‘Don’t goddamn come here [#ColoradoRiver Basin] any more’ — Lurline Curran

December 3, 2013
Colorado transmountain diversions via the State Engineer's office

Colorado transmountain diversions via the State Engineer’s office

Here’s an article about the white paper approved last week by the Colorado Basin Roundtable, from Brent Gardner-Smith writing for Aspen Journalism. Click through and read the whole article. Here’s an excerpt:

“Don’t goddamn come here any more,” was the way Lurline Curran, county manager of Grand County, summed up the roundtable’s position just before the group voted to approve a white paper it has been working on for months.

“We’re trying to tell you, Front Range: Don’t count on us,” Curran said. “Don’t be counting on us to make up all the shortages.”

The actual paper crafted by the Colorado roundtable states its case in a more diplomatic fashion, but it is still blunt.

“The notion that increasing demands on the Front Range can always be met with a new supply from the Colorado River, or any other river, (is) no longer valid,” the position paper states…

“There is going to have to be a discussion and plan for developing a new West Slope water supply,” the South Platte roundtable stated in a June memo directed to Committee.

Together, the South Platte, Metro and Arkansas roundtables are pushing that discussion. They’re asking the state to preserve the option to build “several” 100,000 to 250,000 acre-foot projects on the Green River at Flaming Gorge Reservoir, the lower Yampa River, and/or the Gunnison River at Blue Mesa Reservoir…

On Nov. 25, the members of the Colorado River roundtable clearly wanted to inform the Committee that they don’t support the idea of new Western Slope projects.

Jim Pokrandt, a communications executive at the Colorado River District who chairs the Colorado roundtable, said the group’s paper, directed to the Committee, was “an answer to position statements put out by other basin roundtables.”

The Committee’s eventual analysis is expected to shape a draft statewide Colorado Water Plan, which is supposed to be on the governor’s desk via the Committee and the Colorado Water Conservation Board in 12 months.

And while there has been a decades-long discussion in Colorado about the merits of moving water from the Western Slope to the Front Range, the language in the position papers, and the roundtable meetings, is getting sharper as the state water plan now takes shape.

“It’s not ‘don’t take one more drop,’ but it is as close as we can get,” said Ken Neubecker, the environmental representative on the Colorado roundtable, about the group’s current position.

The paper itself advises, “the scenic nature and recreational uses of our rivers are as important to the West Slope as suburban development and service industry businesses are to the Front Range. They are not and should not be seen as second-class water rights, which Colorado can preserve the option of removing at the behest of Front Range indulgences.”

That’s certainly in contrast to the vision of the South Platte, Metro and Arkansas basin roundtables, which in a draft joint statement in July said that the way to meet the “east slope municipal supply gap” is to develop “state water projects using Colorado River water for municipal uses on the East and West slopes.”[...]

The white paper from the Colorado roundtable states that “new supply” is a euphemism for “a new transmountain diversion from the Colorado River system.”

“This option must be the last option,” the paper notes.

Instead of new expensive Western Slope water projects, the paper calls for more water conservation and “intelligent land use” on the Front Range.

It goes on to note that Front Range interests are actively pursuing the expansion of existing transmountain diversions — many of which are likely to be blessed by the Committee because they are already in the works.

It says the Western Slope has its own water gap, as the growing demands of agriculture, energy development, population growth and river ecosystems are coming together in the face of climate change.

It calls for reform to the state’s water laws, so it is easier to leave water in Western Slope rivers for environmental reasons, and it rejects the Front Range’s call to streamline the review process for new water projects.

“Streamlining as a means of forcing West Slope acquiescence to any new supply project ‘for the good of the state’ is unacceptable,” the paper states.

Finally, the document advises the state not to endorse or get behind a Western Slope water project unless it “has been agreed to by the impacted counties, conservancy districts and conservation districts from which water would be diverted.”

More IBCC — basin roundtables coverage here. More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.


‘Keeping the last wild river in the [#ColoradoRiver] Basin intact is important to a healthy environment’ — Susan Bruce

December 2, 2013
Yampa River Basin via the Colorado Geological Survey

Yampa River Basin via the Colorado Geological Survey

Here’s a post arguing to keep the Yampa River riparian system as a baseline for a healthy river from Susan Bruce writing for the Earth Island Journal. Here’s an excerpt:

Governor John Hickenlooper’s directive to the Colorado Water Conservation Board earlier this year to create a Colorado Water Plan by 2015 has put the Yampa, which has the second largest watershed in the state, under the spotlight.

Efforts to dam the Yampa go back to the proposed construction of Echo Park Dam, which Congress vetoed in 1952, bowing to a groundswell of public outcry led by David Brower, then with the Sierra Club. But in a compromise he later regretted, Brower supported the construction of two other dams: Glen Canyon on the Colorado River and Flaming Gorge on the Green River. The Green and Yampa rivers used to have similar flows and ecosystems. The construction of the Flaming Gorge Dam in 1962 modified the Green’s hydrograph, reducing sediment flow by half and tapering its seasonal fluctuations to a slower, more consistent flow, opening the way for invasive species like the tamarisk tree to crowd out native ones.

More recently, in 2006, there was a proposal to build a reservoir near Maybell, CO, and pump water from the Yampa to a reservoir about 230 miles away for municipal and agricultural use on the Front Range. But the plan was scrapped due to environmental and cost concerns; the reservoir would have cost between $3 billion and $5 billion.

The oil and gas industry is also eyeing the Yampa. Shell Oil had plans to pump about 8 percent of the Yampa’s high-water flow to fill a 1,000-acre reservoir, but it shelved the proposal in 2010, citing a slowdown of its oil-shale development program. Still, oil production in Colorado is at its highest level since 1957 and gas production at an all-time high. While industrial and municipal water needs are projected to increase with population growth, the largest water user, agriculture, will continue to divert the lion’s share of Colorado’s water, around 80 percent. All of which mean the pressure to suck up Yampa’s water is only going to grow.

The most unique characteristic of the Yampa is its wild and unimpeded flow, in particular the extensive spring flooding that washes away sediment, giving the river its brownish hue. This “river dance” helps establish new streamside forests, wetlands, and sandy beaches, as well as shallows that support species like the endangered Colorado pikeminnow and razorback sucker. By late fall, the water barely covers the riverbed in some stretches…

The rafting industry, which contributes more than $150 million to Colorado’s economy, has a strong voice when it comes to the Yampa’s future. Although damming the Yampa would provide a more consistent flow over a longer season, George Wendt – founder of OARS, the largest rafting company in the world – speaks for most outfitters when he says he would rather see the Yampa retain its natural state.

Conservationists also argue that the Yampa’s full flow helps meet Colorado’s legal obligation to provide water to the seven states within the Colorado Basin and Mexico. Measures being considered to protect the Yampa include an instream flow appropriation by the Colorado Water Conservation Board that would reserve Yampa’s water for the natural function of rivers, and a Wild and Scenic River designation by Congress.

Many proponents of keeping the Yampa wild point to its value as a baseline – an ecosystem naturally in balance. “If things go awry on dammed rivers, which they do, we have a control river, so to speak,” says Kent Vertrees of The Friends of the Yampa. “Keeping the last wild river in the Colorado Basin intact is important to a healthy environment and so future generations can experience in situ millions of years of history little changed by man.”

More Yampa River Basin coverage here and here.


#ColoradoRiver District board meeting recap: ‘We should…table the issue of a big transmountain diversion’ — Eric Kuhn

November 29, 2013

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

At the October meeting of the Colorado River District Board of Directors, General Manger Eric Kuhn, an IBCC member as a governor’s appointee, reported that “in the last several years, new supply as a concept has evolved into a New Supply project from the Colorado River Basin and in the view of some on the Front Range, a large new transmountain diversion from the Colorado River system.”

The IBCC employs the metaphor of a four‐legged stool to describe the tools to meet the water‐supply gap. New Supply is one leg. The others are moving water from agricultural use to urban use; completion of water supply projects already on the drawing board; and municipal conservation and reuse.

According to Kuhn, going to the Colorado River for a big project will likely result in the reallocation of water now being used on the West Slope in agriculture to the Front Range urban corridor. “The bigger the project, the bigger the trouble and the bigger the reallocation if we get into trouble,” Kuhn said.
Trouble would result from Colorado exceeding its legal ability to deplete the Colorado River under the Colorado River Compact of 1922 and the Upper Colorado River Compact of 1948.
In Kuhn’s report to the Board, he said:

“For the last couple of years, we’ve had an ongoing debate within the IBCC and the IBCC’s New Supply Committee over the approach to take. I’ve suggested an incremental approach where we would move forward on projects on the drawing board or in permitting small, cooperative projects but put off any debate about big new projects until down the road sometime when we’ll have a better understanding of water availability and the negotiations among the seven basin states may lead to different ways of managing future Colorado River shortages.

“We should move forward with projects that we can agree on today and table the issue of a big transmountain diversion but not in a way that makes it more difficult or promotes it. In fact we should leave that issue neutral while we develop more information and develop supply from Identified Projects and Proc‐ esses (IPPs),” Kuhn said during Board discussion. IPPs are projects on the drawing board in the vernacular of the water plan.

Kuhn said that water planners on the Front Range are split with some wanting a big transmountain diversion as soon as possible and others who recognize problems, which include Front Range water users who would be affected by a compact curtailment. Kuhn noted that the water supply gap on the Front Range is not well defined as to where the needs exactly are.

More Colorado River Basin coverage here and here.


The Windy Gap Firming project moves closer to implementation #ColoradoRiver

November 26, 2013
Chimney Hollow Reservoir site -- Bureau of Reclamation via The Denver Post

Chimney Hollow Reservoir site — Bureau of Reclamation via The Denver Post

Here’s a guest column written by Jim Pokrandt that is running in the Sky-Hi Daily News:

The Windy Gap Firming Project (WGFP) intergovernmental agreement (IGA) is in final form but has not been totally wrapped up because two important preconditions have not been completed, General Counsel Peter Fleming reported to the Colorado River District Board of Directors at its October meeting.

Like the Colorado River Cooperative Agreement between Denver Water and the West Slope, the Windy Gap Firming Project IGA is a package of mitigation enhancements that would be part of the Windy Gap Firming Project once it is permitted for the Municipal Subdistrict of Northern Water by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.

The preconditions for the River District’s execution of the agreement are that the United States (1) makes a satisfactory finding that the WGFP can be operated consistent with Senate Document 80 — meaning no impact to the United States’ obligations to the beneficiaries, including West Slope beneficiaries, of the Colorado Big Thompson (C‐BT) Project, and (2) adopts an enforceable provision recognizing that if the River District does not challenge the WGFP permitting decision, that it does not waive any legal rights regarding federal decisions involving the same or similar legal issues.

Fleming anticipated that that these conditions will be satisfied in the context of Reclamation’s final record of decision on the WGFP, which is expected in the first part of 2014. In the meantime, Fleming said the River District has worked extensively with Grand County on matters related to the WGFP and the operation of the C-BT Project — including the Grand Lake Water Clarity Agreement and the upcoming initiation of the WGFP Carriage Contract negotiations.

With respect to the Grand Lake clarity issues, Fleming reported there have been several meetings with Reclamation and Northern to help ensure that a workable solution can be reached to meet the Grand Lake water quality standard. An important goal in that regard has been to avoid a stalemate over a massively expensive “fix” that could require a separate congressional authorization and appropriation.

With regard to the WGFP carriage contract negotiations, the River District has assisted Grand County in efforts to secure the best possible negotiating position in Reclamation’s negotiation process.

Fleming said the River District believes Grand County’s specifically identified role in Senate Document 80 entitles the county (and its advisers) to a more involved position in the negotiations than Reclamation’s standard “sit and‐observe” role for members of the public in its contract negotiation process.

Another goal is to ensure that the Windy Gap water that Grand County is entitled to use pursuant to the IGA can be stored in Granby Reservoir for no charge or at a very affordable rate.

More Windy Gap coverage here and here.


‘The [Colorado Water Plan] needs your input’ — Hannah Holm #ColoradoRiver

November 26, 2013
Colorado Water Plan website screen shot November 1, 2013

Colorado Water Plan website screen shot November 1, 2013

From the Glenwood Springs Post Independent (Hannah Holm):

How will Colorado share the Colorado River? How much irrigated land will be dried up to slake the thirst of growing cities? How far should the state and local governments go in requiring residents to conserve?

These are some of the questions that will be addressed in Colorado’s statewide water plan, which is currently under development. Back in May, Gov. Hickenlooper ordered the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) to develop a draft plan by Dec. 10, 2014, which is to be finalized by Dec. 10, 2015…

Both the CWCB and the Basin Roundtables are now seeking public input on the plan. There’s a survey link at the end of this article for you to provide general input, and future articles and surveys will address more specific issues.

First, though, let’s consider this basic question – why does Colorado need a water plan?

The Governor’s Executive Order notes that the gap between the state’s developed water supplies and growing urban demands could exceed 500,000 acre feet by 2050 (an acre foot is about enough for 2-3 families for a year at current usage rates). The biggest gap is anticipated in the South Platte River Basin, home to Colorado’s largest cities. A central challenge for the water plan is to fill the gap in a way that matches Colorado’s values. That’s a tough nut to crack.

The easiest way for cities to fill that gap is by taking it from agriculture, which currently accounts for about 85% of the water consumed in the state. But there’s a heavy price to pay for continuing to rely on that approach. A state water supply study released in 2010 projected a 15-20% decline in irrigated acreage statewide by 2050, with a 22-32% decline in the South Platte Basin over the same period. “Buying and drying” of agricultural water rights has already devastated some rural communities, and most stakeholders agree that this should be minimized in the future.

If not from agriculture, then where? East Slope Roundtables have been arguing for the need to preserve the option to develop additional West Slope water supplies. West Slope Roundtables point to environmental and economic impacts already felt from the roughly 500,000 acre-feet/year already transferred across the divide each year. More than 60% of the natural flows of the Upper Colorado River above Kremmling, for example, are diverted to the Front Range, impacting both Grand County building permits and gold medal trout streams.

Another concern is that increased depletions from the Colorado River and its tributaries would increase the risk of failing to meet legal obligations to downstream states. If downstream flow obligations are not met, water rights junior to the 1922 Compact between Upper Colorado River Basin states (Colorado, Utah, New Mexico and Wyoming) and Lower Colorado River Basin States (Arizona, Nevada and California) on how to share the river could be curtailed. If that means cutting off urban taps, it could set off a mad scramble for senior agricultural water rights on the West Slope.

Of course, neither drying up irrigated agriculture nor putting another straw into the Colorado Basin would be necessary if urban users reduced their consumption sufficiently. But how to achieve that isn’t easy either. Updated fixtures and education campaigns are a good start, but conserving enough to eliminate the need for other water sources would likely be impossible without the broad application of land-use and landscaping restrictions that may not be politically palatable.

There are no easy answers to the state’s large-scale water challenges. Creative solutions are needed to find more “win-win” solutions, with less of a need for losers – but hard choices may still need to be made. The more people that contribute their insights and opinions, the better the chances are that the final plan will fully reflect Colorado’s water values.

To begin contributing your insights to your Basin Roundtable and the CWCB, fill out this quick survey: https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/ColoBasinPlanValues.

If you want to get a little more background first, check out the new Colorado Water Plan website at http://www.coloradowaterplan.com/.

More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.


Ute Water Conservancy District: Water Rates and Tap Fees Approved for 2014

November 23, 2013
Bicycling the Colorado National Monument, Grand Valley in the distance via Colorado.com

Bicycling the Colorado National Monument, Grand Valley in the distance via Colorado.com

Here’s the release from the Ute Water Conservancy District (Joseph R. Burtard):

Ute Water Conservancy District’s 14 Member Board of Directors voted unanimously to raise the District’s water rates and tap fees for 2014. Ute Water provides domestic water to over 80,000 people in Mesa County, making it the largest domestic water provider between Denver, Colorado and Salt Lake City, Utah.

The District completed a Raw Water Study in 2011 which identified future water needs based on the estimated population growth and multi-year drought protection in the Grand Valley. This study projected that by 2045, Ute Water will be serving a population of 197,000 consumers. In order to meet the projected demands of 80 gallons per capita per day, the District will need 21,400 acre-feet of additional water supply. The District’s Board has taken a proactive approach, based on the outcome of the study, to insure that appropriate infrastructure, technology and raw water supply will be in place to meet future domestic water demands in the Grand Valley.

The District entered into a Financial Agreement, earlier this year, with the United States Department of the Interior Bureau of Reclamation to purchase water stored in Ruedi Reservoir. This agreement initiated the largest single water purchase the District has made in its 57-year history. This Financial Agreement allowed Ute Water to purchase 12,000 acre-foot of water from Ruedi Reservoir for $1,297.90 an acre-foot. “The District will utilize this water as a reliable insurance policy for the Grand Valley. An investment that will allow the District to meet the future water needs of the Grand Valley while giving us a dependable source of water during drought conditions.” stated Joseph Burtard, spokesperson for Ute Water. Ruedi Reservoir is a 102,000 acre-feet reservoir which sits 15 miles above the town of Basalt, Colorado. Ruedi was constructed in 1968 as part of the Federal Reclamation’s “Fryingpan-Arkansas Project”.

