Twin Lakes Reservoir and Canal Co, Aspen and the #ColoradoRiver District reach deal

October 15, 2014

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

The city of Aspen and Front Range water interests have reached a compromise 20 years in the making that allows more water to be sent east when the spring runoff is plentiful, in exchange for bolstering flows when the Roaring Fork River is running low in the fall. The deal is between the Twin Lakes Reservoir and Canal Co., which operates transbasin diversion tunnels underneath Independence Pass, and the city of Aspen and the Colorado River District, which works to protect water rights on the Western Slope.

The deal, which has its roots in a 1994 water court application from Twin Lakes that sought to increase diversions during the runoff in high-snowpack years. It will leave 40 acre-feet of water in Grizzly Reservoir when Twin Lakes exercises its rights under the 1994 proposal. That water will be stored in the 500-acre-foot reservoir and released into the Roaring Fork for about three weeks in late summer, when seasonal flows are at their lowest. The water must be called for and released in the same year it was stored.

Grizzly Reservoir, located about 8 miles up Lincoln Creek Road near the Continental Divide, is a component of the transbasin-diversion system. A tunnel underneath the reservoir channels water underneath the mountain to the south fork of Lake Creek in the Arkansas River basin, on the other side of the pass.

Additionally, under the deal, the River District will have the right to store 200 acre-feet of water in Grizzly Reservoir and can call for up to 150 acre feet of that water in a year. Importantly, that 200 acre-feet can be stored long-term in the reservoir until it is called for by the River District, which manages water rights across the Western Slope.

Another 600 acre-feet will be provided to the River District for seasonal storage in Twin Lakes Reservoir, also on the east side of Independence Pass. The district will then trade and exchange that water with various entities, which could lead to more water staying on the Western Slope that would otherwise be diverted through other transbasin tunnels.

Twin Lakes diverts an average of 46,000 acre-feet a year from the headwaters of the Roaring Fork and sends it to Colorado Springs and other Front Range cities. The city of Colorado Springs owns 55 percent of the shares in the Twin Lakes Reservoir and Canal Co., entities in Pueblo own 23 percent, entities in Pueblo West own 12 percent, and Aurora owns 5 percent.

Aspen and the River District intend to cooperatively use the stored water in Grizzly Reservoir to boost late-summer flows in the Roaring Fork as it winds through Aspen proper.

Water already flowing
The stretch of the Roaring Fork River below the Salvation Ditch on Stillwater Drive typically runs below environmentally sound flows each year for about eight weeks, according to city officials. And given that this spring saw a high run-off, the three parties to the agreement managed some water this year as if the deal was already signed.

“At the close of the current water year (which ended the last day of September), Twin Lakes started making releases of some of the water stored for the River District, followed by release of the 40 acre-feet, as directed by Aspen and the River District,” Phil Overeynder, a special projects engineer for the city, wrote in an Oct. 3 memo to city council. “These releases had the effect of increasing flows in the Roaring Fork through the Aspen reach by approximately 20 percent and will last for approximately a three-week period at the end of the lowest flow conditions of the year.”

Overeynder added that “both Aspen and the River District believe that this agreement, while not perfect, is of real and meaningful benefit to the Roaring Fork.”

Aspen City Council approved the agreement on its consent calendar during a regular council meeting on Monday. The agreement is on the River District’s Tuesday meeting agenda, and Twin Lakes approved it last month.

The deal still needs to be accepted by Pitkin County and the Salvation Ditch Co. in order to satisfy all of the details of the water court’s 2001 approval of the 1994 water rights application.

Junior and senior rights
In addition to its junior 1994 water right, Twin Lakes also holds a senior 1936 water right that allows it to divert up to 68,000 acre-feet in a single year and up to 570,000 acre-feet in a 10-year period.

Originally, the water diverted by Twin Lakes was used to grow sugar beets to make sugar, but it is now primarily used to meet the needs of people living on the Front Range.

The 1936 water right still has some lingering restrictions in high-water years, according to Kevin Lusk, an engineer with Colorado Springs Utilities who serves as the president of the board of the private Twin Lakes Reservoir and Canal Co. Under its 1936 right, when there is plenty of water in the Arkansas River and the Twin Lakes Reservoir is full, Twin Lakes is not allowed to divert water, even though it is physically there to divert, Lusk explained. So in 1994 it filed in water court for a new water right without the same restrictions so it could divert more water to the east. It was dubbed the “Twin Junior,” water right.

