Lower Ark board meeting recap

From The Fowler Tribune (Bette McFarren):

The Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District board of directors determined to send letters to the Board of Reclamation and the Pueblo County Commissioners at their Monday meeting.

The Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District board of directors determined to send letters to the Board of Reclamation and the Pueblo County Commissioners at their Monday meeting. They also heard informative reports, backed a youth program for the Colorado State Fair, and gave Mark Pifher a dubious reception on the latest Colorado Springs stormwater control program.

Attorneys Melissa Esquibel and Peter Nichols prepared letters to the Bureau of Reclamation and to the Pueblo County Commissioners concerning the stormwater issue with Colorado Springs. Mark Pifher was present to represent Colorado Springs and presented their new plan, which sounded suspiciously like their old plan to the LAVWCD. “We’re sketchy,” said Nichols. Nichols asked for a copy of the plan.

The letter written by Attorney Melissa Esquibel and board member Anthony Nunez of Pueblo asked the Board of Reclamation to review the contract for the Southern Delivery System and suspend it until Colorado Springs can prove it has a stormwater system. At the meeting, Manager Jay Winner and Chairman Lynden Gill established the plan as presented by Pifher has no oversight, other than the city itself.

The letter drafted by Peter Nichols at Winner’s request, is to Pueblo County commissioners. It cites provisions in Pueblo County’s 1041 permit for SDS that require Colorado Springs to meet all federal, state and local permits, regulations and laws.

Reeves Brown asked for a contribution from the Board of $1,872 initially and $400 a year, for as long as they wanted to be members, for the 1872 Club, a part of a foundation for the support of State Fair activities. This club supports the young exhibitors, the FFA and 4-H members who participate in the fair competitions each year. The board agreed with and passed his request.

Hydrologist Karl Wetlaufer, United States Department of Agriculture/Natural Resources Conservation Service, explained the Snotel program for reporting snowpack and its effect on stream flow and water supply in Colorado. Snotel stands for SNOwpack TELemetry system. It is a data collection system that works through radio transmission to the ionosphere, where the information is bounced back to centers which collate and put the data on the Internet. There are 183 Snotel sites, 114 in Colorado, 20 in Wyoming, 27 in New Mexico and 22 in Arizona. In addition, there are 95 snow courses in Colorado. The shelter with instrumentation weighs the snow and the precipitation gauge checks the moisture content. There is one problem: animals tend to wander in; a dead elk once made the report look as though there was a large snowfall in one isolated area.

At present, the Arkansas River Basin is 112 percent of normal and 102 percent of yearly accumulation. Working with figures from the snowpack, engineers can predict water supply available in the state.

Judy Lopez, program director, Rio Grande Watershed Conservation and Education Initiative, made a presentation for Environthon, an educational competition for students in grades 9 through 12. Environthon focuses on five areas: 1. aquatics and water usage and laws, 2. soil and land usage and agriculture, 3. forestry, 4. wildlife, bugs to large animals, 5. weeds and other non-native critters which shouldn’t be here. They hope to encourage future hydrologists, foresters, and others who serve the environment. She asked the LAVWCD Board to become a banner sponsor, at the $1,000, $1,500, $2,000, $2,500 or up level. They took the matter under advisement.

Arkansas River Basin High/Low graph January 20, 2016 via the NRCS.
Arkansas River Basin High/Low graph January 20, 2016 via the NRCS.

LAWCD board meeting recap: Shut down SDS

Fountain Creek Watershed
Fountain Creek Watershed

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Colorado Springs Utilities claims that violations of federal stormwater standards are not related to permits for the Southern Delivery System being contested by the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District.

“Documents for the (Bureau of Reclamation’s) Record of Decision refer to the stormwater enterprise numerous times, so to me there’s a tie,” Lower Ark General Manager Jay Winner told the board Wednesday.

The Lower Ark board agreed, and fired off two letters to regulatory agencies requesting to delay SDS until stormwater issues are solved. They ask for protection for Pueblo and other downstream communities from Fountain Creek flows that have been increased by decades of growth in Colorado Springs.

The first — brought to the board by Winner and Pueblo County board members Melissa Esquibel and Anthony Nunez — asks Reclamation to review its contract for SDS and suspend it until Colorado Springs proves it has a stormwater control plan in place.

