Roaring Fork Watershed Stream Flow Report for August 21, 2014

August 22, 2014

Analysis: Thompson Divide waters ‘healthy, uncontaminated’ — Glenwood Springs Post Independent

August 15, 2014
Thompson Creek via the Summit County Citizens Voice

Thompson Creek via the Summit County Citizens Voice

From the Glenwood Springs Post Independent (John Stroud:

A second round of baseline water quality testing within the Thompson Divide region south of Glenwood Springs where natural gas development is proposed finds that two of the major drainages where samples were taken are presently “uncontaminated by any human activities.”

The study, released Thursday by the Thompson Divide Coalition, analyzed both surface and ground water within the Four Mile and Thompson Creek watersheds.

It is in follow-up to the first phase of the study in 2009-10, which produced similar results. Both studies were commissioned by the coalition, which is working to protect the Thompson Divide region from drilling, and were conducted by researchers from the Roaring Fork Conservancy.

Robert Moran, a water quality, hydrogeologic and geochemical specialist with Michael-Moran Associates, worked with the conservancy to analyze the data and is the main author of both reports.

Together, the baseline data contained in the studies should provide a yardstick against any changes in water quality within the two drainages, whether it’s from oil and gas development or other activities, Moran said during a telephone press conference Thursday arranged by Thompson Divide Coalition Executive Director Zane Kessler.

Moran also reiterated one conclusion in his analysis, which is that “some degradation of water quality is inevitable if oil and gas exploration and development becomes a reality within the Four Mile Creek and Thompson Creek watersheds.”

“This should serve as an important reminder that our fisheries and watersheds in the Thompson Divide are at risk,” Kessler said. “These watersheds are the lifeblood of our communities and they deserve to be protected for posterity.”

More Roaring Fork River watershed coverage here.


Roaring Fork wetland planting project August 23

August 14, 2014

Southern Delivery System: Pueblo county firms net $65 million in orders during construction

August 7, 2014
Southern Delivery System route map -- Graphic / Reclamation

Southern Delivery System route map — Graphic / Reclamation

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

The estimated construction cost of the Southern Delivery System, a water pipeline from Pueblo Dam to Colorado Springs, has been lowered to $841 million, about $145 million less than earlier estimates.

“It’s our responsibility to manage project costs as closely as possible to protect the investment being made by the SDS partner communities,” said Janet Rummel, spokeswoman for Colorado Springs Utilities.

The timing of SDS construction saved money primarily because of lower interest rates and lower pricing for materials and services, she said.

“Competitive bidding has allowed more than 100 Pueblo County-based businesses to benefit from $65 million in SDS spending so far,” Rummel said.

Although most of the benefit from SDS goes to Colorado Springs, Pueblo West, Security and Fountain also are SDS partners.

The pipeline has a capacity of 96 million gallons per day, with 78 mgd going to El Paso County.

Pueblo West will increase its capacity by 18 mgd through a connection to the newly constructed north outlet works.

Its current connection at the south outlet delivers 12 mgd — just above the metro district’s peak-day delivery. The outlet is shared by the Pueblo Board of Water Works and the Fountain Valley Authority. It also will be the hookup for the Arkansas Valley Conduit.

Pueblo West has paid $6.5 million for construction of its SDS connection, and estimates it will have paid a net price of $6.7 million — when all bills and refunds are totaled — by 2017.

The money came from reserves, said Jack Johnston, metro district manager.

“We have cash-funded the project out of reserves that were collected primarily during the growth years,” Johnston said. “They were fees that were set aside to help build the reserves to do capital projects.”

Pueblo West got some of the SDS savings, but just for the construction nearest the dam, where its 36-inch-diameter connection splits off from the 66-inch-diameter line that runs 50 miles north.

“Whatever savings were realized in building the north outlet works were passed on to us,” Johnston said.

Pueblo West had been negotiating an agreement to turn on SDS ahead of schedule, since its spur from the dam will be ready for use ahead of the rest of the project.

However, the board last month delayed action on a draft agreement that could allow early turn-on of SDS. If no agreement is reached, the startup would be whenever Colorado Springs gets the go-ahead from Pueblo County to turn on SDS, expected in 2016.

Colorado Springs must meet Pueblo County’s 1041 permit conditions in order to start SDS.

Those conditions include $50 million in payments, plus interest, to the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District; $15 million for road rehabilitation in Pueblo West; and $2.2 million for Fountain Creek dredging in Pueblo. All of those payments are included in the $841 million construction cost.

Colorado Springs also will pay $75 million for wastewater system improvements by 2024 within the city under the 1041 permit, but that cost is not included in the estimate.

More Southern Delivery System coverage here.


“It was a complete defeat for the Western Slope” — Pitkin County Attorney John Ely

August 3, 2014

Busk-Ivanhoe system diversions

Busk-Ivanhoe system diversions


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

Pitkin County and the Colorado River District are planning to appeal a judge’s ruling that gives the city of Aurora the right to use water from the upper Fryingpan River basin for municipal purposes, without a penalty for 23 years of “unlawful” water use.

“It was a complete defeat for the Western Slope,” Pitkin County Attorney John Ely said of the order issued on May 27 by Larry C. Schwartz, a state water court judge in Pueblo.

As it stands today, the court’s ruling means Aurora can retain the 1928 priority date on its full right to divert 2,400 acre-feet a year through the Busk-Ivanhoe tunnel for municipal instead of irrigation purposes. Over 60 years, Aurora can divert 144,960 acre-feet under the right.

Pitkin County and other Western Slope entities wanted the court to reduce the scope of Aurora’s water right, as the Front Range city has been using the water from the Busk-Ivanhoe system for municipal purposes, without a decree, since 1987.

The “West Slope Opposers,” as the court called them, also argued that the court should consider that Aurora was also storing water on the East Slope without an explicit right to do so, which they felt constituted an “expansion” of its water rights.

The board of the River District agreed on July 15 to appeal the judge’s ruling, while the Pitkin County commissioners agreed shortly after the May ruling. Ely said he understands the Colorado State Engineer’s Office also plans to appeal.

Pitkin County has spent $247,500 on the Busk-Ivanhoe water case so far, and using money from the county’s Healthy Rivers and Streams fund to pay for outside water attorneys.

Other parties from the Western Slope in the case are Eagle County, Basalt Water Conservancy District, Grand Valley Water Users Association, Orchard Mesa Irrigation District and the Ute Water Conservancy District. Trout Unlimited is also a party to the case, which is 09CW142 in Water Division 2.

Colorado transmountain diversions via the State Engineer's office

Colorado transmountain diversions via the State Engineer’s office

Transbasin water

Since 1928, about 5,000 acre-feet of water a year has been diverted from Ivanhoe, Lyle, Hidden Lake and Pan creeks, headwater streams of the Fryingpan River.

The water is sent from Ivanhoe Reservoir to Busk Creek through a pipe in the Busk-Ivanhoe tunnel, first built as a railroad tunnel in the late 1880s. From Busk Creek, the water flows to Turquoise Reservoir and the Arkansas River, and eventually reaches Aurora and Pueblo.

The Pueblo Board of Water Works owns the right to half of the water diverted through Busk-Ivanhoe tunnel, and in 1993 it changed the use of its water right from irrigation to municipal.

In 1987, Aurora bought the other half of Busk-Ivanhoe water and started using its half of the water for municipal purposes. But it didn’t come in for a change-of-use decree from water court until 2009.

Aurora’s 2009 application received 35 statements of opposition and as is common in water court, opponents were winnowed down to a core group. Many cases are settled before trial, but this case went to a five-day trial in July 2013.

Judge Schwartz’s subsequent ruling in May established the parameters of how a new decree for Aurora’s water should read, and the draft decree is now being prepared, Ely said. Once the proposed decree is filed with the court, it will trigger the appeal period in the case. Appeals in water court cases go directly to the Colorado Supreme Court.

Greg Baker, the manager of public relations for Aurora Water, was contacted early Friday afternoon for comment. He said officials were in various meetings throughout the day, and they couldn’t be reached by deadline.

Busk-Ivanhoe tunnel entrance

Busk-Ivanhoe tunnel entrance

“Zero” years

Ely said Pitkin County is primarily concerned about the judge’s decision not to take into account the 23 years that Aurora used water for undecreed purposes, i.e.,, municipal instead of irrigation.

Ely said it is a “fundamental” part of Colorado water law that non-use diminishes the scope of your water right when you go to change it, and it appears Aurora is getting “special treatment” because the water right is a transmountain diversion.

He said that when determining the “historic consumptive use” of a water right — which is what can legally be changed to another use — it is common practice for the court to reduce the scope of a water right by averaging in any years of “zero” or non-use. And undecreed uses typically count as “zero” years.

“But what the court said in this case said was, ‘We’re just not going to look at those years’ of zero use,” Ely said.

Judge Schwartz decided that the period from 1928 to 1986 — before Aurora started using the water — was the best “representative period” to use to determine how much water Aurora had been putting to proper use.

“The representative study period to be utilized should be based on a period of time that properly measures actual decreed beneficial use, and that excludes undecreed uses,” Schwartz concluded.

“The use of zeros during the years of undecreed use would permanently punish (Aurora) for the undecreed use after 1987,” Schwartz also wrote. “This court does not view a change application case as a means to permanently punish a water user for undecreed use.”

In regard to the issue of undecreed storage, the judge looked at the history of the water right, and found that while the original decree from 1928 may have been silent on the subject of East Slope storage, it was always part of the plan by the water developers to store water in a reservoir on the East Slope.

“West Slope Opposers assert that the storage of the Busk-Ivanhoe water in the Arkansas River Basin is an ‘expansion’ of use,” Schwartz wrote. “Storage of the Busk-Ivanhoe water in the Arkansas River Basin is not an expansion. Said storage has always been a part of the water right.”

Ely said the Colorado River District is more concerned about the storage issue than Pitkin County is. However, the county does feel the judge’s overall response to Aurora’s request to change its water right was faulty.

“We knew they were going to be able to change their use, it was just a question of how much,” Ely said. “And it was a question if the Front Range would be held to the same standard as everybody else, in terms of using their water consistent with a decree, or if they get some kind of special treatment for being a transbasin diversion. The judge, and his order, found that they should get some kind of special treatment, and we think that runs contrary to the law.”

Editor’s note: Aspen Journalism and the Aspen Daily News are collaborating on the coverage of land and water in Pitkin County. More at http://www.aspen
journalism.org.

More water law coverage here.


Roaring Fork Watershed Stream Flow Report for July 31, 2014

August 1, 2014

Roaring Fork Conservancy: Fryingpan Comprehensive Study Summary

July 31, 2014

From the Roaring Fork Conservancy:

Two years of extreme drought conditions and declining wildlife populations has Roaring Fork Conservancy and local citizens concerned for the health of the Fryingpan River. Beginning this month, Roaring Fork Conservancy is launching into a series of studies to better understand the river’s health. The studies, collectively called the Comprehensive Lower Fryingpan River Assessment has an overall goal to ensure the environment and economical sustainability of the Lower Fryingpan River, including its designation as a “Gold Medal Fishery”. The 13 miles of river below Ruedi Dam is some of the most popular fly fishing in the world and pumps millions of dollars annually into the local economy. For more information visit http://roaringfork.org/fryingpanstudy or download the Background Document.

More Fryingpan River watershed coverage here.


The Colorado River District comes out swinging to oppose Wild and Scenic designation for the Crystal River

July 31, 2014

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

The Colorado River District is the first governmental entity to throw cold water on the idea of designating 39 miles of the Crystal River as “wild and scenic.” At its July 15 meeting, three members of the river district board voiced opposition to the proposal to make the Crystal the second river in Colorado, after the Poudre River, to be designated under the Wild and Scenic River Act of 1968.

“Their main concern is that it would be an overlay of federal authority in this area that would preclude the ability to provide for water resource needs,” said Dave Merritt, who represents Garfield County on the board of the river district, a regional entity that levies taxes in 15 Western Slope counties to build water projects and influence water policy.

Chris Treese, the river district’s external affairs manager, had urged board members in a July 1 memo to “respectfully decline to support” Wild and Scenic designation on the Crystal.

“Staff believes Wild and Scenic designation would have adverse consequences for local residents,” Treese wrote. “We view proponents’ Wild and Scenic designation is (sic) a means to an end in an effort to forever foreclose water development opportunities in the Crystal River basin.”

In 2013, the river district gave up conditional water rights it held for two large dams on the Crystal after being sued in water court by Pitkin County and other groups.

Merritt made his remarks on Monday during the monthly meeting of the Colorado River Basin Roundtable, where two proponents of Wild and Scenic designation on the Crystal — Bill Jochems and Dorothea Farris — had a presentation.

Over the last year-and-a-half of making such presentations, they said they had received positive feedback and direction to continue exploring Wild and Scenic designation from the towns of Carbondale and Marble, the Redstone Community Association, Gunnison County, Pitkin County’s Healthy Rivers and Streams board and Pitkin County’s Crystal River Caucus.

But the Colorado River District will not be added to the list of supporters.

“That was the one audience where we had definite opposition,” Farris said on Monday.

Jochems said the three river district board members who spoke against Wild and Scenic on July 15 “expressed opposition, apparently, at the very idea of Wild and Scenic designation, without really talking about the Crystal.”

On Monday, roundtable members asked some questions concerning the potential impact on irrigators in the Crystal River, but did not take a position as a group on the proposal.

Jochems and Farris represent an informal citizen’s coalition that has come together to explore, and now actively pursue, Wild and Scenic designation for the Crystal, which would prevent a federal agency from approving, or funding, a new dam or reservoir on the river.

In late 2012, four organizations brought people together to discuss the idea: Pitkin County, the Roaring Fork Conservancy, the Crystal Valley Environmental Protection Association (CVEPA) and the nonprofit, American Rivers. The result was the naming of a three-person committee to test the regional waters and see if there was support for the idea.

Jochems serves on Pitkin County’s Healthy Rivers and Streams board and is a member of CVEPA, while Farris is a former Pitkin County commissioner and a resident of the Crystal River valley. The third member on the committee is Chuck Oligby, who owns Avalanche Ranch along the Crystal and sits on the Colorado River Basin Roundtable.

“We want to move forward,” Farris told the roundtable on Monday.

Three reaches

The current proposal is to designate 39 miles of the Crystal River as Wild and Scenic, while more specifically designating three sections as either “wild,” “scenic” or “recreational.” The three designations are not literal, as all of the Crystal could be considered “scenic” by anyone who sees it, but are classifications that reflect the level of human incursion along a river.

The headwaters of both the North Fork and the South Fork of the Crystal would be designated as “wild” under the law, as they flow through primitive backcountry areas with few, if any, roads. The North Fork, for example, first rises behind the Maroon Bells in the Snowmass-Maroon Bells Wilderness. Together, about nine miles of the two upper forks would be managed as “wild” down to their confluence in Crystal City, above Marble.

The next 10 miles of the Crystal, down to Beaver Lake in Marble, would be considered “scenic,” as there is a dirt road along the river in that reach.

And the next 20 miles, between Marble and the Sweet Jessup Canal diversion structure, 10 miles above the river’s confluence with the Roaring Fork River, would be considered “recreational,” due in large part to the paved road along the river.

