Roaring Fork Conservancy District Independence Pass diversion system tour recap

Independence Pass Diversion
Independence Pass Diversion

From The Aspen Daily News (Collin Szewczyk):

The Independence Pass transmountain diversion system shut down for more than a month this year around the June peak runoff due to ample water supplies in the Arkansas River basin, only the fourth such time this has happened for these reasons since the 1930s.

Seeing rivers in this more-natural state has reinvigorated local interest in the health of the Roaring Fork watershed and how it is managed.

Recently, a group of more than two dozen interested locals and tourists met up at the Lost Man trailhead parking lot near Independence Pass to learn more about how water is diverted east from the watershed. The sold-out event was hosted by the Basalt-based Roaring Fork Conservancy, and was led by both its employees and those of the Twin Lakes Reservoir and Canal Co., which manages water flows through the transmountain diversion system…

Medved noted that there are 24 major diversion tunnels in Colorado, and two of the five largest are in the Roaring Fork watershed.

The fifth largest is the 3.85-mile-long Twin Lakes tunnel, which diverts water from the headwaters of the Roaring Fork River to the Arkansas River basin. It is a bit over nine feet wide and boring began in November of 1933, with the workers “holing out” in February 1935.

The Boustead Tunnel is the third-largest diversion tunnel and is located on the headwaters of the Fryingpan River. It stretches 5.5 miles, and empties into Turquoise Reservoir near Leadville.

Scott Campbell, general manager of the nonprofit Twin Lakes Reservoir and Canal Co., which is privately owned and based out of Ordway, has worked with water for about 40 years and explained that the Twin Lakes diversion was originally a supplemental water right in the 1930s. He added that when water from the Arkansas River was coming up short on the eastern side of the Continental Divide, Twin Lakes Reservoir water would help to fill the gap.

Each year, the transmountain diversion system collects water from the Roaring Fork River, as well as the Lost Man, Lincoln, Brooklyn, Tabor, New York and Grizzly creeks, and moves it through the Twin Lakes Tunnel into the Arkansas basin. From there much of it aids agricultural pursuits near Pueblo and Crowley counties…

The Twin Lakes Reservoir is owned and operated by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, but the Twin Lakes Reservoir and Canal Co. retains ownership of 54,452 acre-feet of space within to store water…

More storage on East Slope needed

When asked why Eastern Slope reservoirs aren’t being expanded to store more water, Campbell replied, “That’s a very good question.”

Alan Ward, water resources administrator for the Pueblo Board of Water Works, explained that many of the reservoirs on the Front Range are under federal purview, and changes would require an act of Congress.

“As it turns out, we’ve been trying to do that for almost 15 years,” he said. “It’s not easy to get Congress all together and actually passing legislation that would allow us to study the enlargement of that.”

Ward added that while some potential reservoir sites may be good from an engineering point of view, they don’t always make sense environmentally.

“It’s just a challenge to be able to find a spot that you can get permitted, that you can afford to build on, and that you can get permission to build on, if it requires an act of Congress,” he said. “But something I think is very much in the forefront of the minds of water planners on the East Slope, is where and how can we build more storage to be able to better manage the limited supply [of water] we have.”

Into the Styx

Following a bumpy Jeep ride up Lincoln Creek, care of Blazing Adventures, to see the opposite end of the tunnel through Green Mountain, Campbell concluded the tour by leading people on a subterranean descent into the Twin Lakes Tunnel.

The concrete “road” dropped down quickly into the darkness, and constant seepage water dripped from above, creating the feeling of being caught in an underground monsoon.

Campbell noted that the site’s caretakers, Kim and Glenn Schryver, use the underground route in the winter to reach the outside world while Independence Pass is buried under the snowpack.

He explained that the workers boring the tunnel converged on each other from either side and averaged just under 50 feet in progress a day. When they met up, the holes were six inches apart, Campbell said, adding that the route was determined with a line of mirrors shot over Independence Mountain.

Buying and drying: water lessons from Crowley County — The Colorado Independent #COWaterPlan

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From The Colorado Independent (Marianne Goodland):

In Otero County, the corn is knee-high, the famous Rocky Ford cantaloupes are almost ready to pick and the onions, tomatoes, sugar beets and wheat are thriving in the fields.

