El Paso County Regional stormwater enterprise proposal takes shape

July 30, 2014
Channel erosion Colorado Springs July 2012 via The Pueblo Chieftain

Channel erosion Colorado Springs July 2012 via The Pueblo Chieftain

From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Monica Mendoza):

Mayor Steve Bach made a last-minute attempt to control the board of a proposed regional stormwater authority, which if approved by voters in November will oversee millions of dollars a year in construction of drainage projects.

In a proposal to take the creation of a regional stormwater authority to the voters, Colorado Springs would have a majority of the seats on an 11-member board. Bach, who would have one seat on the board, wanted to appoint three of its six Colorado Springs members, which would give him control of four of the city’s six votes. And he wanted to appoint nonelected officials, meaning no City Council members.

He was flatly denied.

On Tuesday, the Colorado Springs City Council and the El Paso County Commission met to hammer out the details of an intergovernmental agreement, the contract that defines a regional drainage authority, should voters approve its creation in 
November.

Bach did not attend the meeting, but his chief of staff, Steve Cox, and deputy city attorney Tom Florczak made clear that if the group did not give Bach more control over the stormwater board, he would not support the proposal.

“That is not collaboration, that is an ultimatum,” said County Commissioner Sallie Clark, and she and the rest of the group said they were having none of it.

Clark told Cox she was frustrated that Bach was trying to negotiate terms when he had been absent from two years of planning meetings.

“The person who is not here to help figure this out is the mayor,” she said.

Instead, the group proposes a Pikes Peak Regional Drainage Authority governed by 11 board members – two elected officials from the county; four elected officials from Colorado Springs, including the mayor; two Colorado Springs elected officials appointed by the mayor; and one elected official each from Fountain, Manitou Springs and Green Mountain Falls.

Colorado Springs has the majority of the seats because the city has 80 percent of the estimated $700 million in stormwater needs, organizers of the proposal said.

Under the proposal, the owner of a home with 3,000 square feet of impervious surface would pay an estimated $7.70 a month, or $92 a year on their county property tax bill. That amount was lowered from a proposed $9.14 a month by county commissioners, who said their CFO crunched the numbers and looked at fees paid in other Colorado cities to better estimate the costs of construction projects. The program would collect about $39.2 million a year.

Plus, the cities and county still could apply for state and federal grants to help pay for flood control projects, said Amy Lathen, El Paso County commissioner and member of the stormwater task force that has studied the issue for two years.
“All of those factors combined is further evidence to support a more conservative proposal,” she said.

The group also agreed Tuesday that fees would not increase in the first five years. Rate increases would be capped at 1 percent per year for 15 years.

The proposed drainage authority would plan and manage flood control projects throughout the Fountain Creek Watershed, which is a 927-square-mile area that drains into the Arkansas River at Pueblo and is bordered by Palmer Divide to the north, Pikes Peak and the Rampart Range to the west and minor divide 20 miles east of Colorado Springs…

Task force members said they are confident in their proposal. A November poll of 400 residents showed that 
81 percent of respondents wanted a dedicated funding source and 73 percent of respondents said they favored a regional approach to planning and building the flood control projects.

The Colorado Springs and Fountain city councils are expected to vote on the proposed intergovernmental agreements at their meetings Aug. 12. El Paso County commissioners are expected to vote on the agreement Aug. 19. 
The commissioners are expected to vote on the ballot question that will go to voters.

Lathen said she feels good about the proposal for a regional authority and collection of stormwater fees.

“We’ve done our homework,” she said.

More stormwater coverage here. More 2014 Colorado November election coverage here.


Fountain Creek: The Lower Ark and Fountain Creek districts are looking for common ground

July 28, 2014
Fountain Creek

Fountain Creek

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

The olive branch appears to be bobbing like a log caught in the flow of Fountain Creek on a rainy day. The Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District Friday agreed to revive its nearly submerged intergovernmental agreement committee with the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District and Colorado Springs Utilities after weeks of feuding.

The Lower Ark district has threatened legal action over what it considers to be misspent funds by the Fountain Creek district. Meanwhile, the Fountain Creek district is making the case that all of its actions have been done by the book.

The controversy revolves around $450,000 in expenditures that the Lower Ark says should have been entirely within the corridor, defined in state legislation as the flood plain between Fountain and Pueblo.

Larry Small, executive director of the Fountain Creek district, pointed out Friday that the corridor is defined as the area between Colorado Springs and Pueblo as indicated in the master plan developed by the Lower Ark district and Utilities. Projects funded by the district are, in fact, in the master corridor plan, he said. Small showed photos of progress on the projects, which aim at bank stabilization and erosion control.

Contentious issues should be resolved as the district moves forward, said Pueblo County Commissioner Terry Hart.

A meeting on July 18 among Hart, Pueblo City Councilwoman Eva Montoya (who also chairs the Fountain Creek board), Lower Ark General Manager Jay Winner and Mark Shea of Utilities began to heal the wounds, Hart said.

“We recognize how crucial the Lower Ark is to this district,” Hart said. “If the Lower Ark or anyone else has concerns, we need to take those seriously.”

Montoya said if there are problems with the way money is being spent, they should be brought up as decisions are being made, rather than after the fact in threatening legal letters.

“Raise the issue right away, rather than sit and get PO’d about it,” she said.

At one point in the meeting there was friction between Small and Melissa Esquibel, a member of the Lower Ark board who also sits on the Fountain Creek board.

Hart tried to smooth the waters, saying that the IGA committee should continue to meet and clear up the past issues. He also asked the Fountain Creek district board to look into forming a committee to begin looking at how to spend the $50 million that will be coming to the district after Southern Delivery System goes online in 2016.

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Pueblo County’s representatives on a district formed to improve Fountain Creek appear to differ on the need for a dam.

County Commissioner Terry Hart said the district needs to urgently answer questions about water rights and other issues associated with controlling flood water on Fountain Creek.

Meanwhile, Jane Rhodes, who owns property on Fountain Creek and was chosen to represent landowners, questioned whether a dam should or could be built at a meeting Friday.

“We don’t need a dam on the river,” Rhodes said. “Where would you put it anyway?”

Hart took a different view, however.

“We can’t slow down. We have a mission and a need,” he said.

The central issue has become water rights vs. property damage.

Earlier this month, the Arkansas Basin Roundtable bowed to the opinion of downstream farmers that any dam on Fountain Creek would harm junior water rights. Later, Water Division 2 Engineer Steve Witte offered the opinion that the water from page 1A rights question must be answered before any flood control projects are built on Fountain Creek. On Friday, Hart said there could be ways that junior rights could benefit from storage on Fountain Creek, a prospect that Witte also outlined. But ditch companies are unwilling to discuss those possibilities, Hart said.

“It’s emotional for them, so they don’t even want to talk about it,” Hart said.

The issue could threaten any project that attempts to capture floodwaters, said Scott Hobson, Pueblo’s assistant city manager for community investment. He pointed to the difficulty Pueblo had in satisfying the state’s conditions for its 15-acre flood water detention demonstration project near the North Side Walmart.

“Who’s going to pay for the litigation that comes with these projects?” he asked after the meeting.

The Fountain Creek district is continuing to work with Colorado Springs Utilities to find other funding sources for its proposed study of dams.

“I get tired of coming up with an idea, then getting it shot down as weeks and months go by,” Hart said.

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

A stormwater task force is stepping up efforts in El Paso County to put a measure on the November ballot that would create a regional stormwater authority.

“They’re gearing up for a full-fledged regional campaign,” Executive Director Larry Small told the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District Friday.

That includes public meetings, billboards and other methods to promote a stormwater fee for Colorado Springs and other communities in El Paso County.

The task force is proposing a fee structure based on square footage of impervious surface — roofs, driveways and sidewalks — that would cost the average homeowner about $10 monthly. That would raise about $48 million annually to address a $700 million backlog in stormwater projects throughout the region. The proposal would create a 13-member board made up of elected officials and provide services proportionate to population.

Colorado Springs Mayor Steve Bach disagrees with the plan, favoring an approach that takes care of the city’s problems only.

The creation of a stormwater authority would help reduce stormwater runoff — flows from cloudbursts or snowmelt — into Fountain Creek.

As a condition of its 1041 permit for Southern Delivery System with Pueblo County, Colorado Springs indicated it would continue to control stormwater at the same level as in early 2009, and would make certain that future development would not increase Fountain Creek flows. However, Colorado Springs City Council abolished the stormwater enterprise in 2009, touching off a controversy over commitment to controlling floods on Fountain Creek.

More Fountain Creek watershed coverage here and here.


This year’s snowpack has been good for the rafting business

July 26, 2014
Arkansas River Basin High/Low graph June 26, 2014 via the NRCS

Arkansas River Basin High/Low graph June 26, 2014 via the NRCS

From The Mountain Mail (Allison Dyer Bluemel):

Due to higher waters and a better overall economy, local rafting outfitters report the 2014 season has been a fruitful one. Overall, the feeling is that business is up anywhere from 15 to 20 percent from last year, said John Kreski, Arkansas Headwaters Recreation Area rationing and agreement coordinator.

“It’s been going gangbusters. It’s been busy, busy,” Independent Whitewater owner Mike Whittington said.

This time last year, 15,585 commercial rafts floated the Arkansas within the AHRA management area, according to the 2013 season summary.

Overall, 2013 saw 36,508 commercial rafts, 4,320 kayaks and 186,268 paying clients on the Arkansas, according to the summary.

This year, outfitters such as Independent Whitewater, Rocky Mountain Outdoor Center and Wilderness Aware Rafting have been seeing an increase in inquiries and traffic on the river.

Wilderness Aware has seen an 8-percent increase from last year, but is still down in numbers from its record years, owner Joe Griener said.

The increase for companies is due to more water from winter snowpack and an increase in tourism to the area, he said.

“There’s a lot more water in the ditch. The increase in water also means a decrease in fire risk, which definitely helps tourism,” RMOC owner Brandon Slate said.
While RMOC has seen “exponentially more rafting,” it canceled inflatable kayaking trips and reduced the size of stand-up paddleboard outings earlier in the year due to safety concerns, Slate said.

“Safety is No. 1, but it can make it harder to profit when we run lower ratios,” he said.

Whittington and Griener said their most popular section was Browns Canyon this year.
“Browns Canyon is the longest half-day trip. It offers good, solid Class III rapids,” Whittington said.

American Adventure Expeditions owner and operator Mike Kissack said the company’s most popular trips this year were Browns Canyon and Royal Gorge half-day trips.

Wilderness Aware has had a banner year for multi-day trips on sections of the river starting north of Buena Vista all the way down to Cañon City as well, Griener said.
The popularity of the river is due to the variety of whitewater and the lengthier season, Whittington said.

“All is great on the river, but the best thing is the variety. We have 100 miles of Class II to Class V rapids to raft,” Slate said.

The difference in rapid difficulty throughout the river means there is something for every type of person looking to float the Arkansas, Griener said.

“There’s no measure as to how much variety we have. It is what it is on other rivers, but on this one there’s 100-plus miles of river and stuff that’s also good for kids,” he said.

Additionally, the Arkansas’ longer season means tourists are drawn from across the state after other rivers’ seasons end.

“The word is out that we’re still rafting,” Slate said.

Griener said the “Front Range is creeping closer,” and visitors from the area are realizing outfitters in the Arkansas River Valley “offer one more thing to do while they’re in the area.”

“I believe the main reason that people come to the Arkansas River is because of the perfect mix of world-class whitewater and breathtaking Colorado scenery,” Kissack said.

More Arkansas River Basin coverage here.


Colorado Springs City Council endorses regional stormwater plan — The Colorado Springs Gazette

July 25, 2014

From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Monica Mendoza):

The council voted Tuesday on a resolution, which was merely a public statement of endorsement. It now is up to the El Paso County Commissioners to put the stormwater issue on the November ballot. Commissioners will be asked by the stormwater task force to finalize the ballot language by Aug. 28.

The City Council still must consider, and will vote on, an intergovernmental agreement, which spells out the details of how an authority would operate. The proposed authority is modeled after the Pikes Peak Rural Transportation Authority and the Southeast Metro Stormwater Authority.

PPRTA, which was created in 2004 by voters in Colorado Springs, El Paso County, Manitou Springs and Green Mountain Falls. PPRTA collects 1 percent sales tax for transportation and transit improvements. Voters approved a list of projects when they approved the creation of the PPRTA.

The Southeast Metro Stormwater Authority includes Centennial, Arapahoe County, and three water districts. The authority sets and collects fees, has a staff and oversees the projects for the region.

Under the Pikes Peak stormwater task force proposal, voters will be asked to approve a stormwater fee based on their property’s impervious surface. The fee could be collected for 20 years. Organizers of the proposal say a typical Colorado Springs residential property owner would pay $9.14 a month, based on the average lot size with about 2,000 to 3,000 impervious surface.

Voters also would see a list of proposed flood control projects as part of the ballot question and a breakdown of what percentage of the collected funds would go toward new construction, maintenance and operations.

Task force leaders are hopeful that El Paso County, Manitou Springs, Green Mountain Falls and Fountain will join the authority and work on regional flood control projects together.

More stormwater coverage here.


“I have been proud to work for years to ensure the [support for] the Arkansas Valley Conduit” — Sen. Mark Udall

July 25, 2014
Arkansas Valley Conduit Comanche North route via Reclamation

Arkansas Valley Conduit Comanche North route via Reclamation

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

A draft federal energy and water funding bill includes an additional $90 million for projects such as the Arkansas Valley Conduit, U.S. Sens. Michael Bennet and Mark Udall, both Democrats, said Thursday. The Senate appropriations committee approved the bill, which contains a provision supported by both senators that explicitly makes data collection and design work eligible for funding through these accounts. It will help ensure the Arkansas Valley Conduit is eligible for these funds and sends a clear signal to the Bureau of Reclamation that the conduit is a priority project.

The board of the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District, conduit sponsor, was dismayed earlier this year when it learned only $500,000 was budgeted for the conduit next year. It is hoping to get at least $3 million for continuing data and design tasks that will lead to construction of the $400 million conduit.

The conduit is the final piece of the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project, authorized in 1962. When complete, the 130-mile pipeline will provide clean drinking water to 50,000 people in 40 communities east of Pueblo.

“For more than five decades, folks in Southeastern Colorado have been waiting for the federal government to fulfill its promise to build the Arkansas Valley Conduit.

That’s far too long for these communities to wait for a reliable source of clean drinking water,” Bennet said.

“I have been proud to work for years to ensure the federal government supports the Arkansas Valley Conduit. This funding brings the people of Southeastern Colorado one step closer to having a clean, safe and reliable source of water,” Udall said.

More Arkansas Valley Conduit funding here and here.


SDS construction reaches Colorado Springs ahead of schedule and under budget — The Colorado Springs Gazette

July 24, 2014
Southern Delivery System route map -- Graphic / Reclamation

Southern Delivery System route map — Graphic / Reclamation

From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Emily Donovan):

Huge pipes being tunneled underground near the intersection of Powers Boulevard and Constitution Avenue is the first big sign after almost two decades of work to increase the water available to the Colorado Springs area by a third…

Pipeline construction at the busy intersection is ahead of schedule, expected to be complete in September rather than November, said SDS spokesperson Janet Rummel…

A $125 million facility that will be able to process 50 million gallons of water a day, the treatment plant on the east side of Colorado Springs is halfway constructed, also ahead of schedule. Construction began in March 2013 and will be finished in fall of 2015. The plant is expected to put out drinking water in April 2016…

SDS construction is estimated to cost $847 million – $147 million less than the original estimation in 2009.

Rummel said money was saved by asking engineers to make designs that would be cost-effective without damaging drinking water quality, like keeping every part of the water treatment plant under the same roof instead of separate buildings.