“What we’re seeking here is a very stripped down version of a Wild and Scenic designation,” Jochems told the roundtable on Monday. “We propose to leave land-use control entirely with Gunnison and Pitkin counties, as it is now. We don’t propose any further federal control over land use. We don’t want features that would allow any condemnation of property. All we’re concerned about is the main stem of the Crystal River and keeping it free of dams.”

Merritt of the river district, however, pointed out that national environmental groups have opposed “stripped-down” versions of Wild and Scenic in the past, as they are concerned about weakening the federal law.

Screen shot from Peter McBride's video arguing that the Crystal River should be left as is

Screen shot from Peter McBride’s video arguing that the Crystal River should be left as is

The U.S. Forest Service first found the Crystal River as “eligible” for Wild and Scenic status in the 1980s and re-affirmed that finding in 2002. Much of the land along the Crystal, from the headwaters to the Sweet Jessup head gate, is owned by the Forest Service.

The next step in the Wild and Scenic process is for a river to be determined “suitable” by the Forest Service, which requires an extensive study under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), and then congressional action.

Another option is for legislation to be submitted directly to Congress, which could then potentially approve Wild and Scenic designation after a less formal study.

Jochems said Wednesday, in an interview, that the three-member committee seeking designation has been meeting with Kay Hopkins, an outdoor recreation planner with the Forest Service, to seek guidance on draft legislation.

The draft bill, Jochems said, is then to be circulated among the towns, counties and other entities that have expressed an opinion so far, and see what details need to be worked out. If legislation can be agreed upon by local entities, a congressional sponsor would then be sought, Jochems said.

Editor’s note: Aspen Journalism is collaborating with the Aspen Daily News on coverage of land and water issues in Pitkin County. More at http://www.aspen
journalism.org.

Click here to view Peter McBride’s short video “Crystal Voice.” More Crystal River coverage here.


“It’s not agriculture, it’s food production that you’re losing” — Dennis Davidson #COWaterPlan

July 29, 2014

haymeadowsneargunnison

From the Glenwood Springs Post Independent (John Stroud):

Agricultural interests are expressing concerns that the draft Colorado River Basin plan that will be part of a broader statewide water plan is lacking in explaining the importance of water needs for farming and ranching in the region, and especially the Roaring Fork Valley.

“There are over 30,000 acres of land irrigated in the Roaring Fork River [watershed], with over 1,100 active irrigation diversions and over 800 diversions of water out of the main rivers and other smaller tributaries,” the Mount Sopris Conservation District board states in a recent letter to Colorado Basin Roundtable Chairman Jim Pokrandt. “Most of these are for use on agriculture lands to produce hay and pasture.”

Yet, in reviewing the latest revisions to the draft basin plan that were released earlier this month, much of the agricultural input that has been provided during the planning effort is “notably absent,” especially as it relates to the Roaring Fork Valley, the district’s letter states.

Preservation of agriculture is one of the six key themes included in the basin plan, which is still being revised and will continue to be for the better part of the next nine months.

“It did open some eyes that agriculture is listed as being important in the [larger] basin, but not in the Roaring Fork,” rancher Jeff Nieslanik, who chairs the Mount Sopris District board, said at the Monday meeting of the basin roundtable in Glenwood Springs.

“We are in decreasing ag, but it is still going,” he said, adding the importance of food production within the Roaring Fork watershed should be better spelled out in the plan.

That should include some mention of specific projects that are being done to repair and bring efficiencies to agriculture irrigation infrastructure in the region, he said.

Agriculture water use was the focus of the regular monthly meeting of the basin roundtable, as it works to refine the basin plan and make sure Colorado River interests are reflected in the state plan that is due out next year.

“Ag is going to have a target on its back, because it does own a lot of the older water rights in the state,” said roundtable member Kim Albertson, who has ranching interests in Garfield, Eagle and Mesa counties.

That includes not only farm-to-market operations, but “production agriculture,” which exports a large percentage of its product outside the state, he said.

Agriculture accounts for 85 percent of water use in the state, meaning farmers and ranchers are coming under pressure to bring better efficiencies to their irrigation practices. But a significant portion of that water use is “non-consumptive,” meaning much of the water eventually makes its way back into the river system after it is used to irrigate crops. That should somehow be quantified in the basin plan, said several of those attending the Monday meeting who represented various agricultural interests.

When it comes to preserving agriculture within the water plan, it’s not just about protecting farms and ranches, it’s about food, said Dennis Davidson, irrigation water management specialist for the Mount Sopris, Bookcliff and Southside USDA conservation districts.

“As consumers we’re all as guilty of using this water as anyone,” Davidson said. “It’s not agriculture, it’s food production that you’re losing.”

Another concern being expressed in the statewide effort to draft a water plan is the practice of “buy-and-dry,” where ag lands and their accompanying water rights are bought up by nonagricultural interests, such as for residential or energy development, and taken out of production.

While ag lands on the eastern plains are a big target for metro area water interests, the same market pressures exist on the Western Slope, pointed out Martha Cochran, director of the Aspen Valley Land Trust, which works with agricultural land owners to place conservation easements on their land to protect it from non-ag-related development.

“We do need to balance out those market forces, when we’re trying to sustain agriculture and you have entities trying to buy [their water],” she said. “Either they are going to buy it, or we need to buy it.”

Louis Meyer of SGM Engineers, which is in charge of writing the basin plan, said the Colorado Basin is not alone in its struggle with how to preserve agricultural interests without infringing on private property rights.

He said his team will review the input received from agricultural users as the plan is revised. “But you have to be specific” when it comes to mention of projects and their relation to the goals of the basin plan, he added.

More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.


“I have been proud to work for years to ensure the [support for] the Arkansas Valley Conduit” — Sen. Mark Udall

July 25, 2014
Arkansas Valley Conduit Comanche North route via Reclamation

Arkansas Valley Conduit Comanche North route via Reclamation

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

A draft federal energy and water funding bill includes an additional $90 million for projects such as the Arkansas Valley Conduit, U.S. Sens. Michael Bennet and Mark Udall, both Democrats, said Thursday. The Senate appropriations committee approved the bill, which contains a provision supported by both senators that explicitly makes data collection and design work eligible for funding through these accounts. It will help ensure the Arkansas Valley Conduit is eligible for these funds and sends a clear signal to the Bureau of Reclamation that the conduit is a priority project.

The board of the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District, conduit sponsor, was dismayed earlier this year when it learned only $500,000 was budgeted for the conduit next year. It is hoping to get at least $3 million for continuing data and design tasks that will lead to construction of the $400 million conduit.

The conduit is the final piece of the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project, authorized in 1962. When complete, the 130-mile pipeline will provide clean drinking water to 50,000 people in 40 communities east of Pueblo.

“For more than five decades, folks in Southeastern Colorado have been waiting for the federal government to fulfill its promise to build the Arkansas Valley Conduit.

That’s far too long for these communities to wait for a reliable source of clean drinking water,” Bennet said.

“I have been proud to work for years to ensure the federal government supports the Arkansas Valley Conduit. This funding brings the people of Southeastern Colorado one step closer to having a clean, safe and reliable source of water,” Udall said.

More Arkansas Valley Conduit funding here and here.


Roaring Fork watershed: Robert Woods was named the 2014 River Conservator Award at River Rendezvous last week

July 16, 2014

Conservation: Big water savings in Aspen — Mountain Town News #ColoradoRiver

June 30, 2014

Smuggler Mine back in the day via GregRulon.com

Smuggler Mine back in the day via GregRulon.com


From the Mountain Town News (Allen Best):

In 1974, Aspen’s future seemed clear enough. The town was growing briskly, the ski industry booming, and by the 1990s the town would need to make major investments to provide water for the future.

With that in mind, town officials filed for storage rights on two upstream creeks, Castle and Maroon, where the municipality already had significant senior water rights. Had the town gone ahead with construction of those reservoirs, the cost today would be roughly $50 million.

Instead, in about 1994, Mayor John Bennett and council members chose a different approach. They would emphasize water savings.

Phil Overeynder, who was the city’s utility manager then, says he has calculated that today water rates would need to be quadrupled to pay for the reservoirs and other infrastructure.

But there was another reason for Aspen to pursue conservation beginning in the 1990s. Overeynder said improved efficiency bolstered the argument that Eastern Slope water providers needed to make do with what they had before expanding diversions. In his eyes, Eastern Slope water providers still have not done everything they can. “Not to the extent it was promised 40 years ago,” he says.

For Aspen, improving water efficiency has several components. The city couldn’t account for 55 percent of the water being sent to customers. There were leaks, lots of them. It was, says Overeynder, a third-world water system. But a lot of water was used to bleed pipes. Water mains were buried deep, but the service lines to individual houses were within the frost line. During winter, homeowners left their faucets running, to avoid freezing. It was city policy to overlook that use.

Over time, these inefficient uses have been eliminated. The rate structure was revised to strongly recommend efficiency.

From 450 gallons per capita daily in 1974, use peaked in 1993 at 516 gallons.

Last year, it was 164 gallons per capita daily.

Use still spikes in summer, but not as much. The water treatment plant expanded in the 1980s has surplus capacity.

More Roaring Fork River watershed coverage here.


SDS: There is no Plan B — Colorado Springs Business Journal

June 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 (John Hazlehurst):

CSU’s ongoing billion-dollar bet is the Southern Delivery System. Scheduled to go online in 2016, SDS will convey water from Pueblo Reservoir via a 66-inch-diameter underground pipeline to Colorado Springs. It will expand the city’s raw water delivery capacity by an eventual 55 million gallons per day (MGD), a nearly 50-percent increase in system capacity…

“What we’re hoping for is a record snowpack,” CSU Chief Financial Officer Bill Cherrier said in late March, “followed by a hot, dry summer.”

Cherrier said it with a smile, but he had neatly summarized CSU’s dilemma. Water in the reservoirs must both be replenished and sold. The sell side of the equation is driven by fixed costs, including system maintenance and replacement, energy costs and continuing capital investment. But buyers don’t care about CSU’s problems; they prefer to water their lawns with free water from the skies.

Per-capita water use has dropped sharply in the past 20 years, leading to corresponding reductions in the city’s long-term consumption estimates.

“The Base (i.e. revenue) forecast is for an estimated service area population (city, suburban, Green Mountain Falls, military) of about 608,552 and about 106,000 AF/yr for demand,” wrote CSU spokesperson Janet Rummel in an email. “The ‘hot and dry’ scenario uses the same service area population and estimates about 120,000 AF/yr demand. This particular ‘hot and dry’ scenario equates to an 80 percent confidence interval and adds about 13 percent to annual demands.”

That’s a precipitous drop from the high-side estimate of the 1996 water resources plan, which forecast a population in 2040 as high as 900,000 and water demand of 168,150 acre-feet. The base forecast, at 106,000 acre-feet annually, is only 1,800 acre-feet more than the community used in 2000, 40 years previously.

Does that mean CSU’s water managers dropped $841 million into a new water delivery system that we may not need until 2016? Does this prove that the project, originally conceived to furnish water for the Banning-Lewis Ranch development, is now entirely unnecessary?

Perhaps not…

“SDS is not a short-term solution,” Rummel said in a 2010 email. “The time to build a major water project is not when you have run short of water … [we need] to better prepare our community for drought, climate change and water supply uncertainty on the Colorado River.”

Many factors entered into the decision to build SDS. In 1996, there was no discussion of system redundancy, of having an additional water pipeline that could serve the city in case one of the existing conduits needed emergency repair. But 18 years later, the pipelines are that much more vulnerable to accident or malfunction.

In 1996, population growth and per capita water use were expected to continue indefinitely at historic levels. But they didn’t. Commercial and industrial use declined, and price-sensitive residents used less water. Indoor use declined as well as outdoor, thanks to restricted-flow shower heads and low-flush toilets.

SDS stayed on track. In the eyes of the water survivalists who conceived and created the project, the city’s rights on the Arkansas River had to be developed. They saw long, hot summers in the city and dry winters in the mountains. Opponents could make any arguments they liked, but these five words trumped them all.

Use it or lose it.

Undeveloped water rights are like $100 bills blowing down the street — someone will grab them and use them for their own benefit…

“This will be our last pipeline,” said CSU water resources manager Gary Bostrom. “We will never be able to develop a new water delivery system. When SDS is finished, that’s it.”

Bostrom’s peers in Las Vegas, Phoenix, San Diego and Los Angeles have reason to envy him. Colorado Springs has won the water wars. We’ve bought ourselves decades of time. Whether we save or squander this liquid bounty is up to us.

In 2040, the city may have 30,000 to 50,000 acre-feet a year of unneeded delivery capacity. That cushion will allow for decades of population growth and for the introduction of sophisticated irrigation techniques that will preserve our green city and minimize water use.

In years to come, members of the Colorado Springs City Council will decide how to preserve the city’s future. Will they heed Bostrom’s warning and encourage radical conservation? Will new developments be required to xeriscape, and preserve trees with drip irrigation devices?

More Southern Delivery System coverage here and here.


Reducing the Impact of Stormwater Challenges — Nancy Stoner

June 29, 2014

aspen
From the Environmental Protection Agency (Nancy Stoner):

Stormwater pollution is a dilemma all across the country – even in beautiful mountain towns like Aspen, Colorado. Pollutants such as oils, fertilizer, and sediment from the steep mountains that tower over the town, can be carried via stormwater and snowmelt and deposited into waterways like the Roaring Fork River. This has a huge impact on the ecosystem.

Last month, I toured the Jennie Adair wetlands, a bio-engineered detention area designed to passively treat stormwater runoff in Aspen. I saw firsthand how the city is working to deal with its stormwater challenges. Before this project, stormwater did not drain to a water treatment facility. It used to flow directly into the Roaring Fork River and other water bodies within the city limits, having significant impacts on the water quality.

To reduce this impact, Aspen designed a passive stormwater treatment facility that also serves as an attractive and natural looking feature in a beautiful park that is dedicated to the memory of John Denver. The innovative and beautiful design uses boulders and large rocks that were naturally present on site, to shape the channel that carries runoff from the roads and from a vault into the detention pond where sediment and other pollutants settle out. On the other side of the pond, the water comes out crystal clear and drains right into the Roaring Fork River.

I was impressed by the use of green infrastructure to improve water quality and that they made such a beautiful public park out of it and did so voluntarily. This is a town that is dedicated to clean water. The people of Aspen should be proud.

Green infrastructure, similar to what is being built in Aspen and many other cities across the country, can be a cost-effective approach for improving water quality and can help communities to stretch their infrastructure investments further. Green infrastructure reduces and treats the water at its source, often delaying the time it takes to clear the structure. Therefore green infrastructure often reduces flooding within the area the project is constructed.

Since 2007, the EPA has supported the idea of green infrastructure to control storm events. The Agency has formulated strategic agendas, built community partnerships, and provided technical assistance to many communities seeking to implement green infrastructure practices.

Aspen has shown us that with a little innovation we can reduce our impact on the environment while enhancing its beauty.

More stormwater coverage here.


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

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

Southern Delivery System route map — Graphic / Reclamation

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More Southern Delivery System coverage here.


Twin Lakes Reservoir and Canal Co., et. al., settle out of Basalt whitewater park water court case

June 16, 2014
Twin Lakes collection system

Twin Lakes collection system

From The Aspen Times (Scott Condon):

A trial was scheduled to begin Thursday in state water court in Glenwood Springs. “That trial now will not happen,” Ely said.

