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.


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.


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.


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.


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

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

Southern Delivery System route map — Graphic / Reclamation

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More Southern Delivery System coverage here.


Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District board meeting recap

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

Orr Manufacturing Vertical Impact Sprinkler circa 1928 via the Irrigation Museum

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More Ark Valley Consumptive Use Rules coverage here and here.


The Lower Ark and Otero County enter into IGA to form the Arkansas Valley Rural Water Authority

April 21, 2014
The water treatment process

The water treatment process

From the La Junta Tribune Democrat (Bette McFarren):

On Wednesday, the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District entered into an intergovernmental agreement with Otero County for the purpose of creating the Arkansas Valley Rural Water Authority. As Bill Hancock of the LAVWCD explained, this organization has been a long time coming about and is much needed in the valley so that small water companies may deal with new regulations on drinking water.
The organization will help the companies in many ways. First, it will enable them to apply for grants and loans to maintain or replace outdated equipment. More important, they can now speak as a group. They can get together a portfolio that will enable them to connect with the conduit (to receive higher quality water from Pueblo Reservoir). Perhaps the most important point of all, said Hancock, is that they will be able to hire a full-time person to deal with the extremely complex problems involved with water distribution and getting funds for improvement.

After passing the intergovernmental agreement which makes the organization possible, the LAVWCD appointed its two members of the AVRWA board, Wayne Snyder and Jolean Rose. Snyder has been working with the three founding members of the AVRWA for months to find a way to create the organization. Rose’s husband was one of the originators of the idea of the independent water companies joining forces. These companies are Valley Water, represented by Sam Fosdick; Vroman Water, represented by Kenny Wilson; Fayette Water, represented by Alan Franz. Other companies may join the association. The Otero County Commissioners entered into the IGA on Monday at their regular meeting. They will be taking applications for their two spots on the board. The other board member will be selected by the members of the AVRWA.

Terry Dawson, standing in for Roy Vaughan for the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, gave the group the good news that we may actually be having a wet year. The Pueblo Reservoir is up to average for the first time in many years. As of April 14, 195,543 acre-feet are stored in Pueblo; 129,145 a/f of project water, 35,266 a/f of excess capacity water, 127,804 a/f of Project space in Pueblo, 70,161 a/f of Project space in Twin and Turquoise.

The melting of the snowpack will start early this year, predicts the Bureau. The problem with pumping the water from Turquoise to Twin Lakes has been solved with fixing the troublesome pump. In other words, the water situation looks good for agriculture. Dawson said the wet weather will continue through the spring to early summer, followed by a dry period, then another wet period in the fall, according to best predictions. A cautionary note: weather may be predicted with any degree of accuracy for only a week at a time.

More Arkansas River Basin coverage <a href="


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