Will Front Range growth trump river health? — Glenwood Springs Post Independent #ColoradoRiver #COWaterPlan

August 20, 2014


From the Glenwood Springs Post Independent (Lauren Glendenning):

Climate change might not be the end-all, be-all in the state’s water discussion, but Brad Udall knows it needs to at least be a part of it.

“The proper way to deal with climate change is to get out of the scientific battles and deal with it as a risk,” said Udall, who is the director and principal investigator of the University of Colorado-National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration Western Water Assessment.

While Colorado isn’t dealing with what Udall says is the biggest climate change impact, sea level rise, it is dealing with impacts of the overall water cycle. The West faces an unprecedented 14-year drought, resulting in low water levels at Lake Mead and Lake Powell, supply-demand gaps, power losses and threats to conservation.

As the atmosphere warms, it also holds more moisture, resulting in water cycle changes. Udall said the effects are already appearing as more rain and less snow, earlier runoff, higher water temperatures and more intense rain.

The higher water temperatures are something that water conservation folks throughout the Western Slope are concerned about. At a recent Colorado Basin Roundtable meeting, Holly Loff, executive director of the Eagle River Watershed Council, introduced to the group a recent assessment of the Upper Colorado River. The study shows that elevated water temperatures are occurring in the Upper Colorado that are above the known thermal tolerance of trout.

Loff said more transmountain diversions out of the basin to the Front Range would only further affect aquatic life, which goes beyond just fish and bugs.

“It impacts everything that uses the riparian area, which is every creature,” Loff said. “Temperature, that is huge. When you take the water out [of the streams for diversions], the water that’s left heats up more. Water temperatures rise, and it completely changes the fish that want to be in that water. Our fishermen are going to see that.”

Loff said she isn’t so quick to join in on the finger-pointing to the Front Range. The Front Range has cut back on wasteful bluegrass lawns, for example, and is doing a great job in terms of per-capita water use.

“They’re actually doing much better than we are” in per-capita water use, she said. “We are all going to have to make some changes.”[...]

[Martha Cochran] points out that agriculture efficiencies could help improve water supplies, but the use-it or lose-it concept hampers progress.

Use-it or lose-it means that a water user who fails to divert the maximum amount of water that their right allows loses some of their rights the next time they go to court to transfer those rights.

“Sprinkling systems for agriculture are more efficient and use less water, they’re easier to control, you can direct them better, they’re more specific about how and when,” Cochran said. “And that’s a good thing, but it’s not [a good thing] if it means you lose your water rights because you’re not using all the water you traditionally used.”[...]

As the state crafts the Colorado Water Plan, one development holds out hope that East and West Slope entities can work together. Just last year, the Colorado River Cooperative Agreement was signed between Denver Water and Western Slope water providers and municipalities. The agreement is a long-term partnership that aims to achieve better environmental health in the Colorado River Basin, as well as high-quality recreational use.

The agreement, which included 43 parties from Grand Junction to Denver, states that future water projects on the Colorado River will be accomplished through cooperation, not confrontation. It’s debatable whether that will happen, given the finger-pointing cropping up during the draft stages of the Colorado Water Plan process.

James Eklund, director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board and head of the development of the Colorado Water Plan, believes it can happen, but he admits it won’t be easy.

“The idea is to take that paradigm shift that occurred with the Cooperative Agreement and exploit that and replicate and scale that up to the entire state,” he said. “Doing that is going to require some work.”

But positions like Loff’s that are 100 percent against more transmountain diversion projects are widespread on this side of the Continental Divide, and it’s going to take more than some conversations and a few handshakes to find some middle ground.

“The biggest thing for us, and the entire basin, is that we want to make it perfectly clear that having another transmountain diversion over to the Front Range is really going to damage our recreation-based economy,” she said. “And that it’s going to have more impacts on the environment and on agriculture. They need to understand that we’re not saying we don’t want to share the water, it’s just that there isn’t any more water to share. We have obligations through the compact [to downstream states with legal rights], so more water leaving our basin — that water doesn’t ever come back.”[...]

So that will be part of the process in the coming months as each of the nine basins drafting implementation plans polish up their drafts before sending them off to the state. Two of the Front Range basins, Metro and South Platte, are combining theirs into one document, for a total of eight plans being rolled into the Colorado Water Plan.

It’s like a community development plan that lays out a vision and direction, but it will require execution, said Jim Pokrandt, communications and education director for the Colorado River District.

“Hopefully it will address how we can get down the path of efficiency and the land use discussion,” he said. “It’s a very painful discussion, but not as painful as the need to start digging a new transmountain diversion tomorrow.”

More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.


Donala merges wastewater operations with Academy — Tri-Lakes Tribune

August 20, 2014
Wastewater Treatment Process

Wastewater Treatment Process

From the Tri-Lakes Tribune (Danny Summers):

It may not by the biggest wastewater merger in Colorado history, but Donala Water and Sanitation grew by more than 10 percent when the Academy Water and Sanitation District Board approved a resolution to connect its wastewater operations with Donala.

“Academy made the decision between Colorado Springs Utilities and us,” said Donala general manager Kip Peterson. “It makes sense for both Academy and us from a cost perspective.”

Academy, which has about 300 customers, managed its own wastewater treatment for nearly five decades. Donala has about 2,800 customers and has shown steady growth through difficult economic times in recent years.

“We’ve been talking with Academy about this merger for the last decade,” Peterson said. “We had a wastewater treatment plant already designed with that thought in mind.”

Peterson said that pipes will be laid from Academy’s lagoon on Spring Valley Drive to Donala’s collection pipes. From there, a lift station will pump Academy’s wastewater to the Donala pipes for treatment by the Upper Monument Creek Regional Wastewater Treatment Facility.

Peterson said the process will take some time and probably will not begin take place until the fall 2018, as required by Academy’s wastewater permit.

Academy’s Board was forced to make a change months ago because of new state regulations that could not be met by the district’s current lagoon treatment system. It looked at building a new plant at its current location, but the Board found that option to be much too costly.

Meanwhile, Donala’s General Manager explains why rate continue to increase in this report from Danny Summers writing for the Tri-Lakes Tribune. Here’s an excerpt:

One of Kip Peterson’s main goals as general manager of Donala Water and Sanitation is to keep an open-door policy to the folks in his District.

One of the main questions most residents want to know is why do their water rates continue to go up and why are they restricted on their outside watering?

“That is a big concern for a lot of people,” Peterson said. “And I completely understand why.”

Earlier this month, Peterson and his staff included in its newsletter to its customers a rare comparison with some local water companies. The list included Donala, Woodmoor, Woodmen Hills, Colorado Springs, Monument and Triview.

“I put it out there so folks can see for themselves, Peterson said. “I have a very strong belief that we have to remain transparent.”

Donala customers have been on water restrictions for eight years. Colorado Springs Utilities customers were on water restrictions in 2013, but that was lifted this year.

“I think that was a mistake,” Petersons said. “I think that sends a bad message to the community. Do you really want to conserve water or do you want to make money?

“(Donala’s) rate structure is intentionally designed for conservation.”

More wastewater coverage here.


Pueblo Board of Water Works leases net $1.07 million in revenue

August 20, 2014
Pueblo photo via Sangres.com

Pueblo photo via Sangres.com

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Improved weather conditions have freed up more water for the Pueblo Board of Water Works to lease, filling in a potential hole in revenues. Water leases on the spot market this year will bring in about $1.07 million, with 8,567 acre-feet (2.8 billion gallons) leased through the bidding process.

An additional 2,535 acre-feet in leases to two well augmentation groups and to Mauro Farms were approved Tuesday, bringing in $228,750, after the initial round of leases in March. The additional water is being provided because imports from the Western Slope are higher than expected, while demand in Pueblo has tapered off during a cool, wet summer, said Alan Ward, water resources manager.

Pueblo’s transmountain water sources have yielded more than 19,000 acre-feet in the first six months of this year, about 128 percent of average. More than 44,000 acre-feet of water are in storage, 114 percent more than last year at the same time.

At the same time, Pueblo pumped just above 5 billion gallons through its treated water system as of July 31, a decrease of 7.83 percent from the five-year average. The board has 39,890 accounts, which represents an increase of 324 over 2005.

Roughly two-thirds of the board’s revenue comes from metered water sales within the city, which are projected to bring in $23.3 million. However, if decreased use continues, that figure could be about $1 million less by the end of the year.

More Pueblo Board of Water Works coverage here.


Drought news: Southeast Colorado sees some relief from the #COdrought

August 20, 2014

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Once again, Southern Colorado has drawn the short end of the cloud. The latest state drought assessment shows that a wet, cool summer is alleviating drought conditions in much of Colorado, but the southern third of the state is still in some sort of drought condition. Parts of Crowley, Otero, Bent and Kiowa counties remain in the worst shape with extreme drought, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor, an assessment compiled by the nation’s top scientists. For other parts of the region, it is the first time in more than two years that no areas of exceptional drought — the highest stage — have been reported.

