Pitkin County commissioners approve purchase of properties near Redstone for open space

November 8, 2013
Crystal River near Redstone via Wikipedia Commons

Crystal River near Redstone via Wikipedia Commons

From The Aspen Times (Michael McLaughlin):

On Wednesday, the Pitkin Board of County Commissioners unanimously approved the purchase of two Redstone River parcels that comprise approximately 21.3 acres and are contiguous to Elk Park and Redstone Park on the south as well as the Redstone Boulders Open Space on the northeast.

The two parcels up for purchase would tie all of these properties together into a seamless river corridor containing more than a mile of riverfront between Coal Creek and a well-used beach area upstream from the north Redstone Bridge…

One of the properties includes the confluence of Coal Creek with the Crystal River. The current confluence isn’t the natural area where the two waters meet but one that was put in when the state was working on Highway 133 in that area. In its natural state, Coal Creek used to run through wetlands before it met with the Crystal River downstream from the present confluence area. Coal Creek experiences frequent debris flows that feed coarse rock and wood into the creek, which in turn collect at the confluence of Coal Creek and the Crystal River. This causes pooling of water and erosion by both streams. It also causes a sediment buildup that raises the riverbed of the Crystal near Redstone, elevating flood danger…

A public hearing concerning the purchase will be held at the commissioners meeting on Nov. 20. Will said the public can rest assured that questions of access will be driven by habitat management.

More Crystal River Watershed coverage here and here.


Crystal River: River District and West Divide remain committed to meeting human and environmental water needs

June 28, 2013

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Here’s a release from the Colorado River District:

The Colorado River District yesterday joined the West Divide Water Conservancy District in approving a settlement ending litigation regarding water rights in the Crystal River. Both the River District and West Divide are pleased to avoid the costs of litigation as well as the inevitable animosity with their mutual constituents over protecting water rights for present and future use in the Crystal River valley. The water rights in question were storage and direct flow rights associated with the planned West Divide Project, which is decreed for uses in Garfield, Mesa, Gunnison, and Pitkin Counties.

Under the settlement, the West Divide Project water rights will be preserved, except for the majority of project water rights within the Crystal River basin that will be abandoned. The decision to settle and abandon the conditional Crystal River rights was largely driven by cost concerns and a desire for efficient allocation of resources, as well as localized opposition to the Crystal River basin components of the project.

The need for water remains in the Crystal River valley, both for human and environmental purposes, and the River District and West Divide remain committed to meeting that demand. The River District and West Divide still believe small, strategically located water storage is the best and most effective means of addressing needs in the critically water-short Crystal River basin. Current demands in the Crystal River basin, while relatively small, have been identified by all parties. Administration of the Crystal River (i.e., curtailment of junior rights during times of shortage) likely will occur in the foreseeable future, which may leave numerous current and future Crystal River basin residents and businesses without a legal water supply.

Garfield County’s representative to the Colorado River District, Dave Merritt, commented, “This is a sad commentary on the narrow view of water development in the area. Simply put, this will result in residents being left without water.” West Divide’s President, Sam Potter, commented “This is an unfortunate conclusion in trying to accomplish an even handed settlement. It’s very shortsighted of the objectors and some of their constituents to ignore the water needs of others in the Crystal River Valley now and in the future.”

While both Districts are satisfied with the resolution, they regret that the proposed settlement forecloses an opportunity for a win-win solution to water storage needs and late-summer environmental and recreational shortages in the Crystal basin. However, the settlement preserves the opportunity for the Districts to file new, junior water rights (both storage and direct flow rights) in the future to meet the needs of their constituents.

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):

Pitkin County commissioners on Wednesday signed off on a legal settlement bringing to an end conceptual plans for two reservoirs in the Crystal River Valley.

The Colorado River District and the West Divide Water Conservancy District also have consented to the settlement of a state water court case. At issue has been a downsized version of the West Divide Project, which was intended for possible agricultural, oil-shale-related and other uses in Garfield, Mesa, Pitkin and Gunnison counties.

Two years ago, the river district agreed to abandon conditional water rights for a 129,000-acre-foot reservoir, which would have drowned the former coal-mining village of Redstone. Under the action, it also backed off further pursuit of a 62,000-acre-foot reservoir higher upstream on the Crystal in the area of the former Placita mining settlement, and a 14,000-acre-foot reservoir up Yank Creek in the Crystal watershed.

The river district acquired conditional water rights for those projects in 1958 during the era of big-dam-building, but the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation withdrew its support for the proposals in 1982, citing the cost and lack of adequate benefit.

After the river district’s 2011 decision, it continued to seek to hold on to conditional water rights for reservoirs of 4,000 and 5,000 acre-feet, respectively, at Placita and up Yank Creek. And it continued to face opposition from Pitkin County, residents up the Crystal River Valley, and conservation groups. The county objected to the proposed reservoirs’ locations and potential environmental impacts.

Under the new deal, the river district will abandon the Placita and Yank Creek projects. In return, Pitkin County will not oppose aspects of the West Divide Project involving potential 45,000-, 15,450- and 6,500-acre-foot reservoirs in the Divide and Mamm creek drainages of Garfield County.

Those projects are still in the conceptual stages.

Pitkin County attorney John Ely said the river district and West Divide proposed the settlement.

“It was pretty straightforward and exactly what we were looking for,” he said.

“… We didn’t have any interest in what was going on in Garfield County but what we did care about was what they were doing in our county.”

In a news release, the river district and West Divide said the settlement decision was driven partly by a desire to avoid litigation costs.

The river district long has said reservoirs up the Crystal could help maintain flows later in the year when it now can almost go dry. It predicts that curtailment of junior rights will leave many Crystal Basin residents and businesses without water in times of shortages.

“The Crystal still needs to be solved. … The problems did not go away,” river district spokesman Jim Pokrandt said Wednesday.

Garfield County’s representative to the river district, Dave Merritt, said in its release, “This is a sad commentary on the narrow view of water development in the area.”

More Crystal River coverage here and here.


Crystal River: Pitkin County settles in water court case over proposed dams in the watershed

June 21, 2013

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

The agreement removes the prospect of a dam being built across the Crystal River at Placita — below McClure Pass and before the road to Marble — as well as a dam on Yank Creek, a tributary of Thompson Creek, which flows into the Crystal near Carbondale.

The agreement also removes Pitkin County’s opposition to potential new dams and reservoirs on Mamm and Divide creeks in Garfield County on land south of I-70 between New Castle and Parachute.

“The agreement basically says to the West Divide District, ‘You get out of our county and we’ll get out of the rest of your jurisdiction,’” said Pitkin County Attorney John Ely…

The West Divide board is set to meet today in Rifle to discuss the agreement, according to Samuel Potter, the chairman of the West Divide Conservancy District.

Jim Pokrandt, communications and education director for the Colorado River District, said the district’s litigation committee is set to meet on June 25 and has the authority to approve the settlement without a vote by its full board.

The Pitkin County commissioners have been discussing the case with Ely in executive session and he is confident the board will approve the settlement.

Bill Jochems, the chair of the healthy rivers and streams board, said he expects his board to approve the settlement at a meeting today…

The lawsuit, in water court, stemmed from a diligence filing by West Divide and the Colorado River District in May 2011. Opposition filings came from Pitkin County, the Crystal River Caucus, CVEPA, the nonprofit organization, American Rivers, Trout Unlimited and Paul Durrett of Redstone.

More Crystal River Watershed coverage here and here.


Pitkin County is opposing the diligence claim for two dams in the Crystal River watershed as speculative

March 10, 2013

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Here’s an in-depth report from Brent Gardner-Smith writing for Aspen Journalism. Click through and read the whole article. Here’s an excerpt:

Pitkin County wants a water court judge to rule that the planning period for a project that includes a dam on the upper Crystal River, and one on North Thompson Creek in the Thompson-Divide area, has lapsed since planning began in the late 1950s. The West Divide “conditional water rights continue to be water rights in search of a project,” the county told the court in its Feb. 22 motion. “The project is no closer to being funded and built in 2013 than it was in 1957” and the project remains “speculative,” according to the motion.

The county’s motion was filed in Division 5 water court in Glenwood Springs. Judge James Boyd is overseeing the case, which is set for trial in August. The county and other groups are opposing a diligence filing on the conditional water rights for the West Divide project held by the Colorado River District and the West Divide Water Conservancy District. The rights date to 1958.

More Crystal River Watershed coverage here and here.


Wild and Scenic designation for the Crystal River?

January 6, 2013

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Here’s an in-depth report from Aspen Journalism (Brent Gardner-Smith). Click through for all the detail and some great photos, as well. Here’s an excerpt:

Wild and Scenic status, which ultimately requires an act of Congress to obtain, prevents a federal agency from approving, or funding, a new dam or reservoir on a Wild and Scenic-designated river.

And that’s one big reason why Pitkin County, the Roaring Fork Conservancy, the Crystal Valley Environmental Protection Association (CVEPA) and American Rivers are exploring Wild and Scenic status for the Crystal — because it would likely block a potential dam and reservoir from being built at Placita, an old coal town between Marble and Redstone…

The West Divide Water Conservancy District and the Colorado River District are fighting to retain conditional water rights that could allow for a dam across the Crystal and a 4,000-acre-foot reservoir.

The river district says such a reservoir could put more water in the often parched lower Crystal River in the fall and could also provide hydropower.

But the county, CVEPA and American Rivers are actively opposing the renewal of the conditional water rights tied to the dam and a 21-day trial in district water court is scheduled for August.

In the meantime those groups, plus the Conservancy, are testing local sentiment about seeking Wild and Scenic designation.

“We want to disseminate as much information as possible to the public about the Wild and Scenic program, and then ask the folks in the Crystal River Valley if they think it is a good idea to pursue,” said Pitkin County Attorney John Ely, who leads most of the county’s water-related initiatives.

To that end, the groups held two public meetings in mid-November, one in Redstone attended by 57 people and one in Carbondale with 35 people there…

What the Wild and Scenic Act does do is let the river run — by preventing federal agencies from permitting or funding “any dam, water conduit, reservoir, powerhouse, transmission line or other project,” according to its language.

It would prevent, for example, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission from issuing a permit for a hydropower project on the river or along its banks.

“Some rivers need to be left alone,” said David Moryc, senior director of river protection at American Rivers, describing the underlying intent of the law, according to a summary of the meeting prepared by the Roaring Fork Conservancy…

When asked about that via email, Ely of Pitkin County said he thought Colorado had only one designated river because of the “lack of information as to the benefits and restrictions of the designation, and the time and dedication it takes to get it through Congress.”

Another reason may be that once a river is designated Wild and Scenic, the federal government becomes a stakeholder on the river and has a chance to review potential changes to it, such as any new water rights. Some may feel that Colorado water law is complicated enough already…

“I think the Crystal has the potential to be a nice clean straightforward effort because there are no out-of-basin uses yet,” Ely wrote. “If there is interest in going forward, we’re happy to be the laboring oar and do that work.”

More Crystal River Watershed coverage here and here.


Crystal River: Momentum building for Wild and Scenic designation

December 3, 2012

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Here’s an analysis of efforts to protect the Crystal River under the National Wild and Scenic Rivers Act from Brent Gardner-Smith writing for The Aspen Daily News. Click through and read the whole article. Here’s an excerpt:

Thirty-nine miles of the Crystal River are already “eligible” for designation under the federal Wild and Scenic Rivers Act. Now four organizations are building local support to determine if much of the river is also “suitable” for protection under the act.

Passed in 1968, the act allows local and regional communities to develop a federally backed management plan designed to preserve and protect a free-flowing river such as the Crystal River, which runs from the back of the Maroon Bells to the lower Roaring Fork River through Crystal, Marble, Redstone and Carbondale.

Wild and Scenic status, which ultimately requires an act of Congress to obtain, prevents a federal agency from approving, or funding, a new dam or reservoir on a Wild and Scenic-designated river.

And that’s one big reason why Pitkin County, the Roaring Fork Conservancy, the Crystal Valley Environmental Protection Association (CVEPA) and American Rivers are exploring Wild and Scenic status for the Crystal — because it would likely block a potential dam and reservoir from being built at Placita, an old coal town between Marble and Redstone.

The West Divide Water Conservancy District and the Colorado River District are fighting to retain conditional water rights that could allow for a dam across the Crystal and a 4,000-acre-foot reservoir.

The river district says such a reservoir could put more water in the often parched lower Crystal River in the fall and could also provide hydropower…

Chuck Wanner, a former Fort Collins city council member, said at the meetings that it took 10 years to get sections of the Cache La Poudre River on the Eastern Slope designated under Wild and Scenic.

Today, that’s the only river in the state that carries the designation and no river in the vast Colorado River basin is officially Wild and Scenic.

When asked about that via email, Ely of Pitkin County said he thought Colorado had only one designated river because of the “lack of information as to the benefits and restrictions of the designation, and the time and dedication it takes to get it through Congress.”

Another reason may be that once a river is designated Wild and Scenic, the federal government becomes a stakeholder on the river and has a chance to review potential changes to it, such as any new water rights. Some may feel that Colorado water law is complicated enough already.

And then there is the fact that designation eliminates the possibility of federal funding for future water projects, which can dampen the enthusiasm of most cities, counties and water districts.

Whatever the reasons for scarcity in Colorado, Pitkin County is ready to lead a Wild and Scenic process for the Crystal River.

“I think the Crystal has the potential to be a nice clean straightforward effort because there are no out-of-basin uses yet,” Ely wrote. “If there is interest in going forward, we’re happy to be the laboring oar and do that work.”[...]

While today only the Cache la Poudre River has stretches that are designated under the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, the BLM is preparing a suitability study on a number of area river stretches.

A final EIS is expected to be released in early 2013 by the BLM’s Colorado River Valley Field Office followed by a record of decision in 2014 for the following rivers and river sections:

• Abrams Creek

• Battlement Creek

• Colorado River — State Bridge to Dotsero

• Colorado River — Glenwood Canyon to approximately 1-mile east of No Name Creek

• Deep Creek — From the BLM/Forest Service land boundary to the Deep Creek ditch diversion

• Deep Creek — From the Deep Creek ditch diversion to the BLM/private land boundary

• Eagle River

• Egeria Creek

• Hack Creek

• Mitchell Creek

• No Name Creek

• Rock Creek

• Thompson Creek

• East Middle Fork Parachute Creek Complex

• East Fork Parachute Creek Complex

For more information on regarding Wild and Scenic suitability on these rivers, search for “Colorado River Valley Draft Resource Management Plan,” which will lead you to a BLM website that contains the draft EIS document.

The BLM is also reviewing a number of stretches on major rivers in Colorado, either for eligibility or suitability, including:

• Animas River

• Dolores River

• San Miguel River

• Gunnison River

• Colorado River

• Blue River

In all, according to Deanna Masteron, a public affairs specialist with the BLM in Lakewood, the BLM is currently analyzing more than 100 segments in Colorado through various land-use plans. The Forest Service also has the ability to analyze rivers for Wild and Scenic designation.

More Wild and Scenic coverage here and here.


Restoration: Coal Basin mitigation project seeks to lessen the sediment load transported to the Crystal River

November 9, 2012

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From the Grand Junction Free Press (Rose Ann Sullivan):

Earlier this year, Dr. Russ Walker, head of the Colorado Mesa University Department of Physical and Environmental Sciences, participated in a workshop that brought nearly 50 resource experts together to develop a strategy for carrying on critical restoration work in Coal Basin and in the downstream confluence area where Coal Creek meets the Crystal River near the town of Redstone, Colo. He presented the results of CMU’s evaluation of existing water quality data and made recommendations for future monitoring. The workshop and water quality assessment were funded by the Pitkin County Healthy Rivers and Streams Fund.

Participants in the Coal Basin & Crystal River Area Restoration Workshop immediately identified a series of data gaps that needed to be addressed in order to provide a sound foundation for the continued restoration effort. The lack of adequate baseline water quality data was among the significant issues. Fortunately, funding has just been obtained from the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) that allows collection and analysis of water quality data from Coal Creek and the Crystal River in order to provide the baseline data necessary to assess the effectiveness of this comprehensive, high-profile restoration effort.

Over $300,000 in Colorado Water Supply Reserve Account grant funding was recently awarded to the Roaring Fork Conservancy for “Crystal River Watershed – Assessment and Design of Restoration Projects.” Roaring Fork Conservancy and the U.S. Forest Service White River National Forest are coordinating the long-term restoration effort with the assistance of CMU and other stakeholders, including the U.S. Forest Service, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Colorado Department of Transportation, Pitkin County, Colorado Parks and Wildlife, private landowners, and the Crystal Valley Environmental Protection Association.

The CWCB funding will be used to conduct a series of assessments to identify the continued sources of sediment loading and the geomorphic processes that are degrading water quality and damaging instream and riparian habitat in the Coal Basin sub-watershed and contributing to sedimentation issues in the Crystal River. This information will be supplemented with new stream flow, sediment, water quality, macroinvertebrate and meteorological data, and used to prioritize and design a series of site- and process-specific restoration projects for the Crystal River Watershed — with emphasis on Coal Basin and the Coal Creek/Crystal River confluence area.

The funding will also help cover the costs of a decommissioned mining road reclamation pilot project already underway in Coal Basin. This pilot effort will assess the cost-effectiveness and utility of using biochar, coupled with drainage improvements, to reduce the toxicity of surface runoff, improve the water and nutrient-holding capacity of soils, and enhance the growth of native vegetation.

Dr. Walker and his CMU team will continue to work with the Roaring Fork Conservancy on water quality monitoring for parameters that reveal basic aspects of water quality, and those that are of the most concern. Over the next two years the restoration effort will be guided by both water quality data analysis and an assessment of trends over time – as specific restoration projects and programs are implemented in the watershed.

Follow the Coal Basin and Coal Creek/Crystal River confluence area restoration efforts on the Roaring Fork Conservancy’s website at http://www.roaringfork.org/coalbasin.

Here’s the link to the USGS webpage about aerial inspection of the basin earlier this year.

More restoration/reclamation coverage here.


Redstone: Wild & Scenic Rivers Educational Forum for the Crystal River November 14

November 4, 2012

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Click on the thumbnail graphic to view Pete McBride’s photo essay about the river.

From the Roaring Fork Conservancy:

Roaring Fork Conservancy, Pitkin County, American Rivers, and the Crystal Valley Environmental Protection Association will host a public educational forum to explore the process of a Wild and Scenic River designation for the Crystal River. The forum panel will include Kay Hopkins from the White River National Forest, Chuck Wanner, former Ft. Collins city councilman who played an integral role in the designation of the Cache la Poudre as Wild & Scenic, Mike Moody from the Native Fish Society in Oregon who has participated in the Wild and Scenic process on the Molalla River in Oregon, and David Moryc, Senior Director of River Protection at American Rivers. The public is encouraged to participate to learn more about the process of designation, ask questions, and be part of the community to evaluate the effectiveness and appropriateness of this possible designation for the Crystal River.

What: Wild and Scenic River Educational Forum for the Crystal River
When: Wednesday, November 14, 2012, 6:30-8:30pm Redstone Church, Redstone
Thursday, November 15, 2012, 6:30-8:30pm Third Street Center, Carbondale
Who: All community members, stakeholders, land owners, and business owners

Partners for this Educational Forum include Pitkin County, Roaring Fork Conservancy, Crystal Valley Environmental Protection Association, Town of Carbondale, White River National Forest, Avalanche Ranch, Wilderness Workshop, American Whitewater, Thompson Divide Coalition, Western Rivers Institute, Roaring Fork Audubon Society, American Rivers, Native Fish Society, and the Sierra Club.


Carbondale: Free water conservation kits available at several locations around town #CODrought

August 6, 2012

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From the Glenwood Springs Post Independent:

The Community Office for Resource Efficiency (CORE) and one of its board-member partners, the town of Carbondale, have partnered to help Carbondale residents save water during the 2012 drought.

Free water conservation kits containing low-flow showerheads, faucet aerators and an informative brochure are now available at CORE’s office in the Third Street Center at 520 S. Third St. Suite 2; at Carbondale Town Hall, 511 Colorado Ave.; and at the Gordon Cooper Branch Library, 76 S. Fourth St. Kits are available in both English and Spanish.

The brochures provide information on the three types of water restrictions the town may impose during periods of drought, as well as helpful indoor and outdoor water conservation tips and Do-It-Yourself tutorials for drip irrigation and mulching.

More conservation coverage here.


Crystal River: Pete McBride asks, ‘If one of those rivers could talk, I wonder what it would say?’

July 1, 2012

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Here’s a video, Crystal Voice, about the Crystal River from Pete McBride via Vimeo.

Thanks to Drew Beckwith (@DrewBeckwith) for the heads up.

More Crystal River watershed coverage here and here.

Here’s another video from the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation showing irrigation, dams, wild streams, restoration and power generation facilities across the western U.S.


The Crystal River makes the top ten most endangered rivers list, Wild and Scenic designation in the future?

May 20, 2012

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From The Aspen Times (Scott Condon):

Rivers in Colorado remained off the list in 2011, but appeared again this year with the Crystal River showing up as the No. 8 most endangered river in the United States. It flows out of the mountains, through Redstone and into Carbondale where it meets with the Roaring Fork River.

The threat: dams and diversions. The same reasons the Upper Colorado was listed in 2010.

At stake in both scenarios are fish and wildlife habitat, beautiful vistas and visitor recreation. On top of that, the Crystal River is one of the few remaining free-flowing streams in Colorado. “But new hydropower dams, reservoirs and water diversions threaten to destroy the river’s unique values,” the report states.

The Colorado River District and West Divide Conservancy District hold conditional water rights that could be used to build the 4,000-acre-foot Placita Reservoir; a similar-size reservoir on Yank Creek, a tributary of the Crystal River; and a water diversion on Avalanche Creek, the largest tributary of the river. The Placita Reservoir would be about four miles upstream from Redstone.

The designation is just the beginning of action, American Rivers’ Colorado conservation director Matt Rice said. “We hope this will begin a renewed effort to protect the Crystal River with a ‘Wild and Scenic’ designation,” he said. That designation would bring federal protection and prevent dam building.

More Crystal River coverage here and here.


American Rivers names the Crystal River to its 10 most endangered rivers list

May 16, 2012

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From the Aspen Business Journal (Bob Berwyn):

At issue is a proposed dam that would impound 4,000 acre feet of water between Redstone and Marble, diversions from Avalanche Creek, the largest tributary to the Crystal and potential hydropower development on Yank Creek.

The Colorado River Water Conservation District holds the conditional water rights for the potential Crystal River dam and is pursuing the state-mandated diligence process for maintaining those water rights.

Spokesman Jim Pokrandt said the water in the reservoir could be used to enhance late-season flows to help sustain aquatic habitat.

“The whole purpose of that reservoir is for augmentation and environmental flows. It’s already endangered as it exists today … in leaner years because of all the irrigation that goes on in the valleys … it does create a stretch in the river that’s almost dry,” Pokrandt said, likening the proposed reservoir to others in the state that have water reserved for instream environmental purposes, including Elkhead and Wolford Mountain reservoirs.

There’s also a school of thought that says it’s important for headwaters counties to capture and store water high in the drainages as a hedge against climate change and increased demand far downstream, from the Lower Colorado River Basin states.

But local and national conservation groups say the projects would degrade the river and the surrounding area by destroying valuable riparian habitat and associated recreation and economic values.

We’re in an era when more dams are being dismantled than being built,” said John Emerick, a retired Colorado School of Mines ecologist who helped conduct an in-depth survey of Crystal Creek’s aquatic and riparian resources. “it’s important for us here in the arid West to think about better ways and more efficient ways to use our water,” Emerick said, explaining that the proposed reservoir could end up standing as an empty mud flat much of the year.

More coverage of the 10 most endangered rivers for 2012 from Troy Hooper writing for the Colorado Independent. From the article:

The report, compiled by the nonprofit advocacy group American Rivers, cites Fort Collins businessman Aaron Million’s proposed Flaming Gorge pipeline, as well as a competing diversion proposal by Parker Water & Sanitation District manager Frank Jaeger, as major threats to the world-class recreation, rural economies, critical fish habitats, and the water supply for the lower Colorado River Basin.

“Aaron Million and Frank Jaeger remain committed to build that pipeline,” Matt Rice, Colorado conservation director for American Rivers, said Monday. “There are a hundred reasons why it doesn’t make sense, why it’s a bad idea and why it’s not a responsible use of taxpayer money. We’re calling on Utah Governor Gary Herbert and Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper to publicly oppose it.”[...]

The threats facing the Crystal River include a dam and a 4,000-acre reservoir between Redstone and Marble; a water diversion from its largest tributary, Avalanche Creek; and a hydropower dam and 5,000 acre-foot reservoir on another tributary, Yank Creek.

“Our rivers and streams continue to be under assault from competing interests that too often do not consider the value intrinsic in the ecosystems that rivers and streams create, nurture, and sustain,” said Pitkin County attorney John Ely. “If we are to preserve our rivers, public awareness of the threats and impending changes facing these ecosystems is essential.”

More Crystal River watershed coverage here and here.


Restoration: Crystal River tributary, Coal Creek, is on the Roaring Fork Conservancy’s radar

December 21, 2011

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From The Aspen Times (Janet Urquhart):

The Basalt-based Roaring Fork Conservancy hopes to launch a multi-agency effort to clean up Coal Creek, a tributary of the Crystal River, with a grant from the Pitkin County Healthy Rivers and Streams Fund to get things started.

The board that oversees the fund has recommended spending $48,269 from county tax revenues devoted to water quantity and quality in the Roaring Fork River watershed; the expenditure is on the county commissioners’ agenda today.

In part, the funds will go toward analysis of existing water-quality data for Coal Creek, which tumbles out of Coal Basin west of Redstone, and a technical workshop in the spring that draws together experts to review the data and discuss options to clean up a creek that regularly dumps large quantities of sediment into the Crystal River. The Crystal in turn flows north to Carbondale, where it joins the Roaring Fork.

“Basically, nine times out of 10, if the Crystal is that ashy color, it’s Coal Creek that’s putting it in there,” said Rick Lofaro, executive director of the Roaring Fork Conservancy. Coal Creek flows through a basin still healing from years of mining for high-grade coal.

More Crystal River watershed coverage here and here.


Crystal River: Diligence case for reservoir at Placita now has six objectors

August 14, 2011

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From AspenJournalism.org (Brent Gardner-Smith):

The two water districts [Colorado River District and the West Divide Water Conservancy District] are asking a judge to grant a conditional water right to dam the Crystal River at Placita, an old town site along Highway 133 just below McClure Pass. The dam would create a 4,000 acre-foot reservoir and allow for the installation of a hydropower plant fueled by 150 cubic-feet-per-second of flowing water.

Pitkin County, the Crystal River Caucus, the Crystal Valley Environmental Protection Association, American Rivers and Trout Unlimited are all opposing the districts’ efforts.

Also in opposition is Paul Durrett of Glenwood Springs, who goes by his middle name of Gregory. He served on the board of the West Divide Water Conservancy District for 16 years, starting in the 1970s. “The Placita Power Plant and Placita Reservoir fills no need in the Crystal River drainage by any credible water user,” Durrett told the court in a hand-written legal filing. “This application is a ploy to retain some interest in the Crystal River and continue the falsehood that the taxpayers in the Crystal and Roaring Fork River drainages have anything to gain from the continued taxation by the WDWCD.”

The conditional water rights tied to the West Divide Project date back to 1958.

More Crystal River watershed coverage here and here.


Pitkin County commissioners line up with others to oppose the conditional rights for dam on the Crystal River

July 28, 2011

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From the Aspen Daily News (Andrew Travers):

The rights are held by the Colorado River Water Conservation District and West Divide Water Conservancy District. They have been renewed every six years since 1958, when the rights were issued by the U.S. Congress. Over the decades, the plan has included reservoir rights that would have flooded Redstone and covered it with a reservoir larger than Ruedi at nearly 200,000 acre feet. In the most recent iteration of the plan, the reservoir to drown Redstone has been dropped but another, smaller reservoir upstream toward Marble remains.

County attorney John Ely described the project as “wholly inappropriate” and said it “would do great harm and is probably located in the worst geological location possible.” The probability that the water groups would act on the plan is low, Ely added. But getting the concepts off the state books should be a county priority, he added. The plan currently headed for renewal aims to use the Crystal dam for hydroelectric power. The commissioners voted 5-0 to oppose the plan in state water court.

More Crystal River coverage here and here.


Crystal River: The Colorado River District and the West Divide Water Conservancy District both approve abandonment of some storage rights

April 25, 2011

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From Aspen Journalism (Brent Gardner-Smith):

The decision takes away the long-simmering prospect, however thin, that two Ruedi-sized dams would be built on the Crystal River, including the 129,000-acre-foot Osgood Reservoir, which would have put Redstone underwater. “It was not economical, it wasn’t politically feasible, and there certainly was not institutional or local support for such a project,” Chris Treese, the external affairs director for the Colorado River District, said about the Osgood Reservoir. “There is no support for, or frankly, desire by the staff or the River District board to flood the town of Redstone.”

The decision to walk away from most of the conditional water rights tied to what’s called the West Divide Project was good news to Bill Jochems, a Redstone resident who has called for the rights to be abandoned as a member of the Crystal River Caucus, the Crystal Valley Environmental Protection Agency and the Pitkin County Healthy Rivers and Streams Board. “The Osgood Reservoir seemed so outlandish that I don’t think it was a real palpable fear, yet there was always this possibility that future conditions might change enough so that someday it might be economic and might actually happen, so there was that haunting prospect,” Jochems said.

The decision by the two districts, however, may increase the likelihood that a more feasible — and less threatening — small reservoir gets built someday on the upper Crystal River at Placita, the site of an old coal mine at the bottom of McClure Pass. The districts voted to reduce the size of a potential Placita reservoir from 62,000 acre-feet to a 4,000-acre-foot reservoir, which is about a quarter of the size of the 16,000-acre-foot Paonia Reservoir on the other side of McClure Pass…

But members of the West Divide Water Conservancy District board said the day may come when residents of the Crystal River Valley see a small reservoir at Placita as a benefit, as it could store water in the spring and release it in the fall when the lower Crystal is nearly dried up from heavy irrigation diversions above Carbondale…

And another West Divide board member, Dan Harrison, pointed out that the districts do plan on maintaining the water rights for a hydropower facility at the smaller Placita Reservoir. The plant would be powered by 150 cubic feet of water per second, which is nearly three times the amount of water proposed for a new hydropower facility in Aspen. “The uses there could include supplementing the flows in the river, depending on what the future brings, and also help with the electric power generation up there,” Harrison said. “All those things would be dependent on how the area grows and the character of the area.”[...]

The decision by the water districts would also allow for another potential small dam in the Crystal River watershed, as the districts plan to retain the right to build a 5,000-acre-foot reservoir on Yank Creek, which is off of Thompson Creek, which in turn flows into the Crystal above Carbondale. The original Yank Creek Reservoir was planned to hold 13,700 acre-feet of water.

Another significant result of the boards’ decisions is that water from the Crystal River likely will never be diverted and transported to the dry mesas south of Silt and Rifle, a scheme that was first registered with the state water engineer in 1909.

More Crystal River watershed coverage here and here.


Crystal River: The Colorado River District approves abandonment of most of their undeveloped storage rights on the river

April 20, 2011

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From the Glenwood Springs Post Independent:

The package of rights known as the West Divide Project were tied to a plan devised in the 1960s to build two large reservoirs in the Crystal River valley at Redstone and divert the stored water to the Divide Creek basin south of Silt. There, the water could have been used in Divide Creek and the Colorado River valley for irrigation or oil shale industry. The Osgood Reservoir would have flooded the village of Redstone, while the smaller Placita Reservoir upstream would have flooded the canyon just below the Marble turn and McClure’s Pass.

Although the River District will abandon the rights associated with building large reservoirs, it will retain other rights and shift their use to help the Crystal River basin with late season flows and create the potential for hydropower development.

The West Divide Project also included rights in the West Divide Creek basin. These water rights will be maintained to benefit the original West Divide service area, but use water supplies only from within the basin. The River District’s actions were made in concurrence with the West Divide Water Conservancy District board…

The original West Divide Project was approved by Congress in 1966 as part of the historic Colorado River Storage Project Act, which led to the construction of the Animas-LaPlata Project and Ridgway Reservoir. But the Bureau of Reclamation subsequently judged the West Divide project unfeasible on a cost-benefit basis, and it was never granted federal funds.

More Crystal River coverage here and here.


The Crystal Valley Environmental Protection Association is organizing opposition to Crystal River conditional storage rights

March 15, 2011

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Here’s an in-depth analysis of the potential reservoirs and the conditional water rights associated with them, from Brent Gardner-Smith writing for the Aspen Daily News. Click through and read the whole thing. Here’s an excerpt:

[Osgood Reservoir is] one of two conceptual dams on the books for the upper Crystal, the conditional water rights for which were created by congressional decree in 1958. While it is not clear if anybody actually plans to build these dams, or a smaller version of them, officials are keeping the plans alive in state water court, sustaining the prospect of some sort of water storage project in the area. That’s raising alarm among Crystal Valley residents, many of whom would like to see the conditional water rights abandoned and the Crystal protected for its wild and scenic qualities…

The other potential dam would create what would be known as the Placita Reservoir, to be located upstream near Marble. That is seen as potentially more feasible, as it would not put an entire town underwater…

[Redstone resident Bill Jochems] is a member of the Crystal River Caucus and a veteran of the Crystal Valley Environmental Protection Association (CVEPA), which fought against the reservoirs in the 1970s, and won. Or so it seemed, until a fresh set of color maps showed conceptual plans for the Osgood and Placita reservoirs are still alive. After reviewing these maps, the caucus voted 34-0 in January approving a motion to ask Pitkin County to fight the conditional water rights associated with them. And then the Crystal Valley Environmental Protection Association sent a letter to Pitkin County, warning the specter of dams is hindering a federal Wild and Scenic River designation. The group is also concerned the potential reservoirs will push back the boundaries of the proposed Hidden Gems wilderness areas, as the maps show and the districts have requested.

The fresh opposition in the Crystal River Valley comes as the two organizations that hold the conditional water rights, the Colorado River Water Conservation District and the West Divide Water Conservation District, are expected to file their diligence reports in state water court in Glenwood Springs by a May deadline for Judge James Boyd to review and rule on…

Today, the River District still holds a conditional right to store 128,728 acre-feet of water behind a 280-foot dam just downstream from Redstone’s historic main street. The Osgood Reservoir, named for Redstone founder John C. Osgood, would be larger than Ruedi Reservoir, which holds 119,000 acre feet. The district also holds a conditional right to store 62,009 acre-feet behind a 285-foot-tall Placita dam, just downstream from the turnoff to Marble, at the site of what was once the largest coal mine along the Crystal.

More Crystal River watershed coverage here and here.


The Crystal Valley Environmental Protection Association is organizing opposition to Crystal River conditional storage rights

March 1, 2011

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From the Glenwood Springs Post Independent (Janet Urquhart):

The Crystal Valley Environmental Protection Association (CVEPA) has asked both [Pitkin] county commissioners and the county’s Healthy Rivers and Streams Board to oppose the conditional water rights. The Crystal River Caucus has joined in that call, according to Redstone resident Bill Jochems, a member of both the CVEPA board and the county rivers and streams board…

The Glenwood-based Colorado River Water Conservation District holds the conditional water rights on behalf of the West Divide Water Conservancy District. The rights, decreed in the 1950s, are the basis for two proposed water storage projects on the Crystal that were authorized by Congress in the mid-1960s but never built. The West Divide Project water rights must be reauthorized in Colorado Water Court every six years. In May, the holders of the water rights must show diligence, or continued progress on the project, in order to keep the water rights alive. The Crystal River groups have asked the county to challenge the validity of the rights. “Nothing has been done on the ground for 54 years,” said Jochems. Progress has been limited to studying the options, he added…

The conditional water rights allow for the proposed Osgood Reservoir, which would impound nearly 129,000 acre feet of water, flooding the town of Redstone, Redstone Castle and several subdivisions, CVEPA said. Also envisioned is the Placita Reservoir south of Redstone, which would impound about 62,000 acre feet of water. For the sake of comparison, Ruedi Reservoir on the Fryingpan River, east of Basalt, holds 140,000 acre feet of water, CVEPA noted in its letter to county officials. “We do not think anyone takes these proposed reservoirs seriously, yet they threaten to deny designation of the Crystal River as a Wild and Scenic River and cost the taxpayers money as they continue to be defended,” the letter states.

With no dams or significant diversions on the Crystal currently, advocates would like to see it further protected by the federal Wild and Scenic River designation. The upper Crystal River Valley is nestled between the Raggeds and Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness areas to the east of Marble. The Crystal River flows into the Roaring Fork River at Carbondale.

More Crystal River watershed coverage here and here.


The Colorado River District is kicking off a grant program for water resources projects

December 1, 2010

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From email from the Colorado River Water Conservation District (Martha Moore):

The Colorado River District is accepting grant applications for projects that protect, enhance or develop water resources within the 15-county area covered by the District. This includes all watersheds in north- and central- western Colorado, except the San Juan River basin.

Eligible projects must achieve one or more of the following:

- develop a new water supply

- improve an existing system

- improve instream water quality

- increase water use efficiency

- reduce sediment loading

- implement watershed management actions

- control tamarisk

- protect pre-1922 Colorado River Compact water rights

Past projects have included the construction of new water storage, the enlargement of existing water storage or diversion facilities, rehabilitation of non-functioning or restricted water resource structures and implementation of water efficiency measures and other watershed improvements. Such projects that utilize pre-1922 water rights will be given additional ranking priority over similar projects that do not. Each project will be ranked based upon its own merits in accordance with published ranking criteria.

Eligible applicants can receive up to a maximum of $150,000 ((or approximately 25% of the total project cost whichever is less, in the case of smaller projects this percentage may be slightly higher) for their project. The total grant pool for 2011 is $250,000. Application deadline is Jan. 31, 2011.

More Colorado River basin coverage here.


Proposed new wilderness additions butting up against transmountain diversion projects

January 26, 2010

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The board of the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District is watching the proposed wilderness additions closely. Access to current facilities is their worry. Here’s a report from Chris Woodka writing for The Pueblo Chieftain. From the article:

“It’s not easy to get equipment for repairs into the mountain areas right now, even without a wilderness area,” Bob Hamilton, engineering supervisor, told the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District board Thursday.

The Hidden Gems Wilderness Campaign is endorsed by more than 40 Western Slope environmental or recreational groups. It seeks to create new wilderness with 14 new areas and 26 areas adjacent to current recreation areas in the White River and Gunnison National Forests and adjacent Bureau of Land Management lands. The wilderness areas are in Pitkin, Eagle, Gunnison and Summit counties. If maps by the campaign were adopted, three of the areas adjacent to The Hunter-Fryingpan and Holy Cross wilderness areas could restrict repairs to the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project collection system, Hamilton said. “It interferes with existing or deferred parts of the north side collection system,” Hamilton said. “It’s a threat” Creating the wilderness areas could also hinder collection efforts for other importers of water like Colorado Springs, Aurora and Pueblo Board of Water Works, including the Busk-Ivanhoe system.

In a wilderness area, activities like mining or constructing roads are curtailed. The language of the federal Wilderness Act also forbids “establishing or maintaining water facilities.” When legislation created the Hunter-Fryingpan Wilderness Area east of Aspen in 1978, corridors along streams were carved out for maintenance of the Fry-Ark Project. In the Hidden Gems proposal, the Wildcat Mountain area would be added to that wilderness area and would have to include the same provisions to be acceptable to the Southeastern district. The Mormon Lake and Woods Creek areas would be added to Holy Cross, which does not have the same sort of carve-outs however, attorney Steve Leonhardt told the Southeastern board.

Here’s an update on Hidden Gems from John Gardner writing for the Glenwood Springs Post Independent. From the article:

[Steve Smith, regional director for the Wilderness Society] says that since they first revised the proposal two years ago, the four organizations including the Wilderness Society, The Colorado Mountain Club, the Colorado Environmental Coalition and Wilderness Workshop have sought input from as many people and user groups knowledgeable about the lands in the proposal, for further refinement. Smith says that opponents are against wilderness areas in general, and that some are unwilling to compromise. “Not only are we not excluding the motorized folks, we have invited them to participate,” Smith said. “We also are not saying that we are going to toss you off the land. We simply want to know the areas they use, so that we can make adjustments.”

More Fryingpan-Arkansas coverage here and here.


Carbondale: Proposed water and sewer rate hike halved

November 28, 2009

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From the Glenwood Springs Post Independent (John Stroud):

What was planned to be a 3 percent annual water/wastewater rate hike was cut in half by Carbondale town trustees at their Nov. 24 meeting, as a way of bringing some financial relief to town residents…

At 3 percent, the new monthly base rate for in-town residential and commercial water customers would have been $16.83 each, and for out-of-town users $25.24, plus the incremental charge based on water usage. Wastewater rates would have been $10.83 and $16.23, respectively, under the original proposal. Those rates will now be slightly less given the agreed-to 1.5 percent increase.

More infrastructure coverage here.


Thompson Divide: Coalition funding water quality study to get in front of oil and gas exploration and production effects

November 15, 2009

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From The Sopris Sun (Jereby Heiman):

The Thompson Divide Coalition (TDC) has organized a study that is intended to establish baseline data on the purity of streams and underground water in the threatened area to the west and southwest of Carbondale. The group has partnered with the Roaring Fork Conservancy to design and execute the study. The Roaring Fork Conservancy is a Basalt-based watershed conservation organization that employs scientists and other experts and works to protect rivers, streams, underground water and stream bank habitat. “This baseline will allow us to hold the gas drilling companies accountable,” said Jock Jacober, chairman of the TDC Steering Committee.

More oil and gas coverage here and here.


Redstone: Voters approve debt for wastewater plant

November 4, 2009

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From The Aspen Times:

The district’s existing plant serves 140 users in the Redstone vicinity, south of Carbondale. It’s 35 years old, and 15 years beyond its life expectancy, according to Brian Olesen, district manager. Even with Tuesday’s vote, the district won’t go ahead with construction of a new plant unless additional federal stimulus funds become available to help pay for the project, Olesen said in advance of the election. “If more funds are made available, we’ll have voter approval in our pocket to go out and do something,” he told The Aspen Times last month. “It’s basically to take advantage of an opportunity if it arose.” Voters authorized the district to take on $2 million in debt (a $2.6 million repayment cost with interest) and to increase the district’s mill levy by no more than 5 mills to repay the loan. If the district can get $1 million from stimulus funds, plus a zero percent interest rate as a qualifying project for the money, the project would be doable, according to Olesen.

More wastewater coverage here.


Redstone hopes to build new wastewater treatment plant if stimulus dough becomes available

October 19, 2009

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From the Aspen Daily News (Troy Hooper):

[The Redstone Water and Sanitation District is] asking voters permission to increase district debt to replace Redstone’s 35-year-old sewage treatment plant should $1 million of federal stimulus money ever be available. The district already spent close to $200,000 to plan for the plant’s replacement. The plant serves about 140 users.

More wastewater coverage here.


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