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C-BT Project Update
Going into September, C-BT Project storage continued to be above average. On Sept. 1, 2016, total active storage was 619,418 acre-feet, which is approximately 128,000 AF above average for this time of year.
For the 2016 water year, 142,579 AF has been delivered with 42 percent of the deliveries 0 from Carter Lake and 49 percent from Horsetooth Reservoir. The remaining nine percent is delivered from the Big Thompson River and the Hansen Feeder Canal.
For decades, water storage and supply infrastructure in Southwestern Colorado have been slow-moving, underfunded dreams. Lake Nighthorse, a critical component of the grandiose Animas-La Plata Project intended to supply water to Native American tribes, was filled in 2011, but it took five years before the very first mechanism to transport water from the storage facility would be realized.
On Wednesday, water authorities, Southern Ute and Ute Mountain Ute tribal leaders and La Plata County officials gathered at the lake just west of town to commemorate the watershed moment.
“We cannot separate water from our way of life,” said Southern Ute Chairman Clement Frost. “We saw how important it is when the Gold King Mine spill happened.”
The 4.6-mile pipeline will wind west and then northward through La Plata County to Lake Durango, cutting through Bureau of Reclamation land as well as private properties. Some of the private homeowners consented to the infrastructure in exchange for taps.
Charlie Smith, general manager of the Lake Durango Water Authority, said more than 100 property owners, who either haul water or depend on low-quality wells, are on a waiting list for taps, which come at a price of about $10,000. Lake Durango supplies potable water to households in Durango West I and II, Rafter J, Shenandoah and Trapper’s Crossing.
The pipeline will add to Lake Durango’s reserves, and will be constructed with $2.8 million from the Lake Durango Water Authority and $1 million each from the two tribes as well as loans and grants from the Colorado Water Conservation Board. The sum contributed by the Lake Durango Water Authority includes water purchased from Animas-La Plata.
Construction is expected to be complete by the end of summer 2017, which will be only the beginning of the Animas-La Plata Project’s long-range vision.
The Ute Mountain Utes have the ability to extend the pipeline in the future, and the San Juan Water Commission, a New Mexico water authority, is considering a main of its own from Lake Nighthorse to northern New Mexico. The Daily-Times of Farmington reported the commission will meet next month to discuss particulars of the proposal.
As plans advance to remove water from the Animas River-fed Nighthorse, the water and shore remain free of recreationists. Bureau of Recreation officials said last week that the agency is in consultation with tribes and project partners to find the best recreation plan without compromising cultural resources.
A draft recreation plan and environmental assessment was released last spring, and a final document is still to come.
Meanwhile, preparatory infrastructure is underway at the lake, including a decontamination station, where boats will be checked for invasive species when recreation is permitted at the lake.
Roadwork on a turn lane into Lake Nighthorse from County Road 210 began the first week of September.
Since lifting restrictions on outdoor water use more than two months ago, public discussion of infrastructure issues that led to a month and a half of water conservation measures has been largely absent at Rifle City Hall.
But behind the scenes, staffers in the city’s utilities department have been at work completing an assessment of the intake issues, along with compiling a 20-year plan for utility infrastructure needs and associated costs, according to City Manager Matt Sturgeon.
Ultimately it will be up to City Council to prioritize those items during its annual budget process, which typically begins in October each year.
Admittedly though, Sturgeon said the No. 1 priority for the city is the completion of Rifle’s new water treatment plant, which has been under construction for the past two years.
“This has been on the front burner of the entire community for years,” Sturgeon said.
The new regional water treatment plant is part of approximately $35 million in capital projects — which include new 2-million-gallon and 3-million-gallon storage tanks and the acquisition of property that can be used for a future expansion of the treatment plant — over the past two years.
The new plant will ultimately be capable of producing 8 million gallons a day — nearly double the capacity of the existing Graham Mesa water treatment plant, which was built in 1980. In bringing the new plant online in the next four to six months the city also has to take the Graham Mesa plant offline and decommission it.