But on the north side of the Arkansas River, over in nearby Crowley County, the landscape looks very different. The only bumper crops are “noxious and obnoxious weeds,” according to a county commissioner. This is what happens when a county sells its water rights.

As did many communities this year, the southeastern Colorado county had what locals are calling a “Miracle May.” Rainfall in that single month was just a couple inches shy of what the county gets, in total, most years. For the first time in recent years, Lake Meredith will have enough water for fish to survive and maybe even generate a little tourism from anglers.

Still, it wasn’t enough to resuscitate the once-thriving agricultural industry nor to save the county’s last remaining feedlot, which is scheduled to go up for bankruptcy auction later this month.

Water experts say Crowley is a parable for how bad things can get when cities and industry dry up farmland to buy rural water — a controversial practice known as “buy and dry” deals.

But the county’s dry landscape could change if, as proposed by a group of water users representing the Arkansas River basin, the state’s water plan includes a blueprint for bringing water back to the county.

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How Crowley County dried up

Water, and the agriculture industry that followed, didn’t come naturally to Crowley County.
The county was formed in 1911 out of a portion of northern Otero County – named in honor of state Sen. John H. Crowley, who represented the area at that time. The county is bordered on the south by the Arkansas River.

But the river wasn’t enough to irrigate local farms. The first irrigation systems came in through the Colorado Canal in the 1890s. In the 1920s, the state built a tunnel through the mountains to deliver water from the Roaring Fork River on the Western Slope and into a new reservoir at Twin Lakes, near Leadville. Crowley County farmers paid for the reservoir.

The county had its agricultural heyday before the dustbowl of the 1930s, but even after that farmers prospered.

Attached to Sweetness, a history of the county’s tiny town Sugar City, published in the 1980s, states “water created a Garden of Eden.”

The county easily rivaled its neighbors on crop production. It was known for tomatoes, onions, corn and wheat. It had two major feedlots for native Colorado cattle, and a sugar factory for processing sugar beets. And it was famous for cantaloupe. The juicy melons, known as Sugar City nuggets, were a “pink beauty,” according to Attached to Sweetness.

In the 1970s, more than 50,000 acres were irrigated in Crowley County.

But Crowley’s shares in the Twin Lakes reservoir earned it attention from thirsty Front Range cities.
In the late 1960s, with crops and cattle prices in decline, farmers and ranchers in Crowley County started thinking about selling their water rights. Some wanted to get out of agriculture. Others were ready to retire, and farmland was their 401(k).

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In 1972, the Foxley Cattle Company bought water rights from farmers and ranchers all over the county. For a couple of years, that land stayed in agriculture and continued to be irrigated.

Then came the Crowley County Land and Development Company, which bought more water rights — both from Foxley and directly from farmers and ranchers willing to sell at the right price. CLADCO sold those water rights to Pueblo, Colorado Springs, Pueblo West and Aurora to quench those communities’ sprawl.

According to the Colorado Foundation for Water Education, municipal and industrial users now own 90 percent of the water stored in Twin Lakes.

The terms of the water sales included a requirement that municipalities revegetate the fallowed farms and ranches to restore the county’s natural prairie grasslands. But several current and former residents say the contractors did a poor job of re-seeding the prairie grass, and it quickly died.

A county that once had more than 50,000 irrigated acres now has only about 5,000. In the drought of 2012, the number dropped to 2,500.

Even the few remaining farmers with water rights are not guaranteed water in a year when there is not enough to go around.

Asked if Crowley is still an agricultural county, County Commissioner Frank Grant paused, and then said, “Yes. We still have cattle.”

But according to one lifelong resident, it’s mostly dairy stock, not valuable cattle that can be sold for beef.

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The prisons of Crowley County

With dwindling agriculture, the county had to find another industry for its economic base. It turned to prisons.

There are two in Crowley County: the state-run Arkansas Valley Correctional Center, just outside the town of Crowley; and a private prison operated by Corrections Corporations of America near Olney Springs.
The county’s most recent property tax revenues totalled about $1.6 million – more than half of which came from the private prison.

The most recent census in 2012 counted more than 5,823 “residents” in Crowley County, but 46 percent of them are prison inmates.

Crowley County Commissioner Tobe Allumbaugh said that outside of the prison numbers, the county’s population has declined at about the same rate as its neighboring counties – about 1 percent per year.
The prisons have brought jobs, but not necessarily to Crowley County. Most of the prisons’ workers live in nearby counties or in Pueblo or Colorado Springs.

