Dam dilemma looms for planners — The Pueblo Chieftain

September 1, 2014
Fountain Creek Watershed

Fountain Creek Watershed

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More stormwater coverage here.


Lincoln Park/Cotter Mill de-commissioning comment period extended

September 1, 2014

From The Pueblo Chieftain:

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


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

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

Fryingpan-Arkansas Project via the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District

From The Aspen Times (Scott Condon):

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More Fryingpan-Arkansas Project coverage here.


2014 Colorado November Election: Colorado Springs City Council approves IGA connected with stormwater enterprise ballot issue

August 28, 2014
Pikes Peak with Garden of the Gods in the foreground

Pikes Peak with Garden of the Gods in the foreground

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Colorado Springs City Council Tuesday approved an intergovernmental agreement connected with a ballot issue to form the Pikes Peak Regional Drainage Authority. The vote was 7-2.

The issue is expected to be placed on the ballot by El Paso County commissioners at their meeting next week. It would establish the authority to include the county, Colorado Springs, Fountain, Green Mountain Falls and Manitou Springs. The authority would raise about $39 million annually through fees to address a $700 million backlog in stormwater projects.

Stormwater control on Fountain Creek was one of the premises Colorado Springs Utilities used to obtain permits from Pueblo County and the federal government in order to build the Southern Delivery System.

Colorado Mayor Steve Bach immediately opposed the measure. He said the average bill of $92.40 per year would be 77 percent higher than the fee for the former stormwater enterprise and roughly the same amount homeowners now pay (in property taxes) for all city services combined.

“I believe this IGA is not fair to the citizens of Colorado Springs,” Bach said in a statement.

More 2014 Colorado November election coverage here.


Woodland Park stormwater management

August 27, 2014

From the Colorado Springs Independent (J. Adrian Stanley):

These are the facts accepted by all parties: Last summer and this summer, Green Mountain Falls has seen destructive floods following unusually heavy rains. The town was not affected by the Waldo Canyon Fire. The floods are not the result of runoff from a burn scar. And Woodland Park, located up the pass, has added major developments in recent years, including some alongside Fountain Creek.

Public officials interviewed for this story said they weren’t ready to start playing the blame game. But some people in Green Mountain Falls, especially those who live or own businesses along the creek, are getting edgy. A few have seen bridges washed out multiple times. Mayor Lorrie Worthey says even her home, which is located on a hill, recently had a flooded mudroom.

“There is more water coming down from Woodland; Woodland has grown a lot,” Worthey says carefully. “With that, we are going to get more water.”

Bill Alspach, Woodland Park’s public works director and city engineer, also is cautious when speaking of the Green Mountain Falls flooding. “Woodland Park has strived to be a good steward of the headwaters,” he says.

Woodland Park development affects two watersheds, Fountain Creek and the South Platte. Since the 1990s, the Fountain Creek side has seen the building of Walmart and Safeway stores, each with sprawling parking lots. An apartment complex is also currently under construction.

Alspach says Green Mountain Falls shouldn’t be affected by such development because Woodland Park has had strict stormwater development requirements since 1994. Driving behind the Walmart, he points out two large, grassy retention ponds that slowly release runoff during storms. He’s checked those ponds during downpours, he says, and they’ve been doing their job.

The Safeway doesn’t have such ponds, but Alspach says that’s on purpose, because allowing the water to run off there was found to reduce peak flows in the creek. The apartment complex also has retention ponds, and sits next to a $2.1 million stormwater project that was recently completed by the city and the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Water flows in an underground box culvert, and is slowed by barricades before it hits a large channel.

He also points out private and public retention ponds that dot the town, especially in newer developments.

Woodland Park just forked over $100,000 for stormwater repairs needed after a damaging July storm, and is still paying off bonds from major stream work in 1998 and 1999. Alspach says he’s working his way west-to-east along Fountain Creek, doing upgrades. By the end of next year, he hopes to be close to finishing all the improvements in the city area, and to have a study in hand of what needs to be done on private and Teller County land that stretches between the eastern edge of the city and the Walmart.

All this work has been done, Alspach notes, with money from grants, Woodland Park’s limited general fund budget, a special streets fund and stormwater fees. It’s been done despite the fact that the town is too small to be bound by state permits for water quality.

“We have really endeavored to do the right thing for a long time,” he says.

More stormwater coverage here.


There are 44 transbasin diversions in Colorado that move water between river basins. Tour some with CFWE! #ColoradoRiver

August 26, 2014

2014 Colorado November election: El Paso County Stormwater issue on November ballot #COpolitics

August 25, 2014
Fountain Creek Watershed

Fountain Creek Watershed

From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Monica Mendoza):

It’s the end of the third quarter in the proposed stormwater funding plan, and a group of residents who have been working on the issue for two years have their game faces on. They saw a contract approved by the El Paso County Board of Commissioners on Tuesday that outlines how a regional stormwater authority would work and be governed should voters approve it in November.

But as the task force members and their consultants huddled after the meeting, there was little time to feel cocky about the victory. It’s a milestone, said Dave Munger, co-chair of the regional stormwater task force, but the game isn’t finished – or won – yet.

“The fourth quarter will be the election,” he said.

Munger’s co-chair and consultant to the group Kevin Walker added: “Nov. 4 is when it will be over.”[...]

If the committee work was the first two quarters of the game, then the third quarter got rough and tumble in recent meetings as [Colorado Springs Mayor] Bach, council members and the rest of the task force hashed out the details of the stormwater contract, called an intergovernmental agreement. The council approved the contract, without most of Bach’s proposed changes.

Bach held a news conference Aug. 13, announcing that he would not support the proposed stormwater authority. The same day the task force held a news conference to tout its plan.

And now the campaign season, or the fourth quarter, begins, Walker said.

Voters will be asked to OK an annual stormwater fee, which would be roughly $92 a year for a home with 3,000 square feet of impervious surface. If approved, a regional authority expects to collect about $39.2 million a year for 20 years.

Most of the money would be spent on construction projects and maintenance and operations of existing flood control projects.

About 10 percent of the fees collected would be set aside for flooding emergencies.

More 2015 Colorado November election coverage here.


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