The Southern Delivery System has been a long time coming

May 12, 2014
Southern Delivery System route map -- Graphic / Reclamation

Southern Delivery System route map — Graphic / Reclamation

Here’s part one of an in-depth look at the Southern Delivery System from John Hazlehurst writing for the Colorado Springs Business Journal. Click through and read the whole article. Here’s an excerpt:

Contending that the denial [of Homestake II] had been arbitrary and capricious, the two cities [Aurora and Colorado Springs] appealed the decision to the courts. In a comprehensive description of the city’s water system and possible future sources of supply given to City Council in 1991, CSU managers said that “extensive litigation is expected to continue.”

Denied by the Colorado Court of Appeals and the Colorado Supreme Court, the cities appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which declined to hear the case.

City officials were stunned. They couldn’t believe that a coalition of Western Slope “enviros” and ski towns had prevented them from developing water to which the city had an undisputed right. They had believed the Environmental Protection Agency’s 1990 decision to scuttle Denver’s proposed Two Forks Dam near Deckers on the South Platte River was an outlier, not a sign of things to come…

Slow to recognize that mountain communities now had the power to kill their water development plans, Utilities officials looked at another alternative. Instead of taking water directly from the wilderness area, the city proposed to build a dam on the mainstem of the Arkansas at Elephant Rock, a few miles upstream of Buena Vista.

A grassroots rebellion against the project was soon evident, as hand-lettered signs appeared along U.S. Highway 24, which parallels the Arkansas. The signs carried a simple message: “Don’t Let Colorado Springs Dam this River!”

It soon became clear that Chaffee County commissioners would not issue a construction permit for any such project, dooming it before the first planning documents were created…

If trans-mountain diversions or dams on the Arkansas were no longer feasible, that left a single alternative for developing the city’s water rights. CSU would have to let its water flow down to Pueblo Reservoir, construct a diversion structure on the dam, and pump it uphill to Colorado Springs.

It would be, water managers believed, the easiest project to build and permit.

“It was just a pipeline,” said CSU water resources manager Gary Bostrom, who has worked 35 years for Utilities. “What could go wrong?”[...]

“We didn’t really understand the importance of partnering with and involving the public in decision-making,” said [Gary Bostrom], “until the Southern Water Project.”[...]

The plan for the Southern Delivery System was presented to City Council in 1992. Among the material submitted to councilmembers was a comprehensive description of the city’s existing water system. Water managers made sure Council was aware of the importance of the task before them.

“The massive scope of this project,” CSU staff noted, “requires a very long lead time to allow for complexities of numerous permitting processes, land acquisition, litigation, design, financing and construction.”

Of all the variables, CSU managers and elected officials gave the least weight to those that may have been the most significant…

“We weren’t worried about hydrology,” said Bostrom. “The years between 1980 and 2000 were some of the wettest years on record. The water was there for the taking. Shortages on the Colorado weren’t part of the discussion.

“We knew about the Colorado River Water Compact of 1922 (which allocated Colorado River water between Mexico and the upper and lower basin states), but it wasn’t something we worried about.”

Then as now, 70 percent of the city’s water supply came from the Colorado River. SDS would tap the city’s rights on the Arkansas, diversifying the portfolio.

“We have to plan for growth,” said Bostrom. “That’s what history tells us. We know that it will be expensive, but the cost of not building a system well in advance of need would be much greater. People complained about the cost of the Blue River (trans-mountain diversion) project in the 1950s, but we wouldn’t have a city without it — we wouldn’t have the Air Force Academy.”

But even as the project moved slowly forward, the comfortable assumptions of a wet, prosperous future began to unravel.

“Exactly 15 years ago today (April 29, 1999),” said Bostrom, “we were in the middle of a flood — remember? We didn’t know it, but that was the day the drought began.”

More Southern Delivery System coverage here and here.

The Southern Delivery System is on time and under budget, according to @CSUtilities

April 29, 2014
The new north outlet works at Pueblo Dam -- Photo/MWH Global

The new north outlet works at Pueblo Dam — Photo/MWH Global

From the Colorado Springs Business Journal (Marija B. Vader):

Wayne Vanderschuere, general manager of the Colorado Springs Utilities water services division, said the Southern Delivery System will be completed on schedule and $150 million under the original budgeted amount.

More Southern Delivery System coverage here and here.

Drought news: Aurora is shopping for short-term water leases, storage at 53% of capacity #CODrought

December 14, 2012


From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Aurora wants to lease additional water from the Arkansas River basin in 2013 and is prepared to spend $5 million. The city’s storage has been drawn down to 53 percent of capacity, triggering a situation where it can lease water under the terms of a 2003 agreement with the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District.

Aurora Water sent a letter to the Arkansas Valley Super Ditch last month offering to lease 10,000 acre­-feet of water for $500 per acre-­foot, or $5 million total. The terms are part of an agreement Aurora made with the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District in 2010. That may not be enough, said Super Ditch President John Schweizer. If commodity prices stay high, farmers would be able to get about $1,200 per acre for corn and $1,500 per acre for alfalfa, minus costs for cultivating, planting, irrigation and harvesting. “We’ve got to see if there are farmers interested in doing it,” Schweizer said. “If the price per acre is right, I think you could see some interest.”

Schweizer expects opposition to the transfer. This year, a Super Ditch pilot program met unprecedented resistance from other water users after it was submitted to the state engineer. “A lot depends on the severity of the drought and how people in cities might be affected,” he said.

While the Super Ditch conceptually includes seven large irrigation ditch systems east of Pueblo, farms on the High Line and Catlin canals could fill the Aurora order, Schweizer said. Both canal companies already have had annual meetings, so the leases would be filled through negotiations with the boards of each canal and interested shareholders. Bylaws on both canals have been changed to allow for temporary water transfers, and the High Line Canal leased water to Aurora and Colorado Springs in 2004-­05.

Aurora is waiting to hear if the Super Ditch can fill the order and does not have a backup plan, said Greg Baker, Aurora Water spokesman.

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Agreements with three conservancy districts determine whether Aurora can lease additional water from the Arkansas River basin.

Aurora purchased nearly all of the Rocky Ford Ditch in Otero County, part of the Colorado Canal in Crowley County and several ranches in Lake County in the 1980s and 1990s to meet water needs of the city of 300,000 east of Denver. In 2004-­05, it leased water from the High Line Canal, which irrigates farms in the Rocky Ford area, as the city recovered from the 2002 drought.

Next year, Aurora is bracing for another drought recovery to bolster its storage levels.

Under 2003 agreements with the Southeastern district and the Upper Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District, Aurora may lease additional water when its storage levels drop below 60 percent of total capacity on March 15. It can lease water for up to three out of 10 years under those circumstances.

Aurora has drawn down Homestake Reservoir, which it shares with Colorado Springs, for dam repairs. Aurora stores water in 10 other reservoirs. Including Homestake, Aurora is at 53 percent capacity, but even without Homestake factored in, capacity already is at just 61 percent. Last month, the Aurora City Council authorized its water utility to begin looking for leases. “We’re looking at the agreement to determine if we have any issues with the leases,” said Jim Broderick, executive director of the Southeastern district.

Under its 2010 agreement with the Lower Ark District, Aurora is obligated to work with the Super Ditch before looking elsewhere for water in the Arkansas Valley. “It’s a step in the right direction,” said Jay Winner, general manager of the Lower Ark district. “The Super Ditch will build collaboration and cooperation among the ditch companies.”

Aurora also has an agreement with the High Line Canal board for future leases. Arkansas Valley water is exchanged upstream to Twin Lakes, where it moves to Aurora through the Otero Pumping Station and Homestake pipeline.

More Aurora coverage here and here.

The Colorado Springs Gazette is sifting through receipts from Colorado Springs Utilities’ water tours

September 16, 2012


From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Daniel Chacón):

Other purchases included:

• $140 for 100 zippered pencil cases

• $47 for prizes for a water tour quiz

• $286 to rent two fans to keep participants cool during a lunchtime barbeque at what Utilities calls an SDS warehouse

Utilities defended the trip, saying the water tour gave participants an up-close look at the city’s water system that couldn’t be replicated with charts and graphs or in one day.

“Colorado Springs is not like cities such as Denver or Pueblo, which have local, in-town major waterways. Our community’s vast, complex water system includes 25 reservoirs and dams, more than 200 miles of pipes, four major pump stations, and facilities and infrastructure in 11 counties,” Utilities spokeswoman Patrice Lehermeier said in an email.

“The water tour gives leaders and officials first-hand knowledge of the massive work, equipment, facilities and people it takes to deliver water to Colorado Springs, as well as the ongoing construction of the Southern Delivery System,” she said. “It would be difficult to give people this level of information and insight in such an important investment using another forum. And despite all the talk of pipes and wires, a business, even in utilities, is about building relationships.”

The water tour started about 25 years ago, Lehermeier said.

The most recent tour cost $20,200, not $25,000 as originally reported by Utilities.

More Colorado Springs Utilities coverage here.

Drought news: ‘We’re going to operate our system in a way that’s protective of fish’ — Linn Brooks #CODrought

July 2, 2012


From the Vail Business Journal (Bob Berwyn):

If and when streamflows drop below certain levels, the Eagle River Water & Sanitation District could be forced to enact strict water-use limits on top of ongoing conservation efforts, according to district general manager Linn Brooks…

The community water system also includes the two Black Lakes reservoirs, near Vail Pass, as well as Homestake Reservoir and also has access to water in Wolford Mountain Reservoir and Green Mountain Reservoir. The water in the reservoirs is used primarily for augmentation, which means when the district removes water from Gore Creek and the Eagle River, it can replace that water from the reservoirs to compensate downstream users.

This year, the Homestake Reservoir water is not available because the reservoir has been drained for repairs. That complicates the overall picture a bit, but in any case, that augmentation water, even though it’s destined for downstream users, can help sustain stream flows in Eagle County.

For now, flows are tracking close to where they were during the 2002 drought, which at the time was characterized as a 500-year event by some water experts. Gore Creek flows are a little lower than in 2002, at about 20 to 30 percent of average for this time of year. High in the drainage, at a gage in the wilderness was reading only at 11 percent of normal…

A somewhat normal monsoon season, with intermittent rains from mid-July to mid- or late August would likely sustain flows enough to stave off the most drastic conservation measures this year. But summer rains don’t compensate for a lack of winter snow. Snowpack is the key for sustaining base flows throughout the summer. “Thunderstorms can come in and drop a lot of moisture, but the ground can’t absorb all that water. It surges through the system and gives a short-lived benefit. A good rainstorm can give a week of propped up rainflows, she said…

The district uses water from both Gore Creek and the Eagle River, as well as a handful of wells, and has the ability to shunt water in different directions through a web of pipes to meet the needs — and address potential shortages in different parts of the system…

The district also monitors stream temperatures. If the climb to a point deemed dangerous to fish, that could also trigger operational changes. “We’re going to operate our system in a way that’s protective of fish,” she emphasized.

More Eagle River watershed coverage here and here.

‘Oil shale development would involve intensive use of water’ — Alan Hamel

June 10, 2012


From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

“We have to protect the water we have, as well as provide water for endangered species,” said Alan Hamel, executive director of the Pueblo Board of Water Works and a member of the Colorado Water Conservation Board. “Oil shale development would involve intensive use of water, particularly for use in power generation.” Last month, the Pueblo water board and other members of the Front Range Water Council weighed in on the Bureau of Reclamation’s environmental impact statement for oil shale and tar sands…

The Front Range Water Council includes the major organizations that import water from the Colorado River: Denver Water, the Northern and Southeastern Colorado water conservancy districts, Aurora Water, Colorado Springs Utilities, Twin Lakes Reservoir and Canal Co. and the Pueblo water board. Collectively, they provide water to 4 million people, 82 percent of the population in Colorado.

More Front Range Water Council coverage here and here.

Aurora, Denver and the South Metro Water Supply Authority embark on the WISE project to share facilities and reuse wastewater treatment plant effluent

October 11, 2011


Here’s the release from the partners.

More South Platte River basin coverage here.

Homestake Reservoir is closed until October 2013

September 22, 2011


From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

The closure means that no water will be brought over through the Homestake pipeline into Turquoise Lake next year, as work is conducted on the gate. The gate is located in the middle of the reservoir. That should not have a significant effect on the operations of either Aurora and Colorado Springs in the Arkansas River basin. Both utilities have high water storage levels. Homestake accounts for about 15 percent of Aurora’s storage and 10 percent of Colorado Springs’ storage.

“We were 90 percent full as of last week, and we’ll be bringing more water over to keep Spinney, Aurora and Quincy reservoirs more full than usual,” [Greg Baker, spokesman for Aurora Water] said.

Aurora has a 2-3 year supply of water in storage and will rely on its newly completed Prairie Waters Project to fully reuse as much water as possible. Aurora also will be managing its Arkansas Valley water — from rights purchased when farms were dried up in Otero, Crowley and Lake counties — more closely, Baker said…

For Colorado Springs, the situation is different. It relies heavily on the Colorado River basin for the majority of its water, but has sources other than Homestake, including Twin Lakes, the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project and the Blue River diversion. Homestake provides about 14 percent of the annual supply. “We’ll try to bring over water from Homestake when we are able, but, yes, we expect it to be drawn down for a year,” [Gary Bostrom, chief of water services for Colorado Springs Utilities] said.

More Homestake Reservoir coverage here.

Arkansas River basin: Water year 2011 has yielded the second largest import of water through the Boustead Tunnel since project water started moving in the 1970s

August 19, 2011


From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

The Fry-Ark Project has brought over 98,640 acre-feet of water this year, about 4,500 more acre-feet than was projected in May, when allocations were made…

Fort Lyon Canal, the largest ditch in the valley, will get an additional 1,700 acre-feet. The water comes on top of nearly 60,000 acre-feet already being delivered to farmers through the Fry-Ark Project. Late runoff and a heavy snowpack contributed to the second-largest import of Fry-Ark water since diversions through the Boustead Tunnel began in the 1970s…

Because Arkansas River flows stayed above 700 cubic feet per second through Aug. 15, no Fry-Ark water was needed to maintain the Upper Arkansas voluntary flow program, Vaughan added…

Basinwide, more than 200,000 acre-feet of water has been imported this year through transmountain tunnels and ditches, well above the average of about 136,000 acre-feet, said Pat Edelmann, of the U.S. Geological Survey. Twin Lakes has imported about 62,000 acre-feet and continues to move water. The Homestake Project has brought over 32,000 acre-feet.

More Arkansas River basin coverage here.

Aurora: Homestake Reservoir will be closed to the public and drained this fall for three year maintenance project

July 16, 2011

A picture named homestakereservoir2010aurorawater.jpg

Here’s the release from Aurora Water (Greg Baker):

The Homestake Dam and Reservoir in Eagle and Pitkin Counties, Colorado, will be undergoing scheduled maintenance in 2012 and 2013 that will impact recreational users of the facilities. The work involves regular, but necessary maintenance to help safeguard a valuable resource and ensure its viability for years to come. Homestake Reservoir, completed in 1968, is operated jointly by Colorado Springs Utilities and Aurora Water under the Homestake Water Project. To ensure the public’s safety during construction activity, access to the reservoir and the dam will be restricted during this maintenance period.

“We understand that this area is a popular recreational amenity, and we ask for your patience and understanding as we work as expeditiously as possible,” stated Greg Baker, spokesperson for the Homestake Project. “The construction season in the mountains is short, so we will make every attempt to be efficient with our time.”

Starting in September 2011, admittance to Homestake Reservoir will be closed below the East Fork Trailhead, just prior to the dam access road on Homestake Road. The top five feet of the dam crest will be removed to accommodate the large equipment needed for this project. Upon completion of the maintenance work in late 2013, the dam crest will be restored to its original height.

The bridge on Homestake Road immediately beyond the turnoff from Highway 24 will be replaced between October and December 2011. A temporary bridge will be in place to accommodate local traffic. Traffic will be directed to this detour, so it is recommended that visitors watch for traffic signs and be alert.

