#COWaterPlan The big water game (#cwcac2016) — state sees need for $14B worth of water projects — Aspen Journalism

Denver Water is seeking approvals from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the state of Colorado to expand Gross Reservoir, which is southwest of Boulder. The 77,000 acre-foot expansion would help forestall shortages in Denver Water’s water system and offer flood and drought protection, according to Denver Water.
Denver Water is seeking approvals from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the state of Colorado to expand Gross Reservoir, which is southwest of Boulder. The 77,000 acre-foot expansion would help forestall shortages in Denver Water’s water system and offer flood and drought protection, according to Denver Water.

From Aspen Journalism (Brent Gardner-Smith):

With the recently released Colorado Water Plan calling for 400,000 acre feet of new water storage facilities, many of the state’s water providers and users are eager to get an estimated $13 to $14 billion worth of projects underway.

But just which projects, built with exactly what money, is not yet clear.

“Welcome to the Super Bowl of water,” said James Eklund, the director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board, which produced the water plan, in a Jan. 27 address to the members of the Colorado Water Congress in Denver. “To this one you all have a ticket. And you all bleed for our team, as we’re all Coloradoans.”

The water plan, put together in two years by the staff of the CWCB with the input of nine river-basin roundtables, does not include a prioritized list of projects, or, one could say, a detailed game plan.

Such a to-do list may emerge relatively soon, however, as the roundtables are now being asked by the CWCB to update their “basin implementation plans” and to identify, screen and recommend locally prioritized projects.

The roundtables have also now been tasked to work on a $1 million update of the 2010 Statewide Water Supply Initiative, or SWSI (“swahzi.”). It’s a more technical document than the Colorado Water Plan, which was weighted toward policy and process.

“Yes, the light at the end of the water plan tunnel turned out to be the oncoming SWSI train,” said Brent Newman, a program manager in the water supply planning division at CWCB.

In addition to sharpening its physical plans, the CWCB and the Interbasin Compact Committee, which includes members from each roundtable, are developing a funding plan.

“We know that the $14 to $16 billion of projects that we need, the state’s not going to pay for all that, water providers will find ways to finance that, but in order to provide a ten percent guarantee loan for those, we need to $1.4 to $1.6 billion between now and 2050,” Jacob Bornstein, a progam manager in CWCB’s water supply planning department, told the members of the Water Congress on Jan. 29. (Bornstein has since taken a position at the Spark Policy Institute in Denver).

And the real state funding need, adding in the cost of environmental restoration and public education programs, may be closer to $3 billion.

“So that’s really what we’re talking about,” he told the Water Congress. “It will probably take some type of initiative, or something like that,” Bornstein said, suggesting a statewide ballot initiative.

And so a current option being explored is to put a statewide funding question in front of voters that would raise $100 million a year, or $3 billion, by 2050.

The state then envisions creating a 10-percent guaranteed-loan fund of $1.3 to $1.4 billion to help spark projects ranging from piping irrigation ditches to building large dams.

“In order for us to achieve the goals of the water plan, which are the goals of the population of the state over the next 20 to 50 years, it’s going to take a lot of money,” Russ George, a member of the CWCB board of directors, said during a January meeting. “And there isn’t any other source of money. The federal government is not in the water business in the same way it had been in the last century. So it’s the state that has to take the lead, and lead always means we have to bring some money to the table.”

The Colorado Water Conservation Board, after unveiling the Colorado Water Plan in Denver in November 2015. The board includes eight voting members from river basins in Colorado and one voting member from the city and county of Denver. Russ George, far left, represents the Colorado River basin.
The Colorado Water Conservation Board, after unveiling the Colorado Water Plan in Denver in November 2015. The board includes eight voting members from river basins in Colorado and one voting member from the city and county of Denver. Russ George, far left, represents the Colorado River basin.

Project funding drops

The CWCB’s approach of using the basin roundtables to prioritize and promote projects, and help develop state plans, can be cumbersome and time-consuming. The Colorado River basin roundtable, for example, has 50 members with diverse views and meets every other month in Glenwood Springs for four hours.