This means SDS will cause less of a utilities rate increase for CSU customers than originally expected in 2009…

“This is the future of Colorado Springs,” said Jay Hardison, CSU water treatment plant project manager.

More Southern Delivery System coverage here and here.


River restoration projects mostly fine despite runoff — The Leadville Herald Democrat

July 24, 2014

Arkansas River Basin -- Graphic via the Colorado Geological Survey

Arkansas River Basin — Graphic via the Colorado Geological Survey


From the Leadville Herald Democrat (Danny Ramey):

Heavy spring runoff did not have a major impact on several river restoration projects in the Arkansas River basin.

Members of the Lake County Open Space Initiative toured the three different projects on Thursday, July 10. Each of three projects used a different method to help preserve or restore the river.

Last year, Colorado Parks and Wildlife worked to maintain and build habitat along the Arkansas River near Hayden Meadows. Logs and sod mats were used in the project to help stabilize the river banks while still allowing the river some space to move.

“That’s a natural thing rivers want to build,” Greg Policky, biologist for parks and wildlife, said. The goal of the project was to ensure that there is adequate habitat for each life stage of trout, Policky said.

During the spring, the Hayden Meadows area saw higher than average flows. Normally, flows measure around 300 to 400 cubic feet per second on that stretch of river. This spring flows reached up to 900/cfs, Policky said. Despite the heavy flow, most of the structures parks and wildlife put in held. However, there were a few problem areas. In one spot, the river ripped out the log supports and created a channel.

“It didn’t quite like everything we did,” Policky said.

The runoff also caused some erosion of the river banks in the 4-mile project area. Crews will be coming in near the end of July to maintenance the project. They will also extend the project another mile down the river.

Meanwhile, river restoration further up on the Arkansas River and the Lake Fork saw very little disturbance from the runoff.

Restoration work along that section of the river was done mostly with rocks to lower the chance of something coming loose and washing downstream.

“I put something in that I’m confident that I won’t move,” Greg Brunjak, who worked on the project, said.

Willows and logs were also used in parts of the project to stabilize the banks.
That particular project was performed mostly on private land along the Lake Fork. One of the project’s goals was to help eliminate erosion along the banks of the river and help maintain livestock habitat in the area.

The structures can withstand up-flows of about 800/cfs, Brunjak said. That portion of the Lake Fork saw flows of around 200 and 250/cfs this winter, which were still higher then normal.

“We’ve got a pretty good flow we haven’t seen for awhile,” Brunjak said.

The Union Creek Project, located on a tributary off of the Arkansas River, saw minimal impact from the runoff as well. One of the main goals of the project was to stabilize a portion of the Old Stage Road. Union Creek had been cutting into the hill and destabilizing the road. The project was performed by Colorado Mountain College. Soil lifts and willows were used to help stabilize the bank of the creek below the road.
The one issue from the runoff came from a log structure built to help get water to some of the willows used in the project, Jake Mohrmann, assistant project manager of the CMC Natural Resource Management department, said. The structure ended up being too tight and was plugged by debris from the runoff, which caused the area behind the structure to dry up slightly. When crews unplugged the structure it caused a lot of sediment to flow through, Mohrmann said. The structure then plugged up again a few weeks later.

“We will need to remove it and find another way to get water to the willows,” Mohrmann said.

More Arkansas River Basin coverage here.


Fountain Creek: “It seems to me at some point there will be a balance between water rights and property rights” — Steve Witte

July 23, 2014
Fountain Creek flood debris May 2014 via The Pueblo Chieftain

Fountain Creek flood debris May 2014 via The Pueblo Chieftain

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Would a dam on Fountain Creek make a difference in a situation such as last week’s drainage along the Arkansas River?

“It is something we need to talk about,” Water Division 2 Engineer Steve Witte said Monday, looking back at a wild ride of a week on the river. “It’s a discussion that needs to take place. It seems to me at some point there will be a balance between water rights and property rights.”

The Arkansas Basin Roundtable earlier this month turned away a grant request from the Fountain Creek Flood Control and Greenway District to study the practical effects of building a dam or system of detention ponds on Fountain Creek.

Chief among objections: the damage to junior water rights. By changing the peak flow on Fountain Creek floods — delaying the time it takes water to reach points downstream — junior water rights might not come into priority.

On the other hand, the peak flows that came crashing off the prairie into already full canals caused three of them to blow out after storms early last week.

“We already have an example, Pueblo Dam, of how we can reduce flood damage,” Witte said. “On the South Platte, they already are using upstream, out-of-priority storage. They use the water where it exists and determines who gets it later.”

Answering the basic question of whether those types of programs might work on Fountain Creek — the largest single tributary to the Arkansas River in Colorado — needs to be explored. Otherwise the only option to catch floodwater below Lake Pueblo is John Martin Reservoir, Witte said.

“I hope they’ll come back with a revised request,” he said.

One of the problems with last week’s storms is that much of the water was flowing in from unmeasured creeks and gullies. There are no gauges on Chico Creek or Kramer Creek, both a few miles east of Pueblo. Chico Creek boosts flows past the Avondale gauge, but no one can be sure just how much is being contributed to the river. The break in the Colorado Canal was caused by heavy flows on Kramer Creek near Nepesta.

“We were just flying blind,” said Witte, who witnessed the flooding at Nepesta.

The water from several tributaries hit the Arkansas River at the same time, creating “waves” that peaked quickly and then subsided. Some falsely high readings caused unnecessary worries downstream, where no major flooding occurred.

While the system of satellite river gauges has grown in the past 25 years, and provide easy access to information on the Internet, some malfunctioned during last week’s storms. Division of Water Resources staff scrambled to find out what was happening.

“I think we’ve improved, but there is still an element of human judgment,” Witte said. “We need to have people on the ground to verify if our gauges are accurate.”

More Fountain Creek coverage here and here.


The Arkansas Valley Super Ditch files pilot rotational fallowing application with the CWCB

July 23, 2014
Arkansas River Basin -- Graphic via the Colorado Geological Survey

Arkansas River Basin — Graphic via the Colorado Geological Survey

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

The Arkansas Valley Super Ditch is planning a pilot program next year under a 2013 state law encouraging water sharing programs as an alternative to permanent dry-up of farm ground. The plan, filed with the Colorado Water Conservation Board last week, would lease up to 500 acre-feet (163 million gallons) annually from the Catlin Canal to Fowler, Fountain and Security. About 1,128 acres would be dried up on a rotational basis to deliver the water.

“What we’re trying to do is see if a lease-fallowing program is viable,” said Jay Winner, general manager of the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District. “We’re trying to keep the water in the Arkansas basin. That’s what it’s all about.”

The application is the first to be filed under HB1248, passed last year by the state Legislature, which allows the CWCB to look at 10 test projects throughout the state. The projects are supervised by the state water board, with input from the state engineer. It may finally launch Super Ditch pilot projects that have stalled because of drought and second thoughts by farmers.

The Super Ditch submitted a substitute water supply plan with the state Division of Water Resources in 2012 for a lease-fallowing pilot project with Fountain and Security that failed because there was not enough water to move. The state restrictions that were placed on the project, fueled by objections from other water users, made moving any water in that dry year futile, Winner explained.

Last year, the Super Ditch was prepared to move some High Line Canal water to Fowler, but the deal was stopped when farmers pulled out. Fowler leased 125 acre-feet of water for $25,000 from the Pueblo Board of Water Works instead.

Under the plan outlined in the application, Fowler would lease up to 250 acre-feet, while Fountain and Security would lease up to 125 acre-feet each annually.

State law provides that the plan can be operated for 10 years.

“I think we’ll try it for a year or two, just to see if lease-fallowing is feasible,” Winner said. “We have to see if we can move water to Lake Pueblo. One of the drawbacks of HB1248 is that it only allows for municipal leasing, but if this works, there’s the possibility for industrial or agricultural leases as well.”

More Arkansas Valley Super Ditch coverage here and here.


Drought news: It’s no picnic for direct irrigators this season #COdrought

July 22, 2014


From The Washington Post (Lydia DePillis):

At the appointed hour, [Chuck Pointon] turns the head gate at the Fort Lyon Canal, sending water sluicing through ditches bordering the fields. He tracks up and down the rows, adjusting pipes and valves to make sure the water is flowing just right. Almost as soon as he’s got it working, it’s another field’s turn, and he lifts the dams to send water in a different direction. That goes on through the night: If a piece of trash were to block a gate, they could lose thousands of gallons of water, which might leave whole rows of corn lacking the moisture they need to grow.

They call it “babysitting the water,” for its finicky nature and the sleep they lose over it. And in an age of automation, the Pointons have no machines to help. Without a sprinkler system — which the Pointons couldn’t afford to install, even if they could spare the extra land it takes up — they rely on gravity to spread it across the fields…

This drought is worse and longer-lasting than anyone here has ever seen — so punishing that it’s pushing people like the Pointons, whose families have survived on the land for decades, to the brink of giving up. Their farm is in an angry red splotch on the USDA’s drought map, indicating sustained, abnormal dryness – less rain fell in the 42 months before May of last year than in the stretch in the mid-1930s now called the Dust Bowl.

The lingering dryness, combined with the loss of access to the irrigation systems that used to make up for it, is one of the biggest forces dragging America’s rural areas further behind its dynamic cities: While the poverty rate stabilized for metropolitan areas in 2012, it kept growing on farms and in tiny towns, ticking up to 17.7 percent. Rural counties lost people overall — rather than just as a percentage of the U.S. population — for the first time ever from 2010 to 2012. With climate change shortening the wet times and prolonging the dry ones on into the future, it’s unclear that they’ll ever truly recover…

And it’s not just the weather. Over the years, the farms have also lost a war with fast-growing urban centers: There’s already much less water than there used to be trickling through the surrounding fields, since investors had bought up their water rights — which are normally attached to the land, entitling the owner to take a certain percentage of the water flowing through a river — and profited by flipping them to thirsty cities. Just down the road in Rocky Ford, melon farmers sold their shares to pay off debts in the early 2000s, for tens of thousands of dollars each, leaving the farms baking and dry. In her pessimistic moments, Anita worries about nearby cities damming Fowler Creek to make a reservoir, which could choke off her lifeline as well…

Anita and Chuck were once part of that younger generation that moved away from these ranchlands. They lived in Denver for seven years, where Anita worked as an accountant — but returned in 1990 to take over her family farm, which Anita finds more satisfying. Still, it’s not been like what she remembered growing up there as a girl. This year, the farm has weathered dust storms the likes of which nobody had seen before: high-velocity clouds of dirt and debris that coated everything in muck.

“The dirt flows in, and it’s on your walls, and in your car. You can’t do anything. You’re in the house,” Anita shudders. “It’s horrible.” Her grainy cellphone pictures just show farm equipment as smudges in a brown miasma.

The couple’s financial reserves are wearing thin. Last year, farms fed by the Fort Lyon Canal in the Arkansas Valley got less than half the volume of water they usually do and almost no rain, leaving the land bone-dry. The Pointons sold half the cattle off their land, and leaned on the insurance on their failed corn crop for income.

If the crops fail again this year, they’ll likely go further into debt. Chuck could go work at the fish hatchery, which he did during a bad spell in 2003, and Anita might focus harder on the joy she feels in watching calves grow up every spring, rather than whether she can afford to keep raising them.

“There’s a lot of things in play,” Anita said. “After you start laying it out, it’s like, why are we farming?”

“Because we don’t have enough money to move away,” says Chuck, from the living room, where he’s taking a break from irrigating with a tall glass of ice water.​


2014 Colorado November election: El Paso County voters to decide on stormwater enterprise? #COpolitics

July 21, 2014
Fountain Creek erosion via The Pueblo Chieftain

Fountain Creek erosion via The Pueblo Chieftain

From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Emily Donovan):

The Pikes Peak Stormwater Task Force is trying to explain its stormwater prevention proposal so the public will understand why they might be asked to pay $10 a month.

The task force, a citizen’s group of engineers, business leaders, community activists and elected city and county officials formed in 2012, has been hosting a series of public meetings to explain its proposal and ask for public opinion. A December poll commissioned by the Task force found that 95 percent of El Paso County residents think stormwater is a significant problem, but there isn’t the same consensus on who should pay to address the problem.

It’s a complicated topic, but the task force says its solution makes sense. Here are the key points the task force has covered in its public meetings:

How serious is the stormwater issue?

Right now, the Colorado Springs area’s stormwater infrastructure would flunk out of class. The American Society of Civil Engineers gave Colorado Springs’s stormwater infrastructure a D-minus on its 2012 report card.

Stormwater runoff is rain and melted snow that flows over impervious surfaces – like parking lots, rooftops, driveways – and doesn’t get absorbed into the ground. It causes streets, bridges, houses and businesses to flood and damages water quality by washing debris down gutters and streets into storm drains.

Colorado Springs Utilities (CSU) has spent an estimated $100 million since 2000 rebuilding crumbling infrastructure near creeks that have been destroyed by runoff during floods, estimated Carol Baker, CSU stormwater engineer. Other utilities providers, businesses and homeowners also pay to repair stormwater damage.

People who live next to the banks of Fountain Creek have lost property as water levels raised, said Rachel Beck, the task force’s media contact. Water flows into the street, yards and driveways in neighborhoods that don’t have proper storm drains.

Colorado Springs is the only major city on the Front Range of the Rocky Mountains that does not have a stormwater management program, Beck said.

What’s the task force’s solution?

The task force wants to construct protection against stormwater runoff in the Fountain Creek watershed and the city of Falcon. Its proposal would create a regional authority – a board of 13 people who are already elected officials – that would make sure those projects happen.

There would be seven representatives from Colorado Springs, mostly city council members and either the mayor or the mayor’s chosen representative, two representatives from the El Paso County Commissioners, representatives from Manitou Springs, Fountain and Monument, and a shared representative for Green Mountain Falls and Palmer Lake.

An independent engineering firm created the project list to prioritize the most-needed projects. The list is public, meaning elected officials would be held accountable for getting projects done on time.

How would the projects be paid for?

The board would charge a fee on property owners based on how much impervious surface is on a property. The money would be collected monthly for the next 20 years and cost about the same as in other Front Range communities. For the average homeowner, this would cost $10 a month, said Dave Munger, task force co-chair.

A fee rather than a tax must be imposed because governments and nonprofits are tax-exempt but contribute significant impervious surface that contribute to stormwater runoff.

All of the money collected from this fee would be designated for stormwater prevention and management. Nine percent of the fee collected would be saved in case of emergency and 1 percent would fund administration.

Other projects recognized as high priority for Colorado Springs, like streets, parks, public safety buildings or information technology, could not be funded using money collected from this proposed fee.

Is this fair?

The proposal includes a system of checks and balances to make sure no one city is favored over another.

Colorado Springs would have more people on the board than other cities, but that’s because the city has 70.7 percent of the affected citizens and 70 percent of impervious surfaces, Beck said. Regardless, Colorado Springs could not make decisions without collaborating with other representatives, Munger said.

To pass a vote, the council requires a supermajority. Two-thirds of the board members, including at least four representatives from Colorado Springs, a representative from the County Commissioners, and representatives from the small communities, have to agree for a vote to count.

Additionally, money collected in each community would fund the projects in that community over a five-year rolling average.

Financial benefits

Good stormwater infrastructure is good for the economy, Beck said. According to an analysis by University of Colorado at Colorado Springs economics professors, the proposed stormwater infrastructure construction would create 360 jobs with annual labor income of $16.3 million, add $21 million to the local economy and increase gross domestic product by $50.1 million, all in the first year.

Today, the task force’s necessary capital improvements would cost $706 million. If the proposed projects had been started 25 years ago, the cost would have been a third of that, according to the UCCS economics analysis.

