Trial opens on Walker’s SDS costs — The Pueblo Chieftain

April 15, 2015
Southern Delivery System route map -- Graphic / Reclamation

Southern Delivery System route map — Graphic / Reclamation

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

A contentious jury trial over the value of easements for the Southern Delivery System pipeline crossing Walker Ranches opened Monday in District Judge Jill Mattoon’s courtroom.

Colorado Springs Utilities offered about $100,000 for the easements, and has paid rancher Gary Walker $720,000 for moving cattle to alternate grazing pastures. Walker claims the value of SDS impacts on his land are $25 million, according to court documents. The 66-inch diameter pipeline has a 50-foot permanent easement and 100-foot temporary easement across 5.5 miles of Walker Ranches.

The total length of the SDS pipeline from Pueblo Dam to Colorado Springs is about 50 miles.

Walker spent about eight hours on the stand Monday and Tuesday testifying about the impact SDS has had on his cattle, violating existing conservation easements, introducing toxic materials and invasive species and other issues he has experienced since Colorado Springs constructed the underground pipeline in 2011. Water from the pipeline scar flooded other areas of the ranches and contributed to erosion, Walker said.

Walker stressed throughout that he does not believe he has been treated fairly in his dealings with Colorado Springs.

“After dealing with Colorado Springs since 2011, I’m worried about anything that occurs between you and I,” Walker pointedly told Colorado Springs attorneys during a testy cross-examination.

Colorado Springs in February won an appeal to the state Supreme Court to overturn a $500,000 judgment for court costs awarded by retired District Judge Victor Reyes in December. Walker had claimed Colorado Springs delayed the trial while he accrued costs for expert witnesses.

Colorado Springs is questioning Walker’s basis for damages, claiming conservation easements do not affect the parcels where the pipeline was built and that Pueblo County’s 1041 permit is an agreement between Colorado Springs and Pueblo County, not individual landowners. One of the conditions of the 1041 permit states that landowners should not have out of pocket expenses because of real estate transactions related to SDS.

Because of the large volume of documents in the case, the trial is expected to take about two weeks.

More Southern Delivery System coverage here.


The Arkansas Basin Roundtable finishes up their basin implementation plan #COWaterPlan

April 15, 2015
Flood irrigation in the Arkansas Valley via Greg Hobbs

Flood irrigation in the Arkansas Valley via Greg Hobbs

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Water plans don’t always pan out.

The Arkansas Basin Roundtable last week wrapped up a basin implementation plan that was two years in the making. The aims of the plan are to preserve agriculture in the Arkansas Valley while filling the needs of a growing population, primarily in El Paso County.

It’s part of a state water plan ordered up by Gov. John Hickenlooper as a way to accommodate a growing population without diminishing the state’s agricultural and environmental needs for water.

The roundtable hammered out differences between geographic areas and types of water use among its members, with the common theme of protecting what we have.

But a century ago, the vision was vastly different. It was a dream of turning the valley into an agricultural mecca on an industrial scale. The water plan of that era was spelled out in 1910, when Pueblo hosted the 18th National Irrigation Congress.

Pueblo was Colorado’s second largest city at the time and the industrial and rail hub for the region. Agriculture was seen as the wave of the future. The optimism at the Irrigation Congress appeared to be an irresistible force at the time and the seeds for grand plans were being planted at the time. A souvenir program from the 1910 convention in Pueblo was recently discovered in the estate of Bill Mattoon, a longtime Pueblo water attorney.

The expansion of irrigated agriculture was seen as a national duty, much the same as California Gov. Jerry Brown recognized its importance in context with the current drought.

“There is no movement more important with reference to the food supply of this nation than the progress of irrigation of the arid and semi-arid lands of our Western, now desert, plains,” President William H. Taft wrote in the program.

The U.S. Reclamation Service outlined plans for two dozen major water projects — dams, ditches and tunnels that would redirect rivers — in all Western states. Those included the Gunnison-Uncompahgre tunnel near Montrose, completed in 1909. The agency, forerunner of the Bureau of Reclamation, had just been formed in 1902.

