“If I have 24 hours of floodwater on the Colorado Canal, I’m going to take it. I need it” — Matt Heimerich

October 20, 2014
Fountain Creek Watershed

Fountain Creek Watershed

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

A district formed to improve Fountain Creek last week made an appeal for those with water rights to get involved in the early stages of a study to build flood control structures.

“Water rights protection is something we should do before we get into any other aspect of flood control on Fountain Creek,” Larry Small, executive director of the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District told ditch company board members Friday.

Small spoke during the annual meeting of the winter water storage program, bringing experts in to talk about the issue of public safety vs. water rights.

“We’re not working in a vacuum,” said Mark Pifher, who represents the Arkansas River basin on the state Water Quality Control Commission.

Denver’s regional Urban Drainage Authority and the city of Aspen have raised questions with the Colorado Division of Water Resources over how floodwater detention rules work in the state, Pifher explained.

State Engineer Dick Wolfe has adopted policies that say that single-site developments can hold water for 72 hours, but that regional floodwater control projects must augment any water detained with equivalent releases under a substitute water supply plan. That same principle was applied to Fountain Creek when the city of Pueblo built a detention pond behind the North Side Walmart as part of a demonstration project. The city learned it needed an augmentation plan after the project was well underway. Urban Drainage and Aspen officials are not pleased with the policy and are looking at potential state legislation to force a change in that policy, Pifher said.

Short of a blanket change that would allow the 72-hour rule to apply, the Fountain Creek district wants to study whose rights would be affected by holding back a large flood.

A study by the U.S.

Geological Survey completed last year provided solid numbers about how much water dams or detention ponds would hold back at certain points on Fountain Creek. That in turn can be applied to the flows at the Avondale gauge on the Arkansas River, which is upstream from every major ditch except the Bessemer below Pueblo Dam.

Flood stage

After Pueblo Dam went into operation 40 years ago, it was determined that flood stage at Avondale was 6,000 cubic feet per second. Floods upstream of Pueblo Dam are contained by curtailing releases to that level.

The last time flood control protection from that type of event was in 1999. Flows on Fountain Creek are measured and Pueblo Dam can be cut back to prevent that flooding from affecting Avondale as well, said Bill Tyner, assistant division engineer.

“You can have those huge flashy flows on Fountain Creek and find ways to cut back at Pueblo Dam to protect downstream communities,” Tyner said.

Reservoirs on Fountain Creek would have to perform differently, because there would not be Bureau of Reclamation staff on hand to open or shut release gates, he said.

Quenching all thirst

Several storm events that occurred in the past four years caused the Avondale gauge to top 6,000 cfs for several hours.

“Those spot events did not satisfy everyone’s needs downstream,” Tyner said.

That doesn’t matter if you’re a farmer.

“If I have 24 hours of floodwater on the Colorado Canal, I’m going to take it. I need it,” said Matt Heimerich of Crowley County.

“Those floods are the only way we get water in storage,” said Donny Hansen, president of the Holbrook Canal.

The direct rights downstream from Avondale and above John Martin Reservoir can be met with about 4,115 cfs, but storage rights on the canals total 3,631 cfs, he explained. Water rights below John Martin require another 1,534 cfs to be met.

So, all water rights below Avondale on the Arkansas River total about 9,282 cfs.

The 6,000 cfs at Avondale might be enough to satisfy all those rights, since the return flows of one ditch are reused downstream, a factor of about 1.5 times, he said.

But the envisioned dams on Fountain Creek are aimed at stopping monster 100-year floods — the type where heavy rain falls for several days. In the USGS study, a large dam or series of dams upstream of the Fountain Creek confluence would cut in half the peak flow of a 100-year flood — 44,000 cfs, or five times the amount of water needed to fulfill all downstream water rights.

The 100-year flood flow at Avondale, coincidentally, is 44,000 cfs, according to the USGS.

Moving ahead

The Fountain Creek district is not the only agency working at flood control in the Pueblo area. The Pueblo Conservancy District, in the headlines recently for its plan to rebuild the Arkansas River levee through Pueblo, also is responsible for the flood plain from Pueblo to the Otero County line.