“If we keep delaying this, the price tag is going to continue to go up,” Beck said.

Playing politics

The next step is politics. The task force plans to have a ballot question by the end of August and to ask the El Paso County Commissioners to refer the proposal to the Nov. 4 ballot. Only the cities that would participate in the program would vote on the measure.The Colorado Springs City Council will discuss the task force’s proposal at its Monday work session. The council will consider supporting the proposal, but the proposal would still need voter approval. Mayor Steve Bach opposes the regional plan in favor of one that only deals with Colorado Springs. Other cities in the county, such as Manitou Springs, have not decided whether or not they will support the task force. And with one final meeting on Wednesday to get their point out to the public, the Task Force is quickly running out of time to get the stormwater issue on the November ballot.

Colorado Springs would be the first area in the country that the general public has voted on a stormwater management program, Beck said. She said city councils have taken care of it everywhere else.


Public comment period open for Cotter Mill license

July 21, 2014
Lincoln Park/Cotter Mill superfund site via the Environmental Protection Agency

Lincoln Park/Cotter Mill superfund site via the Environmental Protection Agency

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Tracy Harmon):

Public comment is being accepted on the process of licensing the Cotter Corp. Uranium Mill until decommissioning is complete. A total of six new documents are available for comment until Sept. 16. The documents outline the radioactive materials license changes that Cotter officials will operate under while cleaning up the mill site.

The mill has not processed uranium since 2006 and Cotter officials, along with state and federal health officials, are working toward a full cleanup of the site which has been on the Environmental Protection Agency’s Superfund list since 1984. Although the state will not terminate the license until all decommissioning, remediation and reclamation activities are complete, provisions in the license need to change.

The site can no longer be used to produce yellowcake from uranium and only the Zirconium ore that already is on site will be allowed there. The cleanup of the site will address an impoundment that has been used to store tailings and the recently torn down mill buildings. Cotter officials have agreed to set aside a financial assurance of $17,837,983 to cover the cost of decommissioning activities. In addition, a longterm care fund will cover post-license termination activities. The $250,000 fund was created in 1978 and has grown to $1,018,243 through interest payments.

The documents pertaining to the license changes and a map of the Cotter Mill site can be viewed at http://recycle4colorado.ipower.com/Cotter/2014/14cotterdocs.htm. Comments should be sent to Warren Smith, community involvement manager for the state health department via email at warren.smith@state.co.us or mailed to Smith at Colorado Department of Public Health, 4300 Cherry Creek Drive South, Denver, CO 80246-1530.

More Lincoln Park/Cotter Mill superfund site coverage here and here.


The Lower Ark District alleges misallocation of Fountain Creek funds

July 20, 2014
Fountain Creek Watershed

Fountain Creek Watershed

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

A feud between two water districts over how Fountain Creek grant money is being spent deepened this week. The Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District Monday mailed letters to state and federal agencies claiming that the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District “illegally spent or committed” funds that were used as matching funds for grants.

Fountain Creek District Director Larry Small denied there is any wrongdoing.

“We have a record of all decisions and those making these charges were a part of the decision,” Small said. “Maybe they need their memories refreshed.”

Lower Ark board members said the money from their district and Colorado Springs Utilities, more than $450,000, is supposed to be used in the Fountain Creek corridor — defined in statute as the area in the flood plain south of Fountain and north of Pueblo.

Additionally, any money applied under Pueblo County’s 1041 permit toward Colorado Springs’ $50 million obligation for flood control must benefit Pueblo.

But grants for fire mitigation studies on Upper Fountain Creek and for trails in the Colorado Springs area have been pressed by the Fountain Creek district without proper consultation, the Lower Ark board said.

“It continues to anger me that these people in El Paso County continue to believe that the state line ends at southern El Paso County,” said Anthony Nunez, a former Pueblo County commissioner who represents Pueblo County on the Lower Ark board.

On Wednesday, he and other board members were fuming that Small had canceled a meeting in Rocky Ford to discuss the issues.

Small had notified the Lower Ark and other participants in the district by email that the July 25 meeting would be in Fountain, rather than Rocky Ford as planned at last month’s meeting.

The state statute does not allow meetings outside Fountain Creek district boundaries, which includes Pueblo and El Paso counties, Small explained.

That infuriated Nunez, who complained that the Upper Fountain grant includes Woodland Park, which is in Teller County.

Contacted after the meeting, Small said Woodland Park is paying its own way in that grant, and agreed with the Lower Ark board that no Fountain Creek district money can be spent outside its boundaries.

More Fountain Creek coverage here.


The Lower Ark District approves letter to the EPA about new rule as “water grab”

July 18, 2014
Groundwater movement via the USGS

Groundwater movement via the USGS

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

A district formed to protect water in the Lower Arkansas Valley plans to weigh in on proposed rules that some say amount to a federal water grab. The Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District voted Wednesday to send a formal comment to the Environmental Protection Agency on its proposed Waters of the United States, claiming that it goes too far in regulating wetlands and even groundwater connected to streams.

The rules are an attempt to resolve conflicting U.S. Supreme Court decisions that center on the issue of “navigable waters.”

“East of the Mississippi River, all waters may be navigable, but it doesn’t make sense for the arid West,” said Mark Pifher, the Arkansas River basin’s representative on the Colorado Water Quality Commission. Pifher, a Colorado Springs Utilities executive, typically attends Lower Ark meetings to update the Lower Ark on stormwater issues. He recently testified against the rule in Washington, D.C., on behalf of municipal and agricultural water interests.

Leroy Mauch, the Prowers County director on the Lower Ark board, urged the board to jump into the federal fray.

“We need to research this and send out a letter objecting to this,” Mauch said.

Wayne Whittaker, the Otero County director, said the new policy sounds like continuation of years of federal attempts to insert control into state water issues.

Most water groups in the West have taken a position that the rules are too intrusive. An exception is the Rocky Mountain Farmers Union, which claims the rules have sufficient exemptions that protect agriculture.

Some in Congress are backing legislation that would simply not fund enforcement of the policy.

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Activities on several fronts are aimed at improving surface sprinkler irrigation in the Lower Arkansas Valley. Several studies are aimed at reducing the obligation of farmers in group plans, known as Rule 10 plans, under state consumptive use rules designed to prevent expanded water use through increased farm efficiencies. Sprinklers have been the most effected by the rules, although drip irrigation, ditch lining and other methods are accounted for as well.

On Wednesday, the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District reviewed its projects that aim at the rules:

A $70,000 state grant looking at the legal implications of using flood irrigation water rights decreed for the same ground as sprinklers as augmentation water. The district has suggested legislation to allow this, but it so far has not been introduced.

A $175,000 proposed state grant to determine if tailwater measurements in state irrigation models are too high.

A $120,000 study to determine if leakage from ponds that supply water to surface-fed sprinklers is too high.

The goal is to reduce the obligation and find sustainable sources of replacement water, said General Manager Jay Winner.

“These are parallel paths,” he told the board. “The day is coming when you won’t be able to buy water on the spot market.”

More Environmental Protection Agency coverage here.


Water Lines: Colorado needs a better water plan — Jim Pokrandt #ColoradoRiver #COWaterPlan

July 16, 2014


From the Glenwood Springs Post Independent (Jim Pokrandt):

It’s almost time for football training camps, so here’s a gridiron analogy for Colorado River water policy watchers: Western Colorado is defending two end zones. One is the Colorado River. The other is agriculture. The West Slope team has to make a big defensive play. If water planning errs on the side of overdeveloping the Colorado River, the river loses, the West Slope economy loses and West Slope agriculture could be on the way out.

This is how the Colorado River Basin Roundtable is viewing its contribution to the Colorado Water Plan ordered up by Gov. John Hickenlooper. A draft plan will be submitted this December and a final plan in December 2015. The Roundtable is assessing local water supply needs and environmental concerns for inclusion into the plan and there is plenty of work to consider in the region. But the big play may very well be the keeping of powerful forces from scoring on our two goal lines.

Here’s why: Colorado’s population is slated to double by 2050. Most of it will be on the Front Range, but our region is growing too. Mother Nature is not making any new water. We still depend on the same hydrological cycle that goes back to Day 1. So where is the “new” water going to come from? Right now, there seems to be two top targets, the Colorado River and agriculture (where 85 percent of state water use lies in irrigated fields). Colorado needs a better plan.

The Colorado Basin Roundtable represents Mesa, Garfield, Summit, Eagle, Grand and Pitkin counties. This region already sends between 450,000 and 600,000 acre feet of water annually across the Continental Divide through transmountain diversions (TMDs) to support the Front Range and the Arkansas River Basin.

That water is 100 percent gone. There are no return flows, such as there are with West Slope water users. On top of that, this region could see another 140,000 acre feet go east. A number of Roundtable constituents have long-standing or prospective agreements with Front Range interests wrapped around smaller TMDs. Existing infrastructure can still take some more water. That’s the scorecard right now. We assert another big TMD threatens streamflows and thus the recreational and agricultural economies that define Western Colorado, not to mention the environment.

In the bigger picture, the Colorado River Compact of 1922 requires Colorado to bypass about 70 percent of the river system to the state line to comply with legal limits on depletions so six other states can have their legal share of the water. Failure to do so, by overdeveloping the river, threatens compact curtailments and chaos nobody wants to see. For one thing, that kind of bad water planning could result in a rush to buy or condemn West Slope agricultural water rights.

The Roundtable has heard these concerns loudly and clearly from its own members across the six counties as well as from citizens who have given voice to our section of the water plan, known as the Basin Implementation Plan (BIP). A draft of the BIP can be viewed and comments offered by going online to http://coloradobip.sgm‐inc.com/. It is under the “Resources” tab.

Jim Pokrandt is Colorado Basin Roundtable Chair.

More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.


Pueblo Board of Water Works board meeting recap

July 16, 2014
Colorado Springs circa 1910 via GhostDepot.com

Colorado Springs circa 1910 via GhostDepot.com

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Colorado Springs will be taking a more regional approach and looking at risk factors as it develops its 50-year water plan. That’s a shift from the 1996 water resources plan that focused solely on supply and led to Southern Delivery System, said Brett Gracely, water resources manager for Colorado Springs Utilities.

“We are seriously evaluating the timing of future SDS components,” Gracely told the Pueblo Board of Water Works Tuesday.

Utilities is updating the plan that will determine its actions in water development after SDS comes online in 2016. The plan will look at watershed health, fire vulnerability and climate change, as well as social values and tradeoffs. It also will incorporate traditional factors like water supply, demand and quality.

“Because of changes in technology and software, we can run thousands of scenarios through our models,” Gracely said.

Another key difference is that Colorado Springs Utilities is not planning on building another $1 billion pipeline as a result of this plan, but more carefully evaluating its options after SDS.

“It’s a completely blank page,” Gracely said. “But it will have no effect on SDS phase I.”

The first phase is a 50-mile pipeline from Pueblo Dam to Colorado Springs, served by three pump stations and a treatment plant. The second phase of SDS includes the construction of two reservoirs on Williams Creek southeast of Colorado Springs.

Water board members Tom Autobee and Kevin McCarthy questioned Gracely on what conservation measures Colorado Springs envisions in order to cut demand. Reduced water use after the 2002 drought has been complemented by a tiered rate structure that makes expanded water use more costly, he explained. Colorado Springs also has dropped minimum landscaping requirements that at one time would have encouraged greater water use.

“What is your telescope telling you about West Slope imports?” McCarthy asked.

“Warmer weather is what we’re expecting,” Gracely replied. “Half the (climate) models are showing it will be wetter, and half drier, but they all say it will be warmer.”

More Pueblo Board of Water Works coverage here.


Arkansas River: Aurora’s planned Box Creek Reservoir stirs questions from Mt. Elbert Water Association members

July 16, 2014
Proposed Box Creek Reservoir map including wetland mitigation area in red

Proposed Box Creek Reservoir map including wetland mitigation area in red

From The Leadville Herald (Marcia Martinek):

Members of the Mt. Elbert Water Association had many questions for representatives of the Aurora Water Department Saturday regarding the proposed Box Creek Reservoir. Because of the timing of the processes for planning and then constructing the reservoir, not many answers were available. However the association members now know that they will be informed of what is happening through email, and there will be a representative of Aurora Water at subsequent annual meetings.

The association held its annual meeting at the Lake County Public Library Saturday morning with 56 in attendance.

Representing Aurora Water were Gerry Knapp, Aurora resources program manager, and Kathy Kitzmann, senior water resources engineer.

An early question concerned the Box Creek well that supplies water to the association. Concerns were expressed that the reservoir might impact the well in some way.

“We have no intent of adversely affecting your well,” Knapp responded. “We couldn’t build the project if we did.”

In response to later questions about possible decreased river flow and its impact on rafting, he pointed out that any negative impact to river flow as a result of the reservoir cannot occur.

“What comes in must go out,” he said.

The pool at the reservoir also would have to be kept at 20 percent except in cases of extreme drought.

Knapp said that Aurora would be following the National Environmental Policy Act process as set forth by the federal government regarding environmental issues. He made it clear that Aurora is not working with the federal government on the project.
Other questions centered on the types of recreational activities that would be permitted once the reservoir is built.

A separate study on appropriate recreation will be done, and Knapp anticipates broad public input. The county commissioners will be responsible for managing recreation on the reservoir although they could turn management over to another entity. Possible recreation could include fishing, boating, camping and more. Some concerns were expressed over ATVs and noise levels.

Other concerns related to construction activities and dust. The construction period is estimated to be two years. Negative impacts on property values were mentioned by one resident.

Kitzmann said one issue they’re dealing with is wetland restoration. Aurora has purchased a parcel of land from a private owner that will be restored as wetland to be used as a credit for wetland that would be used in the project.

No decision has been made on what will happen to the old buildings that exist on the Hallenbeck Ranch where the reservoir will be built. Knapp said some talks are under way with Colorado Mountain College, owner of the Hayden Ranch, about possibly moving some of the buildings there, but no decisions have been made.

There would be no road over the top of the reservoir dam and, according to Knapp, there are no plans to close the road leading to Pan-Ark subdivision, whose residents are served by the Mount Elbert Water Association.

“We may have to move it a little bit,” he said.

The permitting process could begin in one to three years, and is a 10-year-long process, Knapp said. Although there initially was hope that the process would move faster, 2030 was the date given at the meeting for possible completion.

The Hallenbeck Ranch property was purchased by Lake County in 1998. The county granted Aurora an option to purchase the main portion of the ranch property in January 2001, retaining all water and ditch rights associated with the ranch. The purchase-option agreement stipulates that Aurora will design, construct and operate the reservoir project and manage the surrounding land in combination with the Lake County Open Space Initiative partners.

Lake County will be able to use 20 percent of Aurora’s operational capacity for storage of its own water.

More infrastructure coverage here.


The Last Drop: America’s Breadbasket Faces Dire Water Crisis — NBC News

July 15, 2014
Significant portions of the Ogallala Aquifer, one of the largest bodies of water in the United States, are at risk of drying up if it continues to be drained at its current rate. Courtesy of MSU

Significant portions of the Ogallala Aquifer, one of the largest bodies of water in the United States, are at risk of drying up if it continues to be drained at its current rate. Courtesy of MSU

From NBCNews.com (Brian Brown):

The scope of this mounting crisis is difficult to overstate: The High Plains of Texas are swiftly running out of groundwater supplied by one of the world’s largest aquifers – the Ogallala. A study by Texas Tech University has predicted that if groundwater production goes unabated, vast portions of several counties in the southern High Plains will soon have little water left in the aquifer to be of any practical value.