“The drought is well into its fourth year, but recent rains have brought relief,” according to a report co-authored by Taryn Finnessey of the Colorado Water Conservation Board and Tracy Kosloff of the Division of Water Resources. “It will likely take years for rangelands and producers to recover.”

In all, about 40 percent of the state remains in some sort of drought condition, which is much better than a year ago, when nearly all of the state was affected.

The good news is that much of the state is bouncing back to normal following rains that have been sufficient to douse fire danger while not causing the widespread flooding seen in 2013.

That’s not to say it’s been nothing but peaceful, gentle sprinkles. In the town of Eads, located north of Lamar, 7 inches of rain fell in just a few hours ending the dust in torrents of mud.

Statewide, Snotel weather stations are showing precipitation is 103 percent of average, while reservoir storage is at 97 percent of average. Storage and streamflow conditions remain worst in the Rio Grande basin.

July rainfall was plentiful along the Front Range, with many areas — El Paso, Huerfano and western Otero counties among them — receiving two-three times average amounts.

Temperatures during the first two weeks of August have been 3-4 degrees cooler than normal, helping to alleviate drought conditions, the report noted.

Meanwhile many eyes are watching the development of El Niño. Here’s a report from 9News (Maya Rodriguez):

Earlier this year, scientists predicted “El Nino” would be strong this year. That didn’t happen right away, but it’s picking up steam again…

For a state that’s grappled this year with heavy snow in the mountains and a severe drought in the plains, it sometimes seemed like Colorado’s weather had a split personality. With an El Nino now predicted to strengthen in the Pacific, Colorado’s winter could look different, depending on your elevation.

“When I think of El Nino, it’s giving us a little bit to hang our hats on in the very challenging world of trying to make seasonal climate predictions,” said Nolan Doesken, state climatologist for Colorado and part of the Colorado Climate Center at CSU.

Doesken said El Ninos don’t create a certainty for what the weather might bring in the future, but historically, they do show patterns.

“El Nino tips the odds a little bit towards certain factors dominating more often than ‘usual,'” he said.

One example: snowfall…

“The stronger the El Nino, the more likely we are to have some big fall and winter storms at lower elevations,” Doesken said.

Yet, the opposite can be true in the northern and central mountains, where a strong El Nino historically means less snow there…

“Winter recreationists and springtime whitewater rafters all love to watch accumulation of snow in mid-winter, but El Nino does not necessarily bode well for winter accumulations,” Doesken said, speaking about areas in the northern and central mountains.

Climatologists say there are many factors that could determine how much snow we see this winter. Still, El Nino is something they keep an eye on.

From the Albuquerque Journal (John Fleck):

If “drought” is the villain, is “El Niño” – the climate pattern that brings our winter snows – the hero?

And if the answer is “yes,” has our hero abandoned us? What had been looking over the late spring and early summer like it could be gangbuster of an El Niño looks like it’s fizzling, slashing the odds of a wet winter to bail us out of this drought.

But maybe things aren’t as bad as all that. After a couple of recent trips up and down the Rio Grande this month, it was easy to shrug and ask, what drought?

Driving down I-25 the first weekend in August, I crossed the Rio Salado in northern Socorro County in its full flash-flood mode. Jumping off the freeway at the next exit, I drove out to see the Rio Grande roaring through the Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District’s San Acacia Diversion Dam. It was big and muddy and roiling with that unmistakable smell of a desert flash flood and, according to the U.S. Geologic Survey’s gauge just downstream of the dam, the most water at San Acacia in nearly a year.

Then last week, I drove through rain and saw many of the usually dry little arroyos between here and Las Cruces flashing with muddy thunderstorm remnants. The landscape the whole way was a lovely shade of green.

But when I pulled off in Truth or Consequences, and headed through town and up to Elephant Butte Dam, I looked down into a great big empty. Fifteen years of mostly lousy snowpacks in the upstream watersheds that feed the Rio Grande, combined with continued downstream water needs, have left Elephant Butte Reservoir in a hole that will take far more than a couple of wet months to dig out of.

The following day, I got off the freeway and drove the old road toward Las Cruces past irrigation ditches already dry and a bunch of farm fields left fallow because of the irrigation shortfalls. It was a reminder that drought is not one thing and fixing our water shortfalls takes more than a month or two of good rain.


2014 Colorado November election: Pikes Peak Regional Drainage Authority issue to be on ballot, Mayor Bach balks

August 20, 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):

El Paso County commissioners Tuesday voted 4-0 to put an issue on November’s ballot that would create the Pikes Peak Regional Drainage Authority to pay for storm water control. Voting for the measure were Chairman Dennis Hisey, Amy Lathen, Darryl Glenn and Peggy Littleton. Commissioner Sallie Clark was absent.

The authority would raise $39.2 million annually to address a $700 million backlog in stormwater projects in the Fountain Creek watershed.

Stormwater control is one of the premises Colorado Springs Utilities used in gaining approval from the Bureau of Reclamation and Pueblo County to build the Southern Delivery System, a pipeline to ship water from Lake Pueblo to El Paso County.

“With this step, the hard part’s over,” Hisey said.

Last week, Colorado Springs City Council approved, on a 7-2 vote, an intergovernmental agreement with El Paso County and other cities in the Fountain Creek drainage.

The next day, Mayor Steve Bach said he opposed the authority. proposals for ways to fund stormwater control within Colorado Springs.

A list of projects, which will be attached to the ballot proposal has yet to be approved, and will probably be in place by the El Paso County commission’s Sept. 2 meeting, Hisey said.

That would give Colorado Springs City Council time to review the list.

From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Matt Steiner):

The approval is a huge step in “controlling stormwater,” said Commissioner Amy Lathen, who has played a major role in the regional stormwater task force that first met in August 2012. Dave Munger, co-chairman of the task force, was at Tuesday’s meeting and joined a small contingent who let out a smattering of applause after the commission’s vote.

Munger echoed Lathen about the need to solve stormwater issues regionally.

“Everyone, just about everyone, is aware of stormwater and its significance. Everyone agrees that it is a regional problem,” he said, noting that governments working together will create “a synergy that we’ve never realized.”

The decision appeared to be an easy one for the commissioners. But some debate arose after Colorado Springs Deputy City Attorney Tom Florczak gave the commissioners 18 projects the city insists be added to a list attached to the county’s 
resolution.

Florczak said the City Council did not include a project list in its resolution that passed on a 7-2 vote Aug. 12.

“The concern of the administration was that by having the list, it is limited,” Florczak said.

“It boils down to one word, flexibility,” said Steve Gardner, the Colorado Springs director of public works who was with Florczak on Tuesday.

After the City Council’s vote on the PPRDA, Mayor Steve Bach held a news conference announcing that he would not support the stormwater initiative.

More 2014 Colorado November election coverage here.


“We don’t want to demonize the Front Range” — Jim Pokrandt #ColoradoRiver #COWaterPlan

August 19, 2014


From the Vail Daily (Lauren Glendenning):

The soothing sound of the Colorado River as it meanders its way across Colorado’s Western Slope is the sound of a thriving economy, a fragile environment and also an impending crisis.

The state of water supplies in the arid West is volatile and forecasts are grim. Lake Powell and Lake Mead are at alarmingly low levels, while populations across the West are swelling past the capacities of current water supplies.

The Colorado River Basin is facing a battle of sorts as Colorado creates a statewide water plan. It’s a battle against time and against competing water needs, both here in Colorado and in lower basin states like Nevada and California.

Regionally, some view it as an Eastern Slope vs. Western Slope battle, although water officials are carefully shaping the public relations message as one of unity and collaboration. There’s a very real fear that exists west of the Continental Divide, though, that Colorado’s growing Front Range population is going to suck the Colorado River Basin dry. Some even say that has already happened…

“Population is still growing and there’s a need to find more water for municipal uses,” said Jim Pokrandt, chair of the Colorado Basin Roundtable and spokesman for the Colorado River Water Conservation District. “We don’t want to demonize the Front Range.”[...]

…the state’s water planning has really been going on for over a decade, said Brad Udall, a research faculty member at the University of Colorado’s Getches-Wilkinson Center for Natural Resources, Energy and Environment and former director of the Western Water Assessment.

Udall has written extensively about climate change issues as they relate to water resources but his passion for Western water began outside of books and classrooms. His mother took him down the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon in the early 1970s, paving the way for Udall’s future in guiding Grand Canyon river trips. After getting into environmental engineering at Stanford University and developing a passion for water issues, he also began working on climate change issues. That’s when he realized that climate change means water change. They’re one in the same, he said…

…none of the states want to go back and draft new laws based on the realistic flows, except for maybe California, [Glenn Porzak] said.

