Twin Lakes Reservoir and Canal Co, Aspen and the #ColoradoRiver District reach deal

October 15, 2014

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

The city of Aspen and Front Range water interests have reached a compromise 20 years in the making that allows more water to be sent east when the spring runoff is plentiful, in exchange for bolstering flows when the Roaring Fork River is running low in the fall. The deal is between the Twin Lakes Reservoir and Canal Co., which operates transbasin diversion tunnels underneath Independence Pass, and the city of Aspen and the Colorado River District, which works to protect water rights on the Western Slope.

The deal, which has its roots in a 1994 water court application from Twin Lakes that sought to increase diversions during the runoff in high-snowpack years. It will leave 40 acre-feet of water in Grizzly Reservoir when Twin Lakes exercises its rights under the 1994 proposal. That water will be stored in the 500-acre-foot reservoir and released into the Roaring Fork for about three weeks in late summer, when seasonal flows are at their lowest. The water must be called for and released in the same year it was stored.

Grizzly Reservoir, located about 8 miles up Lincoln Creek Road near the Continental Divide, is a component of the transbasin-diversion system. A tunnel underneath the reservoir channels water underneath the mountain to the south fork of Lake Creek in the Arkansas River basin, on the other side of the pass.

Additionally, under the deal, the River District will have the right to store 200 acre-feet of water in Grizzly Reservoir and can call for up to 150 acre feet of that water in a year. Importantly, that 200 acre-feet can be stored long-term in the reservoir until it is called for by the River District, which manages water rights across the Western Slope.

Another 600 acre-feet will be provided to the River District for seasonal storage in Twin Lakes Reservoir, also on the east side of Independence Pass. The district will then trade and exchange that water with various entities, which could lead to more water staying on the Western Slope that would otherwise be diverted through other transbasin tunnels.

Twin Lakes diverts an average of 46,000 acre-feet a year from the headwaters of the Roaring Fork and sends it to Colorado Springs and other Front Range cities. The city of Colorado Springs owns 55 percent of the shares in the Twin Lakes Reservoir and Canal Co., entities in Pueblo own 23 percent, entities in Pueblo West own 12 percent, and Aurora owns 5 percent.

Aspen and the River District intend to cooperatively use the stored water in Grizzly Reservoir to boost late-summer flows in the Roaring Fork as it winds through Aspen proper.

Water already flowing
The stretch of the Roaring Fork River below the Salvation Ditch on Stillwater Drive typically runs below environmentally sound flows each year for about eight weeks, according to city officials. And given that this spring saw a high run-off, the three parties to the agreement managed some water this year as if the deal was already signed.

“At the close of the current water year (which ended the last day of September), Twin Lakes started making releases of some of the water stored for the River District, followed by release of the 40 acre-feet, as directed by Aspen and the River District,” Phil Overeynder, a special projects engineer for the city, wrote in an Oct. 3 memo to city council. “These releases had the effect of increasing flows in the Roaring Fork through the Aspen reach by approximately 20 percent and will last for approximately a three-week period at the end of the lowest flow conditions of the year.”

Overeynder added that “both Aspen and the River District believe that this agreement, while not perfect, is of real and meaningful benefit to the Roaring Fork.”

Aspen City Council approved the agreement on its consent calendar during a regular council meeting on Monday. The agreement is on the River District’s Tuesday meeting agenda, and Twin Lakes approved it last month.

The deal still needs to be accepted by Pitkin County and the Salvation Ditch Co. in order to satisfy all of the details of the water court’s 2001 approval of the 1994 water rights application.

Junior and senior rights
In addition to its junior 1994 water right, Twin Lakes also holds a senior 1936 water right that allows it to divert up to 68,000 acre-feet in a single year and up to 570,000 acre-feet in a 10-year period.

Originally, the water diverted by Twin Lakes was used to grow sugar beets to make sugar, but it is now primarily used to meet the needs of people living on the Front Range.

The 1936 water right still has some lingering restrictions in high-water years, according to Kevin Lusk, an engineer with Colorado Springs Utilities who serves as the president of the board of the private Twin Lakes Reservoir and Canal Co. Under its 1936 right, when there is plenty of water in the Arkansas River and the Twin Lakes Reservoir is full, Twin Lakes is not allowed to divert water, even though it is physically there to divert, Lusk explained. So in 1994 it filed in water court for a new water right without the same restrictions so it could divert more water to the east. It was dubbed the “Twin Junior,” water right.