The second letter — drafted by attorney Peter Nichols at Winner’s request — is to Pueblo County commissioners and cites provisions in the Record of Decision and Pueblo County’s 1041 permit for SDS that require Colorado Springs to meet all federal, state and local permits, regulations and laws. John Fredell, the director of the SDS project, tried to make the case Tuesday to the Pueblo Board of Water Works that the enforcement action by the Environmental Protection Agency against Colorado Springs has nothing to do with SDS.

That viewpoint was echoed Wednesday by Mark Pifher, a Colorado Springs consultant, at the same time as he enumerated renewed efforts by Colorado Springs to beef up stormwater control.

Pifher touted that new leadership in Colorado Springs is committed to correcting the errors that led up to the EPA action.

Winner wasn’t buying it.

“We listened to ‘there is a real commitment’ in 2005, when (water chief) Gary Bostrom, (council members) Lionel Rivera, Larry Small and Richard Skorman came here and told us the same thing,” Winner said. “We tried to get an IGA so there would be an enforceable document.”

Winner said the commitment appears to come and go depending on who is elected, and doubted whether the current plan to fix stormwater control would stay in place after the next cycle.

Nichols questioned whether the $19 million Colorado Springs has committed to stormwater control would come close to the $600 million in needs identified by one study.

Pifher tried to deflect that by saying many of the projects identified fall into the category of a “wish list,” while the action plan now under consideration addresses the most critical projects.

“We’re skeptical,” Nichols said.

Both letters tie the current EPA enforcement action to the Record of Decision and 1041 permit, saying the violation of the federal stormwater permit alone should trigger denial of use of SDS by Colorado Springs.
Winner added that there is no acknowledgement by Colorado Springs that flooding on Fountain Creek is a result of unchecked growth upstream.

#Colorado Springs Issue 300 abolishing permanent stormwater funding, “the definition of hoodwink” — Jay Winner

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

From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Billie Stanton Anleu):

Colorado Springs city and Utilities officials on Tuesday fended off another in a rash of recent challenges to the massive Southern Delivery System water project, scheduled to start operating April 27.

The Pueblo Board of Water Works agreed to table for one month a resolution supporting Pueblo County efforts to require guaranteed stormwater funding if the SDS is to keep its hard-won 1041 permit.

Pueblo County issued that permit only after Colorado Springs Utilities spent years negotiating and crafting complex agreements with county, local, state and multiple federal agencies.

It’s the key to the $829 million SDS, one of the biggest modern-day water projects in the West, geared to deliver up to 50 million gallons of water a day to Pueblo West, Colorado Springs, Fountain and Security.

But Utilities’ massive project and its 1041 permit are not to be confused with the city of Colorado Springs’ beleaguered MS4 permit, SDS Director John Fredell told the Water Works board.

The city’s MS4, or Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System permit, is vulnerable since longtime neglect of critical stormwater controls led the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to cite the city in October with multiple violations.

For years, Colorado Springs hasn’t properly enforced drainage regulations, conducted adequate inspections, required developers to provide enough infrastructure or maintained and operated its own stormwater controls adequately, EPA inspections in August concluded. [ed. emphasis mine]

Now city officials are negotiating with the EPA and the Department of Justice to maintain the MS4 permit. They don’t deny the EPA’s claims. Indeed, they had discussed the problems and started scrambling for solutions shortly after John Suthers was sworn in as mayor last June, months before the EPA inspections.

Fountain Creek Watershed
Fountain Creek Watershed

But downstream Pueblo County has been a prime victim of Colorado Springs’ failure to control stormwater surging through Fountain Creek and its tributaries. And the county holds the 1041 permit, which some believe could be used as leverage.

As Colorado Springs development has sprawled farther, more sponge-like land has morphed into impermeable pavement, leaving stormwater roiling across the terrain.

Sediment in Fountain Creek has increased at least 278-fold since the Waldo Canyon fire in 2012, pushing water levels far higher, reported Wright Water Engineers Inc. of Denver, contracted by the county. [ed. emphasis mine]

Sediment grew from 90 to 25,075 tons per year while water yields increased from 2,500 to 4,822 acre-feet, the engineers found. [ed. emphasis mine]

City and Utilities officials have been meeting with those engineers and their own consulting engineering firm, MWH Global, to prioritize projects.