Ute Water utilizes a full-cost pricing approach when evaluating water rates each year. The District’s primary source of revenue is water sales. The revenue from water sales are expected to cover all operations, maintenance and the replacement cost of the existing infrastructure while preparing for the future demands and upgrades to the system. “Purchasing Ruedi water was a major capital investment for the District. As a result, our water rates and tap fees had to be evaluated and aligned with our operational costs and targeted reserves.” stated Burtard. The new water rate increases the $17.00 minimum, for the first 3,000 gallons of water, to a $19.00 minimum. The minimum water rate for all other tap sizes will also increase proportionally. Customers using over 3,000 gallons in a billing cycle will see a $.10 increase in each of the tiers. The new water rates will be for water delivered in December 2013 and billed after January 1, 2014. Effective January 1, 2014, the District’s tap fees will increase from $6,500 to $6,700.

For additional information on Ute Water’s rate increase, please contact Joseph Burtard at Ute Water Conservancy District at (970) 242-7491 or visit the District’s website at http://www.utewater.og.

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Duffy Hayes):

For the second year in a row, Ute Water users will see an uptick in the amount they pay for the service. Ute Water’s board unanimously adopted an increase in the district’s water rates at a recent meeting, similar to a rise in rates last year. Both increases are being attributed to a recent $15.5 million purchase of more than 12,000 acre-feet of water from Ruedi Reservoir near Aspen.

“We were trying to build up our reserves to purchase Ruedi (last year), and now that we have purchased it, we kind of need to replenish those reserves for capital projects,” said Joe Burtard, external affairs manager for the Ute Water Conservancy District. He further called the Ruedi purchase a “hidden gem” in terms of the cost of the purchase as compared with others in the industry.

In practical terms, Ute Water customers who use less than 3,000 gallons a month will see their bill go from $17 to $19. For larger-scale users, $.10 will be added to the cost per tier of usage, officials said.

Ute’s tiered system of billing for higher-use customers is in place for a reason, Burtard said.

“That’s our way of enforcing conservation. We do have a fairly aggressive rate structure, but that’s because we live in a desert, and we don’t want people using treated water for outdoor use,” he said.

The rate increase will happen for water delivered in December, appearing on users’ January billing statements. Also after the first of the year, tap fees will go up $200 to $6,700.

In announcing the rate hike, Ute said that a 2011 study pegged the district’s future customer base at 197,000 customers by 2045, up significantly from the 80,000 people it serves today.

The Ruedi water sale represented the largest single purchase made by the district over its entire 57-year history, according to a press release.

More infrastructure coverage here.


The #ColoradoRiver Cooperative Agreement is now fully executed

November 21, 2013
Colorado River Cooperative Agreement Map

Colorado River Cooperative Agreement Map via the Colorado River District

From the Colorado River District:

The Colorado River Cooperative Agreement (CRCA) is now fully executed with final approval coming from irrigators and water suppliers in the Grand Valley, General Counsel Peter Fleming reported to the Colorado River District Board of Directors.

The CRCA creates a long-term partnership between Denver Water and 42 entities on the West Slope. The agreement is a framework for numerous actions by the parties to benefit water supply, water quality, recreation and the environment on both sides of the Continental Divide.

It is the direct result of Denver Water’s desire to expand its Moffat Tunnel transmountain water supply from the Fraser River in Grand County and to enlarge Gross Reservoir in Boulder County. While that project is still being permitted, the CRCA represents an enhancement of beneficial actions beyond mitigation yet to be spelled out in the record of decision.

Negotiations on the CRCA concluded in early 2011 and the engaged parties began their approvals. The Grand Valley entities, however, waited until they were satisfied that federal and state reviews of Green Mountain Reservoir and Shoshone Hydro Plant aspects in the agreement were finished and the agreement could be implemented as envisioned.

The CRCA also means the West Slope will not oppose permitting of the Moffat Project. [ed. emphasis mine]

The Colorado River Cooperative Agreement (CRCA) begins a long-term partnership between Denver Water and the West Slope. The agreement is a framework for numerous actions by the parties to benefit water supply, water quality, recreation, and the environment on both sides of the Continental Divide.

More Colorado River Cooperative Agreement coverage here.


Pipeline from the Missouri River to supplement #ColoradoRiver Basin supplies?

November 12, 2013

From Circle of Blue (Brett Walton):

“We created the largest artificial watershed in the world,” says Pat Mulroy, the powerful head of the Southern Nevada Water Authority, a wholesaler that supplies Las Vegas.

Water from the Colorado River is piped across deserts, channeled through mountains, and — after being treated in local sewage plants — winds up in rivers that flow to the southern ends of the country:

  • Some of New Mexico’s share goes into the Rio Grande, eventually flowing south and east through Texas and into the Gulf of Mexico.
  • What Denver returns to nature flows into the South Platte, a tributary of the Missouri River.
  • The coastal cities of Southern California dump a good bit of their diversion into the Pacific Ocean.

None of these water bodies is the logical end of the line for the Colorado River, whose natural terminus is a delta at the northern crook of the Gulf of California. A delta that is, ironically, all dried up…

The river’s web, if some have their way, could become even larger. John Kaufman, the man who proposed the Missouri River pipeline, wants to see the artificial boundaries expand. Kaufman is the general manager of Leavenworth Water, which serves 50,000 people in a town that welcomed Lewis and Clark in 1804 during the duo’s westward exploration.

The identity of the pipeline’s proponent, who was anonymous during the Bureau of Reclamation study and is for the first time being named in the media, is important because of where he lives — outside of the natural Colorado River Basin, or in the extended web.

In Kaufman’s vision, Kansas becomes a hydrological keystone for the West, facilitating water transfers that could affect at least 10 states and Mexico.

“We’d hopscotch water across Kansas and sell it to communities in the state,” Kaufman told me during a phone interview last month, explaining the benefit to his home territory. Construction of the pipeline would also supply jobs to Leavenworth, where the intake facilities would be located. At least one groundwater district in western Kansas is advocating for a similar concept, a Missouri River pipeline to the High Plains to compensate for declines in the Ogallala Aquifer, an essential source for irrigation. Kaufman has presented his idea to state and local officials several times this year.

Once the water flows past Kansas, “it’s a horse trade,” Kaufman said. Water delivered to the Front Range would be earmarked for the South Platte River Basin, which includes Denver. (The South Platte, remember, is part of the Missouri River Basin.) A pipeline would close the circle, sending South Platte water, via the Missouri, back uphill. Of course a few drops of the Colorado would be in the pipe, too.

“It’s a reuse project, really,” said Kaufman, who serves on Kansas governor Sam Brownback’s Missouri River advisory committee…

Then there are the swaps. Front Range cities get roughly 72 percent of their supplies from the Colorado River, according to a 2009 study commissioned by the Front Range Water Council. If water from the Missouri were imported, then some of the trans-Rocky diversions could remain within the Colorado River Basin.

Kaufman’s idea — he calls it the Eisenhower Pipeline, in honor of the sponsor of the interstate highway system, which got its start in Kansas — was included in the Bureau of Reclamation’s final report, but top federal officials distanced themselves from the project, once word leaked a few days before the report’s official release last December.

“In my view, [water import] solutions are impractical and not feasible,” said Ken Salazar, Secretary of the Interior at the time. The study actually gave the pipeline high marks for technical feasibility, but the $US 8.6 billion price tag and the high energy costs pushed the pipeline to the bottom of the pile. Conservation was the big winner, deemed to be significantly cheaper and able to deliver more water.

Kaufman knows the scheme is expensive, which is why he says that he needs financial buy-in from the states in the Colorado’s Lower Basin and cooperative agreements among all the Basin states in order to shuffle water supplies.

“It’s not about providing water to the Front Range,” he said. “It’s about providing water to the West.”

More Missouri River Basin coverage here and here.


2013 Yampa Basin Water Forum recap

November 12, 2013
Yampa River Basin via the Colorado Geological Survey

Yampa River Basin via the Colorado Geological Survey

From Steamboat Today (Michael Schrantz):

At the Community Alliance of the Yampa Valley’s 2013 Yampa Basin Water Forum, [Diane Mitsch Bush] and fellow presenters Kent Vertrees, Kevin McBride and Jay Gallagher talked through the issues and challenges ahead for the state as it races to meet the December 2014 deadline set out by Gov. John Hickenlooper’s executive order for a state water plan draft. Vertrees is a member of the Yampa/White Basin Roundtable, Gallagher represents the Yampa-White River Basin on the Colorado Water Conservation Board, McBride is on the board of the 2013 Colorado Water Congress, and Mitsch Bush serves on state house committees that oversee water issues. All four represent the interests of the Yampa River Basin in the complicated confluence of water and policy.

Their presentation Monday night at Bud Werner Memorial Library briefed attendees on geology, hydrology and water law as it applies to the Yampa River and Colorado.

The Yampa River, being largely a wild river with a natural hydrograph, is an anomaly among Colorado rivers, and as multiple members of the panel pointed out, that gives the basin a chance to buck the constraints of other basins across the state.

The amount of water in the Yampa River Basin is large compared to other basins, McBride said…

There’s pieces of Colorado water law that would push the Yampa toward developing the same constraints faced in the South Platte River Basin, McBride said, but there’s also opportunity to do something different.

There are many constraints on the future water plan outlined in the presentation, such as highly variable annual flows, climate change, existing water laws and interstate and international agreements, local control and balancing the impact on existing uses and future growth.

There are interests on the Front Range that would look to the Yampa as a reservoir for their needs, Mitsch Bush said, and if consensus can’t be reached with them, the Western Slope will have to stand by its interests…

“Here in Northwest Colorado, we can have that wild river in some ways,” Vertrees said about the best case scenario from the state water plan. “We can have smart storage. We can continue to provide for agriculture needs.”

More Yampa River Basin coverage here and here.


Statewide Water Plan: ‘We’ve been punched in the face repeatedly [In water fights]‘ — Steve Acquafresca

November 8, 2013

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Gary Harmon):

Colorado can get some of the best of two water worlds, the head of the state agency in charge of water said Thursday. A state water plan can protect private property rights and make it possible for state action, said James Eklund, director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board, at the Upper Colorado River Basin Water Conference at Colorado Mesa University.

West Slope water agencies, however, are likely to be skeptical about any effort ostensibly aimed at a statewide approach to water planning, Mesa County Commissioner Steve Acquafresca responded.

“We’ve been punched in the face repeatedly” in water fights, Acquafresca said.

Even now, the phrase “state water plan” is being interpreted on the Front Range to mean another transmountain diversion and West Slope water agencies will keep that in mind as they join in talks on a water plan, Acquafresca said,

Eklund, whose family settled in Mesa County in the late-1800s, conceded that skepticism is to be expected.

“I totally get that,” Eklund said. “But we don’t want to have the Bureau (of Reclamation) try to write a statewide plan for us” as it tried to do in 1974, Eklund said.

A statewide water plan, Eklund said, will be a flexible document, able to be adjusted every three to five years reflecting the changing dynamics of water in the state.

In any case, Colorado needs to get its house in order before it can confront the challenges of the other states whose water use is governed by the 1922 compact that outlined management of the Colorado River from Colorado high country to the Sea of Cortez.

Any water-plan mandate from Denver would be “anathema” to the rest of the state, Eklund said, calling for both sides of the Continental Divide to work cooperatively.

“We have to align our efforts to achieve the Colorado we want to see in 20 years,” Eklund said.

More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.


Colorado-Big Thompson Project is in much better shape than last year thanks to September rains

November 8, 2013
Colorado-Big Thompson Project Map via Northern Water

Colorado-Big Thompson Project Map via Northern Water

From The Greeley Tribune (Eric Brown):

It’s still several months away, but Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District officials already know they’ll have a better water situation for next year’s growing season than they did this year. Northern Water’s Colorado-Big Thompson Project, which is the region’s largest water-supply project, took in far more water than normal during September and October, thanks to the abundance of moisture that fell on the region.

The C-BT’s four West Slope reservoirs (there are 12 reservoirs all together, stretching from the West Slope to the Front Range foothills) took in about 31,000 acre-feet of water during those two months. That’s the second-best water intake for those four reservoirs (which make up about half of the C-BT’s total storage capacity) during September and October in the 56-year history of the project, according to Andy Pineda, the Water Resources Department manager at Northern Water, who spoke at Northern Water’s Fall Water Users Meeting on Wednesday. That recent abundance of moisture leaves the C-BT’s collective reservoir levels much better than they’ve been in recent months, and that’s good news for the region.

C-BT water flows to more than 640,000 acres of irrigated farm and ranch land, and to about 860,000 people in portions of eight counties in north and northeast Colorado, according to Northern Water numbers. Since the C-BT Project went into use in 1957, the Northern Water board has set a quota every year in April to balance how much water in the system could be used by cities and farmers through the growing season and how much water needed to stay in storage for future years. In nearly all years, the board can set a quota of 100 percent — although it rarely does — and still have at least some water in storage for the following years. However, this past April, a quota of 87 percent would have depleted everything in the C-BT Project’s reservoirs. C-BT reservoir levels were historically low after stored water had been used heavily to get through the 2012 drought. Additionally, snowpack in the mountains was limited at the time. The only other year the board had been so limited in setting its April quota was in 2003 — following the historic drought year of 2002.

But next April, the Northern Water board won’t face such a predicament. Pineda said Wednesday the Northern Water board right now could set a quota of 108 percent before depleting the system — and that’s before snow rolls into the mountains this winter and spring. That snow will eventually melt and dump even more water into the reservoirs.

Each year, winter and spring snowpack plays the biggest role in determining how much water will be available for farmers and cities during the next growing season. The historic average for the C-BT quota has been just above 70 percent. A 70 percent quota means that for every acre-foot of water a C-BT shareholder owns, they’ll get 70 percent of an acre-foot to use throughout the year. An acre-foot is approximately 326,000 gallons of water.

Last year, with supplies limited, the Northern Water board set its quota at a below-average 60 percent.


Southern Delivery System: Construction starting up on the Juniper pump station

October 30, 2013
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):

There’s room in a $900 million water pipeline project for all sorts of businesses. Even brick-makers.

Joe Welte, whose grandfather founded Summit Brick and Tile in Pueblo in 1902, gave a brief account of his family’s business at Tuesday’s celebration for local contractors who have worked on the Southern Delivery System. The event also marked the beginning of work on the Juniper Pump Station, the final piece of SDS construction in Pueblo County. He concluded with a story about his brother Tom’s visit to an elementary school, where he asked students to build a wall using either klinkers — bricks deformed by heat — or straight bricks. The students chose straight bricks, saying the wall would tumble with klinkers on the foundation.

“Whether you are starting an education, planning your life or building for our water future, make sure that you use straight brick at the bottom,” Welte said.

Summit Brick is one of about 100 local companies that are benefiting from contracts for SDS, a water delivery pipeline from Pueblo Dam to Colorado Springs that also benefits Pueblo West. Its part is relatively small: 50,000 4-by-4-by-12-inch bricks for the facade of the Juniper Pump Station, which amounts to about two days’ production.

“With the downturn in the economy, this came at a good time,” Welte said.

The bricks played a symbolic role at Tuesday’s event, as representatives of local companies build a wall and received commemorative bricks — made in Pueblo County, of course.

The largest amount of local contracts went to ASI Constructors, which holds three contracts for $50 million. The company builds dams and other water projects all over the world.

“It’s not often that we get to participate in a project of this magnitude in our own backyard,” ASI President John Bowen said.

He touted the safety of the project, 68,000 man-hours without a lost-time accident, and economic benefit, $800,000 in wages, for his company alone.

Government officials from both El Paso and Pueblo counties, including newly elected state Sens. George Rivera of Pueblo and Bernie Herpin of Colorado Springs, attended the event as well.

From the Colorado Springs Independent (Pam Zubeck):

On Tuesday, the city kicked off construction of the Juniper pump station not far from the outlet from the dam that was built earlier as part of SDS. It’s one of three pump stations that, according to Colorado Springs Utilities, represent some of the largest components of the project; cumulatively, they’ll cost $76.5 million. A third of that will go to Colorado contractors. The prime contractor is Archer Western Constructors of Arlington, Texas.

To update, here are some notes on SDS’ progress, provided by Springs Utilities:

• The SDS pump stations will move water 1,500 feet in elevation from Pueblo Dam to the new water treatment plant under construction in El Paso County. At full capacity, SDS will be able to transport up to 96 million gallons of water per day (MGD) – 18 MGD to Pueblo West and the remaining 78 MGD to the El Paso County partner communities of Colorado Springs, Security and Fountain.

• Garney Construction of Kansas City, Mo., is installing a 0.3-mile, 90-inch-diameter pipeline that will link Pueblo Dam to the Pueblo West Metropolitan District and other project partners. After Colorado Springs, Pueblo West is the second leading beneficiary of the SDS project.

• Major SDS construction work commenced in Pueblo County in 2011 with the start of the new connection to Pueblo Dam. Since then 18 miles of pipe have been installed in Pueblo County and a total of 42 total miles installed project-wide. Recently, the SDS pipeline construction project through Pueblo West was recognized by Engineering News Record as the Best Water Project in 2013 for the mountain states region.

• Construction of the nearly $1 billion project is resulting in significant benefits to the local economy. To date, more than 300 companies and organizations in Colorado have helped plan and construct SDS, including 100 in Pueblo County. Of the more than $362 million spent to plan and build SDS, more than $289 million has gone to Colorado companies.

From The Colorado Springs Gazette:

When complete, the Juniper water pump station in Pueblo will have many motors and one of them will have the horsepower of four Formula 1 racing cars.

It will need it to pump water 1,500 feet in elevation from Pueblo Reservoir to Pueblo West, Fountain, Security and Colorado Springs. Juniper station at Lake Pueblo State Park will be one of three water pump stations needed to move up to 96 million gallons of water up hill 53 miles in the Colorado Springs Utilities’ Southern Delivery System pipeline…

The entire $1 billion project is expected to be completed by April 2016 and could pump 5 million gallons daily at first but with eventual capacity to pump up to 96 million gallons daily.

From the Colorado Springs Business Journal (Rebecca Tonn):

The Southern Delivery System starts construction of the Juniper Pump Station at Lake Pueblo State Park and the last remaining section of pipeline in Pueblo County on [October 29, 2013]. Area businesses that will perform work or provide materials to build SDS components in the county will participate in a brick-laying ceremony, from 2 – 3 p.m.

More Southern Delivery System coverage here and here.


Denver Water’s system is at 96% of capacity after the very wet September

October 24, 2013
Denver Water Collection System via Denver Water

Denver Water Collection System via Denver Water

From the Summit Daily News (Joe Moylan):

On Tuesday, Jim Lochhead, CEO and manager of Denver Water, met with the Summit Board of County Commissioners during a workshop in Frisco. Lochhead provided the commissioners with an update on Denver Water’s service system following September’s historic flooding on the Front Range.

Although Lochhead said the system worked “perfectly” in the sense that service to customers was not interrupted and no dams were breached during the flood, Denver Water sustained $15 million to $20 million in damage to roads, exposed conduits and one of its gravel pits located near the South Platte River.

Despite the damage, and Denver Water’s commitment to assist its partner communities in recovering from flood damage, Lochhead said there is a silver lining to take away from the event. According to the most recent reports, Denver Water’s reserves, which consist of 15 fully or partially owned reservoirs across more than 4,000 square miles of watershed in eight counties, is at 96 percent capacity.

Update: Stacy Chesney sent a correction via email:

The story states: “Gross Reservoir near Boulder, for example, increased in capacity by 26 acre-feet as a result of the flooding, Lochhead said.” As a result of the storms, Gross Reservoir gained 7,600 acre-feet of water and went up in elevation by 19.6 feet. This equates to an increase in storage of about 26 percent.

Gross Reservoir near Boulder, for example, increased in capacity by 26 acre-feet as a result of the flooding, Lochhead said. Gross Reservoir’s capacity is 41,811 acre-feet, according to Denver Water’s website.

Lake Dillon, Denver Water’s largest reservoir at 257,304 acre-feet, also is reporting some of its highest seasonal levels in history, Lochhead said.

But the increased water capacity presents a handful of short-term challenges, Lochhead said, including spring water management should the High Country receive dense snowpack this winter. All of its water comes from mountain snowmelt, according to the Denver Water website.

More important, however, is the fact that the recent increase in capacity does little to ease future water shortage concerns as Denver, the Front Range and the rest of Colorado continue to grow in population…

Lochhead’s idea is fairly simple — encourage upward, rather than outward growth along the Front Range and the challenges surrounding water conservation will begin to remedy themselves.

For example, a single-family home with a garden in Denver uses the same amount of water as a four-unit building constructed on a similar-sized lot, he said. However, much of the growth on the Front Range is sprawling away from urban centers; meeting growing water needs is only exacerbated by the current trend of purchasing or building single-family homes on quarter-acre lots.

It’s a type of growth that is unsustainable not only in terms of water use, Lochhead said, but also in terms of providing services, such as transportation and energy delivery, because property tax revenue cannot meet the needs that come with a sprawling population.

More Denver Water coverage here.


October 21 is the anniversary of the approval of the Mancos Project

October 22, 2013
Jackson Gulch Dam photo via USBR

Jackson Gulch Dam photo via USBR

Click here to visit the Bureau of Reclamation Mancos Project website.

More Mancos River Watershed coverage here and here.


Lake Powell: ‘It can’t be considered a reliable source of water anymore’ — John Weisheit #ColoradoRiver

October 15, 2013
Monkey Wrench Gang cover via The Tattered Cover Denver

Monkey Wrench Gang

Ken Sleight the original Monkey Wrencher photo via Salon

Ken Sleight the original Monkey Wrencher photo via Salon

Here’s an in-depth look at the movement to decommission Glen Canyon Dam from Brandon Loomis writing for Arizona Central. Click through and read the whole article and check out the photos. Here’s an excerpt:

Two men sat beside the Colorado River at Lees Ferry slugging Coors and stoking a “probably illegal” fire into the morning, cooking up a dream that would infuse both their lives’ quixotic work.

The new friends shared a brainstorm for a bold plan, which a sly smile from one of them 4-1/2 decades later indicates was only half-bluster:

Let’s get rid of Glen Canyon Dam.

It was a radical idea that got them proudly labeled as “kooky.” Today, for everyone from government water managers to university professors to wakeboarders, the concept is at least as wild now that the thirsty Southwest has grown up. But some people still sit around dreaming of draining Lake Powell, and a few think science is on their side…

If this sounds like the plot of a suspense novel, it kind of is. [Ken Sleight’s] campfire companion was Edward Abbey, who had by then written his “Desert Solitaire” memoir but not “The Monkey Wrench Gang.” That 1975 novel envisioned a handful of saboteurs battling the West’s creeping industrialism and working for Glen Canyon Dam’s demise. Abbey died in 1989…

Sleight became the inspiration for the book’s big-eared, Jack Mormon river runner, “Seldom Seen Smith,” and to this day, he remains committed to the cause. He has filed lawsuits and staged rallies, and he still believes. Maybe, he said, the current drought will persuade water managers to drain Powell so they can fill Lake Mead, the critical trough for big population centers downstream of the Grand Canyon.

“I’m on the threshold of going,” he said of his mortality. “But I always wanted to see that water flowing freely.”[...]

For technical expertise, Sleight defers to John Weisheit, a fellow Moab environmentalist with the Living Rivers group. Weisheit notes that Powell is less than half-full, its water level is dropping, and it is projected to have larger swings in water level as climate change takes hold. The government could restore the river’s — and the Grand Canyon’s — ecological health by draining Powell and still could fill Lake Mead, he said.

“It can’t be considered a reliable source of water anymore,” Weisheit said of Lake Powell. “Send (the water) down to the place it’s been going for 6 million years, which is the Gulf of California,” he said of excess water that Mead could not hold…

To some grappling with the Southwest’s water future, dam removal is inconceivable.

“It’s a non-starter,” said Dave White, co-director of Arizona State University’s Decision Center for a Desert City, which studies water-sustainability options to deal with climate change. “(There is) zero probability of removing either Glen Canyon or Hoover.”

The reason is that those dams, after a wet-weather cycle, can capture and store four years of river flows to dole out during drought.

“(Dam removal) would be fairly catastrophic,” White said. “We have too much demand on an annual basis to be met by the natural in-flow of the river.”

Even without accounting for climate change, he said, the Bureau of Reclamation’s water-supply study found that population growth in coming decades would suck Lake Mead to below 1,000feet in elevation in 7percent of the years. That elevation is low enough to trigger a water shortage and rationing among the states — something that has never happened. The lake’s current elevation is about 1,107feet. Farm fields across the Sonoran Desert, which currently use the majority of Arizona’s Colorado River water, could go fallow…

Floods that could destroy Glen Canyon Dam have occurred more commonly than was assumed 50 years ago. “Nature will decide when this is a problem and how much of a problem it is, but there are data that were not available when Glen Canyon was designed,” Baker said. “Dams are things that last for 100 years, but they don’t last forever.”[...]

…activist Sleight said much of the area can be as beautiful as he remembers. Some of the side canyons already have responded to the lower water level. He remembered a trip to Davis Gulch in the 1990s, the last time the water neared this low point. New cottonwoods were growing.

“The main canyon is going to take years and years — 100years — to come back,” Sleight said. “Maybe it’ll never come back. But the side canyons, they will come back. They’re flushed out by floods.”

Paul Ostapuk, a reservoir booster with the group Friends of Lake Powell, hopes it never comes to that. He imagines dredging, sediment bypasses and other fixes keeping the dam functional for 1,500 years. Even then, he said, the mud piling up behind the dam may have built up to become prime soil for a farming boom.

“I see Lake Powell never really going away,” Ostapuk said.

From USA Today (Brandon Loomis):

Paul Ostapuk of Page and a Friends of Lake Powell member sees it differently. Pacific Ocean patterns dictate snowfall cycles that feed the Colorado River, and they have swung wildly before. Ostapuk finds it ironic that those who swore high water would topple the dam in the early 1980s when huge releases of water dangerously ripped rock from dam-bypass tunnels now are saying drought spells doom.

“It’s hard for me to believe that right at 2000, when (Lake Powell was) basically full, that a permanent climate switch happened,” he said. “Don’t give up on the Colorado River. It could come roaring back, and I think people will be surprised how much water comes down.”

The river is erratic, draining anywhere from 5 million acre-feet in a drought year to 20 million after an epic winter. Each acre-foot supplies roughly enough water for two households for a year. Without both Lake Mead and Lake Powell, Ostapuk said a water shortage already would be drying up Arizona farms. California has older, superior rights to Colorado River water that would trump Arizona’s during a crisis.

“You have to have the ability to catch the wet years, so you can ration it out in the lean times,” he said. “If you’d only had Lake Mead (during the current drought), it would be totally empty. Lake Powell’s what’s getting us through this.”

The Bureau of Reclamation concurs. It calls Lake Powell critical to the mix of water-supply options already projected to fall short — barring extensive conservation and reuse efforts — during the coming half century.

“Drawing down Lake Powell would result in reduced yield to the system,” bureau spokeswoman Lisa Iams said in an e-mail. “Losses due to evaporation would increase if additional water currently stored in Lake Powell were released to Mead,” because Mead is at a lower, hotter elevation.”[...]

Below the dam, the aquatic legacy is mixed. Water gushing through the hydropower turbines comes from deep in the reservoir is colder than native fishes such as the endangered humpback chub evolved to withstand. As chubs and other species declined downstream in the Grand Canyon, non-native cold-water trout thrived and created Arizona’s finest trophy rainbow fishery at Lees Ferry.

The dam also blocked the sand that had flowed through the canyon for ages, altering fish and wildlife habitat while depleting beaches river rafters use. Smaller beaches support less windblown sand to root mesquites and other vegetation, or to cover and preserve archaeological sites from erosion.

“The Colorado River Storage Project Act passed in ’56, and the big dam-building era was on us,” said Jan Balsom, Grand Canyon National Park’s deputy chief of resource management. “It wasn’t until years later that we realized what was happening environmentally.”[...]

Visitors to Glen Canyon National Recreation Area pump some $400 million into northern Arizona and southern Utah, according to Friends of Lake Powell. That figure is similar to a $380 million estimate that Northern Arizona University researchers made in 1999.

The dam generates hydropower to supply cooperatives that have 4 million customers spread from Arizona to Wyoming. It generates less power now when the water is low.

The dam has eight turbine units, each capable of producing 165 megawatts. A single megawatt is enough to power 250 homes at a given moment.

But that capacity is available only when the reservoir is full. Plant supervisor Roger Williams said the water pressure now yields 135 megawatts per unit. Another water-level drop of 100 feet and the dam would have to cease hydropower production or risk damage to the turbines. By that time, the units would be producing just 75 megawatts apiece.

These economic drivers are apart from the development and crops grown through the reservoir’s water deliveries, or its cooling of the nearby Navajo Generating Station, the West’s largest coal-fired power plant.

Growing awareness of the damage to the Grand Canyon led to an environmental-protection act in 1992, mandating dam releases that take river ecology into account.

Since then, the Interior Department has sought to restore something of the river’s past characteristics. Since 1996, and most recently last fall, the department has loosed four huge water flushes from the dam to mimic historic floods and churn up sandbars…

Rafters who don’t mind starting below the dam have an argument for corralling the Colorado. The dam evens out the peak flows each spring and keeps the river a little higher through fall, said Korey Seyler of Colorado River Discovery tours in Page. He has paying customers March through November.

Without the dam? He figures he would close shop in September when river rocks emerged.

Ostapuk, the Friends of Lake Powell member, said Glen Canyon remains wild, with uncrowded side canyons requiring no permit to explore.

“It’s just pure, raw adventure out there,” Ostapuk said.

Fifty years after that last bucket of concrete, when Page Mayor Diak stops to look at the dam and the high-voltage lines spreading from it across the Colorado Plateau, he still sees the future. Whether building a dam here was ideal is now pointless to argue, he said.

“You can’t live in the 15th century and expect to have the things that we have now,” Diak said.

More Colorado River Basin coverage here and here.


Ruedi Reservoir’s $34 million debt repaid; water secured for Western Colorado

October 2, 2013
Ruedi Dam and Reservoir -- Photo via USBR

Ruedi Dam and Reservoir — Photo via USBR

Here’s the release from the Colorado River District (Jim Pokrandt):

The outstanding $34 million construction debt on Ruedi Reservoir has been paid to the federal government and 19,585 acre-feet of previously uncontracted water supply in the 102,000-acre-foot reservoir is secure for the future of Western Colorado.

The debt was due in 2019 and uncertainty about paying it cast a shadow over how the uncontracted water in the reservoir – intended to benefit Western Colorado –would be used.

To solve the problem, the Colorado River District for the last two years solicited West Slope interest in the remaining water and put together a package agreement with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, owner and operator of the reservoir straddling the Eagle-Pitkin county line.

Seventeen entities, including the Colorado River District, stepped up, cumulatively committing to the purchase of all the uncontracted water and full repayment of the outstanding debt. The Ute Water Conservancy District, the Grand Valley’s largest water provider, secured the greatest amount: 12,000 acre-feet at a cost of $15.5 million. The Colorado River District contracted for 4,683.5 acre-feet, at a cost of $6 million. The cost per acre-foot was roughly $1,290. An acre-foot is equal to 325,851 gallons of water and is enough water to supply two to four family households for one year.

Other entities contracting for water include:

Wildcat Ranch Homeowners Association: 50 acre-feet
Mid Valley Metro District: 100 acre-feet
Crown Mountain Park Recreation District: 62 acre-feet
Owl Creek Ranch Homeowners Association: 15 acre-feet
Town of Palisade: 200 acre-feet
Snowmass Water and Sanitation District: 500 acre-feet
Town of De Beque: 25 acre-feet
Basalt Water Conservancy District: 300 acre-feet
Garfield County: 400 acre-feet
City of Aspen: 400 acre-feet
W/J Metro District: 100 acre-feet
Summit County: 330 acre-feet
Elk Wallow Ranch LLC: 30 acre-feet
Wildcat Reservoir Co.: 140 acre-feet
Town of Carbondale: 250 acre-feet

Ruedi Reservoir is the West Slope mitigation for the federal Fryingpan-Arkansas Project, which diverts water from the Fryingpan River and Hunter Creek headwaters across the Continental Divide to the Arkansas River Basin. The debt started at $9.3 million when the Bureau of Reclamation completed the reservoir in the early 1970s. It ballooned to $34 million as the government added unpaid interest and operational expenses to the principal – because of unsold water. Absent a deal, the debt would have gone up at an ever-escalating rate.

Ordinarily, Reclamation reservoirs are approved in connection with an entity to pay for its share of the project. In Ruedi’s case, the 1960s-era deal foresaw an oil shale boom and other energy demands as the means to pay the construction debt, which had not resulted in a full demand for Ruedi water.

“This is an important milestone for water supply challenges on the West Slope,” said Dan Birch, the Colorado River District Deputy General Manager who spearheaded the agreement. “Water planners who are expected to provide water at the tap every time it is turned on do not like uncertainty about the future. This removes the significant shadow of doubt over Ruedi. As Colorado’s population continues to grow, this helps 17 water suppliers know where their future supplies will come from.”

Birch pointed out that the water in Ruedi will be largely a backup supply for very dry years. Streamflows in the Fryingpan and Roaring Fork Rivers will look much as they do today.

Birch added, “We could not have accomplished this without the great help and expertise of Lee Leavenworth, the former special counsel to the Colorado River District and other water users.

More Fryingpan-Arkansas Project coverage here.


Federal Dam operations will march on during the shutdown

October 1, 2013
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):

Federal operation of dams and power plants that are part of the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project will continue during a federal shutdown. The Bureau of Reclamation controls storage and releases from Pueblo Dam, Twin Lakes, Turquoise Lake and Ruedi Reservoir as part of the project.

It also operates the Mount Elbert power plant located at Twin Lakes.