The city of Aspen and the River District objected in court to the “Twin Junior” and the agreement approved Monday is a long-delayed outcome of the case.

Aspen claimed that if Twin Lakes diverted more water in big-water years, the Roaring Fork wouldn’t enjoy the benefits of the high water, including flooding the Stillwater section and replenishing groundwater supplies. That process, the city argued, helps the river in dry times.

“We don’t necessarily agree with the theory behind it,” Lusk said of the city’s claim, but added that Twin Lakes agreed to the deal as part of settlement negotiations.

And since 2014 turned out to be a high-water year, Twin Lakes exercised its right to divert water under its 1994 Twin Junior right, and worked cooperatively with Aspen and the River District to release 40-acre feet of “mitigation water” as described in the pending deal.

The new agreement between the city, Twin Lakes and the River District is in addition to another working arrangement between Twin Lakes and Aspen related to the Fryingpan-Arkansas diversion project, which diverts water from the headwaters of the Fryingpan River.

That agreement provides 3,000 acre-feet of water each year to be released by Twin Lakes into the main stem of the Roaring Fork beneath a dam near Lost Man Campground, normally at a rate of 3 to 4 cubic feet per second.

More Twin Lakes coverage here.


Water Lines: How will Colorado’s water plan address West-East water transfers? #COWaterPlan #ColoradoRiver

October 14, 2014

From the Grand Junction Free Press (Hannah Holm):

As the first draft of Colorado’s Water Plan nears completion (it’s due in December), many who have participated in its development remain anxious about what will and won’t be in it — particularly in relation to the potential for more West Slope water to be transported east to serve growing cities on the Front Range.

Colorado’s Water Plan, which was ordered by Governor Hickenlooper in May of 2013, is intended to close a projected gap between water needs and developed supplies in coming decades. “Basin Roundtables” of water providers and other water stakeholders in each of the state’s major river basins contributed key building blocks to the plan back in July, when they turned in plans for how to address needs within their own basins.

Now, Colorado Water Conservation Board staffers are scrambling to integrate information from each of the basin plans, as well as their own statewide analysis and public input, into a cohesive document. This would be a big task even if all of the basin plans agreed with each other — which they don’t.

The West Slope basin plans reflect an extremely dim view of additional diversions of West Slope water to the Front Range, citing damage to the environment and river-based recreation and the concern that failure to meet water delivery obligations to downstream states would put both West Slope and Front Range users of Colorado River water at risk. The South Platte basin plan, on the other hand, states that additional Colorado River imports will be needed to supply future urban growth and prevent the dry-up of irrigated land.

At a meeting on Oct. 6, Gunnison Basin Roundtable members asked how this conflict would be resolved in the statewide plan. The answer they got from the basin’s representative to the Colorado Water Conservation Board, John McClow, was that it wouldn’t. He said, as other CWCB representatives have also stated in previous meetings, that the plan will not endorse any particular type of transmountain diversion project. The individual basin plans will stand on their own, without any forced reconciliation.

An early draft chapter of the Colorado Water Plan, however, does contain a draft “conceptual agreement” on how to approach a potential future transmountain diversion. This agreement was hammered out between representatives from all the state’s roundtables and released for comment.

The draft conceptual agreement got a mixed reception at the Gunnison Basin Roundtable meeting. Members welcomed an acknowledgement by Front Range parties that any new transmountain diversion may only be able to take water in wet years, due to existing demands and downstream obligations.

Language about the need for an “insurance policy” to protect “existing uses and some increment of future development” was greeted with much more skepticism, however. There was concern that this meant that irrigated agriculture could be sacrificed to enable continued urban uses, although no one could say with certainty what it really meant. There was also concern that the agreement would go into the December draft of Colorado’s Water Plan without sufficient additional discussion.

Some comfort was provided by the fact that, once the complete draft of Colorado’s Water Plan is released in December, the current timeline allows a full year for additional discussion and public comment before the document is final. You can find all the documents developed to date at http://www.coloradowaterplan.com.

More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.


