Drought news: The Bureau of Reclamation cuts Lake Trinidad storage users a break #COdrought

December 21, 2013
Trinidad Lake

Trinidad Lake

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

The Bureau of Reclamation will extend the repayment contract for Trinidad Lake to 75 years because prolonged drought has reduced the anticipated use of storage in the reservoir. The reservoir, formed by the completion of Trinidad Dam in 1977, was built by the Corps of Engineers for flood control, but the project also includes recreation and wildlife values, as well as an irrigation contract between Reclamation and the Purgatoire River Water Conservancy District. The contract dates back to 1967 and the original debt was $6.46 million.

The construction of Trinidad Dam was a matter of dispute when Kansas sued Colorado over violations of the Arkansas River Compact in 1985. The compact commission reviews operating principles at the lake every 10 years.

“The contract repayment is tied to water supply, and we determined the contract could not be repaid over 70 years, so we extended it to 75 years,” Andrew Gilmore, Reclamation engineer, told the compact commission this week.

He explained that several years of drought, including just a 17 percent of average snowpack in the Purgatoire River basin last year, have reduced payments by the district to a minimal level.

Meanwhile there is a request by the city of Trinidad to store water from outside the Purgatoire River district boundaries in the lake. Jeris Danielson, manager of the district, supported using more capacity in Trinidad Lake, which has a capacity of 125,967 acre-feet, with 20,000 acre feet set aside for irrigation, municipal and industrial storage contracts. Flood control is 50,000, while a joint use pool is 39,000 acre-feet. However, the reservoir often does not contain much more than the permanent pool of about 16,000 acre-feet set aside for fish and wildlife. The current level is about 14,400 acre-feet.

Danielson told the commission flooding has rarely occurred and more conservation storage could be used.

“In the joint use pool there is 35,000 acre-feet of storage that goes unused each year,” Danielson said. “It’s an incredible resource that just sits there.”

More Arkansas River Basin coverage here and here.


‘They ruined my way of life, and the state agencies turned a mute ear to my complaints’ — Brett Corsentino

March 17, 2013

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

The damage to farm ground caused by water released from gas wells has been lasting while state protection has proven elusive for Huerfano County dairy farmer Brett Corsentino. “I can’t raise feed and I can’t hold anyone accountable. The bottom line is that the state agencies failed to protect me,” Corsentino said. “It’s all about the money these gas companies have. There’s no way to pierce the corporate veil.”

Corsentino farms is in the Cucharas River basin, which is north of the Apishapa and Purgatoire river basins where oil and gas exploration is most active in Southern Colorado. Pioneer Energy and XTO Energy are active in the lower watersheds. They are engaged in studies to show the water quality is sufficient in some cases for release into streams. Some landowners in the Apishapa and Purgatoire watersheds have asked the Colorado Department of Health and Environment to allow CBM releases.

But Corsentino said he was blind-sided by releases from Petroglyph Energy that began in the Cucharas basin in the late 1990s. He claims the water was high in salts and barium, which broke down the soil on his farm. “I used that water and put it on my fields, but didn’t know about (the releases) until 2006,” he said.

The productivity of his soil fell to one-third of its former level, and one-time soil amendments were paid for by Petroglyph. But the state never followed up with testing, and the Oil and Gas Commission said he had proven damage. “It was a joke. Sucks to be me,” Corsentino said.

His warning to other landowners is clear. “There have been four generations of my family here since my greatgrandfather came over from Sicily in 1905. It’s a hard life. We’ve taken care of the ground and it’s taken care of us,” Corsentino said. “We’ve gone through a reorganization, and I’ve lost the equity. At this point, I just want to be able to raise feed for my animals.”

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Some Las Animas County farmers and ranchers in the Apishapa River basin are concerned that releases of water from oil and gas drilling could render cropland useless. They want water tested — and even treated — before it is released into the river system, saying the danger of increased salinity outweighs any benefit of more water during a drought. “Our main concern is that what happened in Huerfano County doesn’t happen to our soil,” said Gary Waller, who holds senior water rights for fields he irrigates near Aguilar. “We want to be proactive and make sure we do not get contaminated.”

Ken Valentine, whose family irrigates further up in the basin, said a spring above one of its fields was potentially contaminated by a release from coal-bed methane drilling last year. He is also alarmed that CBM water is routinely sprayed on gravel roads throughout the area. “The water should be treated before it’s released into the watershed, either at the company’s expense or those people who are using it for things like livestock ponds,” Valentine said.