And some roundtable members around the state were disheartened to find out in January, fresh off a frantic push to finish the Colorado Water Plan by December, that state funding for basin-specific project grants was going to drop sharply due to the downward swing in severance tax revenue.

The last two years the CWCB has received $10 million in revenue from taxes levied on oil and gas extraction, which is shared between a statewide account and nine basin roundtable accounts.

But the recent downturn in the gas patch, combined with a lagged property-tax deduction for gas producers, has state officials facing a 25 to 50 percent drop in funding for water projects over the next two years, at least.

“So while normally in January the Arkansas roundtable would get $120,000 in their basin account, it may be closer to between $60,000 and $100,000,” said Newman, during a presentation in January to the Arkansas roundtable in Pueblo.

Roundtable grants usually cover only a portion of the cost of a water project, but they are a stamp of approval and a recommendation to the CWCB for 
statewide funding.

“You better expect less money,” said Diane Hoppe, the chair of the CWCB board, told the Arkansas roundtable members on Jan. 13.

The day before, she told the South Platte basin roundtable, which meets in Longmont, “Be cautious about what you’re going to spend money on.”

And George, her fellow CWCB board member, re-emphasized that point during the CWCB board meeting on Jan. 25 in Denver, just as the board was in the process of approving a series of roundtable-recommended water project grants.

“We have put in a tremendous effort to create a window into Colorado’s water future, that proposes solutions instead of fighting,” George said, referring to the Colorado Water Plan. “And just as we launch it, we are told ‘Oh, and by the way, never mind, there is nothing to use to pay for anything.”

George, from Rifle, has been the director of both the state’s Department of Natural Resources and Department of Transportation, and he served as speaker of the Colorado House of Representatives.

“In all the years I’ve been in state government, what we heard today (at a finance committee meeting) is the worst it has ever been,” he said. “And so here we are, with our hands absolutely shackled. The ground has shifted under us for awhile, and it will cause us to be a little creative about how we do these things, but everybody’s budget is going to be less.”

The grate in place on Sawyer Creek, a headwaters stream in the upper Fryingpan River basin, that captures water and sends it under the Continental Divide through the Fry-Ark project. There are several streams in the upper Fryingpan basin that could still be diverted via Fry-Ark.
The grate in place on Sawyer Creek, a headwaters stream in the upper Fryingpan River basin, that captures water and sends it under the Continental Divide through the Fry-Ark project. There are several streams in the upper Fryingpan basin that could still be diverted via Fry-Ark.

Less money, less pressure?

For some stakeholders in the Roaring Fork River watershed, uncertainty about statewide funding resources might be a relief.

Most of the new or expanded reservoirs and new underground storage facilities envisioned east of the Continental Divide will be able to store Western Slope water.

And more Front Range storage capacity is expected to increase the pressure on the Roaring Fork and the Fryingpan rivers, which already have about 40 percent of their headwaters sent east through existing tunnels. And the heavily used Colorado River is under constant stress.

“The acceptance of the final Water Plan should not be the precipitating event in a race to see who can establish the biggest entitlements and take the last drop of available or theoretically available water out of the Colorado watershed leaving the West Slope to be whipsawed between Front Range dependence and Colorado compact obligations,” Pitkin County told the CWCB in a Sept. 17 letter.

And the county’s Health Rivers and Streams Board offered the state a similar sentiment.

“It is unacceptable for the growing population of the Front Range to look to the Colorado basin or our drainage as a resource to be exploited rather than a resource to be preserved,” the rivers board wrote in a Sept. 17 letter.

On the other hand, the state’s water plan does include goals that could benefit Western Slope rivers and streams.

For example, it calls for “stream management plans” to be developed for 80 percent of the state’s rivers. Those plans, to be developed locally, could show how current diversions are affecting rivers and lead to alternative approaches.

The plan calls for a collaborative “multi-purpose” approach to water projects that could bring benefits to water-starved streams and rivers, albeit benefits tied to new water-management infrastructure.

And it sets goals of finding 400,000 acre-feet of municipal water conservation savings by 2050 and developing effective alternatives to the ongoing “buying and drying” of farm land.