CWC: We’re partnering with the Colorado Foundation for Water Education to bring you three webinars on Transbasin diversions

October 7, 2014

Colorado transmountain diversions via the State Engineer's office

Colorado transmountain diversions via the State Engineer’s office


At head gate atop pass, Western Slope, Front Range interests meet — The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel

October 7, 2014

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):

A water-measuring flume on a ditch sitting exactly astride this pass outside Leadville might be as good a place as any to bring Western and Eastern Slope interests together to talk about water.

Those interests met in the middle here last week, at this point where the Ewing Ditch crosses the Continental Divide, on a transbasin diversion tour presented by the Colorado Foundation for Water Education. It was a chance to consider the past of water development in Colorado while also pondering its future. And where better to look back at the history of transbasin diversions than at Ewing Ditch, the oldest diversion of Western Slope water to the Eastern Slope?

This straightforward, unassuming dirt conduit seemingly defies gravity, diverting water from Eagle River tributary Piney Gulch just a short walk from Tennessee Pass, and just high enough up the gulch that the water can follow a contoured course crossing basins and head into the Arkansas River Valley.

“It’s simple, but I love simplicity. It fits my mind,” Alan Ward, water resources manager with the Pueblo Board of Water Works, joked about the ditch, which the utility bought in 1955.

Buried in snow

It was built in 1880 and also is called the Ewing Placer Ditch, which Ward believes suggests early use of the water in mining.

As transbasin diversions go, it’s a minuscule one, delivering up to 18.5 cubic feet per second, or an average of about 1,000 acre-feet in a year. It diverts about five square miles of melt-off from snowpack that can leave the ditch buried beneath 10 to 20 feet of snow in the winter. David Curtis is in charge of clearing that snow and maintaining and operating the ditch during the seven months out of each year that he works out of Leadville as a ditch rider for the utility.

The utility says Ewing Ditch is about three-quarters of a mile long.

“I think it’s a little longer,” Curtis said, adding that at least it seems that way when he and others are busy clearing spring snow.

A chartered bus delivered more than two dozen tour participants to view the ditch, including Boulder County resident Joe Stepanek. He found last week’s two-day tour to be highly informative. He’s interested in Colorado’s history of water development, and is retired from a U.S. Agency for International Development career that had him traveling abroad.

“I come back and join this water tour and learn a lot about Colorado,” he said.

Sonja Reiser, an engineer with CH2M HILL in Denver, likewise was finding the tour to be eye-opening.

“I’m learning so much about how complicated Colorado water law is,” she said as the tour bus moved on from this tiny diversion point to the outlet of the five-mile-long Homestake Tunnel, which goes under the Continental Divide from Homestake Reservoir in Eagle County and is capable of delivering a much more massive 800 cubic feet per second to help meet municipal needs in Colorado Springs and Aurora.

Before getting to those cities, that water also is put to use at another tour stop, the Mount Elbert Power Plant just above Twin Lakes. There, the water goes through hydropower turbines that can be reversed to pull water back up from the lakes to a reservoir above the plant, helping ensure the water is available to create on-demand power to meet grid shortages at times when renewable energy from wind and solar sources wane.

While traveling to the tunnel, the busload heard Pitkin County Attorney John Ely discuss legal means that county has to at least weigh in on transbasin diversion proposals, even if it can’t outright stop them.

He then opined that Pitkin County has more in common with some Front Range counties than it does with some counties on the Western Slope.

“I think that at the end of the day everybody appreciates that we’re in this together,” he said.

More water

Such thinking is helping drive an ongoing effort to develop a state water plan in Colorado. Ely said the priority is always going to be providing water for human consumption, but beyond that, decisions must be made about how to distribute it among competing uses such as agriculture, watering lawns, generating hydropower and maintaining streamflows.

“The only way you can get at that is to invite the public to participate,” he said.

Since 1880, many others have followed the lead taken with the Ewing Ditch and diverted Western Slope water for use on the populous Front Range. As a result, a big challenge facing the state water planning process is reconciling the Front Range’s desire to be able to access yet more of that water with the feeling of many on the Western Slope that they’ve given up enough of it. Although tours like last week’s can’t be expected to lead to breakthroughs on such difficult issues, they at least help to put faces behind the entities involved.

“We’re not three-headed monsters on the Eastern Slope,” Kevin Lusk, who works with Colorado Springs Utilities, said during a windy lunch break alongside Turquoise Lake, which stores water delivered by the Homestake Tunnel.