The city of Aspen and the River District objected in court to the “Twin Junior” and the agreement approved Monday is a long-delayed outcome of the case.

Aspen claimed that if Twin Lakes diverted more water in big-water years, the Roaring Fork wouldn’t enjoy the benefits of the high water, including flooding the Stillwater section and replenishing groundwater supplies. That process, the city argued, helps the river in dry times.

“We don’t necessarily agree with the theory behind it,” Lusk said of the city’s claim, but added that Twin Lakes agreed to the deal as part of settlement negotiations.

And since 2014 turned out to be a high-water year, Twin Lakes exercised its right to divert water under its 1994 Twin Junior right, and worked cooperatively with Aspen and the River District to release 40-acre feet of “mitigation water” as described in the pending deal.

The new agreement between the city, Twin Lakes and the River District is in addition to another working arrangement between Twin Lakes and Aspen related to the Fryingpan-Arkansas diversion project, which diverts water from the headwaters of the Fryingpan River.

That agreement provides 3,000 acre-feet of water each year to be released by Twin Lakes into the main stem of the Roaring Fork beneath a dam near Lost Man Campground, normally at a rate of 3 to 4 cubic feet per second.

More Twin Lakes coverage here.


Breckenridge: “We can’t just sit up here and say we have all the water, now we’ll use it” — Tim Gagen #ColoradoRiver

May 9, 2014
Breckenridge circa 1913 via Breckenridge Resort

Breckenridge circa 1913 via Breckenridge Resort

From The Mountain Town News (Allen Best):

The town council is considering legislation that would cap outdoor use at three days a week. It’s part of an effort to put a new emphasis on water conservation and efficiency, says Tim Gagen, the town manager.

“We have to walk the talk,” says Gagen. “We can’t just sit up here and say we have all the water, now we’ll use it.”

Breckenridge is not alone. Other mountains towns in Colorado are devoting more attention to water conservation and efficiency. A coalition in the Roaring Fork Valley is assembling plans for public outreach to elevate water efficiency. The Vail-based Eagle River Water and Sanitation District began crimping water use in 2003. Aspen’s water-efficiency measures go back even further, to the 1990s…

Colorado’s Front Range cities, where 85 percent of state residents live, have become more efficient with existing supplies. But they have also expanded supplies in recent decades by buying farms in the South Platte and Arkansas River valleys for their water rights, and allowing the farms to then dry up. They have also purchased mountain ranches in such buy-and-dry transactions.

Front Range water providers also want to retain the option of going to the Colorado River and its tributaries for one final, big diversion. Western Slope water leaders urge caution. But to have credibility, leaders in the mountain valleys realize they first must put their own houses in order.

“The Western Slope needs to be goosed,” says Chris Treese, director of external affairs for the Colorado River Water Conservation District. “Frankly, the Front Range has led most of the water-conservation efforts in Colorado to date.”[...]

Gagen says that Breckenridge has been nibbling at water conservation efforts for several years. Leaking segments of existing pipes, which can cause loss of 8 to 15 percent of all the municipal water supply, are being replaced. Sprinklers in parks are being changed out in favor of more efficient devices. And the town is now looking at narrowing irrigation at its golf course to avoid watering of the roughs.

Breckenridge, in its municipal operation, has also adopted more xeriscaping, using plants that don’t require irrigation, reducing irrigation of remaining turf, and, in some cases, installing artificial turf.

Still on the agenda is elevating rates for high-consumption users. The average water bill in Breckenridge is just $35 every two months, not much more than dinner at one of the town’s higher-end restaurants. As such, most people probably pay little, if any attention, to the idea of conserving water in order to reduce their costs. They just write the check, says Gagen.

While Breckenridge has broad goals of improved sustainability, Gagen says the plan to reduce outdoor lawn irrigation to three days a week was pushed by two council members who have been persuaded by books they’ve read: “Blue Revolution,” by Cynthia Barnett (2011), “Cadillac Desert,” by Marc Reisner (1986), and “Getting Green Done,” by Auden Schendler (2011)…

Eagle River Water and Sanitation District has achieved a 20 percent per capita reduction in use, according to Diane Johnson, communications director. That’s in line with the reduction in water use since 2000 by Denver Water’s 1.3 million direct and indirect customers.

However, Eagle River has not pushed indoor water savings. Because 95 percent of indoor water is treated and released into the Eagle River, explains Johnson, the impact is small on the valley’s creeks and rivers. This compares with just 15 to 40 percent of water returned to streams after outdoor irrigation. Given limited resources for messaging, the better return is to hammer home the message of reduced outdoor use.

