May rains bump John Martin Reservoir storage to 295,000 acre-feet

July 4, 2015
John Martin Reservoir back in the day

John Martin Reservoir back in the day

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

While high water has shut down parts of Lake Pueblo, it has opened up new opportunities at John Martin Reservoir 100 miles to the east.

“The reservoir hasn’t looked like this in a long time,” said John Martin State Park Manager Dan Kirmer. “If you haven’t been to the reservoir before or haven’t been in a while, you definitely need to come check it out.”

John Martin, which has been at extremely low levels for the past 15 years, now has more water than Lake Pueblo. As of Monday, John Martin had about 295,000 acre-feet, the most water it has seen since 1999, while Lake Pueblo contained about 284,000 acre-feet.

There are 200 campsites and 5 miles of hiking trails to explore, and nearly 400 species of birds at John Martin Reservoir as well.

The water level continues to rise as the reservoir is storing more water than is being released because of snowmelt, upstream flood control at Lake Pueblo and heavy precipitation so far this year.

Water levels in Lake Pueblo are slowly dropping, as water releases continue at a high level, while inflows from the Arkansas River to the west have slowed down. Many areas of Lake Pueblo State Park, including the south shore boat ramp, are closed until the high water subsides.

Meanwhile, the Arkansas River through Pueblo remains closed because of dangerously high water levels. Water stored during earlier floods is being released as quickly as possible from Pueblo Dam to reserve capacity if more flooding occurs this summer.

More Arkansas River Basin coverage here.


The Lower Ark is borrowing $2.5 million to buy Colorado Canal shares

July 4, 2015
Straight line diagram of the Lower Arkansas Valley ditches via Headwaters

Straight line diagram of the Lower Arkansas Valley ditches via Headwaters

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

he Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District Wednesday voted to apply to the state for a $2.5 million loan to purchase Colorado Canal shares.

The district purchased 408 shares of Colorado Canal water from Ordway Feedyard in November and was working with the company to finance the deal.

The goals were to keep the financially troubled feedlot in business and to keep the water in the Arkansas Valley.

However, the feedlot continued to fall on hard times and will be auctioned in July, so the Lower Ark district needs to finalize the sale.

The district is seeking the loan from the Colorado Water Conservation Board at a 1 percent interest rate, which is an improvement over a 4 percent bridge loan from an area bank, General Manager Jay Winner explained.

The Colorado Canal once irrigated 50,000 acres in Crowley County, but has largely fallen into the hands of Colorado Springs and Aurora through purchases made in the 1980s.

More Lower Arkansas Water Conservancy District coverage here.


The Arkansas Basin Roundtable hands out $1 million to 4 projects

July 4, 2015

Horizontal water wells via LifeWater.org

Horizontal water wells via LifeWater.org


From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

The Arkansas Basin Roundtable Wednesday approved four area water projects totalling about $1 million.

The roundtable’s decisions clear the way for the Colorado Water Conservation Board to consider funding the projects through its Water Supply Reserve Account. The account is funded through mineral severance taxes.

The Fort Lyon Canal is seeking $500,000 to replace the Horse Creek flume, a 392-foot-long, 10-foot diameter steel pipe constructed in 1938 that is at risk of failing after years of repairs.

The pipe is designed to carry the full volume of the Fort Lyon Canal, up to 1,800 cubic feet per second, over Horse Creek.

If it failed, hundreds of people’s homes could be flooded.

The full project would cost $2.2 million and is expected to be complete by next April.

The Box Springs Canal Co. in Crowley County, mostly members of the Markus family, is seeking $200,000 to restore a system of wells built in the early 1900s to support research by the D.V. Burrell Seed Co. and later companies looking at plant genetics.

There are five reservoirs in the system that now irrigates 240 acres, compared with 6,000 acres originally.

Garrett Markus, a water engineer, explained three horizontal wells are needed to replace 15 vertical wells that failed or are not producing.

Lamar is seeking $160,000 to redevelop two wells that were taken out of use. The new purpose of the wells would be for nonpotable water that could be used to irrigate Lamar’s cemetery and golf course. The total cost is about $400,000.