Front Range lawns

Fielding questions from a few Western Slope residents as they ate, Lusk and some other Front Range utility officials found themselves defending the amount of water conservation they’ve already undertaken, and questioning the Western Slope frustration about water being used to keep Front Range lawns green. Brett Gracely, also with Colorado Springs Utilities, said that watering accounts for just 3 percent of state water use.

“I don’t get it — why do people hate grass?” Lusk wondered.

But as Lusk later described Colorado Springs’ efforts to better shore up its diversion infrastructure to reduce leakage far up the Roaring Fork Valley in Pitkin County, it engendered a frustrated sigh from Lisa Tasker, a member of Pitkin County’s Healthy River Board. She has hiked around that infrastructure, and what has leaked from it has helped vegetation in the same pristine mountain basins from where that water originates, rather than irrigating Front Range lawns.

Still, Tasker bit her lip during Lusk’s presentation. She was on the tour to look and listen, and said earlier it was a chance to see diversion infrastructure firsthand and hear not just the perspectives but the passions of people from the Front Range.

“I’m strictly in learning mode,” she said.

Chris Treese, external affairs manager of the Colorado River Water Conservation District, based in Glenwood Springs, sits on the board of the Colorado Foundation for Water Education, which uses tours and other means to provide unbiased information on water resources and issues. Treese, who also was a presenter during last week’s tour, said he believes such events help foster dialogue about water in the state and get new voices involved in the state’s water future.

“If it’s going to be a state water plan, it can’t just be water buffaloes’ state water plan,” Treese said, referring to the more traditional participants in water issues on both sides of the divide.

“It’s good for us to get outside of our box and look at the bigger picture,” said tour participant Joe Burtard, who works in external affairs for the Ute Water Conservancy District utility in Mesa County. “… It’s good for us to be exposed to the Front Range and Eastern Slope perspectives as well.”

More Colorado Foundation for Water Education coverage here.


The Western Slope, however, can’t afford to be blinded by parochial interests — John Harold #ColoradoRiver #COWaterPlan

October 5, 2014


From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Gary Harmon):

Western Slope agriculture should have the same heft in water discussions as diverters to the east and populous states to the south, the head of a Grand Valley water agency said Friday.

“Western Slope agriculture and Western Slope water cannot be considered as a simple, easy-to-go-to solution to the water-supply concerns of others,” Mark Harris, general manager of the Grand Valley Water Users’ Association, told about 300 people at the Colorado River District’s annual water seminar at Two Rivers Convention Center.

The Western Slope, however, can’t afford to be blinded by parochial interests, John Harold of Tuxedo Farms in Olathe said.

“If we ever have a vote, there are 40 million people who would just run us over in a flash,” Harold said.

Harris and Harold were among several speakers who were asked how to deal with the water quandaries that now confront water users.

Those problems range from increased demands for water from the Front Range to insistence from the southwest that Colorado is running dangerously close to falling short of meeting its requirements under the 1922 compact that governs the use of the Colorado River.

Participants were asked whether Gov. John Hickenlooper’s comment that “Every conversation about water should begin with conservation” might understate the value of efficient use of water.

The terms are virtually interchangeable in common usage, said Dr. Perry Cabot, a research scientist and extension specialist at Colorado State University.

On a more technical level, however, conservation “is about doing less with less,” Cabot said, while efficiency improvements are aimed at “doing the same with less” water.

An experiment comparing yields of traditional furrow irrigation against sprinkler irrigation and drip irrigation on onions showed that drip irrigation was twice as efficient as furrow irrigation.

Sprinkler irrigation was in between.

Efficiency is likely to become more significant in coming years as demand for food grows, Cabot said.

“There hasn’t been enough emphasis on efficiency,” said Aaron Citron, project manager and attorney for the Environmental Defense Fund’s Colorado River Project in Boulder.

“In the next 50 years, we’re going to have to produce as much food as we ever have in history,” Cabot said.

And that will be against the backdrop of increased competition from improved agricultural practices worldwide, Harris said.

More Colorado River Basin coverage here.


Transmountain Diversions connect us all — Water Quality and Quantity Blog

September 30, 2014
Colorado transmountain diversions via the State Engineer's office

Colorado transmountain diversions via the State Engineer’s office

Here’s a report about last week’s Colorado Foundation for Water Education transbasin diversion tour from the Water Quality and Quantity Blog. Here’s an excerpt:

Because QQ works to address environmental (and resulting economic) impacts from transmountain diversions, the best part of the tour for me was gaining a better appreciation for how interconnected the State is through transmountain diversions.

