Colorado Springs City Council okays funds for Fountain Creek District

Colorado Springs circa 1910 via GhostDepot.com
Colorado Springs circa 1910 via GhostDepot.com

From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Billie Stanton Anleu):

A City Council resolution approved Tuesday lets Mayor John Suthers start funneling city money to the Fountain Creek Watershed, Flood Control and Greenway District.

“It’s a big deal,” says district Executive Director Larry Small.

It’s a big deal because farmers and ranchers along Fountain Creek lose farmland with every storm. The Air Force Academy is being inundated, too.

Without stormwater mitigation upstream, a 100-year storm could overtop east Pueblo levees and flood neighborhoods there.

Downstream, the Arkansas Valley suffers when Fountain Creek flows too high, such as the 20,000 cubic feet per second it reached on June 15, and Pueblo Reservoir stops releasing water. Then Fountain Creek gushes into the Arkansas River.

Colorado Springs is the watershed’s biggest city with the most impervious area.

“So it generates a huge amount of runoff,” Small said. “Then when you have fire in Black Forest and Waldo Canyon – a two-year storm in that area is equivalent to a 100-year storm – it’s just creating huge flows in that creek.”[…]

The City of Colorado Springs will provide $150,000 toward creating a flood restoration master plan for Monument Creek, the third and last tributary in the watershed without such a plan.

Cheyenne and Upper Fountain creeks’ plans are done. But Monument Creek is the biggest part of the Fountain Creek Watershed and has the most tributaries.

Its plan, like the others, will prioritize projects, identify conceptual designs and estimate budgets.

“The next step will be finding a way to implement those projects and getting funding for those projects,” Small said.

That work is expected to restore the watershed after 2013 floods associated with the Waldo Canyon and Black Forest fires, as well as the May rains and high flows on June 15.

The flood district has built a coalition of El Paso and Teller counties, multiple cities, the Coalition for the Upper South Platte, Colorado Springs Utilities and the Air Force Academy, all working to obtain state grants to remedy the fire- and flood-caused damage.

In addition to the $150,000 Colorado Springs now can provide to match a $300,000 state grant, for example, the Monument Creek restoration plan will get $50,000 each from El Paso County, the Air Force Academy and Colorado Springs Utilities.

“I hope the relationships are going to get better between Pueblo and Colorado Springs with the initiatives John Suthers has proposed,” Small said.

That appears to be happening already. Pueblo threatened to sue Colorado Springs but rescinded that threat after repeated visits by the mayor and Council President Merv Bennett.

“We’re in negotiations with Pueblo County commissioners as to putting together an intergovernmental agreement that puts some teeth into this so they have confidence we’ll follow through with it,” he said.

Suthers has vowed that $19 million a year will be spent on stormwater problems: $8 million from retiring bonds in the Springs Community Improvement Program, $3 million from Colorado Springs Utilities and $8 million he says he’ll squeeze out of city coffers.

“The problem is, as you’ve seen, there’s about $500 million of need. So $20 million a year – you can do the math and see how many years it would take,” Small said.

Colorado Springs Utilities agreed in 2009 to spend $50 million on waterway improvement projects, $75 million to upgrade its own wastewater or water-reuse systems and $2 million to dredge the creek at Pueblo’s levees.

Those promises were made in conjunction with getting a 1041 permit from Pueblo County to build the Southern Delivery System to pump water from Pueblo Reservoir to residents of Colorado Springs, Fountain, Security and Pueblo West.

The $50 million comes when SDS starts operating in 2016. But $50 million “is just a drop in the bucket for taking care of the corridor from Colorado Springs to the Arkansas.”

Nonetheless, said Councilman Don Knight, “Any progress is a move in the right direction. … We’re all moving in the same direction. We don’t have a stormwater task force and mayor with different solutions. We realize we have to come together with one solution.”

More Fountain Creek coverage here.