Pitkin County has worked for about 10 years to establish the ability to use water rights for recreational purposes connected to the special project. The county wants to establish a kayak park on the Roaring Fork River just downstream from Fishermen’s Park, which is a stone’s throw from the Upper Basalt Bypass Bridge on Highway 82.

The county faced opposition from what Ely said he considers “the usual suspects” on water-rights issues. One of the parties opposing the county’s plan was the Twin Lakes Reservoir and Canal Co., which diverts from the headwaters of the Roaring Fork River.

Ely said various parties involved on both sides of the court battle stipulated a settlement rather than proceed with the trial and an uncertain outcome. It was a model of give-and-take, he said.

“Everybody left the table being hungry,” Ely said.

The agreement allows Pitkin County to call for water for the kayak park between April 15 and Labor Day. Differing water levels would be called at different times. The most water would be tapped for the park during spring runoff. The amount would be lower before and after prime runoff…

“It’s been about 10 years since this dialog first started,” Ely said during a ceremony Thursday at Fishermen’s Park attended by about 25 people, including Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper…

Hickenlooper congratulated Pitkin County and Basalt for their river work. He noted that investments made in river features by towns such as Buena Vista and Salida have paid big dividends.

More water law coverage here.


Roaring Fork watershed gets new protections — @DailySentinelGJ #ColoradoRiver

June 15, 2014
Thompson Creek via the Summit County Citizens Voice

Thompson Creek via the Summit County Citizens Voice

From the Colorado Water Quality Control Commission via the Glenwood Springs Post Independent:

The state Water Quality Control Commission this week approved a special “Outstanding Waters” designation for several branches of Thompson Creek and its tributaries in the upper Thompson Creek watershed, west of Carbondale.

Trout Unlimited and the Roaring Fork Conservancy said in a news release that the designation will ensure that the watershed’s water quality is protected in perpetuity.

The Water Quality Control Commission’s decision means that anyone seeking approval for development or discharge permits in the watershed must demonstrate that the proposed activity does not degrade the creeks’ baseline water quality.

“This is a huge conservation win that ensures there will be no degradation of these pristine waters,” said Aaron Kindle, Colorado Field Coordinator for Trout Unlimited. “The designation will safeguard the streams, wetlands and tributaries of a nationally significant watershed, and the genetically pure populations of cutthroat trout found there.”

To qualify for the designation, a stream must exhibit high standards on 12 different water quality parameters, including ammonia, dissolved oxygen, e. coli, nitrate, pH and various metals.

The protections will be applied to North Thompson, Middle Thompson and the South Branch of Middle Thompson Creek, as well as several tributaries, including Park Creek, a stronghold for a rare subspecies of cutthroat trout. The vast majority of the designated creeks are on Forest Service lands.

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):

A state commission has provided new watershed protections in the Thompson Divide area, where numerous entities are trying to stop oil and gas development.

However, such development apparently will be compatible with the “Outstanding Waters” designation by the state Water Quality Control Commission Tuesday.

Trout Unlimited and the Roaring Fork Conservancy had sought the designation. It applies to the north, middle and south branches of Middle Thompson Creek, and tributaries including Park Creek, home to a rare subspecies of cutthroat trout. The protections cover some 130 miles of waterways.

Stream segments qualifying for the designation must exhibit high standards based on water quality parameters such as ammonia, dissolved oxygen, nitrate, pH and various metals. Any entity discharging into a designated segment must show it won’t degrade existing water quality.

Interests including the Thompson Divide Coalition have been trying to prevent drilling on more than 200,000 acres west of Carbondale. Much of that acreage is leased, but certain leases are currently in suspension pending a Bureau of Land Management review.

Trisha Oeth, administrator for the Water Quality Control Commission, said Trout Unlimited testified that it reached out to energy companies holding leases in the areas and none opposed the designation.

“Trout Unlimited indicated the companies felt the designation would not impact their activities and that the designation would be compatible with their operations and plans,” she said.

The commission decided the sensitivity of cutthroat trout and diminishing extent of their habitat made the additional protection necessary.

David Ludlam, executive director of the West Slope Colorado Oil and Gas Association, called the designation “a clever maneuver that doesn’t concern us too much.”

“As modest drilling begins in the Thompson Divide, this important designation is in alignment with what our member companies already do to protect water and wildlife resources. We have shown a tremendous ability to safely produce natural gas in other sensitive western Colorado watersheds and will do so in the Thompson Divide, too.”

In a news release, Aaron Kindle, Colorado field coordinator for Trout Unlimited, called the designation “a huge conservation win that ensures there will be no degradation of these pristine waters.

“The designation will safeguard the streams, wetlands and tributaries of a nationally significant watershed, and the genetically pure populations of cutthroat trout found there,” Kindle was quoted as saying.

Greenback and Colorado River cutthroat via DNR

Greenback and Colorado River cutthroat via DNR

From Aspen Public Radio (Marci Krinoven):

To win approval the stream has to meet several high quality standards and, the designation prohibits certain pollutants from being discharged into the water. Aaron Kindle is with Colorado Trout Unlimited, which fought for the designation. He says it protects fish.

“Cutthroat trout have been dwindled down to about 10 percent of their native range, so the populations that do exist are pretty critical and those creeks up there are really critical for cutthroat trout.”

The protected creek runs through an area where energy companies would like to drill for natural gas. The gas leases are currently at a stand-still while the Bureau of Land Management does a review. Kindle says Trout Unlimited had discussions with the oil and gas companies and he says they neither supported nor disapproved of the new designation.

More Roaring Fork watershed coverage here.


Snowmass: Ziegler reservoir online

May 27, 2014
Ziegler Reservoir construction via The Aspen Times

Ziegler Reservoir construction via The Aspen Times

From the Snowmass Sun (Steve Alldredge) via the Aspen Times:

Since the last ice age receded, water in Snowmass Creek has flowed from the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness, carving out what’s known as Old Snowmass Valley. The water irrigates ranches and supports wells for a few subdivisions and scattered homes before joining the Roaring Fork River in Old Snowmass.

Over time, additional demands for water to support the development of Snowmass Village and snowmaking at the Snowmass ski area added to the pressures on Snowmass Creek, giving rise to concerns over the preservation of sustainable flows in the creek. But the inevitable conflict, which first existed between users in Snowmass Valley and those in the Brush Creek drainage over the water in Snowmass Creek, is now developing into a novel and promising partnership to manage and protect water that people in both valleys depend on.

The centerpiece in this partnership is Ziegler Reservoir.

The creation of this off-stream reservoir provides the flexibility and water security to support a 21st century approach to sustainable water management where water is shared between agriculture and a municipality, and across two basins.

When the resort of Snowmass Village was created in 1967, senior water rights from Snowmass Creek pertaining to the underlying ranch lands were converted to serve the newly planned community, the tourist condominiums and hotels, and, eventually, snowmaking at the ski area. The Snowmass Water and Sanitation District was created to provide clean water and treat wastewater for a growing base of Snowmass customers at the new resort.

Over 96 percent of the district’s water flows from the Snowmass Creek basin. East Snowmass Creek provides most of that water, with the rest coming from Snowmass Creek. Less than 5 percent of the sanitation district’s water comes from Brush Creek. All of the water from East Snowmass Creek is gravity fed down to the water treatment plant at the bottom of the Snowmass ski area.

Over the years, the shared use of Snowmass Creek water became a contentious issue between residents in Old Snowmass and the Snowmass Water and Sanitation District — particularly in the winter. The town of Snowmass Village needs the most water in winter around the holiday season, when the cold temperatures of December and January cause the lowest flows in the creek. When the need for water for snowmaking was added in the ‘90s, the pressure on Snowmass Creek increased.

Worried about the health of Snowmass Creek, the Snowmass-Capitol Creek Caucus challenged the Snowmass Water and Sanitation District and the Aspen Skiing Co. over minimum stream flows in Snowmass Creek. In 1996, the Colorado Water Conservation Board established a stair-step minimum stream flow baseline for Snowmass Creek in an attempt to balance human and environmental demands for the water. But tensions remained between the Snowmass Water and Sanitation District, the Snowmass-Capitol Creek Caucus and Skico because the minimum in-stream flow rights set by the state are not binding on more senior water right holders like the sanitation District

Chelsea Congdon is a member of the Snowmass-Capitol Creek Caucus and a leader in their efforts to protect Snowmass Creek.

“Snowmass Creek has shaped and defined the Snowmass Creek Valley, and it is literally the lifeblood of all the ecosystems of this valley,” Congdon said. “That creek is shared by people in two watersheds and the caucus spent a lot of time and a lot of money trying to find a way to compel or convince SWSD to join in the effort to protect that creek.”

Sharon Clarke is the watershed action director for Roaring Fork Conservancy, a local environmental organization dedicated to water.

“For a lot of years, it was very contentious between the SWSD and the Snowmass Creek Caucus,” said Clarke. “Now they are working together to figure out how to best get water for the district and help the creek at the same time.”

A significant factor in that transition was the staff and board changes at Snowmass Water and Sanitation District in the early 2000s when Kit Hamby was hired as district manager. Doug Throm was a member of the Snowmass Water and Sanitation District board from 2004 until 2014.

Since he was hired by the Snowmass Water and Sanitation District, Hamby has initiated a series of operational changes to increase water conservation programs and manage water more efficiently. After instituting a study on the district’s water assets and future needs, Hamby led an effort to expand raw water storage to mitigate the catastrophic effects of a natural disaster or drought. This effort led to the district purchasing a small pond in 2008 located on top of a hill overlooking Snowmass Village for $3.5 million from the Peter Ziegler family.

In October 2008, construction of Ziegler Reservoir began and then quickly came to a stop: During excavation, bulldozer operator Jesse Steel unearthed bones from a 16-year-old female mammoth. Two extensive digs by the Denver Museum of Natural History uncovered bones from a wide variety of animals that lived over 45,000 years ago. They also discovered one of North America’s premiere locations to study climate science.

After the digs, Ziegler Reservoir was completed and put into service by the Snowmass Water and Sanitation District. The reservoir holds roughly 82 million gallons of water and is about 252 acre-feet in size.

The original plan for the reservoir was to hold water for an emergency. But Hamby led an effort to develop a plan to use Ziegler Reservoir to do more — to serve as the linchpin in a state-of-the-art municipal water system, with conservation at its core.

“Using Ziegler is a balancing act,” said Hamby. “We fill the reservoir when water flows in the creek are high and then use that water when flows are low. And it’s an extraordinary water-management tool. We can take out 104 million gallons for snowmaking and then take another 100 million gallons out over the next three months for municipal use and still not drop the reservoir below 50 percent.”

Frank White is the snowmaking manager for Skico. After Ziegler Reservoir came online, Skico concluded a multi-year agreement to use the water from Ziegler Reservoir for snowmaking. In an average year, the Skico uses about 80 million gallons of water for snowmaking at the Snowmass ski area over a 60-day period.

White recalls how snow made at the Snowmass ski area by pumping water out of Snowmass Creek and up the hill to snow guns that roared to life and spit out snow when temperatures were low enough. Those same low temperatures are often the times when Snowmass Creek was at its lowest flow, stressing the health of the Snowmass Creek ecosystem. With the construction of Ziegler Reservoir, the company takes water for snowmaking out of the reservoir, without impacting the creek, and also saves the expensive cost of using energy to pump the water uphill.

Auden Schendler is the Skico’s vice president of Sustainability. “If you are going to make snow, it’s more efficient to make it all at once,” explained Schendler. “In the past we couldn’t do that because we were limited on how much water we could take out of the stream when temperatures were the lowest. Now, we can fire on all cylinders and pump out as much snow as efficiently as possible during a cold snap. Using Ziegler saves energy and therefore money. And using Ziegler buffers Snowmass Creek because not as much water is withdrawn when the flow of the creek is at its lowest.”

Using Ziegler Reservoir for snowmaking and municipal demand during the winter so that Snowmass Creek is protected from diversions is one benefit most everyone agrees on.

Dave Nixa is on the board of the Pitkin County nonprofit Healthy Rivers and Streams.

“I think the most significant aspect of Ziegler Reservoir is that it is a tremendous resource for storage in case of landslides, fires and other catastrophes,” said Nixa. “But we need to maintain the riparian life of (that) creek and the animals that use it, and the biggest animal that uses that creek is Man, for domestic water and irrigation. Having that kind of resource in our valley is pretty important in protecting the long-term health of Snowmass Creek.”

In the ‘90s and ‘00s, the focus of the Snowmass-Capitol Creek Caucus was on maintaining a minimum stream flow in Snowmass Creek in order to maintaining healthy flows to protect river ecology — and most people measure river health by the health of fish populations. In this case, the fish is trout.

Trout spawn at different times of the year. They lay their eggs in nests in the gravels of the stream and the nests are called redds. The eggs laid in the fall are susceptible to low winter stream flows. If the water gets too low, the redds become exposed and freeze. If the water gets too low and anchor ice forms on the bottom of the stream, the ice starts moving and it destroys the redds.

“Before Ziegler was built, the creek’s flow was the lowest at the same time of the year that beds in Snowmass Village were filled and snowmaking was needed,” Congdon said. “Now, the district is using Ziegler as a bucket, and they use that off-stream storage of Ziegler as part of a water-management system, filling the reservoir back up when the creek has excess water and using the reservoir to buffer the creek.”

In addition to using Ziegler as a water-management tool, the sanitation district has earned high praise from the caucus and others because of additional investments in sustainability they have made the last few years.

“Other than building Ziegler, we have focused in on water loss,” explained Hamby. “We probably have the most aggressive leak detection system in the state of Colorado. We perform leak detection on about 60 to 80 percent of our 45 miles of water line each spring, and then we retest about 40 to 45 percent of those lines again each fall. Each year, we’re retesting 100 percent of our lines.”

“The district has a keen awareness in how to manage their resources in the most effective way,” said Nixa. “One good example is their leak-detection program. It was probably in the upper percentile of poor, and is now in the lower percentiles of outstanding. I would venture that the SWSD is in the top 1 percent of all water districts in the state. It’s a formal program and inherent in how they run their business now.”

In fact, the conservation and leak detection programs of the sanitation district have reduced overall water usage in the district from 642 million gallons in 1998 to about 480 million gallons a year now.

“The district has made huge investments in storage, conservation and leak detection and their current low water loss rate makes them a state-of-the-art water district,” Congdon said. “They are protecting their rate payers and delivering water without wasting money. And they are operating with an awareness that we all depend upon this one little creek. We should manage it efficiently.”

As a testament to the commitment to conservation, in December, the Snowmass Water and Sanitation District Board passed resolution No. 9 to operate their water system to adhere to the state minimum in-stream flow standard for Snowmass Creek to the maximum extent possible.

The district’s commitment to use Ziegler Reservoir to manage water more efficiently and protect the Creek has helped motivate the Snowmass Creek Caucus to lead a water conservation and education effort in Snowmass Creek Valley.

While the Snowmass Water and Sanitation District is the largest user of Snowmass Creek water in the winter, the irrigators of the ranches and farms in Snowmass Creek Valley use the most water in summer. Even though they use their water at the time of the creek’s highest flows, their cumulative demand, coupled with the pressures of climate change, threaten the health of Snowmass Creek in the summer.