They’ve developed a list of 73, including 58 projects recommended by Wright Water, said city Public Works Director Travis Easton. Work on the first of those commences next week, with detention ponds to be developed along flood-prone Sand Creek near the Colorado Springs Airport.

But skepticism lingers in Pueblo County, despite that effort plus creation of a new Stormwater Division, more than doubling the number of city inspectors and enforcement staff and the vow to dedicate $19 million a year to stormwater solutions.

They’ve heard promises before, Water Works board members noted Tuesday. They want a guaranteed, ironclad source of funding to stanch the stormwater that inundates their communities. And they want it yesterday.

“History’s important,” said Dr. Thomas V. Autobee, a Water Works board member.

Jay Winner, executive director of the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District, had threatened in August to file a federal lawsuit against Colorado Springs for violations of the Clean Water Act.

Tuesday, Winner reminded the water board of how the then-Colorado Springs City Council eradicated its stormwater enterprise fund in 2009 – soon after the 1041 permit was issued – “the definition of hoodwink.”

Voters had just passed Issue 300, requiring payments to city-owned enterprises to be phased out. The subsequent council vote still rankles downstream Fountain Creek denizens.

Still, that fund never provided more than $15.8 million, Fredell noted. By contrast, the city and Utilities now are determined to spend more than $19 million a year on stormwater for at least 10 years.

They’re working on an intergovernmental agreement that would provide the guarantees Pueblo County seeks.

“Enforceablity is always an issue,” Mark Pifher, SDS permitting and compliance manager, told the Water Works board. “But we’re in discussion with the EPA and Department of Justice. The handwriting is on the wall. There will be either a consent decree or a federal order, and nothing is more enforceable.”

“If we can work this draft into something sustainable,” Autobee said, “that’s what I’d like to see.”

Board Chairman Nicholas Gradisar said he’s encouraged by the city and Utilities’ concerted efforts and swift action. “What I’m not encouraged by is the inability to come to agreement with Pueblo County.”

Gradisar said the funding must be guaranteed in perpetuity, not only 10 years, with an enforcement mechanism that doesn’t require a federal lawsuit.

Suthers, City Council President Merv Bennett and Utilities officials will meet with the Pueblo County Board of Commissioners at 1:30 p.m. Monday to continue discussions on the fate of the 1041 permit.

That meeting is in commission chambers at the old downtown Pueblo County Courthouse, 215 W. 10th St.

That night, the Pueblo City Council is to decide on a resolution similar to that tabled by the Water Works Board. It would support the county’s efforts to obtain sustained stormwater funding from Colorado Springs.

The council meets at 7 p.m. Monday at City Hall, 1 City Hall Place, in Council Chambers on the third floor.

More coverage from Chris Woodka writing for The Pueblo Chieftain:

The Pueblo Board of Water Works decided to wait a month before dipping its toes into the fray between Colorado Springs and Pueblo County over the Southern Delivery System.

The board tabled a resolution demanding a permanent funding mechanism for stormwater control on Fountain Creek in connection with Pueblo County’s 1041 permit with SDS, after testimony muddied the waters.

After SDS Project Director John Fredell tried to convince the water board that the two issues are not related, Jay Winner, general manager of the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District cried foul.

“When you talk about stormwater, it’s not about the law or politics,” Winner said, turning to Colorado Springs oŸcials and inviting them to look at the damage along Fountain Creek in Pueblo. “The people are the ones getting injured. You need to do something about stormwater. You people are causing the issue.”

Winner said the Lower Ark district has tried for more than a decade to get Colorado Springs to agree to permanent funding.

Colorado Springs City Council President Merv Bennett, under questioning by water board President Nick Gradisar, admitted that Colorado Springs has not been in compliance with its stormwater permit. He, along with Colorado Springs Councilman Andy Pico and Public Works Director Travis Easton, explained in detail how the city would spend $19 million annually to address stormwater control.

About $12 million would go toward capital costs and $7 million to maintenance.

“It’s not only for downstream users, but for the benefit of Colorado Springs,” Bennett said. “We’re not waiting.
We’re moving forward.”

Colorado Springs is trying to negotiate a 10-year agreement with Pueblo County to ensure the funds stay in place.

Part of the water board’s resolution was to support Pueblo County in the bargaining.

Gradisar questioned whether that would go far to cover $500 million in identified stormwater projects, and blamed politics for the failure of past efforts to fund flood control.