Kansas’ invisible water crisis — The Wichita Eagle

ogallalahighplainsdepletions2011thru2013viausgs

From The Wichita Eagle (Lindsay Wise):

…But irrigation soon could end on [Brant] Peterson’s southwest Kansas farm. The wells under his land in Stanton County are fast running dry as farmers and ranchers across the Great Plains pump the Ogallala faster than it can be replenished naturally.

Three of his wells are already dry.

Within five years, Peterson estimates, he likely won’t be able to irrigate at all.

Wet and dry: A country divided

While the east half of the country generally receives at least 25 inches of rain a year, much of the west is dryer.

This means much of our country’s corn and hogs are farmed west of the 100th meridian. Meanwhile, in the Great Plains, milo, or grain sorghum, has become a popular crop due to its reduced need for water, and cattle farming has long been popular out west…

Western Kansas’ only significant water source is the Ogallala…

The vast freshwater reservoir beneath the prairie formed 5 million to 10 million years ago as streams draining from the Rocky Mountains deposited water in the clay, sand and gravel beneath the Great Plains.

The water lay there undisturbed for epochs until enterprising homesteaders who settled the West discovered the liquid bonanza that would make their arid land bloom.

Now, in a geological blink of an eye, the Ogallala, which made the Great Plains the nation’s breadbasket, is in peril…

The disappearing water supply poses a twofold danger. It could end a way of life in a region where the land and its bounty have been purchased by the toil and sweat of generations of farmers.

It also threatens a harvest worth $21 billion a year to Kansas alone and portends a fast-approaching, and largely unstoppable, water crisis across the parched American West.

With water levels already too low to pump in some places, western Kansas farmers have been forced to acknowledge that the end is near. That harsh reality is testing the patience and imagination of those who rely on the land for their livelihoods.

As they look for survival, farmers are using cutting-edge technologies to make the most efficient use of the water they have left. They’re contemplating something almost unimaginable just a generation ago: voluntary pacts with their neighbors to reduce irrigation.

And many are investing their long-term hopes in an astronomically expensive water transportation project that isn’t likely ever to be built.

The Arkansas River, which once flowed out of Colorado into western Kansas, is nothing but a dry ditch now, its riverbed reduced to a rugged obstacle course for all-terrain vehicles.

And average rainfall here is just 14 to 16 inches a year, nowhere near enough to replace the water that farmers draw from the Ogallala.

Kansas enjoyed a rainier-than-normal spring this year, easing several years of drought conditions throughout the state. But the relief is temporary.

The storms that soaked the state in recent months won’t alter the Ogallala’s fate, experts say…

Once emptied, it would take 6,000 years to refill the Ogallala naturally…

The Ogallala Aquifer supplies water for 20 percent of the corn, wheat, sorghum and cattle produced in the U.S.

It sprawls 174,000 square miles across eight states, from South Dakota to Texas, and can hold more than enough water to fill Lake Huron and part of Lake Ontario.

But for every square mile of aquifer, there’s a well. About 170,000 of them. Ninety percent of the water pumped out is used to irrigate crops…

Over the years, there have been multiple attempts to address the rapid decline of the aquifer. Water rights holders in much of western Kansas had to install flow meters in all their wells starting in the mid-1990s. Soon all wells in Kansas will have to be metered. And the state government has stopped issuing new permits to pump water from the Ogallala in areas of western Kansas where water levels have dropped the most.

Now, Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback has pledged to make water policy a central pillar of his administration. The final draft of his 50-year “water vision” for the state, released in January, outlines an incentive and education-based approach focused on encouraging voluntary, coordinated conservation efforts by the farmers who have the most to lose by the aquifer’s decline.

So far, however, farmers have agreed to limit water use in just part of two northwestern counties. A group of farmers in Sheridan and Thomas counties established a Local Enhanced Management Area, or LEMA, in 2012 to cut water use by 20 percent over five years.

It seems to be working: In the first year, participants in the LEMA used about 2.5 inches less water for irrigation than their neighbors and produced just two bushels less per acre, on average.