“What we really try to work with local people to understand is that their outdoor use affects how much water is in the rivers,” says Johnson. “If you are using water indoors, save yourself some money and be efficient, but most of that water comes back to the treatment plant and returns to the river.”[...]

In adopting its regulations on outdoor lawn watering, Eagle River Water was motivated by the searing drought of 2002. But laws also provide incentives. When seeking permits for new or expanded reservoirs, county regulations ask about “efficient use” of existing resources. State and federal regulations approach it with different wording, but essentially the same intent. “Efficient use of resource is going to be a consideration in any of those permitting processes,” says Johnson.

Eagle River Water has also adopted tiered rates, charging higher rates per 1,000 gallons as consumers step up consumption. But what do you do about those pockets of consumers for whom money is no deterrent?

That’s an issue in the Vail Valley that water officials are starting to wrestle with. Aspen recognized years ago that price was no object to some homeowners—and charges nosebleed rates.

Aspen’s municipal utility, which delivers both electricity and water, uses the income from high-use water customers to pay for front-end renewable energy programs and demand-side energy efficiency, says Phil Overeynder, the former utilities director and now the utilities engineer for special projects.

Aspen in the early 1990s approached the forked paths of water use. But instead of continuing to build capacity for existing water demands, the city instead reined in use. Last year, Aspen used the same amount of water as it did in 1966, despite having three times as many residents. (See more detailed story).

Now, an effort has been launched to frame a broad water efficiency strategy for the Roaring Fork Valley. The seed was planted in 2010 by the Community Office for Resource Efficiency, or CORE, a non-profit founded in the mid-1990s. The effort has several motives—including energy.

Formation of the group was at least partly influenced by the writings of Amory Lovins, a resident of the area, who for decades talked about “negawatts”—the idea that efficiency in energy was as good as new supply. The group he co-founded, Rocky Mountain Institute, further applied this idea of a soft path to water efficiency.

CORE’s Jason Haber explains that saving water also saves energy in several ways. Developing water resources requires energy, but it also takes energy to pump water. Energy is also embedded in treatment of sewage, he points out. Typically, water and sewage are the largest components of any municipality’s energy budget…

Whether Colorado truly has any water to develop on the Western Slope is debatable—and has been debated frequently in state-wide water forums. The Colorado River Water Conservation District has suggested that major new diversions would be risky, simply because of the lack of certainty of legally entitled water in future years. Colorado’s use of the river that bears its name is tightly capped by two inter-state water compacts and one international treaty.

More conservation coverage here.


Walkers win Leopold Award — The Pueblo Chieftain

April 23, 2014

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

For more than two decades, Gary and Georgia Walker have been transforming a “rundown ranch” into a productive cattle ranch that provides wildlife habitat and environmental buffer against Fort Carson for Pueblo West. On Tuesday, they were honored with the Colorado Leopold Conservation Award, recognizing their continued stewardship for the 65,000-acre ranch. The award is named for Aldo Leopold, who called for an ethical relationship between people and the land they own in his 1949 book, “A Sand County Almanac.”

“The Walkers’ passion for caring for the habitat and rare plant species on their land, near a growing urban community, sets a remarkable example of conservation leadership,” said Sand County Foundation President Brent Haglund.

The Walkers most recently made headlines for becoming the first ranchers in the United States to allow a release of an endangered species, the black-footed ferret, on their land under the federal Safe Harbor Act. But the conservation ethic goes back much further.

“Georgia and I started buying small ranches in the late 1970s,” said Walker, 68. “In those early days my only income was the check she brought home for teaching at District 60 in Pueblo. I also had an on and off income for helping dad. But our main plan was to seek out inexpensive ranches that needed a lot of cleaning up, buy and resell them. I was lucky as the banks in those days put a lot of value in the word and knowledge of a man and would make loans based on that and not only on his assets.”

In 1992, they bought the Turkey Creek Ranch from Walker’s father, the late Bob Walker. At the same time, they purchased 20,000 acres of adjacent state land in a tax-free exchange and gave up on fixing up ranches in order to concentrate on expanding their own property. Over the years, they have added more land through 75 purchases that doubled the size of the ranch.

“In my lifetime we have run everything that grew hair,” Walker said.

