The latest “The Current” newsletter from the Eagle River Watershed Council is hot off the presses

Click here to read the newsletter. Here’s an excerpt:

Eagle River Watershed Council has teamed up with the U.S. Forest Service for the inaugural year of our Citizen Science program. This program aims to identify creeks and streams on Forest Service land that currently house populations of native cutthroat trout or could in the future. Participants were trained to collect Environmental DNA samples and assess the physical habitat of streams.

We are no longer accepting new volunteers for the Citizen Science program this year, but there will certainly be ways to get involved in 2016! Email to sign up for next year or simply to find out more.

Eagle River Basin
Eagle River Basin

The September 2015 issue of “The Current” is hot off the presses from the Eagle River Watershed Council

Click here to read the newsletter. Here’s an excerpt:

Animas spill may stimulate watershed solutions

On August 5, about 3 million gallons of contaminated water burst out of an abandoned mine above Silverton and sent a plume of cloudy, orange water down Cement Creek to the Animas River, through the heart of Durango, and on into the San Juan River in New Mexico, the Navajo Nation and Utah. Downstream: Lake Powell.

The plume of acidic orange water, containing arsenic, lead and other toxic heavy metals, had built up as a result of historic mining activity dating back to the 1870s… The massive plume was set loose by workers for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency attempting to assess and remediate the source of an ongoing trickle of pollution from the Gold King mine…

In assessing how this catastrophe fits into the overall regional water picture, it is instructive to zoom out geographically and look back in time. The 3 million gallons of contaminated water from the spill translate to a little over 9 acre-feet of water. This quantity is dwarfed by the approximately 13 million acre-feet currently in Lake Powell, despite the fact that it is only 54 percent full…

Hannah Holm is the coordinator for the Water Center at Colorado Mesa University. Holm is a friend of the Watershed Council and wrote this article for our monthly Vail Daily column, The Current. Click here to read on.

Eagle River Cleanup event is Sept. 12

Eagle River Basin
Eagle River Basin

From the Eagle River Watershed Council via the Vail Daily:

As the rivers begin to calm and seasons start to change, the Eagle River Watershed Council is gearing up for its 21st annual Eagle River Cleanup on Sept. 12. The tradition began in 1994 when Trout Unlimited organized the first Eagle River Cleanup. There were two tents and 24 volunteers, half of which were Vail Resorts ski patrollers with radios and trucks. The event culminated with a silent auction, which included a season ski pass and raised a total of $400.

During the past 21 years, the Eagle River Cleanup has grown tremendously and become a fall tradition for many environmentally and community-minded families, groups and companies. This year, over 350 volunteers are expected to help care for and revitalize our local waterways in the cleanup. This popular, county-wide event is organized by the Eagle River Watershed Council, presented by Vail Resorts EpicPromise, sponsored by many local businesses and supported by volunteers from Red Cliff to Dotsero to East Vail.


From 9 a.m. to noon, teams of volunteers will head for the river banks along the Eagle and Upper Colorado Rivers as well as Gore Creek to pick up trash and show support for the conservation and enhancement of our local watershed. All told, this massive community effort will clean nearly 70 miles of river throughout Eagle County ensuring the health and vitality of our waterways.

Following the cleanup, volunteers and their families are invited to the Broken Arrow at Arrowhead from noon to 2 p.m. for a thank you barbecue provided by Vail Resorts, the Broken Arrow and Arrowhead Alpine Club. The party features music from local favorites the Turntable Revue, beer from Crazy Mountain Brewing Co. and a prize drawing for the entire family.

More volunteers are always needed. Call the Eagle River Watershed Council at 970-827-5406 or email to confirm your usual segment, sign up for a new one or join an existing team. Volunteers meet on the river at assigned locations on the day of the event, so you must pre-register in order to know where you are needed most.

Constant cleanup key to preserving river — the Vail Daily

Eagle Mine
Eagle Mine

From the Vail Daily (Scott N. Miller):

For longtime valley residents, the recent mine waste spill into the Animas River near Durango prompted memories of the winter of 1989-90, when the Eagle River through Minturn ran a dull, depressing orange. Its clarity today is thanks to constant work.

The Eagle Mine — located in a tight valley between Minturn and Red Cliff — closed in 1984. After the mine closed, countless gallons of water flooded the mine works and, five years later, into the river, turning the stream orange. Locals were aghast, of course.

When the river ran orange, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency had already added the mine to its list of Superfund sites for closely monitored cleanup, but the extent of the problem was still being determined.


While the river today looks normal — with the exception of some of the orange-tinged boulders in the river — the cleanup continues and will into the foreseeable future.

The “responsible party” for the mine cleanup is CBS, which acquired the mine when it bought Viacom, the previous responsible party. The mine ended up in the hands of those media companies via previous acquisitions and mergers. Today, CBS still pays for much of the work, and will essentially forever. The state and federal governments are also involved.

Because water continues to seep into the mine works — a vast underground network of caverns and tunnels — contaminated water is piped out of the mine and treated at a site at Maloit Park in Minturn. About 250 gallons of water per minute comes out of the mine and is pumped into a facility that allows heavy metals to settle out. About 250 pounds of metallic sludge per day comes out of the water.

Eagle River Basin
Eagle River Basin


The Eagle River Watershed Council was created out of that environmental disaster. The group, which today looks at the entire length of the river, remains intimately involved in the continuing work at the mine.

“There’s been a lot of progress,” council director Holly Loff said. “But there could always be more.”

The biggest issue today is the age of the equipment, particularly the pipelines carrying contaminated water to the treatment plant. That pipeline, which is above ground in a harsh winter environment, sprung a handful of notable leaks a few years ago. One, in 2009, turned the river orange again for a brief period. Another, bigger spill in 2012 put 428,000 gallons of contaminated water into the river, turning it green.

When word came about those spills, the Eagle River Water & Sanitation District shut off the intake to its Avon water treatment plant.

The district’s Todd Fessenden, who is in charge of drinking water treatment and supplies, said the Avon plant was built to accommodate and treat the metals in the river, but not in the concentrations seen when there’s a spill. That’s why the intakes were shut down.


Given the complexity of the mine’s treatment system, Loff said it’s important to have more and better monitoring on the pipeline and pumps, since humans can’t have their eyes on the system all the time.

“They’re moving toward real-time remote monitoring,” Loff said.

Eagle River Water & Sanitation District community affairs director Diane Johnson said the district uses remote monitors at many of its facilities, and they work well. One monitor, in a remote area without cell phone service, is linked to a satellite.

At the moment, though, sometimes the district gets some notifications the old-fashioned way — someone in town will notice something about the river and make a call.

The latest “The Current” newsletter is hot off the presses from the Eagle River Watershed Council #ColoradoRiver #COriver

Click here to read the newsletter. Here’s an excerpt:

Restoration means another chapter for historic Camp Hale
Marcus Selig
August 1, 2015

Most residents and many visitors to Vail and the Eagle River Valley know of Camp Hale as a former WWII mountain warfare training camp and current recreation mecca…

Fewer visitors, however, know that this area – Eagle Park – was once a pristine, high-elevation wetland complex… When the U. S. Government constructed Camp Hale in the early 1940s, over 340 acres of wetlands were filled and over five miles of stream channel were lost as the Eagle River was channelized into a linear ditch.

Throughout the last several decades, the White River National Forest has attempted to restore some of the area’s original ecological values. Unfortunately, numerous issues… have stymied progress.

Recently, however, the National Forest Foundation, in coordination with the White River National Forest, spearheaded an effort to attempt large-scale ecological restoration at the site. This effort has garnered significant community and stakeholder support, and appears to have a realistic shot at success…

Marcus Selig is the Director of the Southern Rockies Region for the National Forest Foundation. Selig is a friend of the Watershed Council and wrote this article for our monthly column, The Current, in the Vail Daily. Click here to read more of what he had to say.

Transmountain diversion concepts discussed in Rifle — Aspen Journalism #COWaterPlan #ColoradoRiver #CORiver

Homestake Dam via Aspen Journalism
The dam that forms Homestake Reservoir on Homestake Creek, a tributary of the Eagle River. An agreement allows for more water to be developed as part of this transmountain diversion project.

From Aspen Journalism (Brent Gardner-Smith):

James Eklund, the director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board, invoked his Western Slope heritage at a “Summit on the Colorado Water Plan” hosted Saturday in Rifle by the Garfield County commissioners.

“The mantra I grew up with in Plateau Valley was not one more drop of water will be moved from this side of the state to the other,” said Eklund, whose mother’s family has been ranching in the Plateau Creek valley near Collbran since the 1880s.

Eklund was speaking to a room of about 50 people, including representatives from 14 Western Slope counties, all of whom had been invited by the Garfield County commissioners for a four-hour meeting.

The commissioners’ stated goal for the meeting was to develop a unified voice from the Western Slope stating that “no more water” be diverted to the Front Range.

“That argument had been made, probably by my great-grandparents, my grandparents and my parents,” Eklund said. “And I know there are a lot of people who still want to make that argument today, and I get that. But it has not done us well on the Western Slope.

“That argument has gotten us to were we are now, 500,000 to 600,000 acre feet of water moving from the west to the east. So I guess the status quo is not West Slope-friendly. We need something different. We need a different path. And these seven points provides that different path.”

The “seven points” form the basis of a “draft conceptual framework” for future negotiations regarding a potential transmountain diversion in Colorado.

The framework is the result of the ongoing statewide water-supply planning process that Eklund is overseeing in his role at the CWCB.

Eklund took the helm two years ago at the CWCB after serving as Gov. John Hickenlooper’s senior deputy legal counsel, and he’s been leading the effort to produce the state’s first water plan, which is due on the governor’s desk in December.

The second draft of the plan includes the seven points, even though the Colorado River Basin Roundtable, which meets monthly in Glenwood Springs under the auspices of the CWCB, is still on the record as opposing their inclusion in the water plan. That could change after its meeting on Monday.

The outflow of the Bousted Tunnel just above Turquoise Reservoir near Leadville. The tunnel moves water from tributaries of the Roaring Fork and Fryingpan rivers under the Continental Divide for use by Front Range cities, and Pitkin County officials have concerns that more water will someday be sent through it.
The outflow of the Bousted Tunnel just above Turquoise Reservoir near Leadville. The tunnel moves water from tributaries of the Roaring Fork and Fryingpan rivers under the Continental Divide for use by Front Range cities, and Pitkin County officials have concerns that more water will someday be sent through it.

Not legally binding

The “seven points” seeks to define the issues the Western Slope likely has with more water flowing east under the Continental Divide, and especially how a new transmountain diversion could hasten a demand from California for Colorado’s water under the 1922 Colorado River Compact.

“The seven points are uniquely helpful to Western Slope interests because if you tick through them, they are statements that the Front Range doesn’t necessarily have to make,” Eklund said in response to a question. “If these were legally binding, the Western Slope would benefit.”

Under Colorado water law a Front Range water provider, say, can file for a right to move water to the east, and a local county or water district might have little recourse other than perhaps to fight the effort through a permitting process.

But Eklund said the points in the “conceptual framework” could be invoked by the broader Western Slope when negotiating a new transmountain diversion.

As such, a diverter might at least have to acknowledge that water may not be available in dry years, that the diversion shouldn’t exacerbate efforts to forestall a compact call, that other water options on the Front Range, including increased conservation, should be developed first, that a new transmountain diversion shouldn’t preclude future growth on the Western Slope, and that the environmental resiliency of the donor river would need to be addressed.

“We’re just better off with them than without them,” Eklund said of the seven points.

The downstream face of the dam that forms Homestake Reservoir on Homestake Creek, a tributary of the upper Eagle River. A tunnel moves water from Homestake Reservoir to Turquoise Reservoir, near Leadville.
The downstream face of the dam that forms Homestake Reservoir on Homestake Creek, a tributary of the upper Eagle River. A tunnel moves water from Homestake Reservoir to Turquoise Reservoir, near Leadville.

A cap on the Colorado?

Eric Kuhn, the general manager of the Colorado River District, which is based in Glenwood Springs and represents 15 Western Slope counties, told the attendees that three existing agreements effectively cap how much more water can be diverted from the upper Colorado River and its tributaries above Glenwood Springs.

The Colorado Water Cooperative Agreement, which was signed in 2013 by 18 entities, allows Denver Water to develop another 18,000 acre-feet from the Fraser River as part of the Moffat, or Gross Reservoir, project, but it also includes a provision that would restrict other participating Front Range water providers from developing water from the upper Colorado River.

A second agreement will allow Northern Water to move another 30,000 acre feet of water out of the Colorado River through its Windy Gap facilities, but Northern has agreed that if it develops future projects, it will have to do so in a cooperative manner with West Slope interests.

And a third agreement known as the Eagle River Memorandum of Understanding will allow Aurora and Colorado Springs to develop another 20,000 acre feet of water as part of the Homestake project in the Eagle River basin, but will also provide 10,000 acre feet for Western Slope use.

“So effectively these three agreements, in effect, cap what you’re going to see above Glenwood Springs,” Kuhn said.

The Moffat, Windy Gap and Eagle River projects are not subject to the “seven points” in the conceptual agreement, and neither is the water that could be taken by the full use of these and other existing transmountain projects.

“So when you add all that up, there is an additional 100,000 to 150,000 acre-feet of consumptive use already in existing projects,” Kuhn said.

But beyond that, Kuhn said Front Range water providers desire security and want to avoid a compact call, just as the Western Slope does.

“We’ve been cussing and discussing transmountain diversions for 85 years,” Kuhn added, noting that the Colorado Constitution does not allow the Western Slope to simply say “no” to Front Range water developers.

“So, the framework is an agenda,” Kuhn said, referring to the “seven points.” “It’s not the law, but it is a good agenda to keep us on track. It includes important new concepts, like avoiding over development and protecting existing uses.”

rquoise Reservoir, which stores water brought under the Continental Divide from the Eagle, Fryingpan and Roaring Fork river headwaters.
rquoise Reservoir, which stores water brought under the Continental Divide from the Eagle, Fryingpan and Roaring Fork river headwaters.

Vet other projects too?

Rachel Richards, a Pitkin County commissioner, told the attendees that she would like to see more water projects than just new transmountain diversions be subject to the seven points.

As part of the state’s water-supply planning efforts, state officials have designated a list of projects as already “identified projects and processes,” or IPPs, which are not subject to the seven points.

“We would like to see the same environmental standards, and community buy-in standards, applied to increasing existing transmountain diversions or IPPs,” Richards said, noting that the “IPPs” seem to be wearing a halo.

“They need to go through just as much vetting for concern of the communities as a new transmountain diversion would, and we’re probably going to see a lot more of them first,” she said.

At the end of the four-hour summit on the statewide water plan, Garfield County Commissioner Mike Sampson said he still had “real concerns” about the long-term viability of Western Slope agriculture and industry in the face of growth on the Front Range, but he offered some support for the seven points.

“I think the seven points is probably a good starting position,” Sampson said.

He also said Garfield County would make some edits to a draft position paper it hopes will be adopted by other Western Slope counties.

On Saturday, the draft paper said “the elected county commissioners on the Western Slope of Colorado stand united in opposing any more major, transmountain diversions or major changes in operation of existing projects unless agreed to by all of the county(s) from which water would be diverted.”

But Sampson was advised, and agreed, that it might be productive to reframe that key statement to articulate what the Western Slope would support, not what it would oppose.

Editor’s note: Aspen Journalism is collaborating with the Glenwood Springs Post Independent and The Aspen Times on coverage of rivers and water. The Post published this story online on July 25, 2015.

More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.

Pueblo Board of Water Works approves participation in #ColoradoRiver conservation pilot program

Alan Ward stands at the Ewing Ditch headgate,
Alan Ward stands at the Ewing Ditch headgate,

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

A pilot program that would leave some of Pueblo’s water on the Western Slope — for a fee — was approved by the Pueblo Board of Water Works Tuesday.

The program would pay Pueblo Water about $400,000 over the next two years to leave 600 acre-feet (195 million gallons) in the Colorado River basin. It’s part of an $11 million pilot project to test tools that could be part of a Colorado River drought conservancy plan.

The program is sponsored by the Upper Colorado River Commission, Bureau of Reclamation, Southern Nevada Water Authority, Denver Water, Central Arizona Water Conservation District and the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California.

About $2.75 million is set aside for conservation programs in the Upper Colorado states, which are Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming. Pueblo would contribute the water in a fairly painless way by shutting down the diversion of the Ewing Ditch, which brings water into the Arkansas River basin from Piney Gulch in the Eagle River basin.

The diversion is one of the oldest in the state, constructed in 1880 at Tennessee Pass.

The diversion ditch originally was dug by the Otero Canal and was purchased in 1954 by Pueblo Water. It delivers an average of about 920 acre-feet, but in wet years like this one, not all of the water is taken.

Pueblo’s storage accounts are full this year, with 52,174 acre-feet in storage, equivalent to two years of potable water use in the city. Pueblo’s total water use annually, including raw water leases and other obligations, is usually 70,000-80,000 acre-feet.

Typically, about 14,700 acre-feet would be brought across the Continental Divide, but this year, only about 5,760 acre-feet has arrived from all transmountain sources.

“There’s no place to put it,” Water Resources Manager Alan Ward told the water board this week. “It’s close to as much as we’ve ever had in storage.”

The Ewing Ditch contribution is about 37 percent of average this year, similar to Twin Lakes, which was shut down when the reservoir near Leadville reached capacity in May. Pueblo Water brought over 71 percent of its Busk-Ivanhoe water even though it was trying not to take any, Ward said.