UAWCD continues efforts to complete Thompson Ditch dry-up — The Mountain Mail

December 19, 2014
Graphic via the Upper Arkansas Water Conservancy District

Graphic via the Upper Arkansas Water Conservancy District

From The Mountain Mail (Joe Stone):

The Upper Arkansas Water Conservancy District board of directors discussed several topics at its December board meeting, including the district’s efforts to complete the dry-up of Thompson Ditch near Buena Vista. The dry-up is necessary for the district to be able to use its Thompson Ditch water right to augment out-of-priority water usage in the Cottonwood Creek drainage.

District General Manager Terry Scanga reported that the district has entered into an
agreement with the Yale Lakes Homeowners Association to stop diverting water into Yale Lake.

Scanga said the next step is to install piezometers to monitor groundwater levels in the area previously irrigated by the Thompson Ditch, and hydrologist Jord Gertson and engineer Chris Manera will install the devices soon.

Harvard Lake will not be drained, Scanga said, until Gertson and Manera can assess the effects of draining Yale Lake.

Scanga also said the owners of nearby Ice Lake are trying to prevent the lake from being drained by finding ways to reduce evaporative losses from the lake as well as possible sources for augmentation water to offset evaporative losses.

Addressing an issue that arose following maintenance work on the outlet ditch at the district’s Conquistador Reservoir in central Chaffee County, attorney Kendall Burgemeister reported on a “disappointing” meeting with local landowner James Hood and his attorney.

The work involved removing an overgrowth of willows along the ditch. Willows are phreatophytes, deep-rooted plants that draw water directly from the water table, and failure to remove them can cause water losses that injure downstream water users.

Burgemeister said the meeting was scheduled 2 months out after Hood’s attorney contacted Upper Ark district officials to complain about work performed on the outlet ditch where it crosses Hood’s property.

The ability of a water-right holder to maintain a ditch used for that water right is protected by Colorado law, and while Burgemeister said Hood was “not happy,” he had no proposals to address the situation.

During the engineers’ report, Manera said the U.S. Bureau of Land Management will analyze the use of DeWeese-Dye Ditch with the intention of improving the efficiency of the ditch.

The ditch diverts water from Grape Creek, southwest of Cañon City in Custer County, and that water is stored in DeWeese Reservoir, one of the lakes in which the Upper Ark district stores water.

Manera said information provided by the district’s new gauge “was really helpful” in convincing the Bureau of Land Management to analyze water losses in the ditch.

In a brief discussion of the state water plan currently under development, long-time water attorney John Hill commented, “You could solve the problem if you could declare bluegrass a noxious weed.”
In other business, Upper Ark directors:

  • Unanimously approved contracting with Hancock Froese & Co. LLC to conduct the district’s 2015 audit.
  • Learned that Manera recently updated the emergency action plans for Boss Lake and North Fork Reservoir.
  • Learned that Manera has begun the mapping to support a new Fremont County augmentation plan.
  • Heard updates on district filings in Water Court from Burgemeister, including a report on the resolution of a Victor-Cripple Creek exchange case that the district opposed and then stipulated out of.
  • Learned from Director Greg Felt that scientific research demonstrates that the last time the Earth’s atmosphere contained current levels of carbon dioxide, there were no polar ice caps, without which ocean levels would rise 60 feet.
  • More Upper Arkansas River Water Conservancy District coverage here.


    Upper Ark district board meeting recap

    November 19, 2014
    Graphic via the Upper Arkansas Water Conservancy District

    Graphic via the Upper Arkansas Water Conservancy District

    From The Mountain Mail (Joe Stone):

    The Upper Arkansas Water Conservancy District board of directors met Thursday in Salida despite wintry road conditions preventing several directors and others from attending the meeting in person. Directors unable to make the drive attended via teleconference, and Cañon City Director of Public Works Bob Hartzman’s report on the Royal Gorge Area Erosion Control Project will be rescheduled.

    Board members unanimously approved the 2015 budget as presented by Rich Young of Stotler and Young accounting firm. Young noted that tax revenue projections for the district decreased because of reduced property valuations.

    During the budget hearing, Director Jeff Ollinger, Buena Vista, questioned the degree of separation between the conservancy district budget and the Water Activity Enterprise budget. He wondered if an increase in enterprise revenue could translate into a reduction in the district’s mill levy.