The Ogallala Aquifer spreads across eight states, from Texas to South Dakota, covering 111.8 million acres and 175,000 square miles. It’s the fountain of life not only for much of the Texas Panhandle, but also for the entire American Breadbasket of the Great Plains, a highly-sophisticated, amazingly-productive agricultural region that literally helps feed the world.

This catastrophic depletion is primarily manmade. By the early eighties, automated center-pivot irrigation devices were in wide use – those familiar spidery-armed wings processing in a circle atop wheeled tripods. This super-sized sprinkler system allowed farmers to water crops more regularly and effectively, which both significantly increased crop yields and precipitously drained the Ogallala.

Compounding the drawdown has been the nature of the Ogallala itself. Created 10 million years ago, this buried fossil water is–in many places—not recharged by precipitation or surface water. When it’s gone, it’s gone for centuries…

“The depletion of the Ogallala is an internationally important crisis,” says Burke Griggs, Ph.D., consulting professor at the Bill Lane Center for the American West at Stanford University. “How individual states manage the depletion of that aquifer will obviously have international consequences.”[...]

“We’re headed for a brick wall at 100 miles per hour,” says James Mahan, Bruce Spinhirne’s father-in-law and a plant physiologist at the USDA’s Agricultural Research Service lab in Lubbock. “And, really, the effects of climate change are branches hitting the windshield along the way.”

From NBCNews.com (Brian Brown):

Last August, in a still-echoing blockbuster study, Dave Steward, Ph.D., and his colleagues at Kansas State University, informed the $15 billion Kansas agricultural economy that it was on a fast track to oblivion. The reason: The precipitous, calamitous withdrawal rates of the Ogallala Aquifer.

The Ogallala is little known outside this part of the world, but it’s the primary source of irrigation not just for all of western Kansas, but the entire Great Plains. This gigantic, soaked subterranean sponge – fossil water created 10 million years ago – touches eight states, stretching from Texas all the way up to South Dakota, across 111.8 million acres and 175,000 square miles.

The Ogallala supports a highly-sophisticated and amazingly-productive agricultural region critical to the world’s food supply. With the global population increasing, and as other vital aquifers suffer equally dramatic declines, scientists acknowledge that if the farmers here cannot meet ever-growing food demands, billions could starve.

Steward’s study predicted that nearly 70 percent of the portion of the Ogallala beneath western Kansas will be gone in 50 years. He’s not the kind of person to shout these results; he speaks slowly and carefully. Yet, he has the evident intensity of one who’s serving a greater purpose. “We need to make sure our grandkids and our great grandkids have the capacity to feed themselves,” he says.

Now the chief executive of the state, himself from a farming family, is using Steward’s report as a call to action.

“One of the things we [have] to get over … is this tragedy of the commons problem with the Ogallala,” says Governor Sam Brownback, a Republican who at age 29 was the youngest agriculture secretary in state history. “It’s a big common body of water. It’s why the oceans get overfished … You have a common good and then nobody is responsible for it.”

“That’s one of the key policy issues that you have to get around,” Brownback says in his roomy, towering office at the capitol in Topeka. “Everyone has to take care of this water.”

In that spirit, a tiny legion of farmers and landowners in the northwest corner of Kansas, where the Rockies begin their rise, have just begun year two of what could be one of the most influential social experiments of this century.

The group is only 125 in number but controls 63,000 acres of prime farmland in Sheridan County. Collectively, voluntarily, they have enacted a new, stringent five-year water conservation target, backed by the force of law and significant punishments.

The Local Enhanced Management Act, or LEMA, is the first measure of its kind in the United States. Specifically, the farmers are limiting themselves to a total of 55 inches of irrigated water over five years – an average of 11 inches per year…

“So now we have the high morality of the need to protect the ecosphere. But it’s legal to rip the tops off mountains. It’s legal to drill in the Arctic. It’s legal to drill in the Gulf. It’s legal to build pipelines. It’s legal to send carbon into the dumping ground called an atmosphere. So we’ve not yet reconciled the high moral with the legal.” [Wes Jackson]

More Ogallala aquifer coverage here and here.


Lamar: New water line should deliver higher quality water

July 14, 2014

pipeline

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Lamar has completed a new water line that will allow it to deliver cleaner water to customers.

“We’re meeting our water quality goals by using our southern wells,” Josh Cichocki, Lamar water superintendent, told the Arkansas Basin Roundtable on Wednesday. “Not only did the project help us with water quality, but it helped with efficiency as well.”

The roundtable approved a $200,000 state grant last year that went toward the $2 million project. Other sources of funding were a $785,000 loan from the Colorado Water Conservation Board and a $985,000 grant from the Department of Local Affairs.

The project installed 6.5 miles of pipeline in a portion of the well field where pipes had become badly corroded. Completed during a drought, there were no major construction issues, Cichocki said.

“Our biggest obstacles were wind and tumbleweeds,” he laughed.

He explained that the southern wells used in the Lamar water system have the lowest measurement of total dissolved solids. That means the water does not require as much treatment to bring up to drinking water quality standards.

Lamar has gained between 180-250 acre-feet (58.6 million-81.4 million gallons) per year because of the improvements.

More infrastructure coverage here.


Arkansas Basin Roundtable approves $175,000 for tailwater study

July 14, 2014
Flood irrigation in the Arkansas Valley via Greg Hobbs

Flood irrigation in the Arkansas Valley via Greg Hobbs

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

The state is being asked to help fund a study that looks at farmers’ contentions that estimates for return flows to the Arkansas River are inflated. A standard of 10 percent for tailwater — water that sheets off fields during irrigation before it can soak in — is used in mathematical models adopted during the 24-year Kansas v. Colorado U.S. Supreme Court case under the Arkansas River Compact. Those models also affect consumptive use rules that apply to surface water improvements such as sprinklers or drip irrigation.

The Arkansas Basin Roundtable last week forwarded a $175,000 grant request to the Colorado Water Conservation Board to determine if that number is too high.

“Farmers on the Fort Lyon did not believe 10 percent was really happening,” said Leah Martinsson, a lawyer working with the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District, which is applying for the grant.

Straight line diagram of the Lower Arkansas Valley ditches via Headwaters

Straight line diagram of the Lower Arkansas Valley ditches via Headwaters

The ditch is more than 100 miles long and irrigates 94,000 acres and usually water short. That increases the likelihood that the estimate of tailwater runoff is too high, since much of the water never makes it back to the river, she explained. The higher the tailwater number, the greater the obligation from farmers to deliver water to the Arkansas River. So, reducing the figure in the group augmentation plans filed with the state would mean a reduction in the amount of replacement water.

While the concern of Fort Lyon farmers is the model used in the consumptive use rules, it also could affect the hydrologic-institution model that guides Colorado’s obligation from wells.

“If we are prepared with good technical data, we will go in and try to change the H-I model,” said Bill Tyner, assistant division engineer with the Division of Water Resources.

It would not be the first attempt to change the model. The state also is funding an ongoing lysimeter study at Rocky Ford to determine if evapotransporation rates in the Arkansas Valley are higher than assumed in the model.

Another study is looking at whether ponds that feed sprinklers leak more than the model assumes.

More Arkansas River Basin coverage here and here.


San Isabel Land Protection Trust hosts water meeting

July 12, 2014

Sangres-a2-Coaldale,CO
From The Mountain Mail:

San Isabel Land Protection Trust will host an informational meeting on the future of agricultural land and water in western Fremont County at 6:30 p.m. July 24 at the Coaldale Community Building, 13607 CR 6 in Coaldale.

The meeting will include a presentation about the tools the trust uses to protect land and water.

For more information visit http://sanisabel.org or call 719-783-3018.

More conservation easements coverage here


Fountain Creek: “Is there a way to balance the needs of flood control and water rights?” — Larry Small

July 11, 2014
Fountain Creek Watershed

Fountain Creek Watershed

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Overshadowing the need to look at the technical details of a study for a dam or detention ponds on Fountain Creek is how it would be funded. As of this week, the study has been battered about with all the care of an uprooted tree bobbing in the water. Other water issues may be getting snagged on it.

In May, Colorado Springs City Council stonewalled funding the study.

This week, the Arkansas Basin Roundtable couldn’t get past the issue of water rights and shrugged off consideration of a state grant for $135,000 that would have been part of a $220,000, 2-year study to look at the consequences of a dam and the feasibility of building it.

Larry Small, executive director of the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District, was frustrated after the meeting. Small walked the roundtable through the years of studies that led up to the conclusion that the best way to protect Pueblo from stormwater runoff in Colorado Springs — much of it made worse by development in the last 40 years — is to stop the water upstream of Pueblo.

“Is there a way to balance the needs of flood control and water rights or do we just throw up our hands?” Small said at one point during the meeting. “It may not be possible, but we need to find out.”

After the meeting, he was clearly frustrated.

“This is such a small part of the overall costs,” he said, slapping his hand against a folder of supporting information for the study.

During the meeting, several roundtable members made the point that junior agricultural water rights could be harmed during a flood.

The Fountain Creek district has attempted to deal with that in the past, including a comprehensive workshop on the topic, attended by some farmers, in December 2011.

Some saw value in looking at the water rights question just to determine if the rest of the study could proceed.

“This at least gets the conversation on the table,” said Jay Winner, general manager of the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District.

In the end, the water rights question became a deal stopper.

There also are side issues that play into the question, such as a simmering feud between the Fountain Creek and Lower Ark districts about how matching money for grants has been applied under an intergovernmental agreement among the districts and Colorado Springs.

“I would encourage the IGA partners to come together soon and resolve their differences,” said Alan Hamel, the basin’s representative on the Colorado Water Conservation Board.

Hamel was one of the few roundtable members who spoke in favor of the grant.

“I think this is a wakeup call for the Fountain Creek district,” Winner said. “You don’t just sit up in Fountain and pretend to rule the world. The district needs to realize it’s in the water business.”

More Fountain Creek watershed coverage here and here.


“I cannot imagine storage on Fountain Creek unless John Martin Reservoir were full” — said Jeris Danielson

July 10, 2014
Fountain Creek swollen by stormwater November 2011 via The Pueblo Chieftain

Fountain Creek swollen by stormwater November 2011 via The Pueblo Chieftain

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

A study that could lead to building a flood-control dam on Fountain Creek stalled Wednesday over the question of how it might affect water rights. Determining if water rights could be protected would be the first task in the study, Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District Director Larry Small explained to the Arkansas Basin Roundtable.

“The prime objective is to evaluate whether water rights could be protected if a dam is built,” Small said. “There would be regular meetings with water rights holders to resolve the conflicts.”

That didn’t sit well with several members of the roundtable, who argued that junior water rights could be harmed if floodwater were held.

“I cannot imagine storage on Fountain Creek unless John Martin Reservoir were full,” said Jeris Danielson, a former state engineer who now heads the Purgatoire River Water Conservancy District. “It could mean a great deal of water lost to junior water rights holders, and I have a problem with the roundtable providing something that could damage the Arkansas River Compact.”

Otero County farmers John Schweizer and Vernon John Proctor both made the point that the Fountain Creek district does not have water rights to hold back any water.

Several other members of the board suggested that no part of the Fountain Creek study should go forward until the water rights question is answered.

Alan Hamel, who represents the Arkansas River basin on the Colorado Water Conservation Board, said the farmers were ignoring the potential danger to agriculture from a flood on Fountain Creek.

“I support this grant application,” Hamel said. “You just have to look at all the ditch headgates that were lost in Northern Colorado last fall.”

The roundtable moves projects ahead only if there is consensus, so the application was denied. A revised application still could be considered.

The study would build on a U.S. Geological Survey study that determined either a large dam on Fountain Creek or a series of detention ponds south of Colorado Springs would be the best protection for Pueblo of a 100-year flood on Fountain Creek. The USGS study, however, did not identify where a dam would be built or determine other factors such as engineering obstacles or water rights. The Fountain Creek district is trying to answer those questions prior to the arrival of $50 million in funding from Colorado Springs. That money, dedicated to flood control projects that benefit Pueblo, is a condition of the Pueblo County 1041 permit for the Southern Delivery System.

The $220,000 study promoted at the roundtable included financial backing from Colorado Springs Utilities, the Pueblo Board of Water Works, Fountain, the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District, Pueblo West and Security. It also had letters of support from city councils and county commissioners in El Paso and Pueblo counties.

More Fountain Creek coverage here and here.


Pueblo: Rates are a complex question

July 8, 2014
Orr Manufacturing Vertical Impact Sprinkler circa 1928 via the Irrigation Museum

Orr Manufacturing Vertical Impact Sprinkler circa 1928 via the Irrigation Museum

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Other cities in the West ration water, use block rates to discourage water waste and even pay property owners to rip out sod. Pueblo does none of those things, and a couple of people who attended last week’s state water plan meeting at Pueblo Community College wondered why.

“It’s driven by economics,” said Terry Book, executive director of the Pueblo Board of Water Works. “Using less water drives up rates. That puts more of a burden on poorer customers. It’s a complex question.”

For years, the Pueblo water board has seen a decrease in water use that began after the city put outdoor watering restrictions in place following the 2002 drought. A 2007 study found customer attitudes had fundamentally changed. Instead of dragging hoses to water the lawn in the hottest part of the day, more Puebloans chose to set up automated sprinkler systems to run in the morning or evening. The water board also promotes Wise Water Use online and in its outreach programs. At the same time, Pueblo has kept its water rates the lowest on Colorado’s Front Range.

One woman wanted to know why homeowners are penalized for not watering their lawns. There is a difference between xeriscaping and simply letting the weeds take over, Book said. Again, it’s the poor who suffer because redoing a landscape with drought tolerant plants and reducing the square footage of bluegrass can cost thousands of dollars. Many lawns in Pueblo have been lost because of the choice to cut back on the water bill, he said.

At one point in the meeting, Book said Pueblo has a water supply for 220,000- 225,000 people — but the water board has learned that severe drought can stress even that supply. In most years, the water board has extra water to lease, mostly to farmers. Recently, the water board increased its rate on longterm contracts as a way to generate more revenue in order to keep rates low. By contrast, growth in El Paso County to the north will put pressure on other water resources in the Arkansas River basin, and water comes at a higher price.

While Pueblo’s supply seems ample for now, the water board already has taken steps to provide water for future generations by buying water rights on the Bessemer Ditch. For now, the water is being leased back to farmers at a low cost. This decision was questioned by farmer Doug Wiley, who came to the meeting and suggested fallowing urban landscapes in times of drought to provide more water to farms.

Both Wiley and Book agreed, however, that the quality of water in Pueblo is better than the Lower Arkansas Valley and so the water resources in this area should be preserved. Dissolved salts, selenium, radionuclides and minerals increase along the Arkansas River as it flows to Kansas.

“The quality of water is the issue as you move down the Arkansas Valley,” Book said.

More conservation coverage here.


The Resurrection Mining Co. files change of use on Twin Lakes shares to augment depletions at the Yak Tunnel treatment plant

July 3, 2014
Yak Tunnel via the EPA

Yak Tunnel via the EPA

From The Leadville Herald (Danny Ramey):

The Resurrection Mining Company has filed for approval of an augmentation plan that would allow it to use water shares to replace water depleted from the Yak Tunnel and water treatment plant. Under the plan, the company would use shares it owns in Twin Lakes Reservoir to replace water depleted by its operations in California Gulch. Resurrection filed an application for approval of the augmentation plan with Division 2 of the Colorado Water Court on May 20.

Resurrection currently owns 22 shares of water in Twin Lakes. Twelve of those shares are included on a provisional basis, meaning Resurrection can remove those shares from the plan or use it for purposes other than what it was originally approved for.