From left, Russ George, a CWCB board member, Andrew Gorgey, then Garfield County manager, Peter Fleming, general counsel for the Colorado River District, and James Eklund, director of the CWCB, talking about the potential for new transmountain diversions outside of the Garfield County building in Glenwood Springs in 2015.
From left, Russ George, a CWCB board member, Andrew Gorgey, then Garfield County manager, Peter Fleming, general counsel for the Colorado River District, and James Eklund, director of the CWCB, talking about the potential for new transmountain diversions outside of the Garfield County building in Glenwood Springs in 2015.

Is there the will?

An outstanding question facing the Colorado water industry is whether it can develop the “political will” to gain funding for, and approval of, big water projects.

And it was the topic of a high-level panel discussion at the Water Congress meeting called “The Political Will To Get Things Done,” moderated by Jim Lochhead, head of Denver Water.

“I really want to see the state step up,” said Mike Applegate, the president of the board of Northern Water and the CEO of Applegate Group, an engineering firm specializing in water projects.

“I would ask the governor to take this document (the water plan) that he asked us to put together and take it on the road. He needs to talk to all of the federal agencies that get involved in our projects. This is going to be purely political, but hand it to them and say, ‘This is our road map to the future, we really think this is a good idea, we like what’s in here, you guys to need to help us make it happen,’” he said.

Northern has been working for years to gain federal approval for its NISP project, which stands for Northern Integrated Supply Project. It includes two new reservoirs near Fort Collins, Glade and Galeton, which would hold 170,000 and 45,000 acre feet of water, respectively.

Northern also wants to build Chimney Hollow Reservoir, as part of the Windy Gap Firming Project, to add 90,000 acre-feet of storage near Loveland.

Meanwhile, Denver Water is working to enlarge Gross Reservoir, southwest of Boulder, to hold 77,000 more acre-feet of water, as part of the Moffat Collection System.

“A lot of times we’ve been asked by some of the federal agencies, ‘Where does the state stand on these things,’” Applegate said. “And the answer we’ve gotten in the past is that the state can’t take a position yet, because they need to see what the outcome of the federal documents are, the studies. I think we’re past that. I think we really need to get some leadership here to stand up and say, ‘This is a good idea, let’s start doing this.”

That drew a response from Dave Merritt, an engineer who sits on the board of the Colorado River District and is a former Glenwood Springs city councilor.

“From a West Slope perspective, I never thought I’d be in situation where I felt sorry for Denver and Northern,” Merritt said. “But I do. I feel that we are long past the decision process in both Moffat and Windy Gap. The governor needs to make a statement. Are you going to support it? Or are you not going to support at it at this point?

“When you are in a political leadership position, you are not an agency making a determination, you are the governor of the state of Colorado,” Merritt added. “As a state, we’ve done enormous amount of work on those projects, and I think that we need to more forward on them.”

The majority of the members of the Colorado basin roundtable, however, do not share Merritt’s view.

In its September comment letter on the water plan, the roundtable’s position was that it is “adamantly opposed to the concept of state endorsement of a project … before the completion of the final federal EIS.

“The sole purpose of this endorsement is to apply political pressure on federal permitting agencies. The state should not assume a role as a proponent of a water project until the state regulatory process has been completed and the project has been agreed to by the impacted counties, conservancy districts and conservation districts in the area which would be impacted by the project,” the roundtable stated.

James Eklund, the director of the CWCB, hails from a Western Slope ranching family. He often works to add a touch of levity to otherwise serious-minded state-level water meetings.
James Eklund, the director of the CWCB, hails from a Western Slope ranching family. He often works to add a touch of levity to otherwise serious-minded state-level water meetings.

Get a little plan, Stan

In the face of still-uneasy Front Range-West Slope relations, Eklund, the head of CWCB, tried to bring a little levity to the Water Congress convention, which brings together water owners, developers and managers from all the basins in the state.

“Storage, as I said, needs 400,000 acre-feet more/where and how much, that’s our chore,” he rhymed, moving from his earlier Super Bowl analogies.

“Now these things cost money above our existing abilities/but the low hanging fruit is ground water storage and existing facilities.

“Governor Hickenlooper gave ag a shout-out in the state of the state/buy and dry is happening at too high a rate.