Congress had just passed a $20 million program to begin building those projects.

Kansas and Colorado apparently were taking a break in 1910 from their century-plus battle over the Arkansas River. In the souvenir program, R.H. Faxon, editor of the Evening Telegram in Garden City, Kan., pushed the phrase “Valley of Content” for the Arkansas Valley shared by the two states. The Arkansas Valley Commercial Association, presided over by Faxon, included officers from Rocky Ford and Canon City as well.

Crowley County, which would be decimated by water raids in the 1970s and ’80s, was not even a county at the time — that would come in 1911. But the Desert Land Reservoir and Canal Co. was a scheme to open up 200,000 acres of land to the east for irrigation.

It would use stored flood waters from Lake Meredith, which was then part of Otero County, which was targeted as a 400,000 acre-foot reservoir — roughly 10 times its present-day capacity. The ambitious plan would also tie in Horse Creek and Adobe Reservoirs, which are part of Fort Lyon storage.

“There is no other situation on the river where it is possible to build a ditch large enough to divert the entire volume of your average flood,” the famed engineer James D. Schuyler of Los Angeles proclaimed.

Kansas, once it got over the Valley of Content, would have more to say about that in the future. Supreme Court battles with Kansas that would culminate with a 2009 final judgment have limited Colorado’s ability to divert the waters of the Arkansas River.

The program of the 1910 National Irrigation Congress reported 262,000 acres under irrigation in the state, and dreamed of placing 2.5 million acres under irrigation after more than 100 new irrigation projects were completed.

That part came true. The 2012 Census of Agriculture listed 2.5 million acres under irrigation in the state, which by the way is a decline of about 300,000 acres from 2007.

Pueblo was seen as a distribution center for the fruits of the land, which included large-scale orchards along the lines of those that already had seen success in places like Montrose and Grand Junction. Pueblo County’s own crops included cantaloupes, celery, alfalfa and corn.

But the crop that would become so important to the valley was sugar beets, already a valuable commodity for the Arkansas Valley. There were 16 sugar beet mills in the state at the time, with seven in the Arkansas Valley.

An unsigned article, “When We Shall Produce Our Own Sugar,” explained how the United States raised only one-fourth of the 3.6 million tons of sugar it consumed each year. Colorado and California were the leading producers.

We can’t get enough of the stuff. In recent years, Americans consumed about 10 million tons of sugar annually, with about three-fifths of that produced domestically.

Sugar beets are still grown and processed near Greeley. But things did not turn out so sweet for the Arkansas Valley, which lost all of its sugar beet mills — and the acreage and water that came with them — by the 1980s.

Above all, the 1910 Irrigation Congress promoted the idea of the small family farm.

“Are you looking for an ideal home in a land of sunshine?” one tempting advertisement for land near Delta asked.

“Farmers beginning to see the light,” blared an ad for the Pueblo-Rocky Ford Land Co.

“We have some splendid propositions for colonization,” an ad for San Luis Valley farms offered.

Article after article in the 148-page publication touted methodical paths the enterprising farmers of the day could use to develop their land.

Colorado in 1910 was wide open for agricultural development, and that seemed to be the water plan of the era: to develop and use as much as possible to grow crops.

A century on, that vision is fading, but still defended as a value by the water planners of the present. One of the planks added by the roundtable to its basin implementation plan last week included a preference for using the water in the Arkansas River basin at home and not allowing it to leak away to other basins.


Arkansas Basin Roundtable: Land use planning should be tied to water availability in future development #COWaterPlan

April 9, 2015
Sprawl

Sprawl

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Land use planning should be tied to water availability in future development, the Arkansas Basin Roundtable decided Wednesday.

That was one of three additions to the basin implementation plan the roundtable is completing as part of the state water plan, ordered in 2013 by Gov. John Hickenlooper. The meeting was held at Colorado State University-Pueblo.