All of this means issues such as those with the water intake system are taking a back seat.
Vulnerabilities in the intake system were first discovered on June 1, when the city located a break in the only raw water line that delivers Colorado River water to the Graham Mesa treatment plant — the main source of potable water to municipal water customers.
A ban on outdoor water use was implemented almost immediately in order to ensure the city had enough water for fire protection, sanitation and indoor use for municipal customers. Although the line was repaired in less than 24 hours, problems arose with the pump house and other intake infrastructure, which led to reduced outdoor water restrictions remaining in place until things returned to normal on July 13.
Despite the previous belief that the cost would come in well below the $250,000 in emergency dollars authorized by City Council, the final cost will likely be closer to that number, said Jim Miller, Rifle utilities director.
“We used less diesel but more equipment and temporary labor than forecasted,” he said, adding that there is still one outstanding invoice.
The $250,000 was in addition to a little more than $100,000 in initial costs authorized by City Council.
Although much of the focus in the coming months will be on wrapping up the in-process capital projects, that is not to say the city has ignored the intake issues.
The city is now aware of the weak points in the system and is ready should another issue arise in the near future, Sturgeon said. That readiness includes experience with the contractor that provided temporary pumps during the repair process, as well as having pipeline on hand to repair the raw water line if needed.
The intake, pump station and raw water line all remain stable at the moment, and staff has discussed the vulnerabilities in preparation for the budget process and discussion with a broader audience, Miller said.
Issues identified with the water intake infrastructure include: the age and route of the raw water line, as well as the poor bedding condition, which was cited as one of the leading reasons for the initial line break; more sediment being pulled with the raw water during greater periods of the year, which causes accumulation in the wet well; and the existing pump station is difficult to take offline to address the accumulation in the wet well.
With the new treatment plant and associated infrastructure coming online in the near future, it makes more sense to address the intake issues once the other infrastructure, which has a larger capacity, is on.
From the Associated Press via The Pueblo Chieftain:
Colorado communities that rely on water from dozens of glaciers and glacier features in Rocky Mountain National Park are concerned because the glaciers are shrinking as temperatures climb and winter snowfall becomes more uncertain.
Water from the Poudre, Colorado and Big Thompson rivers get meltwater from dozens of glaciers and glacier-like features around the park.
Park glaciers always vary in size depending on the seasons, but low snowfall amounts could keep them from being replenished. A change of a few degrees when temperatures are near the freezing point can turn snow into rain.
Between the 1990s and 2005, the glaciers started to shrink at an increasing rate. Rocky Mountain National Park’s glaciers were already small by comparison.
The biggest glacier in Rocky Mountain National Park is about 31 acres (13 hectares), according to a study in 2007.
A two-year study is underway to find out how the glaciers have changed in area and volume since 2005. Scientists will be using historic maps, climate records, photographs and measurements to better understand what’s happening.
Scientists will also study how glacier melt influences rivers, by measuring streamflow and collecting water samples to see how much water glaciers contribute to rivers…
Even a small loss in the snow and ice that feed rivers in northern Colorado could have a big effect on water supplies to Fort Collins and other nearby communities.
Paul McLaughlin, an ecologist at the park’s Continental Divide Research Learning Center, said changes in the amount of water and temperatures could also damage delicate river ecosystems.
FromAspen Journalism (Allen Best) via the Aspen Daily News:
Two Front Range cities along with Western Slope parties and the Climax Molybdenum Co. hope to narrow their plans during the next 18 months for new or expanded reservoirs in the upper Eagle River watershed near Camp Hale.
One configuration of a possible new reservoir on Homestake Creek, a tributary of the Eagle River, would force a minor tweaking of the Holy Cross Wilderness Area boundary.
That adjustment along with the presence of ecologically important wetlands along where Whitney Creek flows into Homestake Creek are among the many complexities that partners — including the cities of Aurora and Colorado Springs — face as they consider how to satisfy their projected water needs.
Work underway this fall and expected to wrap up next year focuses on technical feasibility of individual projects. None alone is likely to meet the needs of all the partners.