“All of the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project will continue to be operational,” said Kara Lamb, spokesman for the regional Bureau of Reclamation office.

More Fryingpan-Arkansas Project coverage here and here.


‘A moratorium [on RICDs] would have the effect of denigrating one class of water rights’ — Karen Stiegelmeier

September 29, 2013

New supply development concepts via east slope roundtables

New supply development concepts via east slope roundtables


Here’s a guest column running in The Pueblo Chieftain written by Karen Stiegelmeier:

Northern Colorado communities have been devastated by unprecedented storms and floods. While their long recovery process begins, Southern Colorado continues to suffer from years of drought. Governor Hickenlooper issued an executive order in May of this year directing the Colorado Water Conservation Board to prepare a Colorado water plan.

Although people say that “whiskey’s for drinking and water’s for fighting,” I believe that East Slope county and municipal officials, and those of us in the headwater communities of Colorado, share common values and responsibilities that are an important backdrop to the Colorado water plan effort. Regardless of the location, local government land-use planning and management decisions drive the demand for more water, local government entities are the major water providers, and local government regulatory powers extend to the location and construction of water projects that transfer water from one part of the state to another.

As elected officials, we all are charged with protecting public health, safety, welfare and the environment, and we should honor each other’s responsibility to do so. If not properly guided, the Colorado water plan runs the risk of driving a wedge between different areas of the state by allowing Front Range water supply needs to trump the local government plans in areas of the state that are targeted as the source to meet those needs.

Whether in the Arkansas Valley or the mountains of Colorado, communities already have engaged in extensive land-use planning and long-range water supply planning that should be honored in the Colorado Water Plan.

Some on the Front Range have called for new supply projects from the Colorado River basin to address the anticipated demand for water to supply new growth. We hope that the governor, the CWCB, and the advocates for new supply projects will consider the lost agricultural production, degraded fisheries and compromised wildlife habitat caused by existing transmountain diversions from the headwaters of the Colorado River.

These environmental impacts translate to socioeconomic impacts. Agricultural land stripped of water rights produces no revenue and alters the community fabric. Reduced stream flows means fewer recreational opportunities for rafting, kayaking and fishing. Higher water temperatures produce a danger to healthy fish populations and threaten the status of “Gold Medal” fisheries. Water quality and clarity degradation impacts tourism and property values. And reduced flushing flows increase the cost of water and wastewater treatment.

The Front Range also has proposed a moratorium on new applications for recreational in-channel diversion water rights until new supply projects have been identified. This is an alarming proposal for two reasons.

First, RICDs are water rights under Colorado water law. The Colorado Water Plan is designed to honor this law.

Second, RICDs are a critical economic development tool for communities that are lucky enough to be located along stretches of river conducive to rafting, kayaking and other water-based recreation.

A moratorium would have the effect of denigrating one class of water rights while elevating the desire for new growth on the Front Range over economic development plans of existing communities.

I propose that, in identifying future water supplies for a growing population, each water basin in the state will first consider how to fill those needs within its own basin before eyeing sources of water supply outside the basin. The Colorado Water Plan should identify processes and requirements for each basin to conserve, reuse and maximize in-basin water supply.

New development accommodating new population should use smart growth principles such as xeriscaping, water wise appliances, and cluster development so that our scarce water supply will be used efficiently, and agricultural lands can be protected for future generations if the landowner desires.

No water project should be supported by the state without the approval of the local government where it would be located.

More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.


Communities Protecting the Green is keeping a watchful eye on the Colorado-Wyoming Coalition #ColoradoRiver

September 27, 2013
Conceptual route for the Flaming Gorge Pipeline -- Graphic via Earth Justice

Conceptual route for the Flaming Gorge Pipeline — Graphic via Earth Justice

From The Green River Star (David Martin):

According to Don Hartley, a member of [Communities Protecting the Green], an organization known as the Colorado Wyoming Coalition is finishing a feasibility study involving the transfer of water from the Flaming Gorge. The coalition was originally known as the Parker Group, after the community in Colorado initially proposing the project, before it rebranded itself. According to a 2011 document titled “Flaming Gorge Investigation Status Report,” the municipal governments in Cheyenne and Torrington, along with the Laramie County government, are involved the coalition’s study to move water from the gorge to eastern Wyoming and northern Colorado.

The document states more than half a million people living in both states would be served by the project.

“It’s kind of slow right now, but things could get interesting once that study is completed,” Hartley said.

Hartley believes the study could be completed within a matter of weeks and said they need to be vigilant with the group because they pose the biggest threat to the river.

Hartley said the second issue on the horizon involves a state water plan under construction within the Colorado state government. One of the key issues Hartley and others at Communities Protecting the Green are watching involves the augmentation of the river to provide water to communities in Colorado.

More Flaming Gorge Pipeline coverage here and here.


Several El Paso County water suppliers are interested in Southern Delivery System deliveries

September 25, 2013
Southern Delivery System route map -- Graphic/Reclamation

Southern Delivery System route map — Graphic/USBR

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Even before a drop of water flows through Southern Delivery System, other El Paso County communities are making plans to hook up to the pipeline.

Donala Water & Sanitation District, which serves 2,600 people north of Colorado Springs plans to begin an environmental impact statement process with Bureau of Reclamation within the next two weeks in order to obtain a long-term storage contract in Lake Pueblo.

Cherokee Metro District, serving about 18,000 people in a community surrounded by Colorado Springs, wants to hook up to SDS in the future.

Those communities will be held to the same environmental commitments, including federal environmental review and stormwater management, under Pueblo County’s 1041 permit.

Donala purchased a ranch south of Leadville for its water rights in 2009, but will need SDS to deliver about 280 acrefeet annually — about 25 percent of its needs. “We have been talking to the city for years,” said Kip Peterson, manager of the Donala District. Donala already has a temporary contract in place to use Colorado Springs water delivery systems to deliver water from the ranch.

Stormwater controls are problematic, because 95 percent of the land in Donala already has been developed, but the district is looking at how to amend its plan to address stormwater, Peterson said.

Like Donala, Cherokee has a contract to buy water from or have its water delivered by Colorado Springs Utilities. Cherokee has a two-year lease from the Pueblo Board of Water Works. Cherokee gets most of its water from wells, but needs additional sources to round out its supply. “Unlike Donala, we don’t yet own any water we could store in Lake Pueblo,” said Sean Chambers, Cherokee manager.

But Cherokee is interested in using SDS for the long-term. Like Colorado Springs, it has some water and wastewater lines that cross Sand Creek, a tributary of Fountain Creek. Those would be held to the same level of scrutiny as Colorado Springs lines.

More Southern Delivery System coverage here and here.


Southern Delivery System update: North outlet works ready to roll, most of the pipe is in the ground

September 22, 2013
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):

A major water pipeline through Pueblo County has moved quickly since construction began two years ago. A connection at Pueblo Dam is complete, all but a fraction of Southern Delivery System pipeline is in the ground and work will start soon on the Juniper Pump Station, Colorado Springs Utilities officials told Pueblo County Commissioners last week.

“There has been significant progress on construction in Pueblo County,” said John Fredell, SDS program director for Utilities. That includes more than 18 miles of pipeline through Pueblo West and the northern part of Pueblo County on Walker Ranches.

Under the 1041 permit, Colorado Springs also has committed to spend at least $145 million in mitigation. About $42 million of that has been spent so far.

Commissioners are reviewing Colorado Springs commitments made under the 2009 1041 permit. Terry Hart, Sal Pace and Liane “Buffie” McFadyen all joined the board this year, and were not on the board when the permit was issued. Friday’s meeting was an opportunity for them to evaluate SDS compliance.

SDS also benefits Pueblo West, by more than doubling its water supply capacity and giving it another way to deliver water from Pueblo Dam.

“On our own, it would have been difficult to accomplish this,” Pueblo West Manager Jack Johnston told commissioners. “It’s been a $6 million cost to Pueblo West of a $30 million project.” Pueblo West now has a line that delivers 12 million gallons per day from the South Outlet Works. When SDS is complete, it will have another 18 million-gallon line from the new North Outlet Works. “Everything they committed to has been exceeded,” Johnston said.

Pueblo County staff has received quarterly and annual updates on compliance with the 1041 regulations, said Keith Riley, deputy program director for SDS. During the four-hour hearing there were some complaints from Pueblo West landowners about the way they have been treated as the pipeline crossed their property. But Riley pointed out that condemnation of property was a last resort, and some of the purchases of houses along the route provided materials for Habitat for Humanity and training opportunities for firefighters. Any large project is bound to leave some people unhappy, he said. “My heart goes out to those who have been (adversely) affected,” Riley told commissioners. “Our staff does care about landowners and we plan to respond to each point.”

Hart, who chairs the commission, said the county plans to see that Colorado Springs lives up to its commitment. “We’ve directed staff to match the comments we heard today with the conditions in the 1041 agreement and see if we can settle the differences,” Hart said.

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

While Colorado Springs officials painted a serene picture of compliance with Pueblo County 1041 permit conditions, local landowners offered different viewpoints. After listening to a presentation addressing major points of the Southern Delivery System by Colorado Springs Utilities staff, several people took issue with the rosy outlook.

Dwain Maxwell plopped down a 6-inchthick stack of paper and explained how a team of Colorado Springs lawyers outflanked him in court over what he says is a low-ball property appraisal for an easement on his property in Pueblo West.

LaVetta Kay told about how her complaints of workers trespassing on her property were disregarded by SDS management.

Engineer Laurie Clark showed photos of how large areas of pipeline revegetation areas on Walker Ranches have been washed out by relatively light summer storms.

Jane Rhodes talked about how unchecked flows on Fountain Creek continue to wash acres of her ranch land downstream. “I only have two acres, but they’re just as important to me as Gary Walker’s thousands of acres,” Maxwell told the board.

A Pueblo district court jury awarded Maxwell only $1,850, rather than the $2,200 Colorado Springs Utilities first offered him or the $18,500 his own appraiser valued the property. Commission Chairman Terry Hart asked Keith Riley, assistant project director for SDS, why Utilities did not pay Maxwell the amount it originally offered. “What I worry about when I hear about this is that Mr. Maxwell was not properly represented,” Hart said.

“The court ordered us to pay $1,850,” Riley replied.

Maxwell said the construction led to dust and disruption. Revegetation has created 4-foot tall weeds due to overwatering, but little grass. “Their promises have not been followed,” Maxwell said. Construction has created problems for Kay as well.

“I get no communication,” she said. “There’s no accountability. They disrespect me and disregard my property.”

Clark’s photos countered Utilities slides that portrayed orderly green­ belts along the pipeline route. Instead, large ravines that cross the pipeline route were gouged out, ruining revegetation that had begun. Utilities is aware of the problems and is working with Walker to solve them, said Mark Pifher, permit manager.

Rhodes’ problems relate to stormwater control, a long-standing problem on Fountain Creek that she believes will be made worse by SDS. “With all of the water coming from the north, when SDS gets done and in full force, we possibly won’t have any farms on Fountain Creek,” Rhodes said.

Commissioners directed staff to compile complaints according to conditions Colorado Springs agreed to in the 1041 permit and determine if they can be resolved. “This gives us an opportunity to address any issues out there and see where we are headed,” Hart said.

Colorado Springs indicated it would work with Pueblo County in resolving issues. “We take our obligations seriously and are sure that we could meet every one of them,” Utilities CEO Jerry Forte told him.

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

The Southern Delivery System construction has provided a shot in the arm to Pueblo County’s economy, commissioners heard during a meeting last week on the progress of SDS. “There has been a positive economic benefit to Pueblo,” said John Bowen, president of ASI Constructors.

The Pueblo West company won a $50 million contract for construction of the North Outlet Works at Pueblo Dam and some of the pipeline associated with SDS. “We’ve added employees during the recession,” Bowen said. “We are part of balancing the public trust with environmental concerns.”

It is important to ASI and Pueblo County for SDS to stay on course for its 2016 completion, because that will speed up work on Fountain Creek. ASI would be among bidders for future dam projects, he said.

Sherri Weber of M&S Trucking in Boone also spoke of the economic benefits. The company has hauled materials to construction sites for nearly two years under its SDS contract.

Overall, Colorado Springs Utilities said it has spent $60 million with more than 100 Pueblo County contractors. The total spent through the end of July on SDS construction was $382 million.

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Pueblo County commissioners Friday looked at a menu of issues ranging from economic benefits to environmental damage surrounding construction of the Southern Delivery System pipeline through the county. Hanging over the discussion like a storm cloud, however, was whether Colorado Springs is serious about reining in flood control, as its council once promised. “In light of the recent flooding in Colorado Springs, this is a timely meeting that brings up concerns that have been with us for a long time,” Commissioner Sal Pace said. “The low point was in 2009, with the elimination of the stormwater enterprise.”

It was a repeated theme throughout a four-hour meeting. Resolving Fountain Creek issues played a big role in years of discussions that led to Bureau of Reclamation approval of the $940 million SDS project.

The 1041 permit itself does not require any level of spending or even that a stormwater enterprise has to be in place. It only requires that return flows from SDS do not exacerbate flows, said Mark Pifher, SDS permit manager. That position is being contested by the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District, which this week decided to sue the Bureau of Reclamation, which issued a favorable record of decision for SDS based on the existence of a stormwater enterprise.

At Friday’s meeting, Jay Winner, Lower Ark general manager, asked Colorado Springs officials why council chose to drop the stormwater enterprise in 2009 while ignoring the main goal of the 2009 Proposition 300, which was to elimi­nate Utilities transfers to the city’s general fund. The move came after Springs voters defeated a 2008 issue to make stormwater payments voluntary. “As elected officials, we felt there was a message from voters that the stormwater fee should be stopped,” said Colorado Springs Councilwoman Jan Martin, the only council member still serving who was on the board in 2009. She voted to repeal the enterprise.

Martin is working on a stormwater task force that plans to put a ballot issue for a stormwater fee or tax on the November 2014 ballot in Colorado Springs and El Paso County. What appears on the ballot depends in part on a prioritization of needs ordered by Colorado Springs Mayor Steve Bach, who has not cooperated with the task force.

Dorothy Butcher, a former state representative from Pueblo, questioned how much of current stormwater spending in Colorado Springs, reported at $46 million, is addressing the issue of reducing Pueblo flood impacts. “With your potential 2014 ballot initiative, if it’s turned down, what source of revenue will you use?”

Martin said the council would transfer money from other sources, as it is doing now, adding that she is confident voters will support a ballot issue that clearly outlines its purpose, such as last year’s ballot measure to continue a transportation tax.

More Southern Delivery System coverage here and here.


The Lower Ark District is moving to file a complaint against Reclamation over SDS Record of Decision

September 20, 2013
Southern Delivery System route map -- Graphic / Reclamation

Southern Delivery System route map

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

A federal decision on the Southern Delivery System is headed to court. The Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District is preparing a complaint to file in federal court over the Bureau of Reclamation’s refusal to reopen its record of decision on SDS. The central issue is the abolishment of the Colorado Springs stormwater enterprise in 2009, which was in place when Reclamation granted approval of a 40-year contract for storage, exchange and connection at Pueblo Dam for SDS.

“I’m asking our board to draft a legal complaint against the Bureau of Reclamation,” said Melissa Esquibel, a Pueblo County board member. “We’ve asked the Bureau of Reclamation to reopen the record of decision, and gotten no action. We need to direct staff to draft a lawsuit.”

Lower Ark board members say SDS should not be allowed to deliver water until the stormwater issue is resolved. “If there had not been a stormwater enterprise, SDS never would have gotten a 1041 permit,” said Anthony Nunez, a Lower Ark board member who was a Pueblo County commissioner in 2009.

Last year, the Lower Ark district sent letters to Reclamation asking to reopen the record of decision on the stormwater issue. Reclamation declined to take any action.

This will be the second lawsuit the Lower Ark district has filed against Reclamation, if the board approves it at its October meeting. In 2007, the Lower Ark sued Reclamation over a 40-year storage and exchange contract with Aurora, claiming it illegally allowed the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project to move water out of the Arkansas River basin. The lawsuit was settled in 2009, after Aurora and the Lower Ark signed an agreement for mitigation of some of the issues surrounding the contract.

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Flood protection for the Lower Arkansas Valley should not be an afterthought. That message was delivered to Colorado Springs Wednesday during a presentation about regional stormwater efforts in El Paso County to the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Protection District. “We quibble about data. What I want to see is the problem fixed,” Lower Ark General Manager Jay Winner told Mark Pifher, point man for the Southern Delivery System.

Colorado Springs Utilities disputes the Lower Ark’s interpretation of state and federal data about water quality. The Lower Ark claims it shows higher flows have increased sedimentation and bacteria in Fountain Creek since Colorado Springs got rid of its stormwater enterprise in 2009. Pifher countered that’s just because of higher peak flows in the past three years. Fountain Creek monitoring has begun and safeguards are built into the Bureau of Reclamation’s contract through an adaptive management program if unexpected pollution occurs, he said. A stormwater task force and Mayor Steve Bach are close to coming to consensus and moving a stormwater issue to the 2014 ballot.