Under the most accepted assumptions of climate change, the historic diversions in the Snowmass Creek Valley are predicted to begin to drive late summer flows below the summer in-stream flow level of 15 cfs. The Snowmass Capitol Creek Caucus has initiated an outreach effort to work with local irrigators to find ways to increase water efficiency. Some irrigators in the valley, including the McBrides and Wildcat Ranch, have installed sprinkler systems that use less water and use it more efficiently than traditional flood irrigation systems.

“One of the biggest thing the Caucus is doing now is education,” explained Congdon. “We’re developing information materials and meeting with irrigators to help them understand the issues, and we’re getting their commitment to conserving water in times of low flows, which is huge commitment for them to make, and it’s voluntary.”

In order to conserve and manage water the most efficiently, the water has to be gauged and measured. Both the Snowmass Water and Sanitation District and the Snowmass Creek Caucus are currently leading efforts to construct small barriers or weirs to more effectively measure stream flows on Snowmass Creek and its tributaries.

Today, the disputes between Snowmass Water and Sanitation District and the Snowmass Capitol Creek Caucus seem like a thing of the past. The construction of Ziegler Reservoir was something water users in both Brush Creek and Snowmass Creek drainages could agree on. And it has proved to be the keystone in an unlikely partnership between municipal and agricultural water users in 2 basins to protect a shared stream.

It is not unusual for rivers or streams in Colorado to be diverted from one basin to another, but it is rare to find such a promising collaboration across such a divide. If the predictions for climate change in this region are accurate, and demands for water continue to grow as they surely will, then the story of conservation and cooperation around Snowmass Creek could be a model for other water users in the West.

More Roaring Fork River watershed coverage here.


Northwest Pipe Co. is major supplier for the Southern Delivery System #ColoradoRiver

May 23, 2014
Southern Delivery System construction celebration August 19, 2011 via The Pueblo Chieftain

Southern Delivery System construction celebration August 19, 2011 via The Pueblo Chieftain

From The Denver Post (Aldo Svaldi):

Orders at the Northwest Pipe Co. plant in Denver were drying up in 2010 when bid requests started coming for a massive water project linking the Pueblo Reservoir and Colorado Springs called the Southern Delivery System.

“The start of the SDS project couldn’t have come at a better time,” Northwest’s vice president of sales Eric Stokes said.

At a cost of $841 million, the water project is the largest the region has seen in decades. Starting in 2016, it will pipe water held in the Pueblo Reservoir to consumers in Colorado Springs, Pueblo West, Security and Fountain.

“This is our water security for many years to come, 50 years into the future,” said John Fredell, program director of the water services division for SDS.

Northwest Pipe’s Denver plant won almost all the contracts to supply 50 miles of steel pipe, and the company celebrated the completion of the last piece Thursday afternoon. Northwest produced 7,000 pieces of the pipeline, each averaging 50 feet in length and 66 inches in diameter. The orders allowed Northwest’s employment in Denver to grow from 116 full-time workers to more than 231 at the peak of manufacturing.

Of about $500 million spent so far on the project, $359 million has gone to 333 Colorado businesses, including more than 75 based in metro Denver, Fredell said.

Northwest Pipe alone received about $110 million, including $23 million spent on payroll. Given that the next closest competitor was in California, Stokes said Northwest had a distinct advantage.

“Proximity was part of it,” Fredell said.

Back in 1997, Northwest Pipe, which is based in Vancouver, Wash., acquired Thompson Pipe & Steel Co., a manufacturer with Denver roots going back to the late 1800s. For decades, Thompson built pipes in the Curtis Park area that continue to help move water across much of the state. Thompson moved its plant to a 45-acre facility at 6030 Washington St., where workers continued to convert steel coil arriving by rail car into water pipes shipped out on trucks.

Once formed, the pipes are pumped full of water and pressure-tested to ensure there are no leaks. They are moved into a cavernous ⅛ – mile-long warehouse where they are rotated rapidly while concrete is poured inside to make a lining designed to last for decades. In a third building, the pipes are primed, painted and prepared for shipping.

“It is nice to know you have finished on time,” said Jason Cheng, a welder from Westminster who joined Northwest in October to work on the SDS order.

Cheng and other workers lined up to sign the last piece of pipe, undeterred as the rain poured down Thursday afternoon. Their signatures, in white ink, quickly smeared down the bright-blue pipe.

“We want the water on the inside of the pipe, not the outside,” one person commented.

From the Denver Business Journal (Cathy Proctor):

Northwest Pipe, (Nasdaq: NWPX) is based in Vancouver, Washington. Its Denver manufacturing plant had a $110 million contract to build the project’s 50 miles of pipeline to carry the water. It was the biggest contract for materials under the project.

Northwest Pipe started making its 50-foot sections of pipe for the project, each section 66 inches in diameter, in 2011.
And the last pieces are now coming off the manufacturing line and awaiting a truck for transport to the project site.

“This is one of the largest programs that we’ve seen,” said John Moore, manager of Northwest Pipe’s manufacturing plant at 6030 N. Washington St. in north Denver.

During peak production, as many as 25 trucks a day left Northwest Pipe’s manufacturing facility.
Being in Denver meant trucking costs were less and Northwest Pipe could submit a more competitive bid for the project, Moore said.

And the project meant jobs for Northwest Pipe, which ramped up to 231 people during peak production, from a low of 116 people prior to work on the project, said John Moore, the plant manager. The company currently has 131 people on staff.
Northwest Pipe, which supplies pipes to carry water and waste water, has delivered pipes to other big water providers, including Denver Water and Aurora.

More Southern Delivery System coverage here.


The Roaring Fork Conservancy 2013 Annual Report is hot off the presses

May 20, 2014

Map of the Roaring Fork River watershed via the Roaring Fork Conservancy

Map of the Roaring Fork River watershed via the Roaring Fork Conservancy


Click here to read the report. Here’s an excerpt:

Watershed Action
Our watershed action program addresses current issues and future threats to our watershed. Proactive science and watershed planning help inform decision-makers and drive on-the-ground projects to improve and restore our watershed. Many of these actions come from the recently published Roaring Fork Watershed Plan and take the form of scientific studies, restoration projects, changes to policies and educational campaigns. Our watershed action staff address areas of water quantity and quality, hydrology, riparian and river ecology, geomorphology, and economics.

Watershed Education
Inspiring people to take action requires knowledge. Each year our watershed education programs reach thousands of students and adults with hands-on science, exploration and experiences. Our student classes range from water chemistry and river ecology to watershed mapping and economics. When we cannot bring students to the river we often bring the river to them.

Our adult community outreach programs include River Guide Trainings, Watershed Explorations, educational dialogues and forums, and our popular river float trips. Each of these programs are designed to engage participants with people and/or places in the watershed to which they might not have access otherwise.

More Roaring Fork River watershed coverage here.


Weekly River Report – River flows throughout the Roaring Fork Watershed are significantly lower than normal for this time of year

May 15, 2014

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.


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.


Aspen: City Council approves instream flow for the Roaring Fork River through town

April 30, 2014
Map of the Roaring Fork River watershed via the Roaring Fork Conservancy

Map of the Roaring Fork River watershed via the Roaring Fork Conservancy

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

In an effort to improve the aquatic environment of the Roaring Fork River as it flows through central Aspen, the city of Aspen has agreed to leave 2 to 3 cubic feet per second (cfs) of water in the river during low-flow periods this summer instead of diverting it into the Wheeler Ditch.

The Wheeler Ditch diverts water from the Fork a short distance downstream from the Aspen Club pedestrian bridge and just below Ute Park, east of Aspen. The headgate for the irrigation ditch is on the left side of the river, when looking downstream, and is visible from the upper end of the city’s Wheeler Ditch Trail.

The water in the ditch is typically used to supply small channels in the downtown pedestrian malls, to irrigate some city property, and to keep a base flow running through the city’s stormwater system.

The Aspen city council on Monday approved an agreement with the nonprofit Colorado Water Trust to leave the water in the river when river flows drop below 32 cfs, the amount identified by the state as necessary to protect the river’s environment “to a reasonable degree.”[...]

It’s the second year the city has entered into such an agreement with the Water Trust, which works to bolster flows in rivers across the state.

Last year the city announced that it would leave between 6 and 8 cfs of water in the river, but experience showed that it was more practical to leave 2 to 3 cfs, according David Hornbacher, the director of utilities and environmental initiatives for the city.

The city owns an 1889 senior water right to divert up to 10 cfs from the Fork into the Wheeler Ditch.

The agreement with the Water Trust says the city will begin bypassing water from the Wheeler Ditch when the river drops below 32 cfs. If the river drops to 31 cfs, the city will bypass 1 cfs, and so on, until the point when there is at least one cfs left in the ditch…

“The Water Trust brings structure to the effort,” Hornbacher said. “They bring resources. And they provide a framework to work toward other future agreements to benefit the river.”[...]

This year, Twin Lakes expects to divert about 55,000 acre-feet of water from the headwaters of the Roaring Fork.

Further downstream and just east of Aspen, the Salvation Ditch in mid-to-late summer often diverts more water than is left in the river below the ditch’s diversion structure…

The Salvation Ditch, which has a water right from 1902 to divert 58 cfs, was diverting 17.4 cfs that day, leaving 7.6 cfs of water flowing in the Fork.

Another 2.4 cfs was then diverted into the Wheeler Ditch that day, leaving just 5.2 cfs flowing in the river as it made its way past Rio Grande Park, the Aspen Art Museum, and under the Mill Street Bridge.

That’s a far cry from the 32 cfs the state says is required to protect the river’s aquatic environment, and the city’s effort this summer is intended to help close such gaps.

“I appreciate the city’s leadership, as it can help start the conversation,” said [Amy Beatie] of the Water Trust. “We would love everyone to really sit down and think about what they have and how they could use it strategically to put water back in the river.”

More Roaring Fork River watershed 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.


Southern Delivery System: Colorado Springs Utilities has spent $26.6 M on land-related expenses

April 19, 2014
Southern Delivery System route map -- Graphic / Reclamation

Southern Delivery System route map — Graphic / Reclamation

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Colorado Springs has spent $26.6 million to acquire land for its $984 million Southern Delivery System. Most of the money was spent in El Paso County, although properties in Pueblo West and on Walker Ranches were purchased either permanently or for temporary easements.

Pipeline easements totaled $961,681 for 388 acres in Pueblo County, compared with $2.5 million for 486 acres in El Paso County.

Another $1 million was paid to buy homes in Pueblo West.

The big money was paid for other features of the project in El Paso County, a total of about $22 million.

“It would be misleading to simply do the math on the values above and conclude that more was paid for land in El Paso County than Pueblo County,” said Janet Rummel, spokesman for Colorado Springs Utilities, in an e-mail responding to a request from The Pueblo Chieftain.

Permanent easement prices ranged from 50-90 percent of fee value, while temporary easements are valued at 10 percent per year, varying from one to four years.

“The fee value of land depends primarily on location, but also is subject to size, shape, development entitlement and improvements, if any,” Rummel explained.

“Within the raw water pipeline alignments for SDS, fee values for easements and facilities ranged from $1,389 per acre to almost $20,000 per acre,” Rummel said. “Pueblo West properties were generally valued in the range between $10,900 to $13,000 per acre.”

At the high end of that scale were 6 homes on about 10 acres in Pueblo West purchased for $1.044 million.

But even below that scale were 103 acres, two-thirds in permanent easements, on Walker Ranches, which could be purchased for $82,900, or about $804 per acre. Utilities also paid Walker $600,000 to relocate cattle during construction, as required by Pueblo County’s 1041 permit.

Gary Walker will contest the amount of the easement payment in court this November, one of four cases still in dispute.

Walker also has raised complaints, most recently during a county public hearing, about erosion along the pipeline route. The bulk of the money, however, has gone for the treatment plant, pump station and reservoir sites in El Paso County.

Utilities paid $259,519 for 43 acres for the Bradley Pump Station; $2.4 million for 124 acres at the treatment plant and $19.3 million for a future reservoir site on Upper Williams Creek.

At the reservoir site, T-Cross Ranches, owned by the Norris family, received $9,500 per acre for 791 acres ($7.5 million), while the state land board received $10,500 per acre for 1,128 acres ($11.8 million).

SDS is a pipeline project that will deliver up to 96 million gallons of water daily from Lake Pueblo to Colorado Springs, Fountain, Security and Pueblo West.

The figures do not include money Utilities paid to purchase homes in Jimmy Camp Creek at a reservoir site that later was abandoned.


Fryingpan-Arkansas Project update #ColoradoRiver

April 16, 2014
Fryingpan-Arkansas Project via the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District

Fryingpan-Arkansas Project via the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District

From email from Reclamation (Kara Lamb):

We are getting ready to start importing water from the West Slope collection of the Fryingpan-Arkansas system to the East Slope. As long as minimum flows at both the Thomasville and Hunter Creek gages are met, we can begin diversions of additional water through the Boustead Tunnel.

Here are the minimum flows for the Fryingpan River at Thomasville:

Date Min Flow, (cfs)
Oct. 1 – Mar. 31 30
Apr. 1 – Apr. 30 100
May 1 – May 31 150
Jun. 1 – Jun. 30 200
Jul. 1 – Jul. 31 100
Aug. 1 – Aug 31 75
Sep 1 – Sep 30 65

Additionally, at Twin Lakes dam, we are curtailing releases to Lake Creek and the Arkansas River today and tomorrow. Today, we scaled back to about 100 cfs. Tomorrow, we will continue scaling back to 0 cfs while a regular review of the dam is conducted. Once the review is complete, we will bring releases back up.

More Fryingpan-Arkansas Project coverage here.


Ditches are running along the Roaring Fork #ColoradoRiver

April 16, 2014

haymeadowsneargunnison

From the Glenwood Springs Post Independent (Will Grandbois):

For Gavin Metcalf, April 15 isn’t just tax day. It’s the beginning of six months of full time work as Carbondale’s official “Ditch Rider.”

Metcalf’s steed is a John Deere utility vehicle, but otherwise his job description looks like something out of the previous century. He starts the morning by turning a wheel on a large metal gate along the bank of the Crystal River. When the water in the Carbondale Ditch reaches a certain point, he locks the gate in place.

“You can tell it’s the right depth because that root is just barely sticking out of the water,” he explains. Sure enough, when he walks down to the flume for a more scientific measurement, it’s dead on…

In addition to natural challenges, Metcalf struggles with human interference. People construct makeshift dams which can flood upstream and burn out downstream pumps. They dump all manner of things into ditches they wouldn’t dream of throwing in the river. Not that most of it makes it that far. Even grass clippings tend to stick around and clog the system, explains Metcalf. And when he has to turn off the water to fix the problem, few residents connect the dots.

“The water is there to be used,” Metcalf says, “but a lot of people don’t seem to understand what it takes to make that happen.”

Carbondale’s water rights on the Crystal are as old as the town itself. It’s one of the few municipalities in the region — along with Aspen and Silt — that has kept its system intact. The original 1880s rights were expanded considerably in the 1920s. Since then, usage has fluctuated as the community expands and the ranches begin to disappear.

So far, the runoff forecast for this year looks bright, but Carbondale’s utilities department is planning ahead. “If, at some point, we elect to go into water rationing, we want a really firm idea of what it’s going to take to maintain the system under drought conditions,” explains Utilities Director Mark O’Meara. “It’s going to take some time to really dial in, but I think we have enough foundation to make better judgment calls on how much we take out of the river.”