Also at issue is money. One set of projects would cost $685 million, according to preliminary engineering estimates issued by Wilson Water Group and other consultants in April.
Aurora Water’s Kathy Kitzmann likens the investigation to being somewhere between the second and third leg around the bases.
“We’re not in the home stretch,” Kitzmann said at a recent meeting.
Still to be decided, as costs estimates are firmed up, is how badly Aurora, Colorado Springs and other water interests want the additional storage.
The Glenwood Springs-based Colorado River Water Conservation District has decided it only needs another several hundred-acre feet of yield.
John Currier, chief engineer for the river district, said that the less expensive studies have been done. Coming studies will be more expensive.
“I think we are to the point that the cost of investigations themselves are going to start driving the decisions, and I also think that the timing and need of the partners is helping drive those decisions,” Currier said.
At one time, the idea of pumping water eastward from Ruedi Reservoir was considered. That idea has been discarded as part of this investigation.
This exploration of water what-ifs is governed by a 1998 agreement, the Eagle River memorandum of understanding, or MOU.
The MOU envisioned water projects collaboratively constructed in ways that benefit parties on both Eastern and Western slopes, as well as Climax, the owner of the molybdenum mine that straddles the Continental Divide at Fremont Pass. Minimal environmental disruption is also a cornerstone of the agreement.
Long legal fight
The collaboration stems from a milestone water case. Aurora and Colorado Springs in 1967 completed a major water diversion that draws water from Homestake Creek and its tributaries.
Homestake Reservoir has a capacity of 43,500 acre-feet, or a little less than half of Ruedi, and is located partly in Pitkin County. The water is diverted via a 5.5-mile tunnel to Turquoise Lake near Leadville and into the Arkansas River.
Near Buena Vista that water is pumped 900 feet over the Mosquito Range into South Park for eventual distribution to Aurora and Colorado Springs.
But the cities left water rights on the table. In 1987, they returned to Eagle County with plans to divert water directly from the Holy Cross Wilderness.
The Colorado Wilderness Act of 1980 that created Holy Cross left the legal door open for a new water diversion. The law specified that “this act shall not interfere with the construction, maintenance, and/or expansion of the Homestake Water Development Project of the cities of Aurora and Colorado Springs in the Holy Cross Wilderness.”
But Colorado had changed greatly from 1967 to 1987 and state laws adopted in the early 1970s gave Eagle County expanded land-use authority. County commissioners in 1988 used that authority to veto Homestake II.
That veto, which was appealed all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, along with the denial of the Two Forks Dam southwest of Denver at about the same time, signaled that Colorado was in a new era of water politics.
Under Colorado water law, though, the two cities still owned substantial water rights in the Eagle River Basin. Guided by the Glenwood Springs-based Colorado River District, negotiations led to an agreement to develop projects to jointly benefit the former protagonists: 10,000 acre-feet of guaranteed dry-year yield for Western Slope users, 20,000 acre-feet of average-year yield for the cities, and 3,000 acre-feet for Climax.
Water supply options
Expansion of Eagle Park Reservoir is one option being studied.
Located near Fremont Pass at the headwaters of the East Fork of the Eagle River, it was originally created to hold mine tailings from Climax. In the 1990s it was gutted of tailings in order to hold water. A consortium of Vail Resorts, two-interrelated Vail-based water districts, and the Colorado River District combined to create a reservoir.
Aurora and Colorado Springs agreed to subordinate water rights in order to ensure firm yield for the Western Slope parties.
To expand the reservoir from the existing 3,300 acre-feet to 7,950 acre-feet could cost anywhere from $39.1 million to $70.8 million, depending upon how much work, if any, is needed to manage seepage beneath the existing dam. Test borings that began Sept. 12 will advance the design of the larger reservoir. Five possible configurations date from 1994.
Another option is to create a new relatively small dam on or adjacent to Homestake Creek, near its confluence with Whitney Creek. This is three miles off of Highway 24, between Camp Hale and Minturn.