All of which served to aggravate Pueblo County members of the Lower Ark board:

“My heartburn is that the discussions center around the Black Forest and Waldo Canyon as far as Fountain Creek is concerned, but nothing for us” said Melissa Esquibel. “I don’t think anything substantive has happened.”

“It’s been a fractured thing up there since I was a commissioner. It almost doesn’t seem real. We’ve heard the same thing over and over and over,” said Anthony Nunez. “I have to say there is a small amount of trust.”

“We have to put limits on SDS until the stormwater issue is taken on,” said Reeves Brown.

Colorado Springs voters defeated a Doug Bruce measure in 2008 to make payment of stormwater fees voluntary by 30,000 votes, but City Council abolished the stormwater enterprise after a second ballot measure that did not even mention it by name passed in 2009, Winner said. While Bruce campaigned against a “rain tax,” the 2009 Proposition specifically tried to sever utility payments from the Colorado Springs general fund. Council has not ended Utilities payment in lieu of taxes, Pifher said in response to a question by Winner.

Pifher said stormwater fees would be collected again beginning as soon as 2015 if voters approve it in 2014. That didn’t do much to allay fears. “You got what you needed and the stormwater enterprise went away,” Winner said. “Do you see the pattern here?”

More Southern Delivery System coverage here and here.


Colorado Water Plan: Is there any water left on the west slope to send across the Great Divide? #ColoradoRiver

September 12, 2013

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As the IBCC and basin roundtables along with the CWCB gear up to produce Colorado’s first statewide water plan the question is how much water is left to develop? Here’s a report about the early west slope efforts from Hannah Holm writing for the Glenwood Springs Post Independent. Here’s an excerpt:

According to the “Grand Valley’s Principles for the Colorado State Water Plan,” any statewide water plan that fails to bring in new water will simply shift the burden of an anticipated urban water shortage to farms and streams – both of which, arguably, are already facing shortages of their own.

This document is being submitted to the governing bodies of each of the water providers, including the City of Grand Junction, City of Fruita, Clifton Water District, Town of Palisade, Ute Water Conservancy District, and all of the valley’s irrigation providers, for official approval.

Hickenlooper’s Executive Order directing the CWCB to develop a statewide water plan has set off a flurry of activity by water stakeholders across the state. Under the framework developed by the CWCB, basin roundtables of stakeholders in each of the state’s major river basins plus the Denver metropolitan area are supposed to develop plans to meet their own needs, which will then feed into a statewide plan.

While each basin roundtable is supposed to focus on meeting their internal needs, all are aware that long-running conflicts are likely to heat up as roundtables on the Eastern Slope, home to the most of the demand, look to the Western Slope, home to most of the water, to help meet those needs. As a result, multiple efforts are underway to develop regional alliances around core goals in preparation for what are expected to be intense negotiations.

In addition to the Grand Valley “Principles” document, these include proposed “West Slope Principles” developed by the Water Quality/Quantity Committee of the Northwest Council of Governments (NWCOG) and a draft joint white paper seeking to articulate perspectives shared by basin roundtables on the Eastern Slope.

The “West Slope Principles” proposed by NWCOG, like the Grand Valley document, emphasize the need to ensure that the Colorado Water Plan does not threaten the Western Slope’s water-dependent economic cornerstones: agriculture, resource extraction, recreation and tourism.

Both documents also demand respect for local plans and regulations, environmental protections and measures to limit the risk of a “compact call,” which could result from failing to allow sufficient water to flow down the Colorado River to Arizona, Nevada and California, as required by a 1922 compact between the states that share the river. The NWCOG document, however, focuses on conservation and reuse as measures to reduce Eastern Slope demands on Western Slope water, rather than imports from elsewhere.

Not surprisingly, the draft East Slope Basin Roundtables joint statement, discussed by the South Platte, Arkansas and Metro Roundtables in July, has a different perspective. This draft statement emphasizes the risk of large-scale drying up of Eastern Slope irrigated agriculture if other approaches to meeting Eastern Slope municipal needs are not developed.

It includes many of the approaches called for in the Western Slope documents, including demand management through reuse, aggressive conservation and increased residential densities. The statement also, however, calls for, “when it is needed, development of state water project(s) using Colorado River water for municipal uses on the East and West slopes.”

It’s worth noting that none of these documents are 100% final. However, they do outline persistent areas of regional disagreement about how to best stretch the state’s limited water supplies going forward, as well as some areas of agreement.

More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.


Dillon Reservoir: Happy fiftieth birthday #ColoradoRiver

September 8, 2013

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Here’s the announcement from Denver Water (Stacy Chesney/Travis Thompson):

Summit County residents and visitors are invited to the Dillon Reservoir 50th Anniversary celebration this weekend. This free event will feature Dillon Reservoir’s high-quality recreation activities, including pontoon boat tours, canoeing, kayaking and stand-up paddleboarding, as well as a preview of the 2014 air and water show, a free performance by the band Eyes Wide Open, balloon sculptures and tasty treats from local vendors.

The event is sponsored by the Dillon Reservoir Recreation Committee, an interagency committee comprised of Denver Water, Summit County government, Town of Dillon, Town of Frisco and the U.S. Forest Service.

Dillon Reservoir was completed in 1963 and is Denver Water’s largest reservoir. With 3,300 acres of surface and 27 miles of shoreline, it also is an important recreational amenity, with two marinas and countless activities for residents and visitors to enjoy.

Here’s an guest commentary about the reservoir written by Allen Best that is running in The Denver Post:

Recreational activities on Sunday will be the lion’s share of activities on Sunday when the 50th anniversary of the completion of Dillon Reservoir is marked. That’s proper, in that locals long ago took to calling it “Lake Dillon,” emphasizing its role as a tourism amenity rather than as a vital storage vessel for metropolitan Denver.

But if history were to be properly commemorated, there should be a shouting match as well.

As recent books by both George Sibley and Patty Limerick make clear, there was no small amount of arguing about the water to store behind the dam.

Denver representatives began studying Summit County as a future source for water in 1907. Several other loosely sketched proposals were assembled for tunnels under the Continental Divide to export water. Instead of pursing them, Denver made use of the Moffat Tunnel, which opened for railroad traffic in 1928. After modifying the pioneer bore, Denver in 1936 used it to deliver water from the Fraser Valley and, a few years later, the Williams Fork Valley. The latter is located just north of today’s Eisenhower Tunnel. That water gave Denver and its suburbs the ability to sustain rapid growth after World War II.

But the drought of the mid-1950s demanded additional supply. Denver set out to develop its water rights in Summit County.

Summit County after World War II was “receding into the wilderness,” in the words of the late Ed Quillen, who remembered visiting Breckenridge in the 1950s. Arapahoe Basin started skiing operations in 1946, but Breckenridge didn’t come until 1961, and Keystone and Copper much later yet.

The Western Slope, however, remained wary of water heists. That first significant protest came in the 1930s, when northern Colorado farmers proposed the Colorado-Big Thompson Project. The project, built between 1938 and 1957, was later described by historian David Lavender as a “massive violation of geography.” He referred to the staggering scope of the diversion of waters naturally headed west, but instead steered through a tunnel under Rocky Mountain National Park to the Boulder, Greeley and Fort Collins area.

But in the congressional horse-trading before federal authorization, the Western Slope did get a major benefit: construction by the federal government of Green Mountain Reservoir. This impoundment on the Blue River hold water for late-summer use on farms and orchards in the Grand Junction area and, more recently, for ski area snowmaking.

The Glenwood Springs-based Colorado River Water Conservation District commissioned Sibley to write a history of the district’s 75th anniversary. In researching his 2012 book, “Water Wranglers,” Sibley arrived at a low opinion what was then called the Denver Water Board. “There was not a sense of rational to what Denver did in those years,” says Sibley, mirroring criticism from the Grand Junction Sentinel and other Western Slope opinion leaders of the time.

Central to Denver’s efforts was Glenn Saunders, who refused to accept the senior of the Green Mountain water rights of 1935. Denver could do no better at Dillon than a 1948 decree. It angered Saunders so much, Sibley says, that “he could not be rational about it.”

Denver’s investment at Dillon was instead salvaged by another of its lawyers, Harold Roberts. The 23.3-mile tunnel that delivers water from Dillon to the North Fork of the South Platte River near Grant, 40 miles southwest of Denver, carries Roberts’ name. As for Saunders, very likely Denver’s most forceful and colorful water figure of the 20th century, his name is absent from maps.

In her book, “A Ditch in Time,” which was commissioned by Denver Water, Limerick devotes a full chapter to Saunders, finding him a “fluent speaker of the language of 19th century westward expansion.” In this language, Denver had a right to carve up available natural resources, and in the context of water, had no need to consult the Western Slope.

Denver Water, under the late Chips Barry and now continued by Jim Lochhead, a long-time resident of the Western Slope, have taken a very different tack, seeking collaboration instead of defiance. This attitude is evident in the city’s willingness for lengthy negotiation outside the courtrooms. Lochhead, speaking at a Colorado Oil & Gas Association conference, advised drilling companies to adopt a similar process of up-front community collaboration.

Will the result be any different? Vulnerabilities of the existing water supply in places like Arvada, where I live, became evident in the 2002 drought. Denver, as the water provider for 1.3 million in the metropolitan area, is seeking to haul yet more water from the Fraser Valley. But the trout fishermen I know in Fraser and Granby say there’s just not much water left to take, and warmer, longer summers just may make the problem worse.

More Denver Water coverage here and here.


Windy Gap Firming Project update: Analysis paralysis #ColoradoRiver

September 6, 2013

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From the Northern Colorado Business Report (Joshua Zaffos):

Begun in 2003 and scheduled to be up and running by 2011, the project, known as the Windy Gap Firming Project, like many others across the state, still is mired in regulatory delays. Whether or when Windy Gap will be built is still unclear 10 years after the first regulatory review took place.

Three other major water projects face similar delays and uncertainty…

Northern is working with 13 Northern Colorado water providers to develop the latest phase of Windy Gap, which is designed to serve 60,000 households.

Northern Water initially submitted the project for environmental he project for environmental review to the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation in 2003. Through the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), a project’s environmental impacts are reviewed during several stages of technical analysis and public comment. A 2005 Northern Water fact sheet projected a final “record of decision” could come by the end of that year, meaning construction could start soon after and the reservoir would be ready by 2011.

That forecast was wildly optimistic. The bureau didn’t issue a final environmental impact statement, a key step in NEPA, until late 2011. Reviews by federal and state scientists, environmental groups and western Colorado interests each triggered calls for mitigation and changes that added months and then years of delay…

Project partners have spent $12 million to date just on permitting, agreed to pay millions more than expected for environmental mitigation and watched the cost estimate jump nearly 28 percent, from $223 million to $285 million. That’s roughly $1,033 per household.

Similar delays and cost overruns have plagued nearly every other major Colorado water-development project that has sought regulatory approval since the 1990 defeat of Two Forks Dam. Proposed by Denver Water, the $1 billion Two Forks project passed through NEPA with government approval before the Environmental Protection Agency vetoed the decision because of study inadequacies and unresolved water-quality impacts.

After more than a decade of drought and a new wave of growth, water utility planners believe the project review system is broken and must be fixed. Legal experts and environmental watchdogs say the projects themselves are outdated in concept and that utilities need to rethink how they obtain, store and deliver water…

Drager has had to ask Windy Gap Firming Project partners for an extra $1 million four separate times in the past five years to pay for unexpected mitigation. Consideration of the upper Colorado River as a federally designated wild and scenic river triggered additional analysis. State fish and wildlife managers required further mitigation plans, including a study for a fish bypass around Windy Gap Reservoir. Northern Water also had to agree to enhance river habitat and operate water diversions to support endangered fish in the Colorado River. The EPA filed comments that led to further changes. When an end seemed near in June 2012, Grand County exercised its “1041 powers,” requiring a new permit and an agreement from partners to improve clarity for Grand Lake, which has deteriorated in part because of Northern’s water diversions. Now mostly settled, the Grand Lake revision marked the fifth major project stoppage.

“It’s not just NEPA,” Drager said. “There are a whole bunch of federal requirements – the Endangered Species Act, the Clean Water Act – and then you’ve got a group of state laws which don’t always work well with the federal laws. So, it’s very hard to know when is the last step. When are you done?”

Communities and water districts that are footing the bill have weathered the delays and tacked-on costs so far. The Little Thompson Water District in Berthoud has avoided charging existing customers extra, said district manager Jim Hibbard, because one developer is shouldering the district’s share of the costs and adding those dollars to the cost of new homes he is building. “Probably the most significant impact is the costs of the project keep going up,” Hibbard said.

The city and county of Broomfield, another project partner, has used money from water tap fees for its share of the project and paid the additional costs with reserve funds stashed away for such purposes, said public works director David Allen. But even with the added mitigation and expenses, both managers say the project remains an inexpensive and preferred alternative to purchasing shares in existing water projects, such as the Colorado-Big Thompson system or buying out farmers’ water rights and drying up local agriculture…

Since Two Forks, federal agencies involved with NEPA reviews are “gun shy,” said Dave Little, planning director for Denver Water, which also has spent more than 10 years seeking approval for its own major water project, the Moffat Collection System…

Cost overruns may look excessive, but initial estimates often come in low to ease early acceptance of a project, [Western Resource Advocates Drew Beckwith] said, adding that some delays are squarely on the shoulders of project managers who haven’t adequately analyzed certain impacts or mitigation actions. “I don’t think anyone is really happy with the way the process works right now,” Beckwith said. “Utilities think it takes too long. Conservationists would say there’s not enough good input.”

He said he would like to see a more open-ended, upfront approach to water-supply challenges instead of a water agency selecting a preferred solution and then following a “decide and defend” strategy.

The changing pressures from environmental organizations also have factored into delays. The proposed $140 million Chatfield Reservoir Reallocation southwest of Denver, another storage expansion project under consideration, has received support from several conservation groups, including Western Resource Advocates, because it avoids building an entirely new reservoir, but the Audubon Society of Greater Denver opposes the development because it would flood wetlands and other bird habitat…

The plodding pace of regulatory review may remain an annoying reality – unless a water utility can devise ways to provide water without massive new storage or delivery pipelines.

Aurora did just that. A decade ago, facing water shortages and drought, Aurora Water planners recognized the need for swift action to protect system reliability and service for existing customers. The utility decided to build its Prairie Waters Project, an $854 million pipeline and treatment facility that would allow the city to reuse 50,000 acre-feet of water annually and meet its water demands through 2030. Since the project didn’t include new storage, managers avoided prolonged federal review, said Darrell Hogan, the project manager, and Aurora Water further expedited its work by tunneling under waterways. To have disturbed the waterways otherwise would have required Clean Water Act 404 permits. Hogan said the project didn’t evade environmental protections; planners still consulted with government scientists and conservationists, and had to acquire more than 400 permits for local construction and operations. However, working around the federal system facilitated progress. Prairie Waters went from concept to completion in less than six years, delivering water in October 2010 on time and under budget.

More Windy Gap coverage here and here.


Statewide water plan: ‘I want to hear what pieces are important to you’ — Gail Schwartz

September 4, 2013

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Here’s a guest column about Colorado’s water plan, written by State Senator Gail Schwartz running in the Glenwood Springs Post Independent. Senator Schwartz has been in the middle of water legislation for most of her time in the state legislature. Here’s an excerpt:

The state water plan will pave the way for water decisions that responsibly and predictably address future challenges. The governor’s executive order detailed that the plan must promote a productive economy that supports vibrant and sustainable cities, viable and productive agriculture, and a robust skiing, recreation and tourism industry. It must also incorporate efficient and effective water infrastructure planning while promoting smart land use and strong environmental protections that include healthy watersheds, rivers and streams, and wildlife.

The Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) has been tasked with creating the Colorado Water Plan. The board must submit a draft of the plan to the governor’s office by Dec. 10, 2014, and a final plan by Dec. 10, 2015. The CWCB will incorporate the state’s Interbasin Compact Committee (IBCC) and nine Basin Roundtables recommendations to address regional long-term water needs.

As chair of the interim Water Resources Review Committee (WRRC), I will help ensure that the diverse voices of Colorado’s water community are heard during the development of this plan. The 10-member WRRC comprises legislators representing districts in each of the state’s major river basins. The committee has a full agenda as we are charged to review water issues and propose legislation. The WRRC will also remain actively engaged with the CWCB in development of the State Water Plan…

As charged, the water plan has a broad scope and will inevitably need to address difficult and contentious issues. I believe that we should first focus on conservation and efficiency both at the municipal/industrial level and in agriculture. Water conservation is an area with broad consensus. A recent public opinion study of Coloradans identified conservation as the most important water-related issue. Other studies have strikingly demonstrated that 80 percent of Coloradans favored conservation over new construction projects. In 2013, I sponsored SB13-19 which gives landowners a new tool to conserve water without injuring their water rights. New conservation and efficiency tools are needed in the State Water Plan as they stress wise use of our precious water resource.

Conservation may be just one piece of this larger puzzle, and I want to hear what pieces are important to you.

More statewide water plan coverage here.