A proposal to create another LEMA in west-central Kansas was voted down last year by water rights holders.

“The problem is everybody wants to be democratic, and you have people for and you have some people against,” said Bill Golden, an agricultural economist at Kansas State.

It isn’t easy to convince individuals to put their profits at risk to preserve a common resource, especially when some farmers have more water left than others, Golden said.

“But I think that we will probably see more LEMAs in the coming years,” he said. “That is the most acceptable answer. I mean, we’re going to run out of water. Nobody’s talking about saving the aquifer and not using the water. The question is, can we extend the life of the aquifer and make it a soft landing?”

For now, that leaves individual farmers making their own decisions about how best to manage water on their land.

Ten miles east of Peterson’s farm, in Grant County, Kan., Clay Scott parked his Dodge pickup on a country road and reached for his iPad.

A few hundred feet away, a solar panel planted in a field of wheat powered a probe that measures soil moisture at different depths.

Right now the probe told Scott’s iPad that he could hold off on watering the field. His sprinklers lay idle.

“People think that we waste our water out here,” Scott said, “and we just kind of grin because we work so hard to use that water.”

In addition to the soil moisture probes linked to his iPad, Scott consults satellites and radar data to track every shift in the weather and drop of rain that falls in his fields so he can minimize irrigation. He uses low-till techniques to preserve the soil and experiments with genetically engineered drought-resistant corn. He installed more efficient nozzles on his center-pivot sprinklers.

And he’s trying out a new device called a “dragon line,” which drags perforated hoses behind a center pivot to deposit water directly on the ground, reducing pooling and evaporation.

Scott’s version of high-tech farming would be unrecognizable to his great-grandfather, who homesteaded in nearby Stanton County around the turn of the century.

Still, despite all his efforts, Scott knows there will come a day – sooner rather than later if nothing is done – when irrigation is no longer viable in this part of Kansas.

The effects of the depleted aquifer already can be felt on Scott’s farm, where he’s had to reduce irrigation by 25 percent.

Some of his two dozen wells are pumping just 150 gallons per minute now, down from thousands of gallons per minute when they were first drilled. And as the water table drops, the energy costs of pumping from deeper underground have become higher than the cash rents Scott pays on the fields he leases.

“We’ve gone through periods where we re-drilled and tapped all but the very lowest water,” Scott said. “There are places we don’t pump the wells anymore.”

As an elected board member for the local Groundwater Management District, Scott hopes that he’ll be able to shape conservation policies that will enable his children to continue farming after him. He sees the situation in California, where the state has forced farmers to cut water use, as a cautionary tale. If farmers in Kansas don’t find ways to conserve enough water on their own, the state could enforce water rationing.

“I’ve got three boys, and a couple of them have already talked very seriously about coming back to the farm, and I’d like them to have the opportunity and ability that I’ve had to grow crops and livestock, even in a drought,” he said.

Kansas Aqueduct route via Circle of Blue
Kansas Aqueduct route via Circle of Blue

Scott’s long-term hopes rest in the construction of an $18 billion aqueduct that would import high flows off the Missouri River to water crops grown in western Kansas.

As conceived by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the concrete ditch would stretch 360 miles from east to west across Kansas with 16 lift stations and massive reservoirs on either end. The proposal was met with opposition – and not a little ridicule – by the legislature in Topeka, as state lawmakers struggled to close a $400 million budget hole.

“We’re not working on it at this point,” Earl Lewis, assistant director of the Kansas Water Office, said in an interview.

Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon dismissed the aqueduct as a “harebrained” scheme that would divert river water needed for barge traffic and municipal use.

But in western Kansas, it doesn’t seem like such a crazy idea.

“When they’re flooding in the Missouri River and cities are sandbagging, it sure seems to us like we have an answer to their problems,” Scott said. “Nobody wants to build a house and see it flooded; nobody wants to plant a field and watch it wither.”