Among the four possible configurations for this potential Whitney Creek Reservoir is a tunnel to deliver water from two creeks, Fall and Peterson, in the Gilman area.
A third option is restoration of a century-old dam at Minturn that was breached several years ago. Bolts Lake, however, would serve only Western Slope interests.
Still on the table is a new reservoir on a tributary to the Eagle River near Wolcott. That reservoir has been discussed occasionally for more than 30 years. However, like a Ruedi pumpback, it’s not part of the current discussion involving the Eagle River MOU partners.
Most problematic of the options is Whitney Creek. It would require relocation of a road and, in one of the configurations, water could back up into the existing wilderness area. For that to happen, Congress would have to tweak the wilderness boundary.
Wetlands displacement could also challenge a Whitney Reservoir. An investigation underway seeks to reveal whether those wetlands include areas classified as fens. Fens are peat-forming wetlands fed primarily by groundwater. As they may take thousands of years to develop, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service specifies that “every reasonable effort should be made to avoiding impact fens.”
“If fens are found, I expect a lengthy debate about the quantity and quality of fens required to be a fatal flaw,” said the river district’s Currier in a July memorandum. That determination will be made before drilling is authorized to determine whether a dam is possible.
Western Slope parties, said Currier in the memo, “believe an Eagle Park enlargement may ultimately become very attractive because the environmental and permitting issues are much, much simpler than a Whitney Creek alternative.”
Nearly all the alternatives being considered in the Eagle River Basin would require extensive pumping, as opposed to gravity-fed reservoir configurations. Water would have to be pumped 1,000 vertical feet into Eagle Park Reservoir, for example, then pumped again to get it across the Continental Divide.
A Whitney Creek Reservoir would require less, but still expensive pumping. Water in the reservoir would be received by gravity flow, but from there it would be pumped about seven miles up to Homestake Reservoir. Whether it can accommodate more water has yet to be determined, one of many dangling question marks.
Earlier, the parties had investigated the possibility of using an aquifer underlying Camp Hale as a reservoir. But drilling to determine the holding capacity proved maddening complex. Accounting for water depletions from pumping would have been very difficult. Further, operation of the system to prevent impact to other water users and instream flows would have been problematic. The idea was abandoned in 2013.
Currier, in his July report to the River District board of directors, outlined several questions that he said should provoke discussion among the Eagle River partners this fall: How much of the water outlined under the 1998 agreement does each party realistically need, and when? Are they ready to begin seeking permits after this new round of investigation to be completed next year?
Need for water?
This week, in response to questions from Aspen Journalism, the Eagle River MOU partners explained the need for the water to be developed between 2036 and 2050.
Both Aurora and Colorado Springs have added major projects in recent years. After the drought of 2002, a very-worried Aurora pushed rapidly for a massive reuse project along the South Platte River called Prairie Waters. It went on line in 2010 — far more rapidly than any project on the Eagle River could have been developed.
Colorado Springs last year began deliveries of water from Pueblo Reservoir via the Southern Delivery System, an idea first conceived in 1989. The Vail-based water districts also increased their storage capacity after 2002.
At a meeting in Georgetown in August, representatives of the two cities said they were unsure of the precise need for water.
Greg Baker, a spokesman for Aurora Water, describes a “delicate balancing act” about what is “going to be most reliable and what is going to be most environmentally permittable and permissible.”
Brett Gracely, of Colorado Springs Utilities, said project costs are “still in the realm of other projects are we looking at.”
The 1998 agreement specified that costs of initial studies should be divided equally, four ways. As the project progresses, the costs are to be split according to percentage of yield that each party would gain.
Editor’s note: Aspen Journalism and the Aspen Daily News are collaborating on the coverage of rivers and water. More at http://www.aspenjournalism.org.