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Commissioners Grant and Allumbaugh attribute the lack of interest in living in the county to a housing shortage. Most of the homes are small, old and asbestos-laden. It’s too expensive to tear the houses down because they would need asbestos mitigation. No one is showing any interest in building homes in the county, either, they said.

While the CCA taxes contribute to the county coffers, prisons haven’t helped businesses survive in Ordway and other communities.

Ordway, the county seat, has a population of just over 1,000. There are a few businesses on the town’s Main Street – mostly county and town government offices – an insurance company, grocery store, pharmacy, the reservoir and canal company offices, a couple of medical facilities and Chubbuck Motor, the local Ford dealer. The nearest farm tractor dealer, John Deere, is in Otero County.

Mostly, buildings along Main Street are for sale or appear to be abandoned.

Darla Wyeno, clerk for the town of Crowley, was one of those who sold water rights to the big cities. She and her husband have 120 acres on which they used to grow onions, tomatoes and melons. Today, they graze cattle on their land. She says life might have been different if the cities that bought their water had done a better job of re-seeding their land with prairie grass.

The loss of water hasn’t been all bad, she said. Their son went to college on the earnings they made from the water deal. He’s now a successful banker in Colorado Springs. Her husband has an off-farm job, and both their careers mean two steady paychecks every month instead of one uncertain one at the end of the year when they cashed in their crops.

Still, Wyeno adds, “When we sold our water, we sold our future.”

Local residents now fight the rampant dust every day, never realizing that would be the impact of losing their water. Bees won’t come to Crowley; it’s too far a flight. The hay fields today have to be pollinated with bees rented from outside the county.

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State water plan may hold promise for the county

The state water plan, ordered by Gov. John Hickenlooper two years ago, incorporates suggestions made by roundtable groups in each of Colorado’s nine river basins. The roundtables include representatives from agriculture, municipal water providers, industrial users, environmental and recreational interests and those who own water rights.

Under Colorado’s complex web of water laws, once water has been removed from the land through the purchase of a water right, it cannot be returned. It’s gone for good.

But that isn’t stopping the Arkansas Basin roundtable from trying to find ways to get water flowing back into Crowley County.

The roundtable suggests that the county should acquire water rights to maintain permanent water levels in its two major lakes: Lake Meredith and Lake Henry. Inconsistent levels have resulted in loss of fish, blowing dust and bad odors in both lakes, according to the basin’s recommendations.

Allumbaugh says replenishing the lakes could help the county become a tourist destination, although getting the water to a stable level is just one part of the solution.

Two more recommendations seek water rights for municipal, industrial and agricultural needs.

The roundtable’s recommendations don’t specify where that water will come from.
Engineer Rick Kidd represents Crowley County on the Arkansas basin roundtable. He says the group firmly supports any efforts to get and keep water rights in the Arkansas River valley.

Grant says what has gone down in Crowley County – which he has called home for the last 36 years – is pretty typical of rural communities all across the state.

“It just happened here sooner,” he says. “The water sales got us.”

More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.

Aurora: “We have more water in our system than we’ve ever had since we’ve been recording” — Joe Stibrich


From The Aurora Sentinel (Rachel Sapin):

“We have more water in our system than we’ve ever had since we’ve been recording,” Aurora Water Resources Management Advisor Joe Stibrich told congressional aides, city council members, city staff and Aurora residents on a tour of the city’s vast water distribution system last week. “We hit 99 percent of our storage capacity about a week ago.”

In total, Aurora Water has more than 156,000 acre-feet of water storage, which could supply the city with years of emergency supply in case of a drought.

The city gets water from three river basins. Half of the city’s water comes from the South Platte River Basin, a quarter comes from the snow melt flows from Colorado River Basin, and a quarter from the Arkansas River Basin.

But Aurora was not always a municipal water powerhouse.

In 2003, Aurora’s water supply level was at 26 percent capacity, the lowest in the city’s history. The idea for the at-the-time innovative Prairie Waters Project came about in the wake of that severe drought.

The $653-million Prairie Waters Project increased Aurora’s water supply by 20 percent when it was completed, and today provides the city with an additional 3.3 billion gallons of water per year.