Fervent support for the project speaks to the urgency felt by Scott, Peterson and other farmers and ranchers whose livelihoods and communities depend on irrigation. They’re hoping to convince the federal government to kick in funds for the aqueduct. And they’re looking into the possibility of building it through a public-private partnership, like a toll road. Farming cooperatives in California and Colorado have expressed interest in the project, they say, and want to explore extending it farther west.

A federal engineering bailout for western Kansas isn’t very likely, however.

Kansas Sen. Pat Roberts, the Republican chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, said in an interview that such a costly project would be a nonstarter under Congress’ current budget caps.

“In all honestly, it’s a front-burner issue for folks in southwest Kansas, but to build that kind of aqueduct would be billions of dollars, and I just don’t think that’s feasible at this point,” Roberts said.

Barring the construction of an aqueduct, rural communities that depend on the Ogallala face a bleak future.

The state would have to cut its irrigated acres in half today to get anywhere close to sustainability, said Golden, the agricultural economist from Kansas State.

But it isn’t as simple as turning off the sprinklers.

“People survived out here on dryland farming. I can do it,” Peterson said, using the term “dryland” to refer to growing crops without irrigation. “Here’s the cost: My community is going to wither away.”

An irrigated field in southwest Kansas produces more than eight times more corn per acre on average than a field that isn’t irrigated, according to the Kansas Department of Agriculture. Land values would drop. The loss of equity and tax base would mean fewer farmers and bigger farms, consolidated school districts, and impoverished towns with declining populations.

Like any economy dependent on mining a finite resource, this one is headed for a bust, and the farmers know it.

“We can’t wait another 30 years to get our policy right,” Scott said. “The drought in California is showing what living in denial can do.”

From Science Daily:

Keith Gido, professor in the Division of Biology; Josh Perkin, 2012 Kansas State University doctoral graduate; and several co-authors have published “Fragmentation and dewatering transform Great Plains stream fish communities” in the journal Ecological Monographs.

The article documents a reduction in water flow in Great Plains streams and rivers because of drought, damming and groundwater withdrawals. This is causing a decrease in aquatic diversity in Kansas from stream fragmentation — or stretches of disconnected streams.

“Fish are an indication of the health of the environment,” Gido said. “A while back there was a sewage leak in the Arkansas River and it was the dead fish that helped identify the problem. Children play and swim in that water, so it’s important that we have a good understanding of water quality.”

Several species of fish — including the peppered chub and the plains minnow — were found to be severely declining in the Great Plains during the ecologists’ field research, which compared historic records to 110 sampling sites in Kansas between 2011-2013. Both fish species swim downstream during droughts and return during normal water flow, but the construction of dams, or stream fragmentation, prevents fish from returning upstream.

“The Great Plains region is a harsh environment and drought has always been a problem. Historically, fish were able to recover from drought by moving,” Gido said. “They could swim downstream and when the drought was over, they could swim back. Now, there are dams on the rivers and the fish are not able to recover.”

Streams in the Great Plains region have more than 19,000 human-made barriers. Gido estimates that on average, stretches of streams in the Great Plains are about six miles long. In surveying Kansas’ streams and rivers, the researchers discovered numerous small dams that do not allow enough habitat for the fish to complete their reproductive cycles. Moreover, the fish are unable to migrate in search of suitable habitat.

“Groundwater extraction exasperates the drought, and the damming of the rivers inhibits the fish from being able to recover from those conditions,” Gido said. “This is unfortunate, but there are some things we can do to help.”

Gido suggested a renewed focus to conserve water, reduce dams and make fish passageways like the one on the Arkansas River under Lincoln Street in Wichita. During the planning for the reconstruction of the Lincoln Street Bridge and the dam over the river, the city worked with wildlife agencies to build a passage that would allow fish as well as canoes and kayaks to navigate through the structure.

Similar structures could be constructed on the Kansas River to help fish migrate.

