The Fountain Creek District is focusing on maximizing SDS payments from Colorado Springs

March 30, 2015
Southern Delivery System route map -- Graphic / Reclamation

Southern Delivery System route map — Graphic / Reclamation

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Big money for flood control on Fountain Creek would become available in January the year after Southern Delivery System begins delivering water.

But the district that will receive the $50 million in payments over five years wants to make sure the money is safe from Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights legislation that could erode the funds.

Most likely, the money would begin arriving in 2017, provided that Colorado Springs meets all conditions of its agreement with Pueblo County.

Last week, the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District board asked Pueblo County commissioners and Colorado Springs Utilities to amend the 1041 agreement on SDS to make payments to its newly created enterprise, rather than the district. The resolution passed 9-0.

“The money has to be redirected so we can comply with the TABOR spending limit,” Executive Director Larry Small explained.

The money has to be spent on flood control projects that directly benefit Pueblo County, and the district has studies in progress to determine what sort of projects it could be applied.

The Fountain Creek district is looking at a dam or detention ponds between Colorado Springs and Pueblo to reduce the damage from large floods. It is also tackling the questions of impacts of temporary storage on water rights raised by farmers downstream on the Arkansas River.

TABOR puts limits on how much spending can increase by publicly funded entities in Colorado, year over year. Small gave his board projections that showed the full $50 million would not be available. The district intends to use the money to leverage other sources of payment.

Conservancy districts, including Southeastern and the Lower Ark, have long used enterprises to deal with funds collected and spent on top of property taxes. Under state law, the Fountain Creek district can assess up to 5 mills in property tax with voter approval, but it has never approached voters in El Paso and Pueblo counties to initiate any tax.

More Fountain Creek coverage here.

Update on the new hydroelectric generation station at the north outlet works at Pueblo Dam

March 29, 2015
The new north outlet works at Pueblo Dam -- Photo/MWH Global

The new north outlet works at Pueblo Dam — Photo/MWH Global

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

It will be awhile before the turbines start spinning, but work continues toward installing hydroelectric generation at Pueblo Dam.

An update on the hydropower project was shared by Kevin Meador of the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District staff at this month’s board meeting.

“We’re working with Black Hills Energy on the pricing of power and what we sell it for. That’s a key piece, and we’re getting close to the nitty-gritty,” Meador told the board.

The district is working with Colorado Springs Utilities and the Pueblo Board of Water Works on a 7-megawatt generation system that would be installed at the North Outlet Works on Pueblo Dam.

The structure was built as part of the Southern Delivery System with design allowing for future hydro connection. It would generate about 20,000 megawatt hours annually and could be completed by 2018.

The total cost of the project is in the $20 million range, and so far about $934,000 has been expended in engineering work.

In January, the Pueblo County planning commission issued a finding of no significant impact and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation decided an environmental assessment would be needed. Black Hills completed an interconnection study in December and recommended hooking up to the grid at a newly constructed substation which will serve the SDS Juniper Pump Station.

More Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District coverage here.

State ditches well plan — The Pueblo Chieftain

March 29, 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):

The Colorado Division of Water Resources last week dropped plans to institute new well rules for Arkansas River basin.

The rules would have applied to appropriations of groundwater after 1985, when Kansas sued Colorado in the U.S. Supreme Court over groundwater appropriations. The state was not interested in pursuing the rules if water users thought them unnecessary.

“There wasn’t a consensus that it was needed,” said Division 2 Engineer Steve Witte.

A survey of ditch company officials, water attorneys and other interested parties was mixed with 39 percent favored new rules, 32 percent opposed and 29 percent neutral. Survey results were posted online.

Under current rules, new appropriations for wells must have a court-approved augmentation plan or can be approved temporarily under a substitute water supply plan.

More Arkansas River Basin coverage here.

Pueblo County water rights buy: “This meets all the charges the district has” — Terry Hart

March 28, 2015
Fountain Creek Watershed

Fountain Creek Watershed

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Pueblo County is angling to become the owner of the most senior water rights on Fountain Creek.

The purchase would be aided by the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District, which voted Friday to line up financing for the deal, which is expected to complete by the end of the year.

“I see this as a fascinating project. This meets all the charges the district has: flood control, recreation, restoration and conservation,” Commissioner Terry Hart said. “I love history. I’m thrilled with it.”

The Greenview Trust property, located 8 miles north of Pueblo along Overton Road, is about 360 acres with water rights dating back to 1862. Like other farms on Fountain Creek, it has faced erosion issues for years, and the owners sued the city of Colorado Springs after the 1999 flood over the growth that increased the base flows in the waterway.

Negotiations are still underway for the purchase of the property and details cannot be discussed publicly, Hart said.

“We still have some due diligence issues,” Hart said.

The county has some other water rights, but the Fountain Creek purchase would give it more legal standing on water rights issues as projects develop along Fountain Creek.

The Fountain Creek district board voted 9-0 to line up some of the financing for the possibly $3.72 million project in open session Friday, since public grants and loans are involved.

Collateral for the $1 million loan from the CWCB would be the upcoming payments by Colorado Springs Utilities to the Fountain Creek district under the 1041 permit with Pueblo County. The first payment would come due in early 2017, if the Southern Delivery System goes online by 2016, as expected.

The property could be used for wetlands or for detention facilities that would aid flood control.

Pueblo County intends to put a conservation easement on the property as well because of its historic significance, Hart said.

“This is exactly what we want to be doing as a district,” said Richard Skorman, who sits on the Fountain Creek board.

“The Lower Ark is obviously excited about this,” said Melissa Esquibel, a Lower Ark board member who sits on the Fountain Creek board.

Board member Jane Rhodes, a Fountain Creek landowner, is related to the family which is selling the property.

Salida: Town hall meeting discusses water issues

March 25, 2015
Salida Colorado early 1900s

Salida Colorado early 1900s

From The Mountain Mail (J.D. Thomas):

State Sen. Kerry Donovan (D-Vail) and Terry Scanga, general manager of the Upper Arkansas Water Conservancy District, hosted a town hall meeting to discuss water issues Sunday in city council chambers.
Scanga opened the meeting by describing changes in Colorado water plans since 2002.

He said in 2011 a gap analysis of the various water basins showed the Arkansas River Basin will have a projected shortage of 54,000 acre-feet per year by 2035 or 2040.

He said various water conservancy districts are looking into conservation, identifying projects and processes, alternative transportation methods of water and new water supplies.

Another option being considered is rotational land fallowing and water leasing, which would lease water rights for irrigation from a section of land and transfer it to a municipality temporarily, which would increase water to an area that is experiencing a population growth, he said.

An issue raised involved poor irrigation and watering practices by agricultural users, which Scanga said is difficult to compare to poor watering practices of lawns in a municipality.

Another attendee asked about worst-case scenarios for future water shortages. Scanga said water conservancy groups in Arizona and Nevada have already started preparing for worst-case scenarios and have begun offering monetary incentives for users taking less water than before.

Donovan said she had been to Paonia and Delta Saturday and Crested Butte and Salida Sunday as part of her town hall meetings to obtain comments and gauge concerns of local residents about water in their basins.
She said feedback gained from meetings such as the one in Salida will be used to take the voices of locals to Denver.

More Arkansas River Basin coverage here.

Colorado Parks and Wildlife leases water for John Martin Reservoir

March 24, 2015
John Martin Reservoir back in the day

John Martin Reservoir back in the day

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

The Arkansas River is rumbling a little higher through Pueblo this week as water released from Pueblo Dam makes its way to John Martin Reservoir.

About 5,000 acre-feet (1.6 billion gallons) is being released under leases made by Colorado Springs Utilities and the Pueblo Board of Water Works.

Colorado Parks and Wildlife is leasing 2,000 acre-feet from Utilities and 1,000 acre-feet from Pueblo Water to boost levels at John Martin State Park.

“This is really exciting news, and we are thrilled to be able to provide additional water this year,” said Brett Ackerman, deputy regional manager for CPW. “Years of drought have really taken a toll on John Martin Reservoir and protecting this exceptional fishery has been tough at times. This will really help out a lot.”

The water will increase the permanent pool at John Martin as a safety net for the fishery.

Another 2,000 acre-feet are being moved to benefit the Lower Arkansas Water Management Association, which provides replacement water for irrigation wells below John Martin Dam.

“The plan is to be done by March 30,” said Water Division 2 Engineer Steve Witte.

The extra water in the river — flows were 640 cubic feet per second Monday, compared with 330 cfs a week earlier — is not having a big impact on the Arkansas River levee project.

“The aqua dam is holding up. We’re doing fine,” said Rick Kidd, manager and engineer for the Pueblo Conservancy District that is overseeing the levee reconstruction.

Heavy equipment work on the levee needs to be done during months when the river is at lower levels. The first phase of construction should be completed by the end of the month.

The release of water also will help lower Lake Pueblo levels to allow for flood storage by the May 1 deadline.

From the Prowers Journal (Russ Baldwin):

The additional water will increase the permanent pool at John Martin Reservoir to approximately 4,000 acre feet resulting in a safety net for the fishery, as well as more room on the water for boating, water skiing and angling. The water was purchased by Colorado Parks and Wildlife from Colorado Springs Utilities and Pueblo Board of Water Works and is currently in transit from Pueblo Reservoir.

“The weather this year was a huge help with regard to overall water levels,” said Ackerman. “But protecting the permanent pool would not have been possible without the help and cooperation of Colorado Springs Utilities and Pueblo Board of Water Works as well as the support of our sportsmen and anglers.”

More Arkansas River Basin coverage here.

Pure Cycle sells 14,600 acres under the Fort Lyon Canal

March 24, 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):

Farmers on the Fort Lyon Canal were shocked by news that 14,600 acres of farms on the Fort Lyon Canal were sold this week.

“The writing’s on the wall,” said Dale Mauch, a farmer who sits on the Fort Lyon board. “I’ve heard stories of three different dairies being built. If you see that happening, you know the water’s going to stay. If you don’t, we’re in trouble.”

Pure Cycle Corp. announced the pending sale of the farms to Arkansas River Farms LLC, an affiliate of C&A Companies and Resource Land Holdings LLC. C&A earlier backed a plan to pipe water from the Lamar Canal to the Front Range. Resource land has more than $550 million in assets in 25 states and Canada.

“Most people are still in shock,” Mauch said. “They’re asking, ‘When’s this company going to quit?’ They’ve got big money from back East. Is what happened to the Amity going to happen to us?”

Right now, no one can say.

Karl Nyquist, a principal with C&A, has not returned calls from The Pueblo Chieftain seeking more information about future plans. C&A is a Colorado real estate firm with residential and commercial real estate developments. But it also has 15 years of farming operations in the Lamar-Holly area, partnering with local farmer Bill Grasmick.

In 2011, Nyquist announced a plan, as GP Water, to pipe some of the water from Lamar Canal to the Front Range. Pure Cycle’s Fort Lyon farms have been targeted for dry-up so the water can be piped north.

But Mauch can see the effects of this sale.

Just 20 years ago, farms on the Fort Lyon, the largest canal in the Arkansas Valley, were selling for $700-$800 per acre (with water). When High Plains started buying farms in 2001, the price jumped to $1,500-$1,750 per acre. The latest sale raises the bar to $3,600 per acre, and there is talk that more sales are coming — up to $4,000 per acre.

“My son tried to buy a farm recently and the land was appraised at $2,500 an acre,” Mauch said. “With $4 corn and $150 hay, at $4,000 an acre? I can’t do it.”

He’s worried about the Fort Lyon after watching what’s happened next door on the Amity Canal. Tri-State Generation and Transmission purchased half of the Amity Canal beginning in 2005. He’s also worried that Main Street, Lamar, will be battered if water starts leaving the area.

Mauch believes such sales are inevitable as long as Front Range cities continue to grow.

“I can’t blame a guy for selling at this kind of money,” Mauch said. “These guys aren’t bad guys. They’re not doing anything illegal. The Front Range is going to continue to grow. It’s the way of the world. If GP doesn’t do it, the next company is going to do it.”

And what about the state water plan?

“I’d like to write the last page,” Mauch said. “Dear Governor Hickenlooper: After reading all this, here’s what it comes down to: You’ll only get the water you need at the expense of agriculture, because that’s where the water is. You only need it for growth.”

More Arkansas River Basin coverage here.


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