Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District board approves 2016 budget

Fryingpan-Arkansas Project via the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District
Fryingpan-Arkansas Project via the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

A $22.5 million budget was reviewed Thursday by the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District board.

The board will meet at 11 a.m. Dec. 3 to give final approval to the budget.

Most of the budget, about $12.3 million, goes toward repaying the federal government for construction of the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project. Of that, $5.3 million repays the Fountain Valley Conduit through an assessment only on the portion of the district in El Paso County, according to a presentation by Leann Noga, finance coordinator.

Districtwide, a 0.9 mill levy will collect about $7 million to repay the Fry-Ark debt. The rate will not change.

A total operating budget of $4 million is projected, funded by a 0.035 mill levy, specific ownership tax, enterprise contract revenues and grants.

The district’s primary projects in the coming year will be continued work on the Arkansas Valley Conduit, negotiating a federal contract for an excess capacity master contract to store water in Lake Pueblo and adding hydropower to the North Outlet Works at Pueblo Dam.

The hydropower project is a joint venture with Colorado Springs Utilities and Pueblo Water and is expected to total $5.2 million, but the cost is reflected in the Southeastern district budget since it is the lead agency.

Snowpack news: Good start to the water year

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Although it’s way too early to make a prediction, the water year so far is shaping up better than last year.

“We’re in much better shape than we were at this time last year,” Alan Ward, water resources manager for Pueblo Water, said Tuesday.

All the indicators are good — maybe too good if there is such a thing when it comes to water supply.

Snowpack, boosted again by a storm this week, is above average in both the Arkansas and Colorado river basins.

Pueblo is storing nearly 50,000 acre-feet of water (16.3 billion gallons) in four reservoirs (Lake Pueblo, Clear Creek, Turquoise and Twin Lakes).

“We have more than we’d like at Twin Lakes, but we’re waiting to see how likely a spill (at Lake Pueblo next spring) will be before we move it down,” Ward said.

Lake Pueblo began storing winter water Sunday and is likely to reach capacity in April, when water above a certain level has to be evacuated to make room for flood control.

That depends, however, on whether conditions stay wet over the next few months. The National Weather Service Climate Prediction Center shows it is likely that conditions will be wetter than average through next May.

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Lake Pueblo is likely to fill to the brim and some water stored there released to make room for flooding next spring.

The prognosis came Thursday at the meeting of the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District.

“The bad news is the (Army) Corps (of Engineers) will not provide deviation this year,” said Jim Broderick, executive director of the Southeastern district. “The good news is they would be glad to take an informal look at our requests.”

The Corps has granted a deviation from a regimen that requires a certain level in Lake Pueblo by April 15, allowing water to remain in the reservoir until May 1, when flows increase and calls for water typically increase.

By that time, the reservoir is usually swollen from winter water storage and more water from upstream reservoirs that has been moved by the Bureau of Reclamation or other users.

Going into the winter, Lake Pueblo is at 138 percent of average, storing about 185,000 acre-feet of water. If average amounts of water are moved in over the winter, almost 20,000 acre-feet of water stored in Lake Pueblo by then could “spill,” or be released early.

One of the ideas Broderick mentioned was to use a sliding pool, based on the likelihood of flooding, that would allow for additional storage later in the season.

Opening the concept up formally could have the drawback of the need for an environmental impact statement that potentially could result in an even more restrictive storage regime.

This year resulted in nearly record flows on the Arkansas River, said Bill Banks, new chief of the U.S. Geological Survey in Pueblo. Nearly 1 million acre-feet of water flowed past the gauge at Avondale this year, which is at the top of the range over the past 40 years and nearly twice the typical year.

The Corps has granted deviation in storage criteria in recent years, partly for repairs and construction on the Arkansas River levee. That would not be needed this year.

Last spring’s high flows resulted in filling some of the flood-control capacity in Lake Pueblo.

Arkansas River Basin: Winter water storage starts up

Straight line diagram of the Lower Arkansas Valley ditches via Headwaters
Straight line diagram of the Lower Arkansas Valley ditches via Headwaters

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Some Arkansas Valley farmers remember — and not too fondly — the cold, blustery and sometimes snowy days around this time of year when they’d venture out to irrigation headgates and fight the ice to move water.

For the past 40 years, most have not had that chilly experience. The water is stored either in Lake Pueblo, John Martin Reservoir or along the Arkansas River in a ditch company’s reservoir.