Here’s the release from the Colorado Water Trust (Zach Smith, Kelly Romero-Heaney, Kevin McBride):
Today, Upper Yampa Water Conservancy District began releasing water purchased by the Colorado Water Trust and its partners to bolster flows in the Yampa River from Stagecoach Reservoir through the City of Steamboat. The purchase of 264 acre-feet, to be released at a rate of 10 cfs for 13 days, provides a gap measure between other local entities’ efforts to keep the Yampa flowing in this dry late summer.
The Yampa River, although forecasted to run at normal streamflow levels this summer, began dropping in the late summer and remained well below average, impacting fish, recreationalists, and water quality. Noting dropping water levels, the City of Steamboat began releasing water from its 552 acre-feet pool in Stagecoach on August 19th to improve water quality – the first time the City has used its water in Stagecoach in such a way. When that water ran out on September 14, Upper Yampa maintained that 10 cfs release by generating hydropower as part of a winter drawdown of Stagecoach it performed earlier than normal to coordinate with this purchase. The Water Trust’s purchase will continue adding water to the Yampa until the Catamount Metro District lowers levels in Lake Catamount to prepare for the winter sometime in early October.
“Watching the local community now lead the streamflow restoration effort on the upper Yampa River is the best outcome for the work the Water Trust has accomplished in the Yampa valley since 2012,” said Zach Smith, staff attorney for the Water Trust.
“A healthy Yampa River is important to our community on so many levels,” said Kelly Romero-Heaney. “The City was fortunate to be able to release its Stagecoach Reservoir water this year to improve water quality in the river.”
The Water Trust’s partners, The Nature Conservancy, the Bonneville Environmental Foundation, Tri-State Generation & Transmission and the CAN’d Aid Foundation funded the $10,000 for the 2016 purchase and costs related to the transaction.
In 2012, 2013, and 2015 the Water Trust purchased water out of Stagecoach for release to the Yampa River to help maintain healthy stream flows and water quality.
As always, the project wouldn’t be a success without the help of Colorado Parks and Wildlife, Catamount Development, Inc., Catamount Metropolitan District, and other cooperative water users.
…the Colorado Water Trust has joined the city of Steamboat Springs, Upper Yampa Water Conservancy District and the Catamount Metropolitan District in ongoing efforts to boost the Yampa’s flows deeper into autumn.
The river was flowing at 60 percent of its median flow for Sept. 23 Friday morning, but it would have been lower this week if not for the fact the city and Upper Yampa Water have been adding flows of 10 cubic feet per second from water stored in Stagecoach Reservoir since August. The city, for the first time ever, began releasing water from its 552-acre-foot pool in the Yampa Aug. 19, and when that ran out Sept. 14, Upper Yampa continued the 10 cfs release by accelerating its seasonal timetable for drawing down the reservoir to accommodate 2017 spring runoff.
Upper Yampa District Engineer Andy Rossi observed at the time: “We are flirting with historically low flows into Stagecoach Reservoir.”
The Yampa was flowing at 22 cubic feet per second just above the reservoir Friday. Based on 27 years of record, that compares to the lowest flow on record for Sept. 23 — 22 cfs in 2002.
However, water district general manager Kevin McBride said the reservoir his agency manages filled to capacity after a very wet spring, allowing the water district to advance its autumn timetable.
The Water Trust announced Sept. 22 that, together with its partners, it will spend $10,000 to purchase another 264-acre feet of water from Stagecoach Reservoir, enough to increase the flows in the Yampa by 10 cubic feet per second for 13 more days. The Water Trust’s purchase will continue adding water to the Yampa until sometime in October, when the Catamount Metro District lowers levels in Lake Catamount to prepare for winter.
Water Trust staff attorney Zach Smith said that the level of cooperation among water managers in the upper Yampa Basin is gratifying for his organization.
“Watching the local community now lead the streamflow restoration effort on the upper Yampa River is the best outcome for the work the Water Trust has accomplished in the Yampa Valley since 2012,” Smith said in a news release.
Four streams in the San Juan National Forest, including Vallecito Creek, are being looked at as relatively non-controversial ways to promote this by acquiring junior in-stream flow rights to the Colorado Water Conservation Board, which administers the in-stream flow program within the prior appropriation system.