“The plains minnow is still found in the Missouri River and could recolonize the Kansas River — where they used to be the most abundance species — if there was a fish passage through some of the dams.”

More Ogallala aquifer coverage here.

Writers on the Range: Can leasing irrigation water keep Colorado farms alive?

Straight line diagram of the Lower Arkansas Valley ditches via Headwaters
Straight line diagram of the Lower Arkansas Valley ditches via Headwaters

From The Denver Post (Joshua Zaffos):

Cities have siphoned more than 100,000 acre-feet of ag water — enough for about 200,000 Colorado homes — from the Arkansas River Basin alone since the 1970s. In neighboring Crowley County, farming has vanished, school-class sizes are half what they were 50 years ago, and tumbleweeds from dried-up fields pile up along fences and block roads.

“That’s what they’re stuck with, because there’s no more water,” [John Schweizer] says. “It’s gone forever.”

Schweizer is president of the 35-mile-long Catlin Canal, which irrigates about 18,000 acres of farms. He’s hoping that the trial run of something called the Arkansas Valley Super Ditch will save the basin’s remaining communities and farms.

The initiative is not actually a big ditch, but rather a scheme that allows six of the valley’s irrigation canals to pool their water rights and temporarily lease them to cities. Starting in March, five Catlin irrigators “leased” a total of 500 acre-feet of water, which would normally supply their fields, to nearby Fowler and the cities of Fountain and Security, 80 miles away. Under the agreement, communities can use the farm water to supply homes and recharge wells for up to three years out of every decade.

During those years, the irrigators will have to fallow, or rest, some fields, yet will still be able to earn money from the water itself and farm the rest of their land.

Supporters believe the Super Ditch could eventually enable farms and cities to share up to 10,000 acre-feet of water. “We look at leasing water just like raising a crop,” says Schweizer, who is avoiding any potential conflict of interest by keeping his own farm out of the pilot. “It is a source of income, and anybody who’s doing that can have the water next year if they want to farm with it. And they are still in the valley, so the community stays viable.”

More Arkansas Valley Super Ditch coverage here.

Landowner challenges state’s interpretation of old decree — The Pueblo Chieftain

Fountain Creek Watershed
Fountain Creek Watershed

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

A Fountain Creek landowner has filed a complaint in Pueblo water court saying he has a right to the Fountain Creek underflow, as well as surface water.

Ralph “Wil” Williams, trustee of the Greenview Trust, filed the complaint in June, saying the state has incorrectly administered the water right to the 313-acre farm as solely surface water.

The property, located 8 miles north of Pueblo on Fountain Creek is emblematic of man’s interaction with Fountain Creek throughout recorded history. It was first settled by “Uncle Dick” Wooten in 1862 and has always been in farmland.

In the 1990s, it began to experience severe erosion from growth upstream, particularly the development in Colorado Springs.

Problems with the ditch came to a head after the 1999 flood, leading the owners to sue Colorado Springs for dumping more water in the creek, only to be locked out when the Legislature granted governmental immunity for flood damages.

In the most recent floods of the past five years, the Greenview has continued to lose land, including about 10 acres of trees to the storms in May and June.

“We’re trying to conserve the farm,” Williams said. Pueblo County, through a program in conjunction with the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District, is interested in purchasing the property as a restoration project.

The water rights are crucial to determining land value, Pueblo County Commissioner Terry Hart said.

“We weren’t successful in a Great Outdoors Colorado grant this cycle, and one of the things we have to do is shore up the land and water value,” Hart said.

Williams contends that past owners always intended to use the underflow of Fountain Creek as an alternate source to irrigate 315 acres of the property. Fountain Creek had intermittent flows, so the underflow would have been used during dry times when surface water could not be diverted, he claims.

Other water users employed the strategy in the early 1900s, when well technology was more limited. Most famously, the Ball brothers — who found success in the canning jar and aerospace industries — used the underflow of Fountain Creek to fill reservoirs in hopes of selling the water to Puebloans. The quality was unsuitable for drinking, however.