“If you go back and say, ‘We made a mistake when we negotiated, we thought there was 17 million acre feet.’ If you renegotiate, (Colorado’s) going to lose,” he said. “All water is political.”[...]

The major concern at Lake Powell is that it’s getting down to such a level that it will no longer be able to generate power, said Glenn Porzak, a water attorney based in Boulder who represents water entities and municipalities in both Summit and Eagle counties, as well as Vail Resorts.

“The cost of power is going to quadruple,” Porzak said of Lake Powell, should it drop below power generating levels. “Almost all of the Western Slope’s power comes from the power grid that’s generated off Colorado River storage projects. That hits the ski industry and every other industry if the cost of power goes up four times.”

It also hits the average citizen, who has been enjoying relatively cheap water at home, Udall said.

“You hear we’re running out of water and we gotta get more, but we’re running out of cheap water,” he said. “Water that people are putting on lawns, that shouldn’t just be free, it should come with significant costs. … One of the lessons here is that water is going to get more expensive in the municipal sector, and a little bit more in the (agriculture) sector.”

When prices are low, people over-use water, but when they’re high, conservation becomes a lot easier and more attractive. And conservation is a big theme in the first draft of the Colorado Basin Implementation Plan, which came out last month and will undergo several more revisions before it’s sent to the state later this year for incorporation into the state water plan.

From the Glenwood Springs Post Independent (Lauren Glendenning):

Nathan Fey’s passion for kayaking led him to a career in river conservation and water quality issues. As the Colorado stewardship director for the nonprofit American Whitewater, he’s watching carefully as the state progresses through its water planning process.

The state must address some major conflicts as it creates the Colorado Water Plan, he said.

“Sure, our population is focused on the Front Range, but the reason we all live here is because recreation is a way of life for us,” Fey said. “I think there’s a big disconnect for people in our urban areas about where their water comes from. They don’t understand that if they grow green grass, there’s less water in the river when they’re fishing.”[...]

Recreation along the Colorado River and its tributaries is a $9.6 billion industry, and that’s just within the state of Colorado. According to a 2012 study for Protect The Flows, done by the consulting firm Southwick Associates, which specializes in recreation economics, the Colorado River would rank as the 19th-largest employer on the 2011 Fortune 500 list based on the jobs it generates.

“People moved here for the environment — it underpins the economy,” said Jim Pokrandt, chair of the Colorado Basin Roundtable and the communications and education director for the Colorado River Water Conservation District. “Water in the streams is an economic driver in and of itself.”

The recreation-based economies in mountain resort towns depend on healthy streams for more than just the water-based activities. Indirectly, hikers, campers and mountain bikers, to name a few, also depend on healthy streams.

“That’s the value we’re hoping Colorado embraces, so the desire to push for another transmountain diversion is deferred for a long time, if not forever, in favor of using the water we already have to its highest and most efficient use,” Pokrandt said…

Pokrandt likens the process to economizing, just like any business would do during tough times. You look at internal expenses, in this case water uses, and you cut back…

With the Colorado Water Plan’s deadline more than a year away, the Colorado Basin Roundtable is polishing its plan to make sure it gets the point across that more transmountain diversions would be detrimental to tourism economies, the environment and agriculture…

In the mountains, many of the major water providers such as the town of Breckenridge, the Upper Eagle Regional Water Authority and the Eagle River Water and Sanitation District, have senior, or pre-compact, water rights. The same goes for the Grand Valley and Grand Junction areas, said water attorney Glenn Porzak, who represents those entities as well as Vail Resorts and other local municipalities.

“The water rights really affected the most (under a compact curtailment) are all of the transmountain diversions,” Porzak said. “Fifty percent of Denver’s supply comes from the Dillon and Moffat systems and are post-compact. All of the Northern Colorado Conservancy District comes from the Thompson project, also junior. All of Colorado Springs and Aurora diversions are junior to the compact.”

When 75 percent of the Front Range supply comes from junior diversions, Porzak said it’s clear what municipalities will do: They’ll buy up more senior agriculture rights for the Western Slope.

More Front Range municipalities buying Western Slope agriculture water rights depletes rivers. When the water is diverted over the Continental Divide, it never returns to the basin. That affects flows, which affect water quality, stream health and the economic powerhouse that is recreation-based tourism…

The ski industry is the pulse of Summit, Eagle and Pitkin counties during winter months. Water is the source of winter-based recreation, but the fact that it doesn’t always fall from the sky at the right times or in the right quantities means water must be taken from elsewhere.

Aspen Skiing Co. and Vail Resorts have bought and maintained important water rights since the beginning of each company’s existence…

Predictability like a start date for the season — something the company typically announces during the previous ski season — is crucial to lock in season pass sales. Without important water rights and water supplies, Hensler said opening for Thanksgiving might be impossible, and Christmas would even be a challenge…

Hensler points out that snowmaking is only about 20 percent consumptive.

“About 80 percent of the water we put on the mountain as snow melts and flows back into the streams — it’s a very sustainable use,” Hensler said.

More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.


Anyone up to applying a mathematical model to the butterfly effect? — Chris Woodka

August 17, 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):

Anyone up to applying a mathematical model to the butterfly effect?

The Arkansas Basin Roundtable is trying to develop a model that shows how changes in water use in one area affect flows elsewhere.

Called SWAM (simplified water allocation model), the latest addition to a growing base of knowledge is a $100,000 grant request from the Colorado Water Conservation Board to refine hydrologic models of the Arkansas River basin and analyze shortages that could occur — for both farms and cities — by the year 2050.

“This would be a scaled-down model that would give you an idea of the impact,” said Terry Scanga, general manager of the Upper Arkansas Water Conservancy District.

“Other basins have decision support systems,” said Alan Hamel, who represents the basin on the Colorado Water Conservation Board. “We’re years out from the development of a full basin model.”

The decision support system for the Arkansas River was delayed by the CWCB because of the federal Kansas Colorado lawsuit over the Arkansas River Compact. But major changes in hydrology occurred during the course of the 24-year lawsuit, including farm dry-ups, increased storage and pipeline construction.

Questions of harm to water rights were decided by lawyers and engineers, rather than a common scientific model. As it stands, the use of a model raises as many questions as it answers.

Roundtable members asked whether this particular model could solve the questions of water rights vs. flood control on Fountain Creek, change the amount of water owed to Kansas or reveal which water rights are harmed by a decision.

“This is a broader scope,” Scanga said.

The study would probably build on existing water balance studies for portions of the river. Some of the existing models were developed for a specific purpose, and don’t reflect overall impacts.

The new project will attempt to look at how municipal, industrial, agricultural, environmental and recreation uses of water would be affected by projects in wet, normal or dry years. It will also evaluate likely future conditions under various rates of growth.

The study won’t change water laws within the state, alter the allocation of water under the compact or prevent a drought, but it might help parts of the basin prepare for changes.

“We’re hoping that we get this right,” said Jay Winner, general manager of the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District.

More Arkansas River Basin coverage here.


Fountain Creek erosion mitigation project results encouraging

August 15, 2014
Fountain Creek erosion via The Pueblo Chieftain

Fountain Creek erosion via The Pueblo Chieftain

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

A project to restore a small portion of Fountain Creek could have benefits for longer reaches.

“There are 51 miles of bank on each side of the creek from Colorado Springs to Pueblo,” said Larry Small, executive director of the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District. “Now we know a method to use to control erosion.”

Small was giving a report to the Arkansas Basin Roundtable, which gave the green light to a $146,000 state grant toward the $189,000 project last year to undertake the project on Frost Ranch, located in El Paso County about 25 miles north of Pueblo.

The project restored the channel and fortified the bank along 480 feet of the Frost Ranch. Past floods had eaten away about 70 feet of the bank, including vegetation. Three tiers of dirt secured by netting rising about 4 feet were chosen as the way to restore this particular area. About 7,500 willow plants, along with grasses and other vegetation to hold the shore.

Work began in April and was completed in mid-May.

The first test of the work came on May 23, when the creek swelled to 3,000 cubic feet per second, rising nearly to the top of the newly constructed embankment, Small said. The work held, and the moisture spurred plant growth. About 75 percent of the plants survived.

A larger wave of water, 5,000 cfs, came on July 23. While some of the water overtopped the bank and deposited sand along the top, the bank stayed in place.

The roundtable applauded the district’s efforts.

“Frost Ranch has been an excellent neighbor to the creek,” said SeEtta Moss of Canon City, who was appointed to the roundtable to represent environmental interests. “I’m delighted to see what’s been done.”

More Fountain Creek coverage here.