“For us to get 50,000 acre-feet in alternatives by 2030/we water lawyers and community have to get out hands dirty.

“The doctrine of prior appropriation is only as strong as we make it/so if we stop innovating I’m afraid they, public trust, will take it.”

The last line is a reference to two citizen initiatives that have been submitted for possible inclusion on the November ballot which would weaken Colorado’s “first in time, first in right” water laws and move the state’s approach to water administration toward a “public trust” system.

It’s fair to say the Colorado water industry sees the questions, and the threat of a public trust doctrine, as the equivalent of nuclear bombs. Or fourth-quarter interceptions run back for touchdowns.

And the Colorado Water Congress is working to tackle the questions before they reach the ballot in the first place, or to defeat them if they get put in front of voters.

In other words, welcome to the big game.

Editor’s note: Aspen Journalism is collaborating with the Aspen Daily News and Coyote Gulch on water and rivers in Colorado and the West. The Daily News published this story on Super Bowl Sunday, Feb. 7, 2015.

#cwcac2016: Colorado Water Congress Annual Convention recap

Click here read the Twitter stream from the convention (#cwcac2016). It will take you a long time to scroll to the start of the stream last Wednesday.

Click here to read the Tweets where I fat-fingered the hash tag as (#cwcac2015).

#cwcac2016: Colorado Water Congress 2016 Annual Convention

Via Loretta Lohman. She writes: A Denise Rue-Pastin classic, appropriate for this week and others coming up.
Via Loretta Lohman. She writes: A Denise Rue-Pastin classic, appropriate for this week and others coming

I’ll be at the Colorado Water Congress Annual Convention today. Follow along on Twitter, hash tag #cwcac2016 (@CoyoteGulch).

The convention is all about implementing the Colorado Water Plan.

A screenshot from the website for Colorado's Water Plan.
A screenshot from the website for Colorado’s Water Plan.

Rio Grande Basin Roundtable meeting recap

Basin roundtable boundaries
Basin roundtable boundaries

From the Valley Courier (Ruth Heide):

Some folks were a bit wary of a request this week from a Denver metro group for financial assistance with a water project that local water leaders were concerned might facilitate water exportation from the San Luis Valley to the Front Range.

Eric Hecox, executive director of the South Metro Water Supply Authority, asked members of the Rio Grande Basin Roundtable water group this week for $10,000 from the roundtable’s basinallocated funds for the WISE (Water, Infrastructure and Supply Efficiency) Project.

Hecox made his initial presentation this week and will return next month with the formal funding request. He told local roundtable members he had already visited the other eight basin roundtable groups throughout the state and they had been supportive of putting $10,000 each into this project in an effort to show cross-basin cooperation and support for local projects.

Hecox said the basin support would help leverage money from other sources and serve as a cash match. He said while most of the basin roundtables committed to $10,000 each, the metro basin committed $40,000 and the South Platte roundtable $15,000 towards the WISE project.

Hecox explained that the South Metro Water Supply Authority is made up of 13 independent water providers that serve areas like Highlands Ranch, Parker and Castle Rock.

What brought these groups together, Hecox explained, was their common issue of having non-tributary nonrenewable groundwater as their water supply. The group has been working together towards a better water source solution since the 1960’s and 1970’s , Hecox said, and had participated in the Two Forks Project, a dam project that never materialized . “Two Forks going away didn’t change the need for storage,” he said. To roundtable member Charlie Spielman’s comment that Two Forks was being built one gravel pit at a time, Hecox said rather than one big bucket, there are lots of smaller buckets filling that same need, and there are a lot of gravel pits being used for water storage.

“That’s not a component of our project,” he said. The authority has tried to reduce water use through significant conservation efforts , he added, and the per capita water use in their communities has decreased by 30 percent since the 2000’s .

The latest idea prompting the WISE project is to partner with Denver and Aurora water providers, which do have renewable supplies, to reuse their municipal effluent , Hecox explained. The WISE project will encompass a treatment facility that will treat that water so it can be distributed to participating communities through existing pipelines. The authority purchased the pipeline for $34 million, Hecox said, which is being changed from its original use to be used for this project.