On Sunday, winter water storage began this year, reflecting one of those unusual cases when all of the water interests in the Arkansas River basin appear to be rowing in the same direction.

“The best thing we did was the winter water program,” said Carl Genova, a Pueblo County farmer, when he left the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District board in 2009. “The district was able to get all those people together.”

To be fair, achieving harmony in the program was no simple task. Ditch companies that had snarled at each other for a century came together in 1975 when Pueblo Dam had been completed to fulfill a vision from the Dust Bowl days of the 1930s.

The idea isn’t complicated: You hold back the flows of the Arkansas River for a few months when no crops are growing for use later in the season.

But the execution of that concept is as complicated as the hit-or-miss, use-it-or-lose-it water conditions farmers in Southeastern Colorado have always labored under.

The winter water storage program was voluntary for the first 12 years, until a court decree was issued in 1987. The decree required participation not only by ditch companies, but by Pueblo and Colorado Springs as well. The Southeastern district administers and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and Corps of Engineers operate two of the reservoirs used in the program.

And, oh yeah, Kansas also accused Colorado of violating the Arkansas River Compact when it filed suit in the U.S. Supreme Court in 1985. The special master in the case threw out that claim a decade later.

Winter water has operated every year since 1975, with the exception of 1978, when the Catlin Canal refused to join because of a lawsuit with the Colorado Game and Fish Department. The program was diminished in 1998-99, when the safety of dams program lowered the level of Lake Pueblo temporarily so the dam could be reinforced.

In most years, it boils down to a math problem for farmers to contemplate during the chilly months. The water is allocated to the participating ditch companies and stored where they can best use it.

Over the past 20 years, it has stored an average of about 130,000 acrefeet (40 billion gallons) of water annually for use in the following irrigation season. The water is stored from Nov. 15-March 15.

During wet years, some winter water spilled — about 300,000 acre-feet total — from Lake Pueblo because there was no place to store it. Priority storage in Lake Pueblo goes to ditch companies that do not have their own reservoirs.

In recent years, there have been some quirky ripples surrounding the winter water program.

The release of water through Pueblo to support its Gold Medal trout fishery in the winter months became an issue during negotiations surrounding Pueblo Water, Aurora and Colorado Springs use of Lake Pueblo in 2004. The cities agreed not to exchange water into Lake Pueblo during low-flow periods.

The city of Pueblo had placed boulders in the river below Pueblo Dam to improve fish habitat, and having water during the river months became more critical. Pueblo already was gaining a reputation as a winter fishing mecca during times when other sites were less accessible.

The very next year, Arkansas River flows dried up as the winter water program sought to balance its accounts in Lake Pueblo because too much water had been stored in reservoirs below Pueblo.

After the same thing happened briefly in 2007, water users agreed to leave 100 cubic feet per second in the river and sort out the accounting later.

Three years later, the Pueblo Conservancy District needed to make emergency repairs to the levee through the Downtown Whitewater Park, partly caused by concrete anchors of parts of the kayak course that were attached to the levee.

By storing winter water in Lake Pueblo, flows in the Arkansas River are kept artificially low, making for favorable construction conditions.

That lesson was remembered last year, when the district began a complete rebuild of the levee through Pueblo and timed the work in the river bottom to the reduced flow period.

Winter water storage also places a very junior call on the river, 1910, that allows many junior rights in the Arkansas River basin — both upstream and downstream — to use or store water that might otherwise not be available.

Southern Delivery System moving along

Southern Delivery System route map -- Graphic / Reclamation
Southern Delivery System route map — Graphic / Reclamation

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Colorado Springs Utilities got a clean bill of health from Pueblo County’s weed manager Monday and answered questions raised at a Sept. 25 hearing about revegetation along the 17-mile route of the Southern Delivery System through Pueblo County.

Still, commissioners want more time to study documents submitted and continue a public hearing on SDS 1041 permit commitments to 9 a.m. on Dec. 8.

Utilities needs to fulfill conditions of Pueblo County’s 1041 permit for SDS in order to turn on its pipeline from Pueblo Dam to Colorado Springs next April. Revegetation compliance also would release $674,000 Pueblo County is holding under of the permit.

Utilities revealed it has spent more than $5.3 million on revegetation work already.

Colorado Springs provided point-by-point assurances on 17 issues raised on Sept. 25, when experts from both camps agreed Utilities had tackled the problem with state-of-the-art methods. Utilities also provided documentation from contractors that the work was done correctly, and that most landowners were satisfied with the work.

“We need to work through the (final) issues to protect the citizens of Pueblo County,” said Commissioner Terry Hart, who made a motion to take the comments under advisement and continue the hearing. “What we’re trying to do is look at the work in its totality.”

Hart, along with Commissioners Liane “Buffie” McFadyen and Sal Pace, had little criticism of Utilities’ report, which pledged further work with landowners as well as reviewing procedures already put in place to bring land disturbed by SDS construction back to its original condition or better.

“It’s light years ahead of other projects,” Hart said.

Bill Alt, who manages Pueblo County’s weed control program through the Turkey Creek Conservation District, agreed. Alt toured the pipeline route last week and said Colorado Springs has lived up to its responsibilities to reseed ground disturbed by SDS.

“The grass is up and doing well,” Alt said.

“Some of the tamarisk has been dug up by the roots and removed, and the topsoil has been replaced as in any mining operation.”

The problem is that the areas on either side of the 150-foot path of SDS are still susceptible to tumbleweeds (Russian knapweed) and tamarisk, which could still find their way back onto the treated area, particularly on the route north of U.S. 50, Alt said.

Some landowners have mowed or grazed the revegetated areas prematurely instead of allowing new grasses a chance to get established, he added.

“Everything is fine for what we looked at,” Alt said. “We did not go on Walker Ranches, although I would like to go because that’s where the erosion is.”

The Walker Ranches crossing is being handled under a $7.4 million settlement as a result of a jury verdict.

Colorado Springs also said it is working on a settlement with Dwain Maxwell, a Pueblo West resident who complained about the project at an earlier hearing. Utilities also has taken on a separate project to divert floodwater around a property just south of Walker Ranches in Pueblo West.

From (Jessi Mitchell):

As part of the deal, the utility company had to repair the land after digging up 50 miles of dirt to bury the 66-inch pipe, restoring at least 90% of the vegetation that was in place before. CSU showed the county that they have gone above and beyond the requirements, but commissioners have not yet released them from the commitment.

“The work that we’ve got done so far is already light-years ahead of other projects,” admits commissioner Terry Hart. Pueblo County commissioners applauded CSU for its nearly $5.4 million efforts to re-seed and irrigate the lands it plowed through to plant the SDS pipeline.

Landowners agree, giving high praise in a report to the way workers left things better than before.

CSU’s SDS permitting and compliance manager Mark Pifher says, “We put in a very extensive irrigation system. If I had to guess, it’s probably the biggest irrigation system ever installed in Colorado.

Commissioners had lots of questions when they first met to review the re-vegetation process in September, many of which addressed future concerns over erosion and management of the property. Pifher says doing a good job is about more than protecting the pipeline; it is about respecting the landowners as well. “It’s important that you do it with a mindset that this is like your property,” says Pifher, “how would you like it restored and put back into its historic condition, if you will.”

Bill Alt has been working closely with the group to oversee the management of noxious weeds throughout the easements, which have been removed on the property in question, but remain nearby and are likely to spread. Alt suggests CSU send a notice to the owners about maintaining the landscaping moving forward. “It needs some tender, loving care,” says Alt, “and it’s good for your property because it keeps the property value up. It’s not something you’re ashamed to show a realtor or other people.”

Commissioners will meet with Colorado Springs Utilities again Dec. 8 to make sure no other questions arise before checking re-vegetation off the long SDS checklist. The only other big issue standing in the way of water flowing north is Colorado Springs’ stormwater management efforts.

To access all official documents on the SDS, including CSU’s latest report, click here.

Arkansas River winter storage program update: “We can’t predict where the water will be stored” — Phil Reynolds

Pueblo Dam
Pueblo Dam

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Conditions are right for a big year of winter water storage, but the problem may be where to put it all.

“We can’t predict where the water will be stored,” Phil Reynolds of the Colorado Division of Water Resources told the annual meeting of the winter water storage group.

The group is made up of the large canals east of Pueblo. After Pueblo Dam was completed in 1975, irrigators were able to curtail flows during the winter months and use the water later in the season. Under a court decree, water is stored from Nov. 15-March 15 under the program administered by the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District.

Last year, more than 128,000 acre-feet (41.7 billion gallons) of water was stored in Lake Pueblo, John Martin Reservoir or oŸ-channel reservoirs operated by some of the ditch companies. That’s more than the five-year average and close to the 20-year average.

The problem this year is that record rains in May and early June filled up most reservoirs.

While some of the water was used during the relatively dry months at the end of summer, reservoirs in the Lower Arkansas Valley are well above normal.

Winter conditions could be wet because of a strong El Nino condition. In similar years, that has meant a heavy spring runoff, said Terry Dawson of the Bureau of Reclamation.

Lake Pueblo is already at 138 percent of capacity — a capacity that recently was deemed smaller because of sedimentation in the reservoir.

“We are afraid at this point we may be in danger of spilling,” Dawson said.

But it won’t be the farmers’ water that spills. There are still 22,723 acre-feet of this year’s winter water that will be released next spring, and an estimated 50,000 acre-feet of new water that could come into Lake Pueblo this winter.

Before that could spill, however, water stored in temporary accounts or under long-term municipal contracts would be released.

Anticipating that, Aurora, whose water would spill first, already is making plans to drain its account through leases to Colorado Parks and Wildlife, which will use the water in the Great Plains Reservoirs that are part of the Amity Canal system.

Reynolds identified more than 100,000 acrefeet of practical storage space that could be used downstream of Lake Pueblo. There are also 140,000 acre-feet available in the Great Plains Reservoirs.

However, winter water must be distributed equally to canal companies, and John Martin or the large reservoirs operated by Amity and the Fort Lyon Canal cannot be used by everyone.

The space in Lake Pueblo will get even tighter during the winter water program because Reclamation plans to run some water from Turquoise and Twin Lakes into the reservoir to make room for next year’s Fryingpan-Arkansas imports.

“We’ll need to know where and how much you plan to store, so we know what’s stored in Lake Pueblo and what can be moved,” said Jim Broderick, Southeastern executive director.

Straight line diagram of the Lower Arkansas Valley ditches via Headwaters Magazine, Colorado Foundation for Water Education
Straight line diagram of the Lower Arkansas Valley ditches via Headwaters Magazine, Colorado Foundation for Water Education

Southeastern Water board meeting recap: Lake Pueblo sedimentation discussed

Pueblo dam releases
Pueblo dam releases

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Lake Pueblo is slowly filling with sediment that has reduced its capacity to hold water by about 7 percent over the last 40 years.

The equivalent of 19 feet of dirt over a football field, or 19 acre-feet, is coating various parts of the bottom of the reservoir, a natural consequence for any lake fed by streams and rivers.

The capacity for conservation storage — accounts that can be emptied and refilled — is down to 245,800 acre-feet.

The Bureau of Reclamation made the determination to apply the new limits at the beginning of the water year on Oct. 1 based on data collected in 2012, said Roy Vaughan, manager of the Fryingpan- Arkansas Project. It’s the first detailed look at sedimentation since 1994, when Reclamation found deposits were less than expected because the Arkansas River maintained its current at the bottom of the lake.

At Thursday’s meeting of the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District board, the impact on future storage was discussed.

“We’re looking at water for the next generation,” said Jim Broderick, executive director of the Southeastern district. “We’ve been in a wetter period for the last couple of years, and reservoir levels have been near the top.”

About 25,000 acre-feet — nearly the amount Pueblo Water pumps in a year — could spill next spring if weather conditions are normal through the winter months and water is used in the same fashion as in the past. Lake Pueblo water levels still are about 138 percent of average, even though some water has been released over the past three months.

“What are the solutions?” Broderick asked Vaughan.

“Enlargement or dredging,” Vaughan replied quickly. “It’s been a 7 percent reduction over (40) years. That’s not to say something could be put in place. But what are the costs and who’s willing to pay?”

A third option would be to time storage and releases among users of the dam.

Two of the options, enlargement and re-operations, were considered in the district’s Preferred Storage Options Plan, largely abandoned when it stalemated after a decade of contention among Arkansas Valley water users.

Re-operations have largely been addressed by long-term federal contracts that overlay the basic protocol for Pueblo Dam’s operation.

Physical enlargement of the dam likely would mean reopening negotiations.

Dredging has its own issue. For one thing, the sediment is broadly spread over the floor of the lake, and is not lying in a big chunk that could be scooped out. According to the Reclamation report, it’s not settling in the area immediately above the lowest outlet on the dam.

Dredging might also worsen water quality, adding costs for treatment.
There are other economic considerations.

“The Fry-Ark water will stay in place because it’s cheap,” Broderick said. “But can you get your water out if you bring it in from transmountain sources? How much is the water worth? If we lose storage, how do we replace that?”

Board member Vera Ortegon said water users have managed water in the past so it does not spill. Water does not actually shlosh out of the dam, but is released to keep levels low enough to contain potential floods from upstream.

“We have not spilled much, have we?” Ortegon asked.

“No,” Vaughan said. “But we use additional storage in wet years, and then it’s pulled down in a dry cycle. You have to figure out what to do in wet years, so enlargement still comes into play.”

More from the Chieftain:

Lake Pueblo

  • Lake Pueblo began storing water in January 1974 and released water the next year.
  • Its total crest is almost 2 miles long, with 23 concrete buttresses in the center of the earthen dam.
  • Its original capacity to store 265,000 acrefeet for conservation use has been reduced to 245,800 acrefeet
  • The 550foot spillway at an elevation of 4,898 feet is designed to carry 191,500 cubic feet per second when the reservoir is at maximum elevation, 4,919 feet. That has never happened.
  • There are five outlets on the dam, all with multilevel intakes: Bessemer Ditch (393 cfs), the north outlet works (1120 cfs), the spillway outlets (8,190 cfs), the fish hatchery (30 cfs) and the south outlet works (345 cfs). To reduce flooding downstream, releases to the river are usually kept below 6,000 cfs.
  • Flows below the dam are timed to match water coming into the reservoir, except when water is being released from accounts or stored by exchange or in the winter water program.
  • Sedimentation could be accelerated if erosion increases on tributaries above Lake Pueblo, including runoff from areas damaged by large wildfires (such as the Royal Gorge Fire in 2013) or prolonged rain (such as road washouts in Fremont County earlier this year).
  • Fryingpan-Arkansas Project operations update: Surplus supply going into water year 2016

    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

    What to do with all the water?

    The Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District tackled the question Thursday by approving additional allocations requested by cities and farms in the Arkansas Valley.

    But more than half of additional water brought in by the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project will be carried over to next year and added to next year’s allocations.

    In May, the district allocated about 46,000 acre-feet (15 billion gallons), with about one-third going to cities and two-thirds to farms. But continued wet conditions added another 22,500 acre-feet to the amount available for allocation.

    A total of 72,000 acrefeet were imported, but some of it goes for other obligations or to account for losses.

    Wet conditions and the way water has to be delivered or accounted for cut down on demand for the additional water, Executive Director Jim Broderick explained.
    Most cities had plenty of water in storage and not many places to store additional water.

    “A lot of people were at their limit and not making request,” Broderick said. “It’s been a wet year and there is no place to put the water. Everything got full.”

    The big exception was the Pueblo Board of Water Works, which did not take any water from the first allocation. Pueblo Water took 6,500 acre-feet. All told, cities added 8,200 acre-feet to their supplies.

    The large canal companies downstream did not jump at all of the additional water either, because there was no way to store it for when it would be needed. About 2,600 acre-feet were allocated during the second round.

    That still leaves about 11,700 acre-feet that was brought over from the Fryingpan River basin through the Boustead Tunnel into Turquoise Lake for later distribution in the Arkansas River basin.

    “It will be applied to the first allocation next year,” Broderick said. “My guess is that a lot of the water is going to be available to agriculture.”

    That could create a problem even with average moisture next spring, raising the possibility that water stored in excess capacity, or if-and-when accounts, could spill.

    About 55,000 acre-feet of if-and-when water is stored in Lake Pueblo now, about one-quarter of the water in the reservoir.

    Some winter water could also spill, if the amount exceeds 70,000 acre-feet. About 24,000 acre-feet are now in storage. However, winter water could be stored downstream as well.

    Turquoise and Twin Lakes are nearly storing at capacity. Lake Pueblo is at 80 percent of capacity, but 145 percent of average for this time of year, according to Roy Vaughan, manager of the Fry-Ark Project for the Bureau of Reclamation.

    If water conditions are typical, 26,000 acre-feet could spill next spring, but it is too soon to make an accurate prediction, Vaughan said. But he said most forecasts are calling for at least 100 percent of snowpack.

    “Part of the question is are we bringing water in and using it that year, or are we storing it?” Broderick said. “For the past few years, we have been using other water and storing (Fry-Ark) water.”

    Fryingpan-Arkansas Project via the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District
    Fryingpan-Arkansas Project via the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District