In its plan, Resurrection estimates that depletions from its plant range from 3 to 7.7 acre feet of depletions a year. The plan seeks to augment five structures owned by Resurrection. Of those structures, only two cause water depletion, according to the plan. Water depletes from the Yak Surge Pond and the Yak Treatment Plant via evaporation, and some also leaves the treatment plant through the disposal of residuals used in water treatment. The water shares from Twin Lakes would be delivered to the intersection of Lake Creek and the Arkansas River under the plan.

ASARCO and Resurrection have been using water from Twin Lakes to replace depletion from their operations at the Yak since 1989. However, they have been doing so under substitute water supply plans, which expired June 14, 2014. Resurrection’s application would provide for a permanent water replacement plan. The application also asks the division to renew the substitute water supply plan.

Resurrection and ASARCO entered into a joint agreement to develop mine sites in the Leadville area in 1965. The Yak Treatment Tunnel was originally under title to ASARCO. However, when ASARCO went bankrupt, Resurrection assumed the title.

More Arkansas River Basin coverage here.


#COWaterPlan Pueblo meeting recap: “I feel like I have a bull’s-eye on my back” — farmer Doug Wiley

July 2, 2014
Colorado Water Plan website screen shot November 1, 2013

Colorado Water Plan website screen shot November 1, 2013

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

The ideal state water plan: Don’t destroy the farms; keep the faucets flowing; be prepared for emergencies; leave some water in the river for fish; and teach future generations why water is so important. At least according to the crowd of 60 people who showed up Tuesday at Pueblo Community College for the final public outreach meeting of the Arkansas Valley Roundtable.

The most poignant moment of the evening came when farmer Doug Wiley spoke, quite eloquently, about the importance of agriculture to the Arkansas River basin: “My family has been putting water to good use near Avondale for 100 years, but I feel like I have a bull’s-eye on my back. . . . We call it a water plan, but it’s broader than that. It’s a free-for-all, but there’s not much farmland. We have to preserve it. . . . I think we should be talking about how we fallow parts of the cities in a drought.”

It was the one comment that drew applause from a group that grazed freely on a verdant field of topics.

A state water plan is being written by the Colorado Water Conservation Board on the order of Gov. John Hickenlooper. It’s due by the end of the year. The Arkansas Basin plank of that document is due by the end of this month. The primary purpose is dealing with a shortfall of water, which for the Arkansas Valley means supplying enough water each year by the year 2030 to serve a city the size of Pueblo. Most of that need will be in El Paso County. But filling that need means working with other needs.

Pueblo Chieftain Assistant Publisher Jane Rawlings and Pueblo City Councilwoman Eva Montoya talked about the need to control flooding on Fountain Creek caused by that growth.

Ben Wurster of the local Trout Unlimited chapter said water providers need to provide more water and operate Pueblo Dam more efficiently in order to preserve the Arkansas River fishery below the dam.

And perhaps most unexpectedly, Donna Stinchcomb, curator of the Buell Children’s Museum spoke on the need to reach out to the next generation in connection with an upcoming fall program on how artists view water: “We’re looking for children’s programs that connect them to water.”

Betty Konarski, the chairwoman of the roundtable, summed it up: “It’s a precious resource, the basis for life, and we have to make sure we will have enough.”

Meanwhile, here’s a report about the Colorado Water Plan from Marianne Goodland writing for The Fort Morgan Times. Here’s an excerpt:

The Colorado Water Plan draws upon a decade of work by the state’s eight basin roundtables, the Interbasin Compact Committee and the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB). It also incorporates information from the 2010 Statewide Water Supply Initiative, which predicted the state will have a gap between water supply and demand of about 500,000 acre feet of water by 2050, with the largest gap projected for the South Platte River Basin.

During the past year, the basin roundtables and the CWCB have held dozens of town meetings on the water plan, seeking input from citizens and organizations interested in the state’s water future. Those meetings wrapped up in April, and then the basin roundtable members went to work to develop their basin implementation plans (BIPS), that will be submitted to the CWCB at the end of July. Those plans will be incorporated into the draft Colorado Water Plan, which is due to the Governor at the end of the year. The plan is to be finalized by December, 2015.

In addition to the basin implementation plans, the state water plan will include a “framework” document that outlines the issues to be addressed. The CWCB has already released eight draft chapters of this framework document this year, with four coming out in the last month. The most recent drafts covered water quality, conservation and re-use, and alternative agriculture to urban transfers. The drafts will be updated based on input from the BIPs.

The draft on agricultural transfers focused on alternative agricultural transfer methods (ATMS) and current efforts to develop more creative solutions to “buy and dry.” The draft noted several ATMs are already in place and more are on the way. These include deficit irrigation, water co-ops, water banks, water conservation easements; and flexible water markets, which was proposed in the 2014 legislative session but failed to clear the Senate. Another ATM, farrowing-leasing, which would allow for farrowing of irrigated farmland with temporary leasing of water to municipalities, is being studied under legislation passed in 2013.

More than 1,000 emails and documents have come in to the CWCB, addressing the draft chapters. Almost half of the responses came from stakeholders in the South Platte River and Metro Denver districts.

Most of the comments received by the CWCB have come either through emails to cowaterplan@state.co.us or through a webform on the water plan website, coloradowaterplan.com. CWCB staff responded to all of the comments, even those that might not be financially or technically feasible. One such comment said the state should cover its reservoirs with a thin membrane “similar to bubble wrap” to slow evaporation. Another suggested that the state halt all housing development along the Front Range.

A handful of comments addressed agricultural use, including responses that encourage more efficient irrigation systems and pointing out that agriculture is far and away the biggest user of water. But one commenter suggested a new form of “buy and dry.” Kristen Martinez of Metropolitan State University of Denver said the city of Denver could pay for businesses and residents to xeriscape their lawns, similar to a plan implemented by the city of Las Vegas. She also recommended the city of Denver invest in more efficient irrigation systems for farmers, as a trade-off for buying up agricultural water rights.

“…agriculture stands as the biggest water user, but farmers should not be the only ones to feel the pain of supply and demand,” Martinez wrote. “Most Denverites don’t give heed to the serious task of stewarding their water — not as a farmer must. Why aren’t local industries or municipal users being asked to sacrifice their lifestyle or adjust their operations?…can Colorado’s water plan please ask urban users to take ownership of their consumption, in addition to solving it by diverting farm water?”

Sean Cronin, director of the St. Vrain & Left Hand Water Conservancy District, chairs the South Platte River Basin roundtable, and pointed out that the South Platte and Metro Denver basin are collaborating on a joint BIP.

Cronin noted that although they are submitting a joint BIP, the two districts are quite diverse and one size will not fit all. “Water is very local!” he said recently. Feedback in the town meetings has been very different throughout the two districts. In Sterling, for example, he said the focus was on agriculture. In Longmont, people spoke about groundwater because of the well issues in the area. Denver’s focus was more on municipal conservation and recreational/environmental concerns.

So how will the two roundtables come up with one BIP, given the divergent views? Cronin said that they knew going into the process it would be difficult to address all of the different interests and cultures surrounding water. “It’s incredibly challenging to par it down to one solution that will make everyone happy,” he said. Cronin believes the draft BIP will instead reflect the diverse interests of the basin districts.

From KKTV (Gina Esposito):

Residents talked about flooding conditions around Fountain Creek and ways to store water during the hot and dry months. This includes ways to improve forest health and conditions after a wildfire. They also talked about they can improve the quality of delivering water to small towns.

“If we’re going to remain a vital community and economic secure, we are going to have to look how water impacts our water, our food,” the chair of the Arkansas Basin Roundtable, Betty Konarski, said.

Their input, as well as the input from similar meetings across the state, will help craft a state water plan that Governor Hickenlooper requested to improve water conditions. The governor issued an executive order last year to develop a statewide water plan. Each water basin in the state is in charge of creating a Basin Implementation Plan (BIP).

More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.


Colorado Springs: What do the next 50 years look like after SDS is completed?

July 1, 2014
Arkansas River Basin -- Graphic via the Colorado Geological Survey

Arkansas River Basin — Graphic via the Colorado Geological Survey

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

With Southern Delivery System nearing completion, Colorado Springs is going to work on a plan to provide water for the next 50 years.

“There is a lot of uncertainty in the West when it comes to water,” Leon Basdekas, project manager for Colorado Springs Utilities integrated water planning, told the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District board Friday.

Utilities’ last water plan was in 1996 and focused almost entirely on supply. It provided options about how to develop water rights that Colorado Springs obtained in the Arkansas Valley during the 1980s. Among the options were direct reuse, reservoirs and pipelines. The water plan eventually led to SDS, a $940 million pipeline from Pueblo Dam to Colorado Springs that will be completed by 2016. Those types of options still will be considered.

“Everything is on the table,” Basdekas said.

But the new plan also will look at demand, water quality, infrastructure, energy, regulation, legal issues and public opinion, he added. The goal is to develop a sustainable future supply that also respects social values, Basdekas said.

Among the biggest challenge is managing risk during climate change. Severe drought in 2012-13 was only one indication of how future water supplies could be affected.

At the same time, Colorado Springs is looking for as much public input as possible as it begins looking at the next 50 years.

“We need public involvement, so we just don’t go into a dark room and come out with a plan,” he said.

More Arkansas River Basin coverage <a href="


Give your input on regional stormwater management. Starting 7/1, a regional task force will hold public meetings

June 30, 2014

SDS: There is no Plan B — Colorado Springs Business Journal

June 29, 2014
The new north outlet works at Pueblo Dam -- Photo/MWH Global

The new north outlet works at Pueblo Dam — Photo/MWH Global

From The Colorado Springs Business Journal (John Hazlehurst):

CSU’s ongoing billion-dollar bet is the Southern Delivery System. Scheduled to go online in 2016, SDS will convey water from Pueblo Reservoir via a 66-inch-diameter underground pipeline to Colorado Springs. It will expand the city’s raw water delivery capacity by an eventual 55 million gallons per day (MGD), a nearly 50-percent increase in system capacity…

“What we’re hoping for is a record snowpack,” CSU Chief Financial Officer Bill Cherrier said in late March, “followed by a hot, dry summer.”

Cherrier said it with a smile, but he had neatly summarized CSU’s dilemma. Water in the reservoirs must both be replenished and sold. The sell side of the equation is driven by fixed costs, including system maintenance and replacement, energy costs and continuing capital investment. But buyers don’t care about CSU’s problems; they prefer to water their lawns with free water from the skies.

Per-capita water use has dropped sharply in the past 20 years, leading to corresponding reductions in the city’s long-term consumption estimates.

“The Base (i.e. revenue) forecast is for an estimated service area population (city, suburban, Green Mountain Falls, military) of about 608,552 and about 106,000 AF/yr for demand,” wrote CSU spokesperson Janet Rummel in an email. “The ‘hot and dry’ scenario uses the same service area population and estimates about 120,000 AF/yr demand. This particular ‘hot and dry’ scenario equates to an 80 percent confidence interval and adds about 13 percent to annual demands.”

That’s a precipitous drop from the high-side estimate of the 1996 water resources plan, which forecast a population in 2040 as high as 900,000 and water demand of 168,150 acre-feet. The base forecast, at 106,000 acre-feet annually, is only 1,800 acre-feet more than the community used in 2000, 40 years previously.

Does that mean CSU’s water managers dropped $841 million into a new water delivery system that we may not need until 2016? Does this prove that the project, originally conceived to furnish water for the Banning-Lewis Ranch development, is now entirely unnecessary?

Perhaps not…

“SDS is not a short-term solution,” Rummel said in a 2010 email. “The time to build a major water project is not when you have run short of water … [we need] to better prepare our community for drought, climate change and water supply uncertainty on the Colorado River.”

Many factors entered into the decision to build SDS. In 1996, there was no discussion of system redundancy, of having an additional water pipeline that could serve the city in case one of the existing conduits needed emergency repair. But 18 years later, the pipelines are that much more vulnerable to accident or malfunction.

In 1996, population growth and per capita water use were expected to continue indefinitely at historic levels. But they didn’t. Commercial and industrial use declined, and price-sensitive residents used less water. Indoor use declined as well as outdoor, thanks to restricted-flow shower heads and low-flush toilets.

SDS stayed on track. In the eyes of the water survivalists who conceived and created the project, the city’s rights on the Arkansas River had to be developed. They saw long, hot summers in the city and dry winters in the mountains. Opponents could make any arguments they liked, but these five words trumped them all.

Use it or lose it.

Undeveloped water rights are like $100 bills blowing down the street — someone will grab them and use them for their own benefit…

“This will be our last pipeline,” said CSU water resources manager Gary Bostrom. “We will never be able to develop a new water delivery system. When SDS is finished, that’s it.”

Bostrom’s peers in Las Vegas, Phoenix, San Diego and Los Angeles have reason to envy him. Colorado Springs has won the water wars. We’ve bought ourselves decades of time. Whether we save or squander this liquid bounty is up to us.

In 2040, the city may have 30,000 to 50,000 acre-feet a year of unneeded delivery capacity. That cushion will allow for decades of population growth and for the introduction of sophisticated irrigation techniques that will preserve our green city and minimize water use.

In years to come, members of the Colorado Springs City Council will decide how to preserve the city’s future. Will they heed Bostrom’s warning and encourage radical conservation? Will new developments be required to xeriscape, and preserve trees with drip irrigation devices?

More Southern Delivery System coverage here and here.


Cleanup of debris that washes down Fountain Creek a concern for Pueblo Councilor

June 29, 2014
Fountain Creek Watershed

Fountain Creek Watershed

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Pueblo City Councilwoman Eva Montoya wants less talk and more action on removing logs and other debris from Fountain Creek.

“We need to talk about how we’re going to take care of it, and get a dialogue among the cities on Fountain Creek,” said Montoya, chairwoman of the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District.

She made her comments during the directors portion of Friday’s board meeting at Pueblo City Hall. The board has discussed the debris left from last fall’s flooding at several meetings, but most of the large trees, logs and debris have not been removed.

Officials fear another heavy flood will pick up the logs within Pueblo and upstream, potentially clogging structures such as bridges and creating worse flooding problems.

“There are a lot of senior citizens (on Pueblo’s East Side) in the pathway if it comes over the levee,” Montoya said. “We have to get something done. We can’t wait for a disaster. We need to be prepared.”

More Fountain Creek coverage here and here.


Roundtable meeting Tuesday at Pueblo Community College for comments on the basin implementation plan #COWaterPlan

June 29, 2014
Arkansas River Basin -- Graphic via the Colorado Geological Survey

Arkansas River Basin — Graphic via the Colorado Geological Survey

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Pueblo-area residents will have the opportunity to offer their comments on the Arkansas River basin’s portion of the state water plan next week.

The Arkansas Basin Roundtable will host the meeting at 5 p.m. Tuesday in the Fortino Ballroom at Pueblo Community College. The roundtable has been discussing how to stretch limited water supplies for municipal, industrial, agricultural, recreational and environmental uses since 2005. Its primary purpose is to identify ways to meet the water resources gap identified in the Statewide Water Supply Initiative, which originally was completed in 2004, and updated in 2010.

Gov. John Hickenlooper has asked the Colorado Water Conservation Board to develop a draft state water plan by the end of 2014. As part of that, nine basin roundtables throughout Colorado are developing basin implementation plans.

To learn more about the plan and the process, go to the roundtable’s website (http://arkansasbasin.com).

More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.


Allen Best on the evolution of FIBArk

June 28, 2014

Hooligan Race 2009

Hooligan Race 2009


Click through for Allen’s photos. From The Mountain Town News (Allen Best):

FIBArk, which calls itself America’s oldest and boldest whitewater festival, was held in mid-June in the central-Colorado river town of Salida. The festival name consists of the acronym, first in boating, as well as the short-hand name for the river: the Arkansas.