The authority will pay Denver and Aurora $5.50 per thousand gallons to use their water supplies, pipe the water, treat it and distribute it to about two million people in the South Metro Water Supply Authority area.

Groundwater and surface water will be comingled in the pipeline, Hecox explained . He said the funding being requested from roundtables as a local match will help build a treatment plant for the groundwater, which will cost about $6.4 million.

The authority is combining $5.4 million in matching funds and will submit a grant request for $915,000, according to Hecox.

Hecox said the Rio Grande Roundtable should support this project because it addresses the statewide gap between supply and demand and because it would support the new approach of regional partnerships to address water issues throughout the state.

Hecox said that the communities in the South Metro authority have, much like many water users in the Rio Grande Basin (San Luis Valley), relied on groundwater resources, so they are trying to become mores sustainable, and the option of reusing Denver/Aurora effluent is one method of accomplishing that. The WISE project will allow area water resources to be reused multiple times, Hecox explained.

The water that the authority will be buying from Denver and Aurora was previously going down the South Platte, Hecox said.

“This will use water that was going downstream,” he said.

He added that Aurora had a few short-term leases on its water previously, but this would be a permanent one.

The authority is guaranteed supplies from Denver and Aurora until 2030, he said.

Roundtable member Steve Vandiver, general manager of the Rio Grande Water Conservation District, said this seemed to be opening up a new distribution system for the entire metro area that would make it easier to import water from other parts of the state, such as the Valley. He added that there is an export project currently proposed in the northern part of the San Luis Valley, and there have been continuous overtures over time from water speculators wishing to benefit from exporting water out of the Valley. It would seem that the WISE project would fit right into their plans, he said.

Hecox admitted the WISE project would not meet all of the metro water needs in the future, and the authority is looking at other water sources such as a cooperative project with Denver and the West Slope as well as an alternative agriculture transfer program in the South Platte Basin.

He said when the authority began the WISE project it was looking at a need for 60,000 acre feet of reusable supplies. With the WISE project, the authority is now looking in the 15,000-30 ,000-acre-foot range “above and beyond this,” he said.

He said some of Aurora’s water supply is coming from the Arkansas Basin “but none from the San Luis Valley/Rio Grande Basin.”

He said, “To my knowledge Aurora is not looking at any supplies in the Valley or the Rio Grande.”

Vandiver said the likely plumbing for any export from the San Luis Valley would be through the Arkansas Basin.

The plan we have seen would come out of here to the Arkansas,” Vandiver said. “This completes the pipeline from us to south metro ” The concern for us is that’s not necessarily a good thing for the Valley.”

Hecox said when this project began, Denver water leaders were concerned their water would be used for additional growth in Douglas County, and there are areas that are zoned, platted and designated for development, but the houses have not yet been built. He added that developers in Douglas County had not yet approached the metro water authority or its members to use the WISE project water.

He said the purpose of the WISE project would be to reuse existing water supplies for existing communities.

The roundtable took no action on Hecox’s request this week but may do so next month.

[Rio Grande] Roundtable changes water leadership — The Valley Courier

Pond on the Garcia Ranch via Rio Grande Headwaters Land Trust
Pond on the Garcia Ranch via Rio Grande Headwaters Land Trust

From The Valley Courier (Ruth Heide):

After a decade of service as chairman of one of the San Luis Valley’s leading water groups, Mike Gibson handed the “gavel” over to Nathan Coombs on Tuesday.

Gibson, of Alamosa, has led the Rio Grande Basin Roundtable for the past 10 years while also working full-time as director of the San Luis Valley Water Conservancy District, where he has served for 14 years. He retired from the district and as chairman of the roundtable board. The board, which is comprised of representatives from throughout the basin, elected Coombs from Conejos County as the new chairman.

Vice Chairman is Heather Dutton, who followed Gibson as director of the SLV Water Conservancy District and has been active in the roundtable for some time, and board secretary is Cindy Medina of Conejos County, who has held that office in the past. The roundtable administers a pot of local funds allocated by the state from severance tax funds. State legislation set up the roundtables in each basin in the state and provided for funding on a local and statewide level for water projects ranging from feasibility studies to ditch canal repairs. The Rio Grande Basin has been highly successful in the past decade in drawing funds for local water projects.