    District Manager Terry Scanga responded, saying the taxes collected through the mill levy are specifically for the protection of water rights within conservancy district boundaries. Revenue generated through the mill levy, Scanga said, pays for legal fees, court filings and other costs necessary to ensure residents’ water rights are protected. While the conservancy district operates as a governmental entity to protect regional water rights, Scanga said the Water Activity Enterprise operates as a business that uses revenue generated primarily by providing augmentation water to clients. Scanga said those revenues are necessary for the enterprise to acquire additional water sources to meet growing demand.

    In other business Upper Ark district directors:

  • Voted to oppose District 2 Water Court case 2014CW3049, filed by Fremont Paving & Redi-Mix Inc., to change the use of an agricultural water right on the Plum Creek Ditch to augmentation.
  • Learned from Scanga that the state engineer is working to develop new rules that would allow new wells to be developed without a full augmentation plan, similar to wells drilled prior to 1985.
  • Learned from consultant Ken Baker that Senate Bill 14-23, which Gov. John Hickenlooper vetoed this year, will be reintroduced during the next legislative session.
  • Learned from Baker that a bill to provide for management of “invasive phreatophytes” will also be introduced in the legislative session. Phreatophytes are deep-rooted plants that draw water directly from the water table.
  • Learned that Cañon City officials had contacted the Upper Ark district to inquire about purchasing augmentation water.
  • Learned from attorney Kendall Burgemeister that the district’s stipulation in Water Court case 11CW61 has been approved.
  • Adjourned to executive session “to provide direction to staff and receive legal advice for potential purchase of property and water rights.”
  • More Upper Arkansas River Water Conservancy District coverage here.


    Upper Arkansas Water Conservancy District board meeting recap

    April 14, 2014
    Graphic via the Upper Arkansas Water Conservancy District

    Graphic via the Upper Arkansas Water Conservancy District

    From The Mountain Mail (Joe Stone):

    Upper Arkansas Water Conservancy District directors agreed to continue pursuing the district’s proposed Multi-use Project during the monthly board meeting Thursday in Salida. Director Greg Felt, Salida, provided an overview of the project, which has remained largely dormant for the past 2 years, and noted the widespread appeal of the project among diverse state agencies, local government entities and the conservation and recreation communities.

    Benefits of the project would include:

    • Preservation of agricultural irrigation.
    • Two water storage reservoirs.
    • Alluvial aquifer water storage.
    • Conservation easements.
    • Wildlife corridor protections.
    • Protections for deer and elk populations.
    • Drought water supply.
    • New public access to the Arkansas River.
    • New boating access to the river.
    • Hydroelectric electricity generation.

    Felt pointed out that these benefits align almost perfectly with Colorado water management objectives as identified by the Statewide Water Supply Initiative, or SWSI (swahzee), 2010 report.

    Major components of the project would include Chaffee County’s most senior water right, the Trout Creek Ditch; the Helena Ditch; Moltz Reservoir; a proposed gravel pit reservoir; and 6,000-12,000 acre-feet of proposed aquifer storage.

    Felt said significant challenges facing the project include financing and working with five different property owners.

    District Manager Terry Scanga said he sent a proposal to the Colorado Water Conservation Board concerning the project and the potential for financing through the CWCB and said he would follow up to get a meeting set.

    District Engineer Ivan Walter said, “The project is there” from an engineering standpoint and in terms of SWSI objectives. “It would be a missed opportunity if the Upper Ark (district) didn’t do it.”

    Director Jeff Ollinger, Buena Vista, has a background in finance and suggested using the CWCB finance application to prepare for the CWCB meeting. He also noted the potential for the district to leverage other assets as collateral to obtain sufficient financing for the project.

    Ollinger also stressed the need to accurately assess the risks associated with the project, citing the potential for wildfire in the Trout Creek drainage and the potential for a hazardous material spill along U.S. 24/285 between Johnson Village and Trout Creek Pass.
    Either of these events could significantly affect water quality and, therefore, the ability of the Multi-use Project to generate revenue to make loan payments.

    Prior to the regular board meeting, directors met as the Enterprise Committee. Agenda items for the committee meeting included a financial report, an augmentation report, a reservoir and water storage report, and a precipitation and streamflow report.

    In other business, Upper Ark directors:

    Learned that Upper Colorado Basin snowpack conditions are similar to those in 2011 when the Frying Pan-Arkansas Project delivered 98,900 acre-feet of water to the Arkansas River and that the district has requested 1,000 acre-feet of project water for 2014.

    Heard a legislative report from consultant Ken Baker, who said the Flex Water Market bill had been changed to prevent leased water from being diverted outside the basin of historic use for the water right in question.

    Voted to drop Water Court case 95CW234, involving district efforts to extend augmentation services into the Texas Creek drainage.

    Heard a presentation by U.S. Geological Survey Southwest Colorado Office Chief David Mau about the detrimental effects of wildfire runoff on water quality and how to mitigate those effects.

    Learned the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District approved a stipulation in Water Court case 04CW95 and signed a storage agreement with the Upper Ark district.
    Were reminded that four directors’ seats are up for reappointment, and candidates have until May 1 to submit an application.

    Learned district staff members are developing a memorandum of understanding with the town of Buena Vista for the Cottonwood Creek Integrated Management Plan.

    Agreed to have legal counsel draft comments regarding the U.S. Environmental Protection

    Agency’s proposed rules pertaining to water resources.

    More Upper Arkansas Water Conservancy District coverage here.


    Upper Arkansas Water Conservancy District board meeting recap

    December 19, 2013
    Upper Arkansas Valley

    Upper Arkansas Valley

    From The Mountain Mail (Joe Stone):

    During the monthly meeting of the Upper Arkansas Water Conservancy District board of directors, consultant Ken Baker discussed preliminary efforts to develop a bill that would create a “flexible water market,” saying he believes some form of bill will be enacted during the next legislative session.

    Baker said the bill would allow the amount of water attributed to historical consumptive use on irrigated land to be put to other uses during temporary fallowing of that land and allow the water to be put to any beneficial use without designating the specific use, as is currently required. Through a flex market, Baker said, agricultural water rights holders could implement rotational fallowing of their farmland and lease a portion of their water for other beneficial uses, while retaining sufficient water to sustain agricultural activities and keep the land in production. A key element of this approach, Baker said, is that the bill would grant the state water engineer the authority to approve flex market filings and agreements, removing Water Court from the process except for appeals.

    Baker also noted that nothing proposed in the bill to date addresses storing or transferring water leased through the proposed flex market system. Baker said one concern with the legislation is basin-of-origin protections for water in the Arkansas River Basin because similar bills passed in 2013, HB-1248 and HB-1033, do not protect the Arkansas Basin from transbasin diversions.

    In other business, directors:

  • Learned that a final decree was issued granting absolute storage rights for all district water in O’Haver Reservoir and all but 100 acre-feet of district water in North Fork Reservoir.
  • Learned that the Colorado Water Conservation Board approved a grant to fund phase 2 of the Helena Ditch project, which will include construction of concrete components to ensure sufficient capacity in the ditch and a bypass to return excess diverted water back to the river.
  • Learned from hydrologist Jord Gertson that Arkansas River Basin snowpack has reached 139 percent of average and that the district is gaining native and transbasin winter water in Twin Lakes Reservoir.
  • Heard comments from attorney Kendall Burgemeister indicating U.S. Sen. Mark Udall’s proposed Browns Canyon National Monument legislation “seems favorable to the district.”
  • Heard from Director Tim Canterbury that preliminary discussions have begun in an effort to craft legislation concerning livestock ponds that have no water rights, some of which the Colorado Division of Water Resources officials have ordered drained.
  • Discussed the exemption from the priority system of livestock that drink from a free-flowing stream or ditch.
  • Received a list of projects from the Personnel and Finance Special Committee and were asked to prioritize projects and submit those priorities to the committee prior to the January meeting.
    Heard from Cañon City Water Superintendent Bob Hartzman about ongoing efforts to protect the watershed through erosion prevention and revegetation in areas burned by the Royal Gorge Fire.
  • Heard from Director Frank McMurry that the U.S. Forest Service will no longer pursue its plan of forcing ski resorts to surrender their water rights, a plan that agricultural water rights holders had opposed.
  • Approved, by an 8-4 vote, dropping opposition to the Lower Arkansas Water Conservancy District’s Super Ditch case if the Lower Ark district agrees to drop its opposition to the Upper Ark district’s 04CW96 case. McMurry, Canterbury, Tom French and Bill Jackson voted against the measure.
  • Renewed the U.S. Geological Survey contract for the Groundwater Network Study.
  • Approved stipulations negotiated with St. Charles Mesa in case 04CW96 relating to basin-wide exchanges.
  • Learned from Burgemeister that the deadline for filing oppositions in the district’s Cottonwood Creek exchange case had been extended into February because the Aspen newspaper failed to post notice of the filing.
  • More Arkansas River Basin coverage here.


    ‘Super Ditch has no contracts on either side, no end user and no firm supply’ — Terry Nelson

    June 14, 2013

    arkbasinditchsystem.jpg

    Terry Scanga from the Upper Arkansas River Water Conservancy District called the Super Ditch the “Mother of all change cases” a couple of years ago. Here’s an update on a water court filing by objectors from Chris Woodka writing for The Pueblo Chieftain:

    Water users on the eastern end of the Lower Arkansas Valley want water judge Larry Schwartz to dismiss a court case that would allow the Arkansas Valley Super Ditch to exchange water upstream. The motion to dismiss was filed last month in Division 2 water court.

    The Super Ditch envisions exchanging water upstream under leasefallowing programs that would allow farmers to sell water to cities temporarily while keeping ownership of the water rights.

    But several large water interests below John Martin Reservoir say the proposal is speculative and claims too much water — the entire flows of six canal companies that amount to 58,000 acre-feet per year. Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association, the Lower Arkansas Water Management Association, District 67 Ditch Association and the Amity Canal filed the motion to dismiss the application by the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District and Super District on May 22. The exchange is being sought before water rights on the canal have been changed to allow other uses, they say.

    At the same time, the Lower Ark District and Super Ditch have sidestepped water court by lobbying for changes in state law that allow water to be moved under state water officials without court adjudication, they said. Two bills were passed by the state Legislature this year — HB1130 and HB 1248 — that give the state engineer or the Colorado Water Conservation Board direct authority over water transfers. The Lower Ark District backed HB1248, and Rocky Ford area farmers involved with the Super Ditch testified in favor of HB1130. The bills were actively opposed by Tri-State lobbyists.

    “It scares the hell out of us that multiple thousands of acres could be dried up and the state’s the policeman,” said Colin Thompson, who farms near Holly and is a member of the Amity Canal board. “I don’t want to have to run up and down the valley and police 2,000 fields.”

    “Super Ditch has no contracts on either side, no end user and no firm supply,” said Terry Nelson, a Tri-State executive. “They’ve taken every effort to sidestep the court process. They’re setting it up to make it easier for the municipalities to take water out of the Arkansas Valley.”

    Jay Winner, manager of the Lower Ark District, defended the Super Ditch proposal, saying it protects water in agriculture. “What we’re trying to do is enhance the water options for agriculture,” Winner said. “The state now has a gap in municipal supplies. Super Ditch provides an alternative to permanent transfers.”

    More Arkansas Valley Super Ditch coverage here and here.


    Upper Ark District board meeting recap: All district reservoirs are full, except DeWeese (89%) — Jord Gertson #COdrought

    May 12, 2013

    upperarkansasvalley.jpg

    From The Mountain Mail (Joe Stone):

    Recent weather patterns in the Upper Arkansas River Valley precipitated discussion of snowpack and water supplies during the Thursday meeting of the Upper Arkansas Water Conservancy District. District hydrologist Jord Gertson reported that all district reservoirs are full, except for DeWeese Reservoir in Custer County, which is at 89 percent of capacity.

    Gertson presented Natural Resources Conservation Service data compiled May 1 that show Upper Arkansas River Basin snowpack at 93 percent of average and 287 percent of 2012 snowpack levels. Gertson said Snowpack Telemetry sites at Fremont Pass and Brumley show the snow water equivalent at 101 percent and 109 percent of median, respectively. The Fremont Pass SNOTEL site also reports precipitation at 106 percent of average for the current water year, which began Oct. 1. Gertson also showed snowpack charts indicating measurements at upper basin SNOTEL sites are “way better than last year,” including sites at Porphyry Creek, Independence Pass and St. Elmo.

    District directors also reported good news about the Frying Pan-Arkansas Project, which is expected to import 47,000 acre-feet of water from the Western Slope this year, compared to 14,000 acre-feet in 2012. Diversions of Fry-Ark Project water into the Arkansas Basin average approximately 52,000 acre-feet of water per year. In 2011, the project imported 98,000 acre-feet of Western Slope water, the second highest amount in the project’s 50-year history of operations.

    In other business, directors heard a legislative report from consultant Ken Baker. Baker’s report mainly focused on House Bill 1130, which, he said, targets Arkansas Basin water and is expected to be signed by the governor.

    Baker said HB 1130 would create a “selective application” of a 130-year-old Colorado water law. The bill would create the potential for 30 years of interruptible-supply agreements that are currently limited to a maximum of 10 years. The state engineer would have authority to approve these agreements, changing the use of the water and bypassing Water Court proceedings that are currently required to change the use of a water right. Baker said the bill mainly benefits Aurora, allowing the city to take Arkansas Basin water without having to pursue a change-of-use case in Water Court.

    To gain the votes needed to pass the bill, Baker said a special exclusion was added that exempts Western Slope water.

    In other business, Upper Ark directors:

  • Approved a modification to a Nestlé Waters North America augmentation agreement for 200 acre-feet of Fry-Ark Project water per year for 35 years.
  • Agreed to stipulate out of Poncha Springs case 09CW138, subject to favorable review of the stipulations by district engineer Ivan Walter.
  • Approved an agreement with law firm Wilderson, Lock and Hill to provide legal counsel for a flat fee of $2,000 per month.
  • Received an update on an integrated water agreement with Buena Vista.
  • Approved a cooperative water agreement with Colorado Parks and Wildlife.
  • Learned that the gate wheel at O’Haver Lake has been replaced after the old one was damaged by a vehicle.
  • Received an update on the Trout Creek Ditch exchange case, 08CW106, which is scheduled to go to trial June 11 if the Department of Corrections, division engineer and Colorado Water Conservation Board do not agree to proposed stipulations.
  • From The Mountain Mail (Joe Stone):

    Upper Arkansas Water Conservancy District directors heard a report about the potential for underground water storage in Chaffee County during their Thursday meeting. Tammy Ivahnenko and Ken Watts with the U.S. Geological Survey said areas identified for further study include aquifers near Salida, Nathrop, Johnson Village, Buena Vista and north of Buena Vista.

    Watts said the locations were identified based on slope (less than 3 percent), soil texture at a depth of 5 feet (loam, sandy loam or gravel preferred) and surface geology (alluvial or gravel deposits).

    Another important factor, Watts said, is the “stream-accretion response time factor,” which provides an indication of how long water will stay in an aquifer before draining into a stream.

    Ivahnenko described “water budgets” she developed for Cottonwood, Chalk and Browns creeks and the South Arkansas River.
    The water budgets include irrigated acres, consumptive use by crops and amount of water diverted for irrigation, and help determine how much water may be available for storage at a given time.

    Watts said he conducted “slug tests” at 29 wells to determine hydraulic properties in the aquifers, including conductivity and permeability. He also reported on findings from Colorado State University monitoring wells. Hourly readings from the monitoring wells documented seasonal changes in water level and temperature, showing seasonal changes in groundwater levels and surface-water infiltration.

    Some wells showed significant influence from surface irrigation while others indicated a more stable, natural water level.
    Upper Arkansas Water Conservancy District officials are developing plans to increase water storage capacity in the Upper Arkansas River basin. An important component of those plans is underground storage in alluvial aquifers, which would eliminate evaporative water losses and provide augmentation water through natural recharge to surface waters.

    Conservancy district officials said they will rely on USGS findings to help determine possible locations for underground water storage projects.

    More Upper Arkansas Water Conservancy District coverage here.


    Aurora hopes to lease 10,000 acre-feet of water in 2013 via the Arkansas Valley Super Ditch Company #CODrought

    December 19, 2012

    arkbasinditchsystem.jpg

    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

    Two Rocky Ford­ area ditch company boards agreed Tuesday to work with the Arkansas Valley Super Ditch to lease water to Aurora next year. The boards of the High Line and Catlin canals cleared the way for the leases, which will be made through the Super Ditch.

    “It’s a voluntary program, and shareholders can either agree to participate or not to participate,” said John Schweizer, president of both the Catlin Canal and Super Ditch boards. “How many choose to participate determines how much each person will get.”

    Aurora has offered to buy up to 10,000 acre-­feet of water from the Super Ditch next year because its reservoir storage is below 60 percent of available capacity. That is a trigger for leasing in drought­ recovery years under the 2003 agreement with the Southeastern Colorado and Upper Arkansas water conservancy districts. Aurora initially offered $500 per acre­-foot, but that figure is under negotiation, Schweizer said. “The boards agreed that wouldn’t work at all,” Schweizer said.

    Super Ditch attorney Peter Nichols will negotiate the rate with Aurora.

    The $500 per acre-­foot figure was part of an agreement reached in 2010 with the Super Ditch and the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District. Since then, the price of corn and hay — the major crops grown here — in the Arkansas Valley has nearly tripled during the drought.

    “That was a different time,” Schweizer said.

    Either an interruptible supply plan or substitute water supply plan would have to be filed with the Division of Water Resources for the lease to occur. That would require engineering and legal resources to meet a possible challenge from other water users in the valley. Schweizer said those costs also will be negotiated with Aurora.

    More Aurora coverage here and here.


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