“It’s the same conversation, the same lack of movement that we’ve had” — Melissa Esquibel to Colorado Springs

February 19, 2015

Fountain Creek through Colorado Springs.

Fountain Creek through Colorado Springs.


From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Pleas to reconsider a federal lawsuit over water quality fell on skeptical ears Wednesday.

The Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District board listened patiently to Colorado Springs Councilman Merv Bennett’s assessment of stormwater protection progress, but in the end voted to continue to pursue a federal court filing charging that Colorado Springs is violating the Clean Water Act.

The board instructed attorney Peter Nichols to continue building a case.

Bennett urged the Lower Ark board to stay out of court, saying money would be better spent elsewhere. Still the board voted 7-0 to continue the lawsuit.

“Nothing’s binding on this council, the next council or the next mayor,” board member Melissa Esquibel said, clearly frustrated by Bennett’s promises. “It’s the same conversation, the same lack of movement that we’ve had. What’s going to happen?”

Colorado Springs City Council last month commit­ ted $19 million annually to stormwater projects, shuffling existing funds in the city’s general fund and adding $3 million from Colorado Springs Utilities beginning in 2016.

But Jay Winner, general manager of the Lower Ark, asked Bennett if other funds in the city would be shorted in the process and political pressure would again lower stormwater as a priority.

Bennett countered that the current council is committed to funding stormwater control, as well as the candidates for mayor in the April municipal election. He said the city’s other problems, such as potholes, would be settled in some other way not related to stormwater. He maintained the city currently is spending the required amount on stormwater and council’s action makes the funding permanent.

“I believe in the integrity of the people running,” Bennett said in response to Esquibel’s comments. “I feel we’ve made progress and we’ll continue to make progress.”

But he acknowledged that three to five new members may be elected to the nine-member council, and he could not personally guarantee that the stormwater money would remain in place.

“I can’t solve it by myself and we can’t solve it overnight,” Bennett said.

Winner pressed Bennett on several issues, including the council’s 2009 decision to dissolve its stormwater enterprise, stormwater funding that has been missing in the intervening years and whether the money would go toward projects identified when the enterprise was formed in 2005.

Bennett agreed that council made the wrong decision in response to Doug Bruce’s Issue 300 in 2009. He said Colorado Springs is working on a report that would show its funding level for stormwater projects has been higher than the $17 million the stormwater enterprise would have generated each year.

He pledged to have city staff develop a side-by-side comparison of projects.

The stormwater issue is tied to Pueblo County’s 1041 permit for Southern Delivery System, which was negotiated earlier in 2009, before the stormwater enterprise was abolished. Flood control is needed because growth in Colorado Springs has elevated flows on Fountain Creek, increasing the danger of flooding in Pueblo.

More stormwater coverage here.


Lower Ark pushes to make the value of agriculture more prominent in the #COWaterPlan

February 2, 2015

Arkansas River Basin via The Encyclopedia of Earth

Arkansas River Basin via The Encyclopedia of Earth


From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Water that grows food also protects wildlife and provides fun for humans.

So the district formed to protect water in the Arkansas Valley wants to make agriculture more prominent in the state water plan.

The Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District will push for a plank in the Arkansas Basin Roundtable implementation plan to strengthen its commitment to farms.

“It’s been a struggle to increase the awareness of the value of water,” said Beulah rancher Reeves Brown, who sits on both the Lower Ark board and the roundtable. “We’re emphasizing that the values of ag water go beyond just the economic value. It’s also water that you can raft, boat and fish on.”

Brown said the roundtable just last week received the long-term plan from the Pikes Peak Regional Water Authority, which includes finding more water from the Arkansas River over the next 50 years.

“The threat is out there,” Brown said.

“There are benefits of ag water to recreation and the community, not just making food,” said Lynden Gill, chairman of the Lower Ark board.

Jay Winner, general manager of the district, said a proposed statement should be accompanied by a way to measure the benefits of ag water to recreational and environmental uses.

“There are a lot of warm and fuzzy statements (in the water plan),” Winner said. “We’re trying to make a statement that’s precise.”

More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.


Annual Agricultural Water Symposium Set for Rocky Ford — The Prowers Journal

January 24, 2015


Click here to go to the Arkansas Valley Farm/Ranch/Water Symposium & Trade Show website for all the inside skinny.

From The Prowers Journal (Russ Baldwin):

The 11th Annual Arkansas Valley Farm/Ranch/Water Symposium and Trade Show will be held February 5, 2015, in Rocky Ford at the Gobin Community Building. Registration begins at 8:00 am, with programming starting at 8:30 and ending at 4:00 pm. Early registration of $20.00 per person/$30.00 per couple ends January 30, 2015, after that it goes to $25.00 per person/$35.00 per couple.