Board members recognized Gibson for his leadership during his final meeting as chairman on Tuesday in Alamosa . U.S. Representative Scott Tipton’s San Luis Valley aide Brenda Felmlee also shared the tribute Tipton had read into the congressional record in Washington D.C. honoring Gibson for his leadership with the conservancy district, roundtable , water congress and other water organizations, effective management and multiple awards. Tipton also recognized Gibson for his willingness to cooperate with others for the success of the basin.

Tipton said Gibson was “among the very best of the water managers in the 3rd Congressional District” and thanked him for his valuable work.

“I could not have done what I have done without the support especially of my board of directors,” Gibson said. The board allowed him to serve in the voluntary position as chairman of the roundtable in addition to his full-time job with the conservancy district, Gibson said, because his board recognized the importance of the water issues the roundtable was handling.

“They were very kind and supportive of letting me pursue those other interests, and hopefully I have made a contribution,” Gibson said.

Gibson also acknowledged his wife Gigi for her support. Gibson said he took early retirement from the mining company in Craig where he was working and when he learned there was an opening with the Nature Conservancy at their newly acquired Medano Ranch in the Valley, he applied for and obtained the job, with Gigi’s support.

“She said ‘it’s going to be an adventure’ .”

From the Nature Conservancy Gibson became involved in water projects and the conservancy district.

In addition to recognizing Gibson’s efforts, the roundtable acknowledged the leadership of Vice Chairman Rio de la Vista and Secretary Cindy Medina who have volunteered countless hours on water committees in addition to the roundtable meetings themselves. For example, they were involved in developing the Rio Grande Basin water plan, which was included in the statewide water plan recently approved by Governor John Hickenlooper .

Travis Smith of Rio Grande County, a local and statewide water leader, said all of those who have been part of this water effort should be recognized for what they have been able to do by working together over the past 10 years.

Smith said these positions in leadership on the roundtable have been voluntary and not without criticism.

“It’s a unique experiment,” he said.

Smith also encouraged the young people who are now taking leadership roles on water issues.

“We want to raise up water leaders,” he said.

Craig Godbout, staff member with the Colorado Water Conservation Board, which oversees the statewide and roundtable-level funding, gave the group an update on what it can expect for revenues in the near future. He said since oil and gas prices “have tanked,” severance tax revenues for water projects will likely be reduced this year by 20-30 percent compared to last year’s funding . Usually the statewide fund receives about $3 million from severance taxes in January, Godbout said, but it will probably receive $1.5-2 .5 million this year, and the basin roundtables that usually receive $120,000 infusion of funds in January will probably see $60,000-100 ,000.

Currently the Rio Grande Basin Roundtable has a balance of $318,000 in its local fund with about $110,000 in pending requests for funding , which would bring the balance down to $208,000, Godbout explained. Many of those who request locally allocated funds also request statewide funds, and the Colorado Water Conservation Board gives the final approval to both.

On Tuesday the roundtable approved, with board member Charlie Spielman dissenting, a $100,000 funding request from the Rio Grande Headwaters Land Trust (RiGHT) to assist with a conservation easement on the Nash Ranch near Del Norte. Of the $100,000 request, $10,000 will come from basin allocated funds and $90,000 from the statewide pool, if approved by the state water board this spring.

Matching funds will come from the Gates Family Foundation , Great Outdoors Colorado and the landowner, RiGHT Executive Director Nancy Butler told the roundtable members.

The easement will preserve about 200 acres, which includes hay production, cattle grazing and wetlands. RiGHT Stewardship Director Allen Law said this property is especially crucial in providing habitat for the endangered Southwestern Willow Flycatcher . Other benefits of the conservation easement are protection for wetlands and against development encroachment. Butler said RiGHT has received letters of support from the Town of Del Norte, Rio Grande County, Rio Grande Water Users and Colorado Division of Water Resources.

Spielman said he opposed funding this request because he did not believe it was the most effective use of funds to deal with the basin’s primary problem of imbalance between agricultural water use and supply.