“Left to its own devices, Colorado Springs Utilities would have taken care of these problems,” Gradisar said.

Southern Delivery System route map -- Graphic / Reclamation
Southern Delivery System route map — Graphic / Reclamation

“But your voters . . . they probably wouldn’t have passed SDS.”

Water board member Tom Autobee brought up the issue of the $50 million Colorado Springs Utilities promised to pay to the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District when SDS goes on line.

Fredell explained that the SDS pipeline, pumps and treatment plant still are in testing, so Utilities does not believe the payment is due until 2017 under the 1041 agreement. Fountain Creek district Executive Director Larry Small, a former Colorado Springs councilman, said it should have been paid last week.

Fredell argued that stormwater control is not a condition of the 1041 permit, since the permit deals with new growth related to SDS.

Since SDS is not serving customers, it does not apply, he said.

“But the damage is being caused now, what happens with SDS,” Gradisar replied?

That drew a reaction from Pueblo West Metropolitan District board member Mark Carmel, who questioned whether SDS was just a speculative venture for Colorado Springs. He called for reopening the entire 1041 permit to incorporate new concerns.

Water board member Mike Cafasso said the draft resolution presented at Tuesday’s meeting could be improved and moved to table it. Other board members agreed to take it up again at the board’s February meeting.

Find a permanent revenue stream for stormwater — Pueblo Board of Water Works to #Colorado Springs

Channel erosion Colorado Springs July 2012 via The Pueblo Chieftain
Channel erosion Colorado Springs July 2012 via The Pueblo Chieftain

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

The Pueblo Board of Water Works Tuesday will consider a resolution that calls for Colorado Springs to find a permanent source of funding for stormwater control of Fountain Creek.

The resolution was provided to The Pueblo Chieftain by board President Nick Gradisar. It ties a recent Environmental Protection Agency audit of stormwater violations to a 2004 intergovernmental agreement among the board, Colorado Springs Utilities and the city of Pueblo as well as the 2009 Pueblo County 1041 permit for Southern Delivery System.

The action would direct Executive Director Terry Book to contact the EPA to relay the community’s concern over the stormwater permit violations, which were revealed in November.

It also supports Pueblo County in its enforcement of the 1041 permit, which could delay the expected operation of the SDS pipeline in April.

The water board resolution also says Utilities, which was the lead agency for obtaining the 1041 permit, should have more of a role in the stormwater negotiations.

“Pueblo Water believes any revised 1041 permit or agreement must provide an adequate enforcement mechanism such that future funding of stormwater infrastructure is no subject future funding of stormwater infrastructure is no subject to the whims of different political leaders in Colorado Springs or the other SDS participants,” the proposed resolution reads in part.

It also suggests the stormwater regulations need to be in place for as long as the SDS pipeline is in operation.

That echoes concerns expressed last year by Jay Winner, general manager of the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District, who suggested stormwater should be a fifth utility for Colorado Springs along with water, sanitary sewer, gas and electric service.
Colorado Springs had a stormwater enterprise in place in 2009 when it received federal and Pueblo County approval to build SDS, a 50-mile, $841 million water delivery pipeline from Pueblo Dam to Colorado Springs.

After a vote to sever utility payments from the city’s general fund in November 2009, Colorado Springs City Council chose to abolish the stormwater enterprise, but left other revenuesharing mechanisms in place.

The Lower Ark has placed its proposed federal court action on hold until EPA enforcement of the state stormwater permit under the federal Clean Water Act is complete.

Pueblo County is still contemplating whether Colorado Springs has met its stormwater obligations under the 1041 permit.

Pueblo City Council is scheduled to vote on a resolution requiring Colorado Springs stormwater compliance at its Jan. 25 meeting.

Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers and City Council have proposed a plan to redirect $19 million annually from other city and Utilities funds.

Meanwhile, here’s the view from upstream via The Colorado Springs Gazette (Billie Stanton Anleu):

Colorado Springs is revving up its stormwater program, more than doubling its staff of inspectors and engineers to deflect lawsuit threats and fix problems cited by Pueblo County and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Mayor John Suthers vowed from the start of his tenure in June to address the city’s long-neglected stormwater problems, and he soon started carving $16 million from the city’s 2016 budget to add to $3 million from Colorado Springs Utilities.