In preparing for the water court case, Williams collected old plats that show the location of underflow structures, basically horizontal wells that draw water by gravity.

The Colorado Division of Water Resources does not recognize the dual water right, and says Greenview Trust needs a substitute water supply plan if it plans to irrigate with wells.

“It’s based on an old statement that was not picked up in the decree itself,” said Division 2 Engineer Steve Witte. “It appears to us that there never was the intention to have a well.”

Williams disagrees, saying he spent two years collecting information in state files that he was initially told did not exist. “For me to have to spend two years researching the archives is ridiculous,” Williams said. “We are decreed against the source and the underflow. It’s one natural stream.”

More Fountain Creek coverage here.

The Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District meeting recap

Fountain Creek erosion via The Pueblo Chieftain
Fountain Creek erosion via The Pueblo Chieftain

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

It may be time to pass the hat again for the district trying to fix Fountain Creek.

The Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District Friday looked again at a dismal funding picture or a model for government austerity, depending on point of view.

The discussion came up as Cole Emmons, El Paso County’s assistant attorney, reviewed the formation and operation of the district for new board members. One key point was the district’s reliance on member governments to get things done. For example, Emmons’ time are legal fees donated by El Paso County.

But even in this administrative barter system, real cash is sometimes needed.

In 2013, a plan to collect $50,000 by Executive Director Larry Small worked fairly well. The largest members of the district — El Paso and Pueblo counties, Colorado Springs and Pueblo — each contributed $10,000. Fountain, a mid-sized city, chipped in $5,000. Four smaller incorporated communities in El Paso County contributed $1,400 of the $5,000 expected from them.

Prior to that, the district had been on life support under a master corridor agreement jointly funded by Colorado Springs and the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District.

“These are anemic funds for the work we have to do,” Pueblo County Commissioner Terry Hart said.

The district is waiting for $50 million from Colorado Springs Utilities to begin arriving once the Southern Delivery System is turned on. But Hart pointed out that money is required to be spent on flood control projects that exclusively benefit Pueblo County.

“The real focus is taking on projects that are larger than the $50 million can fund,” Hart said. “We are in the sixth year, and we are doing the best we can. Sometimes we discount the work we’ve done. It’s been spectacular.”

The district has channeled $1.5 million in grants into Fountain Creek projects in the past two years, as well as cooperating with its members to line up other projects since being formed in 2009. But it has backed off its role in commenting on land-use decisions because it lacks qualified staff to review applications, Small said.

In its first year, the district held hearings on projects that could impact the flood plain of Fountain Creek. Small now reviews applications filed in either county, although most come from El Paso County.
The district could do more.

It has the authority to levy up to 5 mills in property taxes on all residents in El Paso and Pueblo counties, if voters approve the tax. Discussions on a strategy to obtain approval were shelved in 2012 as El Paso County moved toward an unsuccessful attempt to form a regional stormwater authority last year.

“At the last two meetings, we got an earful from landowners on Fountain Creek,” Hart said. “I’d like to take a realistic look at what we should be doing.”

More Fountain Creek coverage here.

Browns Canyon National Monument celebration


From The Chaffee County Times (Mason Miller) via The Leadville Herald:

After an effort spanning several decades, a commemorative ceremony was held for Browns Canyon Saturday to celebrate its national monument status.

The event was held at Buena Vista High School gym after rain and wind relocated the ceremony from the Buena Vista River Park.

Browns Canyon was officially designated a national monument in February by President Obama.

Speakers included Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell, and U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, as well as other state, federal and local representatives.

“We did it,” Jewell proclaimed to the crowd of more than 700 supporters, summarizing the theme of many of the speeches made.

“I feel like the guy who kicked the field goal at the end of the game,” Executive Director for Friends of Browns Canyon Keith Baker said. “There were so many people involved throughout the years. This wouldn’t be possible without all of them.”

