Ritschard Dam repairs are a top priority for Colorado River District officials #ColoradoRiver

February 12, 2015
Wolford Mountain Reservoir

Wolford Mountain Reservoir

From CBS Denver:

The Ritschard Dam on Wolford Mountain Reservoir near the town of Kremmling has some residents in the area concerned.

There have already been a few public meetings regarding the dam in Grand County. The Ritschard Dam has a clay core and is filled in around that with rocks, but the dam hasn’t held its shape. Something has happened with the settling of all the material over the past two decades.

“In 2009 it was discovered that pieces of the dam have settled faster than was expected by designers,” Jim Pokrandt with the Colorado River District said.

Sophisticated monitors have been placed inside the dam. The crest of the dam has settled down 2 feet, twice as much as expected — and also shifted downstream 8 inches.

“We’ve been studying that since 2009, spent $1.5 million or more on this, and we really can’t say why exactly, other than there could be some compaction issues that date back to construction time,” Pokrandt said.

Engineers have said it’s the river district’s top priority, and not fixing the dam could send a devastating flood down the Colorado River.

“Public safety is not at risk and it won’t be at risk because we’re going to take this quick action,” Pokrandt said.

Exactly how the dam will be secured and fixed won’t be decided until later in the year. One idea is making the dam and reservoir bigger.

“You can imagine that if you’re going to fix a settlement issue you might be scraping off part of the dam and rebuilding it. How much, we don’t know.”

Forty percent of the water in the dam is owned by Denver Water. The rest is to ensure water in the river for endangered fish and water for municipalities on the Western Slope. But making the reservoir hold more water brings in a whole new set of issues.

“It’s premature to talk about what the exact repair scenario could be,” Pokrandt said. “There’s no quick fix.”

The Colorado River District board will likely make a decision on how the dam will be fixed by the end of the year.

More infrastructure coverage here.


Dam at Wolford Reservoir north of Kremmling moving slightly, but steadily — Aspen Journalism

January 29, 2015

From Aspen Journalism (Brent Gardner-Smith):

The Colorado River District board of directors was told last week it is time to address the consistent settling and movement occurring in Ritschard Dam, which holds back 66,000 acre-feet of water to form Wolford Mountain Reservoir, 5 miles upstream of Kremmling.

“The continued movement of the dam at Wolford Mountain Reservoir is the most important issue currently facing the River District,” states a Jan. 8 memo from John Currier, the chief engineer at the district.

Though the dam is far from being at risk of failure, if that happened at some point in the future with a full reservoir behind it, there is the potential for 600,000 cubic feet per second to run down Muddy Creek toward Kremmling, said Jim Pokrandt, communications manager for the district. Eighteen hours later, the massive surge of water would reach Glenwood Springs.

The board discussed the situation at the dam during a regular quarterly meeting in Glenwood Springs.

“We see this continued downward movement of about an inch a year, unabated, with no evidence that it is really going to slow down,” Currier told the River District board. “It is a significant concern and is something we need to address.”

Just 20 years old

The dam has an impermeable clay core that is covered on both the upstream and downstream sides with rock fill, including shale rock excavated on site during construction.

In 2008, engineers working for the river district noticed the dam had settled downward by a foot-and-a-half, instead of the expected normal settling of one foot.

They decided to install monitoring equipment, including inclinometers, which measure slope angles.

Engineers for the river district have since installed an increasingly sophisticated array of monitoring devices. And they’ve verified that the dam has now settled over 2 feet downward.

The dam has also moved horizontally, by 8 inches, at a location about 40 to 50 feet from the top of the dam.

Mike May, an engineer with AECOM, told the river district board that because of “poorly compacted rock fill,” the dam’s rocky outer shells are still moving, especially the downstream shell, and that the clay core of the dam, which is somewhat elastic, is also moving.

While the dam does not have “a global stability problem,” May said the concern is that if enough movement occurs, it could cause cracks in the clay core.

Water could then find its way into those cracks and start transporting material and widening the cracks, and then the dam could eventually be at risk of failing.

“If we lose the integrity of that core, at that point the threat we’re under is essentially having the dam completely fail,” Dan Birch, the deputy general manager of the river district, told his board of directors.

“And the scenario that happens when the dam fails is a lot worse than any flood that Mother Nature could create, and we’re talking just tremendous amounts of devastation and tremendous potential for loss of life,” Birch said.

“It is a very serious situation (that) as an organization we are, have been, and will continue to take very seriously,” Birch said.

State dam expert briefed

Bill McCormick, the chief of dam safety for the state of Colorado, was briefed on the dam’s situation on Jan. 14.