USBR finds $2 million for the Arkansas Valley Conduit for the current fiscal year

August 15, 2014

Arkansas Valley Conduit Comanche North route via Reclamation

Arkansas Valley Conduit Comanche North route via Reclamation


From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

The Arkansas Valley Conduit has received $2 million for the current fiscal year through reprogramming of funds within the Bureau of Reclamation, according to Colorado Democratic U.S. Sens. Michael Bennet and Mark Udall.

“Folks in Southeast Colorado have been waiting a long time for the federal government to fulfill its promise to build the Arkansas Valley Conduit,” Bennet said. “Making these resources available for the conduit is crucial to completing this phase of the project and moving it one step closer to completion.”

Earlier this year, the senators backed legislation that loosened purse strings within the Bureau of Reclamation and allowed for transfer of funds to projects such as the conduit, which was first authorized in the 1962 Fryingpan-Arkansas Act.

The Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District, sponsor of the project, was dismayed when President Barack Obama’s budget submitted to Congress contained only $500,000 in funding this year. More was needed to complete planning and feasibility analysis before the design work and land acquisition can begin.

“Southern Coloradans have been counting on the Arkansas Valley Conduit’s construction for access to clean drinking water — they’ve been waiting long enough,” Udall said.

U.S. Reps. Scott Tipton and Cory Gardner, both Colorado Republicans, also support the conduit and applauded the news.

“This completion of the Arkansas Valley Conduit will ensure the continued delivery of clean drinking water to families, agriculture producers and municipalities throughout Southeastern Colorado,” Tipton said.

The $400 million conduit is in its early stages, having gained approval last year from Reclamation for the 120-mile route from Pueblo Dam to Lamar and Eads.

It would serve 50,000 people in 40 communities by providing filtered drinking water. Most of the communities along the route rely on wells and many of them are facing water quality compliance issues that could force more expensive alternatives to the conduit.

“The support we have gotten from Congress, Gov. John Hickenlooper and James Eklund of the Colorado Water Conservation Board has been tremendous,” said Jim Broderick, executive director of the Southeastern district. “This will allow us to move the project forward as was intended more than 50 years ago.”

Hickenlooper praised the decision: “We have worked closely with all parties to stress the need for this conduit and will continue to support Southeastern and local government in the hard work to bring this project to fruition.”

From Governor Hickenlooper’s office:

Gov. John Hickenlooper today released the following statement on the Bureau of Reclamation’s decision to redirect $2 million to fund the Arkansas Valley Conduit.

“The Arkansas Valley Conduit will serve 50,000 people in more than 40 communities in southeastern Colorado. We commend the Bureau of Reclamation for prioritizing this project and thank the leadership of the Department of the Interior, Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District, as well our congressional delegation for ongoing efforts to deliver funding for this critical project. We have worked closely with all parties to stress the need for this conduit and will continue to support southeastern and local government in the hard work to bring this project to fruition,” Hickenlooper said.

The conduit, a water pipeline originally envisioned as part of the federal Fry-Ark Project legislation in 1962, will assist communities experiencing high water treatment costs by providing water from Pueblo Reservoir. The latest funding will assist with preconstruction costs associated with the 130-mile project.

More Arkansas Valley Conduit coverage here and here.


Colorado Springs City Council OKs regional stormwater contract — Colorado Springs Gazette

August 13, 2014

From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Monica Mendoza):

Members of the regional stormwater task force cheered Tuesday when the Colorado Springs City Council voted 7-2 to approve a contract for a stormwater funding program that was two years in the making.

With a sigh of relief following the vote, council member Jan Martin said the city has been trying to find a way to pay for millions of dollars in stormwater, flood control and drainage projects needs for a decade…

The contract and proposed November ballot language that would create a regional stormwater authority still needs to be approved by the other parties in the intergovernmental agreement: the El Paso County Board of County Commissioners, Green Mountain Falls, Fountain and Manitou Springs. All have indicated they will OK the contract.

The contract – the result of dozens of public meetings, community surveys and hours of public discussion – outlines the terms and duties of a Pikes Peak Regional Drainage Authority, a governmental agency that would plan regional flood control projects.

Voters are expected to 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 new construction projects, and maintenance and operations of existing flood control projects. A pot of money – about 10 percent of the fees collected – would be set aside for flooding emergencies.

An 11-member board would oversee the planning of the regional stormwater projects, and Colorado Springs would have six seats on the board.

But not everyone is happy. Mayor Steve Bach plans to hold a press conference Wednesday to detail his objections to the contract. He says it binds the city to a list of projects and does not give the city flexibility in cases of flooding emergencies. The contract infringes upon the city’s ability to manage its affairs, he said.

The stormwater contract requires that money collected from property owners in each city be spent in their city over a five-year rolling average, except for the emergency fund. Bach said spending the emergency pot of money will be decided by the authority’s board, which could reject a Colorado Springs project, he said.

“(The emergency fund) will not be returned to each city over a five-year rolling average,” he said. “Is it fair for third-party bureaucracy to have no responsibility to return it if we have an emergency in our city?”[...]

Bach also raised concerns about the proposed ballot language. He said it doesn’t detail the amount of the fees that will be assessed on each property.

“We need to be straight with the voters,” Bach said…

El Paso County Commissioner Amy Lathen, a member of the stormwater task force, noted that Colorado Springs is guaranteed a majority of the seats on the board, and said it is disingenuous for Bach to suggest that Colorado Springs, which has 80 percent of the flood control needs, would get short shrift.

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Colorado Springs City Council approved, 7-2, an intergovernmental agreement Tuesday that is expected to lead to a vote on a regional drainage authority for El Paso County.

“I supported a regional process (when a stormwater task force started meeting). It made sense at the time and it still makes sense,” said Keith King, council president. “Let’s put it in the hands of the voters.”

Most council members said the agreement is not perfect, but supported the opportunity to ask voters for approval of the authority. Helen Collins said there are too many taxes already and Don Knight said it does not protect Colorado Springs adequately in voting against the agreement.

The authority would raise $39 million in 2016 and is expected grow over the next 20 years to meet a backlog of more than $700 million in stormwater projects and to maintain them. Money would be spent proportionally in the participating communities.

While council OK’d the agreement, El Paso County Commissioners will have to place the issue on the November ballot, which they could do as early as next week. The IGA also must pass muster with Manitou Springs, Fountain and Green Mountain Falls.

It’s important to Pueblo County because Colorado Springs City Council abolished its short-lived stormwater authority in 2009. The authority was one of the premises of the Southern Delivery System, including Pueblo County’s 1041 land-use permit and the Bureau of Reclamation’s contract for use of Pueblo Dam and Lake Pueblo.

Colorado Springs Utilities pledged to avoid worsening flooding on Fountain Creek as a result of SDS in permit hearings.

“Down-streamers like me have watched the stormwater issue for some time and we’re excited something is being done,” said Dennis Hisey, an El Paso County commissioner from Fountain who sits on the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District.

“This is a collaborative process such as I have never seen,” said Amy Lathen, a commissioner who has worked with the El Paso County stormwater task force since 2012. “We will not take a step without full agreement on the IGA.”

Council spent nearly three hours wading through the agreement’s details, with Assistant City Attorney Tom Florczak, former Pueblo city attorney, leading the panel through changes Mayor Steve Bach wanted.

Bach met Monday and Tuesday with the council and county to negotiate changes, which was portrayed in contrasting ways by his chief of staff, Steve Cox, and Lathen.

Cox maintained that Bach had little time to review the document.

Lathen said Bach had made public, misleading statements about the agreement, particularly in portraying the assessment to property owners as a tax, rather than a fee.

During the council meeting there also was some discussion about how costs would be divided among authority members and an emergency fund. Bach wants to make sure Colorado Springs’ needs are met, and some council members were wary that Colorado Springs would bankroll payments owed by smaller communities.

“We could have a huge storm that messes up the Fountain River through Pueblo,” King said. “Do we need to treat this as an insurance policy?”

From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Monica Mendoza):

Pueblo County Commissioner Sal Pace has closely followed the negotiations over the proposed El Paso County stormwater initiative and is crossing his fingers that political bickering won’t keep the issue from the November ballot.

Pace has talked about Colorado Springs’ floodwaters for years and says the stormwater initiative is directly tied to the $1 billion Southern Delivery System, a regional project that brings Arkansas River water stored in Pueblo Reservoir to Colorado Springs.

Stormwater management in Colorado Springs has been on Pueblo’s radar since Colorado Springs Utilities committed to Pueblo and Pueblo County that it would be in compliance with stormwater responsibilities before 2016 – when the water is due to start flowing north.

When the permits for SDS were inked, Colorado Springs had a stormwater fee in place and a list of projects designed to head off floodwaters going south, Pace said. But the fee ended in 2011 and left Pueblo officials wondering if the promised flood control projects would be built.

“We know there will be more water in Fountain Creek because of SDS,” Pace said. “Part of the SDS permit was a guarantee of no increase in stormwater flows.”