At one time his father ran 15,000 yearlings on four ranches in two states, but in recent years, the drought has decimated the herd. Since the drought began in 2000, they’ve sold and rebuilt their Black Angus herd three times. It reached its peak in 2012 at 1,100 cows, but dropped to 350 during the drought. After the rains last fall, they expanded to about 500 head.

The Walkers also own Twin Lakes water shares, among the most valuable and reliable water sources in the Arkansas River basin, in order to maintain water levels on ponds used by wildlife on their property.

“The Walkers balance a love of the land and a dedication to preserving wildlife with cattle ranching,” said Gene Manuello, president of the Colorado Cattlemen’s Association. “The 14 years of sustained drought have put unfathomable pressure on producers in Southeastern Colorado; the Walkers’ forethought and planning included the installation of pipelines, water storage tanks and stock ponds which have played an integral part in the long-term viability of the Turkey Creek Ranch as a home to livestock and wildlife.”

The Leopold Award is jointly sponsored by the Sand County Foundation, Colorado Cattlemen’s Association, Peabody Energy, Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association, American AgCredit, the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, Farm Credit, DuPont Pioneer, The Mosaic Company and the Natural Resources Conservation Service.

The Walkers will receive the award and a $10,000 check at the Protein Producer Summit June 16 in Colorado Springs.

Here’s the release from the Sand Country Foundation via The Cherry Creek News:

The Turkey Creek Ranch owned and operated by Gary and Georgia Walker has been selected as the recipient of the 2014 Colorado Leopold Conservation Award. The Pueblo-based ranch consists of approximately 65,000 deeded acres and is managed for both wildlife and livestock.

The acts of cattle ranching and wildlife management go hand in hand, and the life’s work of the Walkers proves it. Under an agreement with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, they re-introduced Black Footed Ferrets, which were once thought to be extinct, in eastern Colorado.

“The Walkers’ passion for caring for the habitat and rare plant species on their land, near a growing urban community, sets a remarkable example of conservation leadership,” said Sand County Foundation President Brent Haglund.

Given in honor of renowned conservationist Aldo Leopold, the Leopold Conservation Award recognizes private landowner achievement in voluntary conservation. The Walkers will receive a crystal depicting Aldo Leopold, and $10,000 at the Colorado Cattlemen’s Association’s Protein Producer Summit on June 16 in Colorado Springs.

The award recognizes private landowner achievement in voluntary conservation. It is presented annually by Sand County Foundation, the Colorado Cattlemen’s Association, the Colorado Cattlemen’s Agricultural Land Trust, Peabody Energy, Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association, and American AgCredit.

“The Walkers balance a love of the land and a dedication to preserving wildlife with cattle ranching,” said Gene Manuello, President of the Colorado Cattlemen’s Association. “The fourteen years of sustained drought have put unfathomable pressure on producers in southeastern Colorado; the Walkers’ forethought and planning included the installation of pipelines, water storage tanks and stock ponds which have played an integral part in the long-term viability of the Turkey Creek Ranch as a home to livestock and wildlife.”

The Leopold Conservation Award recognizes extraordinary achievement in voluntary conservation. It inspires landowners through these examples and provides a visible forum where farmers, ranchers and other private landowners are recognized as conservation leaders. In his influential 1949 book, “A Sand County Almanac,” Leopold called for an ethical relationship between people and the land they own and manage, which he called “an evolutionary possibility and an ecological necessity.”

Award applicants are judged based on their demonstration of improved resource conditions, innovation, long-term commitment to stewardship, sustained economic viability, community and civic leadership, and multiple use benefits.

The Leopold Conservation Award is possible thanks to generous contributions from many organizations, including Peabody Energy, Tri-State Generation and Transmission Assoc., American AgCredit, The Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, Farm Credit, DuPont Pioneer, The Mosaic Company, and the Natural Resources Conservation Service.

More conservation coverage here.


Arkansas River Basin update on Colorado River Basin imports this season #ColoradoRiver #COdrought

July 28, 2013

transmountaindiversionscoloradostateengineer2011.jpg

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Imports of water from the Colorado River basin are providing a substantial amount of water to the Arkansas River basin during the drought. Almost 98,000 acre-feet of water have been imported through the three largest transmountain tunnels — Fryingpan-Arkansas Project, Twin Lakes and Homestake — and more than 7,000 acre-feet through smaller tunnels and ditches. In all, the diversions added 105,500 acre-feet to the Arkansas River system this year. That amounts to about 144 cubic feet per second of river flows all day long, every day of the year in the Arkansas River. That’s a lot, considering that the flow near Salida is only around 600 cfs in the middle of summer. It’s been around 100 cfs through Pueblo most of the year, and was languishing at 270 cfs at Avondale last week.