Jewell, a former CEO of Recreational Equipment Inc., a retail company for sporting goods and outdoor recreation gear, said the economic impact that national monuments like Browns Canyon have on local economies should not be underestimated.

“In Browns Canyon alone, as I understand it, it’s nearly a $60 million dollar business per year in the rafting industry,” Jewell said.

“When you think about the impact on the community that having a national monument has, there is no question that specially protected landscapes like this are very good for local economies.”
Buena Vista Mayor Joel Benson expressed similar sentiments.

“I’ve talked with many people at my own business and so many of them tell me they’ve come all the way to our community just to visit Browns Canyon.”

Both Hickenlooper and Bennet spoke about the divisiveness the declaration of national monuments creates politically, but in spite of these differences citizens and government officials have to persevere to protect these places for generations to come.

“We have to make sure these wilderness areas are accessible for our children and their children,” Hickenlooper said.

“Keep doing what you’re doing, because it’s working,” Bennet exclaimed during his speech. “It’s no surprise that D.C. is gridlocked when it comes to issues like this, but you see what’s possible when we come together to work with all of the stakeholders.”

Tom Tidwell, chief of the U.S. Forest Service, talked about what’s next for Browns Canyon.

“We have three years to develop a land management plan,” he said. “It’s important to take our time. We’ll have to work closely with the Bureau of Land Management and Colorado Parks and Wildlife to see this plan through to the end.”

Tidwell said the management plan will involve surveying the area to see what additional recreational facilities might be needed. Additionally, his staff will work closely with organizations like Friends of Browns Canyon to finish the plan in a timely manner.

Many of the speakers gave a special thanks to former U.S. Sen. Mark Udall for his tireless efforts as a supporter of both national monuments throughout the nation and of Browns Canyon. Udall was not in attendance.

More Arkansas River Basin coverage here.

Pueblo Board of Water Works approves participation in #ColoradoRiver conservation pilot program

Alan Ward stands at the Ewing Ditch headgate,
Alan Ward stands at the Ewing Ditch headgate,

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

A pilot program that would leave some of Pueblo’s water on the Western Slope — for a fee — was approved by the Pueblo Board of Water Works Tuesday.

The program would pay Pueblo Water about $400,000 over the next two years to leave 600 acre-feet (195 million gallons) in the Colorado River basin. It’s part of an $11 million pilot project to test tools that could be part of a Colorado River drought conservancy plan.

The program is sponsored by the Upper Colorado River Commission, Bureau of Reclamation, Southern Nevada Water Authority, Denver Water, Central Arizona Water Conservation District and the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California.

About $2.75 million is set aside for conservation programs in the Upper Colorado states, which are Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming. Pueblo would contribute the water in a fairly painless way by shutting down the diversion of the Ewing Ditch, which brings water into the Arkansas River basin from Piney Gulch in the Eagle River basin.

The diversion is one of the oldest in the state, constructed in 1880 at Tennessee Pass.

The diversion ditch originally was dug by the Otero Canal and was purchased in 1954 by Pueblo Water. It delivers an average of about 920 acre-feet, but in wet years like this one, not all of the water is taken.

Pueblo’s storage accounts are full this year, with 52,174 acre-feet in storage, equivalent to two years of potable water use in the city. Pueblo’s total water use annually, including raw water leases and other obligations, is usually 70,000-80,000 acre-feet.

Typically, about 14,700 acre-feet would be brought across the Continental Divide, but this year, only about 5,760 acre-feet has arrived from all transmountain sources.

“There’s no place to put it,” Water Resources Manager Alan Ward told the water board this week. “It’s close to as much as we’ve ever had in storage.”

The Ewing Ditch contribution is about 37 percent of average this year, similar to Twin Lakes, which was shut down when the reservoir near Leadville reached capacity in May. Pueblo Water brought over 71 percent of its Busk-Ivanhoe water even though it was trying not to take any, Ward said.