Pace said if Colorado Springs’ stormwater issues are not resolved, Pueblo could take Utilities to court and challenge the SDS permits that were based on stormwater controls. No one wants to go down that path, he said.

“The fact that Colorado Springs and El Paso County are moving in this direction is a very positive step,” he said.

Colorado Springs City Council is expected to vote on the proposed regional stormwater contract, called an intergovernmental agreement, for the creation of the Pikes Peak Regional Drainage Authority at its Tuesday meeting. El Paso Board of County Commissioners will consider the contract and ballot language at its Aug. 19 meeting.

The authority, if approved by voters in November, would collect about $39 million a year for the next 20 years to pay for flood control projects in the Fountain Creek Watershed, 928 square miles with a perimeter of 160 miles. Fountain, Green Mountain Falls and Manitou Springs also are considering joining the authority.

Mayor Steve Bach has raised concerns about the proposed contract, saying that it is too restrictive when it comes to the city planning stormwater projects within the city limits. He also worries that the city would not be able to quickly respond to a flood emergency.

“We have to be careful not to put ourselves in a straight jacket,” Bach said. “What if priorities change in a few years? Colorado Springs can’t change its priorities without a supermajority of the (stormwater) board.”

Bach sent a letter to the council July 31 outlining his concerns, which include the need for Colorado Springs to have seven seats on the 11-member governing board. He said he hoped the council would consider his concerns and adjust the contract before approving it.

“I would like to support the IGA,” Bach said. “But if it is so onerous and interferes with the business of the city, I may be forced to oppose the ballot initiative.”

The council appears ready to approve the contract without the mayor’s changes.

Council president Keith King said the stormwater task force designed a regional program so that flood control projects could be planned together among the four cities and county. It would defeat the purpose of a regional project if it were to change the contract to allow Colorado Springs to act on its own.

“I’m afraid we are probably at an impasse,” King said.

Last weekend, the stormwater task force conducted a phone survey asking potential voters whether it would matter to them if Bach did not support the stormwater initiative. The results, however, are “being kept close to the vest,” said Rachel Beck, a task force member.

Councilwoman Jill Gaebler said a conflict between the mayor and council could affect voters. Some, she said, equate the bickering to distrust.

“People want us to work together,” she said.

Gaebler said she believes Bach has the city’s best interests in mind with his proposed changes to the stormwater contract. But his proposal comes too late, she said.

“This task force has been meeting for two years,” she said. “Ever since I’ve been on council, every month an invitation was sent to (the city attorney) and the staff and no one ever attended.”

Richard Skorman, business owner and member of the stormwater task force, said he doesn’t expect the recent strife to influence voters.

“No one should beat themselves up for bringing up issues at the last minute,” Skorman said. “I think everyone at the table wants the same thing.”

Skorman said Bach’s request for seven seats on the board seems reasonable, given that Colorado Springs will contribute roughly 80 percent in fees and need 80 percent of the flood control projects.

“All of those things are important,” he said. “But the biggest goal is for us to finally address flooding problems. There seems to be unanimous support for that.”

More stormwater coverage here.


“We’re still bringing water through the Boustead Tunnel. It’s running at twice of average” — Roy Vaughan #COdrought

August 12, 2014

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Summer rains have prolonged river flows in Southern Colorado beyond anyone’s expectations this year.

It’s been great for rafting on the Upper Arkansas River, a blessing for farmers and helped to replenish reservoir levels after years of drought.

“We’re seeing an increase in private boaters,” said Stew Pappenfort, lead ranger for the Arkansas Headwaters Recreation Area. “A lot have taken up kayaking or canoeing after going on a commercial outing.”

Caution was needed during the very high flows that occurred earlier this year, he added. There have been 11 deaths on the upper portion of the river, including seven drownings from boating accidents and one medical emergency.

Flows above Canon City remained above 1,000 cubic feet per second Friday, thanks to both wet conditions and releases to make even more space for imports in Turquoise and Twin Lakes in Lake County, near the headwaters of the Arkansas River.

“We’re still bringing water through the Boustead Tunnel. It’s running at twice of average,” said Roy Vaughan, manager of the Fryingpan- Arkansas Project for the Bureau of Reclamation.

The Boustead Tunnel brings water from the Roaring Fork watershed into Turquoise Lake.

So far, nearly 80,000 acre-feet (26 billion gallons) of water has been brought over, which is about 25 percent more than Reclamation forecast in June. Snowpack was about 25 percent above the median this year in Colorado’s central mountains. But regular summer rains, missing in 2012 and 2013, have boosted flows to more normal levels, Vaughan added.

For farmers, the wet conditions are welcome.

“We were dry early,” said Dale Mauch, who farms near Lamar. The Fort Lyon Canal has had 16 runs of water so far this year, compared with 12 total in 2013 and just seven in 2012. “We had a slow start, because it had been so dry, but it picked up in mid-June. We ran out of snow water on July 4, but then it started raining. You need rain. It really makes a difference.”


Texas-based builders fined $310,000 by EPA for stormwater violations at Air Force Academy construction site — @bberwyn

August 9, 2014

Huerfano County: Shell fails to convince the Division of Water Resources that produced water is non-tributary

August 9, 2014

coalbedmethanefieldslower48statesviaagiweborg

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

An oil company’s claim for underground water near Gardner in Huerfano County was rejected last month by the state.

Shell Oil argued produced water from planned drilling is non-tributary, meaning it could be claimed for other uses. Produced water refers to excess water that nearly always accompanies oil and gas drilling operations.

But the Colorado Division of Water Resources said Shell failed to prove its case, in an initial report. Shell has until Aug. 22 to appeal the finding.

Shell’s consultant, AMEC, failed to consider local geologic factors that connect as well as separate the deep Niobrara shale formation with the natural stream system, according to a decision written by Ralf Topper and Matthew Sares of the hydrogeological services section of the division.

Shell’s application was opposed by Citizens for Huerfano County, a group of about 450 local residents and 600 total members that advocates for clean water and air.

“We’re contending that the water is connected because of the vertical dikes in the particular geology of the area,” said Jeff Briggs, president of the citizens group.

Shell made the claims for water underlying three 25,000-acre tracts known as the Seibert, State and Fortune federal units. It plans to drill 7,000 feet deep with horizontal fracturing at a depth of 5,000 feet.

That plan troubles area residents because of past contamination from drilling, Briggs said.

“We feel the state Legislature and executive branch have tried to facilitate as much oil and gas exploration as possible,” Briggs said. “I think what we are saying is that the decision by all levels of government and the oil and gas industry to go all in on fracking was economic and political and not scientific or medical.”

However the Huerfano County decision might not have statewide implications because it applies to specific geologic conditions found in the Spanish Peaks area.

A nontributary designation has advantages for a driller, because containing produced water for either direct use, treatment or deep injection would not require finding other sources to augment stream depletions

More coalbed methane coverage here.


New partnership formed to address drought in Colorado River Basin — Denver Water

August 8, 2014
Denver Water's collection system via the USACE EIS

Denver Water’s collection system via the USACE EIS

From Denver Water (Travis Thompson):

In a first-of-its-kind partnership, agricultural and environmental organizations, West Slope water districts and Denver Water have come together to explore measures that could help benefit the Colorado River and avoid reaching critically low water levels in Lake Powell. Should levels in this important reservoir continue to decline due to the prolonged drought in the basin, it could result in a compact call, putting water supplies to much of Colorado and the upper basin states at risk. This also could result in a loss of regionally important hydropower production, a reduction in revenues derived from the sale of this power, and an associated loss of funding for important programs like the Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program that provides the means by which all existing water use and an increment of future use in the upper basin can comply with the federal Endangered Species Act.

The Colorado Cattlemen’s Association, Colorado Farm Bureau, Colorado River District, Southwestern Water Conservation District, Denver Water, The Nature Conservancy and Trout Unlimited are working together to leverage $11 million made available under the Colorado River System Conservation Program, which will fund pilot projects to reduce demands in the Colorado River Basin and improve reservoir levels in Lake Powell as well as Lake Mead, which also has declined to its lowest level in its 80 year history.

“Without collaborative action, water supplies, hydropower production, water quality, agricultural output, recreation and environmental resources are all at risk in the next several years in the upper basin, if Lake Powell reaches critically low levels,” said Doug Robotham, Colorado water project director of The Nature Conservancy in Colorado.

The Colorado River System Conservation Program, announced last week, was created by the Bureau of Reclamation and four municipalities in the upper and lower Colorado basins, including Denver Water, to provide funding to develop, test and gather data on potential short-term demonstration or pilot programs that keep water in lakes Powell and Mead through temporary, voluntary and fully compensated mechanisms. If a pilot program proves to be successful, it could be part of a contingency toolbox developed by states and the federal government to be implemented only if a severe shortage looks imminent and discontinued when conditions improve.