“The high flows on Fountain Creek are a source of erosion that affects the land in our district down below,” said Bud O’Hara, a retired water engineer who is on the Pueblo Conservancy District board.

O’Hara showed graphs that point out about a dozen smaller events this year that created the potential for minor erosion events.

Farmers, on the other hand, generally like the erosion on Fountain Creek because it is part of the process that carries sediment downstream to help seal ditches. Many still grumble about the “clear water” that resulted from the construction of Pueblo Dam. In effect, it meant the erosive properties of the river were transferred downstream as more erosion occurred within ditch systems.

Abby Ortega, an engineer for Colorado Springs Utilities working with the Fountain Creek district, asked the farmers to provide suggestions for consultants to study the issue.

“We’re looking at how to build structures and not injure water rights,” she said. “We’re asking for your input.”

“I think the model we should use is the irrigation efficiency rules that was hosted by Dick Wolfe,” Heimerich responded. In that process, farmers and others affected by proposed rules guiding ditch improvements met for 18 months and were able to give immediate feedback. “It’s just too important not to do it right.”

More Fountain Creek coverage here.


How will CSU’s $50 million for Fountain Creek mitigation be spent?

October 2, 2014
Southern Delivery System route map -- Graphic / Reclamation

Southern Delivery System route map — Graphic / Reclamation

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

While the decision of how to spend $50 million for flood control on Fountain Creek to benefit Pueblo will be made by the parties directly involved, other input will be needed.

“Anyone who wants to come to the table and says, ‘We want to find out where money for these projects will be available,’ is welcome,” Pueblo County Commissioner Terry Hart said.

Last week, Hart made a pitch to the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District to begin planning now for the arrival of $50 million in payments from Colorado Springs Utilities after Southern Delivery System goes online in 2016. That money is seen as seed money for projects that could amount to $150 million or more identified in a corridor master plan. The money was negotiated by Pueblo County under its 1041 agreement with Utilities in 2009 for the construction of the SDS water supply pipeline through the county. It is to be used for flood control projects on Fountain Creek that benefit Pueblo County. When the district was established later in 2009, it became the recipient of the money.

“At a minimum, Pueblo County, CSU and the Fountain Creek district need to be involved, and they will have the final say,” Hart said.

But the city of Pueblo and the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District also should have input about how the money will be used, Hart said.

The greatest potential damage from Fountain Creek flooding is within the city of Pueblo and in the communities of the Lower Ark Valley downstream from Fountain Creek.

“The Lower Ark District was instrumental in developing the corridor plan, and we definitely need the technical input from the city of Pueblo,” Hart said.

The corridor plan, a joint effort of Utilities and the Lower Ark district, identifies projects between Fountain and Pueblo that could cost several times the $50 million that was earmarked under the 1041 agreement. Pueblo already has participated in pilot projects to demonstrate flood control techniques.

In addition to technical assistance, Pueblo County’s attorneys will have to be involved to determine whether projects meet the conditions of the 1041 permit. This will be important to avoid the kinds of dispute that developed when the Lower Ark raised objections about how its contributions to the district were being spent.

“I see this new committee working in concert with the steering committee (Utilities, Lower Ark and the Fountain Creek District),” Hart said.

More Fountain Creek coverage here.


Fountain Creek District: Good tour of Fountain Creek channel improvements by Colorado Springs Utilities at Clear Springs Ranch yesterday

October 1, 2014

The Fountain Creek District launches series of meetings to iron out rights protection with flood mitigation

September 29, 2014
Fountain Creek Watershed

Fountain Creek Watershed

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

The question of how flood control projects on Fountain Creek can be built without harming water rights will be taken up next month in the heart of farm country.

The Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District will host the first of a series of meetings to discuss the issue during the winter water meeting set for Oct. 17 at Otero Junior College in La Junta.

The winter water meeting will be hosted by the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District and will bring together some of the largest ditch companies east of Pueblo.

The group determines how a court-decreed program that allows farmers to store water in Lake Pueblo or ditch company reservoirs outside the growing season will operate.

That’s similar to the issue at hand on Fountain Creek, where flood control dams have been proposed, primarily to protect property in Pueblo.