More Roaring Fork watershed coverage here.


“When the public comments, the No. 1 thing they are very interested in is healthy rivers” — Louis Meyer #ColoradoRiver #COWaterPlan

April 12, 2014
Fryingpan-Arkansas Project western and upper eastern slope facilities

Fryingpan-Arkansas Project western and upper eastern slope facilities

From Aspen Journalism (Brent Gardner-Smith):

“It’s a bunch of river with serious targets on them,” said Ken Neubecker of Carbondale about the upper Colorado basin. Neubecker, a longtime volunteer with Trout Unlimited and the former head of Western Rivers Institute, now works with American Rivers on policy and conservation issues.

In addition to rivers in the Roaring Fork watershed, Neubecker said the Blue, Eagle, Fraser, Yampa, Gunnison and Green rivers are all threatened by more water diversions.

“We continue to treat rivers as engineered plumbing systems and not ecosystems,” Neubecker said. “And the river doesn’t get a seat at the planning table.”

Aspenites will have a chance to learn more about the current threats and challenges to local and regional rivers when Louis Meyer of Glenwood Springs-based SGM engineering firm makes a presentation today at 6 p.m. in the Rio Grande meeting room in Aspen behind the county courthouse.

Meyer is an engineer, a member of the Colorado River Basin Roundtable and a consultant to the roundtable, which is charged with developing a detailed water plan for the Colorado River basin by July. That basin plan will help inform a statewide plan called the Colorado Water Plan.

For the past several months, Meyer has been talking to members of the public and water providers across the upper Colorado River basin, which extends in Colorado from Rocky Mountain National Park to the state line west of Loma.

“When the public comments, the No. 1 thing they are very interested in is healthy rivers,” Meyer said. “Not just flat rivers where the hydrograph has been taken off by reservoirs, but rivers that can support healthy biology.”

During a recent presentation in Carbondale sponsored by the Roaring Fork Conservancy, Meyer said 41 percent of the Fryingpan River and Hunter Creek is diverted to the Front Range, while 37 percent of the water in the Roaring Fork River and its upper tributaries is sent east under the Continental Divide.

Each year, about 98,900 acre-feet of water is sent out of Pitkin County to growing cities on the Front Range, which is equal to almost all the stored water in a full Ruedi Reservoir. By comparison, Grand County sends 307,500 acre-feet east, Summit County, 73,100 acre-feet, and Eagle, 32,000 acre-feet…

He suggested that people in the Roaring Fork River valley need to better understand what the “PSOP,” or “Preferred Storage Options Plan” is.

“PSOP is something you have to start paying attention to,” Meyer said. “It is an effort by the consortium of East Slope water providers in the Arkansas basin — the Southeastern Water Conservancy District, the cities of Pueblo and Colorado Springs.

“They would like to enlarge Turquoise Reservoir, near Leadville — that’s where water out of the Fryingpan is diverted — and they want to enlarge Pueblo Reservoir down very low in the basin so they can store more water.

“Where is that water going to come from? It’s going to come from out of this basin. The infrastructure is already there,” Meyer said. “You’ve got to keep an eye on it.”

Southeastern’s current strategic plan, available on its website, includes the goal to “maximize Fry-Ark diversions to the limit of (the district’s) water rights.”

In addition to PSOP, that could mean diverting more water from a “deferred area” in the Fryingpan headwaters through diversions planned, but not built, as part of the original Fry-Ark project…

Meyer also said that three Front Range counties between Denver and Colorado Springs — Douglas, Arapahoe and El Paso — are growing fast, need more water and are looking at some relatively dramatic potential solutions referred to as “big straws.”

The straws, or big pipelines and pump-back projects, could take water from the Green, Yampa, or Gunnison rivers and send it back over the Continental Divide to the Front Range.

And Meyer said discussions are happening now between Front Range and Western Slope water interests to determine under what conditions the Western Slope parties might agree to such a project…

Land use, not water use, may be the real key to leaving water in Western Slope rivers, he added.

“The biggest single issue that has come to the forefront in our work is that it’s not a water issue, it is a land-use issue,” Meyer said. “People are asking the questions, ‘shouldn’t we have our land use connected to our water use?’ and ‘shouldn’t the land use of the future respect that we already have a water shortage?’

More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.


Transmountain diversions: “I think the Twin Lakes company needs to be more open-minded” — Jay Winner #COWaterPlan

April 11, 2014
Twin Lakes collection system

Twin Lakes collection system

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Twin Lakes Reservoir & Canal Co. took umbrage at the way working drafts of an upcoming state water plan viewed its future. A report prepared by the Interbasin Compact Committee uses an example of a way to create new supply, suggesting that Twin Lakes could cut back its diversions from the other side of the Continental Divide in drought years to aid the Western Slope. Trouble is, Twin Lakes has no plans to do that, said Kevin Lusk, who is president of the Twins Lakes company as a representative of Colorado Springs Utilities, the majority shareholder in Twin Lakes.

“In our discussions, we’re trying to keep what we’ve got, and we have no intentions of increasing the use,” Lusk told the Arkansas Basin Roundtable Wednesday.

Lusk asked for a retraction of the statement by the Arkansas Basin Roundtable and from the basin roundtable chairs. The document was discussed in a March 17 conference call among roundtable chairs and alluded to in an Aspen Daily News story. Several roundtable members questioned how the statement landed in the document, since it was not discussed at a meeting.

“It was cited as an example in the process as we move forward,” said Betty Konarski, chairwoman of the roundtable.

Lusk said the distribution of the information is detrimental to Twin Lakes. While there have been past discussions along the same lines, the company has never committed to changing its operations to accommodate the Western Slope.

“Twin Lakes is not considering a reduction of diversions. We haven’t agreed to do it or not to do it,” added Alan Ward, water resources manager for the Pueblo Board of Water Works, the second largest Twin Lakes shareholder. “We wouldn’t have a reason to give any of it up unless there was some benefit to us. It’s gravity-flow and inexpensive water for us.”

But a minority Twin Lakes shareholder, the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District, said the company should be more open to actions that could have a statewide benefit. comments,” said Jay Winner, general manager of the Lower Ark district. “I think the Twin Lakes company needs to be more open-minded. It’s looking at what’s good for Colorado Springs Utilities, not the whole state.”

More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.


The City of Aspen has a long list of projects for the #ColoradoRiver Basin Implementation Plan #COWaterPlan

April 7, 2014

aspen
From Aspen Journalism (Brent Gardner-Smith):

Tall new dams in pristine spots on upper Castle and Maroon creeks. Bigger dams on Lost Man and Lincoln creeks in the headwaters of the Roaring Fork River. A bigger reservoir at the city’s water plant. Water pumped up from deep underneath Aspen. Treated effluent pumped from the Aspen wastewater plant to the city golf course. Water left in the river instead of being diverted to the Wheeler irrigation ditch.

These projects are all on a list that Mike McDill, the city of Aspen’s deputy director of utilities, wants included on a larger list of regional water projects now being compiled by the Colorado River Basin Roundtable.

“If it is already on the list, at least people can’t say they didn’t know we were thinking about it,” McDill said…

Over 500 “projects, policies and processes” are now on the Colorado roundtable’s draft priority list, including Aspen’s suggested projects. The list, which is part inventory, part to-do list, and part wish list, is to be winnowed down in the next two months by the roundtable.

“Putting projects on the roundtable’s list is a good way to provoke conversation,” said Louis Meyer, a consulting engineer with SGM, who is leading the development of the Colorado roundtable’s basin plan. “It is also incumbent on us to show the state that we have a list of water needs.”[...]

During recent public roundtable meetings, McDill has described Aspen’s list of projects in a calm and pragmatic matter, despite the scale of some of them.

“Our concern is we have a lot of water in June and not so much water the rest of the year,” McDill said about the potential value of reservoirs on upper Maroon and Castle creeks.

Today the city of Aspen diverts water from lower Castle and Maroon creeks for its water supply, but it does not have any water storage capacity beyond the tiny Leonard Thomas Reservoir at the water plant, which can hold 14 acre-feet of water.

If built someday as described by the city’s conditional water right, the Maroon Creek reservoir would store 4,567 acre-feet of water behind a 155-foot-tall dam just below the confluence of East Maroon and West Maroon creeks, which is known as a stunningly beautiful location. A Maroon Creek reservoir would cover 85 acres of U.S. Forest Service land about a mile-and-a-half below Maroon Lake.

The Castle Creek reservoir would hold 9,062 acre-feet of water behind a 170-foot-tall dam located about two miles below the historic town site of Ashcroft in a verdant valley. It would inundate 120 acres of mostly private land.

The city has renewed the conditional water rights for the two reservoirs eight times since they were decreed in 1971 and is required to do so again in 2016, when it must show it is making progress toward building the reservoirs.

“Aspen will build the Castle Creek and Maroon Creek reservoirs if necessary and if in the best interest of citizens of the community,” city officials said in 2012…

Also on Aspen’s list of potential projects is the enlargement of existing reservoirs, including Grizzly Reservoir and Leonard Thomas Reservoir…

Grizzly Reservoir was built in the 1930s on upper Lincoln Creek, a tributary of the Roaring Fork River. The reservoir is owned by the Twin Lakes Reservoir and Canal Co., of which the city of Colorado Springs is now the majority owner. The reservoir holds about 570 acre-feet of water and primarily serves as the forebay to the tunnel that Twin Lakes uses to divert water under the Continental Divide…

The smaller Lost Man Reservoir, also owned by Twin Lakes, backs up water on Lost Man Creek and then diverts it to Grizzly Reservoir…

But Kevin Lusk, a principal with Colorado Springs Utilities, and the president of the Twin Lakes Reservoir and Canal Co., threw cold water this week on the idea of expanding either Grizzly or Lost Man reservoir.

“Twin Lakes has no plans or interest in enlarging these facilities,” Lusk said via email. “Nor has anyone talked to us about these ideas.”[...]

Also on the city’s list is expanding Leonard Thomas Reservoir at the city’s water plant above Aspen Valley Hospital so it can hold 25 acre-feet instead of 14 acre-feet…

Another water project on the municipal list is to determine just how much water is under the city of Aspen, and whether it is suitable for drinking.

In 2012 and 2013, the city drilled a water-well near Herron Park 1,520 feet underground in search of hot water it could use for geothermal energy.

But in July 2013 the city announced that it did not find water hot enough to make electricity, but it did find a steady stream of clear water coming up out of the well at 29 pounds per square inch, about half of the water pressure in a normal household.

“This summer, we’re putting a pump into the well to analyze the water and get some feel for the capacity of the aquifer,” McDill said.

If it turns out there is still a lot of water 1,500 feet underground Aspen, the city may install a larger, permanent pump into its test well to create a back-up supply of water…

The pump back project, which is well under way, will allow the city to reuse water from the Aspen Consolidated Sanitation District to supplement its irrigation water on the municipal golf course, and to provide irrigation and snowmaking water for other entities, including the Buttermilk Mountain ski area.

“It is intended to keep more water in the Castle Creek by not diverting for the golf course,” McDill said.

The source of the water is “treated municipal effluent” and pipes already have been installed from the sanitation plant, past the Burlingame neighborhood, and to a pond on the city golf course.

The city is still seeking a water right for its pump back project from state water court, and has been working out agreements with a long list of opponents.

The water is to be primarily used to irrigate 12.3 acres of landscaping along Highway 82 and Cemetery Lane, according to documents in water court. It also could supplement irrigation on 131 acres of the Aspen golf course, 21 acres of land in the Burlingame project, and 80 acres of the Maroon Creek golf course.

In all, 233 acres of land could receive water from the project and water could be used to make snow on as much as 156 acres of land at Buttermilk…

The Fork is often below a flow level of 32 cfs, which is the minimum amount of water the CWCB has determined is necessary to protect the environment “to a reasonable degree.” Last year, the city entered into a short-term water [lease] with the CWCB to leave 6 cfs of water in the river instead of diverting the water into the Wheeler Ditch, which is located river-left just downstream of the Aspen Club pedestrian bridge. The water in the Wheeler Ditch is typically used by the city for landscaping and irrigation in various parts of central Aspen…

The Colorado River basin roundtable is scheduled to next discuss its draft list of projects on Monday, April 14, from noon to 4 p.m. at the Glenwood Springs community center.

More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.


Snowpack/runoff news: Roaring Fork watershed early April accumulations looking good #COdrought #COflood

April 7, 2014


From the Glenwood Springs Post Independent (Will Grandbois):

he state as a whole is roughly 115 percent of normal, with a sub-par winter in the southern mountains (including the Rio Grande, Dolores and San Juan drainages) bringing the average down somewhat. Snow telemetry (SNOTEL) data provided by the Roaring Fork Conservancy shows a snow-water equivalent of 126 percent of normal in the Upper Colorado River Basin.

That’s the equivalent of about 20 inches of liquid water across the valley’s high country, well above peak snowpack in both 2012 and 2013, as well as the 30-year average for the region. It has been a good year for skiers, and it looks promising for healthy rivers and forests into the summer.

April is a key month in forecasting the year’s stream flow. Often it represents the peak snowpack for the Water Year, which runs October through September. This trend has been subverted in recent years. Early melting in 2012 signaled the beginning of one of the worst fire years in memory, while late runoff in 2013 was a small salvation in an otherwise below average year…

Dust storms, a frequent occurrence in recent years, also speed melting. The Colorado Dust-On-Snow Program recorded five such storms in the Rockies so far this year. That’s slightly less than 2012 and 2013, with a clean fall and an average March. April and May are big months for dust storms, so it’s too early to be sure how this year will compare on that metric.

“We’re now entering the thick of it,” Chris Landry, executive director of the Center for Snow and Avalanche Studies in Silverton, told the Aspen Times. He called the most recent dust storm on April 1 “a significant event,” but added that subsequent weather will dictate how this dust will play out.

So far, stream flows throughout the region are mostly above average. Discharge at Ruedi Reservoir has been set to 210 cubic feet per second, well over the 45-year average of 137 cfs. That might increase if snowpack continues to accumulate in coming weeks.

Meanwhile, many eyes are on the snowpack and the potential runoff problems in the flood affected areas along the Front Range. Here’s an report from Ryan Maye Handy writing for the Fort Collins Coloradoan. Here’s an excerpt:

Since September 2013 flooding swept across the Front Range, communities from Colorado Springs to Glen Haven have been preparing for the spring runoff, which could dislodge leftover flood debris and further damage areas torn apart by fall floodwaters. In a year with above-average snowpack, everyone from federal government conservationists to mountain fire departments are bracing for the worst.

But hydrologists and climatologists say there is no guarantee this year’s spring runoff will be as catastrophic as many anticipate. As with wildfire season, the intensity of spring runoff depends entirely on weather.

“Not all runoff seasons are created equal,” said Nolan Doesken, the state’s climatologist. “Just because you have a certain amount of snow, doesn’t mean you have a certain flooding potential. It all comes down to how snow melts.”[...]

Colorado hasn’t had this good of a snowpack — roughly 130 percent of normal — since 2011. Northern Colorado soils are still saturated after the fall floods; reservoirs are filled higher than normal, and rivers are running at twice or three times their average volume for early April.

River communities like Drake, Glen Haven, and parts of Estes Park are still scrambling to remove flood debris from the Big Thompson River’s path.