The roundtable also added planks to support full development of Colorado’s entitlement under the Colorado River Compact and a watered-down preference for marketing water within the basin, rather than to the Denver area.

The roundtable unanimously agreed that land use planners must consider water resources when new development is proposed, a tough issue that has frequently arisen during the past two years of consideration of the state water plan.

“One of the ways we will better encourage water conservation is to work with local communities on land-use planning,” said Reed Dils, a retired outfitter and former member of the Colorado Water Conservation Board.

“We need to recognize how complicated it will be to achieve that end,” said Brett Gracely, water resources manager for Colorado Springs Utilities, who noted his own community’s attempts to integrate future water supplies and development. He did not oppose the addition to the plan, however.

The roundtable was not as cohesive on the issue of keeping water in the basin.

Dave Taussig, a water lawyer from Lincoln County, said he understood why water rights owners want to sell to water providers in the Denver area, in order to maximize value. But that would strip water from farms in the Arkansas River basin, harming the landscape and economy.

“Because it is so overap­propriated, water has to go to fill the gap in our basin before it’s sold to another basin,” Taussig said.

Most on the roundtable agreed with him.

“We have to make it attractive to leave water in the valley,” said Reeves Brown, a Beulah rancher and member of the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District.

But others disagreed, saying the Arkansas River basin already imports water from the Colorado River, and that mechanisms to manipulate prices to keep water in the basin would drive up the prices artificially.

“I don’t know where you’re going to get the money to keep this valley green,” said John Schweizer, president of both the Catlin Canal and Arkansas Valley Super Ditch. “It sounds like a good idea, but I don’t think it will work.”

The final wording expressed only a “preference” for marketing water only within the Arkansas basin, and pledged the roundtable’s support to develop ways to make it more attractive to leave water in the basin.

Dan Henrichs, superintendent for the High Line Canal, opposed any steps to use water banks or other methods that might run afoul of Colorado water law’s prior appropriation system. He agreed to write a minority opinion.

The roundtable also adopted a simple statement that supports the state in achieving full development under the Colorado River Compact. Henrichs, Dils and SeEtta Moss, of the Arkansas Valley Audubon Society, opposed the option. Henrichs again argued for abiding by the prior appropriation doctrine, while Dils and Moss wanted to continue a collaborative approach with other roundtables.

On another Colorado River issue, the roundtable agreed to remain neutral on how existing transmountain diversions might be affected if future diversions from the Colorado River such as the Flaming Gorge pipeline are developed.


Water in the West and California’s drought: Why Colorado Springs should care — Colorado Springs Utilities

April 8, 2015

Colorado Springs circa 1910 via GhostDepot.com

Colorado Springs circa 1910 via GhostDepot.com


From Re:Sources Blog (Patrice):

Living in the West offers many advantages. Wide open spaces, majestic mountains and amazing recreational opportunities, to name a few. Still, there are challenges and water is certainly one them.

If you’ve seen the recent news, extreme drought is taking its toll in California. In light of this, we caught up with our own water planners – Abby Ortega and Leon Basdekas – to learn if what’s taking place with our neighbors could affect our community and why we need to stay involved in what’s happening around the region.

Some of our customers many ask, could what’s taking place in California happen in Colorado?

Extreme drought can happen anywhere, and we are certainly not immune. We continuously monitor our water supply situation and maintain a storage reserve in our reservoirs to meet customer demand for at least one year.

Why should we take an interest in or follow what’s happening with drought in the West?

In Colorado Springs and across the Front Range, we are heavily reliant on the Colorado River for our water supply. The Colorado River starts in Colorado, but we only keep a portion of the flow for use in the state per the Colorado River Compact. The Colorado River also serves Arizona, Utah, Nevada, Wyoming, New Mexico and California (see below for a breakdown). There is also an obligation to Mexico. When any of the states or Mexico are in an extreme drought, their reliance on the Colorado River water may increase, possibly resulting in ripple effects that could negatively impact us. At any given time, the Colorado River supplies about 70 percent of our community’s water. Drought can also affect the levels in Lake Powell and Lake Mead, which part of the western United States relies on for power production.