“Our interest is to protect water users in Colorado and the upper basin. We know that if there is a compact call, agriculture is the first area that will be looked at for the solution,” said Don Shawcroft, Colorado Farm Bureau. “A crisis is bad for everyone — especially agriculture. It is vital that we have a voice at the table.”

The upper basin pilot projects developed under the System Conservation Program will be used to demonstrate ways to put water immediately in Lake Powell, through voluntary, compensated means, and only for as long as a drought continues.

“Lake Powell is the ‘bank account’ that assures the upper basin has the wherewithal to meet our obligation to the lower basin under the Colorado River Compact. While the risks of Lake Powell going below its power pool are low, the consequences are high,” said Jim Lochhead, CEO/manager of Denver Water. “Currently there are no contingency plans for such an event. Denver gets half its water supply from the Colorado River so we have a big stake in the future security of the river, not just for ourselves, but for all water users in Colorado. As leaders, we simply cannot wait for a crisis to happen before we come together to figure out how to address it. That would be irresponsible.”

“For a number of years now we have been working with Colorado, Front Range water providers, Southwestern, TNC, and agricultural producers on a long-term water banking solution. The System Conservation Program is a natural outgrowth of that effort. The challenge is to be sure all parties are represented and that we have fair and transparent processes,” said Eric Kuhn, general manager of the Colorado River District.

In order to ensure that local concerns are addressed, and that there is equity and fairness among all parties, the upper basin states of Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming, and the Upper Colorado River Commission will have a direct role in program efforts. This envisioned structure is distinct from that of the Lower Colorado River Basin, where the Bureau of Reclamation will manage conservation actions in Arizona, California and Nevada to address declining reservoir levels in Lake Mead in a manner consistent with past programs.

“Complying with the Colorado River Compact is a shared responsibility across all water-use sectors and among all the upper basin states” said James Eklund, director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board. “We must control our destiny. The worst case is a compact call or a situation where the federal government determines how we will manage critical flows. We simply must work together to protect the future of this state, all our economies and critical industries to avoid a future compact call.”

As this is a basin-wide project, the coalition will continue to seek additional stakeholders throughout the upper basin states. The members also plan to actively seek additional funding for education and outreach.

“This is not a one-sector or one-state solution. The pilot programs will demonstrate the viability of cooperative means to reduce water demand from any number of different sources where water is lost or consumed — agriculture, municipal and industrial,” said Frank Daley, president of the Colorado Cattlemen’s Association.

“We have learned in Colorado though our Water Conservation Board and Basin Roundtables how critical public awareness is to project success. Education and awareness of the pilot projects may be equally as beneficial as the projects themselves. We have to be sure people have the real facts of what we are trying to do, buy in to the process and then document the benefits,” stated Bruce Whitehead, executive director of the Southwestern Conservation District.

The Colorado River and its tributaries provide water to nearly 40 million people for municipal use, and the combined metropolitan areas served by the Colorado River represent the world’s 12th largest economy, generating more than $1.7 trillion in Gross Metropolitan Product per year along with agricultural economic benefits of just under $5 billion annually.

More Denver Water coverage here.


2014 Colorado November election: El Paso County stormwater proposal scaled back #COpolitics

August 7, 2014
Flooding in Colorado Springs June 6, 2012

Flooding in Colorado Springs June 6, 2012

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

An upcoming stormwater vote in El Paso County has been slightly scaled down. Following a meeting with El Paso County commissioners last week, an intergovernmental agreement being promoted by a stormwater task force now proposes raising $39.2 million annually rather than $48 million as suggested in the first draft of the agreement.

The fee for a typical home would drop to $7.70 per month, rather than $10 per month. The fee would be levied for 20 years and the money used toward addressing a backlog of $700 million in stormwater projects and maintenance of stormwater structures.

The agreement includes Colorado Springs, Fountain, Manitou Springs and Green Mountain Falls as well, and if all agree the formation of the Pikes Peak Regional Drainage Authority would be placed on the November ballot by commissioners.

It’s important to Pueblo because controlling flood water on Fountain Creek is one of the premises Colorado Springs used in obtaining permits for its Southern Delivery System. With its SDS permits in hand, the Colorado Springs City Council abolished its stormwater enterprise in late 2009, based on its interpretation of a vote.

The lower amount still would be sufficient, said Jay Winner, general manager of the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District.

“The proof will be if they can get it passed in November,” Winner said. “It’s a lot more than they have now, so anything they do will be an improvement.”

The biggest remaining hurdle to getting the issue on the ballot is the rift between Mayor Steve Bach and the Colorado Springs City Council.

Bach last week sent a letter suggesting changes in the IGA that would allow cities to prioritize their own projects, allow non-elected officials to serve on the board, lock in the proposed rates and include nonprofits and churches in assessments.

Bach has not participated in the task force meetings that have been going on since 2012, and has suggested alternative ways of financing stormwater control.

More stormwater coverage here.


Southern Delivery System: Pueblo county firms net $65 million in orders during construction

August 7, 2014
Southern Delivery System route map -- Graphic / Reclamation

Southern Delivery System route map — Graphic / Reclamation

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

The estimated construction cost of the Southern Delivery System, a water pipeline from Pueblo Dam to Colorado Springs, has been lowered to $841 million, about $145 million less than earlier estimates.

“It’s our responsibility to manage project costs as closely as possible to protect the investment being made by the SDS partner communities,” said Janet Rummel, spokeswoman for Colorado Springs Utilities.

The timing of SDS construction saved money primarily because of lower interest rates and lower pricing for materials and services, she said.

“Competitive bidding has allowed more than 100 Pueblo County-based businesses to benefit from $65 million in SDS spending so far,” Rummel said.

Although most of the benefit from SDS goes to Colorado Springs, Pueblo West, Security and Fountain also are SDS partners.

The pipeline has a capacity of 96 million gallons per day, with 78 mgd going to El Paso County.

Pueblo West will increase its capacity by 18 mgd through a connection to the newly constructed north outlet works.

Its current connection at the south outlet delivers 12 mgd — just above the metro district’s peak-day delivery. The outlet is shared by the Pueblo Board of Water Works and the Fountain Valley Authority. It also will be the hookup for the Arkansas Valley Conduit.

Pueblo West has paid $6.5 million for construction of its SDS connection, and estimates it will have paid a net price of $6.7 million — when all bills and refunds are totaled — by 2017.

The money came from reserves, said Jack Johnston, metro district manager.

“We have cash-funded the project out of reserves that were collected primarily during the growth years,” Johnston said. “They were fees that were set aside to help build the reserves to do capital projects.”

Pueblo West got some of the SDS savings, but just for the construction nearest the dam, where its 36-inch-diameter connection splits off from the 66-inch-diameter line that runs 50 miles north.

“Whatever savings were realized in building the north outlet works were passed on to us,” Johnston said.

Pueblo West had been negotiating an agreement to turn on SDS ahead of schedule, since its spur from the dam will be ready for use ahead of the rest of the project.

However, the board last month delayed action on a draft agreement that could allow early turn-on of SDS. If no agreement is reached, the startup would be whenever Colorado Springs gets the go-ahead from Pueblo County to turn on SDS, expected in 2016.

Colorado Springs must meet Pueblo County’s 1041 permit conditions in order to start SDS.

Those conditions include $50 million in payments, plus interest, to the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District; $15 million for road rehabilitation in Pueblo West; and $2.2 million for Fountain Creek dredging in Pueblo. All of those payments are included in the $841 million construction cost.

Colorado Springs also will pay $75 million for wastewater system improvements by 2024 within the city under the 1041 permit, but that cost is not included in the estimate.

More Southern Delivery System coverage here.


Drought news: “You’d look up and here’d come this big ol’ rolling dirt” — John Schweiser #COdrought

August 5, 2014

From KUNC (Luke Runyon):

The dust storms looked eerily similar to the ones you’d see on the pages of a history textbook. But it’s 2014, not the 1930s, and many of the same stretches of prairie once devastated by the Dust Bowl are once again dealing with terrible drought and massive dust storms. Some areas are technically drier now than they were when thousands of families abandoned their farms. Still, many farmers have managed to avoid tragedy.

While big swathes of the Great Plains have partially recovered from the extreme 2012 drought, some sections are still desperately dry. The drought has settled in what historians consider to be ground zero for the Dust Bowl of the 1930s: southeast Colorado, western Kansas, northeast New Mexico, and the panhandles of Oklahoma and Texas…

Portions of southeast Colorado haven’t seen a lack of moisture like this since we started keeping weather records. Farmers have seen some relief with the summer’s monsoonal rains, but moisture deep in the soil will take longer to recover. The cracked, dusty ground has been sapped by heat.