“Everyone involved (including the downstream public and the emergency management community) are now more aware of the dam’s operation than they ever have been before,” McCormick said via email on Jan. 22.

“The extensive investigations and analysis to date show that the dam remains strong and stable but that if left unabated, the movements could ultimately (in decades) create greater damage to the dam structure,” McCormick said. “The safety of the dam is being managed through the river district’s changes in normal operations, which include maintaining a reduced reservoir level and increased surveillance including real-time monitoring.”

The dam was last inspected by the state in November, and there are no restrictions yet in place from the state that would force the river district to lower the water level in the reservoir. The district did, however, voluntarily lower the water level by 10 feet in 2014 to take pressure off the dam.

Dick Davidson, a senior engineer and dam expert with AECOM, told the River Board it was his professional opinion that it was time to move toward a solution.

“We are not in an emergency, by any stretch, but we have definitely stressed our core beyond where we like it to be,” Davidson said. “So let’s figure out what we need to do. Let’s look at our options.”

One option is to spend up to $30 million rebuilding the dam.

Another potential option is to store significantly less water in Wolford Reservoir, which is about two-thirds the size of Ruedi Reservoir, in order to take pressure off the dam. However, that may buy the river district some time but not solve the problem.

A refined set of options is now expected to be brought back to the river district board at both its April and July board meetings.

Editor’s note: Aspen Journalism is collaborating with The Aspen Times and the Glenwood Springs Post Independent on coverage of rivers and water. The Post published this story on Wednesday, Jan. 28, 2015.

More Colorado River Basin coverage here.


Senator Roberts is lining up with others on the West Slope who are beating the conservation drum #coleg

January 22, 2015

Hayfield message to President Obama 2011 via Protect the Flows

Hayfield message to President Obama 2011 via Protect the Flows


From the Pagosa Springs Sun (Ellen Roberts):

Things are off to a fast and busy start at the Colorado legislature. We’ve just finished the last of the ceremonial formalities, which are time consuming, but important for their historical significance and in recognizing the other branches of state government that the legislature works with.

We attended the outdoor inauguration of the governor and were fortunate that it was a warmer day than when the arctic chill was reaching into Denver last month. We also heard the governor’s State of the State address, as well as the chief justice of the Colorado Supreme Court’s State of the Judiciary address.

I had the honor of serving as president of the senate already, including for the State of the Judiciary address. It was exciting to have the opportunity to serve in that capacity with the speaker of the house and the chief justice, as it’s likely the first time in Colorado that each of those roles was filled
by a woman.

In the Senate, we’ve been running regular legislative business alongside the ceremonial activities. I’ve already had three of my bills in committees and, fortunately, all were passed out and are moving further along in the process.

The first bill comes from my work on the water interim committee and supports access to the best water conservation strategies for all land use planners who want that information. During the summer and fall, I was part of the water committee that held nine meetings all around Colorado. Citizens in every corner of the state were seeking more in terms of water conservation education and efforts by those managing water resources in the state.

This is a topic where I believe the people are ahead of some of those in governmental service. The bill had bipartisan support in the interim committee and it’ll have bipartisan support as it moves through the process because water conservation isn’t a partisan topic. Conservation is a practical and impactful way to maximize the use of our limited water resources, which Coloradans rightfully treasure, no matter where they live in the state.

The bill was amended to remove any link to financial support from the state, which was done at the request of a few stakeholders. There’s no mandate to use the educational strategies made available through the bill, but it’ll take advantage of the significant expertise on this topic in our semi-arid state and make that information accessible to those who play a very significant

While, today, the vast amount of Colorado water is used in agriculture, there’s an indisputable shift as more of that water is sold to municipalities to support their present and future growth. My personal belief is that keeping agricultural land in production and supporting family operations should be a high priority so that we can keep our food sources close.

That said, water rights are a valuable property right and avail- able for sale at the water owner’s discretion. This bill recognizes those dynamics and will help Colorado make the most of our headwaters we’ve been blessed with, but must also deliver downstream to neighboring states.

I’m missing being home in southwestern Colorado, but the session is off to a good start and I’m thankful to be here.

More 2015 Colorado legislation coverage here.


Water Lines: $8 million grant to fund Colorado irrigation improvements

January 20, 2015

RCPP Proposals map via the USDA

RCPP Proposals map via the USDA


From the Grand Junction Free Press (Hannah Holm):

Concern about environmental and water supply conditions in the Colorado River Basin helped a group of farmers and their partners in the lower Gunnison River Basin net an $8 million grant from the federal government to line and pipe open canal systems and to convert fields from flood irrigation to more efficient sprinkler, micro spray and drip systems.