At the July meeting of the Arkansas Basin Roundtable, a grant that proposed to look at the feasibility of Fountain Creek dams was rejected out of hand because several farmers objected to altering water rights to accommodate the dams.

They argued that junior water rights would be injured by such storage.

The timed release of water at more useful times in programs such as the winter water program could actually enhance water rights, however. Some have said this is possible with flood control dams.

In fact, the Denver Urban Drainage District is attempting to work through the same issue, Executive Director Larry Small told the board.

“We need to make it clear we have no intention of harming anyone’s water rights,” Pueblo County Commissioner Terry Hart said.

Several other meetings are planned by the Fountain Creek district to determine if flood control can be done in a way that keeps junior rights whole.

Meanwhile, the district is starting to prioritize spending prior to Colorado Springs’ $50 million payment as part of the Southern Delivery System. Here’s a report from Chris Woodka writing for The Pueblo Chieftain:

A district formed to improve Fountain Creek wants to start planning how it will use $50 million in funding that will begin arriving when the Southern Delivery System pipeline comes on line.

“We have to get an idea of what our priorities are before a dime arrives,” said Pueblo County Commissioner Terry Hart, a member of the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District board.

The $50 million will be paid to the district over five years by Colorado Springs Utilities as part of its 1041 agreement with Pueblo County. The money is for building flood control projects that primarily benefit Pueblo, such as a dam or series of dams.

SDS is projected to be fully permitted and online as soon as 2016, so the checks could begin coming in early 2017.

The district does not want to be put in a position of having to directly spend the money, but wants to use it to leverage funding from other sources.

“The projects identified so far exceed $100 million,” Hart said. “There could be even more as we branch out of the core area. We need to find the best ways to leverage other grants.”

Hart asked the board to form a committee specifically to look at how the money would be spent. It would include representatives from Pueblo County, the district and Utilities.

That conversation comes even as the district watches the progress of a stormwater vote in El Paso County this November and sets its budget for next year.

The vote will determine whether Colorado Springs and its neighbors will agree to fund stormwater improvements to the tune of $39 million annually beginning in 2016. That would satisfy other requirements of the 1041 agreement.

The district also is looking at whether its own budget could be paid with advance interest payments from Colorado Springs Utilities or if it’s time to pass the hat again among member governments.

At the meeting, Hart noted that the district is relying heavily on voluntary contributions and must start looking at its real operating costs if it is to become sustainable.

Finally, water quality is a concern and responsibility on Fountain Creek as well. Here’s a report from Chris Woodka writing for The Pueblo Chieftain:

While the focus lately has been on reining in water on Fountain Creek, the quality of that water is important too.

“We have a statutory duty to clean up the Fountain Creek watershed,” said Pueblo County Commissioner Terry Hart Friday at the meeting of the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District. “There are significant problems that we still don’t know enough about.”

So the board caught up on the science of water quality from Del Nimmo and Scott Herrmann, who have spent years studying water quality on Fountain Creek, the Arkansas River and Lake Pueblo.

The three are interconnected, Nimmo explained.

“We have tremendous resources and they are all connected,” Nimmo said. “They are tied to the reservoir.”

Lesson 1: Invasive species in Lake Pueblo will have more opportunity to spread to Fountain Creek and reservoirs in Pueblo County when the Southern Delivery System pipeline is completed, Herrmann explained.

Lesson 2: Mercury has accumulated in the water and fish in the headwater areas of Fountain Creek and Monument Creek, where the scientists did not expect to find it. Nimmo’s theory is that emissions from power plants or from former smelters in both Pueblo and El Paso counties contributed to this, but that’s not been proved. He suggested the district think in terms of an “airshed” as well as a watershed.

Lesson 3: The researchers have baseline data about water quality prior to the large, destructive Waldo Canyon and Black Forest fires. They also collected samples of the charcoal-laden water after the first big rainfall following the Waldo Canyon Fire in 2012.

“This study needs to be repeated about now, in the next year, to see what effect the fire had,” Herrmann said.

Nimmo and Herrmann have headed up numerous Fountain Creek studies at Colorado State University-Pueblo over the past decade. Herrmann has studied aquatic life in Lake Pueblo since its construction in the early 1970s. Nimmo was involved in other studies on the Upper Arkansas River near Leadville as well.

