoir of trust, even as each is representing their own community’s interests as best they. These relationships embody a significant shared understanding of the Colorado River Basin’s problems and the range of solutions that might be possible, and who might suffer and/or benefit from those solutions.
  • rules: A Byzantine array of compacts, treaties, laws and also more subtle norms that govern how all these institutions and people move water around the Colorado River system in a way that is intended to maximize some sort of ill-defined, constantly evolving utility.
  • All that combined in a deal that had something for everyone: money to upgrade Mexican irrigation infrastructure, water storage facilities for Mexico, conserved water for U.S. cities, an expanded understanding of the sharing of shortages for Mexico and the United States, and oh, by the way, a bit of water for the environment.

    My shorthand for this, and the title of a seminar I’m giving Sept. 26 at UNM’s economics department, is “Solving the West’s water problems in a hotel bar”. The “hotel bar” thing is schtick, but has some substance behind it. The idea is people sitting around after a day of meetings wrestling with the problems, people who know one another’s desires, interests and needs, and saying, “Wait! What if we try doing it this way?” [ed. emphasis mine]

    The hotel bar stuff is very much necessary for dealing with Colorado River water problems going forward. But is it sufficient?

    More Colorado River Basin coverage here and here.


    Douglas County joins WISE project

    August 31, 2014

    douglascounty

    From the Parker Chronicle (Mike DiFerdinando):

    The Douglas County commissioners took an important step in helping secure the county’s water future at their regular meeting on Aug. 26.

    By joining in on the South Metro Water Infrastructure and Supply Efficiency (WISE) Authority’s agreement with Denver Water and Aurora Water, the county will be the recipient of 2,775 acre-feet of water per year for a 10-year period, starting in 2016…

    The South Metro WISE Authority is made up of 10 water providers that are all part of the larger South Metro Water Supply Authority. Nine of those water providers — Centennial, Cottonwood, Dominion, Inverness, Meridian, Parker, Pinery, Stonegate Village and Castle Rock — are located in Douglas County. The 10th, Rangeview Metropolitan District, is located in Aurora.

    “This region has been working hard for a very long time to bring renewable water supplies into the area,” SMWSA Executive Director Eric Hecox said. “We have a legacy of developing non-renewable groundwater and the effort for many years has been to transition our current population off of groundwater as well as to provide water for future economic development, and I think this project achieves that.”

    The WISE project began in 2008 as a way for members to identify processes, cost, distribution, timing, storage and legal issues relating to distributing treated reusable water return flows from Denver and Aurora for use by SMWSA water users.

    The group tasked with utilizing this water is the South Metro WISE Authority. The primary purpose of the authority is to reduce members’ dependence on non-renewable Denver Basin wells and provide reliable long-term water supply for residents.

    “While we often refer to the Denver Basin aquifers in a negative way, they do provide an extremely important drought reserve,” Douglas County Water Resource Planner Tim Murrell said. “By reducing Denver Basin well pumping to a secondary source rather than a sole supply, the basin can continue to be a valuable asset in times of drought.”

    In 2013, Aurora, Denver and the South Metro WISE Authority finalized the water delivery agreement. As part of the deal, 100,000 acre-feet of water will go to the authority’s providers over a 10-year period.

    At the time of the agreement, the authority members were only able to agree on 7,225 acre-feet per year. This left 2,775 acre-feet per year that would be lost if not claimed. Douglas County has been working with the authority members over the last year to reserve the 2,775 acre-feet per year supply for the county.

    The WISE members are funding new infrastructure that will move the water from Aurora’s Binney Water Purification Facility to its end locations, beginning in 2016. Water purchased by the county, as well as by some of the other providers, will be stored at the Rueter-Hess Reservoir south of Parker.

    The county will pay a $97,125 annual reservation fee through 2020; 2,000 acre-feet of water per year will be available for use and purchase by WISE members, and 775 acre-feet will be available for use and purchase by non-members.

    More WISE project coverage here.


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