It was launched in 1949 as a contest to see who among the 23 entrants could boat the runoff-swollen Arkansas from Salida through the frothy, sharp-edged Royal Gorge. Just two entrants, both from Switzerland, completed the 50-mile journey.

Since then, much has changed. FIBArk has grown to include 10 different river events, including one to test the retrieving abilities of dogs in water. There are also land events, including a parade. It calls itself America’s oldest and boldest whitewater festival.

Equipment and skills have changed. In 2004, a Salida boater named Brad Goettemoeller explained the changes in kayaks and competition for Colorado Central Magazine. Despite increasing competition from other whitewater festivals, he noted, FIBArk at that time was still rated No. 2 among the nation’s boating festivals by Kayak Magazine.

The river has changed, too. It has more water, courtesy of diversions from the Aspen area delivered via tunnels from under the Continental Divide.

The bed of the river has also been altered. In 1966, a bulldozer pushed boulders around to create a more difficult slalom course. In 1988, more tinkering yielded a kayak playhole near downtown Salida. There is also a standing wave used to much merriment by stand-up surfers and stand-up paddleboarders.

A railroad town, streets were predicated not on an east-west grid, but instead a perpendicular layout from the depot. The depot is gone now, and trains stopped running over the transcontinental route through Salida, Leadville, and Avon in 1997.

Instead, like so many of the old mining towns of the Rockies, Salida is a place for Tevas, GoPro, and Patagonia. You might be able to buy steel-toed work boots at the Wal-Mart, but don’t count on it. This is no longer a blue-collar town. If you like organic food, it’s a good place to be.

More whitewater coverage here.


Arkansas Basin Roundtable is soliciting public input for their basin implementation plan #COWaterPlan

June 24, 2014
Arkansas River Basin -- Graphic via the Colorado Geological Survey

Arkansas River Basin — Graphic via the Colorado Geological Survey

From the Cañon City Daily Record (Carie Canterbury):

Each of Colorado’s nine roundtables, including the Arkansas Basin Roundtable, is working to develop its own plan that identifies challenges to a secure water future, strategies to address those challenges and projects and methods the basin may implement to meet its water needs. The Basin Implementation Plans will be incorporated into the CWP.

The Arkansas Basin Roundtable is seeking public input to add to the Basin Implementation Plan .

Kyle Hamilton, principal project manager for CH2M HILL, consulting, design, and program management company, said one of the constraints on the water plan is the Colorado/Kansas Compact, which places constraints on moving water down the Arkansas River.

“The state of Colorado has to deliver to the State of Kansas at certain times, in certain volumes, based on this compact,” he said. “There are similar compacts for all the major rivers leaving Colorado.”

Hamilton said John Martin Reservoir was constructed to provide a pool of water to help Colorado comply with those compact requirements.

“As we develop the basin implementation plan, and those roll up to the state water plan, the plans will have to comply with all these compacts that we have with adjoining states,” he said. The compacts date back to the 1940s.

He said Colorado must work together to manage its water, because other states are trying to position to get their water, too.

“Colorado needs to protect its water as a a whole, against Arizona and New Mexico and others who are competing for that same water that comes down the Colorado River,” he said. “We take a lot of that water from the west slope to the east slope.”[...]

A draft plan is due to the CWCB on July 31 and to the governor’s office December 2014. The final is due December 2015, after public comment periods and input.

For more information, or to download an offer input, visit http://arkansasbasin.com

More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.


Southern Delivery System update: $359 million spent so far, >44 miles of pipe in the ground

June 23, 2014
Southern Delivery System route map -- Graphic / Reclamation

Southern Delivery System route map — Graphic / Reclamation

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Tunneling under Fountain Creek is proving more difficult than expected for the Southern Delivery System. Some pipeline near Pueblo Dam has been laid in solid rock. And the temporary irrigation system to provide water for native vegetation over the pipeline scar through Pueblo County contains 50 miles of pipe (main line and laterals) and 15,000 sprinkler heads. Those were some of the highlights of a progress report by Mark Pifher, SDS permit manager, to the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District Wednesday.

“The tunneling project was more difficult than we thought,” Pifher said. The work was being done just over the El Paso County line from the west side of Interstate 25, with a tunnel-boring machine 85 feet below ground.

Because of the difficulty, a second borer from the east side one mile away is being used.

“They had better meet in the middle,” Pifher joked.

More than 44 miles of the 50 miles of 66-inchdiameter pipeline from Pueblo Dam to Colorado Springs has been installed; a treatment plant and three pump stations are under construction; and a Fountain Creek improvement project has nearly been completed, he said. All of the pipeline in Pueblo County has been installed, and revegetation has begun on 323 acres that were disturbed in Pueblo West and on Walker Ranches. The irrigation system is so large that it has to run in round-the-clock cycles seven days a week, Pifher noted.

“It’s apparently the largest sprinkler system in the state,” he said.

Another 484 acres has been planted with native seed in El Paso County.

As of March, $359 million has been spent on SDS, with $209 million going to El Paso County firms, $65 million to Pueblo County companies, $900,000 to Fremont County contractors and $84 million to businesses in other parts of Colorado.

More Southern Delivery System coverage here.


FIBArk good for business

June 21, 2014
Hooligan Race 2009

Hooligan Race 2009

From The Mountain Mail (Allison Dyer Bluemel):

While downtown business owners saw increased foot traffic during FIBArk and said the festival went well overall, FIBArk board members said attendance was relatively steady and see room for improvements for next year. Festival attendance increased for Friday night’s music and throughout the weekend at the carnival, FIBArk Board President Christopher Kolomitz said.

“Part of the increased traffic (Friday) was due to the draw of The (Infamous) Stringdusters’ performance and great weather,” he said.

The popularity of the carnival was partly due to sales of more than 500 presale tickets before the festival and the vendor’s knowledge of the space available to him this year, which enabled him to feature two new rides, Kolomitz said.

Locals and parents seemed to really appreciate being able to get the carnival tickets ahead of time, said Lori Roberts, Heart of the Rockies Chamber of Commerce executive director.
She said festival programs were distributed earlier than usual, which enabled the chamber to convince visitors who came to town early to stay through the festival and extend their time in town.

“I think it’s important that we send people downtown,” Roberts said.

Additionally, Chaffee County’s information line, operated by the chamber, began to get heavy call volumes about 3 weeks before FIBArk from visitors looking for suggestions on what to do in the area, Roberts said.

Kolomitz said exact attendance numbers are hard to compare to previous years because FIBArk is a free, nonticketed event, but “all 4 days were jam-packed with something for everyone.”
FIBArk volunteers kept track of the number of competition participants throughout the weekend, which showed participation in land events increased while the freestyle river events decreased from previous years, Kolomitz said.

Though Kolomitz said no one event stood out from the rest, he was particularly impressed with Andy Corra’s 10th win of the Downriver Classic Sunday.

“It’s really a testament to his strength, athleticism and commitment to the sport. We’re really proud he came this year,” he said.

While most events were a success, Kolomotiz said the board and volunteers recognized that some elements of the festival could be improved upon.

“We had some issues with the timing of river events,” he said, “They were not as smooth as we would have liked.”

Next year, the board hopes to develop a better system for recording the race times and results in order to get the competitors their awards more efficiently, particularly for the downriver races, he said.

“The board member who put the results together for the Downriver has been receiving undeserved ridicule. It’s important to remember that we’re all volunteers here,” Kolomitz said.

The festival also saw a slight increase in the number of food and retail vendors, both in the park and on the Coors Boat Ramp. This year, the board decided to separate the whitewater sports booths from the others and place them closer to the boat ramp, he said.

“Overall, the music lineup was great, the vendors were tasteful, and the people at the parade seemed safe,” Roberts said.

Community members and attendees can fill out a 10-question survey to give feedback to the FIBArk board about the quality of events, music, vendors and carnival during the festival at surveymonkey.com/s/FIBArk.

Downtown retail business owners said they saw heavy traffic during FIBArk and immediately following the festival. Ruby Blues owner Michael Almeida said the store saw about a 20-percent increase in sales compared to last year. Businesses that sold merchandise catering to vacationing tourists, such as Salida Mountain Sports, Fat-Tees T-Shirt Shop and the F Street Five & Dime, saw foot traffic increase as well during the festival.

“A lot of people came in to buy things they forgot for vacation or just can’t live without,” Salida Mountain Sports employee Jen Walters said.

Colorado-specific T-shirts and anything with the Colorado flag were also big sellers, said Fat-Tees owner Duke Sheppard, who had a record-setting FIBArk this year.

However, Su Casa Furniture, Accents & Gifts co-owner Jim Balaun said business picked up following FIBArk since the store is more popular with locals and homeowners.

Downtown restaurant owners also reported increased traffic during the festival.

For Shallots, Saturday evening and Sunday brunch were particularly busy. However, the town seemed abnormally empty on Friday, co-owner Amy Potts said.

Despite the draw of music in the park, Currents co-owner Chris Tracy said the bands Current booked throughout the weekend drew in a full house of about half locals and half tourists.

“Overall, the feel from the community was that things were up and things were going well,” Kolomitz said.

More whitewater coverage here.


Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District board meeting recap

June 20, 2014
Arkansas Valley Conduit Comanche North route via Reclamation

Arkansas Valley Conduit Comanche North route via Reclamation

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

New wrinkles in the federal budget process have improved chances for funding of the Arkansas Valley Conduit.

Appropriations bills in the U.S. House and Senate have increased funding for the Bureau of Reclamation, with emphasis on capital projects that are in the design phase.

While that does not provide an increase for the conduit’s $500,000 funding level next year, it could mean a shift in funding to the conduit by Reclamation, lobbyist Christine Arbogast told the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District Thursday.

“We have incredible support from those in Congress who represent the area to be served by the conduit,” Arbogast told the board. “They are fighting for the funding of it. Clearly, it is unprecedented, the levels they are going to for this.”

She was referring to U.S. Sens. Michael Bennet and Mark Udall, both Democrats, and U.S. Reps. Cory Gardner and Scott Tipton, both Republicans.

For instance, during meetings in Washington, D.C., last week, the senators met with top Department of Interior and Office of Management and Budget officials to make the case for more funding for the conduit.

The $400 million Arkansas Valley Conduit would have a main line of 130 miles from Pueblo Dam to Lamar, serving 50,000 people in 40 communities.

Federal money for the project would be repaid through Fryingpan-Arkansas Project excess storage contracts and user fees.

More Arkansas Valley Conduit coverage here.


Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District board meeting recap

June 20, 2014
Orr Manufacturing Vertical Impact Sprinkler circa 1928 via the Irrigation Museum

Orr Manufacturing Vertical Impact Sprinkler circa 1928 via the Irrigation Museum

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

More than 28,000 acres of Arkansas Valley farm ground — roughly a tenth of all irrigated land — is being covered by group plans that guard against increased consumptive use from surface irrigation improvements.

The state pushed consumptive use rules for irrigation through Division 2 Water Court in 2010. The rules are meant to protect Colorado in its 1949 Arkansas River Compact with Kansas.

Rule 10 allows groups to file plans in order to save on legal, engineering and administrative costs.

The Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District is administering two Rule 10 plans this year.

One covers farms on the Fort Lyon, which represents 18,000 acres. About 12,000 of those acres are under sprinklers, while the remainder are flood irrigated.

The second plan covers 10,000 acres not on the Fort Lyon Canal, with two-thirds of that under sprinklers and 105 acres using drip irrigation.

“About two-thirds of the farm are in the Fort Lyon plan. The goal is eventually to have them in their own group plan that would be self-sustaining,” said the district’s engineer Jack Goble during a presentation at Wednesday’s board meeting.

This year’s Lower Ark plans cover 235 improvements on 92 farms that should require almost 1,900 acre-feet of replacement water. The amount owed is determined by a mathematical model devised by the Colorado Division of Water Resources that determines how much water would have been used before and after improvements.

“It’s a guess of what we’ll owe,” Goble said. “The model is almost like a parallel universe.”

The more water used in irrigation increases the amount owed to replace depletions in the river.

“The more water that comes through the ditch, the more is owed,” Goble said.

Goble walked the board through the complicated model, which takes irrigation flows, precipitation, seepage and runoff into account.

The Lower Ark district is in the second year of a study on pond leakage, which so far is showing that more water is escaping than accounted for in the state’s model. Data from the study in some cases has been applied to specific ponds.

More Ark Valley Consumptive Use Rules coverage here and here.


Colorado Springs: North Douglas Creek detention designed to keep stormwater out of neighborhoods

June 19, 2014

pikespeak

From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Matt Steiner):

Tim Mitros, the stormwater manager for the City of Colorado Springs, showed off the latest flood mitigation project Wednesday, unveiling a large sediment detention basin along North Douglas Creek that should keep tons of water, mud and bigger debris from invading residential areas.

The basin will hold about 25,000 cubic yards of sediment and can be cleaned out after each torrential storm, Mitros said. The new pond replaces a series of five smaller basins that filled quickly in early September 2013 after torrential rains pounded the Waldo Canyon fire burn scar and the rest of the Front Range from El Paso County to the Wyoming border.

“It was supposed to be a 10-year fix,” Mitros said, noting that the city was surprised at how quickly the smaller basins filled and knew it had to come up with a Plan-B.

Now when water and debris come raging down North Douglas Creek the large pond should stop most of the flow. And an “alluvial fan” below the basin will likely slow the water and spread out the rest of the torrent before it reaches the city’s storm sewers, Mitros said.

Mitros and Flying W Ranch Foundation executive director Aaron Winter are relieved that the project has been completed before the 2014 monsoon season and potential heavy thunderstorms hit the burn scar. Storms in early July, mid-August and September of 2013 threatened North Douglas Creek and left Manitou Springs cleaning up after flash floods poured over U.S. Highway 24, out of Williams Canyon, destroyed multiple homes and flooded businesses along Manitou Avenue.

“There is a lot of debris that is staging in the upper parts of North Douglas Creek,” Mitros said. “We expect in larger storms that the debris will start to flush out.”

According to the city official, an estimated 60,000 to 100,000 cubic yards of mud and debris are sitting along the creek less than a mile above the new detention basin. He said it took just about 60,000 cubic yards to fill the five smaller ponds.

Winter said the work that the city has done, as well as other projects by volunteers with the Coalition for the Upper South Platte, have helped reassure the foundation that its neighbors to the east will be protected.

“Knowing that this basin is in place to protect the homes downstream is a big weight off our shoulders,” he said.

More stormwater coverage here.


The Lower Ark questions distribution of Fountain Creek funds

June 19, 2014
Fountain Creek Watershed

Fountain Creek Watershed

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Money targeted for Fountain Creek projects to benefit Pueblo County is being spent in El Paso County out of compliance with an intergovernmental agreement, the Lower Arkansas Water Conservancy District charged Wednesday. The Lower Ark board instructed its attorney to send letters to the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District threatening legal action, and to agencies where the money has been used for matching funds.

The money was contributed to the district under an IGA that includes the Lower Ark district and Colorado Springs Utilities. The IGA says a steering committee of representatives from all three groups will meet to advise the Fountain Creek board how to spend the money.

The money came from the Lower Ark district and Utilities with the understanding that there would be a balance of projects in El Paso and Pueblo counties. Since Utilities’ share is being deducted from its payment under Pueblo County’s 1041 permit for Southern Delivery System, all of the projects should benefit Pueblo County, said Lower Ark General Manager Jay Winner.

“We fought for that money and it is to be used in Pueblo County,” said Anthony Nunez, a former Pueblo County commissioner who sits on the Lower Ark board. “It always seems Pueblo comes out on the short end with El Paso County. . . . It’s blatantly illegal what they’re doing.”

Some of the money has gone for grants to build trails or to fire-damaged areas in El Paso County, projects which Winner claims have no benefit to Pueblo County.

The steering committee has not met for more than a year, but the Fountain Creek district has designated $98,000 in matching funds for five grant requests since then, and at its May meeting redirected $25,000 from a grant that was denied to a dam study that is poised to move forward.

That’s illegal, because the IGA requires steering committee approval, Winner said.

The board voted to have attorney Peter Nichols write to the Fountain Creek district and the agencies, which awarded grants based on what it considers misappropriated matching funds.

“We’re the only policing agency for this malfunction,” added Reeves Brown, another Pueblo County member of the Lower Ark board.

Mark Pifher, permit manager for SDS, was at the meeting and argued that the dam study grant now being considered would entirely benefit Pueblo. He also made the point that Pueblo representatives sit on the Fountain Creek board that approved the grants.

Winner said that doesn’t matter because the IGA specifically instructs the district to move any expenditures through the steering committee first.

“I think Colorado Springs Utilities should be as outraged about this as we are,” Winner told Pifher. “I question whether the district is just a vehicle for Colorado Springs to avoid paying the $50 million it owes to Pueblo County.”

More Fountain Creek coverage here.


The Resurrection Mining Co. files change of use on Twin Lakes shares to augment depletions at the Yak Tunnel treatment plant

June 18, 2014
Yak Tunnel via the EPA

Yak Tunnel via the EPA

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

The Resurrection Mining Co. has filed its plan in water court to permanently replace flows to the Arkansas River water from its Yak Tunnel reclamation plant.

According to a court filing in May, the company plans to dedicate 10 shares of Twin Lakes water to flow down Lake Creek to replace the water it is capturing and cleaning at the Yak Tunnel plant and surge pond about 1 mile southeast of Leadville.

The water court application formalizes an arrangement that has been in place since Resurrection took over operation of the Yak Tunnel from ASARCO after a bankruptcy filing in 2005.

ASARCO began operating the Yak Tunnel plant in 1989 following federal court decisions that required mining companies to intercept and treat drainage from mine tunnels. Twin Lakes shares were leased until the company bought its own shares in 1994.

Depletions amounted to 3-7.7 acre-feet (1 million- 2.5 million gallons) annually from 2006-13. Replacement for those flows were replaced under a substitute water supply plan, an agreement administered by the state Division of Water Resources.

The tunnel, like others in the area, originally was drilled to dewater mines and increase productivity. However, the drainage includes heavy metals that diminish water quality and endanger wildlife. The surge pond captures water that escapes from tunnels and allows the water treatment plan The court filing assures that an operating plan is in place, regardless of how much water is needed in any given year to replace depletion.

More water pollution coverage here.


The Pueblo Board of Water Works okays water for marijuana operations within the city limits

June 18, 2014
Pueblo photo via Sangres.com

Pueblo photo via Sangres.com

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Water for marijuana operations within Pueblo city limits will be available as long as the feds remain lukewarm on enforcement, but the Pueblo Board of Water Works wants more time to think about supplying other Pueblo County operations. The board Tuesday approved a resolution to provide water from its non-federal sources to growers within city limits, provided that federal laws do not become more restrictive. The choice to make water available within city limits was unanimous, even though some board members are not fans of legal marijuana.

“Colorado and the city have legalized it, so it makes it tough for us to say, ‘No, you won’t have access to water,’ ” said board member Nick Gradisar.

Gradisar explained that federal enforcement under the current administration is deferential to Colorado and Washington laws on recreational marijuana, although the Department of Justice could crack down on marijuana operations if certain priorities such as organized crime involvement or weapons are violated.

The rest of the board joined him with varying levels of enthusiasm.

Jim Gardner supported the resolution wholeheartedly, comparing society’s attitudes toward marijuana with the prohibition of alcohol in the 1900s.

“These are things that are going to happen in our culture,” Gardner said.

Tom Autobee said the state has not done enough to regulate marijuana, and the city needs to treat marijuana like liquor licenses, taking neighborhood concerns into consideration. He supported the resolution “with reservations.” “This is a social experiment and I would ask people to use marijuana responsibly,” Autobee said.

Kevin McCarthy said the will of voters comes first, but was also uncertain about marijuana use in general.

“While I am uneasy about where this is going, there are sufficient protections in this ordinance,” McCarthy said.

Board President Mike Cafasso also had misgivings about marijuana, but saw the need to support city and state laws.

“This is not an easy decision for me,” Cafasso said. “I’m not a fan. I don’t believe it’s good for Colorado; it’s not good for our county; and it’s certainly not good for Pueblo,” Cafasso said.

A second ordinance that would allow the Pueblo water board to sell 800 acre-feet (260 million gallons) of raw water annually at top dollar (about $500,000 at 2014 rates) was tabled. That water most likely would be used for well augmentation. The water board has received about three serious inquiries about such water, according to Executive Director Terry Book. Initially, the board defeated the ordinance on a 3-2 vote.

Gardner and Gradisar voted for it, while the other three members wanted to table it, pointing out that there is no obligation under the city charter to make water available for marijuana.

“We have to be careful about making a judgment about who we will sell water to,” Gradisar said, pointing out that some would argue against selling water to coal-fired power plants.

“This is going to be an economic boon to Pueblo County.”

Cafasso convinced the others that it should not be a dead issue, but that staff needed to talk to other water providers to determine how the issue is being handled. So the board voted 5-0 to reconsider a similar resolution in 60 days.

“Let’s make sure before we parachute off the cliff we know where we are going to land,” McCarthy said.

More Arkansas River Basin coverage here.


Pueblo West Utilities Board members and staff are trying to make sense of SDS MOU with Colorado Springs

June 18, 2014
Pueblo West

Pueblo West

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Pueblo West is pondering whether it even needs to turn on Southern Delivery System early after the metro district board waded through the process that led up to a controversial memorandum of understanding that would allow that to happen. The MOU apparently represents years of complex negotiations between Colorado Springs attorneys.

Three board members, Chairman Lew Quigley, Mark Carmel and Judy Leonard, voted on May 27 to talk about the MOU in open session, rather than behind closed doors.

But at Tuesday’s metro board meeting — devoted solely to water issues — board members and staff wrangled over what the document means and how it should be drafted.

The MOU could pave the way for Pueblo West to begin using a new 36-inch pipeline from the north outlet on Pueblo Dam ahead of schedule. It’s needed because Pueblo West is reaching the limits of its current delivery line, and to provide redundancy if anything should happen to its sole supply source, said Manager Jack Johnston. Johnston said the MOU was merely conceptual, and the argued that details of it needed to be explained in executive session.

“This is really our bus to drive,” Johnston said.

Carmel countered that a more open discussion in public among Pueblo West, Colorado Springs needed.

Pueblo County commissioners and attorneys objected to details of the agreement which required Pueblo West to obtain approval of 1041 permit conditions, saying Colorado Springs is attempting to bully the metro district.

“This was presented to me as an ultimatum. … I suspect this new board will go back to the drawing board to give you a new direction,” Carmel said. He wanted to delay action until a full board could act — board member Jerry Martin was not at Tuesday’s meeting.

Quigley objected to discussing the agreement in executive said that a meeting behind closed doors was needed to explain how the agreement related to several other lawsuits in order to protect Pueblo West’s legal position.

Board member Barbara Bernard favored discussing such an agreement in executive session if necessary.

“Yes, I want to know how we got to this point,” she said. “I need as much counsel as we can have.”

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Colorado Springs Utilities was trying to make sure the clock wouldn’t start ticking if Pueblo West got water early under a controversial agreement.

That’s how Mark Pifher, permit manager for Southern Delivery System, explained the situation Wednesday to the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District during his update on SDS progress.

The agreement was to have been discussed in executive session on May 27 by the Pueblo West Metropolitan District, but newly elected board member Mark Carmel objected to talking about it behind closed doors, claiming the agreement would hold Pueblo West “hostage.”

The issue escalated when Pueblo County commissioners and attorneys claimed Colorado Springs was using bully tactics to pressure Pueblo West into gaining county approval of 1041 permit conditions from the county.

“Pueblo West wanted delivery of the water as soon as possible,” Pifher said. “The concern we had was that if the water is delivered to Pueblo West, will all the other conditions be expedited?”

Among those conditions is the beginning of $50 million payments to the Fountain Creek District and other Fountain Creek issues. Utilities and the Lower Ark have been in negotiations over Fountain Creek issues for the past nine years.

“What we’re asking is that Pueblo West go to the commissioners so those other conditions will not be triggered,” Pifher said.

The agreement also contained a provision that would require Pueblo West to stop using the new pipeline if Colorado Springs did not meet SDS conditions.

On Tuesday, the Pueblo West board discussed the agreement with Manager Jack Johnston and attorney Harley Gifford.

Carmel and board President Lew Quigley wanted an open discussion of the agreement. Johnston said it had been negotiated over several years by staff and attorneys. Gifford said it is tied to other legal issues that need to be discussed in executive session.

The 36-inch water line from the north outlet is nearly complete and would provide redundancy for the existing 24-inch line Pueblo West has connected to the south outlet. The new line would provide up to 18 million gallons per day in addition to the 12-million-gallon capacity of the existing line.

More Southern Delivery System coverage here and here.


Regional stormwater task force hits a snag — The Colorado Springs Gazette

June 17, 2014
Flooding in Colorado Springs June 6, 2012

Flooding in Colorado Springs June 6, 2012

From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Monica Mendoza):

Members of a regional stormwater task force have been hopeful that the towns of Monument, Palmer Lake, Manitou Springs, Green Mountain Falls and Fountain would join El Paso County and Colorado Springs to form a regional stormwater authority that would collect fees and plan for stormwater projects together, but the Town of Monument is not sold on the idea, its mayor said Monday.

“The biggest objection I have is we do not care for adding another layer of bureaucracy on top of everything we do,” said Mayor Rafael Dominguez. “We have a water fund, as part of a mill levy, and some of that money goes to stormwater.”

Monument, north of Colorado Springs, has a population of about 5,700. Dominguez estimates stormwater needs are about $10 million. Those projects could get lost in the hundreds of millions of dollars in projects needed throughout the Fountain Creek Watershed, a 927-square mile area bordered by the Palmer Divide to the north, Pikes Peak to the west and a minor divide 20 miles east of Colorado Springs.

“One of the biggest things that stood out in this plan is that an emergency in another municipality will become an emergency in Monument,” he said. “We don’t want to get bogged down with other problems – Manitou Springs, God bless them, they got issues.”

Palmer Lake also might bow out of a regional stormwater effort, while Fountain and Manitou Springs officials say they still must review the plan and intergovernmental agreements before signing off…

Task force leaders say if voters approve a stormwater fee in November, the estimated $50 million collected annually would be in addition to what cities and the county already spend on stormwater projects. Each entity would get what it put in over a five-year rolling average, organizers have said.

Green Mountain Falls and Palmer Lake mayors could not be reached Monday for comment.

Manitou Springs already has a stormwater enterprise fee and collects about $280,000 a year, said Mayor Marc Snyder. He wants to ensure that if Manitou Springs joins a regional group that his town, where flooding was disastrous last year, would receive at least what it already spends…

Fountain does not collect a stormwater fee, said Mayor Gabriel Ortega. The town had discussed creating a stormwater enterprise fee but first wanted to wait for the regional task force plan…

Munger said a stormwater authority could be formed with fewer than the original seven entities. The intergovernmental agreements would allow any of the neighboring towns to join any time, he said.

More stormwater coverage here.


FIBArk recap: Andy Corra wins his 10th Downriver Classic

June 17, 2014

Tom Lawson runs through Cottonwood Rapid Sunday during the Downriver Classic, a 26-mile whitewater race from Coors Boat Ramp in Salida to Cotopaxi. Lawson placed third in the men’s classic with a time of 2 hours, 17 minutes, 3 seconds.

Tom Lawson runs through Cottonwood Rapid Sunday during the Downriver Classic, a 26-mile whitewater race from Coors Boat Ramp in Salida to Cotopaxi. Lawson placed third in the men’s classic with a time of 2 hours, 17 minutes, 3 seconds.


From The Mountain Mail (Nick Jurney):

Andy Corra, Durango, captured his milestone 10th FIBArk Downriver Classic Sunday after making the 26-mile run from Salida to Cotopaxi in 2 hours, 9 minutes, 18 seconds.

“It doesn’t get any easier,” Corra said after winning his fourth consecutive FIBArk Downriver Race and 10th overall. His first victory came in 1985, 2 years after his first time participating in the historic competition.

Corra said some of the challenges in this year’s race included an upstream wind and cold water, though the flows near 3,000 cubic feet per second were an advantage to boats.

“It was windy, which was pretty cold and brutal on the hands,” Corra said. “But the water and flow were really good, up on the high side of medium levels.”

Corra’s 10th win came on Father’s Day, and he said he may look to pass the torch on to his 11-year-old son, Wiley, in the coming years.

“He said he was going to try and win as many as he can so I couldn’t catch him,” Wiley said with a smile after the race.

Second place in the downriver was captured by Jeff Parker, Concord, Mass., finishing in 2:16:28. Parker said he won the race in 1998, and his runner-up finish Sunday was his best finish since then.

“This was my 25th race, and I think it will be my last,” Parker said. “I want to go out with a second-place finish.”

Tim Lawson finished third in the downriver with a time of 2:17:03, while multi-sport competitor Natalie Anderson was the first female finisher at 2:30:06.

Team Blaze was the first team of rafters to come across the downriver finish line in Cotopaxi, finishing in 2:58:35.

“We had great water and great rafters,” said team captain Mark Mattson after paddling in his 30th race. “I like the high water; we don’t have to battle the rocks as much.”

Other members of Team Blaze included Matthew Petty, Joshua Mentzer, Tom Rice, Chadd Drott, Logan Myers and Jeff Flora.

The oldest participant in the downriver was Lynn Koester of Woodland Park, who said he is turning 77 today, while the youngest was Andy’s Corra’s son Wiley, who participated in the novice 10-mile downriver.

FIBArk board member Tom Barry said an issue with the spreadsheets used to tally results prevented race officials from getting full results and times put together by press time Sunday.

From The Mountain Mail (J.D. Thomas):

The Business After Hours Kickoff to the 66th FIBArk Whitewater Festival featured crashes of lightning, a scattering of hail and more than $1,000 raised at the event Wednesday at Salida SteamPlant. The annual kickoff, hosted by the Vaqueros of Heart of the Rockies Chamber of Commerce, was moved inside the SteamPlant because of the inclement weather.

“Welcome to the kickoff of the oldest whitewater rafting festival,” Salida Mayor Jim Dickson said to lead off the event.

After Dickson’s introduction, 2014 FIBArk Commodore Greg Felt welcomed people to the event and thanked them on behalf of the city for attending. “Thank you and welcome,” he said. “I hope you all have an unbelievable weekend.”

Following Felt’s speech, FIBArk Board President Christopher Kolomitz began an auction for a painting created for FIBArk by local artist Carl Ortman, depicting the “kayak wall” downtown.

Charlie Forster, CEO of Collegiate Peaks Bank, bought the painting to add to the bank’s art display.

“The painting really represents Salida, and the color and the quality make it a great piece,” he said. “Knowing that it will help out FIBArk is one reason (I bought it); the other is because this year’s commodore is Greg Felt. He’s a great guy.”

The money raised will go into the FIBArk general fund, Kolomitz said. Some of the money in the fund will go to the FIBArk youth paddling program, he said.

Along with local business people and guests, a visitor from South Korea took part in the festivities. Yun Ho Ra from Gunsan was riding his bike from Los Angeles to New York when he stopped in town. He said he would like to stay in Salida for a couple days to enjoy the festivities before he continues his travels.

The food, pulled pork sandwiches and baked beans, was prepared and served by the Vaqueros, and beer was provided by Eddyline Brewing, sponsor for the whitewater festival.