Fountain Creek: ‘What I would like to see is for Pueblo to stop being flooded’ — Buffie McFayden

September 3, 2013

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Fountain Creek connects Pueblo with Colorado Springs, and controlling it remains a key issue if the Southern Delivery System is to be turned on in three years. So there is bound to be a torrent of discussion on a stormwater enterprise, dams on Fountain Creek and water quality over the next few months.

Pueblo County commissioners set the stage last week for a Sept. 20 meeting to air issues surrounding the county’s 1041 permit for SDS. While there is a varied menu of issues that were hammered out over several months back in 2008-09, it’s clear that Fountain Creek is at the top of the agenda. “I don’t know if any of this works, because I’ve seen the power of the water,” Commissioner Liane “Buffie” McFadyen said last week after reviewing a federal study of dams on Fountain Creek. “What I would like to see is for Pueblo to stop being flooded and for people in north Pueblo County to keep from losing their land to these floods.”

The commissioners — none of whom were on the board when the 1041 permit was negotiated — also are working through the details of exactly how to handle $50 million, plus interest, that was pledged by Colorado Springs to protect Pueblo from flooding that will be made worse by SDS. Their lawyers are focusing the board on what it can do to keep Colorado Springs on track with the conditions agreed to in the 1041 permit.

But a different set of issues is swirling around the sides.

Chief among them is stormwater. It was taken for granted by the Bureau of Reclamation in the studies leading up to a 40-year contract for SDS to operate from Pueblo Dam. In the 1041 conditions, only the incremental flows directly caused by SDS are mentioned. “It’s a moral question and potentially a legal question,” Commissioner Sal Pace said.

In July, the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District claimed flooding has worsened and water quality deteriorated after Colorado Springs City Council eliminated its stormwater enterprise fee in 2009. Commissioners want to hear that report, as well as the rebuttal from Colorado Springs Utilities.

Last week, public wrangling over the stormwater question broke out again in Colorado Springs. Mayor Steve Bach was quoted in the Gazette as favoring a city stormwater fee, while Council President Keith King argued for a regional approach — possibly extending to the confluence and including Pueblo.

The Colorado Springs Council plans hearings of its own in the next few months to sort out which approach voters would be most likely to favor.

More Fountain Creek coverage here and here.


Statewide water plan: ‘We need to find outside water. Actually, we do not. They do’ — Max Schmidt

September 2, 2013

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State Water Plan, meet the “not-one-more-drop-club” from the Grand Valley. Here’s a report from Gary Harmon, writing for The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel:

Colorado should import water to meet burgeoning Front Range demands — and lessen the pressure on the Western Slope to slake that thirst, Grand Valley water officials suggest.

Managers of 10 Grand Valley water agencies and municipalities are preparing to ask their bosses to insist that bringing water into the state [ed. emphasis mine] — which would be known as augmentation — is a needed step in the development of a statewide water plan.

The problem, the water managers have concluded, is that there simply isn’t enough water in the state to meet the demands of growth, particularly on the Front Range, and the demands of millions of downstream Colorado River water users in Arizona, California and Nevada.

“Reallocation of state water resources is not going to do the job,” Larry Clever, general manager of Ute Water Conservancy District, said.

Managers of the agencies sat down together to draft a Grand Valley response to Gov. John Hickenlooper’s call for a statewide water plan, and they began the process as a “not-one-more-drop club,” Clever said, in reference to any further diversion of water from the Western Slope over the mountains to the east. So any additional drops will have to come from elsewhere, Max Schmidt, general manager of the Orchard Mesa Irrigation District, said.

“Our problem is that we’re the cheapest source of good clean water to the Eastern Slope, and there’s no other way around it,” Schmidt said. “We need to find outside water. Actually, we do not. They do.”

The concerns by Grand Valley water managers center on the possibility that the lower basin states will place a call on the Colorado River under the 1922 compact governing the river. “Every time that (the East Slope) takes water from the West Slope, that enhances the chance of a compact call,” that in theory would hit hardest on the Eastern Slope, Schmidt said.

Hickenlooper in May directed the drafting of a statewide water plan, to be complete by December 2014.

The proposed position acknowledges that the Colorado Water Conservation Board estimates that there could be as many as 800,000 acre feet of water available for diversion and storage, but notes there is “considerable doubt” that additional development won’t result in a compact call.

The Grand Valley response would set out nine goals that such a plan would have to include, one of them being “implementation of a long-term, regional water-augmentation plan.” Other goals include protecting the “cornerstones of our economy,” agriculture, resource extraction, recreation and tourism; preparation for the possibility of a compact call; protecting the health and quality of the state’s river basins; and preparing for the effects of climate change.

Other goals include protecting and promoting the area’s agricultural heritage; preserving local control of planning for development; ensuring federal agencies operate within state water law; and ensuring that upstream diversions protect and maintain water quality for downstream users.

Ultimately, “it is imperative for state officials to engage officials from the federal government and other basin states in developing, implementing and paying for an augmentation plan” that will benefit all the states dependent on the Colorado River, the proposed position says.

The proposed position will go before the governing boards of Fruita, Grand Junction and Palisade, as well as Clifton Water District, Grand Valley Irrigation Co., Grand Valley Water Users Association, Mesa County Irrigation District, Orchard Mesa Irrigation District, Palisade Irrigation District and Ute Water.

Statewide Water Plan coverage here.


Drought news: Water temperatures soar below Pueblo Dam, not enough stored water to make a difference

September 1, 2013

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Wildlife officials are watching water temperatures in the Arkansas River for potential harmful effects on fish. “The combination of low flows and weather are making for uncomfortable conditions for fish up and down the river,” said Doug Krieger, aquatic biologist for Colorado Parks and Wildlife. While fishermen have reported finding some dead fish, it appears that fish in the water are not stressed, he added.

As temperatures climbed into the 90s this week, water temperatures in the Pueblo reach of the Arkansas River have hit 80 degrees or higher each day after flows dropped below 40 cubic feet per second at Moffat Street on Monday. Closer to Pueblo Dam, temperatures have been about 70 degrees.

The problem is being complicated by mud that washed into the river near the Nature and Raptor Center earlier this month, said Ben Wurster, of Steel City Anglers and Trout Unlimited. “It’s been so dry, and with no moisture the water heats up,” Wurster said.

There is little that can be done. There are about 5,000 acre-feet of agricultural water stored in Lake Pueblo, but farmers likely want to hold it back to start crops next year. Parks and Wildlife has some water, but not enough to make a difference. Cities have curtailed exchanges into Lake Pueblo, but are not releasing any additional water.

The Pueblo Board of Water Works and Colorado Springs have an agreement to release water to maintain flows of 50 cfs below Pueblo Dam once the Southern Delivery System is in operation. Conditions this week are not dry enough to trigger releases, even if that agreement were active.

In another development, the Bureau of Reclamation and Colorado Springs reached a temporary agreement to release water through the river gate on the North Outlet Works rather than the spillway.

Under its SDS contract, Reclamation will own the North Outlet Works, which was built by Colorado Springs. Details still are being negotiated.


The Colorado River District’s Annual Water Seminar – ‘Shrinking in Supply, Growing in Demand’ — Sept. 13

August 28, 2013

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From email from the Colorado River District (Jim Pokrandt):

The Colorado River District’s Annual Water Seminar – “Shrinking in Supply, Growing in Demand” — takes place 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 13, 2013, at the Two Rivers Convention Center in Grand Junction, Colo. The cost is $30 and includes lunch. Student cost $10. Register at http://www.ColoradoRiverDistrict.org, by calling (970)-945-8522 or e-mailing mspyker@crwcd.org.

The seminar is an easy, one-day presentation of the latest hot subjects that challenge the Colorado River and how science, politics and other actions seek to address them. The Colorado River District was created 76 years ago to protect Western Colorado water and stages the seminar to promote public education about critical challenges to the lifeblood river of the Southwest.

Speakers include Eric Kuhn, General Manager of the Colorado River District, who will give an overview to recent findings that promise the Colorado River faces greater challenges than ever from climate change and human use of the Colorado River. Other speakers will address a U.S. Geological Survey study that confirms warm springs are reducing snowpack, a forecast for drought and the latest Bureau of Reclamation ruling to reduce releases from Lake Powell to Lake Mead.

The keynote speaker at lunch will be John Entsminger, the Senior Deputy General Manager at the Southern Nevada Water Authority. Climate and reservoir levels most directly affect Las Vegas and its surrounding community and Entsminger will give a view of what that means.

In the afternoon, the developers of Sterling Ranch in the southern Denver metro area will talk about how they want to build a community with water conservation as a first concern.

The day concludes with a presentation by the new director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board, James Eklund, about the Colorado Water Plan. Earlier this year, Gov. Hickenlooper ordered that a plan be given to him by 2015 that addresses measures to meet a looming water supply gap as Colorado grows to as many as 10 million people by 2050.

A discussion of the plan and ways to meet the gap will take place in a panel discussion. Making up the panel will be the chairs or representatives of six Basin Roundtables – citizens groups in each basin created by the Colorado General Assembly in the Colorado Water for the 21st Century Act.

Agenda Topics
Change: It is for Certain
– Colorado River District General Manager Eric Kuhn provides an overview of the trends that lead to the day’s subjects regarding snowpack, drought, Lake Powell equalization and the Colorado Water Plan

It’s True: Spring is Killing our Rocky Mountain Snowpack, U.S Geological Survey confirms – lead study author Greg Pederson from Bozeman, Mont., will describe the findings that we have long suspected to be true

A Dry Subject: Drought and a Look Ahead – Klaus Wolter of the NOAA Climate Diagnostics Center in Boulder, the Southwest’s preeminent forecaster, will describe conditions that are developing for snowfall this winter

Level With Us: Whither Lake Powell – Malcolm Wilson, Chief, Water Resources Group, Upper Colorado Region of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation will talk about the recent drought-induced decision to reduce water releases from Lake Powell to Lake Mead and what that means for now and into the future for the states depending on the Colorado River

Lunch Keynote Speaker – John Entsminger, Senior Deputy General Manager at Southern Nevada Water Authority of Las Vegas, Nev., will present a Lower Basin view of Lake Powell, Lake Mead and Big River Issues

Putting Conservation on the Table: the Sterling Ranch Story – Beorn Courtney, an engineer helping to plan Sterling Ranch in Douglas County, south of Denver, will describe how land use, clustering, landscaping, rain water capture and other efficiencies will be employed in this new community

The Colorado Water Plan: a Call and Response – James Eklund, Director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board will discuss why Gov. Hickenlooper has ordered up a Colorado Water Plan on a tight deadline and what that means for water policy and the solving a looming water supply gap as Colorado continues to attract and give birth to new residents

A Response from Both Sides of the Continental Divide: How Does This Play Out – A panel discussion among six representatives from the Basin Roundtables. Guests include Gary Barber of the Arkansas Basin Roundtable; Mark Koleber of the Metro Roundtable, Joe Frank of the South Platte Basin Roundtable; Tom Gray of the Yampa-White-Green Basin Roundtable; Michelle Pierce of the Gunnison Basin Roundtable; Mike Preston of the Southwest Basin Roundtable and Jim Pokrandt of the Colorado Basin Roundtable.

More Colorado River District coverage here.


Arkansas Valley Conduit update: $15 million needed for engineering

August 19, 2013

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

The exact route and cost of the Arkansas Valley Conduit won’t be known until engineering is complete, but the water line to serve 40 communities in Eastern Colorado is becoming a reality. “There are a whole lot of people who thought we’d never get to this point,” Jim Broderick, executive director of the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District told the board Thursday. “The work we’ve done so far is preliminary. We still have to get this done.”

The Bureau of Reclamation’s environmental impact statement on the project was released Aug. 9. A record of decision is expected to be issued after a 30-day comment period, meaning work on the actual project can begin. It took just two years for the EIS to be completed, which is less time than a typical project would take. However, the conduit was approved by Congress in the 1962 Fryingpan-Arkansas Project Act.

District officials and members of Congress are working on strategies to get the estimated $15 million needed for engineering in the 2015 fiscal year, and possibly to shift some Reclamation funding sooner than that. Construction of the conduit could begin as soon as 2016, largely depending on funding. The EIS also covers Southeastern’s master storage contract that will serve 37 communities and a federal project to interconnect the north and south outlet works.

Negotiations still are ongoing to build the first leg of the conduit, which would go from the south outlet works to Pueblo Boulevard. From there, the pipeline would head to the Pueblo Board of Water Works Whitlock Treatment Plant, where it would be filtered and moved south through City Park, along Pueblo Boulevard and then south of Pueblo and the Comanche Power Plant. It would run east from there to the St. Charles Mesa treatment plant, then head north of the Arkansas River where it would begin its route eastward with spurs to serve communities along the way.

In all, there would be 227 miles of pipeline tapering from 48 inches in diameter to 6 inches.

More Arkansas Valley Conduit coverage here and here.


AWRA Colorado Section summer field trip recap: What happens when you dig a 40 foot hole in the ground?

August 18, 2013

 

Coffee and bagels at Denver Water just before heading to Pueblo Dam

Every now and again you sign up for the right water tour. The American Water Resources Colorado Section tour of the Southern Delivery System — which is slated to move Fryingpan-Arkansas Project water to serve several Arkansas Valley communities — turned out great.

First off, we visited the valve house for the project at the base of Pueblo Dam.

Valve house north outlet works Pueblo Dam, August 2013

Folks from Colorado Springs Utilities and USBR detailed much of the design and proposed operational facts about the outlet works. The release to the Arkansas River was engineered for 1120 CFS. One of our hosts smiled as he said, “You can feel a vibration when it’s open.”

Valve test north outlet works Pueblo Dam via MWH Global

We also visited the site where CSU is building a new treatment plant out by the Colorado Springs airport. That’s where the MWH Global project manager explained that they had spent most of the week pumping stormwater out of the 40 foot hole that they dug in the wind blown sand soil at the site. It seems that one of those monsoon storms dumped an inch or so of precipitation in 30 minutes. They had accomplished pouring one section of the slab base for the plant that day.

New CSU water treatment plant site, August 2013

Converstion on the bus between stops ranged from the cultural differences between white europeans and the native american tribes to the announcement earlier in the day from Reclamation of a 24 month operating plan for Lake Powell that would reduce deliveries downriver to Lake Mead.

We heard about Castle Rock’s plans to move to 75% renewable supplies from their director, Mark Marlowe.  They’re hoping to eventually only use their wells  to get through a drought.

We also heard some roadside geology from one of the folks at the Colorado Geological Survey. He explained a bit about the Denver Basin Aquifer System and hydraulic fracturing in the Niobrara.

More Southern Delivery System Coverage here and here.


Grand Junction: The Colorado River District’s Annual Seminar will take place September 13 #ColoradoRiver

August 18, 2013

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Click here to read the latest newsletter from the Colorado River District (Jim Pokrandt). Here’s an excerpt:

What: The Colorado River District’s Annual Water Seminar — “Shrinking in Supply, Growing in Demand” — where in one day, you can learn about the latest news and programs related to the Colorado River and its challenges to meet the needs of man and nature in the arid West.

When: 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., Friday, Sept. 13, 2013;  check-in starts at 8:30 a.m. Greg Pederson, the lead author of the U.S. Geological Survey study that confirms snow- pack is falling victim to warmer spring temperatures.

Where: The Two Rivers Convention Center in Grand Junction, Colo.

Cost: $30 for adults with advance registration by Friday, Sept. 6, 2013; $10 for students. Includes lunch. $40 after Sept. 6.

Who are some of the speakers?

  • James Eklund, the new director of the Colo- rado Water Conservation Board who will dis-
    cuss the two-year deadline to create a Colorado Water Plan and what that means
  • Klaus Wolter, the Climate Diagnostics Center researcher for NOAA who is the go-to expert for predicting seasonal weather
  • A panel discussion on how the Roundtables will inform the Colorado Water Plan with their findings and plans to meet their water supply shortages
  • Beorn Courtney, an engineer for the Headwa- ters Corp. who will discuss how the Sterling Ranch development in the South Denver Metro Area will employ water conservation through house design, landscaping, clustering and water capture
  • A discussion on what the low levels at Lake Powell portend reduced water releases to Lake Mead and the Lower Basin states and a decla- ration of a shortage ….. and more
  • Information and questions: 970-945-8522 or edinfo@crwcd.org.

    More education coverage here.


    Arkansas Valley Conduit Final EIS Available

    August 12, 2013

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    Here’s the release from the US Bureau of Reclamation (Kara Lamb/Buck Feist):

    The Bureau of Reclamation announces the release of the Final Environmental Impact Statement on the proposed Arkansas Valley Conduit and Long-Term Excess Capacity Master Contract. To access the document, its Executive Summary, and supporting appendices please visit http://www.usbr.gov/avceis. A list of local libraries housing hard copies of the Final EIS is also included on the website.
    In the Final EIS, Comanche North is identified as the agency-preferred alternative. It minimizes cost and urban construction disturbance, avoids the U.S. Highway 50 expansion corridor, and maximizes source water quality and yield. It is a hybrid alternative developed in response to comments on the Draft EIS by using components of other alternatives analyzed in that document. Of the AVC alternatives, Comanche North would be least costly and provide the most benefits.