They want to avoid the types of troubles Huerfano County dairy farmer Brett Corsentino experienced when Petroglyph Energy dumped CBM water into the Cucharas River in the late 1990s. Water high in salinity and barium ruined his farm ground. “I was harvesting 18-21 tons of corn silage per acre before, and it dropped to six tons after,” Corsentino said. “They ruined my way of life, and the state agencies turned a mute ear to my complaints.”

While the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission required Petroglyph to stop dumping water in 2006 and to help Corsentino try to restore farmland, it ruled in 2011 that Petroglyph no longer had any liability. All say the state should be insisting the water produced by Pioneer Natural Gas in the Apishapa River basin is either of equal quality to surface water, and reinjected into deep wells if it fails to meet standards.

While some in the area contend the water is suitable for livestock and wildlife, the farmers fear it will contaminate their fields — particularly during a drought when there is less natural surface water to dilute the effects. “If the water is good, it should be utilized,” Waller said. “But if it’s not, it will get into the groundwater and onto our place eventually.”

Meanwhile, oil and gas producers in the Purgatorie River watershed have asked the state to relax standards for discharged water. Here’s a report from Steve Block writing for The Trinidad Times. Here’s an excerpt:

A leader of a regional environmental protection group said she’s deeply concerned about the possible lowering of water quality standards in the Purgatoire River Watershed, and asked the Las Animas County Board of Commissioners to write a letter to the Colorado Water Quality Commission, protesting the potential change.

Paula Ozzello of the Southern Colorado Environmental Council (SCEC) spoke at Tuesday’s board work session about the potential dangers of the reduction in water quality standards.

Ozzello, chairperson of SCEC, said XTO Energy and Pioneer Natural Resources have proposed to the commission a reduction in water quality standards for the Lower Arkansas River Basin, specifically the Purgatoire River Watershed and the Apishapa Watershed. She said the XTO and Pioneer proposal would reduce the surface water quality standard, by increasing the allowable level of boron in water used for agricultural purposes from its present level of 0.75 milligrams (mg) per million to a new, and higher, standard of 5.0 mg per million.

More coalbed methane coverage here and here.


‘The main feature of the Trinidad Project is Trinidad Dam’ — Jeris Danielson

December 16, 2012

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Jeris Danielson):

Trinidad Lake, west of Trinidad, is the result of state legislation more than 50 years ago. The Purgatoire River Water Conservancy District was created by the state Legislature on Dec. 2, 1960. The district is capable of contracting with the United States for repayment of the irrigation, municipal and industrial uses of the Trinidad Project and to provide a management entity to oversee the project.

Other responsibilities include: Surveying existing water resources and basin rivers; taking actions necessary to secure an adequate supply of water — present and future; constructing water reservoirs; entering into contracts with other water agencies, (such as the Bureau of Reclamation), organizing special assessment districts, providing for instream flows for fisheries; and other legal responsibilities needed by the district to fulfill its purposes.

On Feb. 10, 1967, the district executed a repayment contract with the United States whereby it assumed a debt of $6.46 million to be repaid over a 70-year period.

The main feature of the Trinidad Project is Trinidad Dam, located several miles west of Trinidad on the Purgatoire River in Las Animas County. The dam, which was constructed by the Army Corps of Engineers, is of earth-fill construction — having a height of 208 feet above the stream bed and crest elevation of 6,298 feet.
Trinidad Lake, the reservoir created by the dam, has a total capacity of 125,967 acre-feet, which is allocated to the following uses:

  • Flood control: 51,000 acre-feet
  • Irrigation, municipal and industrial: 20,000 acre-feet
  • Permanent recreation and fishery: 15,967 acre-feet
  • Joint use and sediment pool: 39,000 acre-feet
  • The irrigation and joint use pools are utilized to provide storage for irrigation by 10 project ditches that irrigate up to 19,499 acres in the project area, for municipal use by the city of Trinidad and for recreational use by the Colorado Division of Parks and Wildlife. Each of the participating ditches have repayment contracts with the district and make annual payments based upon available water during the year.

    The district retains operational control of all water rights owned by the ditches and allocates water available on an equitable basis to all project acres. Once the reservoir is declared empty by the district board, exercise of the water rights reverts to the respective ditches under normal priority administration.

    Jeris Danielson is general manager of the Purgatoire River Water Conservancy District.

    More Purgatoire River coverage here.