A $250,000 study would look at a study of collaborative storage in the Cucharas River basin. While there are numerous reservoirs in the basin, many are under state restrictions, Sandy White of the Huerfano Conservancy District explained.

More IBCC — basin roundtables coverage here.


Comments on new Cotter Mill plan due August 1

July 4, 2015

Lincoln Park/Cotter Mill superfund site via the Environmental Protection Agency

Lincoln Park/Cotter Mill superfund site via the Environmental Protection Agency


From The Pueblo Chieftain (Tracy Harmon):

State and federal health officials are inviting the public to submit informal preliminary comments on the Cotter Corp. Uranium Mill’s Draft Quality Management Plan.

The 53-page plan outlines quality assurance, training, implementation of work, record keeping, response and corrective action protocols for the now-defunct mill as it moves toward decommissioning. The mill has been an EPA Superfund site since 1984 due to the seeping of uranium and molybdenum contamination into groundwater and soil which was caused by the use of unlined tailings ponds.

The draft plan can be viewed on the state’s Cotter website at http://recycle4colorado.ipower.com/Cotter/docspubreview.htm.

Comments can be sent to state health department project manager Jennifer Opila at Jennifer.opila@state.co.us. Deadline is Aug. 1.

More Lincoln Park/Cotter Mill superfund site coverage here.


Fountain Creek: May rainfall was not kind to the stream

July 4, 2015
Fountain Creek Watershed

Fountain Creek Watershed

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Large chunks of the bank plunked into Fountain Creek Wednesday evening as Pueblo County Commissioner Terry Hart got a close-up look at the damage to Overton Road.

Two large wooden utility poles floated in the muck below, as the river cut back from the west base of the old Pinon Bridge, which washed out in the 1999 flood. After it slammed back into the east bank, it ran along the channel into a clump of trees. By morning the trees and part of the road would be gone.

“This is unbelievable,” Hart said. “The engineers tell us that Fountain Creek acts like a firehose, the way it moves around.”

Neighbors soon gathered at the spot. One of them was Tony Faxon, bringing his two children home to his 90-acre farm on Overton Road. He was worried about his well, which he had fortified a few days earlier after the last round of floods.

“It looks like the Washington Monument now,” Faxon said on Friday.

He explained the well is now a pole sticking 30 feet into the air — about half of its total depth.

He’s lost a chunk of land 80 by 500 feet and 30 feet deep so far this year.

While the house is on higher ground, he’s now faced with putting in a new well.

The Faxons have lived on Overton Road for four years.

“It’s been an ongoing struggle, but this has been the worst year,” Faxon said. “We couldn’t have anticipated this would happen.”

He’s not alone.

‘We need help’

At Friday’s meeting of the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District, which Hart chaired, a litany of damage was recited.

“We need some sort of help,” said Tracy Tolle, who farms for Frank Masciantonio in Pueblo County and Clear Springs Ranch in El Paso County.

“That’s our livelihood.”

Tolle has fought Fountain Creek for years and has seen it through higher water than what was flowing last week.

But the sustained midrange flows for weeks on end and saturated ground are taking their toll.

From his perspective, the actions of one landowner to wall off water just moves the river to the other bank, where the damage is amplified.

John Browning, who has a place on the east side of Fountain Creek in El Paso County, agrees.

He said fortifications on the west bank have created 50-foot cliffs where children play on the other side.

“You need to take care of both sides of the creek,” Browning said.

“Something needs to be done several decades ago.”

Jane Rhodes, Masciantonio’s sister and a Fountain Creek board member, brought pictures and descriptions of damage at a dozen places along Fountain Creek in Pueblo and El Paso counties.

Irrigation headgates are gone, acres of pasture and fields have vanished and wells wiped out by the whipsaw motion off the water over the past few weeks. Water snaked around one end of the new Pinon Bridge, setting up the possibility of future erosion.

Down the drain?

Up in El Paso County, a demonstration project sponsored by the Fountain Creek district — a showpiece that would show landowners how to use natural materials to turn the current — is gone, landowner Ferris Frost said.

Barriers set up to protect an organic gardening spot are washing away.

“The main channel is cutting through our headgates,” Frost said.

“It’s huge and fast . . . really extreme.”

The Fountain Creek board had few answers for landowners seeking help.