The irrigation improvements will enable farmers to maintain or improve production with smaller diversions from rivers and streams. Reductions in the amount of water that soaks through the ground and back into tributaries of the Gunnison River as a result of flood irrigation and unlined canals will also improve water quality by reducing the amount of salt and selenium leaching out of soils and into the river. High salt levels in the river harm the productivity of downstream farms, while high selenium levels harm sensitive fish and bird species.

Projects funded by the grant will be implemented in partnership with four irrigation entities in different parts of the lower Gunnison Basin: the Bostwick Park Water Conservancy District southeast of Montrose; the Crawford Water Conservancy District near Crawford; the North Fork Water Conservancy District near Paonia and Hotchkiss; and the Uncompahgre Valley Water Users Association, located primarily between Montrose and Delta.

In a statement from the Colorado River District, the lead partner on the project, Colorado River District Senior Water Engineer Dave Kanzer, said: “This grant is a big ‘win-win-win’ for agricultural, economic and environmental sustainability.”

“It will really help our agricultural producers implement new conservation practices that not only produce more ‘crop per drop’ of water but significantly reduce their environmental footprint,” Kanzer continued.

This project builds on previous similar initiatives, but is distinguished from them by its scale, the fact that it is part of an integrated, basin-wide strategy and the leadership role taken by farmers. Participating farmers have organized themselves and partner organizations into a group called “No Chico Brush.” Chico Brush, also known as greasewood, would likely dominate the valleys of the lower Gunnison Basin if irrigated agriculture were to disappear.

The Colorado River District expects the $8 million federal grant to leverage additional funding from other sources for a total of around $50 million. The federal funds were allocated through the Regional Conservation Partnership Program, an element of the 2015 Farm Bill. The competitiveness of the Gunnison Basin proposal benefitted from the fact that the Gunnison River lies within the Colorado River Basin, which the program identified as a “critical conservation area.”

The critical conservation area designation for the Colorado River Basin is due to a persistent regional drought that is exacerbating water supply and demand imbalances, as well as degradation of soil quality, water quality, and wildlife habitat. Agricultural irrigation is the largest consumer of water in the basin.

To learn more about the lower Gunnison irrigation improvement project, contact Kanzer at dkanzer@crwcd.org.

To learn more about the Regional Conservation Partnership Project, visit http://www.nrcs.usda.gov/wps/portal/nrcs/main/national/programs/farmbill/rcpp.

This is part of a series of articles coordinated by the Water Center at Colorado Mesa University in cooperation with the Colorado and Gunnison Basin Roundtables to raise awareness about water needs, uses and policies in our region. To learn more about the basin roundtables and statewide water planning, and to let the roundtables know what you think, go to http://www.coloradomesa.edu/WaterCenter. You can also find the Water Center on Facebook at Facebook.com/WaterCenter.CMU or Twitter at Twitter.com/WaterCenterCMU.

More Gunnison River Basin coverage here


Colorado River District: Water resources grant program accepting requests for funding #ColoradoRiver

December 4, 2014

Click here to go to the grant webpage for the application and other items.

More Colorado River Water Conservancy District coverage here.


Western Slope appeals ruling
 on water usage — Grand Junction Daily Sentinel

November 17, 2014

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Gary Harmon):

Aurora should be penalized for storing and using West Slope water without having the appropriate water rights, several West Slope water agencies contend in a case before the Colorado Supreme Court.

The West Slope agencies, including the Grand Valley Water Users’ Association, Orchard Mesa Irrigation District and Ute Water Conservancy District, appealed a ruling in which a Pueblo water court upheld the transmountain diversion of 2,416 acre feet of water from the headwaters of the Fryingpan River to Aurora via an irrigation diversion.

The Western Slope agencies don’t object to the diversion per se, but contend that Aurora should not benefit from using what was billed as irrigation water by using the water for municipal purposes.

The distinction is important because water that diverted across the Continental Divide is considered to be a 100-percent consumptive use. That’s because there is no return flow back to the West Slope.

Aurora sought a change of use for the water in 2009, but had been diverting it since 1987. The irrigation decree also didn’t allow storage of the water.

West Slope agencies said Aurora’s years of municipal use that were inconsistent with the irrigation decree should be included as zeroes in the calculation of the average historical consumptive use. That would reduce the amount of water that Aurora could divert through the Busk-Ivanhoe system, which has a 1928 water right for irrigation in the lower Arkansas River valley.

The Grand Valley water agencies are appealing the ruling from the water court in Pueblo that upheld Aurora’s storage of the water in East Slope reservoirs, and others, including the Colorado River Water Conservation District, also are asking the Supreme Court to reconsider the way the court calculated the amount of water that could be diverted for Aurora’s municipal use.