The entire system pumps water from wells near Brighton, where it’s then piped into a man-made basin and filtered through sand and gravel. From there, the water is then piped 34 miles through three pumping stations to the Binney Water Purification Facility near Aurora Reservoir, where it’s softened and exposed to high-intensity ultraviolet light. The water is then filtered through coal to remove remaining impurities.

“It’s the crown jewel of our system,” said Stibrich during the tour. “Prairie Waters almost creates a fourth basin for us.”

But even before Prairie Waters, the first “crown jewel” project that allowed Aurora to grow and become the state’s third-largest city, was the one that allowed Aurora to cut most of its water ties with Denver.

Throughout the 1900s and into the 1960s, Aurora relied on the Denver Water Board for its supply. But the partnership between the neighboring cities grew contentious when, in the 1950s, Denver Water imposed lawn watering restrictions on a booming metropolitan area. Part of those restrictions included a “blue line” that prevented some Aurora suburbs from getting permits for new tap water fees.

In 1958, Aurora partnered with Colorado Springs to construct the Homestake Project, located in southern Eagle County in the Colorado River basin. The project was designed to use water rights purchased on the Western Slope that could supply the two cities.

For nearly a decade after the project was conceived, it was mired in legal battles with Denver and Western Slope entities. The first phase of the dam wasn’t even completed until 1967. In the 1980s, Aurora and Colorado Springs unsuccessfully attempted to expand the water collection system within the Holy Cross Wilderness area as part of a phase two plan.

The issue to this day is divisive, said Diane Johnson, a spokeswoman with the Eagle River Water and Sanitation District during the city’s tour of the reservoir.

“For people to think we might be having some other dam up here and impacting their access to wilderness is an emotional issue,” she said.

It was a memorandum of understanding created in 1998 between Eagle County and the two Front Range cities that identifies 30,000 acre-feet of water in the Eagle River basin to be divided into thirds between the three entities that helped alleviate tensions and put the project back on track.

Today Homestake Reservoir provides Aurora with 25 percent of its water, and Aurora Water officials are looking at various ways to expand their storage to satisfy the Eagle River MOU.

One idea is a small reservoir in the Homestake Valley near the Blodgett Campground. Aurora Water officials said the issue with that plan is having to relocate the winding Homestake Road to a portion of the Holy Cross wilderness to accommodate it. Another alternative, which Aurora Water officials said they prefer, is to create a holding facility called a forebay, in the same valley, along Whitney Creek, that would hold water pumped back from a former World War II military site known as Camp Hale. From the holding facility, water could be further pumped up the valley to Homestake Reservoir.

Aurora Water officials are still working through the various politics of the alternatives, and repeatedly emphasized during the tour that there is no “silver bullet’ when it comes to water storage.

From Homestake, water travels east through the Continental Divide and tunnel where it’s sent to Turquoise Lake, then to Twin Lakes Reservoir near Leadville.

Aurora only owns the rights to a limited amount of storage in Twin Lakes, and that water has to be continuously lifted 750 feet via the Otero Pump Station to enter a 66-inch pipeline that leads to the Front Range.

The Otero Pump station — located on the Arkansas River about eight miles northwest of Buena Vista — is another impressive facet of Aurora’s vast water system, and the last stop on Aurora’s water journey before it is delivered to the Spinney Mountain Reservoir in South Park. With the ability to pump 118 million gallons per day, Otero provides half of Aurora’s and 70 percent of Colorado Springs’ drinking water, delivered from both the Colorado and Arkansas basins to the South Platte River Basin.

Tom Vidmar, who has served as the caretaker at Homestake for nearly 30 years and lives right next to the pump station, said the biggest issue facing Aurora’s water system is storage.

“We actually spilled water out of Homestake this year and didn’t collect (the) full amount we were eligible to take, simply because the reservoirs are at capacity,” Vidmar said during a tour of the massive pump facility. He said the electricity costs alone for Aurora to pump the water add up to around $450,000 a month.

A project Aurora Water officials hope to see come to fruition in 15 years is turning land the city purchased at Box Creek north of Twin Lakes in Lake County into additional storage space so water can be pumped more efficiently through Otero.

“Box Creek is an important project. It gives us more breathing room,” said Rich Vidmar, who is Tom Vidmar’s son and an engineer with Aurora Water, during the tour. “As we look at storage and where to develop storage, right now we’re looking at spots where we have chokepoints in our system where we’re not able to operate perfectly to get as much water as possible.”