The Arkansas Valley is the recipient of water that is diverted through complex tunnel systems, or simple diversion ditches, from the western side of the Continental Divide to water population centers on the Front Range. The tour focused primarily on the benefits that historic transmountain diversions (TMDs) have provided to the Eastern Slope. Chaffee County Commissioner Dennis Giese even thanked the West Slope for the water that makes their recreation and ranching economies thrive (a touching gesture that does not happen enough in dialogue across the divide).

We saw the first-ever TMD, the Ewing Ditch, and walked along the ¾ mile ditch from the diversion point to the point it crosses the Continental Divide. We saw TMDs of a much larger scale too, watching water blast from the side of a mountain, bringing water from Homestake Reservoir in the Eagle River basin through a 5-mile tunnel to Turquoise Reservoir and the Arkansas River basin.

More Colorado Foundation for Water Education coverage here.


#ColoradoRiver supply concerns mounting — The Durango Herald #drought

September 29, 2014
Colorado River Basin including out of basin demands -- Graphic/USBR

Colorado River Basin including out of basin demands — Graphic/USBR

From The Durango Herald (Dale Rodebaugh):

The water in Navajo Reservoir could play a role in meeting Colorado River Compact obligations in the event of continued drought, said Bruce Whitehead, director of the Southwestern Water Conservation District.

Release of water to Lake Powell from Navajo Reservoir, Flaming Gorge Reservoir on the Green River in Utah and Blue Mesa Reservoir on the Gunnison River is one of three measures his district and the Colorado River District want implemented if water storage in the network that supplies seven Western states approaches crisis level, Whitehead said.

The other measures call for increasing the amount of water available and, lastly, reducing use.

“We’re not in crisis now,” Whitehead said. “The 2013-2014 water year has been almost normal as far as the amount of water in Lake Powell.

“But the reality is that in spite of some good water years, we’re in a 15-year drought,” Whitehead said. “We need a plan to meet a crisis if the same conditions continue.”

The three measures to meet a critical water shortage came out of a recent meeting of Southwestern and the Colorado River District, which between them cover the Western Slope.

The recommendations went to the Upper Colorado River Commission, which regulates water matters in Colorado, Wyoming, Utah and New Mexico, the Upper Basin states that supply Arizona, Nevada and California, the Lower Basin states…

The concern about Lake Powell is that if water drops below the level needed to generate electricity, federal agencies would lose $120 million a year in power sales.

The revenue from power sales funds among other things environmental programs such as protecting fish species in the San Juan River, Whitehead said.

If the water level in Lake Powell allows generation of power, there should be enough water to satisfy the 1922 Colorado River Compact, Whitehead said.

Again, Whitehead said, Lake Powell and Lake Mead aren’t at critical levels. But the Upper Colorado River Commission and counterparts in Lower Basin states are looking at what-if situations.

Thus, the recommendations from his district and the Colorado River District, Whitehead said…

Measures to increase the amount of water available through cloud seeding, removal of water-hungry nonnative vegetation such tamarisk and Russian olive and evaporation-containment methods are a first step, Whitehead said.

A second early step, Whitehead said, would be the release to Lake Powell of water from Navajo, Blue Mesa and Flaming Gorge reservoirs which, respectively, have acre-feet capacities of 1.7 million, 829,500 and 3.79 million.

The contributions of Navajo and Blue Mesa could be less than optimal because of contractual obligations, Whitehead said. Blue Mesa also generates electricity.

If the first two steps aren’t enough, water users would be affected directly, Whitehead said. The consumption of cities and agricultural users would be reduced. Fallowing of fields also could be required.

The two commissions said if water for agriculture is reduced, the loss must be shared by Colorado River water users on the Front Range.

Front Range users receive 500,000 to 600,000 acre-feet of water a year from Colorado River transmountain diversions, Whitehead said.

Another transmountain diversion sends 90,000 to 100,000 acre-feet a year to the San Juan/Chama Project from the Blanco and Navajo rivers, Whitehead said. Users in Santa Fe and Albuquerque benefit.

More Colorado River Basin coverage here.


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