The district has no money, as it is awaiting $50 million from Colorado Springs Utilities when Southern Delivery System goes online. Ironically, SDS has permit issues ahead related to Colorado Springs’ failure to provide a stable source of funding for stormwater control.

Three weeks of rain have also cast clouds over some of the district’s activities, not just the Frost Ranch demonstration project.

“There is debris everywhere,” Hart said, telling the Fountain Creek board he has been watching the damage daily. “There is a lot of destruction going on and this is just the beginning.”

The city of Pueblo was getting ready to fire up its sediment collector again before the rains hit. The collector, installed four years ago when Fountain Creek was behaving itself, ran for a few weeks before a big wave buried it. It’s now under about three feet of sediment.

“We wanted to see if we could make it work without having to build coffer dams,” said Jeff Bailey, stormwater superintendent for the city of

Pueblo. The district also pushed for a demonstration project behind the North Side Walmart, where a detention pond and wetlands was constructed. The pond’s embankment partially washed out in the 2013 flood — and is probably eroding this time around — it’s been difficult to check. The pond has not had an impact on really large flows through Pueblo.

“Right now, it’s a money pit for us,” Bailey said. The city has to augment water stored in the area as well as maintain the pond.

There have been some things that work on Fountain Creek.

Things that work

At Clear Springs Ranch, which is owned by Colorado Springs Utilities on the east side of Interstate 25 near the Ray Nixon Power Plant, a ditch diversion structure across Fountain Creek was built in the 1970s. It survived the 1999 flood, but posed a problem for small native fish. A million-dollar fish ramp was constructed to help the fish get through.

In Pueblo, the city built rock jetties several years ago behind the Target Store on the North Side after Fountain Creek cut perilously close to the area in 1999. Those have held up through high water events as well.

The district still is studying construction of a dam or series of detention ponds along Fountain Creek to hold back the water and release it at more opportune times, but that effort is mired in a study of how to satisfy downstream water rights. In the meantime, Fountain Creek is playing ping-pong with land along its banks. Shoring up one side sends the water to the other and new channels are constantly being cut. While cities and counties have applied for disaster aid as roads, parks, trails and homes are threatened, the farmers are losing ground they’ll never get back. There’s no clear path for financial aid to the property owners.

“There’s a domino effect,” Tolle said, saying he thinks a multimilliondollar project built by Colorado Springs at Clear Springs Ranch may have breached in recent flooding. “Those ponds are not going to work.

You’ve got to give us help or there won’t be any farms.”

Meanwhile, Colorado Springs is looking at changing building codes to help minimize runoff into Fountain Creek. Here’s a report from Chris Woodka writing for The Pueblo Chieftain:

After the recent stomping by Mother Nature, the Fountain Creek technical team dug out the playbook Wednesday.

Like any team, the group is focused more on future victories and overcoming challenges than dwelling on past mistakes.

The team in this case is the technical advisory committee of the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District. It includes planners and engineers from Pueblo and El Paso counties, including the cities of Pueblo and Colorado Springs.

A big part of reducing future damage from flooding on Fountain Creek will be requiring future development — whether it’s a new project or redeveloping areas — to make sure flooding is not intensified by new hard surfaces such as streets, parking lots, sidewalks and roofs that prevent water from soaking into the ground.

“So often the developers design the development and tell the engineers, ‘Here, make it work.’ But urbanization almost always spurs the need for channel stabilization,” Steve Gardner, of the Colorado Springs stormwater department, told the group.

Gardner was explaining a drainage criteria manual Colorado Springs has developed in response to years of meetings that have improved understanding of Fountain Creek’s destructive nature. The earlier versions of the drainage manual supported projects that dumped water as quickly as possible into the waterway from flooded streets.

The new approach is to mimic natural conditions with techniques that encourage infiltration, move water through wetlands where possible and build detention projects that will handle a full spectrum of floods, Gardner said.

But it’s difficult to make up for the mistakes of the past, when many of the hills in Colorado Springs were paved as the city grew. One of the tough realities is that stormwater detention projects require land. Apparently, the government will take ground so the water won’t.

“Land allocation is a critical component,” Gardner said. “To get the water to spread out, you need more land. Urbanization results in taller peaks.”