Since the September floods, places like Big Thompson Canyon have been in a race against time, trying to beat the arrival of spring runoff. The Colorado Department of Transportation hastily rebuilt the ravaged U.S. Highway 34, and has since been readying the canyon for snowmelt. Since January, the Natural Resources Conservation Service has poured all of its local energy into clearing debris or shoring up more than 44 weak points — or “exigent sites” — along the river…

Treste Huse, a hydrologist with the National Weather Service, worries that runoff will move sediment left behind by the September floods, or possibly cause land and rock slides along highways. River channels changed after the floods, and Northern Colorado residents could see water and dirt being poured into new places this spring.

But for Huse, like Doesken, this spring’s runoff potential depends on a few relatively unpredictable factors.

“It’s going to be dependent on future snowfall, how high stream levels are during the snowmelt, freezing and thawing in the mountains, future rainfall and the timing, and whether the rain falls on the snowpack,” she said.

The long and variable list of factors recently convinced Doesken that runoff might not be the catastrophe that everyone expects it to be. The state climatologist has changed his mind about this year’s snowmelt a few times–at first it wasn’t a big deal, then it was, and now the current weather pattern has him thinking Colorado could escape relatively unscathed.

If Colorado has a consistently warm spring, then the snowpack will slowly melt over time, as it did in 2011. Come summer, there will be little left once the temperatures rapidly rise, Doesken said.

On the other hand, a colder spring with a few lower-elevation snowstorms could create the opposite effect. Then, the snowpack would stay intact — even increase — until warmer temperatures suddenly hit, melting the snow rapidly. If Colorado gets a multi-day upslope winter storm that dumps moisture on the foothills, then Doesken says he will start to worry.

“The longer you push the snowmelt to when it (summer) starts, the closer to midsummer you are, it’s going to be really interesting,” he said. “It will all unfold day by day, week by week, over the course of the next six to seven weeks.”


Roaring Fork Valley: Many eyes are on Tom Bailey’s court filing #ColoradoRiver

April 5, 2014
Roaring Fork River back in the day

Roaring Fork River back in the day

From the Aspen Daily News (Nelson Harvey):

Residents of the agricultural bottomlands along Catherine’s Store Road east of Carbondale have been deluged with legal paperwork in recent weeks, as various parties respond to billionaire Tom Bailey’s attempts to clarify his water rights on an irrigation ditch there.

Bailey, the founder of Janus Mutual Funds and a breeder of cutting horses at his Iron Rose Ranch near Carbondale, filed a so-called “quiet title” lawsuit against more than 60 of his neighbors last year attempting to clarify his right to about 5.7 cubic feet per second (cfs) of water on the Slough Ditch and Banning Lateral Ditch, enough to irrigate his 28-acre property several times over.

Since then, both the homeowners association for the Roaring Fork Preserve subdivision (RFPHOA) and Henry Hite, a neighbor of Bailey’s and the owner of the nearby Dragonfly Ranch, have responded to Bailey’s claim with their own assertions of water ownership. The RFPHOA is claiming to own 5.54 cfs of water on the ditch, while Hite is laying claim to about 2.44 cfs.

More water law coverage here.


Colorado Springs Utilities has acquired most of the land access needed for the Southern Delivery System

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

Southern Delivery System route map — Graphic/Reclamation

From the Colorado Springs Independent (Pam Zubeck):

Outside of a handful of parcels tied up in eminent-domain court actions, the city has amassed the vast majority of land needed to complete the 66-inch-diameter line across Pueblo and El Paso counties. And as for those in court, Utilities has been granted possession; at issue is determination of their value.

Which leaves only one other property acquisition needed for the pipeline itself, and a couple dozen others for related projects. Overall, the land-acquisition project is on schedule, if significantly over budget.

“We are pleased to be nearly complete with acquiring the land needed for SDS,” says Utilities project manager John Fredell in a statement. “We have worked hard to be fair with property owners and appreciate their cooperation to advance this critical project for our community and partners.”[...]

The city’s initial foray into acquiring property for the project, in 2003 and 2004, caused an uproar, and a tightening of city real estate acquisition procedures. Utilities, in some cases without Utilities Board approval, had made offers for homes near Jimmy Camp Creek, northeast of the city, for up to three times the homes’ assessed values, plus six-figure moving costs — in one case, $340,000. The city paid $6.1 million for 14 properties and then allowed the former owners to rent for $300 a month indefinitely.

Within a few years, the city abandoned the Jimmy Camp area as a reservoir site due to archaeological values and other factors, and instead chose Upper Williams Creek near Bradley Road.

In 2009 and 2010, Utilities tangled with Pueblo West residents and left some hard feelings in its wake. The buried pipeline, which traverses the back portions of residential lots, can’t be built upon, which residents say renders their yards unusable.

Resident Dwain Maxwell, who’s forced Utilities into condemnation court, says he was paid $1,850 for land his appraisal said was worth $16,500. Meanwhile, he estimates Utilities has spent four times that amount on attorneys. “I feel like they’ve not been honest with us,” he says today.

Gary Walker of Pueblo County is also still in condemnation court with the city, and declined to be interviewed for this story. But he notes in an email that he’s been recognized repeatedly for his stewardship of the land at his ranch, and was the first to sign up for the reintroduction of the black-footed ferret under federal rules. “How do you put a price on the destruction of something so important as our environment?” he asks.

In 2012, Utilities went up against the Norris ranching family for a chunk of land for Upper Williams Creek Reservoir. After the Norrises moved to create their own reservoir, a deal was reached in which the city paid the family $7.5 million for 791 acres.

But the biggest single acquisition was land next to the Norris property owned by the State Land Board. The city paid more than $11.8 million for 1,128 acres, the highest per-acre price paid for pipeline property…

Utilities needs to acquire about 15 additional properties for the reservoir site, but the reservoir won’t be built until SDS’ second phase, from 2020 to 2025, as demand requires. The city also needs 11 more properties for a section of pipe for treated water, Rummel says.

So far, the city has spent $34.6 million on land for SDS. That’s about 38 percent more than the $25 million estimate in 2009 for 274 parcels in Phase 1 and reservoir land. If costs for surveys, appraisals, real estate fees and closings are added, the cost is $45 million, or 22 percent more than the 2009 “all-in” estimate of $37 million.

Water rates, meantime, haven’t increased as much as earlier predicted. Ratepayers saw 12 percent hikes in 2011 and 2012, and 10 percent increases in 2013 and 2014. A 5 percent hike is expected in 2015. Previously, 12 percent annual jumps were forecast from 2011 through 2017.

More Southern Delivery System coverage here and here.


10th District chief judge Deborah Eyler approves appointments to the Southeastern Water board #ColoradoRiver

April 1, 2014
Fryingpan-Arkansas Project via the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District

Fryingpan-Arkansas Project via the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Two new and three returning directors have been appointed to the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District board. The appointments were approved by Deborah Eyler, chief district judge in Pueblo, in conjunction with other chief judges throughout the nine-county area within the district. The new members will take their seats at April’s meeting. There are 15 directors who serve four-year terms on the board that oversees the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project.

Pat Edelmann, retired head of the U.S. Geological Survey office in Pueblo, and Curtis Mitchell, head of Fountain Utilities, have joined the board.

Returning directors are Bill Long of Las Animas, Ann Nichols of Manitou Springs, and Tom Goodwin of Canon City.

Edelmann, 58, replaces Shawn Yoxey as a Pueblo County representative on the board. Pueblo has two other directors on the board, Vera Ortegon and David Simpson.

Edelmann retired in 2011, and spent most of his career in the Pueblo USGS office studying the Arkansas River and Fountain Creek. He frequently presented USGS reports and studies to the Southeastern board during his career.

Mitchell, 55, replaces Greg Johnson. Mitchell worked for Colorado Springs Utilities for 30 years before joining Fountain Utilities five years ago.

“I was involved with the startup of the Fountain Valley Authority, so I have a lot of interest as a water professional in the startup of the Arkansas Valley Conduit,” Mitchell said.

Building the conduit, which will serve 40 communities east of Pueblo, is the district’s top priority.

Long, 59, a business owner and Bent County commissioner, is president of the board. He was appointed to the board in 2002.

Nichols, 68, an economist and treasurer of the board, was appointed in 2006. Her father, Sid Nichols, was a charter member of the board.

Goodwin, 61, a farmer and rancher, was first appointed in 2011. His father, Denzel Goodwin, was a longtime member of the board.

More Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy coverage here.


The Roaring Fork Conservancy launches economic study of the Fryingpan River watershed

March 27, 2014

fryingpan

From the Aspen Times:

The Roaring Fork Conservancy has launched a study to determine visitor use and spending related to fishing and other recreation-related activities on the lower Fryingpan River and Ruedi Reservoir.

“Understanding the river’s economic importance to the local economy will aid in the overall view of the importance of keeping the river healthy,” the Basalt-based conservancy said in a statement.

Colorado State University and Colorado Mountain College provided money for the study. The town of Basalt, Eagle County, the Aspen Skiing Co. Environment Foundation and numerous private donors have contributed funding. Additionally, the Pitkin County Healthy Rivers and Stream Board made a recommendation to the Board of County Commissioners to fund the study. This new study will echo the work done more than a decade ago by the Roaring Fork Conservancy. Based on the previous study, the Fryingpan Valley’s recreation activities contributed an estimated $1.8 million annually in total economic output to Basalt’s economy. Current numbers are expected to be greater.

The conservancy has contracted with Colorado State University to update the previous study. In addition, the conservancy has employed Colorado Mountain College student Christina Briseno to survey anglers and recreationalists. She will be assisted by a recent University of Colorado graduate, Kristjan Danis, this summer.

“The results of this Fryingpan Economic Study will be a critical component to the Comprehensive Lower Fryingpan River Assessment where we will gain a better understanding of the users of the Fryingpan River and Ruedi Reservoir, their priorities and influences on local economy,” said Roaring Fork Conservancy Executive Director Rick Lofaro.

Results from the assessment will be published in 2015. For updates on the study, visit http://www.roaringfork.org/fryingpanstudy.

More Fryingpan River watershed coverage here.


Arkansas Valley Conduit backers hope to make deal for excess capacity in the Pueblo Dam south outlet works soon

March 27, 2014
Pueblo Dam

Pueblo Dam

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

A plan is hatching to get pipe in the ground ahead of schedule for the Arkansas Valley Conduit. It would reduce the initial costs of the project and allow some negotiations to proceed even with a reduced amount of federal funding, said Jim Broderick, executive director of the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District, project sponsor.

“We were under the impression that all the money had to be in place up front before negotiations began, but the Bureau of Reclamation decided that’s not the case,” Broderick said. “If those negotiations are successful, we’ve got pipe in the ground and the conduit can begin to move ahead.”

That means Reclamation will be able to begin negotiations with the Pueblo Board of Water Works and Colorado Springs Utilities for use of the joint use pipeline that leads from the south outlet of Pueblo Dam to the Whitlock Treatment Plant.

The Pueblo water board owns the pipeline and the treatment plant. Colorado Springs Utilities paid the water board $3.5 million to upsize the pipeline by one foot in diameter, planning to use it for the Southern Delivery System. Since that time, SDS has taken a different route to move water from Lake Pueblo through the north outlet on the dam, and would not need the additional capacity.

The pipeline from the south outlet has a total capacity of 248 million gallons per day. Of that, 40 mgd is reserved to serve Comanche power plant and 140 mgd to serve Pueblo.

By paying to upsize the pipeline, Colorado Springs reserved 68 mgd, but the conduit would only require 14 mgd, said Terry Book, executive director of the Pueblo water board.

Reclamation also must negotiate with the Pueblo water board for locating a treatment plant at Whitlock to filter water used in the Arkansas Valley Conduit. By moving those discussions ahead, the federal cost will be reduced from $12 million to about $3 million in the coming year, but more funds would be required to begin actual design work, Broderick said.

Meanwhile, Colorado lawmakers continue to fight for more federal funding.

During a U.S. House committee hearing this week, Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Colo., told Reclamation officials the conduit is a high priority.

“The members of the Colorado delegation are committed to the Arkansas Valley Conduit. Reclamation knows that this project offers an effective regional answer to meeting federally mandated Safe Drinking Act standards,” said Tipton.

More Arkansas Valley Conduit coverage here and here.


The Pitkin County Healthy Rivers board approves development of whitewater park in Basalt

March 24, 2014
Proposed Basalt whitewater park via the Aspen Daily News

Proposed Basalt whitewater park via the Aspen Daily News

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

The Pitkin County Healthy Rivers and Streams Board on Thursday voted to seek approvals for, and build, a whitewater park in the Roaring Fork River across from the entrance to the Elk Run subdivision in Basalt.

The board agreed to develop a detailed proposal, gain approval from Pitkin County commissioners and the town of Basalt, and to fund the project.

It will cost about $750,000 to install two wave-producing concrete structures in the river and make improvements to a steep riverbank above the structures to allow for river access and viewing, according to whitewater park designer Jason Carey of River Restoration, Inc. A stripped-down version of the park, without amenities, could cost $550,000.

The five-year-old county river board is funded by a sales tax that brings in about $800,000 a year and it currently has $1.4 million set aside for future expenditures.

The county river board previously endorsed the project in 2010, but now that a water right for the whitewater park is nearly in hand, Pitkin County Attorney John Ely encouraged the board on Thursday to commit to actually getting the project built…

Carey, who designed the popular surf wave in the Colorado River in West Glenwood Springs, has been working on the “Pitkin County Whitewater Park” design since 2009…

Carey said the two concrete and rock structures would be placed in the river along a steep bank next to Two Rivers Road that had been eaten away by high water in 1995 and then crudely restored by CDOT…

The location has other good attributes, he said, including that the river is relatively deep in this reach, compared to the rocky and shallow stretches above and below it…

Most years, though, there will be plenty of water in the river to create surf waves in the park, and the county won’t have to exercise its water right and call for water, according to Lee Rozakalis, a consulting hydrologist with AMEC, who has been working on the park for the county.

More whitewater coverage here.


Flows in the Arkansas River above Lake Pueblo = 270 cfs, Reclamation realeasing water from Turquoise and Twin Lakes #ColoradoRiver

March 23, 2014
Pueblo dam spilling

Pueblo dam spilling

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Flows in the Arkansas River below Pueblo Dam increased slightly with the end of winter water storage this week, but not significantly. The reason is that water continues to be released for the Pueblo flow management program and much of the winter water was stored in downstream reservoirs, including on the Colorado Canal, the Fort Lyon and in John Martin Reservoir.

“The movement of the agricultural water is a side benefit to the Arkansas River flows through Pueblo,” said Steve Witte, Water Division 2 engineer.

Winter water stored about 101,000 acrefeet this year, but only about 27,000 acre-feet were stored in Lake Pueblo. An acre-foot is 325,851 gallons.

Flows in the Arkansas River at Avondale were about 320 cubic feet per second this week, about the same as during the two weeks preceding the end of the winter water program. One cubic foot of water is about the same volume as a basketball.

Meanwhile, flows above Lake Pueblo in the Arkansas River have increased in recent weeks because the Bureau of Reclamation is making room in Turquoise and Twin Lakes for Fryingpan-Arkansas Project water. The March 1 forecast predicts about 73,000 acre-feet will be moved across the Continental Divide this year. But that can increase or decrease, depending on snowpack, said Roy Vaughan, Fry-Ark manager for the Bureau of Reclamation.