“I can’t emphasize enough, this money wasn’t easy to come by,” Suthers said. “I’ve got a lot of unhappy police officers and firefighters out there,” because raises and staff additions were frozen for the year.

That $19 million dedicated to stormwater issues this year compares with $5 million from the city’s general fund in 2015, though federal grants bolster expenditures yearly. But Pueblo County officials are lamenting the loss of the Stormwater Enterprise Fund, which the City Council dismantled in 2009. They’re pointing to the eradication of that fund as cause to possibly rescind the 1041 permit they issued to Utilities to build and operate the $829 million Southern Delivery System.

The timing of the threat couldn’t be worse. The enormous project is scheduled to start pumping April 27, delivering up to 50 million gallons of water a day to Pueblo West, Fountain, Security and Colorado Springs.

Meanwhile, the EPA has threatened to sue Colorado Springs for not meeting terms of its Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System permit, better known as the MS4. After inspections in August, the EPA reported that the city didn’t have enough resources, inspections or internal controls to maintain and operate its stormwater infrastructure properly. The city also doled out too many waivers and failed to hold developers’ “feet to the fire,” the inspectors found.

Water, of course, flows downstream. So unrestrained stormwater, excessive sedimentation and degraded water quality become problems for the people in Pueblo County.

Neither Suthers nor the City Council has denied the magnitude of those problems. Indeed, the city and Utilities have proposed an intergovernmental agreement that would guarantee a minimum of $19 million a year in floodwater projects for 10 years. Utilities would be on the hook if the city experienced an economic downturn.

In addition, the city is creating a Stormwater Division to be staffed by 58 full-time employees compared with the current 28, adding inspectors and engineers.

The budget for MS4 compliance alone is increasing from $3 million to about $7.1 million. The total comes to $8.56 million if you include the cost of MS4 responses by street sweepers, firefighters and Utilities.

The Arkansas Roundtable ponies up $194,000 for multi-use project

Arkansas River Basin -- Graphic via the Colorado Geological Survey
Arkansas River Basin — Graphic via the Colorado Geological Survey

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Can a water project be all things to all people?

The Upper Arkansas Water Conservancy District wants to find out.

The Arkansas Basin Roundtable approved a $194,000 grant last week to determine if irrigated agriculture, environmental, recreation, municipal supply, hydropower and aquifer storage can be satisfied in one project.

The Colorado Water Conservation Board will consider final approval of the grant at its March meeting.

The project involves the 200-acre Lake Ranch near Salida, which the district owns.

Right now, the property is irrigated by a center- pivot sprinkler, but the plan is to expand the types of uses to include a hydropower system on the Cameron Ditch above the property, recharge ponds and wetlands on two corners of the field which are not being used and research on another corner. Farm structures occupy the remaining corner of the field.

In addition, a leasefallowing program would provide water to nearby cities, and results would be used in educational programs.

“This is the smaller program, to see if some of these ideas work,” said Terry Scanga, general manager of the Upper Ark district.

If they do, a much larger project on Trout Creek that would cover 1,800 acres and could provide an additional 20,000 acre-feet in storage would be attempted.

That would be a boon to the Upper Ark district, which formed in 1979 to improve water use for numerous smaller entities in Chaffee, Custer and Fremont counties. Past studies have looked at improving how water supply is measured, the availability of underground storage and developing a leasefallowing tool to measure consumptive use when transfers occur.

“Multiple purpose projects are necessary for providing additional needed water supplies in the 21st century,” the district noted in its grant application.

Purgatoire River
Purgatoire River

More Arkansas Roundtable coverage from Chris Woodka writing for The Pueblo Chieftain:

Several ditches along the Purgatoire River are in line to get a much-needed $271,000 makeover through a state grant approved last week by the Arkansas Basin Roundtable.

The roundtable approved a $90,000 grant request to improve structures on six ditch companies that have deteriorated through erosion. The ditches, along with the Purgatoire Conservancy District, will contribute $121,000 and apply for a $60,000 loan from the Colorado Water Conservation Board.

The CWCB still must act on the grant and loan at its March meeting.

“All of the ditches are in the Trinidad Project,” said Jeris Danielson, manager of the Purgatoire district. “We estimated we could lose 10 percent of the water.”

The ditch companies include Picketwire, Enlarged Southside Irrigation, Chilili, Baca, New John Flood and El Moro. All are located in the Trinidad area of Las Animas County.

The project will rebuild headgates, flumes and culverts at various locations. As part of the project, about 1,000 feet of bank along the Purgatoire River will be restored and stabilized.

The Trinidad Project is a federal project that relies on water stored in Trinidad Reservoir. Over the last 20 years, it has averaged only 40 percent of its full supply. The improvements will restore about 5,000 acre-feet (1.6 billion gallons) annually toward basin water needs, according to the application.

Tamarisk
Tamarisk

Finally, here’s a report about efforts to mitigate flooding in La Junta from Chris Woodka writing for The Pueblo Chieftain:

An $85,000 plan to remove a “pinch point” in the Arkansas River that has caused flooding in North La Junta got the blessing of the Arkansas Basin Roundtable this week.

The roundtable approved a $25,000 grant toward the project by the North La Junta Water Conservancy District to deal with a problem that has persisted since a flood in the spring of 1999. Other funding is being provided by the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District, Otero County and La Junta.

The grant will take out several islands of tamarisk, or saltcedar, using a drag line and reconfigure dikes that apparently only aggravated flooding through the area. Combined, the projects will increase the channel capacity of the Arkansas River through North La Junta.

“This is one of my favorite projects because we did it with one engineer and no lawyers in the room,” quipped Jay Winner, general manager of the Lower Ark district.

The 1999 flood did serious damage to North La Junta, and the district has worked steadily since then to improve channel capacity through the area. Floods in recent years have renewed fears that past efforts were not as effective as hoped.

In another move, the roundtable approved a $48,000 grant toward a $54,800 project to replace a domestic water supply pipeline that serves about 175 families in the McClave area. The grant helps hold down water rates for customers in an area that eventually will be served by the Arkansas Valley Conduit.

The Colorado Water Conservation Board will consider final approval of the grants at its March meeting.

Past dry-ups should be a lesson for restoring land — The Pueblo Chieftain

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

When large tracts of land are disturbed, it takes more than good intentions to return it to something approaching a natural state.

The recipe includes water, seeds, know-how and — most importantly — time.

Those lessons have been learned in the most painful way over time in the Arkansas Valley as farmland has been taken out of production, sacrificed for pipelines, scorched by drought or ravaged by fire.

Fears that those lessons have not been learned well enough have surfaced this month as a patchwork plan for farm dryups was revealed by Arkansas River Farms. The company plans to dry up about 6,700 acres of the 14,400 acres it owns on the Fort Lyon Canal, using it to support wells on farm ground elsewhere.

The most painful lesson came for Ordway in 2008, when a fire ripped through dried-up farms in Crowley County that were no longer the responsibility of those who took the water off the land. The fire, started by a controlled burn fanned by winds, claimed two lives, 16 homes and 9,000 acres of mostly former farmland.

Water was first taken off farms in Crowley County in the 1980s, when water owned by a cattle feeding operation was sold to Colorado Springs, and most remaining Colorado Canal shares were snapped up by Aurora. By that time Colorado Springs and Pueblo had bought Twin Lakes shares that had provided supplemental water for Crowley County farms for decades.

Water courts insisted on revegetation plans when the Colorado Canal shares were converted in the late 1980s, as well as for the dry-up of farms on the Rocky Ford Ditch by Aurora. Those plans appeared to be complete, only to fall apart.

Shortly after the 2008 fire, the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District sighted in on the dry-up as an important contributing factor.

Not long after, the district was successful in obtaining tougher court provisions for the Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association purchase of nearly half of the Amity Canal. Annual reports on all dry-ups, temporary or permanent were required in perpetuity. It has been successful in applying it in other water cases since then.

And this year, Aurora returned to lands dried up in its 1999 purchase of Rocky Ford Ditch shares even after revegetation was certified by a panel of experts. The drought had damaged some of the vegetation, so Aurora used some of its water to try to reestablish the grasses.

Aurora in 2000 had to come back to Rocky Ford land that was improperly revegetated from its first purchase.

All of which feeds into continued concern about the announced dry-ups on the Fort Lyon.

“Who’s going to have long-term responsibility to make sure this gets done?” said Jay Winner, general manager of the Lower Ark district. “We are looking at assuring revegetation in perpetuity, and it should be the responsibility of those who are moving the water.”