Topics to be included are: Weather Outlook by Nolan Doesken, Colorado State Climatologist; Pond Seepage Study report by Brian Lauristen, Valley Ag Consulting; Risk Management by Rebecca Davis, RMA Regional Director; USDA update by Chuck Hanagan, CE Crowley and Otero Counties; Farming for the Future by Tyrell Fickenscher, Upward Ag Systems; Grass Growth and Grazing by Arlan (Chip) Hines, rangeland consultant; and A Legislative Outlook by On the Ballot Consulting.

For more information or to register call the CSU Otero County Extension Office at 719.254.7608 or visit the website http://www.farmranchwater.org.


Fountain Creek: “When they talk [Colorado Springs] to us about stormwater, all we get is fuzzy math” — Jay Winner

January 22, 2015

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Colorado Springs is trying to talk its way out of its stormwater commitment, and the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District is losing its patience.

“You can talk the talk, but you’ve got to walk the walk. That’s not what I’m hearing,” Jay Winner, Lower Ark manager, told his board Wednesday. “When they talk to us about stormwater, all we get is fuzzy math.”

The board will consider whether to proceed with the federal lawsuit next month.

Winner is frustrated because his discussions with Colorado Springs Utilities have been similar to 2005 and 2007, when he was assured by Utilities the city would live up to its commitments to control drainage into Fountain Creek caused by increased runoff from development. When enumerating stormwater projects, Colorado Springs points to street projects that Winner said have nothing to do with controlling the flow into Fountain Creek.

In November, the Lower Ark board voted to prepare a lawsuit under the federal Clean Water Act over violations of its stormwater permit. Since then, the district has hired a firm to sample water quality and has been moving toward a lawsuit.

“Everybody seems to say the right things,” Winner said. “But I keep getting told, ‘Nothing happens until we get a new mayor.’’’ In November, Colorado Springs Councilman Merv Bennett asked the Lower Ark to have patience just days after voters in El Paso County rejected a drainage authority that would have raised nearly $40 million annually to improve Fountain Creek stormwater issues.

Colorado Springs council has made no overtures since then to address Lower Ark’s concerns.

“I’m not hopeful we’ll get anywhere,” Winner said.

Colorado Springs had a stormwater utility in place in 2009, when Pueblo County commissioners approved a 1041 permit for the Southern Delivery System.

The Lower Ark district lobbied Colorado Springs City Council in 2005 for creation of a stormwater utility, specifically to address past stormwater issues on Fountain Creek.

Colorado Springs has a backlog of about $535 million in stormwater projects, according to its most recent accounting.

More Lower Arkansas Water Conservancy District coverage here.


How will CSU’s $50 million for Fountain Creek mitigation be spent?

October 2, 2014
Southern Delivery System route map -- Graphic / Reclamation

Southern Delivery System route map — Graphic / Reclamation

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

While the decision of how to spend $50 million for flood control on Fountain Creek to benefit Pueblo will be made by the parties directly involved, other input will be needed.

“Anyone who wants to come to the table and says, ‘We want to find out where money for these projects will be available,’ is welcome,” Pueblo County Commissioner Terry Hart said.

Last week, Hart made a pitch to the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District to begin planning now for the arrival of $50 million in payments from Colorado Springs Utilities after Southern Delivery System goes online in 2016. That money is seen as seed money for projects that could amount to $150 million or more identified in a corridor master plan. The money was negotiated by Pueblo County under its 1041 agreement with Utilities in 2009 for the construction of the SDS water supply pipeline through the county. It is to be used for flood control projects on Fountain Creek that benefit Pueblo County. When the district was established later in 2009, it became the recipient of the money.

“At a minimum, Pueblo County, CSU and the Fountain Creek district need to be involved, and they will have the final say,” Hart said.

But the city of Pueblo and the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District also should have input about how the money will be used, Hart said.

The greatest potential damage from Fountain Creek flooding is within the city of Pueblo and in the communities of the Lower Ark Valley downstream from Fountain Creek.

“The Lower Ark District was instrumental in developing the corridor plan, and we definitely need the technical input from the city of Pueblo,” Hart said.

The corridor plan, a joint effort of Utilities and the Lower Ark district, identifies projects between Fountain and Pueblo that could cost several times the $50 million that was earmarked under the 1041 agreement. Pueblo already has participated in pilot projects to demonstrate flood control techniques.

In addition to technical assistance, Pueblo County’s attorneys will have to be involved to determine whether projects meet the conditions of the 1041 permit. This will be important to avoid the kinds of dispute that developed when the Lower Ark raised objections about how its contributions to the district were being spent.

“I see this new committee working in concert with the steering committee (Utilities, Lower Ark and the Fountain Creek District),” Hart said.

More Fountain Creek coverage here.


Arkansas River Basin: Lower Ark ponies up $45,300 for groundwater study

September 22, 2014
Arkansas River Basin alluvial aquifers via the Colorado Geological Survey

Arkansas River Basin alluvial aquifers via the Colorado Geological Survey

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

A federal project to map groundwater changes in the Lower Arkansas River was approved by a local board last week. The Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District voted to spend $45,300 toward a program that will look at changes in groundwater levels during the irrigation season. The project will be conducted by the U.S. Geological Survey, which is contributing $23,260.