“Implementation of this conservation easement will not have a significant positive effect dealing with the main problem,” he said. He also said if one of the goals was to prevent residential development on the property, he did not see that this property would be marketable for much more than a couple of 40-acre tracts if it were developed.

Wetland biologist Cary Aloia said if the property was developed, however, the lost southwestern willow flycatcher habitat would have to be mitigated elsewhere.

Rio Grande County Commissioner Karla Shriver said another consequence of development could be artifi- cial dams caused by property being built up for roads and homes. Division of Water Resources Division 3 Engineer Craig Cotten agreed that building up roads for even small developments along the river could create dams and cause problems with flooding.

Aside from Spielman’s “no” vote, the funding request was approved on Tuesday.

The roundtable board on Tuesday also heard the preliminary request, with a final request expected next month, from Judy Lopez for outreach and education. The request is for $30,000 from the basin funds for three years for a total of $90,000.

The Arkansas Roundtable ponies up $194,000 for multi-use project

Arkansas River Basin -- Graphic via the Colorado Geological Survey
Arkansas River Basin — Graphic via the Colorado Geological Survey

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Can a water project be all things to all people?

The Upper Arkansas Water Conservancy District wants to find out.

The Arkansas Basin Roundtable approved a $194,000 grant last week to determine if irrigated agriculture, environmental, recreation, municipal supply, hydropower and aquifer storage can be satisfied in one project.

The Colorado Water Conservation Board will consider final approval of the grant at its March meeting.

The project involves the 200-acre Lake Ranch near Salida, which the district owns.

Right now, the property is irrigated by a center- pivot sprinkler, but the plan is to expand the types of uses to include a hydropower system on the Cameron Ditch above the property, recharge ponds and wetlands on two corners of the field which are not being used and research on another corner. Farm structures occupy the remaining corner of the field.

In addition, a leasefallowing program would provide water to nearby cities, and results would be used in educational programs.

“This is the smaller program, to see if some of these ideas work,” said Terry Scanga, general manager of the Upper Ark district.

If they do, a much larger project on Trout Creek that would cover 1,800 acres and could provide an additional 20,000 acre-feet in storage would be attempted.

That would be a boon to the Upper Ark district, which formed in 1979 to improve water use for numerous smaller entities in Chaffee, Custer and Fremont counties. Past studies have looked at improving how water supply is measured, the availability of underground storage and developing a leasefallowing tool to measure consumptive use when transfers occur.

“Multiple purpose projects are necessary for providing additional needed water supplies in the 21st century,” the district noted in its grant application.

Purgatoire River
Purgatoire River

More Arkansas Roundtable coverage from Chris Woodka writing for The Pueblo Chieftain:

Several ditches along the Purgatoire River are in line to get a much-needed $271,000 makeover through a state grant approved last week by the Arkansas Basin Roundtable.

The roundtable approved a $90,000 grant request to improve structures on six ditch companies that have deteriorated through erosion. The ditches, along with the Purgatoire Conservancy District, will contribute $121,000 and apply for a $60,000 loan from the Colorado Water Conservation Board.

The CWCB still must act on the grant and loan at its March meeting.

“All of the ditches are in the Trinidad Project,” said Jeris Danielson, manager of the Purgatoire district. “We estimated we could lose 10 percent of the water.”

The ditch companies include Picketwire, Enlarged Southside Irrigation, Chilili, Baca, New John Flood and El Moro. All are located in the Trinidad area of Las Animas County.

The project will rebuild headgates, flumes and culverts at various locations. As part of the project, about 1,000 feet of bank along the Purgatoire River will be restored and stabilized.

The Trinidad Project is a federal project that relies on water stored in Trinidad Reservoir. Over the last 20 years, it has averaged only 40 percent of its full supply. The improvements will restore about 5,000 acre-feet (1.6 billion gallons) annually toward basin water needs, according to the application.


Finally, here’s a report about efforts to mitigate flooding in La Junta from Chris Woodka writing for The Pueblo Chieftain:

An $85,000 plan to remove a “pinch point” in the Arkansas River that has caused flooding in North La Junta got the blessing of the Arkansas Basin Roundtable this week.