Will Colorado Springs experience any impact from the situation in California?

The California drought will not have direct impacts to our community’s water supply yet. We are working closely with the Upper Basin States to create a proactive contingency plan in the event that storage levels in Lake Mead and Lake Powell drop to critical levels.

What is Colorado Springs Utilities doing to help protect our community from this type of situation?

Maintaining a dependable water supply for Colorado Springs residents and businesses is one of our community’s greatest challenges. Continuous long-term water planning is the reason we have a reliable water system today that supports our economy and quality of life. For us, planning is part of our daily responsibilities and includes factors such as water sources, demand, water rights, infrastructure, storage and much more. In addition, we are currently updating our Integrated Water Resource Plan, which provides the roadmap for sustainably addressing water supply and demand issues, while reflecting our community values.

What can customers do to help?

The intelligent use of water will always be a priority for our community, which has done a great job of adapting to our semi-arid climate. Our customers continue to find ways to use water wisely and we can help. A good place to start is our website, which has free xeriscape class schedules, efficiency ideas, DIY videos, and more. Folks should also join in the conversations we’re having through the Integrated Water Resource Plan process. There are opportunities for input, whether online or at upcoming meetings.

More Colorado Springs Utilities coverage here.


Penrose water pipeline nears completion — KOAA.com

April 2, 2015
Penrose Beaver and Northern station via Penrose History

Penrose Beaver and Northern station via Penrose History

From KOAA.com (Jessi Mitchell):

Construction has finished on a $10.3 million pipeline in Penrose that will bring water seven miles from the Arkansas River into the community.

After the town was hit hard by drought in 2002, water district administrators have been trying to come up with a contingency plan to prevent a repeat. Contractors started construction in July and just laid the final pieces of the 12-inch pipe. Testing will begin soon…

Water district president Ron Gasser is happy with the progress as well. He says the pipeline is slated to start pumping water April 13. It will supplement the main water supply from El Paso County in hopes that Penrose never runs out of water again…

Through their water bills, business owners and neighbors agreed to help pay back the nearly $10 million dollar loan for the project over the next 30 years. Penrose also received a $800,000 grant from the Department of Local Affairs.

There is a consensus that the new pipeline will help with the community’s expansion. “We’ve been growing a lot and pleased to have seen a lot of Front Range visitors coming to the area,” says Mugasis, “so the fact that we can provide uninterrupted service is very reassuring for us.”

The Penrose water board still has to decide how much of the water they will utilize and how much will be stored for a not-so-rainy day. The district hopes to reserve at least a year’s worth of water.

More infrastructure coverage here.


The Arkansas Basin Roundtable will wrap up its Basin Implementation Plan next week #COWaterPlan

April 2, 2015
Basin roundtable boundaries

Basin roundtable boundaries

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

For many Arkansas Basin Roundtable members, it seemed they were speaking Greek when they started meeting in 2005. But next week, the group finally will wrap up its portion of the state water plan.

The roundtable will fine-tune the draft basin implementation plan Wednesday. A public comment meeting to review the plan will be from 10:30 a.m. to noon, followed by the roundtable meeting at 12:30 p.m.

“It’s really come a long way, and a lot of work has gone into it,” said Jim Broderick, roundtable chairman. “The review is set up so that in the future, it’s an active plan that can be used.”

A draft for review is posted on the roundtable’s website (arkansasbasin. com). The draft plan is the culmination of the roundtable’s past decade of work.

The plan starts out with a quote by Frank Milenski, an Otero County farmer and writer who fought for agricultural water rights during his long tenure on the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District and through the Catlin Canal: “When you first start out, understanding water is like trying to understand Greek. After a while it starts getting to where it kinda registers; then if you stick with it, it becomes fascinating. Water is the most valuable thing there is on Earth.”

To illustrate the point, the document is complex and weighty, especially for those who have not been along for the whole ride. Fascinating would not be the first adjective most would choose to describe it, but the value of water to future growth is apparent on nearly every page.