Just as the state anticipates that its population of 5 million will double by 2050, so does Aurora — and storage will be key to providing water for a city that could potentially grow to more than 600,000 residents in the coming decades.

But the mountains aren’t the only place where Aurora hopes to expand its reservoirs. The city also is looking to expand Aurora Reservoir even further east.

At a July study session, Aurora Water Officials described a feasibility study being conducted to determine just how much water Aurora could store at a future reservoir, which would sit on the former Lowry Bombing and Gunnery Range.

More Aurora coverage here.

Watching the mouth of the Roaring Fork River — Aspen Journalism

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From Aspen Journalism (Brent Gardner-Smith):

As my raft floated under the railroad bridge at the confluence of the Roaring Fork and Colorado rivers last week, I was wondering just how much water would flow out of the Fork and into the Colorado this year.

Certainly less than average, given that the snowpack peaked in March and began melting off, I mused, taking a stroke to catch the big eddy that forms just shy of the mighty Colorado, where the Fork comes in across from Two Rivers Park in Glenwood Springs after draining 1,543 square miles of land.

Perhaps the wet and cold weather of late April and much of May will continue to forestall a sudden flash of melting snow, so what snow we still have in the high country will come off in a nice steady fashion.

But spinning around the eddy, I knew how easy it was, as a boater, to be wrong about water and weather. It is also, as it turns out, a tricky time of year for professional hydrologists to predict run-off, as data from low-elevation snow-measuring sites tapers off and daily weather conditions can play a big role in shaping how much water flows, and when it does.

In mid-March, which felt like summer already, a trip on the Green River starting April 12 seemed like a good bet this year to enjoy some warm weather. But a big storm swept in that week and blasted the river with freezing rain.

The same storm laid down 11 inches of snow on Aspen Mountain by Friday, April 17, making for a memorable closing weekend for some.

After warming up from that trip, I ventured optimistically out again during the first full week of May, this time on the Colorado River west of Loma. And I was soon engulfed in the downpours of May 5 and 6 that lead to river levels across the region jumping up.

Between May 5 and May 7, for example, the flow in the lower Fork doubled from a 1,000 cubic feet per second to over 2,000 cfs.

So when I went out on May 13 for my first trip of the season down the Roaring Fork from Carbondale to Glenwood, I wasn’t surprised that it started raining. It’s just been that kind of season so far — in fact, through May 19, total precipitation in the Roaring Fork River watershed was 204 percent, or double the normal amount of precipitation. according to the Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS).

But the Fork was flowing that day at 1,110 cubic feet per second, which was enough water to have a perfectly nice float, especially as I did see some sun (and some red-wing blackbirds).

But will the river get much bigger this year, I wondered as I rowed toward Glenwood.

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Below average flows

The Colorado River Basin Forecast Center in Salt Lake City forecast on May 19 that the Roaring Fork will most likely peak this year in mid- to late June at 4,300 cfs, as measured at Veltus Park, just above the Fork’s confluence with the Colorado.

That’s 73 percent of the Fork’s average annual peak of 5,920 cfs, which typically occurs between May 29 and June 23.

While this year’s likely peak flow of 4,300 cfs is certainly better than the lowest peak flow on record — 1,870 cfs on June 3, 2012 — it’s also way below the historic peak of 11,800 cfs on July 13 in 1995.

The forecast peak flow has increased given the cool and wet weather in May. So, if April showers bring May flowers, May showers are likely to bring better boating on the Fork in June.

“I would say it is very likely (the Roaring Fork) will see a below average peak flow this year,” said Brenda Alcorn, a senior hydrologist with the Forecast Center.

However, she added that what snowpack we do have “is in better shape than it was in 2002 and 2012, so I do not expect a record low peak.”

But just how much water comes, and when, is now weather dependent.

“Spring temperatures and precipitation play a significant role in the pattern of snowmelt runoff and consequently the magnitude of peak flows,” Alcorn said. “An extended period of much above normal temperatures or heavy rainfall during the melt period can cause higher than expected peaks, while cool weather can cause lower than expected peaks.”

On Friday, May 15, Julie Malingowsky, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Grand Junction, said the period to at least May 25 looked cooler and wetter than normal, and longer-range forecasts indicate that the next several months could be wetter than normal.