“We need to continue this type of study,” Hart said. “It should be a district project.”

More Fountain Creek coverage here.


Fountain Creek cleanup

September 26, 2014
Fountain Creek

Fountain Creek

From the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District via The Pueblo Chieftain:

HERE’S A chance for you to pitch in and get your hands dirty for the sake of cleanliness. Creek Week kicks off tomorrow and runs through Oct. 5 in Pueblo and El Paso counties. The coordinated event is intended to clean the banks along litter-clogged Fountain Creek.

So really, it’s another way to keep water — our most precious natural resource — clean.

That’s because trash that makes its way into the creek has been known to degrade water quality, harm wildlife, create safety hazards and clog irrigation and drainage structures.

The Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District, along with more than 20 volunteer, governmental and nonprofit partners, is encouraging concerned residents to get involved. Volunteers of all ages are welcome, although the district website warns that children under the age of 18 must have at least one supervising adult with them.

For more information, or to register for a cleanup time, visit http://www.fountain-crk.org.

More Fountain Creek coverage here.


Fountain Creek “Creek Week” September 27 thru October 5

September 8, 2014

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Plans are being made to clean up litter throughout the Fountain Creek watershed during Creek Week, Sept. 27-Oct. 5 in Pueblo and El Paso counties.

The event is sponsored by the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District, which was formed five years ago to improve the drainage.

At its last meeting, the Fountain Creek board learned more than 20 groups already have committed time, materials or money to the effort.

Trash that makes its way into Fountain Creek can degrade water quality, harm wildlife, create safety hazards and clog irrigation or drainage structures.

Businesses, churches, schools, nonprofits, neighborhood associations, youth groups, service clubs and individuals are encouraged to form work groups, pick a work date within the time frame, pick a location and pick it up.

Information about Creek Week and how to register a crew is available at http://fountain-crk.org.

More Fountain Creek coverage here.


Fountain Creek flood mitigation dam(s) and the issue of prior appropriation

September 4, 2014
Flood irrigation in the Arkansas Valley via Greg Hobbs

Flood irrigation in the Arkansas Valley via Greg Hobbs

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

A discussion about water rights, the first step to looking at building dams or detention ponds on Fountain Creek, is moving ahead. The project is being coordinated by the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District, and would fit in with a larger study looking at flood control on Fountain Creek.

It’s a hot-button issue with farmers in the Lower Arkansas Valley, who see the capture of flood flows on Fountain Creek as a threat to junior water rights. At an Arkansas Basin Roundtable meeting last month, the need for a water rights study killed a proposal to look at the feasibility of building dams.

A $58,000 program by the Fountain Creek district will look at just the water rights issue. It will be funded by Colorado Springs Utilities, Pueblo West, Security, Fountain, the Pueblo Board of Water Works and the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District, with in-kind support from Utilities and the Fountain Creek district. The process will bring together downstream water rights holders and state officials in a series of meetings to identify how water rights could be harmed by projects meant to provide public safety and what action could be taken to mitigate the damage.

All of the questions about how water moves throughout the Arkansas River basin would not be answered, but some ways to provide water through releases from Lake Pueblo or by timing releases from Fountain Creek structures would be explored, said Mark Shea, Fountain Creek point man for Utilities.

“There could be other beneficial uses, providing waterfowl or fish habitat, and allowing flood flows to be exchanged up Fountain Creek,” Shea said.

Melissa Esquibel, Pueblo board member of the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District, said the Lower Ark also should be involved in the project.

“There is a lot mistrust and misinformation, so we need to take the right path,” she said. “There are legitimate concerns that arise from past issues.”

Pueblo County Commissioner Terry Hart agreed.

“If we are perceived as an 800-pound gorilla, we’ll get nowhere,” Hart said. “We’re talking about people and their livelihoods.”

Pueblo City Councilwoman Eva Montoya, who chairs the Fountain Creek board, said the dialogue is an opportunity to balance public safety and the need to protect water rights.

“We need to rebuild trust,” she said.

More prior appropriation coverage here.


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