The full basin implementation plan is 773 pages long, including appendices. It has three major purposes:

  • To organize Arkansas River basin issues under the Colorado Water Conservation Board’s state water plan, being drafted under Gov. John Hickenlooper’s 2013 executive order.
  • To highlight future challenges faced by basin water users.
  • To describe the need and action plans for current and future water projects.
  • The Arkansas Basin Roundtable is one of nine in the state formed in 2005 to address the municipal water gap in Colorado, first identified in the Statewide Water Supply Initiative. The state’s goal was to fill a projected gap in water supplies with the least damage to agriculture, recreation and wildlife habitat.

    The roundtable’s earliest meetings often were dominated by position statements from water interests throughout the basin, but soon shifted toward obtaining state water supply reserve account grants for projects up and down the Arkansas River. Presentations over the years also increased the group’s knowledge of short- and long-term water projects.

    The group also has worked to insert the need for future agricultural water supply and for more storage into state planning.

    For the past two years, the group has been focused on gaining consensus about the water plan. Last year, it hosted 17 public meetings to solicit input on its basin implementation plan.

    More IBCC — basin roundtable coverage here.


    Southern Delivery System: The Pueblo County commissioners take first step to evaluate Colorado Springs’ 1041 permit compliance

    March 31, 2015
    Fountain Creek Watershed

    Fountain Creek Watershed

    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Jeff Tucker):

    The Pueblo Board of County Commissioners got a first look at a resolution that will allow the board to retain legal counsel along with engineering consultants and other staff to evaluate whether Colorado Springs’ lack of any consistent stormwater funding is a deal-breaker for the Southern Delivery System.

    The board took no official action on the measure, instead instructing attorneys Gary Raso and Ray Petros to fine-tune the resolution before it comes back for a vote.

    The crux of the issue is the failure of a ballot measure in Colorado Springs in November that would have created a dedicated funding source for stormwater improvements in Colorado Springs that could mitigate the impact of runoff into the Fountain Creek.

    The work that would be cleared by the resolution will allow staff to examine what’s been done so far and what still needs to be done for Colorado Springs to comply with the stormwater requirement in the SDS 1041 permit.

    “We need to develop a factual basis for any action we take,” said Raso. “It would be the first time that Pueblo County would have an independently established set of facts about the stormwater flowing through the Fountain Creek.”

    Petros told commissioners Monday that Colorado Springs has provided staff a summary of its stormwater expenditures.

    Colorado Springs has indicated that it has budgeted $17 million this year for more improvements, but Petros said there’s yet to be any indication what those improvements are or if they’re among the 239 projects worth more than $534 million identified in 2013.

    Commissioner Sal Pace said he wants a clear picture on what projects Colorado Springs has planned that directly mitigate impacts on the Fountain Creek and which ones are aimed at fixing the challenge of runoff from the various burn scars in the area.

    It’s possible that building flood control projects for the burn scar will have an impact on the flooding in Fountain Creek. But Commission Chairwoman Liane “Buffie” McFadyen wondered whether the impacts of the Waldo Canyon Fire are accounted for under the current agreements over the SDS, since those were signed before the first spark of the catastrophic fire ever landed.

    McFadyen also worried that the work set forth in the resolution may be at odds with the needs of the county’s own constituents in Pueblo West. The metro district ties into SDS.

    “I don’t want to see Pueblo West used in a way that could be interpreted as gamesmanship in all of this,” she said.

    Commissioner Terry Hart noted that the $50 million being paid to the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District likely won’t be enough to pay for the mitigation projects in Pueblo County and asked Petros and Raso to include a specific date in the resolution as to when the information will be ready.

    Petros suggested the end of June, to give the newly elected mayor and City Council time to get sworn in after April 7 elections and for next month’s lawsuit over compensation by Colorado Springs to Walker Ranches to run its course.

    However, Hart said he’d like to see it sooner.

    “I didn’t create this problem,” he said. “What created this problem was the failure of the question in November.”

    More stormwater coverage here.


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