(Also, see the Intermountain West Climate Dashboard of indicators at Western Water Assessment)

But probably not wet enough make up for the skinny snowpack.

“Even though it has been a wet month, we are still drier than normal,” Malingowsky said.

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Below average supply

Another view of this year’s water picture is available from the Natural Resources Conservation Service’s “Colorado Water Supply Outlook Report,” which was published on May 1.

The report shows that the “most likely” amount of water to reach the bottom of the Roaring Fork between April and the end of July is 450,000 acre-feet, according to Brian Domonkos, a data collection officer with NRCS.

That’s below the 30-year average of 690,000 acre-feet flowing down the Fork for the period from April to August. (The Roaring Fork delivers, on average, 871,100 acre-feet of water to the Colorado River over a full year, according to the Colorado Division of Water Resources).

The water-supply report said that current conditions point to “a below normal streamflow forecast picture for much of the state heading into spring and summer of 2015.”

However, Gus Goodbody, a forecast hydrologist with NRCS, said the amount of water expected to flow out of the Roaring Fork is likely to increase from the May 1 forecast by five to 10 percent, given May’s weather so far.

“It’s going to go up,” he said.

Another indicator of potential run-off is the measure of the “snow water equivalent” at SNOTEL measuring sites in the Roaring Fork basin.

The average from the eight SNOTEL sites in the Roaring Fork basin was 108 percent on May 19, but that’s without complete data from four of the sites.

That number — 108 percent — has been climbing steadily since May 1, but it’s not an indicator that the snowpack has been growing. What it does show is that the cool and wet weather has slowed the run-off and moved the data closer to the historic average — which, again, bodes well for June boating. But in addition to the snowpack and the weather, there are other factors that dictate the flows in the Fork at Glenwood Springs.

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Off the top

An average of 40,600 acre-feet of water a year is collected from the upper Roaring Fork River basin and sent through a tunnel under Independence Pass and into Twin Lakes Reservoir, destined for Aurora, Colorado Springs, Pueblo and Pueblo West.

The Twin Lakes diversion takes 40 percent of the water out of the upper Roaring Fork basin above Aspen, according to the 2012 Roaring Fork Watershed Plan.

Another 61,500 acre-feet is collected on average each year from tributaries of the upper Fryingpan River and sent east through the Bousted and Busk tunnels. That accounts for 37 percent of the water in the upper Fryingpan headwaters.

As such, there are many days when there are rivers heading both east and west out of the Roaring Fork River watershed, and the ones heading east can often be bigger.

For example, on May 13, while I was floating on 1,110 cfs at the bottom of the Fork, there was 136 cfs of water running under the Continental Divide in the Twin Lakes — Independence Pass Tunnel, which can, and does, divert up to 625 cfs later in the runoff season.

And the Bousted Tunnel, which transports the water collected from the headwaters of the Fryingpan River, as well as Hunter and Midway creeks in the Roaring Fork basin, was diverting 101 cfs on May 13.

Meanwhile, the gauge on Stillwater Drive on May 14 showed the main stem of the Fork was flowing, just east of Aspen, at 111 cfs.

Then there is the water diverted out of the rivers in the basin and into one of the many irrigation ditches along the Fork, the Crystal and other streams in the basin.

Ken Ransford, a member of the Colorado River Basin Roundtable, estimates that the 12 biggest irrigation ditches on the Roaring Fork and Crystal rivers divert about 115,000 acre-feet of water a year.

Most of that water eventually finds its way back to the rivers, but the diversions also leave many stream reaches lower than they otherwise would be, and few tributaries are left untouched.

According to the Roaring Fork Watershed Plan, “flow-altered stream reaches include the Roaring Fork, Fryingpan, and Crystal rivers, as well as Hunter, Lincoln, Maroon, Castle, West Willow, Woody, Snowmass, Capitol, Collins, Sopris, Nettie, Thompson, Cattle, Fourmile, and Threemile creeks.”

Another factor shaping the flows in the lower Fork are decisions made by regional water managers, including irrigators near Grand Junction and municipal water providers in Denver, that can shape releases from reservoirs such as Green Mountain and Ruedi.

Who needs water, and when, can also dictate the size of that eddy at the bottom of the Fork. So for now, I’m just glad it’s big enough to float a boat.

Editor’s note: Aspen Journalism is collaborating with The Aspen Times, the Aspen Times Weekly, and The Glenwood Springs Post Independent on coverage of rivers and water. The Aspen Times Weekly published this story on Thursday, May 21, 2015.