    Produced water from coalbed methane wells could be an adjunct to supplies according to oil company data

    November 13, 2012

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    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

    Hundreds of coal­bed methane wells in Las Animas County could produce water that could be used for other purposes in the Arkansas River basin, a study shows. A two­year waterquality monitoring program is showing the “produced water” — water that must be removed from coal seams to extract natural gas — is within limits for harmful contaminants like dissolved solids, conductivity, chloride, sodium, boron and iron, Julie Vlier, of Tetra Tech told the Arkansas Basin Roundtable Wednesday.

    “Based on the collection data of the last two years, the quality is quite good,” Vlier said. “Concentrations in the Raton
    Basin are lower.” The water ­quality question is important to companies like Pioneer Natural Resources and XTO Energy, which otherwise would have to spend more to inject the water back into the ground. The companies funded the study, which began in 2010. Pioneer alone has about 2,300 gas wells in the Raton Basin, said Jerry Jacob, environmental advisor for the company.

    If the water can continue to flow freely into tributaries leading into the Purgatoire River west of Trinidad, it could increase the yield of existing water rights or even improve Colorado’s position in the Arkansas River Compact. Vlier also said the water could help in drought planning or fire mitigation.

    The energy companies have state permits that would allow the release of up to 14,000 acre­feet — or 4.5 billion gallons — of water annually. Not all of it would likely reach the Purgatoire River, but it could be used to enhance existing water supplies.

    Not everyone on the roundtable agreed with the rosy assessment for produced water.

    “They’re taking water out of the same formation as Petroglyph,” said Al Tucker, a member of the Majors Ranch Environmental Committee, who represents Huerfano County on the roundtable. Landowners in Huerfano County say their wells were adversely affected during Petroglyph’s operations, which ended in 2011. In addition to contamination of groundwater, the company may have taken water out of priority, Tucker said.

    “There are always bad actors,” Vlier told him.

    More oil and gas coverage here and here.


    The Culebra Range Community Coalition, et. al., are working on a protection plan for the Purgatoire River watershed

    November 12, 2011

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    From The Trinidad Times (Steve Block):

    The Culebra Range Community Coalition brought together Colorado Watershed Assembly officials and representatives of environmental engineering consulting firm Tetra Tech at Trinidad State Junior College. Tom Perry, executive director of the coalition, said the group hopes to deepen stakeholders’ involvement in protecting the watershed. In a [November 4] phone call, Perry talked about working more closely with the members of Trout Unlimited, the Purgatoire River Watershed Coalition, the Trinidad Community Foundation and other local partners to make the watershed as healthy as possible…

    Some key findings from the initial monitoring season showed water quality protects the Purgatoire River for such beneficial uses as agricultural irrigation, livestock and wildlife watering. Clean water also benefits aquatic life and municipal water systems.

    Monthly data is collected at 27 sites along the Purgatoire and its tributaries upstream of Trinidad Lake. Streamflow and water quality data are communicated in near real-time using satellite telemetry from nine of the sites’ monitors and can be viewed at purgatoirewatershed.org, a potential resource to better understand surface water quality influence for ranchers, farmers and recreation industry employees.

    More Purgatoire River watershed coverage here and here.


    Two Rivers hopes to eventually move water to growing cities

    March 13, 2011

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    Here’s a in-depth look at drying up agriculture to water suburbs, from Bruce Finley writing for The Denver Post. Click through and read the whole thing. Here’s an excerpt:

    “You get kind of nervous when you have people who are on the New York Stock Exchange saying they’re going to put agriculture back into production,” said Jay Winner, manager of the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District, devoted to retaining farming water rights across a five-county area. “I’m skeptical,” Winner said, “because from the amount of money they’re sticking into this project, it looks like it’s a big agriculture-municipal transfer.”

    When pressed, Two Rivers’ [Gary] Barber acknowledged that the $27 million deal was indeed done with an eye toward eventually selling water to suburbs.

    The stealthy and not-so-stealthy shifting of control over Colorado water has continued despite economic doldrums and may be gaining momentum. Farmers often are willing participants, cashing in as relative scarcity makes water more valuable.

    Among recent deals:

    • Pueblo bought the Bessemer agricultural canal.
    • Aurora, Thornton, Brighton and Adams County invested in the Fulton Ditch northeast of Denver.
    • Cherry Creek and Arapahoe County water authorities, though still facing court scrutiny, have staked claims to water once allocated for farming.