“We measure the late fall and early spring water levels,” said Ken Watts, Pueblo scientist for the USGS. “The change in the fall measures the recharge in the system. Groundwater storage is far greater than surface storage.”

The Arkansas River aquifer is about a mile wide, 30 feet deep and 150 miles long, he explained.

The USGS measures eight surface gauges and 144 wells east of Pueblo. Watts proposed eliminating the spring measurement in order to pay for a mapping project under the current funding level of about $52,000. While the USGS has measured the area for years, the data are available only in tables. Mapping would be available online and provide an easier way to compare numbers.

The Lower Ark board voted to add $10,300 of its own money, matched with $5,820 in USGS funds to fund a more complete project.

The data is useful for several reasons, including well pumping regulations, surface irrigation plan and long-term studies.

“Surface supply and groundwater are connected,” Watts said. “If you drop groundwater levels, that will pull water to the aquifer.”

“It’s good data, and ties into the Arkansas River decision support system,” said Bill Tyner, assistant Division 2 engineer. “The data are helpful because of the difference we’ve seen in the last few irrigation seasons.”

More Arkansas River Basin coverage here.


Lower Ark board meeting recap: “We’re trying to see if a lease-fallowing program is viable” — Jay Winner

September 18, 2014

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

The Colorado Water Conservation Board last week approved a pilot project that will provide the town of Fowler water from several farms on the Catlin Canal over the next 10 years. The project is the first to be attempted under 2013 legislation, HB1248, that authorized demonstration projects that determine if lease-fallowing projects are a viable alternative to permanent dry-up of farms. It is also the first test of the viability of the Arkansas Valley Super Ditch.

Participating farms would be dried up no more than three years of the next 10 in order to supply 500 acre-feet (163 million gallons) annually to Fowler. Seven farms with 1,128 acres will be dried up on a rotational basis to provide the water under a plan filed by the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District and the Arkansas Valley Super Ditch.

The CWCB reviewed comments on the project expressing concern from Aurora, the Lower Arkansas Water Management Association, Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association, the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District and Colorado Beef, a Lamar feed lot. The comments were similar to filings made in the past in water court cases that sought to permanently change water rights. Most expressed concern that their water rights would not be injured by the program and sought to assure that measurements in the program are accurate. Some were supportive of the program and all wanted to be notified of progress or changes in the program.

“We’re trying to see if a lease-fallowing program is viable,” said Jay Winner, general manager of the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District. “We’re trying to keep the water in the Arkansas basin. That’s what it’s all about.”

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

How much water is staying down on the farm?

The state will spend $175,000 to study the amount of water returning to the Arkansas River from fields on the Fort Lyon Canal. That will be matched with $50,000 from the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District. The Colorado Water Conservation Board approved the grant last week as a way to address contentions from farmers that the amount of tailwater return to the Arkansas River has been overestimated. The outcome could affect the formulas used by the Colorado Division of Water Resources in administering the Arkansas River Compact and rules that govern wells or surface irrigation. It could also make more water available to farmers to lease under the Super Ditch or other rotational lease-fallow programs.

The grant was approved in July by the Arkansas Basin Roundtable.

The state now recognizes a 10 percent return of water from fields, or tailwater, that are flood irrigated. That water must be replaced under state rules adopted during the 24-year Kansas v. Colorado court case.

The Fort Lyon Canal is 100 miles long and irrigates 94,000 acres, so farmers contend water soaks into the ground and never makes it to the river. It is anticipated that the collection and analysis of data will take about two years to complete, at which time further work could be contemplated.

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Leaky ponds are good news for farmers in the Lower Arkansas Valley. The second year of a pond study in a normal water year is showing similar results as last year, when drought gripped the region.

“We’re not seeing a significant difference,” said Brian Lauritsen, a consultant on the study being funded through the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District and the Colorado Water Conservation Board.

Water leakage on more than 20 ponds averaged about 20 percent this year, compared with 18 percent last year. Most are on the Fort Lyon Canal. It had been thought the numbers would be higher when the ground was drier.

“Usually, you don’t want to see ponds leaking,” said Jack Goble, engineer for the Lower Ark district.

But in this case, there is a chance the state will adjust its formula used to determine how much water irrigators owe for return flows that are reduced through more efficient irrigation techniques such as sprinklers. More leakage means less water owed to the river.

The Lower Ark also has built two ponds on the Catlin Canal designed specifically to leak. Called recharge ponds, they are designed to return water to the Arkansas River over time, the way that water flows through the aquifer in farming operations. One pond fills part of the need for Rule 10 surface irrigation plans, while the other is credited to Rule 14 well plans. One pond contributed 135 acre-feet (44 million gallons) in a month, while the other leaked 120 acre-feet (40 million gallons) in 21 days.

“I hope we’re able to get more of these ponds, especially in the lower part of the basin,” said Jay Winner, general manager of the Lower Ark District.

More HB13-1248 coverage here. More Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District coverage here.


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