    “After extensive public involvement and consideration of comments, scientific data and regional water needs, Reclamation is pleased to release this Final Environmental Impact Statement and announce Comanche North as the agency-preferred alternative,” said Mike Ryan, Regional Director for Reclamation’s Great Plains Region, which includes eastern Colorado.

    Reclamation completed the Final EIS in compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act. In it, the agency proposed and analyzed three federal actions pertaining to AVC and the Master Contract:

  • Construct and operate the AVC 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 interconnection between Pueblo Dam’s south and north outlet works; and,
  • Enter into an excess capacity master contract with Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District to store water in Pueblo Reservoir.
  • When completed, the pipeline for the AVC could be up to 227 miles long.

    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

    Colorado’s congressional delegation wants more funding for the Arkansas Valley Conduit, and sent a joint letter last week to the Department of Interior arguing for more funds in 2015. The letter came at the same time as the final environmental impact statement by the Bureau of Reclamation for the Arkansas Valley Conduit, which recommends construction of a 227-mile pipeline from Pueblo Dam to Lamar and Eads, serving 40 water districts and a population of 50,000 that is expected to grow to 75,000 by 2070. The conduit route would move water through the Pueblo water board’s Whitlock Treatment Plant for filtration, swing south of the Comanche Power Plant, then run primarily north of the Arkansas River east of Pueblo. In the letter, U.S. Sens. Michael Bennet and Mark Udall, both Democrats, and U.S. Reps. Scott Tipton and Cory Gardner, both Republicans, asked Anne Castle, Interior undersecretary for science and water, for increased funding in the 2015 budget, when construction of the conduit could start.

    The EIS also recommends an interconnection at Pueblo Dam between the North Outlet Works construction by Colorado Springs for the Southern Delivery System and the South Outlet Works, which will primarily serve the Arkansas Valley Conduit. The south connection also serves Pueblo West, the Fountain Valley Conduit and the Pueblo Board of Water Works. The EIS also recommends 40-year Lake Pueblo storage contracts for 25 conduit participants and 12 other water providers. The contracts would total almost 30,000 acre-feet annually. The total cost for all three projects is estimated at $400 million in the EIS, and some of that would be repaid by storage contract revenues under 2009 federal legislation.

    While the conduit itself benefits 50,000 people, the interconnect benefits more than 665,000, by providing redundancy for SDS and Pueblo. About 178,000 people would be served by the master contract, including some El Paso County communities outside of Colorado Springs and several Upper Arkansas water users.

    But the push for funding in austere federal times continues. The Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District, which sponsors the projects, sought $15 million in funds for the 2014 fiscal year, but received just $1 million. With the record of decision for the projects expected in 30 days, Colorado’s congressional representatives asked Castle to consider more “robust” funding for the conduit.

    Here’s the full text of their letter from the Boulder iJournal:

    Dear Assistant Secretary Castle and Commissioner Connor:

    As the Department of Interior begins consideration of its FY 2015 budget, we write to express our strong support for robust funding of water conservation and delivery studies, projects and activities. In particular, we want to highlight the Arkansas Valley Conduit project in southeastern Colorado. Adequate funding is essential in order to meet federally mandated water quality standards in the region.

    The Arkansas Valley conduit is a planned 130-mile water delivery system from the Pueblo Dam to communities throughout the Arkansas River Valley in Colorado. The conduit is the final phase of the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project, which Congress authorized in 1962. When completed, it will help bring clean drinking water to up to 42 municipalities, towns, and water providers in the lower Arkansas valley.

    Many of the wells in these areas have been contaminated with radon or uranium. As a result, many of the water providers in the region are out of compliance with federal water quality standards. More importantly, however, because of the lack of funding for water projects like this, the populations of these regions have been denied clean high quality water. Providing clean and safe water to all Americans should be at the forefront of the Department’s mission, and these water quality issues underscore the urgent need for progress on the conduit.

    The federal government has already funded planning and feasibility studies for four years in order to make the conduit a reality, and President Obama signed legislation in 2009 committing to fund a substantial share of the project costs. Unfortunately, the Administration’s budget proposal for FY 2014 did not fund the project adequately. While planners in the Arkansas valley expect costs to exceed $15 million in FY 2014, the Bureau of Reclamation’s budget justification requested just $1 million for the project. Adequate funding to compensate for this shortfall in 2015 will be essential to complete the project on schedule.

    As you know, the final Environmental Impact Statement will be released this month. Following a 30-day comment period, a Record of Decision (“ROD”) will be announced. The issuance of an ROD stating a preferred alternative removes any regulatory barrier to moving forward with the project, and signals the start of the design and engineering phase. The Office of Management and Budget indicated that the lack of the ROD was the reason for reducing the funding to only $1 million for FY 2014. With the ROD due to be announced soon, adequate project funding is essential for moving this vital infrastructure and water quality project forward in a timely manner.

    Thank you for your consideration of this request.

    More Arkansas Valley Conduit coverage here and here.


    Fryingpan-Arkansas Project operations update: 47,000 acre-feet across the Great Divide this season #ColoradoRiver

    August 11, 2013

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    From The Aspen Times (Scott Condon):

    An estimated 47,000 acre-feet of water will be diverted from the upper Fryingpan River basin this year to municipalities and farmers on the Front Range, according to the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.

    The diversion is significantly above the paltry 14,000 acre-feet that could be diverted last year but still 13 percent below the average annual diversion of 54,000 acre-feet, according to bureau records.

    The diversion season from the upper Fryingpan is just about finished, according to Kara Lamb, a spokeswoman for the agency, which manages Ruedi Reservoir’s water…

    The snowpack melted quickly, so the diversion season is coming to an end. Sailers and anglers might be disappointed to know the water level in Ruedi Reservoir peaked earlier this week. Even though diversions are easing, less water is flowing into Ruedi Reservoir than must be released, according to Lamb. Her email said the bureau increased the release of water by 60 cfs recently to satisfy owners of superior water rights on the Colorado River near Cameo. An additional 50 cfs was released as part of the Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Plan. Ruedi Reservoir is under contract to supply more than 10,000 acre-feet of water for that federal program.

    The total release from the reservoir combined with Rocky Fork Creek is producing a flow of about 268 cfs in the lower Fryingpan River below the dam, a level that generally pleases trout fishermen.

    Ruedi Reservoir peaked around 95,500 acre-feet, or 93 percent of capacity, according to the Bureau of Reclamation. The water level started dropping this week because the inflow fell off so drastically. About 120 cfs was flowing into the reservoir Wednesday.

    More Fryingpan-Arkansas Project coverage here and here.


    Colorado River Basin: ‘You can’t go to court…you don’t have time to go to court’ — Pat Mulroy #ColoradoRiver

    August 8, 2013

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    From the Las Vegas Review Journal (Henry Brean):

    “This is as much an extreme weather event as Sandy was on the East Coast,” she said, referring to the deadly and destructive storm that hit the United States in fall 2012. “Does a drought not rise to the same level as a storm? The potential damage is just as bad.”

    Mulroy’s comments come as the Colorado wraps up another disappointing water year and approaches another grim milestone: By the end of August, the total amount of water stored on the river is expected to reach its lowest point since Glen Canyon Dam was finished and Lake Powell began to fill in 1966.

    In the coming days, federal regulators are expected to announce plans to slash the annual release of water from Powell, a move that will accelerate the decline of Lake Mead.

    The reservoir east of Las Vegas is now expected to shrink almost 25 feet over the next year to a record low, with Lake Powell not far behind. By fall 2014, the surface of Lake Mead could drop to 1,075 feet above sea level, triggering the first federal shortage declaration on the river and prompting water supply cuts for Nevada and Arizona.

    At this point, Mulroy said, it will take “a major, Noah’s Ark-type event in the next week” to change the upcoming announcement by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, which oversees the coordinated operation of the two reservoirs. “I’m very worried. I’m expecting the worst,” she said…

    Under normal conditions, Lake Powell releases at least 8.23 million acre-feet of water a year downstream to Lake Mead for use by Nevada, Arizona, California and Mexico. This year’s release is almost sure to be cut to 7.48 million acre-feet to slow the decline of the upstream reservoir.

    “This is the first time ever that has happened,” Mulroy said…

    The Las Vegas Valley depends on the river for 90 percent of its drinking water supply. That water is drawn from Lake Mead using two intake pipes that could stop working if the reservoir drops far enough.

    The surface of Lake Mead already has fallen more than 100 feet since the current drought descended on the Colorado River in 2000.

    But even in an average year, the river does not carry enough water to fill the allocations parceled out decades ago to the seven states and Mexico.

    The expected cut to Lake Powell’s release for the coming year creates a 1.5 million acre-foot math problem for Mead, which is supposed to deliver 9 million acre-feet of water each year to Nevada, Arizona, California and Mexico.

    The dire situation is forcing Mulroy and other water managers along the river to consider entirely new strategies to protect lake levels and squeeze more water out of the stricken river.

    One short-term option is to pay farms in Arizona and California to temporarily fallow fields and use water that would normally go for irrigation to prop up Lake Mead.

    Already, California, Nevada and Mexico are banking as much unused water as they can in Mead, adding about 10 vertical feet to the reservoir so far that wouldn’t otherwise be there…

    Almost anything they do will require money, and that’s where the federal government can lend a hand, Mulroy said. After all, the Colorado supplies water to more than 30 million people across a region that produces roughly a quarter of the nation’s gross domestic product, she said. “This isn’t just a Las Vegas problem.”[...]

    Meanwhile, the authority is rushing to complete a new third intake capable of drawing water from one of the deepest parts of the lake. Mulroy said she expects the $817 million project to be finished and online by the end of 2014 — because it has to be. If conditions on the river worsen, Intake No. 1 could be out of commission by spring of 2015…

    One thing is clear, Mulroy said: It will take the creativity, cooperation and shared sacrifice of all Colorado River water users to make it through this crisis. All the old divisions must be set aside.

    “You can’t go to court. You don’t have time to go to court. You’ll be sucking air (through your intakes) before that gets done,” she said. “Now is not the time to rattle sabers. It’s a time to roll up your sleeves and work as collaboratively as you can.”

    More Colorado River Basin coverage here and here.


    Cache la Poudre River: Fort Collins Utilities tour recap

    August 3, 2013

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    From the North Forty News (Dan MacArthur):

    Sponsored by Fort Collins Utilities Services, the July tour took participants through forests scorched by the High Park Fire to learn about the special challenges of treating water laden with ash and sediment flowing from charred slopes.

    From there it moved to the top of Cameron Pass, where the Upper Cache la Poudre River watershed begins. A stop at the Gateway Natural Area on the return trip offered the opportunity to identify the microscopic bacteria in the river that could make one dance a more frantic jig were they not intercepted before flowing from our taps.

    “Basically the reason (Fort Collins) was founded was water,” explained Clyde Greenwood. The utility and water supply supervisor serves as the utility’s resident historian.

    Greenwood said Fort Collins was fortunate in that there were no mines in the Poudre Canyon watershed. A watershed is the territory that drains into a body of water.

    “Fort Collins is a unique town with pristine water,” he said…

    Fort Collins takes half of its water from the Colorado-Big Thompson project’s Horsetooth Reservoir. The other half comes from the Poudre. As a result of quality problems caused by the fire, water supply engineer Adam Jokerst said last year the city took no water from the Poudre for 100 days and depended solely on Horsetooth. This helped the city avoid water restrictions, but reduced the amount of reservoir water it could carry over to this year.

    This year, last-minute heavy snows in the high country, the availability of more C-BT water, and the ability to once again take water from the Poudre allowed the city to avoid restrictions, he said.

    The main problem plaguing the city’s water supply, he said, is the lack of flexibility with limited reservoir space. “We kind of live from year to year. If we get storage, our system is pretty robust.”

    More Cache la Poudre River watershed coverage here and here.


    Aspinall Unit operations update: 550 cfs in Black Canyon

    August 3, 2013

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    From email from Reclamation (Erik Knight):

    Due to the continuance of precipitation throughout the Gunnison River basin, flows in the lower Gunnison River, as measured at the Whitewater gage, have remained above the Aspinall Unit ROD baseflow target of 890 cfs. Scattered rainfall is forecast to occur over the basin during the next week, which will hopefully keep streamflows at or above their current levels.

    Therefore, in order to conserve some storage in the Aspinall Unit, releases from Crystal Dam shall be decreased by 50 cfs (from 1,600 cfs to 1,550 cfs) at 8:00 am, Saturday, August 3rd. This will bring flows in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon down to around 550 cfs.


    Statewide water plan: ‘…no one is wise enough to say what we’ll need 40 years from now’ — Mike King

    August 2, 2013

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    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

    Just as a river serves many uses, state water planners see an opportunity to meet many needs with a state water plan. “Everything is on the table,” said Mike King, Colorado Department of Natural Resources executive director. “There are no thumbs-up or thumbsdown, and no one is wise enough to say what we’ll need 40 years from now.”

    That means agricultural needs, projects to bring water into the state, environmental protection and quality of life issues will be given equal weight with the elephant in the room: municipal water supply.

    The governor’s order, signed in May, seeks to prevent sacrificing agriculture and the environment to fill the needs of growing cities. “We’re trying to develop a unified vision for Colorado,” King said. “Talking about water on a statewide basis has been a quagmire.”

    King, along with Alan Hamel, chairman of the Colorado Water Conservation Board, and CWCB Director James Eklund met with The Pueblo Chieftain editorial board Thursday to discuss the upcoming water plan.

    King said a task force on the Flaming Gorge project failed to weigh in on the benefits or harm the project might cause because it lacked any clear direction from the governor or any other political leaders. While the current direction is calling for more conservation, sharing water resources and getting current projects built, the new plan will map how new storage can be built and how agriculture can be preserved, King said. There could even be guidelines to use in looking at bringing in more water from the Colorado River, he added. “I think the plan even will look at new supply and the need to preserve the ag economy,” Hamel added. “I’m excited about the opportunity we have today.”

    Gov. John Hickenlooper has ordered the CWCB and other state agencies to develop the plan by late 2014. It would be Colorado’s first comprehensive blueprint developed by the people in the state. Eklund said it would build on the basin roundtable and Interbasin Compact Committee process started in 2005 to get grass-roots consensus about what is needed. The CWCB will take a more active role in developing water leasing pilot projects under HB1248, which was passed this year, Eklund added.

    There is a sense of urgency. “If we can’t do this now, we might as well quit talking about it and let water Darwinism take its course,” King said.

    More Statewide Water Plan coverage here.


    Fountain Creek: Mayor Bach takes position that Pueblo County’s 1041 permit is non-specific with respect to projects

    July 31, 2013

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    From the Colorado Springs Independent (Pam Zubeck):

    After Mayor Steve Bach and Council President Keith King sent a June 6 letter to Pueblo County misstating the facts about Colorado Springs Utilities’ permit to build the Southern Delivery System (“Storm brewing,” News, July 17), they corrected the record with a new letter sent July 19.

    In the June 6 version, the city said a Stormwater Enterprise projects list was submitted “as part of” the 1041 construction permit process for the water pipeline from Pueblo Reservoir. There was no such project list or dollar figure submitted by the city as part of the 1041 permit itself, records show, meaning the city made no concrete pledges to spend a certain amount of money on stormwater or to do certain projects.

    Rather, the permit, issued in April 2009, simply requires the city to ensure that Fountain Creek peak flows that result from new development served by the water pipeline are no greater than prior peak flows.

    Although City Attorney Chris Melcher said in a statement to the Indy on July 15 that the June 6 letter “was accurate,” Bach and King wrote a new letter on July 19 “to clarify any potential misunderstanding of our letter of June 6, 2013.”

    This letter also said that while there were “conversations” about stormwater projects, “it is clear that the 1041 Permit itself does not require or adopt any specific list of capital projects that must be implemented … [n]or does the 1041 Permit require a specific dollar amount to be allocated.”

    The July 19 letter prompted Pueblo County Commissioner Sal Pace to tell the Pueblo Chieftain he was “furious” and “confused.”

    More Southern Delivery System coverage here and here.


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

    July 28, 2013

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    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    More Arkansas River Basin coverage here and here.


    The Pueblo County D.A. will appeal reversal of Judge Reyes’ order for a CWQCC redo for certification of SDS

    July 26, 2013

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    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

    Pueblo District Attorney Jeff Chostner will ask the Colorado Supreme Court to overturn an appeals court ruling on Fountain Creek.

    Last week, a three-judge appellate panel overturned District Judge Victor Reyes’ order for the Colorado Water Quality Control Commission to redo its certification of Colorado Springs’ mitigation plan for Fountain Creek and the Arkansas River. The case was originally filed by former District Attorney Bill Thiebaut. “I think there are contradictions within the opinion about what Judge Reyes could and couldn’t do,” Chostner said Tuesday. “They were also wrong on the facts and in saying that he acted in a capricious way.”

    One of the major criticisms in last week’s reversal of Reyes’ order was that he chose to adopt Thiebaut’s complaint almost in its entirety. “It’s not unusual for a judge to pick one side over the other,” Chostner said. A petition for a writ of certiorari will be filed with the Supreme Court by the Aug. 29 deadline, Chostner said.

    John Barth, a Hygiene water attorney hired by Thiebaut, and Chostner’s staff will work on the appeal.

    Reyes issued the order last year for the commission to re-evaluate its certification for Colorado Springs Utilities’ plan for mitigation of impacts from the Southern Delivery System on Fountain Creek and the reach of the Arkansas River from Pueblo Dam to Avondale.

    Thiebaut and the Rocky Mountain Environmental Labor Coalition opposed the plan, mainly because it relies on an adaptive management program that was spawned in the Bureau of Reclamation’s environmental impact statement for SDS. The opponents argued for a numerical standard instead.

    The state certification is necessary for Army Corps of Engineers’ approval to work in Fountain Creek under the federal Clean Water Act.

    More Southern Delivery System coverage here and here.


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

    July 26, 2013

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    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

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

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

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

    More Arkansas River Basin coverage here and here.


    ‘They [Colorado Springs] disguise their intentions and do nothing’ — Jay Winner

    July 24, 2013

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    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

    Colorado Springs leaders have told Pueblo County commissioners the city is not required to address specific stormwater projects or spend a set amount under its Southern Delivery System 1041 permit. It’s infuriated Commissioner Sal Pace, because the position apparently contradicts an June 6 letter in which Colorado Springs pledged to address the needs identified in the permitting process for SDS, a pipeline that will deliver water from Pueblo Dam to El Paso County. “I don’t know if I’m more furious or confused,” Pace said. “All one has to do is read the SDS environmental impact statement and see that the stormwater enterprise is mentioned over and over. In the June 6 letter, they indicated they were committed to addressing their stormwater needs. Now, in one simple letter, the city has reversed all that.”

    As a state lawmaker, Pace challenged the elimination of the stormwater enterprise and continues to question the decision as a commissioner.

    Pueblo County commissioners are seeking a meeting with Colorado Springs officials to discuss SDS compliance, but no date has been set. Violations of the 1041 permit would have to be addressed at a formal compliance hearing, and are not subject to the individual opinions of commissioners. Apparently, Colorado Springs is taking the position that it is only required to pay $50 million to a Fountain Creek improvement district, spend $75 million on bolstering sewer lines and ensure that SDS does not increase flows under the county permit for its $940 million water supply project. “It is clear the 1041 permit itself does not require or adopt any specific list of capital projects that must be implemented to address Fountain Creek peak flows, run-off volumes or other flood hazards,” Colorado Springs Mayor Steve Bach and Council President Keith King wrote in a letter to Pace last week. ‘’Nor does the 1041 permit require a specific dollar amount to be allocated toward stormwater projects.”

    Comments in March 2012 by City Attorney Chris Melcher that Colorado Springs should be spending at least $13 million annually on stormwater touched off a flurry of stormwater activity three years after council abolished the city’s stormwater enterprise.

    An El Paso County task force identified $900 million in capital projects, $686 million in Colorado Springs. Bach launched an independent review of Colorado Springs’ share.

    During that time, the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District asked the Bureau of Reclamation to reopen its environmental analysis of SDS because it originally assumed the stormwater enterprise was in effect. Last week, the district released figures showing the city’s expenditures on stormwater dwindled to nearly nothing in 2012.

    Colorado Springs is spending $46 million on stormwater projects this year, with more than half going toward dealing with impacts from the Waldo Canyon Fire.

    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

    The burden of meeting water quality standards will increasingly fall on farmers in the Lower Arkansas Valley as a result of inaction on stormwater in Colorado Springs. “It’s outrageous that they do not want to take the responsibility for stormwater,” said Jay Winner, general manager of the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District. “Pueblo and the Lower Ark district have tried to cooperate, but it seems that every­ The federal Food Modernization and Safety Act passed last year puts increased responsibility for water quality on farmers who irrigate and market raw food, Winner said. Lower Ark district studies show that water quality on Fountain Creek has continued to decline since Colorado Springs abolished its stormwater enterprise.

    Winner was reacting to news reported in The Chieftain Tuesday that Colorado Springs Mayor Steve Bach and Council President Keith King say their city is not obligated to do any specific projects or fund stormwater at any certain levels under Pueblo County permits for the Southern Delivery System.

    Bach and King made that clear in a letter to Pueblo County Commissioner Sal Pace last week.

    That’s a slap in the face to Winner, who received assurances stormwater would be funded at Colorado Springs City Council meetings in 2005, when the stormwater enterprise was formed, and in 2009, when it was dissolved. But a recent analysis by the Lower Ark district shows funding dropped to almost nothing in 2012. It has increased to $46 million this year, largely because of concerns about funding levels for SDS permits raised by Colorado Springs attorney Chris Melcher last year and the after-effects of the Waldo Canyon Fire. “The enterprise was supposed to fund the backlog of projects,” Winner said. That backlog now is estimated to be $686 million, a figure Bach questions. “They disguise their intentions and do nothing.”

    Winner said the stormwater enterprise was listed as reasonably foreseeable in the 2009 environmental impact statement for SDS by the Bureau of Reclamation. “It has to be in place before one drop of water moves through SDS,” Winner said.

    Conversely, Reclamation says a stormwater enterprise in Colorado Springs or El Paso County is not reasonably foreseeable in its current evaluation of the Arkansas Valley Conduit. But Reclamation has not reopened the EIS for SDS, despite a Lower Ark request last year.

    Winner also questions whether the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District is weighted too heavily in favor of El Paso County. He is critical of the district for focusing on impacts of Waldo Canyon near Colorado Springs rather than downstream impacts. The district was formed in part to satisfy how $50 million in payments from Colorado Springs to improve Fountain Creek would be handled under Pueblo County’s 1041 permit for SDS. The district played a role in the current discussion over stormwater in El Paso County, backing a study that showed Colorado Springs’ stormwater funding lagged far behind other Front Range communities.

    However, Colorado Springs leadership has at times ignored the district. For six months in 2011 no representative from Colorado Springs attended Fountain Creek meetings, as reported in the Sept. 24, 2011, Pueblo Chieftain. “I don’t recall that Mayor Bach ever has attended a Fountain Creek board meeting,” Winner added.

    More Southern Delivery System coverage here and here.


    Appeals court reverses Pueblo District Judge Victor Reyes’ order regarding the SDS’s 401 permit

    July 19, 2013

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    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

    A Colorado appeals court Thursday reversed Pueblo District Judge Victor Reyes’ order for the state to re-evaluate its assessment of the impacts of the Southern Delivery System on Fountain Creek and the Arkansas River.

    Reyes issued an order on April 12, 2012, for the Colorado Water Quality Control Commission to reopen hearings on a 2011 Water Quality Act Section 401 permit for SDS. The permit is necessary for construction of the SDS pipeline across Fountain Creek because it is tied to Army Corps of Engineers permits.

    Colorado Springs Utilities is building the $940 million pipeline, which will take water from Pueblo Dam to El Paso County.

    The state decision was challenged by former Pueblo District Attorney Bill Thiebaut and the Rocky Mountain Environmental Labor Coalition.

    They argued that a numerical water quality standard was needed rather than relying on an adaptive management program that the Bureau of Reclamation established as part of an environmental impact statement leading up to approval of SDS.

    They also challenged the way public notices were made and said the state failed to look at the possibility of further degradation of Fountain Creek from population growth in Colorado Springs.

    The appeals court opinion said the Water Quality Control Commission did not violate applicable water quality standards, reversing Reyes’ decision.

    Judge Stephanie Dunn wrote the opinion, with Judges Nancy Lichtenstein and James Casebolt concurring.

    The opinion criticizes Reyes for adopting most of the wording in his decision from the complaint filed by Thiebaut and the coalition, saying it is not the court’s role to reverse a state agency’s decision without more rigorous investigation.

    “Where, as here, a district court adopts an order drafted by counsel, we scrutinize the order more critically,” Dunn wrote.

    The opinion also said Reyes erred by citing Colorado Springs Utilities’ land condemnation cases in Pueblo West when writing his order. Reyes “made credibility determinations based on information outside the administrative record.”

    From the Colorado Springs Business Journal (Amy Gillentine):

    The Colorado Court of Appeals reversed a Pueblo County judge’s ruling against a state water quality certification for the SDS project, which will bring water from the Pueblo Reservoir to Colorado Springs, the biggest water project in decades for Colorado Springs Utilities. The multi-million project is well underway, with miles of pipeline already finished and construction started on water treatment plants The appeals court ruled that the state Water Quality Control Commission was correct in approving the SDS water quality certification, according to a press release from Colorado Springs Utilities.

    The decision reverses Pueblo County District Court Judge Victor Reyes’ April 2012 ruling against the Water Quality Control Commissions’ unanimous decision approving the 401 water quality certification.

    “We are pleased that the Colorado Court of Appeals has ruled in support of the 401 water quality certification for SDS,” said John Fredell, SDS program director. “We always believed that the state Water Quality Control Division did a thorough and complete evaluation of SDS and correctly decided that it would meet State water quality standards. We are pleased that the Court of Appeals has recognized that. It is unfortunate that this matter had to be resolved in the courts, which is a costly process and one that goes against our approach of collaborating with other local governments and stakeholders.”

    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

    Even before he took office, District Attorney Jeff Chostner realized he would have a decision to make on a case he inherited from Bill Thiebaut. Pueblo District Judge Victor Reyes ruled in Thiebaut’s favor in April 2012 on a challenge to a Colorado Water Quality Control Commission decision to certify Colorado Springs Utilities’ Southern Delivery System, a pipeline to deliver water from Pueblo Dam to El Paso County.

    On Thursday, an appeals court overturned Reyes’ order, saying opponents failed to prove their case.

    It’s unknown if there will be an appeal to the Supreme Court. “Jeff Chostner is not in his office today, so I have not even been able to talk to my client. I haven’t had time to carefully read the decision,” said John Barth, a Hygiene attorney. “We’re still reviewing the decision and evaluating our options.”

    Those options include a petition for rehearing or calling for a writ of certiorari, which would ask to overturn the appeal decision.

    Before he took office, Chostner told The Chieftain that an appeal is not automatic. “If it goes against Colorado Springs, I would certainly defend a successful case,” Chostner said in December. “If it goes against us, I would have to read the language of the opinion before making a decision.”

    Colorado Springs Utilities officials were happy with the appeals court decision. “We are pleased that the Colorado Court of Appeals has ruled in support of the 401 water quality certification for SDS,” said John Fredell, SDS Program Director. “We always believed that the state Water Quality Control Division did a thorough and complete evaluation of SDS and correctly decided that it would meet state water quality standards.”

    From the Colorado Springs Gazette (Monica Mendoza):

    Colorado Springs Utilities has done all the necessary work to ensure that its Southern Delivery System does not wreck water quality in Fountain Creek, the Colorado Court of Appeals ruled Thursday. The ruling is a big win for the utilities’ $1 billion dollar pipeline project and creates “a clean path” for the project to continue, said Keith Riley, deputy program director for SDS. “It means we go forward as planned without adding additional mitigation,” Riley said.

    From the Colorado Springs Independent (Pam Zubeck):

    “Pleased” probably doesn’t even get close to the feeling of those at Colorado Springs Utilities, given a Colorado Court of Appeals ruling upholding the state’s approval of a certification for the Southern Delivery Pipeline water project. Nevertheless, that’s the word used in a news release by John Fredell, SDS program director, regarding the water quality permit issue. The ruling means a hurdle that has been cited by Pueblo County in correspondence with the Interior Department as a roadblock for SDS has been removed.

    More Southern Delivery System coverage here and here.


    Aspinall Unit operations update: 1600 cfs in Black Canyon

    July 17, 2013

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    From email from Reclamation (Erik Knight):

    Rainfall over the last week has helped keep river flows in the Gunnison River at the Whitewater gage well above the baseflow target of 900 cfs. Currently flows are over 1,200 cfs and the weather forecast is showing a good chance for a continuation of rain storms into the weekend.

    Therefore releases from Crystal Dam will be reduced by 100 cfs (from 1,700 cfs to 1,600 cfs) today, Tuesday July 16, at 5:00 pm. This will bring flows in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon down to around 600 cfs.

    More Aspinall Unit coverage here.


    AWRA Colorado Section: AWRA Summer field trip of the Southern Delivery System — Friday, August 16

    July 16, 2013

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    Click here to go to the AWRA Colorado Section website for the pitch and to register.

    More Southern Delivery System coverage here and here.


    Montezuma Valley Irrigation and the Dolores Water Conservancy District stipulate out of Cortez’s change of diversion case

    July 16, 2013

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    From the Cortez Journal (Tobie Baker):

    Last year, a Colorado Water Division engineer discovered the City of Cortez never filed an application to officially change its point of diversion from the Montezuma Valley Irrigation Canal to the Dolores Tunnel. In June of last year, the city filed the change application, but the proposal was met with opposition.

    According to court documents, the city’s water rights date back to 1892, when the Sheek Ditch, Illinois Ditch, Giogetta Ditch and Dunham & Johnson Ditch were decreed for the town’s irrigation needs. In 1952 and 1953, the city’s point of diversion was changed to the Dolores River through the Dolores Tunnel, now via McPhee Reservoir, but water court officials never approved the change.

    Court records show the application filed by the city last summer sought to officially change municipal water rights from the headgate of the Main No. 1 Canal of the Montezuma Valley Irrigation Company to the Dolores Tunnel via McPhee Reservoir.

    The application met opposition from both Montezuma Valley Irrigation Company and Dolores Water Conservancy District, but an agreement has since been reached, said City Manager Shane Hale…

    According to the agreement, the city will continue receiving water diverted via McPhee Reservoir through the Dolores Tunnel. The application and the proposed decree do not change the ability of the City of Cortez to continue to use the full 4.2 cubic feet per second it has historically had access to, Krob added.

    More Dolores River Watershed coverage here and here.


    Ruedi reservoir operations update: 160 cfs in the Fryinpan River below the dam, summer operations meeting July 17

    July 11, 2013

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    From email from Reclamation (Kara Lamb):

    We saw some demand come up downstream on the Colorado River today–the Fish & Wildlife Service has asked for additional water to bump up the Colorado per the Endangered Species Recovery Program. As a result, this afternoon, we bumped up releases from Ruedi Dam to the Fryingpan River. Flows past the Ruedi gage should now be around 160 cfs. To learn what to anticipate for the rest of summer and early fall, be sure to join us at our annual operations meeting on Wednesday, July 17, at the Basalt Town Hall from 7-8:30 p.m.

    From the Bureau of Reclamation (Kara Lamb):

    The Bureau of Reclamation has scheduled a public meeting regarding Ruedi Reservoir Water Operations.

    July 17: Basalt Town Hall, 101 Midland Avenue, Basalt, Colo., 7 to 8:30 p.m.

    The meeting will provide an overview of Ruedi Reservoir’s 2013 spring run-off, and deliver projected operations for late summer and early fall, which are key tourist seasons in Basalt. The meeting will include a public question and answer session.


    Southern Delivery System: Transmountain water not subject to just one use

    July 7, 2013

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    From Colorado Springs Style (Joe Stone):

    As SDS Program Director John Fredell explains, Colorado water law dictates that water native to Front Range streams and rivers can only be used once. For example, Colorado Springs Utilities can divert Fountain Creek water for use by residential customers, but any of that water not consumed must be treated and released for downstream users. With Western Slope water, Colorado Springs has the right to “use the water to extinction.”

    However, Fredell says, no “plumbing”currently exists to allow the Springs to fully consume its Western Slope water. The water gets used once then flows downstream to the Arkansas River via Fountain Creek. By connecting a pipeline from Pueblo Reservoir to the Springs’ water system, the SDS provides the plumbing that will change that. Colorado Springs Utilities will soon be able to exchange water sent down Fountain Creek for water stored in Pueblo Reservoir. “With SDS, we’re basically reusing our water, getting two to three uses of that water, which is extremely valuable.”

    Fredell points to several economic benefits of reusing the city’s Western Slope water, including preservation of Arkansas Basin agricultural water rights, which are frequently targeted by growing Front Range cities. Once municipalities acquire agricultural rights and change them to municipal use in Water Court, productive farmland is dried up with little chance of ever being returned to agricultural production.

    The immediate benefits of the SDS include revenue for local businesses and jobs for the local workforce. “The SDS is the biggest thing going,” says Fredell, “and we worked hard to get local contractors and companies involved. A lot of people questioned the timing of this project, asking why we would start such a big project during an economic downturn. My answer is, ‘Why wouldn’t you start now?’ You get better pricing on materials and services because of a more competitive market, and you help move the economy forward. This project provides work for over 300 Colorado businesses.” Furthermore, historically low bond rates add up to huge savings over the project’s forty-year finance period.

    Officials with Colorado Springs Utilities must also take into account the age of the city’s existing water infrastructure. Bringing Western Slope water to the Springs requires a complex system of twenty-five dams, 200 miles of pipes and four major pump stations in nine counties. That infrastructure is aging, and some parts of the system are more than fifty years old. As parts wear out and fail, the redundancy provided by the SDS will ensure an uninterrupted water supply during repairs and maintenance, which will become more frequent as system components get older.

    More Southern Delivery System coverage here and here.


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