The roundtable approved a $25,000 grant toward the project by the North La Junta Water Conservancy District to deal with a problem that has persisted since a flood in the spring of 1999. Other funding is being provided by the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District, Otero County and La Junta.

The grant will take out several islands of tamarisk, or saltcedar, using a drag line and reconfigure dikes that apparently only aggravated flooding through the area. Combined, the projects will increase the channel capacity of the Arkansas River through North La Junta.

“This is one of my favorite projects because we did it with one engineer and no lawyers in the room,” quipped Jay Winner, general manager of the Lower Ark district.

The 1999 flood did serious damage to North La Junta, and the district has worked steadily since then to improve channel capacity through the area. Floods in recent years have renewed fears that past efforts were not as effective as hoped.

In another move, the roundtable approved a $48,000 grant toward a $54,800 project to replace a domestic water supply pipeline that serves about 175 families in the McClave area. The grant helps hold down water rates for customers in an area that eventually will be served by the Arkansas Valley Conduit.

The Colorado Water Conservation Board will consider final approval of the grants at its March meeting.

Arkansas Basin roundtable meeting recap

Basin roundtable boundaries
Basin roundtable boundaries

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Current funds not certain, but state plan calls for more

With funding for current water projects drying up, Arkansas Basin Roundtable members are curious about where the flood of future money will come from.

By 2020, the Colorado Water Plan calls for investigating options to provide $100 million annually for water projects over a 30-year period. Several members questioned how that could be done, but others were worried about more immediate funding.

The roundtable studied the state water plan at its monthly meeting Wednesday.

“The Legislature always wants to take water funding from the Colorado Water Conservation Board,” said Jay Winner, general manager of the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District. “It’s easy if we don’t say anything.”

The Water Supply Reserve Account, which funds roundtable projects, is expected to receive less money this year because it is funded through mineral severance taxes. The falling price of oil and gas is expected to reduce those revenues by 25-30 percent in Colorado this year, Brent Newman of the CWCB staff said.

“At the state level, they can take the whole ball of wax,” warned Don Ament, a former lawmaker and state commissioner of agriculture, who is now a consultant. He said past raids on CWCB funding have been slow to be repaid.

Lawmakers in past years have raided the CWCB’s funds to meet shortfalls in other budget areas. That could happen again if budget pressures tighten.

Alan Hamel, the Arkansas River basin’s representative to the CWCB, said the board intends to implement the state water plan by requiring all funding requests for water projects to be tied to some part of the plan.

“We want to know where it fits into the Colorado Water Plan,” Hamel said.

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Funding is slowly being deposited in an effort to determine the best way to stop flooding on Fountain Creek.

The Arkansas Basin Roundtable this week approved $41,800 for the next phase of the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District’s investigation into flood control.

The Colorado Water Conservation Board must still approve the request at its March meeting.

“We proved that water rights would not be injured,” Larry Small, the executive director of the district told the roundtable Wednesday.

In 2014, Small ran into flak from the roundtable when he proposed a large project to investigate what type of flood control project — either a dam or series of detention ponds — would be most effective.

Although water rights protection was one of the tasks of that grant request, the roundtable insisted answering the question of whether flood storage would injure downstream users.

The district hired engineer Duane Helton last year and completed a study showing it was possible to measure the amount of water temporarily impounded and replace it with water stored elsewhere.

The next phase of the project will prepare graphics to visualize the effects of implementing flood control measures for 10-, 50-. 100- and 500-year floods, Small said. That will allow more evaluation of alternatives than the earlier conceptual study of a 100-year flood by the U.S. Geological Survey.

There are still a series of other steps that must be completed before construction of flood control facilities can begin. The Fountain Creek district wants to fully evaluate the effective-ness of structures before deciding which course to pursue.

There is also the matter of funding.

Under Pueblo County’s 1041 permit for Southern Delivery System, Colorado Springs Utilities is obligated to make $50 million in payments for flood control over five years when water is delivered through the pipeline from Pueblo Dam to Colorado Springs.

Those payments should begin this year, Small believes. However, Utilities has taken the position that water must be delivered to customers before payments begin.

Colorado Springs did not make the payment Friday, so the district will determine at its meeting next Friday which course of action to pursue, Small said.