Repairs have been completed on the Mt. Elbert hydropower plant, allowing for full operation of Fry-Ark systems.

Releases from the upper reservoirs are adding about 270 cfs to the Arkansas River above Pueblo, which is running at twice the rate it was three weeks ago.

John Martin Reservoir back in the day nearly full

John Martin Reservoir back in the day nearly full

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Flows into John Martin Reservoir have not been reduced by the winter water storage program on the Arkansas River, according to an analysis by the Colorado Division of Water Resources. The issue is of concern because of questions raised by Kansas during court cases against Colorado over the Arkansas River Compact. John Martin Reservoir, completed in 1948, regulates flows between the two states under the compact.

“We’ve never showed them evidence that they’ll buy into about the winter water program, but we keep trying,” division engineer Steve Witte told the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District board Thursday.

The winter water storage program allows irrigation flows to be stored from Nov. 15 to March 15, and ended last week. This year, about 101,000 acre-feet were stored at various locations and will be divided among ditch companies east of Pueblo.

The analysis looked at diversions by ditches in Colorado from 1950-1975 and from 1976-2013. Winter water began as a voluntary program in 1976 and was later formalized in a water court decree.

“There hasn’t been any significant change as a result of winter water,” Witte said.

Diversions above John Martin totaled 72 percent to 77 percent in the 1950-1975 period, and were about 75 percent in the 1976-2013 period. Past analysis of the water levels in John Martin showed little difference in pre-winter water and post-winter water years. But those types of studies don’t explain changes because of operational changes or drought. The new study also looked at potential differences in wet, dry and average years, but found none, Witte said.

More Arkansas River Basin coverage here.


Arkansas Valley Conduit: Seeking adequate appropriations from the feds

March 21, 2014
Arkansas Valley Conduit Comanche North route via Reclamation

Arkansas Valley Conduit Comanche North route via Reclamation

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Sponsors are working to increase funding for the Arkansas Valley Conduit in next year’s federal budget. The conduit recently received the green light to proceed from the Bureau of Reclamation, which released a record of decision on Feb. 27 for it, a master storage contract and an interconnect on Pueblo Dam. But the approval did not translate into funding when President Barack Obama released his budget one week later and included only $500,000 for the conduit.

“We were disappointed in the dollars,” said Jim Broderick, executive director of the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District, sponsor of all three projects. He spoke at Thursday’s monthly board meeting.

The conduit has $3.1 million in funding this year, which includes $2.1 million that was not spent in past years. To keep it on pace for construction sometime in the next decade would require at least $7 million to $10 million, Broderick said. Last year Reclamation internally shifted $44 million for projects, but it’s too soon to tell how much could be available this year.

“There is a lot of activity, particularly because of the drought in California,” Broderick said. “We have to keep the pressure on.”

To do that, officials will again travel to Washington, D.C., to lobby Department of Interior and Bureau of Reclamation officials as well as Congress. Last week, Colorado Sens. Mark Udall and Michael Bennet, both Democrats, and Reps. Scott Tipton and Cory Gardner, Republicans, called for more funding to support the conduit.

“We have to realize this is the president’s budget. Congress sees it a different way,” said lobbyist Ray Kogovsek, a former congressman. “I would say we can certainly get more than $500,000.”

More Arkansas Valley Conduit coverage here.


Southern Delivery System on track to be online in 2016

March 20, 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 Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

he Southern Delivery System is on course to begin operating in 2016.

“It will be complete for testing purposes in 2015,” SDS Permit Manager Mark Pifher told the Lower Arkansas Conservancy District in an impromptu update Wednesday.

SDS is a 50-mile pipeline from Pueblo Dam to Colorado Springs. When completed, it will serve Colorado Springs, Fountain, Security and Pueblo West. Nearly all of the pipeline is in the ground, and construction has begun at three pumping stations, including one near Pueblo Dam, Pifher said. While all parts of SDS will be complete by next year, the system will require months of testing before it is put into use.

“When it’s finished, the water won’t be delivered,” Pifher said. “It won’t be pushing water to customers until 2016.”

The Lower Ark district has been in negotiations for years with Colorado Springs on the impacts of SDS, particularly increased flows on Fountain Creek. Pifher updated the Lower Ark board on the progress of stormwater meetings in Colorado Springs.

A committee of El Paso County citizens is working toward putting a stormwater enterprise proposal on the November ballot. Fees would be about the same as under the former enterprise, which Colorado Springs City Council abolished in 2009, Pifher said.

The Lower Ark board also got a review of the U.S. Geological Survey of dams on Fountain Creek from USGS Pueblo office chief David Mau. Noting the study was funded by Colorado Springs (under its 1041 agreement with Pueblo County), Pifher said an alternative for 10 side detention ponds south of Fountain held the most promise for reducing flood impacts on Pueblo. Pifher also downplayed the immediate impacts of SDS on Fountain Creek.

“When we turn it on, it will carry 5 million-10 million gallons per day,” Pifher said.

Over 50 years, that will increase flows up to 96 million gallons per day.

“It will take some time to grow into demand on that system,” Pifher said.

More Southern Delivery System coverage here and here.


Arkansas Valley Conduit: Master storage contract next activity for project

March 5, 2014
Arkansas Valley Conduit Comanche North route via Reclamation

Arkansas Valley Conduit Comanche North route via Reclamation

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Construction of the Arkansas Valley Conduit is years away, but other parts of last week’s federal record of decision to approve the project are expected to move more quickly. But not too quickly, as sponsors are watching to see how pieces fall in place. The record decision by the Bureau of Reclamation also cleared the way for a master storage contract in Lake Pueblo and an interconnection at Pueblo Dam between the north and south outlets.

“Once you have signed the record of decision, those discussions can start,” said Jim Broderick, executive director of the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District, sponsor for all three projects. “But we don’t want to move too quickly.”

The master contract is likely the first piece to move forward. It will allow communities within the Southeastern District to secure up to 30,000 acrefeet of storage through the year 2060. The storage is possible because Lake Pueblo seldom fills to capacity with water brought across the Continental Divide under the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project. So-called excess capacity contracts allow water users to store other water in Lake Pueblo. The long-term contract would provide more certainty that the space will be reserved than one-year contracts as well as flexibility between wet and dry years.

In recent years, 37 water districts and cities indicated they wanted to be a part of the contract — 25 also are conduit participants. The other 12 include water users in Fremont, Pueblo counties aren’t part of the conduit, but anticipate the need for storage. Among them, Pueblo West, Security and Fountain are seeking to partner in the contract, even though they already have contracts under Southern Delivery System.

The Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District also wants storage for projects such as the Super Ditch.

“We need to sit down with all of them and say, ‘All right, this is what we studied. Now how much are you going to need?’ ” Broderick said.

Another reason for waiting to begin negotiations is to see how similar talks are progressing. In 2010, Broderick watched with interest as SDS participants, led by Colorado Springs, learned that Reclamation was changing its basis for the contract from cost of service to a market-based approach. Right now, Reclamation is negotiating a similar contract with the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District. Broderick plans to sit in on those public meetings to see what he can learn.

More Arkansas Valley Conduit coverage here and here.


Aspen: Both sides in the city’s hydropower abandonment case have engaged experts to determine streamflow needs

March 4, 2014
Pelton wheel

Pelton wheel

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

A collaborative committee, formed by opposing parties in a lawsuit claiming the city of Aspen has abandoned its rights to divert water from Castle and Maroon creeks for a proposed hydro plant, is making slow progress toward its goals.

When the settlement effort was announced last year after a “stay” was filed in the case, there were hopes that a stream ecologist could be agreed upon and hired early this year to study the proposed hydro plant and the streams and make recommendations about “stream health goals.”

Steve Wickes, a local facilitator guiding the committee and working for both parties in the case, said the committee’s goals were narrowly defined: Can the two sides, with the help of a mutually trusted expert, agree on how much water can be taken out of the creeks?

But before a “request for proposals” can be written to attract a third-party stream ecologist, the committee has agreed that two experts who are working for either side should first review the list of prior studies done on the two rivers to determine where there are information gaps…

To help review the existing studies and draft the request for proposal, the city has hired Bill Miller, the president of Miller Ecological Consultants of Fort Collins, who has been working for the city on river issues since 2009.

And the plaintiffs have hired Richard Hauer, a professor of limnology (freshwater science) at the University of Montana and the director of the Montana Institute on Ecosystems. Hauer appeared at an event in Aspen in 2012 to discuss the importance of keeping water flowing naturally through a river’s ecosystem…

On the committee from the city are Steve Barwick, Aspen’s city manager, Jim True, the city attorney, and David Hornbacher, the head of the city’s utilities and environmental initiatives.

Representing the plaintiffs on the committee are Paul Noto, a water attorney with Patrick, Miller, Kropf and Noto of Aspen, and Maureen Hirsch, a plaintiff in the suit who lives along Castle Creek.

The other plaintiffs include Richard Butera, Bruce Carlson, Christopher Goldsbury, Jr. and four LLCs controlled by Bill Koch. All of the plaintiffs own land and water rights along either Castle or Maroon creeks.

Wickes said the members of the committee have agreed with his suggestion that they not discuss their ongoing work with the media, and instead refer questions to him.

The claim of abandonment against the city was filed in 2011 water court, in case number 11CW130, “Richard T. Butera et al v. the city of Aspen.”

The case was poised to go to trial on Oct. 28, 2013 and both sides filed trial briefs on Oct. 14.

On Oct. 18, however, the parties filed a stay request with the court so they could “cooperate in engaging a qualified independent, neutral, stream ecology expert.”

The ecologist is to study the rivers and the proposed plant and then “determine a bypass amount of water, to be left in the stream by Aspen.”

The opposing parties are then supposed to “use their best efforts to define the stream health goals to be achieved by said amount of water.”

That could mean, as one example, that a flow regime is agreed upon, with varying levels of water being left in the rivers below the city’s diversions at different times of year, depending in part on the natural amount of water in the rivers during any given year.

Such a protocol exists today on Snowmass Creek as it relates to diverting water for snowmaking at the Snowmass Ski Area.

The city is currently proposing to divert up to 27 cubic feet per second of water from Maroon Creek and 25 cfs of water from Castle Creek for the proposed hydro plant, on top of the water it currently diverts from both streams for municipal uses and the existing Maroon Creek hydro plant.

The city also has a policy to keep at least 13.3 cfs in Castle Creek and 14 cfs in Maroon Creek below its diversion dams in order to help protect the rivers’ ecosystems…

The plaintiffs in the suit against the city have told the court they are concerned that if the city diverts more water for hydropower, it could hurt their ability to use their junior water rights on Castle or Maroon creeks. They also claim the city intended to abandon its hydro rights connected to an old hydro plant on Castle Creek, which the city concedes it has not used since 1961.

But the city has denied it ever intended to abandon its water rights and has challenged the plaintiffs’ standing to bring the suit.

Whether the September court dates are needed likely depends on whether the two sides can agree to hire a third-party stream consultant, and then agree to follow their recommendations.

If so, Wickes thinks such an exercise could influence how rivers and streams around the West are managed.

“I’m actually hopeful that when the study is completed, not only will it inform future conversations about the hydroelectric plant, it will inform a wide number of decisions about stream ecology, how we treat our streams, and how things are interconnected,” Wickes said.

More hydroelectric coverage here.


Arkansas Valley Conduit: Reclamation issues record of decision

March 4, 2014
Arkansas Valley Conduit Comanche North route via Reclamation

Arkansas Valley Conduit Comanche North route via Reclamation

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

It would make sense to include as few turns as possible in a mostly gravity-fed pipeline from Point A to Point B. But the realities of geography, land ownership and a complex network of large and small water districts make the Arkansas Valley Conduit a much more complicated proposition.

The Bureau of Reclamation signed off on a record of decision last week that clears the way for the conduit to be built, once funding is approved by Congress. While the main trunk of the conduit will run 130 miles, spurs and loops will increase its total length to 227 miles under the concept approved by Reclamation.

“The total includes everything, all the pipes to where the water providers have facilities to do final treatment and deliver the water,” said Jim Broderick, executive director of the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District, sponsors of the conduit.

The pipe, all of which will be buried underground, will range in size from 36 inches to just 4 inches as it delivers water to 40 sites serving 50,000 people. An estimated 10,256 acre-feet of water will be delivered annually through the system to large users such as St. Charles Mesa, La Junta and Lamar, to smaller water companies that use only a fraction as much water.

The most circuitous reach of the pipeline will be used in moving the water from Pueblo Dam to its first stop at St. Charles Mesa. It will first flow from the south outlet on the dam to the Pueblo Board of Water Works’ Whitlock Treatment Plant on the north side of the Arkansas River. From there, the pipeline will run south, again crossing the Arkansas River, through City Park to Thatcher Avenue. It will cross to the west side of Pueblo Boulevard somewhere along Elmwood Golf Course and then head to the prairies west of Pueblo along Red Creek Springs Road, then jog south, under the conceptual plan included in Reclamation’s study.

“Any time you get out into rural land, it drops the cost and cuts down the time needed for construction,” Broderick said.

The pipeline will swing east by the Comanche Power plant, then head north to the St. Charles treatment plant, and then north to Avondale and Boone (crossing the Arkansas River again). Spurs will take water to six districts in Crowley County and 24 districts in Otero County. Near the end of the line, the conduit will head about 25 miles north to Eads. While the total cost of the conduit is estimated to be about $400 million, the engineering phase is expected to be about $28 million.

“A lot depends on which segments we are working on,” Broderick said.

Getting a stream of federal funding to begin that process is a top priority for the Southeastern district.

More Arkansas Valley Conduit coverage here.


Fryingpan, Roaring Fork rivers retain Gold Medal Trout Waters designation — The Aspen Times

March 1, 2014
Map of the Roaring Fork River watershed via the Roaring Fork Conservancy

Map of the Roaring Fork River watershed via the Roaring Fork Conservancy

From the Aspen Times (Scott Condon):

A survey conducted by Colorado Parks and Wildlife last fall determined the rivers still have the quantity and size of fish to retain their distinguished designation as Gold Medal Trout Waters, according to Kendall Bakich, aquatic biologist for Parks and Wildlife.

“It turned out really well,” Bakich said. “The numbers we’re seeing on the river are similar to what we’ve seen in prior surveys.”

“We just confirmed that it’s Gold Medal,” she added.

A 13-mile stretch of the Fryingpan River from Ruedi Dam to the confluence with the Roaring Fork River is designated Gold Medal Trout Water as well as the Roaring Fork River from Basalt to the confluence with the Colorado River. All told, that’s a 42-mile stretch.

For years, that’s been the longest contiguous stretch of Gold Medal Trout Water in Colorado. But the local rivers lost their title in January, through no fault of their own. It’s now bestowed on a 102-mile stretch of the Upper Arkansas River from near Leadville south to near the Royal Gorge, according to Parks and Wildlife. That stretch of the Arkansas River earned Gold Medal status after years of efforts to restore the fishery, the agency said…

While the Crystal River isn’t known for its rainbow trout population, it has a larger percentage of rainbows among the overall fish population than either the Fryingpan or Roaring Fork, according to Bakich. The Crystal River has erratic flows that limit fish populations. It usually has high flows for a constrained river in the spring and extremely low flows during late summer and fall because of diversions.