“We are not opposing the change, just the calculation,” river district spokesman Chris Treese said. “We feel that if the court ignores this sort of negligence of the change-of-use laws, that it would encourage similar extra-legal uses of water whether it involves transmountain water or in-basin uses.”

A hearing has yet to be scheduled in the case.

More water law coverage here.


Pitkin County: The Colorado River District, et. al., to appeal recent water court decree for Busk-Ivanhoe Ditch

November 14, 2014

From The Aspen Times (Brent Gardner-Smith):

Pitkin County, the Colorado River District and the Grand Valley Water Users Association have each filed an appeal with the Colorado Supreme Court over a recent Water Court decree setting the size of a diversion from the headwaters of the Fryingpan River. The decree gives Busk-Ivanhoe Inc., an entity owned by the city of Aurora, the right to divert an average of 2,416 acre-feet of water a year from four high-mountain creeks for use within Aurora’s water-service area east of Denver.

But the appellants want the high court to review how Water Court Judge Larry C. Schwartz calculated the historical use of the 1928 water right and then used the answer to define the size and scope of Aurora’s new right. At issue is whether the period from 1987 to 2009, when Aurora was admittedly using water from the Busk-Ivanhoe system for municipal purposes without a decree to do so, should be included in a representative study period of use.

The original 1928 decree for the Busk-Ivanhoe water right only allowed the water to be used for irrigation in the lower Arkansas River Valley.

Pitkin County Attorney John Ely said if the 22 years of undecreed use at issue is factored in, Aurora’s new right might be half the size of the one approved by the judge.

The state engineer and three division engineers, who enforce water-right decrees, also have appealed the judge’s decision.

“The engineers believe that ‘undecreed’ use is equivalent to no decreed use, and that a calculation of average annual historical use must include the 22-year period during which there was no decreed use,” the appeal from the state engineer states.

But the judge sees it differently.

“In the circumstances of this case, including the years after 1986 in the study period but attributing zero diversions to all such years is not necessary to protect junior water rights from injury,” Schwartz wrote.

Aurora, which began buying Busk-Ivanhoe irrigation water in 1987, filed documents with the Water Court in 2009 to change the use of its water from irrigation to municipal uses.

In July 2013, a five-day trial was held in Pueblo. Schwartz issued a substantial ruling on May 27. On Aug. 15, he issued a decree defining the water right.

In early October, the four appeals were filed with the Supreme Court, which directly hears appeals from Water Court. Opening legal briefs are expected by mid-February.

High-mountain water

Busk-Ivanhoe Inc. owns half of the roughly 5,000 acre-feet diverted by the Busk-Ivanhoe system each year. The other half is owned by the Pueblo Board of Water Works and is not at issue in the case.

Busk-Ivanhoe has the right to divert 100 cubic feet per second of water from Hidden Lake Creek, 50 cfs from both Pan Creek and Lyle creeks and 35 cfs from Ivanhoe Creek. A 21-foot-tall dam on Ivanhoe Creek forms Ivanhoe Reservoir, and a 30-inch pipe carries water for 1.3 miles under the Continental Divide near Hagerman Pass. Water exits the pipe, runs down Busk Creek to Turquoise and Twin Lakes reservoirs and then is moved to Aurora.

The new decree would allow Aurora to divert as much as 144,960 acre-feet of water over a 60-year period, at an annual average of 2,416 acre-feet.

Joining the Colorado River District in its appeal is the Basalt Water Conservancy District and Eagle County, and joining the Grand Valley Water Users Association is the Orchard Mesa Irrigation District and the Ute Water Conservancy District.

Those entities also question the judge’s decisions regarding the storage of Busk-Ivanhoe water on the Front Range, which has been done for decades without a decreed right.

Schwartz said even though the original decree was silent on the subject of storage, it was always the “intent” of the water developer to store the water on the Front Range.

He also found that storing the Busk-Ivanhoe water without a decreed right after it had been moved under the Continental Divide “did not cause an injurious expansion or alteration of stream conditions” in the Colorado River Basin.

The appellants disagree.

“We feel the Water Court’s rulings were erroneous and would set a dangerous precedent of holding transmountain diverted water rights to different requirements as in-basin rights when it comes to decree and decree-change calculations,” said Eagle County Attorney Bryan Treu. “There should not be separate rules for transmountain diversions.”

Greg Baker, manager of public relations for Aurora Water, said Aurora officials couldn’t discuss the litigation.

Aspen Journalism is an independent, nonprofit news organization collaborating with The Aspen Times on coverage of rivers and water. More at http://www.aspenjournalism.org.

More water law coverage here.


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,151 other followers

%d bloggers like this: