Voters approve “deBrucing” of Dolores Water Conservancy District mill levy

From the Cortez Journal (Jim Mimiaga):

Voters have approved a request by the Dolores Water Conservancy District to freeze the mill levy at the current rate of 0.483…

Mcphee Reservoir
Mcphee Reservoir

The district sought to avoid the ratcheting down effect on the district’s budget because of fluctuating property values.

“Passage of Ballot Issue 4A will really help the Dolores Water Conservancy District provide a stable water supply for our farmers and communities going forward,” said DWCD general manager Mike Preston. “We want to offer our deepest appreciation to the voters for supporting this measure.”

Preston said passing the measure allows DWCD to better secure grant money, which is important to keep McPhee Reservoir and delivery systems in good shape. He said the funds will allow the district to face growing challenges of protecting water rights, and dealing with drought and emerging threats to McPhee Reservoir, such as an invasion of quagga mussels that could damage water delivery systems and kill sport fishing.

Setting a permanent tax mill levy allows the district to stabilize its income relative to area growth and retain any additional income it receives.

According to the district, “changing laws and regulations at the federal and state levels, including BLM and Forest Service management plans, require increased vigilance, negotiation and legal involvement to protect established District water rights.”

Ballot Issue 4A is a waiver to the Taxpayer Bill of Rights (TABOR), known as “deBrucing.”

La Plata County: Water Information Program land use forum recap

San Juan River from Wolf Creek Pass
San Juan River from Wolf Creek Pass

From The Pine River Times (Carole McWilliams):

Land use choices and water use are connected. So how come water people and land use planners don’t work together as water supply becomes more at risk and state population keeps growing?

That was the focus of a water and land use forum on Oct. 23 at the La Plata County Administration Building. It was organized by the Durango-based Water Information Program (WIP).

Denise Rue-Pastin, the director of the program, cited predictions that global population will reach 10 billion by 2050.

“Some of the information being presented is kind of a downer,” she warned. “Hopefully you (participants) will be armed with the information you need to make really good decisions.” She showed maps of global water shortage areas, including in the U.S., areas of growing food demand, and regions where wars are being fought over water…

She cited the Colorado Water Plan aimed at addressing water supply gaps as state population grows to a predicted 10 million.

The final plan must be presented to the governor by Dec. 10. She cited the familiar statistic that 80 percent of state population is on the Front Range while 80 percent of the water is on the West Slope, and 80 percent of water use in Colorado is for agriculture…

The Colorado Water Plan “doesn’t say a lot about what we should be doing,” although it lists ideas such as development that does not increase water demand, referred to as net zero, [Drew] Beckwith said. “The divide between water planners and land use planners is sometimes a challenge.” There are efforts to come up with estimates of how increased density might affect water use, he said.

The Water Plan will tout a goal to have 75 percent of state population living in communities that have incorporated water saving actions, Beckwith said. He asked for comments…

Beckwith said, “The challenge I see is for you in the southwest (part of the state) to say we don’t want any more trans-mountain (water) diversions, you need to lead by example.”

Shepard cited subdivision covenants and homeowner associations that require outside landscaping, and the HOA will sue for non-compliance.

That’s illegal under a state law passed a couple years ago, Beckwith responded.

Rue-Pastin raised another issue. “I know of a water utility that got rid of their water conservation because one of their directors said, ‘If we don’t use it, we’ll lose it.'”

Beckwith added that some utilities depend on the income from selling more water, but, “When you need more supply and conservation is the cheapest alternative, it makes sense.”[…]

Green and Beckwith listed ways to link water and land use:

. a system to allocate water taps

. impact fees on building permits

. use of state authorized 1041 powers to protect water supplies from diversions

. comprehensive/ master plans that encourage denser development and water conservation

. landscaping codes

. more development restrictions in areas with less groundwater

. prohibitions on outside water use, as in Summit County

. requirements for water efficient appliances.

Green cited the need to go beyond “aspirational” master plans to implementation in land use regulations.

Beckwith said, “At the end of the day, it depends on what your community cares about.”

Uravan: Confluence (Dolores and San Miguel rivers) Cleanup October 24, 2015 — Sheep Mountain Alliance

From the Sheep Mountain Alliance:

doloressanmiguelsheepmountainalliance

Here’s an opportunity to get outdoors, meet people, and help the environment. On Saturday, October 24, from 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m., join SMA as we clean up the confluence of the San Miguel and Dolores Rivers just west of Uravan, Colorado.

We’ll team up with members of the San Miguel Watershed Coalition and others. Email Leigh Robertson leigh@sheepmountainalliance.org if you’d like more information or if you’d like to sign up.

McElmo Flume restoration project update

From the Cortez Journal (Jim Mimiaga):

“It could take a year or longer for construction to be completed,” once bids are approved, said county planner James Dietrich.

The roadside attraction will have an entrance and egress road, parking lot, sidewalks, information kiosk and a handicap-accessible trail to an overlook of the flume, built in 1890.

Two grants are helping to pay for the project.

A $253,000 grant from the Federal Highways Administration was awarded to the Trails of the Ancients Scenic Byway, a section of which includes U.S. 160 that goes by the flume.

The Colorado State Historic Fund provided a $123,840 grant to restore the flume foundation.

Several groups chipped in for a $41,280 match, including Montezuma County, Southwest Water Conservancy District, Ballantine Family Fund, Montezuma County Historical Society and Southwest Roundtable.

The flume is the last of 104 built in the area from 1890 to 1920. It delivered irrigation water south of Cortez and to the Ute Mountain Tribe.

McElmo Creek Flume via the Cortez Journal
McElmo Creek Flume via the Cortez Journal

Are our headwaters at risk of a mine leak? — Officials unsure what’s happening in tunnels — the Cortez Journal

Dolores River watershed
Dolores River watershed

From the Cortez Journal (Jim Mimiaga):

The headwaters of the Dolores River share space with century-old mines similar to the Gold King mine that spilled 3 million gallons of wastewater into the Animas River this August.

But the long-abandoned Argentine Mine Complex near Rico is receiving proper pollution controls to reduce the risk of such an accident, mining officials say.

The St. Louis and Blaine mine tunnels once provided access to a vast network of hard-rock tunnels bored into the Rico Mountains.

Now the tunnels act like drains for snowmelt and rain, which accumulate unnatural levels of heavy metals that has to flow out somewhere.

The mine entrances have collapsed, but the wastewater continues to drain out of them within yards of the Dolores River.

“It’s a hazard we need to pay attention to because the Dolores River supplies water for four towns, and for McPhee Reservoir depended on for irrigation,” said Paul Hollar, emergency manager for Montezuma County.

Mine drainage from St. Louis and Blaine flow through an on-site wastewater treatment system that is working properly, according to the EPA and state mining officials.

Eleven settling ponds remove heavy metals, and the water meets state health standards when it returns to the river.

For the past 15 years, the treatment system has being upgraded and maintained under a cooperative effort by former mine owners Atlantic Richfield Co., the EPA, and the Colorado Division of Reclamation and Mine Safety.

“While you can never be sure what is happening two miles back in these tunnels, we feel the mine entrances are under control,” said Allen Sorenson, project manager and engineer with the state’s inactive mine program…

It was also discovered in 1996 that a concrete plug in the nearby Blaine Tunnel was failing, releasing orange-colored, toxic water directly into Sliver Creek, a tributary of the Dolores River.

The Blaine Tunnel plug is designed to redirect drainage through the St. Louis Tunnel, and into the settling ponds.

In 2013, the Blaine plug was successfully repaired, Sorenson said, at a cost of $350,000.

“The mine entrance was shored up, and diversion structure installed,” he said. “There is no surface discharge out of Blaine.”[…]

To monitor whether that is happening at the Rico mines, wells with piezometers that measure water pressure and water level were installed behind the collapsed St. Louis Tunnel.

“Investigating whether they are backing up is ongoing,” Sorenson said. “It is being tracked, and if problems are observed they will be addressed.”

The Blaine Tunnel does not have the piezometers, he said, but it is checked several times a year by inspectors to make sure the diversion structure is working and to monitor flow rates.

Sorenson warned that the nature of underground mine tunnels make them unpredictable, and there are no guarantees a scenario like the Gold King mine won’t happen again.

“It’s a significant issue,” he said. “We eliminate risk to the extent possible, but you can’t rule out what a massive surge of water will do.”

#ColoradoRiver: Southwestern Water Conservation District Water 101 session recap #COWaterPlan #COriver

From The Pine River Times (Carole McWilliams):

The nightmare scenario for West Slope water nerds is a “call” on the Colorado River, meaning that Colorado, Wyoming, and Northwest New Mexico are not delivering a legally required amount of water to California, Nevada, Arizona, and Utah.

If or when that happens, some water users in the three Upper Basin states will have their water use curtailed so that the Lower Basin states get their share. Water banking as a concept being proposed on the West Slope to minimize curtailment and huge water fights between holders of pre-1922 water rights, which would not be curtailed, and holders of post-1922 rights that would be curtailed.

Durango water engineer Steve Harris spoke to this at the Sept. 25 Water 101 seminar in Bayfield.

The idea started in 2008 with the Southwest Colorado Water Conservation District and the Colorado River Conservation District. Those two entities cover the entire West Slope, Harris said. The idea of water banking is “to provide water for critical uses in cases of compact curtailment.”

West Slope agricultural water users would voluntarily and temporarily reduce their water use and be compensated for it. The water would go to Lake Powell to satisfy the legal requirement for the three Upper Basin states to deliver 7.5 million acre feet of water each year (averaged over 10 years for a total 75 million AF) to the four Lower Basin states and avert curtailment…

All this is dictated by a water compact signed in 1922. It committed 15 million AF per year divvied up between the Upper and Lower Basin states. “Average flow now is around 13 million AF in the Colorado,” Harris said. The result has been continued draw-down of Lake Powell and Lake Mead.

“Right now we are at around 90 million AF versus the 75 million AF over 10 years,” Harris said. If the amount delivered goes below the 10 year requirement, perfected water rights before 1922 would not be curtailed. Most of that is West Slope ag water.

About half of Bayfield’s and Durango’s municipal water is pre-1922 rights, he said. More than 90 percent of the 1-plus million AF of pre-1922 West Slope water is used to grow grass or alfalfa hay.

Post-1922 rights include area reservoir storage, water for coal-fired power plants, a lot of municipal and industrial water, and 98 percent of West Slope water diversions to Front Range urban areas. “So they would be curtailed. But that’s not going to happen,” Harris said, because Front Range residents aren’t going to have their water supply cut to grow hay.

“We want to set up a water bank so the pre-1922 users would set aside water for the post-1922 users. Otherwise, pre-1922 rights could be targeted for acquisition by post-1922 users,” he said.

Water banking is still an idea at this point. “We don’t know if the water bank will work,” Harris said. Two studies have been done, one is under way, and a fourth will be conducted by Colorado State University to look at the impacts on eight small farms of full irrigation, reduced irrigation, and no irrigation.

Harris said 50,000 to 200,000 AF of West Slope pre-1922 water might be able to go into a water bank, based on land that could be fallowed. But there is concern that some other senior water right holder could take the water before it gets to Lake Powell. Also, he said, “It’s very hard to measure water saved through fallowing. Every year is different.”

In contrast, there is an estimated 55,000 AF of critical post-1922 municipal and industrial use on the West Slope and 295,000 AF of critical diversions to the East Slope. “The amount of pre-compact water that might be available is much smaller than the demand,” Harris said. He cited another local issue: “If you don’t irrigate on Florida Mesa, people don’t have water wells.”

An assortment of water entities in the Colorado River Basin have contributed $11 million to do demand management pilot projects to get more water to Lake Powell. Durango applied to change their water billing to “social norming,” meaning how much water you use compared to your neighboors. Harris quipped that he’d pull the norm down because he made a show of removing his lawn back in the spring.

State Sen. Ellen Roberts also spoke at the seminar. “Even though we are a headwaters state, there’s a limited amount of water, and if the population is going to double by 2040 or 2050, where will the water come from? … Every direction from Colorado, there’s a neighboring state that has a legal right to some of our water.”

Eighty-seven percent of the state population lives between Fort Collins and Pueblo, and they like their Kentucky blue grass, she said, adding, “Kentucky is a much better place for it. … On the Front Range, all they care about is does the water come out when they turn on the tap.”

She noted the heated reaction to the bill she introduced in 2014 to limit the size of lawns in new residential developments that use water converted from ag, leaving the ag land dry. Harris initiated that idea. Roberts commented, “To feed their lawns, they need our water.”

As with population, 87 of 100 state legislators also live betwween Fort Collins and Pueblo, she said. “If they don’t come out here to know our world, they don’t appreciate why water is so important. … Water is our future.”

Roberts gave an update on the Colorado Water Plan, which is intended to address the projected gap between water demand and supply. Community meetings on the plan were held around the state last year and earlier this year. “The number one thing we heard was the need for storage,” Roberts said. “If we can’t capture and hold the water we have, we are hurting ourselves.” The next question is how to pay for storage projects. “That’s where the fighting begins,” she said.

The water plan needs more specifics on recommended actions, Roberts said. And after the Gold King spill of toxic mine waste, it needs something about water quality threats from abandoned mines.

The 470-plus page plan is being done by the Colorado Water Conservation Board and is supposed to be presented to the governor by Dec. 10. It’s available on-line at http://www.coloradowaterplan.com.

Colorado River Basin including Mexico, USBR May 2015
Colorado River Basin including Mexico, USBR May 2015

#ColoradoRiver: Reclamation Awards a $1 Million Contract to Upgrade Four Dolores Project Pumping Plants

Mcphee Reservoir
Mcphee Reservoir

Here’s the release from the US Bureau of Reclamation:

The Bureau of Reclamation announced that it has awarded a $1 million contract to PAF Electrical, LLC, Oregon, on September 17 to replace nine existing variable frequency drives that will upgrade the Cahone, Dove Creek, Pleasant View and Ruin Canyon Pumping Plants near Cortez, Colorado.

“Replacing the variable frequency drives will increase the energy conservation where there is a need to vary the flow in distribution systems,” said Western Colorado Area Manager Ed Warner. “The new frequency drives will lessen the mechanical and electrical stress on the motors, reduces maintenance and repair costs and extend the life of the motor.”

The Dolores Water Conservancy District provides seasonal irrigation and delivers vital water to Montezuma and Dolores Counties as part of the Dolores Project which is owned by Reclamation and operated by the District. The contract provides upgrades for four pumping plants by replacing the nine existing variable frequency drives with modern drives which provides more reliability with increased flow flexibility.

The Pleasant View and Ruin Canyon Pumping Plants currently use medium 2400 VAC drives and motors that require the use of old technology and are significantly aged. To support the change in pump operating voltage to 480 VAC at these pumping plants, the equipment at each plant will include a new section of 5 kilovolt metal-enclosed switchgear, a new station service transformer, as well as new a distribution switchboard. New 480 VAC inverter duty motors will replace the four 2400 VAC motors on the existing pumps at those two plants and provide one spare. These new motors will be a hollow shaft design.

The Cahone and Dove Creek Pumping Plants were originally constructed using 480 VAC drives and motors. The contract will replace the old 480 VAC variable frequency drives.

For more information about Dolores Project, please visit: http://www.usbr.gov/projects/Project.jsp?proj_Name=Dolores+Project