Winner pointed to contracts when water was sold to the Lower Arkansas Water Management Authority that required landowners who had sold their water to protect the land. That led to large dust storms blowing across the landscape – even across highways — during the recent drought. “When you see that — people have died from that — you realize that it should be the responsibility forever of those who are using the water,” Winner said.

One of the questions posed to Karl Nyquist, a partner in Arkansas River Farms, last week was whether water could return to lands that were dried up. The answer was uncertain.

Two conservation districts in Bent and Prowers counties are proposing a plan to monitor revegetation efforts in the Arkansas River Farms dry-up.

It’s modeled after Aurora’s most recent efforts, trying to incorporate all of the lessons which have been learned so far. They have pitched it to county commissioners before an application to change the use of water has been filed.

“What I told them was to not be in such a hurry,” said Bill Long, Bent County commissioner.

Fort Lyon Canal’s shareholders will have a hearing about the Arkansas River Farms plan on Jan. 28-29. But Long said the issues should be hashed out in water court, rather than predetermined.

On revegetation, Winner agrees.

“I believe the water court needs to be the policeman,” Winner said.

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

“We’re going to do everything we can to protect the ag economy in Bent County” — Bill Long

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Water once destined to be exported to feed growth on the Front Range could fuel economic growth in the Lower Arkansas Valley, but Bent County officials are wary of unforeseen consequences.

“Where is the water going to move to?” asked Bent County Commissioner Lynden Gill after Monday’s presentation by Arkansas River Farms at the Fort Lyon Canal’s annual meeting. “Are they going to double up water on sprinklers near Las Animas or move it somewhere else? I had assumed the water would be staying in Bent County.”

Arkansas River Farms outlined its plans to dry up 6,700 acres on the Fort Lyon while improving another 5,700 acres with surface-fed sprinklers, rather than flood irrigation. The company owns 18,400 shares of Fort Lyon water, about one-fifth of the total.

The water was purchased by High Plains A& M 15 years ago with grand plans to market it statewide. Those were shot down, first in water court and then by the state Supreme Court.

C&A Companies, one of the Arkansas River Farms partners also unveiled its plan to pipe Lamar Canal water to the Front Range in 2011.

But now, the plan is to use the water to open up new farming opportunities in Bent and Prowers counties, said Karl Nyquist, one of the principals in C&A.

“We could be the biggest job creators in this area,” Nyquist said at Monday’s Fort Lyon meeting.
And what about those pipeline plans?

“You haven’t heard me talk about it lately, have you?” Nyquist answered, adding the company will be more open as plans progress.

Bill Grasmick, the largest farmer on the Lamar Canal and a board member of the Lower Arkansas Water Management Association, said wells that have not been used in several years would be operated thanks to the water taken off the Fort Lyon.

They have talked to Bent and Prowers counties about building dairies, feed lots or vegetable farms that would provide an additional boost to the local agricultural economy. But the plans are not specific.

The water from the Fort Lyon would be used in LAWMA well-augmentation plans, which are not limited to historic boundaries for use. “About 22 percent of our local economy comes from agriculture, so any reduction will have a negative impact,” said Bill Long, another Bent County commissioner.

But looking at map of Arkansas River Farms plans, most of the improved farms are located near Las Animas, while dry-ups largely are further east, where farmers are just as likely to trade in Lamar as Las Animas, he said.

“Ultimately, there’s a chance it could be very beneficial,” Long said.

Of more concern to Long is the upcoming water court change case. That would quantify the consumptive use of the Fort Lyon shares and open them up for other uses.

“That’s one step closer to getting it in a pipeline,” said Long, who is president of the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District, which took the lead role in the legal battle to stop High Plains.

There are too many unanswered questions to pass judgment, Gill said. Tuesday, the commissioners met with conservancy districts that want to supervise revegetation. And the Fort Lyon shareholders have set aside Jan. 28-29 to question the company about its impacts on the canal itself. Primary concerns so far are the revegetation question and the proposal to leave some water behind to cover losses on shared laterals.

Gill, who is also chairman of the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District, is alarmed that dry-up could begin next year under a substitute water supply plan concurrent to a water court filing.

Long pointed out that in previous cases where revegetation was insufficient and caused problems later with weeds and blowing dust. If the Fort Lyon water is used outside Bent County, 1041 regulations also could be applied, Long said.

“We’re going to do everything we can to protect the ag economy in Bent County, and make sure if anything is done, it is beneficial to the county,” Long said.

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