The section of Vallecito Creek being discussed runs 17.7 miles from a high-elevation cirque lake south to the Forest Service boundary above Vallecito reservoir. The other creeks are Himes Creek in Mineral County, Little Sand Creek in Hinsdale County, and Rio Lado Creek, a tributary to the Dolores River.
The La Plata County Commissioners got an update on this on Sept. 13. The federal claims have been seen over the years as a threat to the state’s prior appropriation system and state administration of water rights – especially claims on lower elevation rivers and streams that could threaten upstream private or municipal water rights.
“We’ve come close to resolving this in District 7 (Water Court), but not quite,” said Bruce Whitehead, director of the Southwest Water Conservation District. “Right now it’s still an active case. Within the last year or two, the Forest Service and state started having discussions… The Forest Service was interested in how in-stream flow could help resolve the reserve rights. We looked at the streams the Forest Service was interested in. If we’re successful, it could be a great tool to resolve these outstanding cases without being litigated.”
He continued, “We’re looking for certainty, that they are state appropriated rights. We don’t want to expand the state in-stream flow program. We’re kind of in a wait-and-see mode.”
Forest Service staffer Anthony Madrid said, “In the 1990s, there was a big effort to work out a settlement. That stalled out. This past year, we’ve put more effort into it. We want free-flowing streams to support aquatic and riparian values. We’re really excited to engage in this new process.”
Jeff Baessler, director of the CWCB’s in-stream flow program, told commissioners that back in 1973, in-stream flow was not considered a beneficial use in state water law. State legislators passed SB 97 that year to make it a beneficial use and gave the CWCB authority to acquire those rights to ensure reasonable preservation of the natural environment and provide regulatory certainty for current water users under prior appropriation…
“Today I’m only talking about new appropriations. This new right probably would be January 2017,” Baessler said.
Whitehead added that the proposed in-stream right on Vallecito Creek won’t change anything. “It preserves the status quo,” he said.
The Forest Service came to CWCB in January this year with its recommendations for the four streams, Baessler said. He said before the nine member CWCB can make an in-stream flow recommendation, there has to be a determination that a natural environment exists, that there’s an “indicator species” to be protected, that the natural environment can be preserved with the amount of water available for appropriation, and that there won’t be injury to senior water rights.
The in-stream right will be “the minimum amount necessary” to serve the purpose, he said. “We have to quantify that amount. Sometimes people say, ‘I’ve seen this stream dry, so that’s the minimum.’ The minimum is the amount necessary to preserve the natural environment, such as the fishery. We look at median flow over time.”
Those studies are now happening on the proposed section of Vallecito Creek. Madrid said, “If the weather holds, we should have the data collection by the end of the month.”
Whitehead said that if CWCB supports a recommendation, it directs staff to file for the in-stream right in Water Court. Those can be contested. “At this point, we’re supportive of the whole process. Everyone is waiting to see the data, to make sure it’s reasonable,” he said. “Technically we’re still in litigation (with the Forest Service). We need to see where everything goes.”
Baessler acknowledged, “The in-stream flow program is controversial. There’s an impact we can have to other users, especially lower on the river. When senior users file for a change of use or something, we’ll file a statement of opposition if we think there’ll be harm to the status quo. That’s where it gets controversial.”
These four streams are high elevation on Forest Service land, he said. He doesn’t think they’ll be contested.
Whitehead added, “There are many counties that have contested in-stream flow because of impact on future growth. These shouldn’t be.” And the hope is they can become a model to resolve the federal reserved rights claims from 1973 within the state appropriation system, he said. “If they are successful, there may be other streams in the future to use this process. They are in areas that we hope will be the least controversial. This could be the start of what the Forest Service will do in the future.”
Acting San Juan National Forest Supervisor Russ Bacon said, “On Division 7 (Water Court), we haven’t used this process before. We’d prefer a local solution to a process that involves judges. The next big step is the data. There are still a lot of unknowns… We’re always looking for a better path than reserve water rights.”