“When you put water on it, after it’s been that dry, it won’t absorb any,” Schweiser said. “It’s been bad as I ever remember seeing.”

How, then, is a farmer like Schweiser making a living? None of his neighbors have skipped town like Dust Bowl refugees. 2013 was a rough year, but he made it through. Farmers aren’t marching on Washington demanding relief.

“Most of them have been around to know that you have to take the good with the bad, and most people just accept that,” Schweiser said. “If they didn’t, they wouldn’t be farming in the first place.”

The reason more farmers haven’t gone bankrupt, even in Dust Bowl conditions, is far more than sheer persistence. It’s the culmination of decades of agricultural research, technological advances and changing practices.

“The 2012 drought was — is — severe. And very comparable to what we saw in the Dust Bowl,” said Eugene Kelly, a soil science professor at Colorado State University.

Farmers like Schweiser are able to keep their farms up and running even in Dust Bowl conditions, Kelly said, largely due to adaptations and adoptions of new technology. Farms in the 1930s relied on primitive horse-drawn plows. Now, large-scale crop farmers are testing conservation practices like planting cover crops, limiting tillage and updating irrigation, with financial benefits…

“I think they’re able to sustain the production in some of these areas,” Kelly said. “But that came from a lot of research and a lot of work in developing cropping systems and farming systems and learning a lot about the damage a plow can do.”[...]

In the decades since, former U.S. Department of Agriculture conservationist John Knapp says a suite of conservation programs has gone into effect. Those programs pull sensitive grasslands out of agricultural production and keep the soil intact.

“That really changed what was the Dust Bowl,” Knapp said. “Because those lands are in grass now. And that’s some of the most highly erodible anywhere in Colorado.”

Though some farmers have been able to adapt to a harsh environment, the economics of such a transition can wreak havoc on the small communities involved, Knapp said. Even though farmers like John Schweiser are able to keep their heads above water, times are tough. Selling off cattle or relying on insurance is taxing on farmers and on the surrounding towns.

“Even prior to this particular drought, we have been on kind of a slide in terms of the economics. Just because we weren’t able to sustain some of the higher value crops,” Knapp said.

When irrigation water was easier to come by, farmers grew high value crops like onions and melons along the Arkansas River in Colorado. But as drought persisted and worsened, packing sheds have closed, Knapp said. Farms then need fewer workers.

Some farmers are selling out completely. Mirroring a national trend, Otero County, Colorado, where John Schweiser grows corn and wheat, saw a 5 percent drop in the number of farms from 2007 to 2012 and a 19 percent increase in the average farm size. Those are larger economic issues not necessarily caused by drought, but certainly exacerbated by it, Knapp said. And playing out in many of the hardest hit areas.


Stormwater: Camp Creek mitigation pond working

August 4, 2014
Camp Creek channel via City of Colorado Springs

Camp Creek channel via City of Colorado Springs

From KRDO.com (Carl Winder):

The City of Colorado Springs has seen their flood project in Camp Creek go through hail, heavy rain and flash flooding. The good news is the water has stayed within the banks of the creek protecting people, but maintaining the flood project will not be cheap.

City Stormwater Engineer Tim Mitros said after the sediment and debris came down from last September’s floods, Camp Creek became a top priority for the city. A year later after the floods, Mother Nature put the flood project to the test. This time there is a pond to stop a majority of the debris, and a steady stream going through the Colorado Springs neighborhood near the creek…

He said if the sediment pond is full, about $100,000 will have to be spent to clean the pond, which will come from the city’s general fund.

Gary Rombeck lives in the neighborhood near Camp Creek. He said he took a look at the flood project saving his life, along with other people down stream; he said you can’t put a price on safety.

Mitros said the sediment removed from Camp Creek is put in North Douglas Creek, which is meant to slow down water during flooding.

The city wants to put another $4 million toward improving the Camp Creek flood project, but it’s waiting for the grant money.

More stormwater coverage here.


Bob Rawlings and Chris Woodka set a high standard for water reporting in Colorado

August 3, 2014
Bob Rawlings via the High Country News

Bob Rawlings via the High Country News

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Looking back at the past five decades, it is clear that most major events in Southern Colorado have been in some way influenced by Robert Hoag Rawlings, publisher and editor of The Pueblo Chieftain.

Water wars, military expansion or base closures, economic development, colleges and universities, retention of state facilities in the region and community amenities such as libraries all have been passions of the man from L.A. — that’s Las Animas to the uninitiated, as he would almost certainly let you know.

Rawlings turns 90 years old today [August 2], and is still hard at work protecting his vision of Southeastern Colorado.

The Chieftain staff and community threw him a surprise birthday party Friday, and don’t think that’s easy for a man whose finger has been on the pulse of the community all these years. Praise for Rawlings and the work of The Chieftain has come from many corners over the years.

In 1994, when he won the state’s top business award for the Colorado Association of Commerce and Industry, then-Gov. Roy Romer declared: “He is one of the greatest human beings we have in this state.”

Rawlings’ donation of $4 million to the city library that bears his name today was lauded by architect Antoine Predock, who observed that The Chieftain publisher never stopped dreaming of a better Pueblo.

“The aspiration to the sky that the building represents is a symbol of that attitude,” Predock told donors to the library at a fundraiser in 2001.

Rawlings was born in Pueblo on Aug. 3, 1924.

The son of John and Dorothy Hoag Rawlings, he was reared in Las Animas, where his father was a banker, and graduated from Bent County High School in 1942.

Those early years formed the basis of his fierce defense of the Arkansas Valley’s water. He explained this in an opinion piece he authored on Dec. 12, 2004:

“My particular story started in the 1930s,” Rawlings wrote. “The Arkansas Valley was experiencing the most severe drought in recorded times, resulting in horrific weather conditions we called the Dust Bowl. These conditions lasted nearly 10 years. Hundreds of people in the Valley lost their jobs and the farmers, while laboring valiantly to raise a crop without adequate water, found market prices so low it wouldn’t even pay them to harvest the meager crop they had. School teachers were let go. . . .

“The storms were frightening. A virtual wall of dirt moved relentlessly toward us. Propelled by fierce winds, they picked up tons of topsoil, tumbleweeds, trash, parts of building materials, whirling all this in a scary wall some 2,000 to 3,000 feet high.”

Rawlings spent years trying to convince others to share his alarm at the sale of water from farm ground in the Arkansas Valley, and was never one to hold his tongue when he perceived that position to be compromised. He concluded that particular op-ed with this statement, one he often repeated:

“The sad fact is that many of our local water officials still can’t seem to comprehend that to continue to pursue these unwise agreements with Colorado Springs and Aurora is to further assure that the entire Lower Arkansas Valley will become another Crowley County.

“How shortsighted can we be?”

If there is anything that motivates Rawlings more than water, it is patriotism.

“This stirring memorial will be a tribute to Pueblo’s four Medal of Honor recipients and also to all those heroes who contributed so gallantly to ensure the freedoms we enjoy in this wonderful country,” he said during the 1998 unveiling of bronze statues outside the Pueblo Convention Center.

He chaired the committee that erected the statues.

Two years later, Rawlings was a major sponsor for the national Medal of Honor Society convention.

He continues to advocate for the return of the USS Pueblo to the United States. The ship was seized by the North Korean government in 1968.

The publisher set a standard for all daily newspapers in publishing a full-page American flag in the newspaper on national holidays.

There is more than symbolism to his activities, however, including his ringing support for the Armed Forces and its activities in this part of the state. Of particular concern over the years has been maintaining activities at Fort Carson and finding new uses for the Pueblo Chemical Depot.

There also has been the wise counsel against further destruction of ranch land that would come with the expansion of Pinon Canyon Maneuver Site south of Pueblo.

That fervor also goes back to episodes from his own life.

Rawlings enrolled at Colorado College in Colorado Springs in the fall of 1942 and in December of that year enlisted in the United States Navy V-12 at the college. The following year he was transferred to the Navy ROTC unit at University of Colorado in Boulder where he subsequently received a commission as an ensign in the Navy.

He spent a year and a half in the South Pacific as supply officer and later executive officer of the Subchaser 648, serving in Leyte Gulf, Mindanao, Subic Bay and Manila in the Philippine Islands, and in Brunei Bay in the province of Sarawak, Borneo. When the Japanese surrendered in August 1945, he helped liberate from a Japanese prisoner of war camp near Kuching, Sarawak, more than 100 British and Dutch officers who had been imprisoned by the Japanese for five years.

He received an honorable discharge from the Navy in July 1946 and returned to Colorado College to graduate with a bachelor’s degree in economics in 1947.

That launched his career later that year as a reporter for The Chieftain and The Pueblo Star-Journal.

In 1951 he became an advertising salesman for the two newspapers; in 1962 he was named general manager; and in January 1980 he was appointed publisher and editor; in 1984 he was elected president of The Star-Journal Publishing Corporation.

The career has been personally rewarding.

Rawlings is a past chairman of the board of the Colorado Press Association; he was president of the association in 1985-86. He is a member and past-chairman of the Colorado Bar-Press Committee; past president of Rocky Mountain Ad Manager’s Association and past president of The Colorado Associated Press.

More importantly, Rawlings has given back to the community in numerous ways.

He was instrumental in helping to form the Pueblo Economic Development Corp., which sought to bring new industry here after massive layoffs at CF&I Steel in 1982.

Rawlings has tirelessly advocated for the city’s half-cent sales tax, and continues to protect it from those who would use it for purposes other than creating primary jobs.

To name a few of his other activities: He is past-chairman of the advisory board of Colorado National Bank-Pueblo (now US Bank); a member of the Air Force Academy Foundation and the University of Southern Colorado Foundation. He is president of The Robert Hoag Rawlings Foundation and the Southern Colorado Community Foundation.

His work has not gone unnoticed in the community.

In 1994, Rawlings was awarded the Pueblo Chamber of Commerce Citizen of the Year award, which recognized his all-out plunge into philanthropy through his business, professional, political and personal activities.

Abel Tapia spoke for the community when he said at the time:

“Even with these outstanding gifts to the community, one of the substantial benefits to the community has been the continued professional management of The Chieftain and the use of the newspaper to work for improvements which enhance the lives of all the citizens of Pueblo and Southeastern Colorado.”

More Arkansas River Basin coverage here.


“It was a complete defeat for the Western Slope” — Pitkin County Attorney John Ely

August 3, 2014

Busk-Ivanhoe system diversions

Busk-Ivanhoe system diversions


From the Aspen Daily News (Brent Gardner-Smith):

Pitkin County and the Colorado River District are planning to appeal a judge’s ruling that gives the city of Aurora the right to use water from the upper Fryingpan River basin for municipal purposes, without a penalty for 23 years of “unlawful” water use.

“It was a complete defeat for the Western Slope,” Pitkin County Attorney John Ely said of the order issued on May 27 by Larry C. Schwartz, a state water court judge in Pueblo.

As it stands today, the court’s ruling means Aurora can retain the 1928 priority date on its full right to divert 2,400 acre-feet a year through the Busk-Ivanhoe tunnel for municipal instead of irrigation purposes. Over 60 years, Aurora can divert 144,960 acre-feet under the right.

Pitkin County and other Western Slope entities wanted the court to reduce the scope of Aurora’s water right, as the Front Range city has been using the water from the Busk-Ivanhoe system for municipal purposes, without a decree, since 1987.

The “West Slope Opposers,” as the court called them, also argued that the court should consider that Aurora was also storing water on the East Slope without an explicit right to do so, which they felt constituted an “expansion” of its water rights.

The board of the River District agreed on July 15 to appeal the judge’s ruling, while the Pitkin County commissioners agreed shortly after the May ruling. Ely said he understands the Colorado State Engineer’s Office also plans to appeal.

Pitkin County has spent $247,500 on the Busk-Ivanhoe water case so far, and using money from the county’s Healthy Rivers and Streams fund to pay for outside water attorneys.

Other parties from the Western Slope in the case are Eagle County, Basalt Water Conservancy District, Grand Valley Water Users Association, Orchard Mesa Irrigation District and the Ute Water Conservancy District. Trout Unlimited is also a party to the case, which is 09CW142 in Water Division 2.

Colorado transmountain diversions via the State Engineer's office

Colorado transmountain diversions via the State Engineer’s office

Transbasin water

Since 1928, about 5,000 acre-feet of water a year has been diverted from Ivanhoe, Lyle, Hidden Lake and Pan creeks, headwater streams of the Fryingpan River.

The water is sent from Ivanhoe Reservoir to Busk Creek through a pipe in the Busk-Ivanhoe tunnel, first built as a railroad tunnel in the late 1880s. From Busk Creek, the water flows to Turquoise Reservoir and the Arkansas River, and eventually reaches Aurora and Pueblo.

The Pueblo Board of Water Works owns the right to half of the water diverted through Busk-Ivanhoe tunnel, and in 1993 it changed the use of its water right from irrigation to municipal.

In 1987, Aurora bought the other half of Busk-Ivanhoe water and started using its half of the water for municipal purposes. But it didn’t come in for a change-of-use decree from water court until 2009.

Aurora’s 2009 application received 35 statements of opposition and as is common in water court, opponents were winnowed down to a core group. Many cases are settled before trial, but this case went to a five-day trial in July 2013.

Judge Schwartz’s subsequent ruling in May established the parameters of how a new decree for Aurora’s water should read, and the draft decree is now being prepared, Ely said. Once the proposed decree is filed with the court, it will trigger the appeal period in the case. Appeals in water court cases go directly to the Colorado Supreme Court.

Greg Baker, the manager of public relations for Aurora Water, was contacted early Friday afternoon for comment. He said officials were in various meetings throughout the day, and they couldn’t be reached by deadline.

Busk-Ivanhoe tunnel entrance

Busk-Ivanhoe tunnel entrance

“Zero” years

Ely said Pitkin County is primarily concerned about the judge’s decision not to take into account the 23 years that Aurora used water for undecreed purposes, i.e.,, municipal instead of irrigation.

Ely said it is a “fundamental” part of Colorado water law that non-use diminishes the scope of your water right when you go to change it, and it appears Aurora is getting “special treatment” because the water right is a transmountain diversion.

He said that when determining the “historic consumptive use” of a water right — which is what can legally be changed to another use — it is common practice for the court to reduce the scope of a water right by averaging in any years of “zero” or non-use. And undecreed uses typically count as “zero” years.

“But what the court said in this case said was, ‘We’re just not going to look at those years’ of zero use,” Ely said.

Judge Schwartz decided that the period from 1928 to 1986 — before Aurora started using the water — was the best “representative period” to use to determine how much water Aurora had been putting to proper use.

“The representative study period to be utilized should be based on a period of time that properly measures actual decreed beneficial use, and that excludes undecreed uses,” Schwartz concluded.

“The use of zeros during the years of undecreed use would permanently punish (Aurora) for the undecreed use after 1987,” Schwartz also wrote. “This court does not view a change application case as a means to permanently punish a water user for undecreed use.”

In regard to the issue of undecreed storage, the judge looked at the history of the water right, and found that while the original decree from 1928 may have been silent on the subject of East Slope storage, it was always part of the plan by the water developers to store water in a reservoir on the East Slope.

“West Slope Opposers assert that the storage of the Busk-Ivanhoe water in the Arkansas River Basin is an ‘expansion’ of use,” Schwartz wrote. “Storage of the Busk-Ivanhoe water in the Arkansas River Basin is not an expansion. Said storage has always been a part of the water right.”

Ely said the Colorado River District is more concerned about the storage issue than Pitkin County is. However, the county does feel the judge’s overall response to Aurora’s request to change its water right was faulty.

“We knew they were going to be able to change their use, it was just a question of how much,” Ely said. “And it was a question if the Front Range would be held to the same standard as everybody else, in terms of using their water consistent with a decree, or if they get some kind of special treatment for being a transbasin diversion. The judge, and his order, found that they should get some kind of special treatment, and we think that runs contrary to the law.”

Editor’s note: Aspen Journalism and the Aspen Daily News are collaborating on the coverage of land and water in Pitkin County. More at http://www.aspen
journalism.org.

More water law coverage here.


“Want an expert overview on the #COWaterPlan?” — @ConservationCO/@wradv #ColoradoRiver

August 2, 2014

The latest newsletter from the Water Center at Colorado Mesa University is hot off the presses #ColoradoRiver #COWaterPlan

August 2, 2014

Colorado transmountain diversions via the State Engineer's office

Colorado transmountain diversions via the State Engineer’s office


Click here to read the newsletter. Here’s an excerpt:

“CONCEPTUAL AGREEMENT” ON FUTURE TRANSMOUNTAIN DIVERSIONS RELEASED
Colorado’s Inter-basin Compact Committee has released a draft conceptual agreement on how additional Colorado River water could be sent East “under the right circumstances.” Central to the draft agreement, which is being circulated for comment, is that the East Slope recognizes that a new transmountain diversion may not be able to deliver water every year and must be used along with back-up non-West Slope sources of water.

The document is available here, and includes an annotated bibliography that summarizes many of the studies, pilot projects and white papers that have been developed over years of debate over how to meet Colorado’s future water needs. Feedback can be submitted via the Colorado’s Water Plan website, which contains draft chapters and information on the individual basin plans that were due at the end of July. The CO legislature’s Water Resources Review Committee is also holding hearings on the plan around the state. See the schedule here.

More Colorado River Basin coverage here and here.


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

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