To put it in other terms, it’s nearly four times as much water as Pueblo runs through its treated water system in a year, and about the average amount used by the Catlin Canal. According to preliminary figures from the Colorado Division of Water Resources:

The Fry-Ark Project brought over more than 46,300 acre-feet this year. It provides supplemental water to cities and farms in the Arkansas River basin.

Twin Lakes, mostly owned by Colorado Springs, Pueblo Board of Water Works, Aurora and Pueblo West, brought in 34,000 acre-feet this year.

Homestake, which delivers water to Colorado Springs and Aurora, brought in more than 17,600 acre-feet.

Busk-Ivanhoe, a tunnel owned by Pueblo and Aurora, added 3,792 acre-feet.

Columbine Ditch, near Fremont Pass and owned by Aurora and Climax, added 1,459 acre-feet.

Pueblo’s Wurtz and Ewing Ditches contributed another 2,273 acre-feet.

More Arkansas River Basin coverage here and here.


Arkansas River: Voluntary flow program to be honored by the Palmer Land Trust on October 9

July 26, 2013

turquoiselake.jpg

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

A program that keeps flows for fish and recreation in the Upper Arkansas River is being recognized by the Palmer Land Trust with an innovation in conservation award. The award will be presented Oct. 9 in Colorado Springs. It recognizes unique partnerships that protect natural heritage.

The voluntary flow program allows transfer of water in the Fryingpan- Arkansas Project in a way that benefits fish on the Arkansas River. Water brought from the Colorado River basin is stored in Turquoise and Twin Lakes and moved to Lake Pueblo under the Fry-Ark Project. In 1990, a program was established to move the water at opportune times in order to control temperature and spawning conditions for fish, as well as to boost flows for rafting during the summer months. During the drought, the water has been crucial to meeting flow targets on the river. “This year we’ll move 14,000 acre-feet,” said Roy Vaughan, manager of the Fry-Ark Project for the Bureau of Reclamation. “It’s water that we would have to move anyway.”

The program is coordinated by Reclamation, which controls river releases; Colorado Parks and Wildlife; the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District; and the Arkansas River Outfitters Association, along with other water users and groups in the Arkansas River basin.

More Arkansas River Basin coverage here and here.


‘Even though these two sets of water molecules are separated soon after birth, their fates remain closely tied’ — Hannah Holm

July 4, 2013

transmountaindiversionscoloradostateengineer2011.jpg

Here’s an in-depth look at Ruedi Reservoir administration from Hannah Holm writing for the Glenwood Springs Post Independent. Click through and read the whole thing. Here’s an excerpt:

Take, for example, a few water molecules that begin their terrestrial journey as snow in the mountains just East of Aspen. In the spring, they melt and flow into the Frying Pan River, a tributary to the Roaring Fork.

Some of these molecules are captured early and flow east into a tunnel bound for the Arkansas River Valley. Once across the Divide, they may help float a raft or two on their way to a cantaloupe field in Rocky Ford. Other molecules keep flowing west, until they are captured a little ways downstream in Ruedi Reservoir.

Even though these two sets of water molecules are separated soon after birth, their fates remain closely tied.

The molecules in Ruedi Reservoir will stay there, helping provide a pleasant boating and fishing environment, until they are released to flow down to the Roaring Fork and then the Colorado River en route to a Palisade peach orchard that has been relying on water out of the Colorado River since long before any of those tunnels to the Arkansas were drilled.

The ability to store and release water from Ruedi is what permits those other molecules to keep flowing across the Divide, even when water is needed downstream by users with more senior, and therefore higher priority, water rights.

More Fryingpan-Arkansas Project coverage here and here.


Twin Lakes operations update: 1370 cfs in Lake Creek

June 12, 2013

twinlakesdiversionsystem.jpg

From email from Reclamation (Kara Lamb):

Today [June 11] we continue the wrap up of native exchanges. As a result, we bumped up releases from Twin Lakes Dam to Lake Creek (Lake Creek flows into the Arkansas) in several stages:

  • This morning, June 11, 11 a.m. releases bumped up by 250 cfs to around 1160 cfs.
  • This afternoon, around 4 p.m. we will bump up approximately another 200 cfs to about 1370 cfs.
  • For both increases, releases stage up in roughly 15 minute increases starting at the top of the hour.

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