More Roaring Fork River watershed coverage here.

Aurora diversion decision faces appeal — The Pueblo Chieftain

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

A decision earlier this year that sets limits on how much water Aurora can divert through the Busk-Ivanhoe system is being appealed by Western Slope groups.

The Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District last week agreed to enter the case as well because it could affect its diversions through the Larkspur Ditch.

Division 2 water judge Larry Schwartz approved a decree that would allow Aurora to divert an average 2,416 acre-feet annually.

Pitkin County, the Colorado River District and Grand Valley Water Users appealed the decision based on the calculation of historic use of the four high-mountain creeks which are part of the Busk-Ivanhoe system.

Aurora shares Busk-Ivanhoe with the Pueblo Board of Water Works on the system that formerly was operated by the High Line Canal through the Carleton Tunnel, which once was a train and automobile route across the Continental Divide. It delivers water into Turquoise Lake near Leadville. The tunnel has collapsed in several spots, but water can still make its way through.

Pueblo Water has a 1993 decree changing its water rights from its 1971 purchase of its half of Busk-Ivanhoe. Aurora purchased the other half in 1986.

Lower Ark water attorney Peter Nichols said the change case on the Larkspur Ditch is stayed in water court because of issues similar to Busk-Ivanhoe case.

“The district has filed an amicus brief in the Busk-Ivanhoe case because the decision contains an issue similar to the change on Larkspur,” Nichols told the board.

The Lower Ark purchased most of the Larkspur Diversion from the Gunnison River from the Catlin Canal Co.

Water court cases are appealed directly to the Colorado Supreme Court.

More Busk-Ivanhoe coverage here.

The Lower Ark District is scoring Colorado Canal shares to keep the water in the Arkansas Valley

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 Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District is purchasing Colorado Canal water rights from the Ordway Feedyard.

“We’re purchasing the shares within the next 30 days to make sure the water stays in the Arkansas Valley,” said Jay Winner, Lower Ark general manager. “It’s about a $4 million package.”

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.

Earlier, in the 1970s, canal shareholders began selling off shares of Twin Lakes to Colorado Springs and Pueblo. Later Aurora and Pueblo West also bought big blocks of Twin Lakes shares.

The Lower Ark purchase from Ordway Feedyard includes 276 shares paired with Lake Henry storage, and 282 shares paired with Lake Meredith storage.

The feedlot has other sources of water to meet its own needs, most significantly a 15-year lease signed in 2012 with the Pueblo Board of Water Works to supply 700 acre-feet of augmentation water annually for a pipeline completed last year.

In another matter, the Lower Ark board last week accepted two conservation easements on the High Line Canal for Jason and Jennifer Stites. The easements are for a total of 224 acres with 18 shares of High Line water, for a cost of about $360,000. The easements were split for estate planning purposes, according to Lower Ark Conservation Manager Bill Hancock.

More Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District coverage here.

Twin Lakes Reservoir and Canal Co, Aspen and the #ColoradoRiver District reach deal

From the Aspen Daily News (Brent Gardner-Smith):

The city of Aspen and Front Range water interests have reached a compromise 20 years in the making that allows more water to be sent east when the spring runoff is plentiful, in exchange for bolstering flows when the Roaring Fork River is running low in the fall. The deal is between the Twin Lakes Reservoir and Canal Co., which operates transbasin diversion tunnels underneath Independence Pass, and the city of Aspen and the Colorado River District, which works to protect water rights on the Western Slope.

The deal, which has its roots in a 1994 water court application from Twin Lakes that sought to increase diversions during the runoff in high-snowpack years. It will leave 40 acre-feet of water in Grizzly Reservoir when Twin Lakes exercises its rights under the 1994 proposal. That water will be stored in the 500-acre-foot reservoir and released into the Roaring Fork for about three weeks in late summer, when seasonal flows are at their lowest. The water must be called for and released in the same year it was stored.

Grizzly Reservoir, located about 8 miles up Lincoln Creek Road near the Continental Divide, is a component of the transbasin-diversion system. A tunnel underneath the reservoir channels water underneath the mountain to the south fork of Lake Creek in the Arkansas River basin, on the other side of the pass.