In 2012, the reservoir will be drained to accommodate repairs to the gate and intake structure for the Homestake Tunnel, which carries the water from Homestake to Turquoise Lake in Lake County. Natural flows to Homestake Creek will be maintained during this time. The U.S. Forest Service, in cooperation with a variety of partner groups, will be performing restoration and enhancement work, including fish habitat improvement, hazard tree removal, and campsite rehabilitation along Homestake Creek downstream from the reservoir.

From 2012 to 2013, milling and paving will occur on the dam’s asphalt face. Asphalt faced dams, while common in Europe, are unique in the U.S. Since the facing was first installed in 1968, it is almost 45 years of age and is due for a replacement.

Water collection in the reservoir will begin again in April 2013, though how long it will take to refill Homestake will depend on snowpack and runoff conditions. Restoration work around the dam should be completed in 2014, with full public access being restored by spring of that year.

Both Colorado Springs Utilities and Aurora Water will carefully monitor their other water sources to ensure that adequate supplies are available to meet customer demand. Aurora Water will maximize its storage in the Arkansas and South Platte basins, as well as utilize its recently completed Prairie Waters system. Colorado Springs Utilities does not anticipate impacts to its ability to deliver water to customers during the construction phase. During construction, and as needed, Colorado Springs Utilities will bring its share of Homestake Reservoir storage through the Homestake Tunnel to East Slope storage facilities.

Updates and notices on the Homestake Dam and Reservoir maintenance and repair project will be posted on websites of both Aurora Water ( or Colorado Springs Utilities (

More coverage from the Aurora Sentinel (Sara Castellanos):

The reservoir will be drained for repairs to the gate and intake structure for the Homestake Tunnel, which carries the water from the reservoir to Turquoise Lake in Lake County. Contractors will replace the asphalt facing on the dam, which is 45 years old. “Homestake has an asphalt faced dam which is unusual here but very common in Europe,” Baker said. “It makes it a little more difficult to find qualified contractors for.” While this work is done, the U.S. Forest Service will work on fish habitat improvements, removal of hazardous trees and campsite rehabilitation in the area…

The total cost of construction of the renovations is $35.5 million, with Aurora paying $17.5 million over four years and Colorado Springs paying the second half. Money to fund the project will come out of Aurora Water’s operating budget…

While Homestake is offline, the city will continue collecting water from Prairie Waters, the drought-hardening project that came online last year. “Now that we have Prairie Waters online, it’s about the equivalent of what we take out of Homestake,” Baker said.

More Homestake Reservoir coverage here and here.

Eagle County, Colorado Springs and Aurora agree on Homestake plans

April 1, 2010

A picture named holycross.jpg

From The Denver Post:

Eagle County and Aurora and Colorado Springs have reached an agreement on a 15-year- old dispute over water rights in the Eagle River Basin. The agreement, announced Wednesday, prevents the two cities from obtaining water within the Holy Cross Wilderness Area. Instead, water will be diverted from the Camp Hale area, a less pristine area that was used for Army training during World War II. The agreement also calls for the two cities to build a smaller-than- planned reservoir in lower Homestake Creek and to scale back a proposed groundwater development.

More transmountain/transbasin diversions coverage here.

Vail Valley scores an additional 500 acre-feet of water from Aurora for water-short years

January 26, 2010

A picture named eagleriver.jpg

From the Vail Daily:

“The old east-west model is obsolete. The new model is joint action,” said Aurora Mayor Ed Tauer. “The valley wins, Aurora wins. It’s how Colorado should work in the future.” Two prior agreements with Aurora and Colorado Springs, in 1998 and 2004, gave Eagle County water users the right to 1,000 acre-feet of water from Homestake Reservoir. Homestake Reservoir is jointly owned by the cities of Aurora and Colorado Springs and is a component of a transmountain diversion project that takes water from the Eagle River basin to Colorado’s eastern slope…

The west slope parties consist of the four original owners of Eagle Park Reservoir — Vail Associates, the Eagle River Water & Sanitation District, the Upper Eagle Regional Water Authority and the Colorado River Water Conservation District, together with Eagle County.

More Eagle River watershed coverage here and here.


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