That was seen during the May floods on Fountain Creek, the most recent of events where the creek turned into a river that ate banks, ripped away roads and changed course. With the ground saturated by weeks of rain, there was no opportunity for infiltration.

In that case, the drainage criteria manual recommends detention ponds to hold back the water, which also require land. A series of smaller ponds on tributaries would cost less to build and require less maintenance, Gardner said.

Such a system would allow localized storms to be contained, while reducing the cumulative effect on the creek. Among options studied by the U.S. Geological Survey, that system does not provide as much protection to Pueblo as larger detention ponds or a big dam.

Like any game plan, it has to be executed well to work. Issues still remaining include incorporating the drainage criteria manual with site planning, floodplain management on a larger scale, project phasing to make sure each project fits with others and adopting the same criteria throughout the entire 932-square-mile Fountain Creek watershed. Colorado Springs also faces challenges for funding a backlog of more than $500 million in stormwater projects in a way that satisfies Pueblo County and the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District.

But standards for future development are an important step. Gardner said some developers are talking with the city and finding that things like natural infiltration channels can become amenities that increase property values.

“A lot of folks are stuck in the old way of doing things,” Gardner said.

It’s going to take a lot of dough and some big projects to fix problems on Fountain Creek. Here’s a report from Chris Woodka writing for The Pueblo Chieftain:

It’s going to take big projects to tame Fountain Creek. Even a $4.2 million project by Colorado Springs Utilities to redirect Fountain Creek into a less damaging course suffered damage from the June 15 storm surge after holding up reasonably well during relentless rain in May.

But a series of smaller attempts to protect property by armoring it with piles of concrete or a living shield of plants were swept away in the raging waters.

And the district that was formed to find the best way to fix Fountain Creek has no money and unfinished plans on how to mend the monster.

“There’s good news and bad news,” said Pueblo County Commissioner Terry Hart. “The good news is that the district has the authority to handle the entire watershed. The bad news is that there’s a lot to study and we’re still trying to understand how this works.”

Even when the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District figures out the best way, there remains the question of money.

“There isn’t an unlimited source of money,” said Pueblo City Councilman Dennis Flores. “Our task is to find out what will work with the amount of resources we have.”

So far, not much is working, the Fountain Creek board learned from presentations Friday.

As part of its commitment to the Bureau of Reclamation and Pueblo County for the Southern Delivery System, Utilito ties is required to restore wetlands, and its $4.2 million Clear Springs Ranch project was the way to achieve that. In fact, the Army Corps of Engineers certified the work in January, said Allison Moser, an engineer for Utilities.

The project covered 6 acres, fixed a past erosion cut and routed Fountain Creek away from the bluff to the west, which it had been undercutting. Thousands of plants were just getting established after being planted last year. The spreading wetlands were designed to handle the overflow of Fountain Creek during high water without sacrificing ground.

But the May storms deposited silt over much of the area and began to damage the bank of a channel that had been reinforced with 2-foot boulders.

“We really saw a lot of sedimentation, but the wetlands were designed to handle sedimentation,” Moser said. “The intention was to have the plants fill in over 10-15 years, but it took it in just two weeks (of high water). It left a lot of debris.”

The June 15 storm, which caused peak flows of 20,000 cubic feet per second at Fountain the next day, ripped through the new bank and left the river in its old course and sent the main flow of Fountain Creek to the west bank again.

“There’s still some evidence the structures held,” Moser said. “We have not been able to get our guys back down there to look at it.”

Utilities has the kind of resources unavailable to most landowners to undertake such a large project, and from Moser’s description it may not be enough to keep Mother Nature under control.

“One of the things we learned is that you need a big footprint to make a difference,” Moser said.

That was borne out by comments from Ferris Frost, whose family’s ditches and a district demonstration project were destroyed in the May floods. The June flooding added more silt to injury.

She showed slides of the damage, as well as how concrete rip-rap installed by her neighbor Jane Green after the September 2011 flood was obliterated this year. Green had put in the bank armor after a 2011 flood cut through an old levee and added even more material when the 2013 flood took a second bite.

Some of the slides showed a large island with mature cottonwoods that had developed years ago from the constant erosion of a 50-foot bluff that Frost calls “The Great Wall.”

“This is terrible,” said Jane Rhodes, a Pueblo County landowner who sits on the Fountain Creek board. “It looks this way all down the creek.”

Pueblo County is still assessing the damage to see if disaster aid is available, Hart said in response to questions from Frank Masciantonio, Rhodes’ brother and one of the owners of land that has been severely eroded.

The district has master plans for Monument Creek and Fountain Creek south of Colorado Springs, and is in the process for developing another for Upper Fountain Creek, which has its own set of problems stemming from the 2012 Waldo Canyon Fire, General Manager Larry Small explained.

What it does not have is money. It will begin receiving $50 million in five annual installments in 2016 if SDS comes on line. That’s on schedule, but Pueblo County commissioners are lining meetings later this year to determine if Utilities is complying with all of its commitments under the county’s 1041 permit for SDS.

“What we’re trying to get our minds around are these two projects (Clear Springs Ranch and Frost Farms) and how well they survived or didn’t survive,” Hart said. “The question is whether we stabilize stream banks or do we need to look at the source of the water?”

More Fountain Creek coverage here.


Arkansas Valley Super Ditch update: Slow slog to 500 acre-feet delivered

July 3, 2015
Straight line diagram of the Lower Arkansas Valley ditches via Headwaters

Straight line diagram of the Lower Arkansas Valley ditches via Headwaters

From The High Country News (Joshua Zaffos):

John Schweizer has spent most of his life raising corn, alfalfa and other crops and about 200 cattle in Otero County, along southeastern Colorado’s Lower Arkansas River. It’s never been easy, but the last 15 years have been particularly tough on the nearly 81-year-old Schweizer and his neighbors. Their corner of the state is drier now than it was during the Dust Bowl. Meanwhile, growing Front Range cities are buying out farms and shifting their irrigation water to residential use — a process called “buy and dry.”

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,” 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.

More Arkansas Valley Super Ditch coverage here and here.


Southern Delivery System: Springs, Walker settle for $7.1M — The Pueblo Chieftain

July 3, 2015

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Colorado Springs Utilities and Gary Walker have reached a $7.1 million settlement for the damage to Walker Ranches from the Southern Delivery System pipeline.

The pipeline crosses 5.5 miles of the 63,000-acre property on its route from Pueblo Dam to Colorado Springs. The $841 million SDS project is scheduled to go online next year and will supply water to Colorado Springs, Fountain, Security and Pueblo West.

On May 6, a jury awarded Walker $4.75 million, which included a $4.665 million judgment beyond the $82,900 stipulated value of the easement across Walker Ranches. Damages plus interest would have brought the total payment to $5.78 million, according to a joint press release.

Utilities disputed the amount, and filed an appeal on May 7. Walker Ranches appealed the decision on May 14. Those appeals were dismissed as part of the settlement reached June 16, but announced on Thursday.

The final agreement resolves all claims for $7.1 million, the press release said.

Utilities will also install fencing on Walker Ranches to prevent cattle from entering the area of the SDS pipeline scar that is being revegetated, and will work with Walker to erect berms on the property to reduce erosion.

The agreement also commits both parties to work together in the future to protect the right of way.

Utilities said the settlement provides more certainty about the ultimate cost of the project, reducing the possibility of an expensive appeals process.

“It has always been our intent when working with property owners to use the court process as a last resort,” John Fredell, SDS program director, said in the news release. “By successfully resolving these issues with Mr. Walker, we can focus on completing the required revegetation on his property and finishing the SDS project on time and under budget.”

Walker, when contacted by The Pueblo Chieftain , declined to comment because of the conditions of the settlement.

During the trial, Walker claimed the SDS project had compromised a $25 million conservation easement on 15,000 acres he was negotiating with the Nature Conservancy. He has used about $13 million from past easements to expand the ranches, which is part of a long-term plan to prevent further urban sprawl in northern Pueblo County.

Ray Petros, Pueblo County’s special counsel, said he has not seen the settlement agreement, so he is uncertain about how the county’s 1041 permit for SDS would be affected. The county is teeing up compliance hearings later this year on revegetation and Fountain Creek flood control, which are referenced in conditions that are part of the 1041 permit.

More Southern Delivery System coverage here and here.


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