    Also, in the Colorado Springs area, the Donala Water and Sanitation District, which bought a 711-acre ranch near Leadville for its water rights, now is pursuing a change-of-use ruling in state court so that farming water could be harnessed for Front Range housing and lawns.

    Similarly, satellite cities Fountain and Widefield spent $3.5 million to acquire developer Mund Shaikly’s 480-acre H2O Ranch at the base of the Sangre de Cristo mountains. The plan is to sustain an anticipated military housing boom by using mountain creek water that once irrigated hayfields. Fountain will let the creek water flow into the Arkansas River, then trap it in Pueblo Reservoir, said Fountain water engineer Curtis Mitchell. “Certainly we’re not in the land business.”

    North of Colorado Springs, Woodmoor’s new 1,900-foot-deep municipal wells appear uncertain enough that suburban leaders are mobilizing to buy water rights from farmers in the Arkansas River Valley and plan to construct a delivery pipeline.

    Along the Arkansas River, state records indicate suburbs petitioned courts at least 116 times over the past decade to convert agricultural water for municipal use.

    Here’s a report about Crowley County and the after effects of Aurora’s purchase of the Rocky Ford Ditch, from Mr. Finley and The Denver Post. From the article:

    Concrete-lined irrigation ditches that once delivered water now are bone-dry. Draining water that once irrigated crops to supply suburban housing, lawns and golf courses makes it impossible for farms and the towns that depend on farming to survive. “Once you move water out, it ain’t coming back to the land,” the 74-year-old Valliant, now an irrigation specialist for Colorado State University’s Cooperative Extension station in nearby Rocky Ford, said recently as he rolled past the weeds and a slumping farmhouse surrounded by garbage.

    Built in the 1890s, after the Missouri Pacific Railroad and the Colorado Canal were completed, Crowley and its neighbors prospered growing sugar beets, with canning plants, grain elevators, schools, newspapers and even an opera house. One company here broke wild horses and supplied the British army. Residents reveled in a pioneer spirit of transforming a harsh environment — average annual rainfall 12 inches — into a livable town. But farmer debts mounted after a sugar-beet plant closed in 1967. Some farmers eventually gave in as water brokers representing expanding cities approached them offering deals. Today, Crowley ranks among the poorest towns in the poorest county in Colorado. The town population is dwindling — to 162 today from 187 in 2000 — continuing a decline that began when Foxley and others in the 1980s sold off their water.

    More Arkansas River basin coverage here.


    Energy policy — coalbed methane: Las Animas County producers implement substitute water supply plans for produced water

    March 11, 2011

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    From The Trinidad Times (Randy Woock):

    Las Animas County’s four largest gas companies — Pioneer Natural Resources, El Paso E&P Company, XTO Energy and Red River Ranch Holdings — have implemented SWSPs in order to continue gas production in the about 3,068 CBM wells operating within the central Raton Basin. Industry activities in the area discharge from CBM wells a combined total of about 10 million gallons of produced water per day. The SWSPs were approved by the State Engineer’s Office through March 31, 2011 and are nearing the end of their first approved year of implementation. The SWSPs call for replacement water to come from, “a lease with the City of Trinidad to supply up to 50 acre-feet of fully consumable water from the city’s storage account in Trinidad Reservoir.”[...]

    A summer 2009 decision by the Colorado Supreme Court in the Vance v. Simpson case determined that the groundwater produced during CBM drilling production, previously considered a waste by-product, was of “beneficial use,” and thus had to undergo permitting and comply with Colorado groundwater laws. The state then passed an authorization for the State Engineer’s Office to approve alternates such as SWSPs in place of augmentation plans. That authorization for alternates extends from March 31, 2010 to Dec. 31, 2012 in order to provide energy companies in Colorado with extra time to integrate CBM wells that withdraw waters considered tributary and that impact “over-appropriated” streams into the state water court’s adjudication process.

    Colorado Division of Water Resources Division 2 Engineer Steve Witte told The Times Independent that the Division had turned down initial requests by the companies to utilize the non-tributary water component of the CBM produced water as a replacement source. “The concern that we have is the native tributary water supply that water rights along the Purgatoire (River) depend upon are not diminished by the withdrawal of groundwater,” Witte said. “The initial proposal was that, of the water that they withdraw from the coal beds, they determined that a portion is tributary and a portion is non-tributary, and they thought that they would simply rely on the non-tributary water as a replacement for the stream depletions that were calculated.

    More coalbed methane coverage here and here.


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