The first pour of Eddyline beer at the festival will be at 4 p.m. today in Riverside Park, said Kolomitz.

More whitewater coverage here.


Arkansas Basin Roundtable: “…we’re still beating our heads over rotational fallowing” — Gary Barber #COWaterPlan #COleg

June 13, 2014
Basin roundtable boundaries

Basin roundtable boundaries

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

The Arkansas Basin Roundtable is compiling a reservoir of ideas that could go into making the Colorado Water Plan. The main difficulty will be putting them all to beneficial use: First in the Arkansas River basin’s implementation plan, then translating those into the state plan — all under conditions that still appear to be changing.

“It does appear to be a flood,” quipped Alan Hamel, who represents the basin on the Colorado Water Conservation Board.

Last month, Gov. John Hickenlooper signed legislation (SB115) that instructs the CWCB to have hearings in each basin and for the draft plan to be presented to the Legislature’s interim committee on water resources.

Meanwhile, the roundtable has received 60 written comments, some with multiple suggestions, on what needs to be in its basin implementation plan. The group has no organized way of incorporating comments into the volumes of information already compiled. There has been little time for point-by-point discussions.

The CWCB will review basin plans in July.

And the state plan being developed is in a different format than the basin plan.

“How do we integrate all this?” asked Reed Dils, a retired Buena Vista outfitter and former CWCB member.

“The timeline was a tough, tight timeline even before the legislation,” Hamel added.

Hickenlooper ordered the CWCB to produce a draft plan by December. For the past few months, the roundtable has expanded its meeting time and talked extensively about its own basin plan, the product of nine years of meetings. Some of that time has been devoted to providing new members background on past actions of the roundtable.

“Dozens of people have presented information to us,” said Bud Elliott of Leadville, one of the original roundtable members. “The public has been well represented.”

Gary Barber, who chaired the roundtable for several years and is now under contract to help write the basin plan, said some findings of the roundtable have stalled.

“I tell you, five years later, we’re still beating our heads over rotational fallowing, based on the experience of Fowler,” he said at one point.

A deal by Super Ditch to supply water to Fowler under a state pilot program this year fell through when farmers pulled out. It’s the third year the group has tried, but failed, to demonstrate a new method for agricultural transfers that leaves ownership in the hands of farmers.

More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.


Sixth annual Royal Gorge Whitewater Festival June 20-21

June 13, 2014
Royal Gorge

Royal Gorge

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Tracy Harmon):

Big water and a bountiful batch of boating events will mark the Royal Gorge Whitewater Festival as it boasts a blue-collar celebration for the “Average Joe” boater. Planners are touting plenty of “Boats, bands and beer,” for the sixth annual celebration June 20-21. Festivities are held at Centennial Park, known to locals as Duck Park, at Fourth and Griffin streets. With 20 events, a roaring Arkansas River and an increase in vendors, the festival will be the biggest to date.

“There are plenty of events for professional and expert level paddlers, but there are not a lot of events for the Average Joe weekend paddler, so we are creating our own niche,” said Kyle Horne, an event organizer. “It is something you can come in and compete in, have a good time and enjoy without competing with the big dogs.”

The pinnacle event will be the Build Your Own Boat Race slated for 5:15 p.m. June 21, but that is just one of the thrilling boating events which include stand up paddling, a duckie (inflatable kayak) dash, a kayak big air event, a Hyside Raft competition and even an inner tube race. Equipment from stand-up paddle boats and inner tubes to safety gear will be supplied to those who need it thanks to donations from local rafting companies, Horne said.

The only serious event for professional boaters and experienced long-distance paddlers, is the 6:15 p.m. June 20 kayak and raft race from Parkdale to Canon City. River flows which have been fluctuating between 4,500 and 3,400 cubic feet per second recently, will have to be at 4,000 cfs or less in order for the race to run, Horne said.

The event also features a fly casting competition for anglers, running races, a Whitewater Adventure Race featuring a run, obstacles and a muddy “slip and slide” finish as well as bicycling events for participants of all ages.

A 4:30 p.m. June 21, Rotary Rubber Duck Fundraiser hosted by Canon City and Florence Rotary Clubs will feature hundreds of little bathtub-sized rubber ducks racing along the river for a chance to win their “owners” prizes. In addition, a Kids’ Fun Zone and a trampoline jump will be set up at the park.

For those who would prefer to sit in the shade and relax, there will be live bands on two stages such as Pueblo’s Atomic Fireballs, local favorite The Highside Command, as well as James and the Devil, Wrestle with Jimmy and others. In addition, a wide variety of food and craft vendors will be set up at the park.

The festival was formed to help establish a Whitewater Park in Canon City and with the help of the Canon City Recreation District, the Whitewater Kayak and Recreation Park committee and the Fremont Community Foundation, the park became a reality in 2009 and is the center of the festival’s boating events. Fremont Adventure Recreation joined as a fourth partner and has added several entertaining competitions.

A fundraising live auction is slated for 8:15 p.m. June 21 and will include items such as a stand-up paddle boat from Jackson Kayak, a wooden canoe made by inmates working in Colorado Correctional Industries, a fly fishing package from Royal Gorge Anglers, and more. All funds raised during the festival go back into the community.

“A hundred percent of proceeds go toward community projects such as expansion and improvements to the whitewater park, recreation district programing, charitable projects and recreation projects,” Horne said.

For a complete list of activities, log on to http://royalgorgewhitewaterfestival.com.

More whitewater coverage here.


2014 marks the 66th anniversary of FIBArk, the nation’s oldest whitewater festival! — June 12 – 15

June 10, 2014

fibarkospreypacks

Click here to go to the FIBArk website for all the inside skinny.

From The Mountain Mail (James Redmond):

This year the FIBArk Whitewater Festival will induct Salida natives Teddy and Dannie Makris into the FIBArk Hall of Fame.

“It’s an honor” for him and his brother to be inducted into the FIBArk Hall of Fame, Dannie Makris, who now lives in Woodland Park, said May 28. Teddy Makris died in 2004 in Pueblo.

Dannie Makris said he is “thrilled and tickled” to be inducted into the FIBArk Hall of Fame, “and I am sure my brother would be too.”

Dannie Makris said he started kayaking in 1958 when he got his first boat. Growing up in Salida, he had watched the downriver race every year since it started. Watching the race each year, “I always wanted to boat,” he said.

The two brothers would practice together in the Arkansas River near the F Street bridge, and the first part of the river they ran together was Cottonwood Rapid. Makris said he remembers on the first run down Cottonwood, his brother turned over and told him to “paddle like hell” and that he would meet him at the end.

The brothers were selected for the Hall of Fame because of their “exceptional athletic accomplishments, contributions toward the advancement of FIBArk and for their pioneering spirit within the kayaking community,” FIBArk Board President Christopher Kolomitz said.

The FIBArk Hall of Fame recognizes individuals who have made significant contributions to FIBArk and whitewater paddling.

In 1963 Dannie became the FIBArk downriver champion and the national slalom champ, Kolomitz said. That same year Teddy placed third in the downriver race. In summer 1963, both Teddy and Dannie represented the U.S. at the world championship events in Spittal, Austria. The U.S. team placed seventh.

Dannie won the national whitewater championships in 1961 on the Colorado River and in 1962 on the Feather River in California. He placed first in the FIBArk slalom, earning a national title in 1965, Kolomitz said. That same year he took third in the FIBArk downriver race behind two foreign boaters. In 1967 he was FIBArk commodore, and in 1969 Dannie won the FIBArk sportsmanship award, which was given by the past commodores’ club to a boater who contributes most to boating and good sportsmanship.

Back when he and his brother competed in the races, the European kayakers were talented and increased the level of competition because the countries “would send their best (boaters),” Makris said. In the races back then, 30,000 people would crowd the sides of the Arkansas River to watch the downriver race. Salida would empty out as people moved down river to watch the race.

The railroad also used to run a train following the race, so the passengers could watch. Makris said he and his brother could usually tell how well they were doing in the race by watching the train, “because the train would follow the leaders.”

Since the ’60s, both FIBArk and kayaking have changed, Makris said. Now much of the FIBArk festivities stay in Salida instead of spilling down the sides of the river. He said he misses the international racers the event would bring, and how big the parade was. FIBArk had good times in Salida in the ’60s with people coming from around the state, country and world to watch and race, he said.

Makris said he will visit Salida for this year’s FIBArk, now sponsored by Eddyline Brewing, and looks forward to seeing people in the area and watching the races.

More whitewater coverage here.


Fountain Creek: Colorado Springs is looking at two competing stormwater proposals

June 10, 2014
Fountain Creek swollen by stormwater November 2011 via The Pueblo Chieftain

Fountain Creek swollen by stormwater November 2011 via The Pueblo Chieftain

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

The Colorado Springs City Council is looking at competing proposals to deal with stormwater control. The action is important to Pueblo because of agreements related to Pueblo County’s 1041 permit for Southern Delivery System and the need to reduce flooding on Fountain Creek. Pueblo County officials have asked Colorado Springs to show how stormwater control will be funded since council abolished the city’s stormwater enterprise in 2009.

A study in February by CH2MHill found 282 projects totaling $687 million in Colorado Springs, and 268 projects totaling $102 million in areas out­ side of Colorado Springs in the Fountain Creek watershed. Of the total, 54 projects totalling $192 million are considered critical for public health and safety.

Council Monday heard proposals to form the Pikes Peak Regional Drainage Authority by a stormwater task force that has been meeting for two years and a counterproposal by Mayor Steve Bach and city staff that would roll stormwater funding into other capital projects.

The proposal for the regional authority would create an intergovernmental agreement among El Paso County, Colorado Springs, Manitou Springs, Fountain, Green Mountain Falls, Monument and Palmer Lake. The task force intends to introduce a ballot initiative forming the authority for the November general election ballot. Stormwater charges of $9 per month for homeowners could raise about $50 million annually for stormwater projects throughout the Fountain Creek watershed.

Bach’s proposal is to include Colorado Springs stormwater needs alongside other capital needs for technology, parks, public safety and public works. A report presented to council Monday by chief of staff Steve Cox concluded: “Stormwater is only part of the broader capital problem.”

It proposes funding $25.5 million annually for five years to catch up with stormwater needs through either refinancing bonds or imposing a sales tax of either three-quarters or one-cent sales tax.

More Fountain Creek coverage here.


Arkansas River Headwaters Recreation Area — a linear recreation area that follows the Arkansas River for 150 miles

June 9, 2014
Arkansas River Basin -- Graphic via the Colorado Geological Survey

Arkansas River Basin — Graphic via the Colorado Geological Survey

Here’s an in-depth look at the Arkansas River Headwaters Recreation Area from Tracy Harmon writing for The Pueblo Chieftain:

It seems warring is a history that repeats itself in the Upper Arkansas River Valley.

In 1879 railroad companies were going to battle over who would be the first to lay track through the Royal Gorge canyon. It became so heated that shots were exchanged among the opposing camps.

Later, it would be the rafters and the fishermen who would butt heads like bighorn rams vying for dominance. At issue in the early 1990s was the flow of water in the Arkansas River.

Rafters wanted to have extra water for the late-season boating and fishermen felt the higher water flow was a detriment for the fish just when trout needed to catch a break from fighting the summer waves.

Eventually, the feud was settled. Rafters get their extra water until Aug. 15 each year and anglers get water releases in the winter months should the level drop to dangerous lows endangering fish.

At the tenuous center of the boat and hook controversy was an unlikely group of government regulators who dreamed it was possible that someday everyone would get along. After all, rafting can bring a neat $60 million chunk of change to the valley coffers and anglers spend plenty as well.

When the Arkansas Headwaters Recreation Area was officially formed 25 years ago this coming October, work was just beginning. Countless public meetings and lawsuits pushed patience on both sides, yet the recreation area endures as one of the few federal and state partnerships in existence nationwide.

The partners have made the first 150-mile stretch of the Arkansas River corridor not only the most rafted river in the nation, but a gold medal fishing ground.

Besides the breathtaking views and some of Mother Nature’s finest canyon rock wall work, the recreation area has grown to include the kind of amenities that make people want to stop and take it all in.

From Leadville to Lake Pueblo, the recreation area spans four counties. Colorado Parks and Wildlife has teamed up with the U.S. Bureau of Land Management and Forest Service to offer a boatload of improvements from campgrounds and boating ramps to restrooms and picnic grounds.

All totaled there are 42 sites along the corridor, according to Rob White, Arkansas Headwaters manager for CPW.

“One of the greatest accomplishments to date regarding the creation of the Arkansas Headwaters Recreation Area has been the acquisition and development of recreation sites along the Arkansas River corridor that provide invaluable public access for both whitewater boating and angling,” White said. “We try to strike a balance in the development of our recreation sites and with the management of the natural resources, including water, so that whitewater boaters, anglers and all of our visitors can enjoy the recreation area.”

The balance between man and nature is evident. Each recreation site is so well cared for a visitor would be hard pressed to find a gum wrapper littering the ground.

“We continue to work on improvements to the natural resources found throughout the river corridor and the riparian areas are in better condition then they have been in a long time,” said John Nahomenuk, River Manager for the BLM. “We are an integral tie that brings together and helps strengthen the communities in the river valley.”

White and Nahomenuk work together, often identifying potential land acquisitions with willing sellers and then find the money to buy the land.

The Colorado Lottery has been instrumental in making many of the improvements a reality by awarding grants that have helped convert private property parcels into public playgrounds.

Boaters and anglers are not the park’s only users.

Gold panning, riverside picnics and climbing are among the reasons people make it a destination.

Many visitors come to the Bighorn Sheep Canyon between Salida and Canon City in hopes of spotting the state animal. The sheep are so expertly camouflaged it takes movement or a flash of their white rear ends to actually spot them.

White and Nahomenuk often run ideas by the citizen’s task force to get input from a variety of the park’s stewards from boaters and anglers to ranchers and environmentalists.

It’s nice when everyone can agree. Just don’t bring up New York artist Christo’s Over the River artwork planned for a two-week display along the stretch of river between Salida and Canon City or you could see the warring start to brew all over again.

More Arkansas River Basin coverage here.


“What it really means is the seep ditches can come into priority” — Steve Witte #ArkansasRiver

June 7, 2014
John Martin Reservoir back in the day

John Martin Reservoir back in the day

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

High flows in the Arkansas River are satisfying more water rights than have been met in 14 years.

Colorado’s water rights system gives priority to water rights based on the earliest dates that water was put to a beneficial use. A call is placed on the river according to the most junior right entitled to water.

For the Arkansas River below John Martin Dam, that call sat at 1949, the year of the Arkansas River Compact, for the first time since 2000.

“That means we can put water in John Martin Reservoir, which is then divided between Colorado and Kansas,” said Steve Witte, Water Division 2 engineer.

Throughout the year, flood events briefly raise Arkansas River levels high enough to allow storage in John Martin Reservoir. But the prolonged levels above 4,000 cubic feet per second have allowed storage to continue for days, rather than a few hours, as typically happens in a flood.

Actually, the river had a split call Wednesday, with water above John Martin flowing into the Great Plains Reservoirs (via the Fort Lyon Canal).

Water below is going toward the 1949 compact. That satisfies all but a few water rights in Colorado.

“It’s being fed by return flows. What it really means is the seep ditches can come into priority,” Witte said.

The state four years ago shut down seep ditches, because they captured return flows that should have been going to Kansas, under the state engineer’s interpretation.

Witte expects the river conditions to continue for the next few days.

Meanwhile, about 23,000 acre-feet of Fryingpan-Arkansas Project water has been imported through the Boustead Tunnel into Twin Lakes.

More Arkansas River Basin coverage here and here.


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