The high streamflow has helped keep brown trout populations lower on the Crystal River.

“Brown trout tend to be lazy,” Bakich said. “They like slower water.”[...]

The survey showed evidence of three varieties of native fish on the Roaring Fork River. Roundtail chub were found near the confluence with the Colorado River. Flannelmouth suckers are found as far upstream as Carbondale, while bluehead suckers are found as high as Basalt, according to Bakich.

More Roaring Fork River watershed coverage here.


I am proud the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation heeded my calls and quickly approved the Arkansas Valley Conduit — Senator Mark Udall

February 28, 2014
Arkansas Valley Conduit Comanche North route via Reclamation

Arkansas Valley Conduit Comanche North route via Reclamation

Here’s the release from the US Bureau of Reclamation (Tyler Johnson):

Bureau of Reclamation Great Plains Regional Director Michael Ryan has signed the Record of Decision for the Arkansas Valley Conduit and Long Term Excess Capacity Master Contract Final Environmental Impact Statement. The selected alternative is construction of the Arkansas Valley Conduit using the Comanche North Alternative.

“This project will help water providers throughout the Arkansas River Basin meet existing and future demands,” said Ryan. “While funding details remain to be coordinated, it is prudent this project move forward to be in a position to take advantage of federal, state or local funding opportunities when they arise.”

The Arkansas Valley Conduit is a feature of the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project. It will provide treated water to communities in southeastern Colorado. When complete, the pipeline for the Arkansas Valley Conduit could be up to 227 miles long. The Comanche North Alternative includes three federal actions:

  • Construct and operate the Arkansas Valley Conduit and enter into a repayment contract with Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District.
  • Enter into a conveyance contract with various water providers for use of a pipeline interconnect between Pueblo Dam’s south and north outlet works.
  • Enter into an excess capacity master contract with Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District to store water in Pueblo Reservoir.
  • “For the many small rural water providers the conduit will serve, this critical step in the process of building the project is greatly welcomed. Facing the water quality and waste water discharge compliance challenges has been daunting for this area, and the congressional approval in 2009 and now the Record of Decision from the Bureau of Reclamation provide real hope for an effective and efficient way to meet those challenges,” said Bill Long, President of the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District.

    A Record of Decision is a decision document; it concludes the environmental impact statement prepared in compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act. It does not provide or allocate funding for the project. Reclamation published the final environmental impact statement in August, 2013.

    “The District is grateful for this decision, which is one more milestone in a half-century journey to a clean water supply for southeastern Colorado. As federally-mandated standards have changed, the need for the solution the preferred alternative provides is even greater. The promise to build this piece of the project was first made in 1962 by President Kennedy and was restated in 2012, right here in Pueblo, Colorado, by President Obama. Now let’s move forward to the next phases of design and construction,” said Jim Broderick, General Manager for the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District.

    For more information on the Record of Decision, please visit http://www.usbr.gov/avceis. To obtain a hard copy of the Record of Decision, contact Doug Epperly at (406) 247-7638 or depperly@usbr.gov.

    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

    The Bureau of Reclamation approved the final construction plan for the Arkansas Valley Conduit Thursday.

    “It’s been a long haul,” said Bill Long, president of the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District, sponsors of the conduit. “This critical step in the process of building the project is greatly welcomed.”

    The record of decision for the project was signed by Michael Ryan, Reclamation’s regional director. The record of decision includes the environmental impact study for the conduit, but the next step will be to obtain funding from Congress to build the project.

    Long, a Bent County commissioner and Las Animas business owner, has been working to get the conduit built since he joined the Southeastern board in 2002. The conduit was included in the 1962 Fryingpan-Arkansas Project legislation, but never built because of the expense.

    “In the last few months, it’s become clear that this will help, not only with drinking water, but at the other end with wastewater quality as well,” Long said.

    Reclamation Thursday approved a record of decision for the Comanche North route of the 227-mile pipeline from Pueblo Dam to Lamar. The chosen route includes initial treatment at the Pueblo Board of Water Works’ Whitlock treatment plant and a pipeline that swings south of Pueblo near the Comanche power plant.

    The conduit will deliver fresh drinking water to 50,000 people in 40 communities east of Pueblo. It is estimated to cost $400 million, which would be repaid partly through revenue from Fry-Ark contracts.

    Also included in the decision is a master storage contract in Lake Pueblo for the Southeastern district and a cross-connection between north and south outlets at Pueblo Dam.

    The storage contract will set aside space for conduit participants and other water users in the district.

    The Southeastern district is focused on funding the project. Political wrangling delayed the record of decision and federal belt-tightening limited appropriations to about $2 million this year, rather than the $15 million the district hoped for.

    “I think this is a really important step forward, and I’m very happy,” said Jim Broderick, executive director of the Southeastern district. “We still have a lot of work to do in funding the project.”

    From the Colorado Springs Independent (Pam Zubeck):

    The Bureau of Reclamation signed the Record of Decision today for a project that’s been in the planning stages since Pueblo Dam was built in the 1960s.

    Part of the Frying Pan-Arkansas project, the conduit has never been built due to lack of money.

    U.S. Sens. Michael Bennet and Mark Udall, Democrats of Colorado, issued a news release after the ROD was signed, which follows approval of an Environmental Impact Study last year.

    Here’s a release from Senator Udall’s office:

    U.S. Senators Mark Udall and Michael Bennet welcomed today’s signing of the Record of Decision for the Arkansas Valley Conduit, which represents a major milestone for the project that will bring clean water to communities in southeastern Colorado. The decision comes after Bennet and Udall urged the Bureau of Reclamation to quickly approve the Conduit’s Environmental Impact Study (EIS) that was finalized last August.

    “I am proud the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation heeded my calls and quickly approved the Arkansas Valley Conduit. This project, the final component of the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project, will help strengthen Colorado’s agricultural economy, our quality of life and rural communities throughout southeastern Colorado,” Udall said. “Water is our most valuable resource in Colorado, and we need to make every drop count. This project will ensure we continue to smartly develop our water resources.”

    “Colorado knows well that water is an extremely precious resource, and the Arkansas Valley Conduit will help ensure families in southeastern Colorado have access to a safe and healthy water supply,” Bennet said. “Today’s announcement couldn’t be more important to southeast Colorado, and it demonstrates the Interior Department’s commitment to getting this project done. With today’s announcement, we are one step closer to completing this historic conduit that will benefit many future generations of Coloradans.”

    Udall and Bennet have led efforts to secure resources and move forward with the construction of the Conduit. In addition to advocating for quick approval of the EIS, the senators have written to the Department of Interior to provide adequate resources for construction of the Conduit in future federal budgets.

    The Arkansas Valley Conduit is the final component of the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project, a water diversion and storage project in the lower Arkansas Valley. Once constructed, the Conduit will deliver clean drinking water to families, producers and municipalities throughout Southeastern Colorado. Bennet and Udall worked together to enact legislation in 2009 authorizing the construction of the Conduit, and have pushed ever since for funding to keep the project on schedule.

    More Arkansas Valley Conduit coverage here and here.


    Southern Delivery System: CSU amends water court applications to remove facilities that will not be built

    February 16, 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 Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

    With Southern Delivery System well under construction, Colorado Springs Utilities is cleaning up water court applications that dealt with alternatives that are now off the table. Specifically, a recent amendment to Colorado Springs’ water exchange rights on the Arkansas River removes Elephant Rock reservoir in Chaffee County and a diversion near Penrose in Fremont County as points of exchange.

    “Clearly, with the North Outlet Works almost completed, we’re not going to be building a diversion at Highway 115 (near Penrose),” said Brett Gracely, water resources administrator for Utilities.

    The plan for Elephant Rock reservoir near Buena Vista met with protests when it was first suggested in Colorado Springs water plans in the 1990s. Colorado Springs kept the plan on the table in several court filings over the years, but looked to Pueblo Dam to build SDS.

    Signs that read, “Don’t dam this valley” remained in view of travelers on U.S. 285 for years.w

    The signs were taken down after Colorado Springs officials formally declared the Elephant Rock plan dead during a 2012 ceremony in Salida, Gracely said.

    The amended application, filed last month in Division 2 water court, allows Colorado Springs to return flows to the Arkansas River from SDS on Fountain Creek for out of priority storage in Lake Pueblo.

    The proposed structures in Chaffee and Fremont counties will be removed as they come up for review in water court, Gracely said.

    The first phase of SDS should be online in 2016.

    More Southern Delivery System coverage here and here.


    Water court approves new RICD for Carbondale

    February 10, 2014
    Roaring Fork River in winter

    Roaring Fork River in winter

    From the Aspen Daily News (Nelson Harvey):

    Colorado District Five Water Court Judge James Boyd signed a decree on Feb. 3 granting Carbondale the recreational, in-channel water right necessary to built a whitewater park consisting of five obstructions — rocks or concrete barriers that would create waves of varying sizes — placed in the river over a 1,425-foot span between the Highway 133 bridge and the confluence of the Roaring Fork and Crystal Rivers.

    The new water right is non-consumptive, meaning Carbondale can use the water for its kayak park so long as it leaves that water in the river and doesn’t divert it for irrigation, municipal use or other purposes.

    Judge Boyd’s decree entitles Carbondale to varying amounts of water throughout the year, which would translate into waves that changed with the seasons.

    Between March 15 and April 14, Carbondale could run 230 cubic feet per second (cfs) through its kayak park between the hours of 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. That same rate would apply in the late fall, between Nov. 1 and Nov. 30.

    During periods of historically high runoff, such as between May 15 and July 14, the flow rate would be boosted to 1,000 cfs. Carbondale would also have the right to as much as 1,600 cfs for two special events such as kayak competitions lasting up to four days apiece in June, and to as much as 1,160 cfs for another special event between May 15 and May 31. During the June events, water could be used until midnight to facilitate the possibility of nighttime competition.

    Although Carbondale has long contemplated building a kayak park to boost recreational opportunities for locals and tourists alike, there are no active plans to do so at this point. Placing obstructions in the river to create the park would require permits from other government agencies, including the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and perhaps Colorado Parks and Wildlife.

    Still, the recent water decree provides the town with the legal foundation necessary to proceed with the project sometime over the next six years if desired…

    Over the last eight years, Hamilton has been negotiating to placate several local and Front Range water interests who registered objections to Carbondale’s application for the new water right, including the Colorado Water Conservation Board, the State and Division Engineers, Colorado Springs Utilities, the Southeastern Water Conservancy District, the Basalt Water Conservancy District, the Colorado River Water Conservation District, and Stanley and Valerie Koziel, who used to own Gateway Park near the intersection of Highway 82 and Highway 133.

    More whitewater coverage here.


    CWCB finds that Pitkin County’s proposed RICD meets requirements to go forward

    January 30, 2014
    Roaring Fork River in winter

    Roaring Fork River in winter

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

    The CWCB is required by state law to determine if a proposed recreational in-channel diversion, or “RICD,” meets certain requirements. Having found that the county’s proposed water right for the Basalt kayak park passes the test, its written finding will now be sent to District 5 water court, which is reviewing the county’s water right application.

    If the water court ultimately issues a decree for the new in-channel water right, it will form the basis of what will be known as the “Pitkin County River Park.”

    The kayak park will include two surf waves created by placing two rock structures in the Roaring Fork River. The waves are designed to be accessible for beginner and intermediate kayakers, and would be rated at “green” and “blue” levels of difficulty, akin to the rating of ski trails.

    The section of river is just below the Basalt bypass bridge on Highway 82 and above the confluence of the Roaring Fork and the Fryingpan rivers near downtown Basalt…

    If the water right is decreed as presently configured, it would allow the county to call for differing levels of water to be sent down the Roaring Fork River to the Basalt kayak park.

    From April 15 to May 17, the county could call for 240 cubic feet per second (cfs) of water to flow through the park. By comparison, the Roaring Fork River below Maroon Creek has been flowing at about 100 cfs in January.

    Then, from May 18 to June 10, the county could call for 380 cfs. And during peak runoff, from June 11 to June 25, it could call for 1,350 cfs of water to flow through the kayak park and create the biggest surf waves of the season.

    After June 25, the water right steps back down to 380 cfs until Aug. 20, and then back to 240 cfs until Labor Day…

    The new water right would be “non-consumptive,” meaning the water would stay in the river and not be diverted for a “consumptive” use, such as irrigation.

    The county applied for the new water right in water court in December 2010. If it is approved, the water right would have an appropriation date of 2010, making it a “junior” water right, compared to “senior” water rights dating back to the early 1900s or late 1880s, as many water rights in the region do.

    As part of the water court process, the county has negotiated settlement agreements with over a dozen other water rights holders in the Roaring Fork River basin. As such, the scope of the county’s proposed water right has been narrowed.

    For example, the length of the season when the new water right would be in effect was reduced by 25 days to a period between April 15 and Labor Day, and the county can only call for water from upstream junior water rights holders to flow through the park during daylight hours.

    And the county agreed to a “carve out” provision that allows up to 3,000 acre-feet of new water rights to be developed upstream of the kayak park over the next 15 years, without being subject to the local government’s new water right.

    Those provisions, and others, were enough to convince the CWCB board on Monday to rule in favor of the in-channel diversion water right.

    There is, however, still one party objecting to the water right in state water court, the Twin Lakes Reservoir and Canal Co.

    Twin Lakes diverts about 50,000 acre-feet of water each year off the top of the Roaring Fork river basin, primarily for municipal use in Colorado Springs, Pueblo, Pueblo West and Aurora.

    Twin Lakes is concerned the water right for the kayak park will limit its ability to develop other new water rights in the Roaring Fork River basin in the future.

    However, at the CWCB meeting, the water attorney for Twin Lakes sounded OK with new language approved by the board that was designed to address Twin Lakes’ concerns.

    “It sounded positive,” [Pitkin County Attorney John Ely] said of Twin Lakes’ evolving position. “They have to go back to their board, and so, we’ll see.”

    More whitewater coverage here.


    Arkansas Valley Conduit update: Project caught up in the federal Record of Decision slog

    January 21, 2014
    Preferred route for the Arkansas Valley Conduit via Reclamation

    Preferred route for the Arkansas Valley Conduit via Reclamation

    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

    Plans for the Arkansas Valley Conduit continue to be in a holding pattern. Federal processes have slowed the completion of a record of decision for the conduit, a master storage contract and interconnection of outlets on Pueblo Dam.

    The conduit is a plan to bring clean drinking water to 40 communities and 50,000 people from St. Charles Mesa to Lamar.

    The master contract would allow conduit users and others to purchase long-term storage in Lake Pueblo, while the cross-connection would give water users redundancy of water supply sources.

    An environmental impact study was finalized in August, but changes in the Bureau of Reclamation leadership and a federal shutdown have delayed the ROD for five months, said Christine Arbogast, lobbyist for the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District, sponsors of the projects.

    “Five months seems like a long time, but it’s looking good,” Arbogast said.

    She said a decision could be made in a few weeks.

    The lack of the ROD for the projects means very little work is progressing.

    “Anything moving forward will be on hold until we get to the point where we have a ROD,” said Jim Broderick, executive director of the Southeastern district.

    This year’s federal budget includes $1 million for the conduit, but larger appropriations are needed in future years to move the project ahead.

    More Arkansas Valley Conduit coverage here and here.


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