Additionally, under the deal, the River District will have the right to store 200 acre-feet of water in Grizzly Reservoir and can call for up to 150 acre feet of that water in a year. Importantly, that 200 acre-feet can be stored long-term in the reservoir until it is called for by the River District, which manages water rights across the Western Slope.

Another 600 acre-feet will be provided to the River District for seasonal storage in Twin Lakes Reservoir, also on the east side of Independence Pass. The district will then trade and exchange that water with various entities, which could lead to more water staying on the Western Slope that would otherwise be diverted through other transbasin tunnels.

Twin Lakes diverts an average of 46,000 acre-feet a year from the headwaters of the Roaring Fork and sends it to Colorado Springs and other Front Range cities. The city of Colorado Springs owns 55 percent of the shares in the Twin Lakes Reservoir and Canal Co., entities in Pueblo own 23 percent, entities in Pueblo West own 12 percent, and Aurora owns 5 percent.

Aspen and the River District intend to cooperatively use the stored water in Grizzly Reservoir to boost late-summer flows in the Roaring Fork as it winds through Aspen proper.

Water already flowing
The stretch of the Roaring Fork River below the Salvation Ditch on Stillwater Drive typically runs below environmentally sound flows each year for about eight weeks, according to city officials. And given that this spring saw a high run-off, the three parties to the agreement managed some water this year as if the deal was already signed.

“At the close of the current water year (which ended the last day of September), Twin Lakes started making releases of some of the water stored for the River District, followed by release of the 40 acre-feet, as directed by Aspen and the River District,” Phil Overeynder, a special projects engineer for the city, wrote in an Oct. 3 memo to city council. “These releases had the effect of increasing flows in the Roaring Fork through the Aspen reach by approximately 20 percent and will last for approximately a three-week period at the end of the lowest flow conditions of the year.”

Overeynder added that “both Aspen and the River District believe that this agreement, while not perfect, is of real and meaningful benefit to the Roaring Fork.”

Aspen City Council approved the agreement on its consent calendar during a regular council meeting on Monday. The agreement is on the River District’s Tuesday meeting agenda, and Twin Lakes approved it last month.

The deal still needs to be accepted by Pitkin County and the Salvation Ditch Co. in order to satisfy all of the details of the water court’s 2001 approval of the 1994 water rights application.

Junior and senior rights
In addition to its junior 1994 water right, Twin Lakes also holds a senior 1936 water right that allows it to divert up to 68,000 acre-feet in a single year and up to 570,000 acre-feet in a 10-year period.

Originally, the water diverted by Twin Lakes was used to grow sugar beets to make sugar, but it is now primarily used to meet the needs of people living on the Front Range.

The 1936 water right still has some lingering restrictions in high-water years, according to Kevin Lusk, an engineer with Colorado Springs Utilities who serves as the president of the board of the private Twin Lakes Reservoir and Canal Co. Under its 1936 right, when there is plenty of water in the Arkansas River and the Twin Lakes Reservoir is full, Twin Lakes is not allowed to divert water, even though it is physically there to divert, Lusk explained. So in 1994 it filed in water court for a new water right without the same restrictions so it could divert more water to the east. It was dubbed the “Twin Junior,” water right.

The city of Aspen and the River District objected in court to the “Twin Junior” and the agreement approved Monday is a long-delayed outcome of the case.

Aspen claimed that if Twin Lakes diverted more water in big-water years, the Roaring Fork wouldn’t enjoy the benefits of the high water, including flooding the Stillwater section and replenishing groundwater supplies. That process, the city argued, helps the river in dry times.

“We don’t necessarily agree with the theory behind it,” Lusk said of the city’s claim, but added that Twin Lakes agreed to the deal as part of settlement negotiations.

And since 2014 turned out to be a high-water year, Twin Lakes exercised its right to divert water under its 1994 Twin Junior right, and worked cooperatively with Aspen and the River District to release 40-acre feet of “mitigation water” as described in the pending deal.

The new agreement between the city, Twin Lakes and the River District is in addition to another working arrangement between Twin Lakes and Aspen related to the Fryingpan-Arkansas diversion project, which diverts water from the headwaters of the Fryingpan River.

That agreement provides 3,000 acre-feet of water each year to be released by Twin Lakes into the main stem of the Roaring Fork beneath a dam near Lost Man Campground, normally at a rate of 3 to 4 cubic feet per second.

More Twin Lakes coverage here.